Archive for August, 2007

Department of ‘what did they think would happen?’

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

The Jerusalem Post reports,

Fatah’s armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, announced Tuesday it would no longer honor understandings reached with Israel, and called on its members to carry weapons to defend themselves against the IDF.

“We call on all our members who handed over their weapons to the Palestinian security forces to report to their commanders so that they can be issued new weapons,” said a leaflet distributed in Ramallah.

The group said the decision was made after the IDF arrested two Fatah gunmen who had been given amnesty by Israel in line with understandings reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

I wonder what the two were doing when they were arrested? This is beginning to sound exactly like the on-again-off-again ‘truce’ with Hamas in Gaza last year.

In any event, there will be plenty of weapons available to issue to them, thanks to the US, with Israel’s cooperation.

What did anybody think would happen?

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The new root of the Mideast Conflict

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

The forces that fed Mideast conflict in 1967 were primarily external. The local issues were reflections of the cold war between the Soviet bloc and the West. Now there is still fuel being poured on the fire from the new US-Russian conflict, but there are newer, internal pressures at work. Barry Rubin describes them.

Nationalists Versus Islamists: The Middle East’s Core Issue

By Barry Rubin

The Middle East is in a new era, very different from the politics and strategic situation we have been used to for so long.

For 55 years the region has lived under Arab nationalist dominance. Every Arab regime, except perhaps Sudan, is Arab nationalist, governed by that basic system and world view.

Of course, these regimes have governed badly, not keeping pledges to unite the Arab world, minimize Western influence, destroy Israel, or bring rapid social and economic progress. Still, they know how to stay in power.

Remember that the last real regime change from within an Arab state happened 37 years ago when Hafiz al-Asad seized power in Syria. Since then, surprisingly little has changed in Arab ideology, political structure, economic organization, or society.

It has also been 28 years since Iran’s Islamist revolution took power in 1979. Since then–though not solely because of that event–Islamism has been on the upsurge. Certainly, it also suffered setbacks, and almost three decades later Islamism had been unable to seize power anywhere, at least until Hamas’s recent triumph in Gaza.

What has happened now, however, is that radical Islamism has reached a critical mass. It now poses serious challenges to Arab nationalism as the leading opposition in every Arabic-speaking country. Islamism plays a key role in governing Iraq; Hamas defeated Fatah on the Palestinian front; and Hizballah is close to gaining at least equal power in Lebanon.

For years, probably decades, to come, the Middle East will be shaken by a titanic battle between Arab nationalism and Islamism for control. This struggle, and certainly not the Arab-Israeli conflict, is the central theme and underlying factor in every regional issue.

This is so for several reasons. One is that the Islamist cause is now promoted by an alliance including two regimes, Iran and Syria, as well as by Hamas and Hizballah, which both rule territory. Syria’s government, technically “secular” and ruled by a non-Muslim Alawite minority no less, behaves like an Islamist one, especially in its foreign policy, as to keep loyal its Sunni Muslim majority.

It is folly to think that this HISH alliance (Hamas-Iran-Syria-Hizballah) can be split. After all, the parties have common aims and ideologies, their cooperation is so mutually beneficial, and last but not least they think they are winning.

Historically, there were two barriers for Iran’s trying to become the Middle East’s leading power: the Persian-Arab and Shia-Sunni divides. How could Persian, Shia Iran appeal to Arabs who mostly were Sunni? The HISH alliance solves that problem. Three of the four members are Arab, and Hamas is Sunni as is the majority of Syrians. If one adds Iraq’s Sunni Arab insurgency that breakthrough becomes even clearer.

Nor does this exhaust the Islamist forces working today to seize state power throughout the region. Al-Qaida is a factor, mostly in Iraq–where it cooperates closely with Syria–and Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaida is far more a threat in terms of terrorism, however, than in a strategic sense. Since it has only one tactic, in comparison to other Islamists’ flexibility, al-Qaida is unlikely to take over any countries.

A third Islamist set of groups are Muslim Brotherhood movements. While Hamas arises from the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, its Egyptian, Jordanian, and Syrian counterparts do not particularly like Iran or Shia Muslims. Still, they are also trying to transform Arab nationalist into Islamist states. Even if they use elections in pursuing this objective the goal remains the same.

To understand the region today all its issues have to be seen in the context of this nationalist-Islamist battle. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it will greatly increase the power of HISH, the Arab regimes’ readiness to appease it, and the recruitment for Islamists of all types throughout the area.

In Lebanon, Hizballah, backed by Iran and Syria, seeks to control the government, or at least have veto power over its policies. In Iraq, Syrian-backed Sunni insurgents fight Shias among whom Iran has considerable influence. HISH hedges its bets but on both sides tries to turn Iraq into a client state. Among Palestinians, Hamas seeks full power over the movement by ensuring that war with Israel continues and by driving Fatah out of the West Bank.

On the other side, in theory, are all the Arab regimes except Syria plus Israel. In practice, though, these forces are far from united. Arab governments will try to cut their own deals or pursue their own interests. They may be privately happy if Israel defeats Hamas or Hizballah but they will scarcely provide any help or make peace.

A good example here is Saudi Arabia. The Saudis fight Iran but do so by giving money and recruits to the Iraqi insurgency or their ill-fated attempt to buy off Hamas by brokering a deal between that group and Fatah. Neither of these tactics has been very helpful. And the incompetence, corruption, and dictatorial nature of the Arab regimes–plus their Islamist-style extremist propaganda–all help foster more opposition.

Still, this does not at all mean the Islamists will win. No one should underestimate the Arab nationalist regimes, and there are huge problems with the Islamists’ strategy. What is vital, however, is to understand that past realities are now outmoded, and myths all-too-often dominant in media and academia are even more misleading.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs, and author of the recently published The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan).

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From the folks who gave us the word ‘pogrom’

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

Russian SA-22The Jerusalem Post reports:

Syria has begun delivery of the first batch of anti-aircraft missile and gun range land-based Pantsyr-S1E defense systems (SA-22 E in NATO terminology), the Web site of Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported Saturday.

The SA-22 E, produced by KBP, a precision weaponry manufacturer based in Tula, Russia, is a combined surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon system. The versatile platform can be mounted either on a tracked or wheeled vehicle.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the recently developed SA-22 E will be dispatched to Syria even before its deployment in the Russian military.

This is exactly the kind of weapon that Syria shouldn’t have. Let’s look at the Iranian-Syrian strategy: Iran wishes to develop nuclear weapons unmolested. She hopes to deter Israel and the US from a preemptive strike at her facilities by threatening Israel with missile attacks — especially mobile short-range missiles, which are very difficult to counter — from her clients Syria and Hezbollah.

I believe that Israel’s leadership considers an actual Iranian nuclear capability an existential threat, and will take action once some red line is crossed. We don’t know when this will be, but it’s obvious that Iran and Syria think it will be soon and are rushing to prepare for it. I do not believe that the US administration has the political capital or will to launch an attack themselves, but they would probably support an Israeli one.

I doubt that the Russians would be especially happy with a nuclear Iran. However, it appears that a new global struggle for influence is developing between the US and Russia, and of course the Mideast is a major theater in that struggle. Israel represents a strong point for the US side, and the Russians would probably like to see it neutralized.

Indeed, the scenario of an Israeli strike setting back Iran’s nuclear program by a decade or so, followed by an Iranian-Syrian-Palestinian war which Israel loses would probably be just fine with the Russians.

What a pity for the folks who gave us the word ‘pogrom‘ if Israel were to destroy the Iranian nuclear program, and then turn around and deal a crushing blow to Mr. Assad and his missile collection.

Or maybe it will happen in the reverse order?

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ADL makes the wrong choice — again

Saturday, August 18th, 2007

On Thursday I wrote as follows about the response of the ADL to an article critical of its position against legislation to recognize the Armenian Genocide, specifically a letter signed by Andrew H. Tarsy, then Regional Director in New England:

…the argument that efforts to force the Turks to accept the truth will be ‘counterproductive’, that one is somehow preventing them from “coming to grips with their past” by supporting such resolutions — please. This argument is disingenuous, and is enough to make me blush on behalf of Tarsy and the ADL.

Andrew TarsyApparently Mr. Tarsy himself, who is now out of a job, agrees with me.

Tarsy, 38, said he had been struggling with the national position for weeks and finally told Foxman in a phone conversation Thursday that he found the ADL’s stance “morally indefensible.”

…”I regret at this point any characterization of the genocide that I made publicly other than to call it a genocide. I think that kind of candor about history is absolutely fundamental.”

As recently as Tuesday night, however, Tarsy defended the ADL’s position before a hostile crowd at the Watertown Town Council meeting. In explaining why he did it, Tarsy said yesterday that he was doing the best he could to explain the ADL policy while struggling at the same time to change the policy internally. Neither side would back down and he was fired. — Boston Globe

The ADL’s position is not only “morally indefensible” as Tarsy has said, but is unlikely to have any effect on the Turkish government’s policy toward Israel, or Turkish Jews.

Ironically, the result of the ADL’s stubbornness on this issue has been to seriously weaken the respect in which the ADL is held in the broader Jewish and non-Jewish community, and to diminish its effectiveness in anti-bias activism.

Kol hakovod to Mr. Tarsy, who took the moral high road that his boss would not.

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Postmodern Palestinian propagandist pretends to be a scholar

Friday, August 17th, 2007

Here comes Columbia University again (specifically Barnard College), where another Palestinian propagandist masquerading as a scholar is about to receive tenure:

Nadia Abu El-Haj, an assistant professor of anthropology at Barnard, is the author of “Facts on the Ground,” a 2001 book that questions archaeological claims regarding the ancient Jewish presence in Israel and argues that Israeli archaeologists legitimize the Jewish state’s “origin myth.”

An online petition against Abu El-Haj had garnered nearly 1,000 signatures as of Tuesday, the bulk of them from students and graduates of Barnard or Columbia University, its institutional parent.

The controversy over El-Haj threatens to raise questions anew about the integrity of Columbia’s scholarship on the Middle East, which first came under fire in 2004 with the release of a documentary film alleging university professors intimidated and embarrassed pro-Israel students who challenged them in class. A committee of inquiry subsequently found only one example of improper behavior, leading critics to call the report a whitewash. — JTA

“Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society” is Abu El-Haj’s only book. An anthropologist of Israeli society who doesn’t speak or read Hebrew and who knows little about archaeology, she nevertheless can deny such well-known facts as the existence of the Hasmonean and Davidic dynasties, as well as explain the psychological motivations of the Israeli archaeologists who have studied such things.

The Solomonia blog has an article discussing the controversy in detail (“Who’s Coming Up For Tenure: Nadia Abu El-Haj“), including references and excerpts of reviews of the book. I want to quote one short passage from it — which, in my opinion, says it all — and then recommend that you read the whole article:

Abu El Haj’s scorn for evidence-based scholarship is explicit. In her own words, she writes within a scholarly tradition that “Reject(s) a positivist commitment to scientific methods…” Rather, her work is “rooted in… post structuralism, philosophical critiques of foundationalism, Marxism and critical theory… and developed in response to specific postcolonial political movements.”

Naturally, the discussion is turning into one of how Jews get what they want by applying pressure rather than one about Abu El-Haj’s scholarship or lack of it. But regarding the latter, here is a detailed review by historian and archaeologist David Meir-Levy, (also thanks to Solomonia).

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