Archive for May, 2008

Israel talks to Hamas

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Israel has now admitted publicly that it is negotiating with Hamas. The Hebrew phrase for negotiations is masa umatan, probably best translated as “give and take”, in which each side expects to get something in return for giving up something else.

Israel wants to get kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit and wants an end to rocket attacks. Hamas wants a respite from Israeli retaliation every time one of its rockets kills somebody, and freedom to arm and train its troops — they are developing an army, not just a terrorist gang — and to build fortifications, dig tunnels, etc. It also wants an undetermined number of prisoners, including those who have killed Israelis, released. And it would like to forestall an IDF incursion into Gaza.

Israeli officials insist that any truce must also prohibit arms smuggling and training of military personnel in Iran, etc.

There have been other, more informal cease-fire agreements. What generally happens is that the rockets get a return address of Islamic Jihad or some other faction instead of Hamas for a while, and ultimately Hamas finds an Israeli action to use as a pretext to restart official hostilities.

There have been other prisoner exchanges, in which a few Israelis are exchanged for a large number of Arabs. This time the Israeli government has expressly changed the criteria for who can be released to include murderers.

A truce now would be disadvantageous for Israel. Although Gilad Schalit might be returned, Hamas’ demands for a prisoner release — at least as they have been expressed before, including as many as 1,500 prisoners — would be an unacceptable precedent, a statement that murder is permissible, and an invitation to kidnap more Israelis.

The provisions prohibiting arms smuggling and other activities would be unenforceable unless Israel were prepared to assume control of the border between Gaza and Egypt, which could only occur after an incursion to secure this area. Nobody else — not the EU, not NATO, not Egypt, not the PA — is going to risk their own people in order to protect Israel.

Israel is today negotiating from a position of weakness. The proposed truce would be an immediate loss for Israel, and there is no way to enforce longer-term provisions.

A more rational approach would be to first invade Gaza, destroy as much of the Hamas infrastructure — both physical and human — as possible, and retake the area around the Gaza-Egypt border. Then an agreement would have some chance of lasting more than a couple of weeks.

In discussing this, we should not lose sight of the nature of Hamas: a terrorist organization which is frankly genocidal in its aspirations. Those Gazans who do not directly support Hamas and its goals are being held hostage to them. Insofar as there are humanitarian or human rights considerations, the party that should be held to account is Hamas, not Israel.

If the world had an interest in the welfare of the Gaza population, it would act to stop aggression from Hamas and to remove this regime — which violates every principle of civilized behavior — from power. In the absence of such action, Israel has a responsibility to protect her own population.

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The two-state fantasy

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

The two-state solution is a fantasy, or worse, a construction created by people who know very well that it is a non-solution in order to hide their real intentions.

Here’s the fairy tale: Israel and the Palestinians will agree on borders, Israel will withdraw from the Palestinian part, the Palestinians, happy to have a state, will stop terrorism. With an end to the conflict will come prosperity, which will marginalize ‘extremists’. With an end to the occupation, friction between the sides will be reduced, and ultimately normal relations will exist between the two states. Jews and Arabs will live happily ever after.

President Bush and every candidate for the US Presidency claim to accept this. Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas claim to be trying to achieve this. Tony Blair says he is working toward this end. It’s just a matter of ironing out the details.

Hamas is the only honest player in this game. Hamas is quite clear about its goals, the destruction of the state of Israel, the liquidation or expulsion of its Jewish inhabitants, and the unification of Palestine under a fundamentalist Islamic regime, from the river to the sea.

Let’s look at the goals of the various other players, who are less transparent:

Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, the ‘official’ Palestinian Authority (PA) government: They want Israel out of as much territory as possible and they wish to receive as much aid, both in dollars and weapons, as possible. But are their long-term policies consistent with the fantasy?

No, because there will not be an end to the conflict. The PA’s position is that it does not and will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and that roughly 5 million refugee descendants have a ‘right of return’ to Israel. What they are offering is to create a Palestinian state in the West Bank, and a temporarily binational state in what used to be Israel proper, which will soon dissolve into civil war. This is not a question of ironing out details.

Add to this the facts that 1) they do not control the terrorists in their own ranks, 2) aid money is not used to build infrastructure or alleviate poverty, but rather to enrich the leadership and their clans, and 3) they cannot prevent a Hamas takeover as happened in Gaza, and we see that they can’t be the partner envisaged in the two-state fantasy.

Ehud Olmert: The Prime Minister of Israel and his government wish, above all, to stay in office. They know full well that no acceptable agreement can be made with the PA, and that even if there were such an agreement the PA would not be able to live up to it. They know also that Hamas can’t be ignored and would quickly take over the West Bank if the IDF were to withdraw. So they pretend to negotiate and leak hints of progress to mollify the Americans.

The US: The State Department understands that a PA-Israel “peace agreement” would at best damage Israel’s security and at worst lead to war. But it is concerned with American interests, not Israeli ones — ‘Jewish conspiracy’ theorists eat your hearts out — and the American interest is perceived to be to force Israel back to pre-1967 borders, supposedly because this will improve relations with the Arab states. So the US continues to work toward this goal, while studiously ignoring what will happen afterwards. Any agreement that will get Israel out of the West Bank will be fine with the US.

Of course the real American interest is a strong Israel which is the only Middle Eastern state that shares a commitment to democracy and quite possibly the only one that is immune to being taken over tomorrow by Islamic fundamentalists. But years of corruption by Saudi ‘preemptive bribes‘ (and possibly plain old bribes) have done much to push real American interests aside in the halls of the State Department and the CIA.

If a peaceful solution is possible despite at least 100 years of anti-Jewish incitement and hate from the Arab world, 14 years of Arafat-inspired PA ‘education’ for war, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his plans to wipe out Israel by way of Hezbollah, Hamas, and some day nuclear weapons, it can’t come from fantasy.

But nobody seems to want to talk about reality.

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US helps Saudis, gets $128/bbl. oil in return

Friday, May 16th, 2008

News item:

President George W. Bush and [Saudi] King Abdullah formalized new cooperation on Friday between the kingdom and the United States on a range of topics, including the development of civilian nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia and US protection of Saudi oil fields.

The agreements came as Saudi Arabian leaders made clear that they saw no reason to increase oil production until their customers demanded it, apparently rebuffing a request made by the president directly to the king in an effort to stay the soaring US gasoline prices. — Jerusalem Post

I wish I had been a fly on the wall to hear the discussion, but Mr. Bush must have said something like this:

“We’ll help you develop nuclear technology (theoretically only for non-military use), and we’ll use our military forces — already fighting the Iranians for your interests in Iraq — to protect your oil fields. In return, you’ll keep the price of oil high in order to crush our economy. At the same time, you’ll use your windfall profits to finance the most radical forms of Islamic fundamentalism around the world, including in the USA.”

“In the Israeli-Palestinian arena, we’ll continue to support the Fatah terrorists so that they can form a unity government with the Hamas terrorists, splitting the latter from Iran. We’ll force the Israelis to give up land for a new Sunni state on their doorstep. We’re equipping and training its army right now.”

“Maybe we’ll get Israel to fight Hezbollah in Lebanon for you. That will weaken both Israel and Iran.”

What a great deal!

Update — Saudi Arabia has agreed to increase oil production by about 3.3% — a token increase which did not prevent oil from reaching a new high of $128/bbl. today.

Who's in charge here?

Who’s in charge here?

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While the West dithers, Iran marches

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

The parallels between the present period and the late 1930’s are striking. Although we should keep in mind that Hitler and his allies were ultimately defeated, it was at the cost of something like 70 million people killed in war, starved to death, dead of war-borne disease, and of course murdered in several genocides.

It’s Them or U.S.
By Barry Rubin

After seeing how Western leaders are handling Lebanon, said an Israeli official privately, “Hizballah could only laugh. We have to take it into consideration that nobody will ever help us.”

Of course, Israel is not alone because there are so many others becoming victims of a combination of Western dithering and radical aggressiveness.

Whether or not the West figures it out, the other side knows well what’s going on. “There are only two sides — Iran and the United States,” said the Iranian newspaper Kayhan. Another leading Tehran daily, Jomhouri-e Islamia, explained that as a result of Hizballah’s victory in Lebanon, “The U.S.’s Influence in the Region will stop, and the regimes identified with it will be replaced.”[1] From Tehran’s viewpoint, that’s about 20 countries, all but Syria, maybe Sudan, and the Gaza Strip.”

It’s a zero-sum game: Them or U.S., so to speak. Today, Lebanon (or at least west Beirut); tomorrow the world!

Somewhere to the south of Iran target Lebanon, a bit west of Iran target Iraq, north of Iran target Egypt, and adjoining Iran targets Jordan and the West Bank, sits little Iran target Israel.

A Gulf Arab journalist, in an article tellingly entitled, “Iran is Enemy Number One,” wrote a few days ago: “The true feeling of the Saudis, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis, and Qataris is that Iran is the enemy and it must be brought down and weakened.”

These people know they are at war, with the two fronts right now being Lebanon and Iraq. The Arab-Israeli conflict still exists but has become more of an Israel-Palestinian, Syria, and Iran conflict in practice. For most Arab regimes, it’s useful for making propaganda and proving their militant nationalist-Islamic credentials but things have changed a great deal from past decades.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they will cooperate or make peace with Israel. Moderation not only threatens to expose them to radical subversion but also to weaken their own dictatorships’ structure, which rests heavily on demagogically blaming Israel for all their shortcomings.

As one Gulf ruler put it privately, “We can use Israel and bash Israel simultaneously.” In other words, Israelis — as well as Americans and some Europeans — must oppose Iranian ambitions for their own reasons. So why should Arab regimes give anything to them for doing so, even if it means protecting their own sovereignty and systems as well?

In this context, the idea that solving the Palestinian issue will bring peace and stability in the region, ensure good Arab-Western relations, and quiet radical Islamism becomes especially laughable.

Consider the following. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it might use them on Israel. This is such a serious threat of genocide that Israel must be prepared to attack Iran’s installations to block the possibility.

But this is just a possibility. There is also an absolute certainty. If Iran gets nuclear weapons: no Western country will stand against it, Arab regimes will rush to appease it, and hundreds of thousands of Muslims will join radical Islamist groups to replace all those regimes Iran says must go.

For the moment, however, Lebanon is the Spanish Civil War before the main conflict. A democratic majority, a united front of Christians, Druze, and Sunni Muslims, defies terrorist attacks sponsored by Syria, Iran’s ally. They simply don’t want to live under an Iran-style Islamist regime. Government supporters are angry that Hizballah can launch war on Israel whenever it pleases at great cost to their nation. They angrily remember decades of Syrian domination, repression, and looting.

Spain, of course, became progressive humanity’s great icon of in the 1930s. Such people were horrified that the Western democracies would not help Republican Spain while the German and Italian fascists poured troops, weapons, and money into the Fascist side.

But why didn’t Britain and the others act? Their motives were precisely the same as inhibits determination today. They feared war and the resulting cost and casualties. They profited by trading with the other side. They disliked the great power that was doing more (in those days the USSR, today America of course). Since the Catholic Church backed General Francisco Franco’s cause they didn’t want to be labeled what today would be called “Catholophobic.” They lacked confidence in their own society, which Ezra Pound called a “botched civilization,” “an old bitch gone in the teeth.” Pound eventually preferred the fascists, as too many intellectuals and artists now find the Islamists the lesser of the two evils.

William Butler Yeats said it best: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere, The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst, Are full of passionate intensity.”

In 2006, for example, the UN — all the world’s nations nobly assembled — decided that troops would be sent to southern Lebanon, Hizballah would be kept out from there and disarmed, weapons smuggling would be blocked. Hizballah disagreed and did what it wanted. The world gave in: Hizballah (Syria and Iran), 1; World, 0.

So if the world won’t even help Arab, Muslim-led, democratic, Lebanon, why should Israel give credence to any such promises or guarantees. Ah, but Israel can defend itself. It’s the toughest of all Iran’s intended targets.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill recalled in December 1941, speaking to Canada’s parliament, that collaborationist French generals warned him that if Britain, too, didn’t surrender to Hitler, “In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.” Churchill wryly told his cheering audience: “Some chicken; some neck!”

A few years later, Hitler lay dead and defeated.

Mr. Ahmadinejad take note.

[1] MEMRI translation

A somewhat different version of this article was published in the London Jewish Chronicle, May 15, 2008.

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. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit

Paying Kellogg to fight cornflakes

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

The US plan to pay, train and arm the Palestinian Authority’s ‘security’ forces to ‘fight terrorism’ has always been surreal. Someone recently likened this to paying Kellogg to fight cornflakes.

For example,

Israel recently rejected a request by the US security coordinator to the region to allow Palestinian security forces to receive personal armor kits, night-vision goggles and electronic communication systems that the PA planned to use to set up a military communications network, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

The request was made to the Defense Ministry by Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, the American security coordinator to the Palestinians and Israel.

Senior defense officials said Wednesday that Dayton made the request on behalf of the Palestinian Authority several weeks ago and that it was immediately rejected, since some of the items had the potential to “break the balance” between the IDF and the PA security forces. — Jerusalem Post

What kind of insane logic is at work here? If they are enemies then they should not be given one rifle bullet, not to mention night-vision equipment and body armor. Balance? Is the idea that they are allowed to be dangerous, but not too dangerous? Tell it to the families of any number of Israeli victims of terrorists who also happen to be members of the PA ‘security’ forces.

The US, with Israel’s cooperation, is arming Fatah — the single terrorist organization that has killed more Israelis than any other — because somebody thinks, despite clear statements and concrete proof to the contrary, that they will use their weapons to fight Hamas?

I don’t think that even the US State Department is far enough removed from reality to believe that. So the question arises: why is the US arming Fatah?

I am not going to speculate. But Israel should send Lt.-Gen. Dayton home posthaste.

Incidentally, following the remarkably obsequious welcome given President Bush — even by Olmertian standards — one wonders what other shoe will be dropped during this visit.

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