Thursday, November 6, 2008

Boxed In: Containing a Nuclear Iran Part 2

 

by Michael Rubin

2nd part of 2

Arms transfers

These various political restrictions to basing rights hinder levels of US troops in the region, and hence any attempts to prepare for containment. Any serious containment strategy will likely require more than the 42,500 US troops currently in the Persian Gulf, many of which only serve support functions. This suggests other policies must be implemented to augment the meager US troops based in the region.

To effectively contain Iran would require upgrading regional facilities to expedite deployment in event of hostility; deploying advanced anti-aircraft weaponry around regional states' economic assets—such as oil fields and industrial infrastructure—which would likely be targets of an Iranian first strike; and perhaps most significantly upgrading regional militaries to wage war independently against Iran for several days until the Pentagon can send reinforcements to the region.

The import of this latter factor is made apparent by an analysis of the strategic balance in the region. At present, US regional allies neither have the troops nor the material to themselves contain Iran. The Islamic Republic has some 540,000 troops spread among the regular military, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and the paramilitary Basij (which, in September 2007, was nominally folded into the IRGC proper). Saudi Arabia has approximately 200,000 men, and the other GCC states add another 130,000 combined. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan bring another 92,000 troops. Turkey has 402,000 active military personnel, but the current Turkish leadership is unlikely to allow these to be used beyond containment of threats – largely from Kurdish militants -- along its own 499 km frontier with Iran. While the US has invested billions in the Iraqi and Afghan militaries, both are inwardly focused and ill-prepared to counter any external threat.

In terms of materiel, Iran is the single leading military power in the Gulf, although largely holds parity in comparison to the other regional powers in aggregate. Saudi Arabia and the smaller GCC states maintain approximately 2,300 main battle tanks versus 1,700 in Iran. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan add another 900. Iran, meanwhile, maintains the lead in its navy: 260 vessels including a handful of submarine, versus less than 200 vessels for the entire GCC and only six patrol boats for Azerbaijan.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have near parity in combat aircraft numbers — 280 against 290 —although Saudi Arabia has a qualitative edge as its F-15s remains superior to Iran's MiG-29s and Su-24s in an air-to-air capacity. Iran, however, has a superior ballistic missile capability to any immediate neighbours besides Pakistan. Iran's Shahab-3 missile has performed erratically during tests, but now reportedly has a 2,000 km range.

Given this military balance, the US is eager to bolster indigenous GCC military capability and missile defences, improve interoperability and enhance protection of critical infrastructure. In order to achieve this goal, the Bush administration in May 2006 launched a new Gulf Security Dialogue, which includes a series of arms sales to upgrade regional military capabilities, particularly GCC anti-missile capabilities. In December 2007, for example, the Department of Defense notified Congress of the UAE's intention to purchase 288 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) air defence missiles and 216 PAC-2 Guidance Enhanced missiles and of Kuwait's intention to purchase 80 PAC-3s and kits to upgrade 60 earlier generation PAC-2s. Saudi forces themselves man earlier generation Patriot batteries over the past several months, received advanced medium-range air-to-air AIM-120C5 missiles ordered in 2006. While these may not provide protection from Iranian missiles, they do provide deterrence against any potential Iranian manned or unmanned aerial assault on Saudi oil infrastructure. The US installed missile defence emplacements in Qatar as it built al-Udeid and prepositioned armor and heavy equipment to the peninsular country. Turkey is also considering the PAC-3 along with other anti-missile systems manufactured in Israel and Russia. Turkey's procurement process, however, is slow in comparison to other NATO countries, and more vulnerable to political complications.

However, while such advanced equipment can provide regional militaries with a qualitative edge over the Iranian military, again political restrictions exist that will prevent the sale of sensitive equipment. In particular, a traditional desire for Israel to retain a qualitative edge in technology over any real or potential adversaries hampers any attempt to arm regional states. In practice, determinations over arms sales to moderate Arab states are scattered throughout the US executive branch. The Department of State's Office of Political-Military Affairs supervises weapons sales and exports. The National Disclosure Policy Committee, comprised of the secretaries of state and defence, the secretaries of each armed service and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, vets the release of sensitive weapons technology. The intelligence community inputs into both bodies. Lastly, Israeli military officials meet their Pentagon counterparts at the Department of Defense's annual Joint Political Military Group meeting, during which Tel Aviv can voice concern about their adversaries' capabilities.

Even when the executive branch deem weapons sales to moderate Arab states permissible, Congress often intervenes to derail sales of advanced weaponry to Arab states. Most famously, this occurred with the failed attempt to cancel a 1981 sale of advanced airborne early warning and control systems aircraft to Saudi Arabia, but more recently Congress has intervened to sidetrack sale of Joint Direct Attack Munitions technology to Saudi Arabia, even as the Bush administration has approved their sale to the UAE, Oman, and Israel.

As US Army Lt Col William Wunderle and US Air Force Lt Col Andre Briere argue in a Winter 2008 Middle East Quarterly article, any strategy to contain a nuclear Iran will require the US government and Congress to rethink and reformulate calculations on restrictions to arms sales in the region, based on the understanding that the GCC states represent the front line of Israeli defence against a mutual Iranian threat and that no GCC state itself poses a serious threat to Israeli security. While a politically sensitive issue, it is.

Beyond the military procurement, training is as important to improve the ability of regional militaries to act autonomously. Here, regional militaries vary in their preparedness. Saudi reluctance to host foreign forces in its territory hampers its contribution to containment and to the protection of its critical infrastructure such as the Jubail, Ras Juaymah, and Ras Tannurah refineries in the Eastern province, and the East-West Crude Oil Pipeline (Petroline), which bisects the country and ends at the Red Sea port of Yanbu. While it is hard to gauge the current ability of the Kuwaiti or Qatari militaries to operate independently, their ability to operate equipment and air defences independently has increased through the current decade with training and exercises.

Unappealing diplomacy

One further constraint on the US' containment strategy is its unwillingeness to engage fully with regional regimes.

President Bush has since 2002 made democratisation a cornerstone of his policy toward the Middle East. His administration's focus on reform and transformational diplomacy complicated relations with longstanding Arab allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, although long-established relationships as well as the desire to win Arab state support for US operations in Iraq muted the democracy agenda within the Department of State's Near East Affairs Bureau.

This has ensured relative continuity in US diplomatic engagement with the Arab states, but has endangered or transformed relations with other states.

Concern over Uzbekistan's human rights violations led the Uzbek government to demand the departure of US forces in 2005 from the air base at Karshi-Khanabad, which had supported the mission in Afghanistan and is well suited to support containment efforts against the Islamic Republic.

Azerbaijan would be on the front line of any containment effort against Iran. It has previously assisted US efforts to hinder Iran's nuclear development. On 29 March 2008, for example, Azeri customs impounded for five weeks ten tons of nuclear equipment trucked from Russia and destined for the Bushehr reactor. Subsequently released, Baku's actions presumably aided intelligence understanding of the shipment and suggested willingness to help US counterproliferation efforts. Concerns over Azerbaijan's commitment to reform and democracy, however, have hampered the military partnership and sales. On 29 July 2008, Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer expressed worries about the state of democracy in Azerbaijan, a concern which will grow ahead of Azerbaijan's October 2008 presidential elections, and linked progress on democratisation to the broad US-Azerbaijan bilateral relationship.

Contain or restrain?

With negotiations over Iran's nuclear enrichment deadlocked and widespread recognition in both Europe and the US over the difficulties and complication of military strikes against Iran, US policy makers increasingly say they are prepared to contain Iran. Implementation of a containment policy, however, remains uneven. While the Gulf Security Dialogue will advance GCC military capabilities, no GCC country with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia appears able to withstand an Iranian attack.

Neither the Bush administration, candidates to succeed him, nor Congress have yet proposed streamlining of the weapons procurement process, augmented deployments of forces, especially air force and navy, to the region, upgrading of existing facilities or establishment of new bases, or re-prioritisation of security and democracy concerns along Iran's northern flank. This suggests that the US currently remains ill prepared for any containment strategy, and is unlikely to be in a position to effectively contain a nuclear Iran in coming years.

Michael Rubin, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School.

 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Boxed In: Containing a Nuclear Iran Part 1

 

by Michael Rubin

1st part of 2

Containment helped define US foreign policy towards the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Inspired by a view of the USSR as expansionist and intractably opposed to capitalist states, containment was viewed as the most cost-effective method to prevent Soviet extension without resorting to cataclysmic war.

The policy was perhaps best described by George Kennan in his 1947 'X' article, in which he claimed "it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies."

Yet, although the X article was written about the idiosyncracies of the Soviet system, containment is not a policy necessarily specific to the unique characteristics of the Cold War. Many in Washington appear to currently view a similar policy as an option in its dealings with a very different but similarly ideologically opposed rival, namely Iran.

For the present, Washington's commitment to this policy remains partial, as other policies are pursued to prevent Iran gaining a nuclear capability, and hence containment is not a viable option. However, should other policies fail entirely, and Iran become emboldened in its foreign policy by a nuclear status, containment is likely to characterise the US' policy towards the Islamic Republic.

Why contain?

Containment, at present, appears the policy option most likely to be used should all other avenues fail to defuse the international stand-off over the Islamic Republic's uranium enrichment programme. Given the lack of success that has been forthcoming from other policies, including a new incentive package from the five permanent United Nations Security Council members plus Germany and Washington's decision to join direct discussions with Iran, to resolve the disagreements, the possibility of a focus on containment is increasing.

The containment policy would not seek to deter use of nuclear weapons by Iran or its allies. Washington believes itself able to deter Tehran from the use of nuclear weapons with its own advanced, extensive and secure nuclear arsenal. Rather, containment would attempt to prevent an Iran emboldened by nuclear weapons using its proxies or conventional forces in regional operations to extend the country's influence.

The range of possible regional operations is significant, largely owing to the unstable international politics of the Gulf region. Beyond the possible use of Iranian proxies in Iraq and Lebanon, three Persian Gulf islands disputed the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tonb islands – remain longstanding flashpoints. Moreover, Hossein Shariatmadari, appointed to the editorship of the hardline Iranian daily Kayhan by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, raised regional anxiety with a 9 July 2007 editorial suggesting that the island nation of Bahrain should, after almost five centuries of separation, return to Iranian control, while the member states of the Gulf Co-operation Council (Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar), remain concerned about Iranian statements over Tehran's ability to close the Strait of Hormuz.

This does not demonstrate that such conflict is likely, nor that Tehran harbours expansionist tendencies or an irrepressible desire for expeditionary operations, but it does reflect a clear range of possible conflict areas in the region.

Given these scenarios, it is unsurprising that the US might seek to rely on a strategy that underlay US strategy during the Cold War. To succeed in an Iranian context, any containment would necessarily rely on three factors: troop deployments and US basing overseas, weapons sales to countries surrounding Iran, and diplomatic alliances. However, political constraints, regional sensitivities and concern over dealing with some regional regimes are all hindering US preparations for a containment strategy, and hence Washington's ability to enforce containment is currently limited.

Base desires

In terms of US basing, there is already a demonstrable trend towards containment. US forces surround Iran, with a total of approximately 250,000 troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, the six GCC states and Turkey. Although President Bush announced a drawdown of 8,000 troops from Iraq on 9 September, he simultaneously outlined an increase of 4,500 personnel in Afghanistan, demonstrating that even as the Iraq deployment winds down amid domestic pressure, Washington remains militarily committed to the region around Iran.

However, while these operations appear to field a formidable aggregate force, in reality the majority of these troops are already engaged in operations related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Moreover, many of the facilities used by the US are both temporary in nature and subject to rigorous political control by regional states. Because the US presence in Saudi Arabia became a rally point for Islamist militants, for example, the Kuwaiti government imposed strict regulations on the movement of US military personnel stationed in their country. US troops, for example, are not allowed to visit tourist sites or markets in Kuwait except on periodic, escorted group tours. The Kuwaiti government also designates portions of Camp Arifjan as temporary and insists that when US forces depart, no trace of their presence should remain. In practice, this means that US officers must spend weeks engaging the Kuwaiti bureaucracy if they wish to do so much as pave a road through their tent city.

Similarly, while the US military and Oman maintain a façade of co-operation, the Omani leadership undermined US confidence in its reliability when, at the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, it withheld permission for several days for the US Air Force to conduct operations against the Taliban from airfields on Omani territory because of its desire to preserve the appearance of neutrality in a fight involving co-religionists.

Qatar's importance to the US has grown since the 1995 palace coup that installed Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa ath-Thani. Al-Ubeid today is perhaps the most important US base in the region, but it alone cannot alone sustain a containment strategy. Nor does any containment mission have the depth provided by active Saudi participation. Most US military departed Prince Sultan Air Base, 80 kilometers south of Riyadh, only five years ago, leaving facility maintenance and upgrade in the hands of Saudi officials whose standards may not be up to US military requirements.

Beyond the GCC, given its extensive frontier, Iraq would be vital in any containment of Iran. However, while many members of US Congress support containment of Iran as an alternative to military action, their opposition to upgrading US facilities inside Iraq — such as the Kirkuk and Tallil Air Bases — has undercut the implementation of the containment policy they claim to support. Protracted US-Iraq negotiations over the Status of Forces Agreement has also hampered any containment strategy and muted most debate among defence planners and within the US Congress with regard to the wisdom of permanent bases inside Iraq. While the US and Iraq are likely to agree ultimately on a continued US presence, at least until 2011, the expected gradual drawdown of troops, likely to be hastened should Barack Obama win the US elections, suggests that the ability to effect containment will also gradually diminish.

Another Iranian neighbour, Turkey, could be another vital lynchpin in any US containment strategy, particularly given its membership of NATO. Yet, few US officials presently consider Turkey as a reliable ally in times of regional conflict, primarily owing to the ruling Justice and Development Party's refusal to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the sensitivity of 2007 negotiations over renewal of the US lease of portions of Incirlik Air Base, near Adana. In the latter example, the key question about renewal regarded Ankara's demand that it could veto missions originating from the facility, especially as they might regard Iraq and Iran. Recent Turkish overtures toward Iran and the Turkish government's unwillingness to join sanctions against the Islamic Republic have further heightened US concern. While the upper reaches of the Turkish General Staff may still be pro-American, no US planner relies on Turkey as a keystone in containment of Iran.

Finally, Pakistan, bordering Iran to the east, while long a nominal US ally will not participate actively in containment of Iran for reasons of its own instability, its orientation to counter perceived threats from India, and its involvement in Afghanistan.

 

Michael Rubin

 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

 

The U.S. Should Not Open an Interests Section in Tehran.

by Michael Rubin

In its waning days, the Bush administration is setting the stage for establishment of a U.S. Interests Section in Tehran manned by U.S. diplomats. The new administration should let this ill-thought and poorly-timed initiative drop.

Today is the 29th Anniversary of the Iranian seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Both reformists and hardliners continue to endorse the seizure. Few Americans remember the details of the embassy seizure. On November 1, 1979, Zbigniew Brzezinski, president Jimmy Carter's National Security Advisor, met with Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi in Algiers to discuss, among other issues, the restoration of the U.S.-Iran relationship. The Shah was gone, but the U.S. government wanted to cement its relationship with the new revolutionary regime. Photos of their handshake appeared in Iranian newspapers the next day. Students, with Ayatollah Ruhollah's blessing, stormed the embassy the next day, holding 52 American diplomats for 444 days. What went wrong? In many ways, the U.S. diplomats were pawns in a struggle that had less to do with the United States and far more to do with Iran's domestic politics. The Islamic Revolution was popular: Fully ten percent of the Iranian population took part, not only ayatollahs and seminary students, but also liberals, merchants, students, religious leftists, among others. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was a symbol but, for months, it was uncertain he would be able to consolidate the power which history demonstrates he desired. His followers—Students Following the Line of the Imam—used the manufactured embassy crisis to force Bazargan's resignation and consolidate the revolution. Khomeini came out of the embassy seizure much stronger than his regime went into it. The Carter administration may have sought to engage moderates, but they inadvertently bolstered the hardliners.

The same pattern repeated when, in what became the Iran-Contra Affair, U.S. officials sought to engage revolutionary authorities in Tehran. One week after former U.S. national security advisor Robert McFarlane's secret trip to Tehran, Mehdi Hashemi, the son-in-law of Khomeini's deputy Hossein Ali Montazeri, leaked word of secret talks in pamphlets distributed at the University of Tehran. Six months later, Montazeri or his immediate aidesleaked word of McFarlane's meetings in the pro-Syrian Lebanese magazine Ash Shira‘a. Twenty-two years ago today, former president and Expediency Council chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani confirmed the meeting to the international press. Whatever one thinks of Reagan administration actions, the fact remains that Iranian officials betrayed U.S. confidence in secret talks and crippled the remainder of the Reagan presidency. They did so, not out of spite for the United States, but rather for narrow domestic political reasons.

The list continues. After Mohammad Khatami's so-called Dialogue of Civilizations initiative, radical Iranian vigilantes attacked a busload of American businessmen. They did so to embarrass the Iranian government. The same day Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waved the conditions outlined in her May 31, 2006 speech and sent Undersecretary of State William Burns to Geneva to join nuclear negotiations and offer the Iranian government a generous incentives package, Mohammad Jafar Assadi, commander of the Revolutionary Guards' ground forces, declared that the concession proved that "America has no other choice but to leave the Middle East region beaten and humiliated." The problem is not diplomacy. Rather, it is inattention to timing. Poorly calibrated diplomacy can backfire, spark crisis, and benefit hardliners.

One day, it may be appropriate to send U.S. diplomats to Tehran. That day is not now nor will it come until there is broad consensus across the Iranian political spectrum about the direction in which Iranian leaders should take their country. The new U.S. President must think not only of U.S. desires, but also remain cognizant of the complex political scene in Tehran. While Iranians jockey for position ahead of their June 2009 presidential elections, and while vigilante groups continue to flex their muscles, any attempt to send U.S. diplomats prematurely may spark the crisis and test which Senator Joe Biden warned against.

Michael Rubin

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Christians in the Muslim World.

 

A Review of Justus Weiner's  Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society,

 

A  book review by Raphael Israeli

 

The plight of Christians (and Jews) in Muslim lands, which has historically fed upon the ancient dhimmi status that was imposed upon the 'People of the Book' in Muslim-conquered lands, has been vastly documented in recent years. Prominent among the contributions that describe the fate of Christian (and Jewish) minorities in the Muslim world have been Bat Ye'or's masterly narratives of this sad history in her monumental books: The Dhimmis, The Decline of Eastern Christianities Under Islam and Islam and Dhimmitude. Weiner, however, treats us to a novel situation in his monograph about the Christians in Palestinian society. Palestinian Christians as such and Palestine itself have no independent history as a distinct entity and therefore could not have heretofore conceived any attitude or adopted any policy with regard to its Christian minorities the way other Muslim nation-states have done. The most strident case in point are the Copts of Egypt, the original people who inherited the Pharaonic tradition and created and sustained Hellenic culture until they were taken over by the invading Muslim Arabs. There, in addition to the fact that they became a minority of 10-12% in their own land, they are ruled by a modern Muslim state which has attempted to follow some coherent policy towards its Copts, in a country where Muslim Brothers have often defied government fiat and given free expression to their hatred towards their Christian neighbors.

 

Palestinians are different in the sense that though they have never acceded to independence, they have cultivated in their midst a tiny Christian minority which has very often stood in the forefront of Palestinian nationalism, and at times has gained favor with the Muslim populace by championing the Palestinian cause. Their alternative option was much more restricting and unpleasant: When they realized that they could not contend with the mounting waves of Muslim fundamentalism in the past two decades, many elected to emigrate to Western and Latin American countries. Thus, historically Christian cities like Bethlehem and Ramallah (as with Nazareth in Israel) have turned Muslim, with the crushing new Muslim majority signaling to the Christians that they are no longer the masters of their own towns of birth. This in turn renders the remaining Christians more nationalistic (see, for example, the cases of Hanan Ashrawi in Ramallah, the Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah in Jerusalem and Azmi Bishara in Nazareth). So, the fewer Christians in the emerging Palestinian entity, the less acute the problem should become. But that is not necessarily so, because for Muslim fundamentalists like the Hamas, their 'success' in 'cleansing' their society from its Christian presence augurs the end of the 'Crusader' rule of Muslim lands earmarked to become part of the revived Caliphate. This only boosts their aspiration to squeeze the Christians (and the Jews, if that were possible) from the domain or 'House' of Islam.

 

Another issue looms on the horizon if one wishes to speak, as Weiner does, about human rights of Palestinian Christians. An international human rights lawyer, the author has been documenting case studies of Islamic oppression against Palestinian Christians over a period of eight years, developing a telling note of empathy for their hopeless plight given the direction of Palestinian 'self-rule.' He has published a number of separate articles based on this body of research in legal and human rights journals, with the intent to shed light upon the egregious and widespread human rights violations against the remnant of Christians in the territories. Yet the entire notion is somewhat laughable, because there are no human rights in any Muslim country, much less in an entity that is dominated by chaos like the Palestinian territories. Human rights? Where did human rights ever exist for anyone in Muslim societies, much less among the Palestinians, who are still ruled by tribal, clan and family ties and obligations, where the concept of 'honor' – personal and collective – dominates the scene and conditions societal behavior? Then why should one expect them to grant human rights to Christians? The error recurrent in the West, as the monograph under review serves to remind us, is to take up Western yardsticks to measure conduct in non-Western societies, in this case the Palestinian-Arab-Muslim one. Human rights as defined by the United Nations are not recognized by Muslim nations, who have made it repeatedly clear that this issue, like many others in international affairs, is culture-bound, and therefore they reject lock, stock and barrel the whole notion that they should adhere to those un-Islamic principles. Certainly, Hanan Ashrawi and her like are quick to pour accusations on Israel and the West for not respecting Palestinian, Arab and Muslim 'rights,' but within their own societies they seldom invoke human rights to reprimand the tyrannical, oppressive and dictatorial regimes that rule them. They have simply never known anything else.

 

Therefore, while Weiner's well-written and clear dissertation about the oppression of Christians within Palestinian society is well-documented and reads fluently, it is trying to tackle the issue in unrealistic terms. It is akin to a referee trained in presiding over the graceful game of basketball trying to umpire the violent American contact sport of football – the gentle language of the one does not yield itself to the other. Weiner has come to the conclusion that political motives often supervene human rights standards in Palestinian society. This fact, however, cannot obscure the reality that this 'violation' is unalterable anymore than in other Arab-Muslim countries. For what is violation for the author and the rest of us, is the standard for Muslim countries. Exactly as you do not point out a particular spot on an extremely filthy cloth, or search for a particular bad habit in a world-class mafia criminal, so it is vain to look for human rights violations in a society that does not even understand what they are. Prerequisites for human rights are democracy, tolerance and freedom, which do not exist in that or any other Arab-Muslim society the way we understand them. What is occurring in Palestinian society is a tragedy no matter what the standard applied, as Weiner would concur. His monograph, therefore, does serve notice yet again that the 'statehood' Western nations seek to forge for the Palestinians is an incurable brute in the making.

 

The reviewer, Raphael Israeli, is a Professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Chinese history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and author of 15 books and some 80 scholarly articles in those fields.

 

Weiner's entire monograph, Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society, can be accessed in pdf format at http://www.jcpa.org/christian-persecution.htm.

 

On-going Evidence of Fatah Immoderation.

By Arlene Kushner

 

The Center for Near East Policy Research has done a series of reports monitoring the

failure of Fatah, the controlling party of the Palestinian Authority, and PA president

Mahmoud Abbas to demonstrate genuine moderation.

 

This issue has assumed particular relevance since Annapolis and the beginning of what is

presumed to be negotiations with Israel for a peace agreement. The most recent update

was published in May 2008. This paper documents notable instances of lack of Fatah

moderation – and failure of good faith as a negotiating partner – since that update was

completed.

____________________

 

Effort to sabotage Israeli development

 

Israel has been working hard to upgrade its relationship with the European Union, so that

it will have the status of senior European partner, a status that will provide increased

access to European markets and foster cooperation in diplomacy and science. At the end

of May, Israel learned that Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had sent a

letter to the Organization for Economic Development asking that Israel's participation in

Europe's markets be blocked.

 

Fatah relationship with Hamas

 

By the first week of June, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had done a

turn-about with regard to Fatah’s relationship with Hamas. Previously he had indicated

that until Hamas relinquished control of Gaza, which it had seized by force, there would

be no dialogue. Now he waived this stipulation and called for a dialogue with Hamas.

 

Abbas says he will spare no effort in establishing national unity.

 

There is reason to believe that Abbas is disenchanted with the peace process. But Khaled

Abu Toameh of The Jerusalem Post reported that some analysts are seeing this move

toward Hamas as a ploy by Abbas. In Ramallah on June 5, Abbas delivered a speech in

which he declared that there will be no agreement unless Israel returns to the 1967 lines –

a position that is not tenable. He was thus essentially giving notice that either he gets

everything he wants, or he is throwing his lot with Hamas.

 

On June 8, representative of Fatah and Hamas met in Sengal and signed an agreement to

continue talks.

 

According to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, as recently as June 28, Abbas’s human

rights representative, Kamal Ash-Sharafi, reaffirmed Fatah’s intention of pursuing

dialogue with Hamas. Speaking at a conference in Gaza City, he said that the Palestinian

people are looking forward to national dialogue and the end of the state of division.

 

Failure of the PA to fight terror/support of terror

 

As part of this effort of reconciliation with Hamas, on June 24, the Palestinian Authority

released at least three Hamas detainees who had been imprisoned on suspicion of

attempting to attack within Israel and Judea and Samaria. This act ran counter to a PA

pledge to Israel.

 

This happened nine days after IDF officials registered a complaint about the failure of

600 PA forces – who had been deployed in Jenin and Nablus – to fight terror. Said one

IDF official: "The PA forces in the city are not combating the terrorists…they are doing

nothing about terror which has grown in the past month since they deployed in Jenin."

Another DF official complained that those terror suspects who were arrested were

released within days and sometimes even hours.

 

Most significantly a top officer in the Central Command has warned that terrorists

have infiltrated the PA police and military, and that weapons the US has provided

to PA forces were finding their way to Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Jenin

and Nablus. (Yaakov Katz, The Jerusalem Post, June 15, 2008)

 

 

Shooting rockets from Gaza

 

By the third week in June, Israel and Hamas in Gaza had agreed informally to a

temporary ceasefire, known as a tahdiyeh. Not every terrorist group in Gaza opted to

honor this, however. One of these groups is Al Aksa Brigades, an arm of Fatah. On June

29, a Fatah-associated member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ashraf Jum'a,

denied reports that because of this Fatah was withdrawing organization support for Al

Aksa.

 

Praise for an arch-terrorist

 

On June 29, after considerable anguish, the Israeli Cabinet voted to trade the archterrorist

Samir Kuntar, who is in Israeli prison, for what is understood to be the bodies of

IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

 

In 1979, Kuntar entered Nahariya, Israel, from Lebanon, by boat, with a group of three

fellow terrorists. Entering the apartment of the Haran family, and knowing the police

were on the way, they took Danny Haran and his four year old daughter, Einat, hostage

and brought them down to the beach. When a shoot-out with police erupted, Samir

Kuntar shot Danny in the back at close range in full view of his four year old daughter.

Then he drowned Danny in the sea to make certain he was dead, and proceeded to smash

Einat's head against the rocks, while she screamed, "Mommy, Daddy help me!" Then he

crushed her head with the butt of his rifle.

 

Palestinian Media Watch has now reported that the PA sees Kuntar as embodying the

heroism” of those fighting Israel. PA TV broadcast a picture honoring Kuntar, in which

he is shown beside a map of Israel completely covered by the Palestinian flag.

 

Arlene Kushner

 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,

One World, Oxford,   2006,  261pp

 

A Book review by Raphael Israeli.

 

An Arabic saying contends that  mbayyin al-kitab min ‘unwano ( the book is self-evident from its title) . Never was it so easy to condemn a book judging only from its title. When we speak about ethnic cleansing, what comes to mind is the massive uprooting of  ethnic groups, by force, in order to achieve a demographic or ethnic change in a certain area, or to punish restive ethnic groups by exiling them en masse from their land. Stalin did that to the Chechens and Germans, Germans to Jews and Gypsies, Turks to the Greeks from Anatolia and to  CIrcassians from the Caucasus, Serbs to Muslims from Bosnia and Kosovo, the Albanians to the Serbs from Kosovo, and any number of other unfortunate occurrences of this sort. In most of these cases, the population transfer, as it is called euphemistically, was accomplished  amidst more or less pain and misery, but the end result has been a balance sheet of vast movements of people, usually against their will. That is ethnic cleansing.

 

In the Arab-Israeli wars many people have been forcefully removed from their homes, lands and made to evacuate entire villages and neighborhoods. For example, the areas of the Dead Sea  (Kalia, Beit Ha-‘Arava), Northern Jerusalem (Atarot, Neve Ya’akov) and Hebron (the city itself and then the Etzion Bloc with several flourishing Jewish settlements) in 1948; the evacuation of all Jews from the Yamit and Ophira areas in 1982 where several scores  of stunningly successful Jewish settlements in the desert were forced to leave under the peace treaty with Egypt; and more recently the forced evacuation of the Gaza Strip and the uprooting of 20 prosperous Jewish settlements (Gush Katif) under  Israel’s disengagement  scheme of 2006. To forget all that record of Jewish transfers, and to concentrate on the uprooting of the Palestinians from Israel, as if it were unprovoked and unilaterally perpetrated against Palestinians, is not only unfair, false and bad historiography, but also intellectually dishonest, misleading and reflects a will to mark points among a certain brand of anti-Semitic readers whose main purpose in life is to bash Israel, Zionism and the Jews.

 

The most striking travesty of history consists in the skewed presentation by the author of the otherwise irrefutable facts on the ground:  while most, or all, of the above cases of population transfer were “successful” in the sense that they attained their goal, and the areas in question were cleansed from the “undesirable” ethnic group at the end of the process, the way vast swathes of Europe became judenrein, the “ethnic cleansing of Palestine” was in all evidence a major failure. Let the numbers speak : there were altogether 1.2 million Arabs in Western Palestine in 1948, now there are close to 5 million (3.5 in the West Bank and Gaza, 1.3 in Israel Proper). A population that grew  four-fold in 60 years, namely which doubled every generation of 20 years,  (something parallel to the natural growth in Egypt , Syria and the rest of the Arab world which knew no “ethnic cleansing” on the part of those horrible Israelis during that period of time), cannot be said to have been “ethnically cleansed”. So, one would expect a little respect to the facts, the numbers and the statistics, if nothing else.

 

When we advance beyond the title of this eye-catching volume of one-sided “history”, which earned  its author the epithet of “Israel’s bravest, most principled and most incisive historian”, by  other writers who are either ignorant of history, or bent  on bashing Israel and the Jews even at the cost of distorted “history”, or both, the picture is more nuanced and can be argued one way or the other. Even granted that many of the detailed cases discussed and documented by Pappe reflect a certain reality,  it is the generalizations and the  conclusions drawn by the author which lead him astray and mislead his readers, especially the uninitiated among them. Had the unbiased context been laid out fairly and squarely before the readers, one could then make the judgment for oneself. But to  apportion the blame to one party, and making the other a bunch of saintly victims, simply does not add up in view of the known record. This amounts to  dispatching the  venomous arrow against his own people and then draw the target around it. Why he did that is a totally different question, which  conjures up matters of psychology which lay beyond the purview of this essay. Here we will remain  true to this ideologically –driven book, its structure, its  selective documentation and its  damning conclusions.

 

Many books have come out these past decade or two, notably by revisionist historians  who showed  how composite, multi-layered and  diverse was the picture of the exodus of the Arabs of Palestine. No one historian in Israel would claim today that all of the 700,000 Palestinians who left their towns and villages during the war did it of his own volition. There was certainly a mix of premeditated expulsions  like in the Lod-Ramla battles; massacres (on both sides) which pushed some Arabs to flee for their lives; Arab elites, especially from the cities, who had the means to leave temporarily in order to return as victors (they left their homes furnished when they took the keys with them); the bulk of the villagers who were simply caught in the cross fire and sought salvation for their families in exile; many other villagers who collaborated with Zionists and would prefer to seek accommodation with them rather than fight them, as Hillel Cohen has shown in his admirable book; tens of thousands of displaced Arabs who left their villages and converged on cities like Nazareth where they felt better protected; and the general atmosphere of war which causes people to make wrong judgments and take hastened and unwise decisions. All these elements were there, therefore to summarize that exodus under the all-encompassing  slogan of “ethnic cleansing”, simply does not meet any basic yardstick of truth,  simplistically attractive as it may be.

 

Pappe, regardless of his writings and “findings” about the exodus of Palestinians in 1948,  has been ideologically committed to one Palestine, exactly following the ideal formulated by the Mufti  and the pacifist and  naïve Jewish Brith Shalom led by President Magnes of Hebrew University, which did not find any resonance among the Jewish population then. He cares little about Jewish nationalism (Zionism), though he does not reserve the same castigation for the Arab Palestinian national movement. In other words, he regards with indifference the submersion of the Jewish-Zionist idea into Palestinian nationalism and does not mind the least to raise his children in an Arab culture which is not his. For him, the state is a utilitarian framework in which any human can have his expression, except that he should also know that the end of a Jewish state is also the end of democracy, development, freedom, science, prosperity, high-tech and all the other perks which were brought about by the Jewish state and make it so different from the Arab environment. Left to its devices,  any Arab-majority state in Palestine would not be different from the chaos of Gaza, the poverty of Egypt , the dictatorships of Syria and  Libya, the corruption of Saudi Arabia  and the backwardness of all the rest. Except for Pappe, no Israeli shares in that blind vision, which accepts cutting his alienated country’s GNP to one tenth of what it is today if it were to be governed by Arabs. But he, to justify his utopian pipe-dream, is also ready to re-write history, demonize the Jews who scuttled his scheme, and bolster the Palestinians who from their position of recalcitrant and negative opponents of Jewish nationalism, are elevated to the status of martyrized victims.

 

A more balanced (and truthful) analysis of the situation  in the 1947-9 period would reveal the following:

1.  The Zionist enterprise was founded since its inception, knowing its demographic weakness, on compromise and partition. The Peel Commission and then the Partition Plan were accepted by the Zionists and rejected by the Arabs, who under their Mufti Husseini insisted on the whole and undivided Palestine. The Mufti’s collaboration with Hitler during the War in the annihilation of the Jews and the declaration by Azzam Pasha, the Secretary of the Arab League, about the impending massacre of all Jews, combined with the repeated attacks on the Jewish settlements, did not augur well for the existential future of the Jews in Palestine, let alone their independence. So, from the outset, the  predisposition among the Jews after the horrors of the Holocaust, was one of fear, suspicion and determination to fight for survival, especially that many Arabs were prepared to assist them in that endeavor (for a price)

2.     Had the Arabs accepted all those compromises, and the Palestinian Arabs  refrained from waging war on the nascent Jewish state, opportunities for accommodation could have run their course. Jewish perception of Arab adamant views as genocidal attempts on their lives by necessity hardened their own views, and in a situation of facing annihilation if they did not overcome their enemy, they naturally chose  to overpower it or exile it, rather than face extinction themselves. Had the Jews of Europe been exiled instead of sent to crematoria, most of them would have survived the war.

3. The fact that there was NO ethnic cleansing, as the present-time demography  undeniably shows,  may have in the long run triggered the long and insoluble conflict which does not end. For as long as the Palestinians see a chance to reverse historical developments and annihilate the state of Israel, they persist in their politicidal dreams,  propped as they are by people like Pappe, who mobilized a formidable support for them in the Western world by his  vindictive rewriting of history. So, contrary to his hopes and statements, Pappe unwittingly encourages the continuation of bloodshed and conflict, and in that regard he is not the Palestinians’ friend, but their worst enemy as he will bring to their further bleeding and sacrifice, instead of prodding them to compromise and accommodation with reality.

4. At the same time that those Palestinians left their country , under expulsion, flight, voluntary exile or otherwise, the same amount of Jews fled from Arab countries to settle in Israel, where they were absorbed into the system. Their flight was not effected under war conditions and simply emanated from their oppressive dhimmi status that they could no longer bear. Therefore, this unplanned exchange of populations, which resolved one problem though it did nothing to settle the other, remains a living  reminder that population transfers, though they may be painful and inhuman in their time, can also bring a problem to an end after a few generations, as it happened with Jewish immigrants to Israel, and as the Arabs bluntly refused to see unfolding among the Palestinians.

5. Pappe may be content to be a Jew in an Arab land, though he preferred to settle in Sussex, not in Gaza or Casablanca. And he is well aware that Arabs, with the same history, language, tradition and  customs have found their national expression in 21 Arab states. Nonetheless  he feels totally mobilized to the cause of creating a 22nd state. At the same time, he feels that Jews are not entitled to any state, and he is prepared to forsake the only Jewish state there is for the purpose of establishing that 22nd Palestinian entity. He is also aware that Jews want a state not as a faith but as a people, which saw  Jewish kingdoms and two commonwealths before there was any Arab of Muslim entity to speak of. The majority of Israeli Jews are committed to that idea.

 

In this light, or rather obscurity, many of the contentions of Pappe in this book, which is otherwise well-written, have no leg to stand on, in spite of its copious documentation. Documents are more important for the context in which they were made than for the specific  event they depict. For example, if one states that on August 8, 1945  the Americans dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan, a factual statement which is true, any reader who is detached from the context would rightly deem that as an atrocious act against innocent people. But when one understands the treacherous and unprovoked war that the Japanese launched in Pearl Harbour, the amount of bloodshed they caused in the Pacific War, the atrocities and cruelty they inflicted upon the  occupied Asiatic people, the vital role Hiroshima and Nagasaki played in dispatching troops, war materiel and supplies to the occupied territories, and the Tokyo determination to pursue this bloody war and bleed American power to exhaustion, one can more easily comprehend that the bomb did not descend out of the blue on saintly and innocent Japanese cities who lived in peace and love formerly until the “arrogant”, “imperialist” and “cruel” Americans came along to play with their war toys.

 

Examples of these skewed interpretations by the author abound. In his second Chapter (pp. 10-28) for example, the point is made to castigate Israel for its “drive for an exclusively Jewish state”. First of all, this is not true: the Declaration of Independence calls upon the Arabs to stay within the state and contribute peacefully to its construction. Secondly, 60 years later, 20% of the population is Arab. So, where is the Jewish exclusivity? Or were the Jews so impotent and helpless to “cleanse” their country from Arabs had they wished to? Certainly, the Jews wished to establish a Jewish state because there was a Jewish problem to resolve. But to accuse them of exclusivity, while it is Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and  Jordan who have excluded Jews by law,  is again dishonest, untrue and misleading. An Arab majority state, as Pappe would wish to live in, though he did not make that  choice when he could, would not resolve the Jewish problems in the world, and the whole enterprise of providing a home for persecuted Jews would have been defeated. Similarly, Pappe takes all the military operations like Nachshon (pp.86-90) or Palm Tree (pp. 154-5) as premeditated moves within the grand scheme of “ethnic cleansing”, but the truth was that military operations were conducted for their own sake of extricating the fledgling state from the genocidal siege imposed by the invading Arab  states. That  a large exodus of Arabs resulted, was natural due to the reasons for population movements referred to above. But to turn the result into the cause, is tantamount to claiming that America schemed the opening of the Pacific War  for the opportunity to test its nuclear bomb.

 

One is so tired of this one-sided reports and exaggerated accounts, that the whole story loses its credibility, while if a balanced and a less selective account were followed it could have provided an intriguing “another history” of the Arab-Israel dispute at its source. The author’s eagerness to condemn, castigate and demonize his own country is so intense and the hatred of his own people is so blinding, that one wonders how he operated in this environment most of his academic career. In general, turncoats of any sort and against any party, inspire contempt, pity and embarrassment. In this case, the litany of complaints and selective stories that the author chose to elevate to the level of “history”, while cutting specific events from their context, can only cause dismay and wonder. How does a knowledgeable scholar pretend to present the narrative of a conflict by only describing what one party allegedly did to the other? It is like reporting a boxing match  on radio or in writing, by only depicting the punches delivered by the victor, while completely neglecting to mention the steps, defensive and offensive that the losing party took in the process. Is that a fair description of the match? Can anyone claim to have understood the match after that?

 

The last chapters of the book address the recent problems of the unfortunate Israeli disengagement from Gaza, which far from calming the tempers has on the contrary  inflamed them , brought Hamas to power and occasioned daily bombing and shelling  of  Israel. Instead of seeing wrong in that again unprovoked attack on  innocent civilians, the author elected to criticize Israel’s demographic fears and its resulting opposition to the claimed Palestinian “right of return”. France, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain too have begun to fear what the Muslim immigration to their turf might do to their culture and demographic make-up. This is natural for Israelis too, save for Pappe, whose eagerness  to turn Israel into an Arab majority state, where Jewish identity would vanish, if it came to pass one day , may put a final seal on his chances to return home.

 

Raphael Israeli.

 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

 

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