Archive for February, 2008

How to use $7 billion to make things worse than before

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

For some time, I’ve been arguing that the Western plan to support Fatah as a way of bringing about a two-state solution is bound to fail disastrously. Unlike Hamas, which at least has a (murderous) ideology, Fatah is no more than an agglomeration of gangsters.

In the days of Arafat’s support from the Soviet Union it at least pretended to be Marxist in orientation, although Arafat’s real ideology was just to kill as many Jews as possible. But now they are little more than a fractious street gang with US weapons and training. Giving them huge sums of money will be a boondoggle of enormous proportions, will lead to violence in the region, and will not achieve our goals.

Fatah Falls Apart

By Barry Rubin

Rather than unite in the face of the Hamas challenge and the task of gaining support from the West Bank’s people, Fatah seems to be collapsing.

Or perhaps the feuds are not only over power but who gets to control the almost $7 billion scheduled to be given the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) over the next three years. A contributing factor is that Fatah has said it will hold a congress in March, the first full such meeting in almost 20 years.

There are at least five factions operating in Fatah today, and even that is an understatement. While PA “president” Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad enjoy Western support, they have very little from their own organization. These two are relative moderates who have no internal base of support. Even the very tiny group of those who can be called moderate is split since, for example, Ahmad Khouri (Abu Ala), is quarreling with Abbas.

Then there are the cronies of the late head of Fatah and the PA, Yasir Arafat, who have not developed any moderate tendencies but are using Abbas to cling to power. A typical example of this group is Hakam Balawi who was the PLO ambassador to Tunisia when Arafat’s headquarters were there, a particular favorite of Arafat. These people are basically careerists who simply stick with whoever is leader.

A third group are the hardliners, like Abu Ali Shahin, who views himself as a revolutionary fighter. Other powerful figures in this group include Farouq Qaddumi, the actual head of Fatah; Sakhr Habash (Abu Nizar), chief of the Fatah Revolutionary Committee; and Salim al-Zaanoun, head of the Palestine National Council (PNC), the PLO’s legislature. These people want a continuation of armed struggle against Israel and believe that total victory is still possible.

A fourth faction can be called the “young guard,” but this is also split among different contenders for leadership. Muhammad Dahlan, formerly the leading Fatah security (i.e., military) commander in the Gaza Strip is one candidate; Marwan Barghouti, the head of Fatah in the West Bank and now imprisoned by Israel, is another. Dahlan and Barghouti are also very much at odds.

Recently, Shahin has called Abbas a failed leader who should resign. Balawi claimed Dahlan was plotting against Abbas, and Dahlan in return accused Balawi of being an Israel spy.

As if this isn’t enough, the “young guard” knows that the current leaders will not give it any meaningful share of power in Fatah. The group, for instance, does not have a single member on the Fatah Central Committee.

In short, PA and Fatah politics are a mess. This has long been true but few noticed and it didn’t matter when Arafat was alive since he kept the lid on everything, while playing off his subordinates against each other, and provided unity.

Now, however, things are different. It is amazing that since Fatah and the PA are the West’s candidate to make good use of almost $7 billion, beat Hamas, establish a Palestinian state, and make peace with Israel, few observers take note of this disastrous situation or factor it into their policies.

Unless Fatah changes its ways, and there is no reason to believe it will do so, one can only wonder if Hamas will be controlling the West Bank, too, within five years. Certainly, one can expect the aid money to disappear without helping the Palestinian people much and be sure that this divided, quarreling leadership will not be able to make peace with Israel.

. . .

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA). His latest books are The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan) and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).

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Media insanity award-winner: the BBC

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

The Jerusalem Post reports:

In an uncommon act of journalistic contrition, the BBC has apologized for equating former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri and Hizbullah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh as “great national leaders.”

The BBC took the unusual step after Don Mell, The Associated Press’s former photographer in Beirut, lambasted the parallel, drawn by BBC correspondent Humphrey Hawkesley in a BBC World report last Thursday, as “an outrage” and “beyond belief”…

Hawkesley’s report on what he called “an amazing day for Lebanon,” when a memorial rally for Hariri was followed by Mughniyeh’s funeral, concluded: “The army is on full alert as Lebanon remembers two war victims with different visions but both regarded as great national leaders“…

Mell, who was present when journalist Terry Anderson was kidnapped by Hezbollah in 1985, wrote,

“For you to refer to former prime minister Rafik Hariri and Imad Mughniyeh as ‘great national leaders’ in the same sentence is beyond belief. One was an elected leader who spent years and millions of his own money rebuilding his country. The other was probably the world’s second most notorious terrorist, who was responsible for, in addition to running a major criminal enterprise, destroying the US Embassy, the French and US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983; the hijacking of TWA 847; the bombing of the Israeli cultural center in Buenos Aires, [and] the kidnapping and murder of many Westerners in Lebanon, including Terry Anderson, Terry Waite, John McCarthy”…

“Most recently, Mr. Mugnhiyeh was responsible for provoking the Israeli-Lebanese conflict in 2006, which one may ask, accomplished what?”

And the BBC’s response?

“While there is no doubt that supporters of Hizbullah did regard Mughniyeh in such terms [as a great leader], we accept that the scripting of this phrase was imprecise. The description of Imad Mughniyeh should have been directly attributed to those demonstrating their support for him.”

The statement noted that Hawkesley’s report “made clear that Mughniyeh was believed to have been responsible for a series of bombings; it drew attention to his believed connection with Osama bin Laden and to the fact that he had been hunted by Western intelligence agencies for more than 20 years.”

However, said the BBC, “We accept that this part of the report was open to misinterpretation. We apologize to anyone who may have been offended by this item.”

Imprecise? Actually, it was quite unambiguous.

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Ideological tide in the US turns against Israel

Sunday, February 17th, 2008


Recently I attended an ‘interfaith scholar weekend’. At a session at the local Reform Temple (others were held at a church and at a mosque), a fellow wearing a kippa stood up and was recognized as ‘rabbi’ (a visitor, not the rabbi of the Temple). He proceeded to say something in a remarkably offensive, smug tone, about Muslims being ‘ganged up on’ by extremist Jews and Christians (I am not sure if the Jews he was referring to were settlers or neo-cons; the Christians in question were Christian Zionists).

The mostly liberal Protestant audience applauded (I hissed, and soon left before making a bigger scene). Quite a statement for a rabbi to make while the rockets are falling on Sderot and the few million Jews of Israel are threatened with nuclear attack.

More and more, in intellectual, media, and liberal religious circles in the US, the ‘Palestinian narrative’ of the conflict is becoming received opinion. This despite the fact that the primary face the Palestinians are showing lately is that of the totalitarian, extremist, murderous Hamas, who fire rockets at schoolchildren and burn down Christian libraries.

In Europe, although there is a certain backlash against Muslims who burn vehicles, riot over cartoons, and threaten to blow things up, one proposition that the Right and Left seem to agree on is that Israel should be liquidated.

American politicians, nothing if not good at smelling out a trend, make statements about supporting Israel but support policies that are dangerous to her security. My expectation is that shortly even the pro-Israel statements are going to stop, when they find out that the much-discussed ‘Israel lobby’ has fewer teeth than previously thought.

Are the Palestinians and Arabs so good at public relations? Why are the clumsy Pallywood productions so universally accepted as true at first glance?

There isn’t a simple answer, but we can list some of the reasons: the turn of left-wing ideology against Israel since 1967 and the traditional left-wing bent of academics; their influence on young people, opinion-makers and media; the huge amount of recycled petrodollars that are used to buy US politicians, lobbyists, the media, and former Presidents; European feelings of guilt over the Holocaust and anger at Jewish efforts to remind people about it; the psychological tug of extremism, and the perverse reaction — the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ — to the fear of terrorism.

Unfortunately, the process of ideological change includes a positive feedback mechanism, whereby the more anti-Israel a segment of society is, the more likely it is to move even further in that direction.

Finally, it’s impossible to ignore the close relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism — or to deny the existence of antisemitism among people of Jewish extraction.

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US failure to stop Iranian program will bring catastrophe

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

In an absolutely searing piece in the Jerusalem Post, editor David Horovitz takes note of the recantation of Adm. Michael McConnell, “the man responsible for the US National Intelligence Estimate”:

What McConnell is now saying amounts to the very opposite: Yes, runs the amended narrative, we think the Iranians may have halted what we narrowly, foolishly and misleadingly defined as their nuclear weapons program four years ago, we’re not sure if they’ve restarted it, but the fact is that we led you all astray with our definition of that program in the first place.

You see, the new line continues, weapon design and weaponization – those narrow aspects that might have been halted – really constitute the “least significant portion” of a nuclear weapons program. In retrospect, we should have relied on more than a footnote to make that clear. The “most difficult challenge” is actually “uranium enrichment [to] enable the production of fissile material,” and, as we probably should have stressed more prominently, work on that is proceeding apace.

Citing the “persistent threat of WMD-related proliferation,” McConnell told the [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Feb. 5] that “Iran continues to pursue fissile material and nuclear-capable missile delivery systems.” He then elaborated: “Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons. Iran continues its efforts to develop uranium enrichment technology, which can be used both for power reactor fuel and to produce nuclear weapons. And, as noted, Iran continues to deploy ballistic missiles inherently capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and to develop longer-range missiles.”

Horovitz goes on to contrast the original treatment of the NIE in the media with the way its refutation has been almost completely ignored. And then,

When the original, exculpatory NIE was published, Iran’s would-be-Israel-eliminating President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hailed “victory,” the international sanctions effort stalled, Russia began shipping fuel to the reactor it had built for the Iranians at Bushehr and Ahmadinejad’s regime merrily intensified its declared centrifuge installations and operations at Natanz. Meanwhile, President Bush found himself accused by political rivals and other critics of having unwarrantably, even dishonestly, overhyped the threat posed by Iran. Some of the more hysterical voices went so far as to charge that his administration had been deliberately skewing the intelligence on Iran’s nuclear drive to justify thrusting the United States into another unnecessary war.

McConnell’s barely noticed reversal has changed none of that. It has done nothing to dent Ahmadinejad’s public confidence that nobody is going to stop the Iranian drive now, and nothing to suggest to Iran that it need halt what McConnell acknowledged last week was the range of dual-purpose activities that daily bring it ever-closer to a nuclear weapons capability. The admiral’s climbdown has injected no new urgency, and no stronger teeth, into the weak and snail-paced UN-centered sanctions effort. It has prompted no rethink by Moscow about assisting Teheran’s “peaceful” nuclear programs. And with this US administration now counting down its final months, his “recalibration” has restored no credibility to Bush’s efforts to thwart Iran – credibility that was swept away when the shattering original NIE essentially removed his administration’s military option.

Obviously a decision has been made in whatever circles actually decide US policy — and it’s by no means clear who this is — that the US will not take aggressive military or diplomatic action to prevent Iran from getting the bomb and the means to deliver it.

If not the US, then who? Apparently nobody.

Now consider that Iran has more than once threatened to destroy Israel, clearly and unambiguously. What would you do if you were the Prime Minister of Israel? What would you do if you believed that Ahmadinijad was truly threatening a second, nuclear, Holocaust?

Israel does not have the diplomatic clout of the US. Israel does not have the military might of the US either, but what do you do when your back is against the wall? What do you do when your people, who within living memory were almost wiped out in a horrific genocide, are facing annihilation again?

Now suppose also that you understand that a surgical removal of Iran’s nuclear capability would be very difficult. It would provoke retaliation and might fail to completely eliminate the threat (which is nuclear, but also chemical/biological, and which might include attacks from countries other than Iran).

What you do is wait until you are certain that an attack is imminent and then you do what is necessary to prevent it, which may not turn out to be all that surgical. Then you deal with whatever retaliation the remnants of your enemy can muster.

If you wait too long, then you absorb the strike and retaliate massively (Israel is absolutely capable of this).

Either way, we are talking about deaths in the tens of millions.

And this is what will be the consequence of the US failure to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, something which could probably be accomplished by diplomacy alone, if undertaken with sufficient resolve.

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Cutting off the head of the terrorist enterprise

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

We don’t know who killed Imad Mugniyeh in Damascus, but the terrorist establishment has decided that it was Israel. And as a result, it has declared war on world Jewry:

More than 50 Hizbullah terror cells believed to be spread across the globe could be activated and used to strike at Israeli or Jewish targets in retaliation for Tuesday’s assassination of Hizbullah arch-terrorist and operations officer Imad Mughniyeh in Syria, a senior defense official said Thursday…

FBI anti-terror units raised their alerts for fear of attacks on synagogues and other Jewish targets.

Sources in the US administration reiterated that there were no specific warnings of a terrorist attack; nonetheless, an FBI source said that the raised alertness of the Anti-Terrorism Unit, which operates in about 100 cities around the US, is not a routine step.

The counterterrorism bureau recommended that [Israeli] citizens abroad avoid staying in areas where there is a large concentration of Israelis. It advised Israelis overseas to strictly avoid visiting Arab and Muslim states where existing travel warnings are in force; to reject any tempting suggestions, unexpected gifts and offers of free travel from suspicious people or unknown elements; to reject proposals for unscheduled meetings, and to travel to meetings accompanied by someone known and trusted. — Jerusalem Post

Right now, I’m sure that many Jewish ‘world citizens’ are irritated that they have been endangered by Israel’s action (assuming for a moment that Israel is responsible). On the other hand, many non-Jews concerned with the phenomenon of the world’s descent into barbarism as represented by such as Mugniyeh are cheering. Look at what he is generally thought to have done:

  • 1983 – Marine barracks and French peacekeepers bombings in Lebanon — 241 American service personnel, 58 French paratroopers killed.
  • 1983 – US Embassy (Beirut) bombing, more than 60 murdered.
  • 1985 – hijacking of TWA flight 847, US Navy diver Robert Stethem brutally murdered.
  • 1980’s – kidnapping of numerous foreigners (especially Americans) in Lebanon, some of whom were murdered, such as CIA station chief William Buckley.
  • 1992 – Israeli embassy (Buenos Aires) bombing, 29 killed.
  • 1994 Argentine Jewish Association (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina) building bombing, at least 85 murdered.
  • 2002 – associated with the Karine A incident, in which a ship containing 50 tons of Iranian arms bound probably for Hezbollah was intercepted by the Israeli navy.
  • 2006 – kidnapping of 2 Israeli soldiers and killing of others near Lebanese border, sparking second Lebanese war, more than a thousand dead.

In addition, Mugniyeh was involved in training operatives, providing false documents, etc. for terrorist operatives all over the world, including Europe, Southeast Asia, and South America. He was a contact between Iran and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas organizations.

Jihadist forces are at pains to promote the idea that the surge of Islamic terrorism is a grass-roots movement of simple people, caused by the mistreatment of the Muslim world by European colonialists and their very special allies, the Zionists. The solution proposed by their friends is that the West must redress these grievances by appeasement, such as privileges for Muslims in Western countries — like access to Sharia courts — and above all, by not interfering with their holy duty to eliminate Israel, the Jewish thorn in the side of the Muslim Middle East.

But this analysis of the problem is entirely wrong.

Jihadism is not a grass-roots movement — it is planned and directed by individuals, usually well-educated ones, who very carefully manipulate opinion by expert use of the media and judicious application of cruelty to back their ideological appeal with a much more basic emotion — fear.

There is a way to fight terrorism, and that is to eliminate the leaders, the special people with the combination of intelligence, charisma and sadistic bent that are needed to be a terrorist star.

Mugniyeh, Nasrallah, Bin Laden, etc. — cut off the head of the enterprise and it’s possible to put an end to it.

Dry Bones

Courtesy of the Dry Bones Blog

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