Saturday, February 20, 2010

Khamenei and the Politics of Indecision.

 

by Mehdi Khalaji

February 11, the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, is the most important official holiday in Iran. The public faces of the opposition Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, have called for street demonstrations to mark the occasion. Meanwhile, government officials at every level have warned against such protests, threatening tough action against any participants. In this tense atmosphere, what are the prospects that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will agree to political compromise?

The rhetoric on both sides has grown more heated in recent days. Gen. Hossein Hamedani -- commander of the Muhammad Rasoul Allah Army, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) branch in charge of Tehran security -- warned that "anyone who protests against the government on February 11 is not part of the Iranian people, and we dare to say that he is foreigner's agent." On the opposition side, Mousavi gave a February 2 interview in which he argued that the 1979 revolution did not end despotism in Iran. "[W]e have been too optimistic about the revolution," he said, implying that the Islamic Republic has deep flaws in its very structure.

Pressure on Khamenei

After the surprising violence on December 27, 2009 -- the Shiite holy day of Ashura -- Khamenei faced intense pressure from government moderates to make at least minimal concessions with the opposition and extinguish the crisis. For example, moderate conservatives in the Majlis issued a report linking Said Mortazavi, former general prosecutor of Tehran, to the torture of prisoners in Kahrizak detention center. They argued that if the government takes action against such notorious hardliners, it will be able to forge a compromise that ends the protest movement.

These relative moderates seem to believe that some concessions are necessary to prevent the imminent demonstrations from spiraling out of control and eclipsing the Ashura violence. They also hope to prevent erosion of the Ahmadinezhad government's legitimacy outside Tehran and in the eyes of citizens who have remained passive thus far. In addition, they seem to believe that without compromise, the regime will do even more harm to its global image and perhaps increase international pressure on Iran. This moderate faction appears to have a strong presence in the Majlis and includes other notable figures such as Tehran mayor Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf, Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezaii, and pro-regime religious authority Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi. Khamenei has faced pressure from other sources as well. In an exceptional move, Ayatollah Abdul Karim Mousavi Ardebili -- one of the Islamic Republic's founding fathers and head of the judiciary under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- recently traveled to Tehran to visit Khamenei. Religious authorities (marjas) rarely pay such visits to the Supreme Leader; in fact, it was Ardebili's first in seventeen years. According to the website Jaras, Ardebili asked Khamenei to compromise, proposing that the Supreme Leader offer "immediate unconditional release of all political prisoners" and reject "extremists and radicals." Khamenei reportedly refused to accept any of these terms.

This reaction seems in line with the Supreme Leader's management style, which has been to exercise full authority without accepting any responsibility or making clear decisions. The recent nuclear negotiations are a good example of his favored approach: Tehran sends contradictory signals to diminish pressure on Iran but avoids reaching (much less implementing) a decisive deal. Khamenei pursues the same policy on domestic issues, with notable exceptions (e.g., his explicit support for President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad after the June 2009 election and his implicit acceptance of responsibility for the outcome). Although he generally seeks to avoid high-profile, violent confrontations, that does not necessarily mean he is willing to compromise with the opposition. In a February 8 speech, he stated, "It is clear now that those who stood up against the Iranian people in the election are not part of the people but rather are either anti-revolutionaries or ignorant, stubborn individuals who do what anti-revolutionaries do; they have nothing to do with the people." In doing so, he implied that Mousavi and Karrubi are ignorant and stubborn, and that a clear line separates them from the Islamic Republic and its supporters.

Why Is Compromise Difficult for Khamenei?

Despite his eagerness to see the political crisis taper off, Khamenei finds compromise difficult. Since the 2009 presidential election, he feels less comfortable trusting the moderates he once supported. With Ahmadinezhad's counsel, he has come to believe that Majlis speaker Ali Larijani, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and other figures such as Qalibaf and Rezaii seek to weaken the president and look for opportunities to usurp his position. These figures have been Ahmadinezhad's competitors throughout his presidency, providing outspoken criticism on economic policies in particular. The mistrust is mutual: the confidence gap between the opposition and Khamenei is widening the more he identifies with Ahmadinezhad. On February 1, for example, Muhammad Khatami said that Iranians are loyal to the Supreme Leader provided he acts as a leader for all.

Khamenei's relations with the clergy are another factor in his stubbornness. Even pro-regime clerics have shown far-reaching discontent about Ahmadinezhad, questioning his economic policies, his decision to appoint women as ministers, and most especially his choice of Esfandiar Mashai as head of the president's office. Mashai represents a new set of ideas about Islam common in revolutionary circles, namely, minimizing the role of clerics. In light of these factors, pro-regime religious authorities did not congratulate Ahmadinezhad for his "victory" in the 2009 election (with the exception of Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani, who has little influence over the Shiite community and is seen as economically and politically corrupt). Khamenei, of course, gave Ahmadinezhad immediate, unconditional support after the rigged vote and was not happy about the clerics' reluctance, which he viewed as a sign of weakened support for the Supreme Leader himself. A compromise that undercuts the president could be seen as a signal to the clergy that they need not accept all of Khamenei's decisions.

Indeed, the Supreme Leader's support for Ahmadinezhad has narrowed the circles from which he can draw support. Green leaders and moderate conservatives alike have asked him to back off from this stance and allow the political and judicial institutions to criticize the president and hold him accountable. Instead, Khamenei continues to act as if he believes that his political destiny is intertwined with Ahmadinezhad's, and that any sign of compromise will create space for people to target him.

This belief is not unfounded. Khamenei's main political power base lies with the IRGC (and, to a lesser extent, with the judiciary). The Green leaders oppose the IRGC's political and economic role, however, believing that Ahmadinezhad would have been unable to manipulate the election without the Guards' interference. Therefore, although reining in the IRGC would undercut Khamenei's power base, it is a central prerequisite for any viable compromise. As Karrubi stated in a February 6 interview with Der Spiegel, "If Ahmadinezhad loses his support, then the parliament will topple him. Many conservative groups oppose him. He is only able to hold on to power with the help of the militias.... There is no sign of a willingness to compromise from our side -- and also not from the other side either."

Finally, Khamenei believes that any compromise in this situation will give key rivals such as Rafsanjani the upper hand. If he agrees to negotiate with politicians, he would effectively be admitting that in his twenty years of leadership -- especially the recent period during which he gained control over all three branches of government -- he did not do a good job, and that statecraft is beyond him.

The Supreme Leader faces a serious dilemma. Both of the most likely scenarios -- more violence by government forces or significant compromise under opposition pressure -- would weaken his authority. In other words, he loses either way. The only scenario that would benefit him is if the protests fade away without violence, which at this point seems unlikely.

Mehdi Khalaji is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on Iranian politics and the politics of Shiite groups in the Middle East.

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

Words, words, words.

 

by Moshe Arens

 

One might be inclined to brush off the recent verbal exchanges between Ehud Barak, Walid Moallem and Avigdor Lieberman as no more than Hamlet's "words, words, words" that have little meaningful content. Nevertheless, they are an indication of the thoughts running through the minds of Israel's defense and foreign minister and Syria's foreign minister. So just what are these thoughts?

Let's start with our defense minister. Barak is saying that if Israel does not negotiate a peace agreement with Syria - one that would lead to the return of the Golan Heights to Syrian control - Israel is risking a war with Syria; that after such a war, we would simply return to the present situation and the need to negotiate a peace agreement with Syria and give up the Golan.

Really? Does that mean that in his opinion Israel's deterrent capability against Syria that has existed since the Yom Kippur War and was reinforced during the first Lebanon war has worn thin over the years and, in effect, no longer exists? Does that mean that after a war initiated by Syria, Syria's situation would essentially be no different than before it attacked Israel, that it would continue to remain a threat so that Israel would be forced to concede the Golan Heights? Well, that would be good news for Syrian President Bashar Assad, and if taken seriously by him might even put adventurous thoughts in his mind.

 

Except that Assad knows better than that. He knows that a war with Israel would probably damage Syria severely and leave him with little chance to continue to make demands on Israel; that is, unless he places great reliance on the thousands of ballistic missiles he has accumulated over the years. Moallem hinted at their use. "Israel should know that a war will move to Israel's cities," he said. So maybe in fear of the destruction of its cities by Syrian missiles, Israel would prefer to concede the Golan Heights to Syria to prevent such a war. Is that really the balance of terror that now exists between Israel and Syria?

Israel did not need Moallem's warning to be aware of the thousands of missiles in Syria's inventory accumulated in recent years. One can only hope that the preparations by the Home Front Command - distributing gas masks and readying shelters for the civilian population - are not the only or even the main answer that Israel has prepared against this threat. Israel has certainly had enough time to develop the weapons systems and an appropriate strategy that would remove from Syrian minds the thought of using these missiles against Israel's cities. Do they really need the statement by Lieberman that the current Syrian regime would not survive a war with Israel to put some sober thoughts into their heads?

One can only conclude that the avalanche of words by the leaders of Israel and Syria this past week was really intended for the Israeli public. The defense minister is using scare tactics to urge Israelis to prepare to abandon the Golan Heights. Rather than risking an inevitable war that will result in no more than a stalemate, Israel should now give up the Golan Heights, he tells us. Moallem echoes Barak's words by threatening the destruction of Israel's cities if a war were to occur. And Lieberman is saying - and it's most probably true - that if Syria were to go to war against Israel, under the impact of Israeli blows, Assad's Alawite ruling regime would probably not survive such a war. That is what deterrence is all about, so Israelis need not worry, Lieberman tells us, despite the defense minister's pronouncements.

As for a sober assessment of the Israeli-Syrian situation, by all indications the Syrians continue to be deterred from attacking Israel by their appreciation of Israel's military capability and the response they can expect to aggression on their part. Over the years they have amassed a large arsenal of ballistic missiles hoping to deter Israel from taking military action against Syria. This Syrian deterrent has been effective enough to keep Israel from calling Syria to account for its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. So far.

 

 

Moshe Arens

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

 

Blinded by Hate.

 

by P. David Hornik

For anyone wishing to understand the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” as well as the persistence of extremist and anti-Semitic views in that part of the world, the latest Pew Research Center report on attitudes in the Arab and Muslim world makes for must-reading.

The report is based on a survey that the Pew Center’s Global Attitudes Project conducted from May 18 to June 16 last year. It begins by saying that “across predominantly Muslim nations, there is little enthusiasm for the extremist Islamic organizations Hamas and Hezbollah, although there are pockets of support for both groups, especially in the Middle East.” What the Pew Center calls “little enthusiasm,” however, is in most cases quite considerable enthusiasm.

True, in Turkey Hamas gets only a 5% “favorable” rating and Hezbollah only 3%. But the next-lowest ratings are in Lebanon, where 30% approve of Hamas and 35% of Hezbollah—substantial proportions considering that both are terrorist organizations. And regarding Hezbollah, Lebanese Shiites and Sunnis are, not surprisingly, sharply split, with 97% of Shiites seeing the Shiite terror group favorably and only 2% of Sunnis.

As for the Palestinians, when it comes to the most extreme organizations and leaders, only in the case of Hamas—paradoxically—do they trail behind some other nationalities. Some 44% of Palestinians view Hamas favorably; the group does better both in Jordan (56%) and Egypt (52%). That this has something to do with Palestinians’ direct experience of Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, is suggested by the fact that Hamas actually came in less popular in Gaza (37%) than in the West Bank (47%).

When it comes to Hezbollah, though, the overwhelmingly Sunni Palestinians are ahead of the pack with a 61% approval rating for this Shiite outfit; the next highest are in Jordan (51%) and Egypt (43%). It is no secret that Hezbollah has many admirers, cutting across Sunni-Shiite divides, for its perceived military successes against Israel; that its cachet is particularly strong for the Palestinians, though, is consistent with other findings of the survey.

The survey not only gauged attitudes toward organizations but also toward various leaders, including six Arab and Muslim leaders among whom the most extreme were Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Osama bin Laden. Nasrallah – who has said that “If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide” – scored highest among the Palestinians with 65% expressing confidence in him; next came the Jordanians (a majority of whom, it should be noted, are also Palestinians) at 56%, with Nasrallah’s own Lebanese compatriots a fairly distant third at 37%.

As for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president who has said Israel “must be wiped off the map,” he, too, did best among the Palestinians at 45%, edging out Indonesia at 43%, with the next highest scores in Arab countries being Jordan and Lebanon both at 32%.

And as for Osama bin Laden himself, here the Palestinians were almost his greatest fans at 51%, far ahead of the next group—again the Jordanians—at 28%; only among Nigerian Muslims (excluding Nigerian Christians) did the Al Qaeda leader do a bit better at 54%.

The survey also gauged Muslims’ attitude toward religious groups, including Jews. Here, at least, the Palestinians can’t be accused of being ahead of the rest. Ninety-five percent of Egyptians, 97% of Jordanians, 98% of Lebanese, and 97% of Palestinians registered an unfavorable view of Jews; among non-Arab Muslims—Turkey 73%, Indonesia 74%, Pakistan 78%—the rates were only somewhat lower.

Although the findings on Palestinian attitudes and general Arab anti-Semitism are not much different from previous Pew Center surveys, perhaps it is time to take more note of them—especially as hands are being wrung about the hiatus in the “peace process” with the Palestinians. In that connection Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is quoted as saying that “Since there are no prospects of talks on the horizon, and in many ways what their efforts wrought was a wasted year without any negotiations, I believe the [U.S.] administration deserves an ‘F’ for failure to deliver on results.”

It is odd that Foxman, head of an organization devoted to fighting anti-Jewish and other forms of bigotry, apparently sees “peace with the Palestinians” as such a feasible goal. But there is no need to single Foxman out, as his fallacy is widespread.

It is true that Israel has a limited but valuable peace with Egypt and Jordan, no less monolithically anti-Semitic than the Palestinians. That the Palestinians, however, show such high enthusiasm for the likes of Hezbollah, Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad, and Bin Laden gives a better clue as to why “peace” keeps running aground than all the anguished analyses of supposedly failed diplomacy.

 

P. David Hornik

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

 

The Fatah fairy tale.

 

by Caroline Glick

Israel's is the only government that can force the rest of the world to recognize that Abbas is not an ally.

 

Fahmi Shabaneh is an odd candidate for dissident status. Shabaneh is a Jerusalemite who joined the Palestinian Authority's General Intelligence Service in 1994.

Working for PA head Mahmoud Abbas and GIS commander Tawfik Tirawi, Shabaneh was tasked with investigating Arab Jerusalemites suspected of selling land to Jews. Such sales are a capital offense in the PA. Since 1994 scores of Arabs have been the victims of extrajudicial executions after having been fingered by the likes of Shabaneh.

A few years ago, Abbas and Tirawi gave Shabaneh a new assignment. They put him in charge of a unit responsible for investigating corrupt activities carried out by PA officials. They probably assumed a team player like Shabaneh understood what he was supposed to do.

Just as Abbas's predecessor, Yasser Arafat, reportedly had full dossiers on all of his underlings and used damning information to keep them loyal to him, so Abbas probably believed that Shabaneh's information was his to use or ignore as he saw fit.

For a while, Abbas's faith was well-placed. Shabaneh collected massive amounts of information on senior PA officials detailing their illegal activities. These activities included the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid; illegal seizure of land and homes; and monetary and sexual extortion of their fellow Palestinians.

Over time, Shabaneh became disillusioned with his boss. Abbas appointed him to his job around the time he was elected PA head in 2005. Abbas ran on an anti-corruption platform. Shabaneh's information demonstrated that Abbas presided over a criminal syndicate posing as a government. And yet rather than arrest his corrupt, criminal associates, Abbas promoted them.

Abbas continued promoting his corrupt colleagues even after Hamas's 2006 electoral victory. That win owed to a significant degree to the widespread public revulsion with Fatah's rampant corruption.

With Israel and the US lining up to support him after the Hamas victory, Abbas sat on his hands. Enjoying his new status as the irreplaceable "moderate," he allowed his advisers and colleagues to continue enriching themselves with the international donor funds that skyrocketed after Hamas's victory.

Since 2006, despite the billions of dollars in international aid showered on Fatah, Hamas has consistently led Fatah in opinion polls. Rather than clean up their act, Abbas and his Fatah colleagues have sought to ingratiate themselves with their public by ratcheting up their incitement against Israel. And since Abbas has been deemed irreplaceable, the same West that turns a blind eye to his corruption, refuses to criticize his encouragement of terrorism. And this makes sense. How can the West question the only thing standing in the way of a Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria?

Recently, Shabaneh decided he had had enough. The time had come to expose what he knows. But he ran into an unanticipated difficulty. No one wanted to know. As he put it, Arab and Western journalists wouldn't touch his story for fear of being "punished" by the PA.

In his words, Western journalists "don't want to hear negative things about Fatah and Abbas."

Lacking other options, Shabaneh brought his information to The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh.

On January 29, the Post published Abu Toameh's interview with Shabaneh on our front page. Among other impressive scoops, Shabaneh related that Abbas's associates purloined $3.2 million in cash that the US gave Abbas ahead of the 2006 elections. He told Abu Toameh how PA officials who were almost penniless in 1994 now have tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars in their private accounts. He related how he watched in horror as Abbas promoted the very officials he reported on. And he showed Abu Toameh a video of Abbas's chief of staff Rafik Husseini naked in the bedroom of a Christian woman who sought employment with the PA.

If Shabaneh's stories were about Israeli or Western officials, there is no doubt that they would have been picked up by every self-respecting news organization in the world. If he had been talking about Israelis, officials from Washington to Brussels to the UN would be loudly calling for official investigations. But since he was talking about the Palestinians, no one cared.

The State Department had nothing to say. The EU had nothing to say. The New York Times acted as if his revelations were about nothing more than a sex scandal.

As for Abbas and his cronies, they were quick to blame the Jews. They accused Shabaneh – their trusted henchman when it came to land sales to Jews – of being an Israeli agent. And when Channel 10 announced it was broadcasting Husseini's romp in the sack, Abbas demanded that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bar the broadcast, (apparently forgetting that unlike his PA-controlled media, Israel's media organs are free).

SHABANEH'S ODYSSEY from PA regime loyalist to dissident is an interesting tale. But what is more noteworthy than his personal journey is the world's indifference to his revelations.

Just as the mountains of evidence that Fatah officials – including Shabaneh's boss Tirawi – have been actively involved in terrorist attacks against Israel have been systematically ignored by successive US administrations, Israeli governments and EU foreign policy chiefs, so no one wants to think about the fact that Fatah is a criminal syndicate. The implications are too devastating.

Since at least 1994, successive US administrations goaded by the EU have made supporting Fatah and the PA the centerpiece of their Middle East policy. They want to receive proof that Fatah is a terrorist organization that operates like a criminal organization like they want – in the immortal words of former EU Middle East envoy Christopher Patten – "a hole in [their] head."

As for the Western media, their lack of interest in Shabaneh's revelation serves as a reminder of just how mendacious much of the reportage about the Palestinians and Israel is. For 16 years, the American and European media have turned blind eyes to Palestinian misbehavior while expansively reporting every allegation against Israel – no matter how flimsy or obviously false. When the history of the media's coverage of the Middle East is written it will constitute one of the darkest chapters in Western media history.

But while the American and European allegiance to the fable of Fatah as the anchor of the two-state solution accounts for the indifference of both to Shabaneh's disclosures, what accounts for the Netanyahu government's behavior in this matter?

Shortly after the Post first published Shabaneh's story, the PA issued an arrest warrant against him. He was charged among other things with "harming the national interests" of the Palestinians.

But Abbas's henchmen couldn't put their hands on him.

Israel had already arrested him.

Shabaneh was booked for among other things, illegally working for the PA. It is illegal for Israeli residents to work for the PA. But oddly, although Israeli authorities have known whom he worked for since 1994, until his disclosures were made public, they never saw any pressing need to arrest or prosecute him.

Official Israel has nothing to say about Shabaneh's information. Instead, in the wake of his disclosures, everyone from Netanyahu to Defense Minister Ehud Barak has continued to daily proclaim their dedication to reaching a peace accord with Abbas. This even as Abbas and his cronies accuse Israel of using the "traitorous" Shabaneh to pressure Abbas into negotiating with Israel.

There are two explanations for Israel's behavior. First, there is the fact the presence of Barak and his Labor Party in the government makes it impossible for Netanyahu and his Likud Party to abandon the failed two-state paradigm of dealing the PA. If Netanyahu and his colleagues were to point out that the PA is a kleptocracy and its senior officials enable terror and escalate incitement to deflect their public's attention away from their criminality, (as well as because they want to destroy Israel), then Labor may bolt the coalition.

Beyond that, there is no doubt that an Israeli denunciation of Abbas and his mafia would enrage the US and EU. Apparently, Netanyahu – who to please President Barack Obama accepted the two-state paradigm in spite of the fact that he opposes it, and suspended Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria despite the fact that knows doing this is wrong – is loath to pick a fight by pointing out the obvious fact that the PA is a corrupt band of oppressive thieves.

Shabaneh argues that due to PA corruption, Hamas remains the preferred alternative for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. In his view, the only reason Hamas has yet to take over Judea and Samaria is the IDF presence in the areas.

The strategic implications of his statement are clear. Far from being a bulwark against Hamas, Abbas empowers the Iranian-backed jihadist force. The only bulwark against Hamas is Israel.

WHAT THIS means is that Israel must end its support for Abbas. Every day he remains in power, he perpetuates a myth of Palestinian moderation. As a supposed moderate, he claims that Israel should curtail its counterterror operations and let his own "moderate" forces take over.

To strengthen Abbas, the US pressures Israel to curtail its counterterror operations in Judea and Samaria. To please the US, Israel in turn cuts back its operations.

Abbas's men fight Hamas, but they also terrorize journalists, merchants and plain civilians who fall in their path, and so strengthen Hamas. To ratchet up public support for Fatah, Abbas escalates PA incitement against Israel. This then encourages his own forces to attack Israelis – as happened last week when one of his security officers murdered IDF St.-Sgt. Maj. Ihab Khatib. And so it goes.

It is clear that Barak will threaten to bolt the coalition if Netanyahu decides to cut off Abbas. But if he left, where would he go? Barak has nowhere to go. He will not be reelected to lead his party. And if Labor leaves the coalition, Netanyahu would still be far from losing his majority in Knesset.

As for angering the White House, the fact of the matter is that by pointing out that Abbas is not a credible leader, Israel will make it more difficult for Obama and his advisers to coerce Israel into making further concessions that will only further empower Hamas.

 

Shabaneh told the Post that he fully expects the PA to try to kill him. But in a way, the yawns that greeted his story are his best life insurance policy. Until the world stops believing that Fatah is indispensable, no one will listen to the Shabanehs of the world and so the PA has no reason to kill him.

Just as the Post was the only media organ that would publish his story, so the Israeli government is the only government that can force the rest of the world to recognize that Abbas is not an ally. But to do that, the government itself must finally break with the fairy tale of Fatah moderation.

 

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

 

Does the Obama Administration Define U.S. interests as Protecting its Allies?


by Barry Rubin

Foreign policy is often a matter of wording. When a government is careless about analysis and definitions it sets up a very dangerous situation that might end up killing people and overthrowing governments.

Historians believe that an errant American statement mistakenly leaving South Korea out of the U.S.-protected security zone back in 1949 helped persuade the Soviets and Chinese that a North Korean invasion of the South would not be met by a strong U.S. response. It is clear that a parallel mistake in 1990 was interpreted by Iraq as a sign that if it invaded and annexed Kuwait Washington would do nothing.

So consider the following statement in the new assessment by the director of national intelligence concerning Hizballah:

"We judge that, unlike al-Qa'ida, Hizballah, which has not directly attacked U.S. interests
overseas over the past 13 years, is not now actively plotting to strike the Homeland. However, we cannot rule out that the group would attack if it perceives that the U.S. is threatening its core interests."

The key problem here is the phrase "U.S. interests." To be fair, if one focuses on the word "'directly," as in "has not directly attacked U.S. interests," it is these indirect attacks that threaten the U.S. strategic position in the region.

If the U.S. intelligence community believes that the Iran- and Syria-backed Lebanese Shia group Hizballah is not going to launch a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, they are no doubt correct. It can also be argued, though with less assurance, that Hizballah is not going to kidnap or kill American citizens or attack U.S. embassies.

There is, however, information, ignored in the report, of Hizballah involvement in preparing and helping terrorists going into Iraq to kill Americans. In addition, the role of Hizballah in kidnapping and murdering Americans in the past, as well as in the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Beirut and the Marine headquarters there, has never been punished. When President Barack Obama commemorated the anniversary of that attack,
he didn't mention Hizballah's role at all or give any sense of who had killed 241 U.S. military personnel. Trying to prove Hizballah isn't a threat is leading to ignoring cases where Hizballah is a threat.

Recently, a newspaper close to Hizballah and its Syrian allies implied that the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon might have to be "silenced" if she continues to "interfere in Lebanese politics." There have also been frequent threats that if the UN forces in Lebanon probe too deeply about Hizballah activities--massive imports of equipment from Syria and building up its capability for future war--they might be attacked, threats which have successfully intimidated them.

But this evaluation of whether or not Hizballah has attacked Americans recently is less important than the phrase "U.S. interests," which is supposed to mean far more than an attack on American personnel or property. It also should mean an attack on U.S. allies and damage to U.S. positions on key issues. In the case of Hizballah the organization still is pursuing some very serious goals against U.S. interests, including:

--To destroy moderate, pro-American forces in Lebanon, notably the alliance of Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Druze called the March 14 Coalition.

--To take over Lebanon and deliver it into the Iranian-led bloc, while promoting Tehran's interests and extend its power in every way possible.

--To destroy Israel including launching attacks on it
when it is deemed worth doing.

--To drive American influence out of Lebanon.

The two men most responsible for this assessment are likely to be the director of national intelligence Dennis Blair and the president's advisor on terrorism John Brennan. This duo is by far the most ignorant and dangerous of Obama's foreign policy appointees. Brennan is on record
as saying Hizballah is no longer a terrorist group in part because its members include lawyers.

There are two possibilities in explaining this phrase about "U.S. interests." The first is that it was careless phrasing, a sign of low competence.

The second is that it does reflect a thinking which conflates defining any force that poses a threat to U.S. interests with identifying a force that seeks a direct attack on the U.S. homeland. After all, the Obama Administration only views itself as being at war with al-Qaida because al-Qaida wants to attack New York or Detroit and--though they don't necessarily seem clear on this point--Fort Hood.

But what signal does this send to U.S. allies? That Hamas,
Hizballah, Pakistani-based terrorists striking against India, Syria which is subverting Iraq, Iran's growing power, or countries like North Korea or Venezuela are no big problem?

This may seem a minor problem in Washington but it is a huge concern in dozens of other countries. And if the administration is hazy on this point, it is some day going to find itself in a much weaker position in terms of both America's friends and enemies.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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

 

The limits of American engagement with Iran.

 

by Elie Fawaz

There is nothing solid to the eloquent words US President Barack Obama uses to address the many crises his country is experiencing, especially in the Middle East. By now it has become obvious for enemies and allies of the United States alike that this American administration has no foreign policy at all, and this is a luxury that the United States cannot afford, especially when it comes to the Middle East – the home of 70% of the oil reserves in the world – unless it has decided to cease being the world super power and is instead gunning for the Miss Congeniality title.

Obviously the myriad envoys coming to the region with the mantra of engagement without coercion has sent the wrong message and has so far led the region to the edge of a destructive war. This became clear during the American presidential campaign, when America's enemies and allies understood that an Obama victory would mean the undoing of everything George W. Bush did for the past eight years, regardless of the consequences.

The enemies of the United States had to be a little patient, the allies weary. Undoing Bush's policies in the Middle East meant giving the region up to the next strongest power. It happened in the 1980s, when Iran and its allies decided to push America out of the region successfully, but with the small difference that at the time America's allies were by far stronger, and Iran wasn't going nuclear.

 When a bunch of angry students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held American staff members hostage for hundreds of days, the Iranian revolutionaries were determined but not in total control, Khomeini hadn't yet started the purge that bloodied his country for two years in order to cement his theocracy, and he feared the American reaction, which he thought could be fatal for his revolution. The US reaction soon came in an ill-fated secret rescue mission, Operation Eagle Claw, followed by a letter from then-President Jimmy Carter to the "man of God" – Khomeini. Iran knew then that the Americans were unwilling to act and decided death should be the fate of America.

And death fell on the Americans and their allies starting from that moment, everywhere Iran could reach: from the killing of Dean of the American University of Beirut Malcolm Kerr and the murder and kidnappings of other Westerners by Iranian proxies in Beirut, to the 1983 bombing of the marine barracks in Lebanon, the 1996 Khobar bombings in Saudi Arabia, and the many attacks targeting American soldiers today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But back then the Americans were able to retreat from the region, secure in that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was heavily armed and able to contain Iran's outreach, Turkey was an ally and able to contain and pressure Syria if needed (mostly through water access), Israel was in control of South Lebanon and Hamas was still an embryo.

Today, after ousting Saddam from power, the US helped unleash the Iranian dream of spreading the Islamic Revolution throughout the Middle East. Tehran, with its nuclear ambition, is now trying to reshape the region in its own image, with the help of its powerful proxies in Hezbollah and Hamas. America's traditional allies are either weak or incapable militarily.

For Iran and its allies, it seems the destructive policies they have followed finally paid off. They destabilized Iraq, they provoked Israel into entering wars in South Lebanon and Gaza, they armed the Houthi rebels in Yemen and sent them into war against Saudi Arabia, their proxies in Lebanon took over Beirut in May 2008, and their partners in Egypt, the Gulf, the Occupied Territories and Lebanon infiltrated the ranks of power and destabilized the countries. Today these forces are waiting for Obama to withdraw from the region in order to make a complete takeover and force the world to accept a nuclear Iran in control.

You can't blame Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for doing what he is doing. Obama saw the Iranian Revolutionary Guards killing innocent protesters on the street and savagely crushing their peaceful Green Revolution but decided to turn a blind eye. Worse, Obama decided to send two letters to the supreme leader of Iran saying that "If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us." But he failed to say what would happen if the fist remained clenched.

China might veto paralyzing sanctions on Iran, Russia is actively helping it develop a nuclear weapon. All this inaction on America's part is only leading to one path, a war that will erode US influence. Even Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who works to undermine American influence in the Middle East, said this about American power to journalist Seymour Hersh recently: "Now the problem is that the United States is weaker, and the whole influential world is weak as well…. You always need power to do politics. Now nobody is doing politics…. So what you need is strong United States with good politics, not weaker United States. If you have weaker United States, it is not good for the balance of the world."

In the end it seems that even a bad policy is better than no policy at all.

Elie Fawaz

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

 

Obama Administration Whispers its Total Turnaround on the Israel-Palestinian Issue.


by Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has issued a nominally routine communiqué after her meeting with Tony Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain and now messenger of the Quartet on matters Israel-Palestinian. Does this two-paragraph document of February 11, 2010, indicate the new direction of U.S. policy on Israel-Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict issues?

First paragraph:

"This Administration has, from the beginning, worked to bring about comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On that issue our approach has been three-fold: (1) to help build the economy and capacity to govern of a Palestinian state; (2) to renew political negotiations to enable the earliest possible establishment of that state; and (3) to achieve these in a manner that ensures the security of Israel and of the Palestinians."

Wait a minute. Note the shift in priorities, very subtle but very important. Up until now, in every statement made by the Obama administration, item 2 has been in the top position. Last September, the president of the United States announced that intensive talks to reach a comprehensive peace agreement would start in early November! Three months later they aren't even in sight. So now the administration has shifted gears and the main priority is a process of state-building and community organizing among the Palestinians to get them ready for the grand opening ceremonies. That makes sense as far as it goes.

Notice it doesn't even say the "earliest possible" renewal of political negotiations but implies that the economic and infrastructure change--not talks--will achieve the "earliest possible establishment" of a Palestinian state.

In light of this shift, the second paragraph reads:

"Consistent with Prime Minister Fayyad's plan for a future Palestinian state, Tony Blair, as the Quartet representative, will intensify his partnership with Senator Mitchell in support of the political negotiations. In his role as Quartet Representative Tony Blair will continue, with full support by and coordination with Senator Mitchell, to mobilize the efforts of the international community: (1) to build support for the institutional capacity and governance of a future Palestinian State, including on the rule of law; (2) to improve freedom of movement and access for Palestinians; (3) to encourage further private sector investment; and (4) to bring change in the living conditions of the people in Gaza."

The mission of Blair and Senator Mitchell, the U.S. envoy, is defined as being, "Consistent with Prime Minister Fayyad's plan for a future Palestinian state." That means, despite the mention of "political negotiations," the Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister's two-year plan to build the Palestinian state economically and institutionally so it can be launched in 2012.

The implications of the Fayyad approach are that negotiations with Israel will be required only when everything is already prepared. This gives the administration the rationale to get nothing done in the meantime on the diplomatic level. It is thus—despite some boiler-plate language—a complete reversal in practice of the administration's previous policy. The U.S. government can "look busy" while doing precisely what its predecessor did: realize nothing much is possible at the present while awaiting some future opportunity.

The emphasis is on helping the Palestinians and not pressing them to give Israel anything. At the same time, however, there is not going to be a big emphasis on pressuring Israel except on two points. One is the "freedom of movement" issue, which means asking Israel to dismantle more roadblocks. That will depend, of course, on the security situation.

The other is the phrase, "To bring change in the living conditions of the people in Gaza." Unfortunately, this doesn't mean overthrowing Hamas and freeing Gazans from that dictatorship of genocidal-minded terrorists. Rather, it implies more pressure on Israel to reduce embargos on the Gaza Strip without removing Hamas, blocking arms-smuggling, or forcing any change in Hamas's plan for future attacks on Israel and indeed the extermination of that country and its people. In other words, still another Israeli concession, though Israel will keep it to a minimum.

Meanwhile, the United States won't push the PA to come to the negotiating table, or reduce incitement, or really convey to its people the need to give up hope of wiping out Israel and taking all the land, or punish terrorists. Trying to do these things would make the PA unhappy; stir up Arab and Muslim complaints, and not work anyway. Of course, failing to do these things will also make any real progress on peace impossible as well.

Fayyad is only kept in office because the United States and European donors, not the Fatah leaders, want him there. His two-year plan will fail completely. Fayyad is too weak to strengthen Palestinian institutions; the regime is too corrupt and incompetent (and massive violence could break out at any moment) to attract foreign investment. Any serious examination of the, albeit welcome, Palestinian economic boom shows it is based on two ultimately unproductive pillars--the aid money and real estate speculation.

In this context, the administration has made its choice, though it would never admit to that fact: maximum popularity, minimum friction, no real change. That is a reasonable choice under the circumstances. It is also in real terms the same policy as the Bush administration adopted.

All this greater recognition of reality—whatever the rhetoric employed--should be accompanied with a corresponding shift in the wider public understanding. Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the key to the Middle East. There isn't going to be any peace or even diplomatic advances in that direction. The reason is internal Palestinian politics. The leadership is still radical, more eager to reconcile with Hamas than to make peace with Israel. The world view is extremist and geared toward total victory. PA media and clerics encourage violence and teach that Israel is temporary and illegitimate.

Overall, the picture is not so bad, especially given what one might have expected from the administration's first months in office. It does seem as if the administration has reached some realization of the fecklessness of the PA, the difficulty of making peace, and is thus reluctant to commit too much effort and political capital to the issue.

Instead, it will try to prove that it loves the Palestinians while trying to keep things quiet as it deals with other things, ranging from domestic issues to Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. The Obama administration has been turned on this issue from self-proclaimed pouncing lion to a lounging pussycat though it still tries to make its meow sound like a roar.

PS: Note that the response to this story of the Associated Press is precisely the opposite of my analysis. The
AP dispatch did not mention a single one of the points made in this article (which is why you should be reading this blog, by the way). Here's their lead:

"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is going to play a bigger role in efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians back to peace talks by intensifying his partnership with special U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell."

The communique's key phrase is a description of what U.S. policy is, not the request for Blair to work with Mitchell, which means nothing in practice.


In other words, they view this as just a further intensification of the peace-process-as-usual drive for negotiations. Much of the media and public debate has the peace process so much on the brain that the cliche about not seeing the forest for the trees is inadequate. One should rather say that they look at the Sahara desert and see a forest.


Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

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

 

Were the Oslo Accords a state of mind?


by  Dr. Alex Grobman

Finding a solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict has been a constant source of frustration for American administrations. Each new U.S. president assumes he can resolve this intractable dispute either through the sheer force of his personality or his unique understanding of the problems in the region.

The Oslo Peace Accords -- which were officially signed at a public ceremony in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 13, 1993, in the presence of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and U.S. President Bill Clinton -- is among the most glaring example of how American presidents are naive about how to settle the conflict.

In "Doomed to Failure?: The Politics and Intelligence of the Oslo Peace Process," Ofira Seliktar, a professor of political science at Gratz College and adjunct professor at Temple University, analyzes the environment in which the Oslo Accords evolved, and the reasons why the agreement failed.

The downfall of the Soviet Union and the defeat of Iraq in the Gulf War in 1991 were viewed by the Israeli peace activists and their supporters in the West as a sure sign that the climate was ripe to start the Oslo negotiations that lead to the Declaration of Principles.

Shimon Peres, the most vigorous proponent of this view, believed that a new Middle East had emerged that would prevail over the "irrational" and "tribalist" attitudes like extreme nationalism and religious fundamentalism among the Arabs throughout the region.

Once peace was achieved, peace activists expected there would be an added bonus: Israel would probably abandon its own "tribal-particularistic culture shaped by the ultraorthodox and national religious Zionists in favor of a more universalistic-secular creed."

Seliktar describes how the negotiations began, the principles upon which they were based, and the Labor party's attempt to implement the accord even as Yasser Arafat's legitimacy continued to be repudiated. She explores how the Likud government attempted to effect a midcourse modification of the agreement, and Labor's efforts to circumvent and ignore PA blatant violations of the interim provisions of the Accord in order to achieve a final peace settlement.

Those who want to understand the way in which Israel predicts and manages political change will find this book of special interest. Seliktar shows us why the Oslo Accords were doomed from the start.

This is not an intellectual exercise. The reasons for the failure still exist: Israeli and Western academics and media continue to believe that if only Israel were to make more concessions, there will be peace. Overlooking Arab corruption and incitement to violence in the media, schools, mosques, and in the political arena to conclude a deal is a common ploy. Those who raised valid objections to the process, even in the security community, were vilified. IDF officers who questioned Oslo found their promotions blocked.

Seliktar also found that the appeal of "lucrative deals" with senior Palestinian "security bosses" was sufficient for some Israelis to embrace Oslo. Inexplicably, there was little interest among the Israeli public in "exposing Oslo for what it really was." As one analyst observed, "Oslo was not a political process, but a state of mind among dreamers of dreams and peddlers of illusion who misled an entire people."

It is too easy to place the blame on Israeli leaders alone. The Israeli public has to assume the greatest responsibility for going along with this farce. Israeli leaders succeeded in misleading the Israeli public because her citizens were unwilling to accept what should have been so obvious to everyone.

Nothing the Arabs said or did during the Oslo period, before or since, suggests anything other than their desire for the demise of the Jewish state. Oslo was a dangerous fantasy that continues to this day among segments of the Israeli and Jewish population throughout the world.

Israel can ill afford to live with such illusions and fantasy. Reading what the Arabs say, and how they act should be sufficient to appreciate their true intentions. This book provides additional insight into why the Oslo Accords failed and why we cannot assume our leaders know what is best.

 

Dr. Alex Grobman is a Hebrew University trained historian.

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

 

Israeli and Middle East Options.

 

On 9/11, Americans were attacked and the World Trade Center's destroyed along with the deaths of almost 3,000 innocents in New York, Washington D.C. and over the fields of Western Pennsylvania. It was pre-emptive attack and a horrific unthinkable act that arose from great and thorough planning of al Qaeda and its radical Islamists followers. At this point in history, Israel is facing such a dilemma as it seriously contemplates the consequences of a threatened nuclear/missile and ground attack from Iran and her proxies. Does Israel act preemptively to potentially protect its territory and six million citizens and potentially precipitate a full-on regional conflict or anxiously wait while Iran inches closer to nuclear launch capabilities and follows through with its threats of "Death to Israel?"

 

 The media has been fraught with reports about Israel's action to this Iranian attack that appears more real each day in passing. Israel does not require a green light from the U.S. as a sovereign nation and "needs to do what it has to do." It is now a political decision for Benjamin Netanyahu and his government. With the recent successful medium-range ballistic missile test and claims of 5,000 uranium-enrichment centrifuges and additional facilities, Ahmadinejad has brought the situation to a critical tipping point as the rest of the world (to include the U.S.) sits, appeases and threatens more sanctions and provides almost no support to the Iranian Opposition. A Chamberlain-type approach historically spells disaster.

 

 It is obvious that Iran is not open to negotiation or compromise. The risk appears to have elevated since Iran's recent missile tests and their build-up of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Israel has been criticized for its failed efforts during Hezbollah's war against Israel in 2006 and the Gaza withdrawal. The fact is that Hezbollah now has three times the number of missiles it possessed during the 2006 war and now has over 60,000 trained ground combat foot soldiers capable of penetrating the northern border into Israel. Intelligence also is reporting that Iran's plan is to neutralize all Israel air bases by torrential missile attacks from Southern Lebanon. Syria has reportedly shipped Fateh-110 missiles to Hezbollah, able to destroy Israeli cities and the air fields. The secret transfer of the mobile surface-to-surface Syrian-made Fateh-110 (range 250km) missile to Hezbollah sparked the prediction Friday, February 5th, from an unnamed U.S. official that cross-border arms smuggling from Syria into Lebanon outside state control was occurring. Military sources report that Israel warned Syria through at least two diplomatic channels against Hezbollah of having and using these lethal weapons, which are capable of reaching almost every Israel city.

 

How should Israel deter an Iran, both from launching direct missile attacks and from dispersing nuclear assets from the Iran homeland and its terrorist proxies? There are obvious and real "fingerprints" all over the wall that necessitates action. This is especially significant because Ahmadinejad states that soon there will be a world without the United States and Israel. Coupled with his regular pronouncements to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, this sends serious nuclear alarm signals that must be ignored.

 

A nuclear-armed Iran, whose president regularly calls for the annihilation of Israel, is an intolerable threat to the world and existence of the Jewish state. There is no quarter for acceptance of an Iranian bomb, which could set in motion regional proliferation to come as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Syria could potentially acquire nuclear capabilities. The geopolitical and economic consequences of an attack, although necessary for self-preservation, would be dire. Iran could retaliate by escalating attacks on U.S. military forces in Iraq and blocking the Strait of Hormuz and thus the flow of 25 percent of the world's oil. It could also decrease oil production and raise prices, ultimately leading to a limited global recession and unleash its proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, in the U.S., Lebanon and Gaza. The result could be a large-scale regional conflict. However, a well-thought out strategy articulated and executed by the U.S. and Israel would serve a strong deterrence. To be sure, it is not a simple or reassuring world. Strategic doctrine is always a complex matter, and any improved U.S. plan will have to be creative as well as comprehensive. If, for any reason, Iran is permitted to "go nuclear," our re-fashioned doctrine will certainly have to identify viable options for coexistence with that unpredictable country. In turn, these options will require enemy perceptions of persuasive American power and of a corresponding American willingness to actually use this power.

 

According to some reports, the Israeli Air Force has conducted secret training missions to prepare for a future attack which will be aided by the X-band radar system, capable of intercepting Iran's newly tested medium-range ballistic missiles, recently installed by U.S. military personnel. If Israel perceives that time is running out on Iran, it may be forced to muster the political will to defend itself from a nuclear nightmare that Ahmadinejad has repeatedly promised. We believe Iran is now nuclear capable to some degree.

 

America's President seems to naïvely think that the way to a world without nuclear weapons is going to happen in our lifetime. Perhaps, in the best of all possible worlds, all countries could actually turn back the clock, and impose effective limits on the always-evolving technologies of destruction. But we do not yet live in such a world, and the obvious incapacity to implement any real denuclearization means that (however reluctantly) we shall still have to reconcile our own national security with expanding nuclear proliferation. What option will Israel choose and what will their strategy be? And for that matter, what will the United States and other responsible nations do?

 

 

Paul E. Vallely, Major General (USA/Ret.) is an author, military strategist and Chairman of Stand Up America and Save Our Democracy Projects.

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

 

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