Archive for August, 2008

The same dumb thing, over and over

Friday, August 8th, 2008

The phenomenon of doing the same dumb thing over and over again, each time getting made a fool of and yet not learning from the experience — this characterizes Western relationships with Middle Eastern entities.

Unfortunately it is not caused by a rare form of brain pathology as Barry Rubin surmises, but springs from attempts to get a short-term appearance of gains at the expense of producing a long-term deterioration of the situation.   

Fifty First Negotiations
By Barry Rubin

For those who don’t know, “Fifty First Dates” is a comedy film undistinguished except by its brilliant premise. It describes the dilemma of a man in love with a woman who has short-term memory loss. Each day she forgets she has ever met him and he must start the relationship all over again from the beginning. No matter how kind, funny, or romantic he is it doesn’t really matter. Like Sisyphus in the legend, he has to roll the boulder up the mountain from the bottom and never — at least until the Hollywood-style happy ending — gets to the top.

Actually, I don’t know if he succeeds since I lost interest before the end. Even if I knew, why should I ruin the film for you?

But I realize this situation is a great parallel for the Middle East. People constantly urge negotiating with Syria or with Iran, as if this has never happened before, or it just wasn’t done right, or not enough concessions were offered. We are supposed to believe that success is just around the corner, and as people say before they gamble away their life savings: What can you lose by trying? But what about all the other times this has been tried and failed? Are these simply forgotten by people with systematic memory loss?

How about the numerous visits of U.S. secretaries of state to Syria which failed to get Damascus to stop cooperating with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (before 2003) or stop helping terrorists murder American soldiers and Iraqis in Iraq (after 2003), or close the offices of terrorist groups in Damascus, or make peace with Israel .

What about the ten year (ten year!) effort in the 1990s, pursued mainly by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat (yeah!) not an “evil Republican”, to bring Syria into the peace process and to make peace between the Palestinians and Israel?

Remember how the Syrians made a fool out of Secretary of State Colin Powell who assured American journalists that Syria had already closed the terrorist offices in Damascus on one occasion and had already closed the oil pipeline to Iraq on another only to realize he had been conned?

I have actually heard Powell speak recently about what a success his diplomacy was. As if that weren’t enough, I also heard former Secretary of State James Baker in a radio interview speak of his attempt to get the terrorist offices closed as a success, even though they are still open 18 years later!

How about the bait and switch tricks President Bashar al-Asad pulled on French President Francois Sarkozy regarding negotiations over Lebanon?

Sarkozy sent high-ranking officials to Syria without preconditions; had officials falsely deny Syrian involvement in a 1983 terror attack against French peacekeeping soldiers in Lebanon; asked Bashar to mediate with Iran; dropped demands that Syria normalize relations with Lebanon; begged — rather than demanded — Asad show some sign of respecting human rights; and pushed forward a highly profitable EU association agreement with Syria despite that country’s failing to meet earlier demands for reform.

On every point, Bashar let Sarkozy down yet this did not lead to a learning of lessons. Indeed, Sarkozy had forgotten what experience had taught his predecessor Jacques Chirac by 2006, that “the regime of Bashar seems incompatible with security and peace.” It’s bad enough not to go forward, even worse to go backward.

And then there are those gullible American members of Congress, notably Senator Arlen Specter, who said Bashar promised them to free political prisoners only to discover he had arrested even more?

Regarding Iran the situation is even worse. For about five years European states — led by Britain, France, and Germany — have negotiated with Iran over the nuclear weapon program only to find Tehran:

  • Lied to them.
  • Broke commitments.
  • Ignored deadlines.

Obviously, systematic memory loss is the only explanation.

I, however, have a solution. Every politician who wants to negotiate with Iran and Syria (or the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Hizballah, or Muslim Brotherhoods for that matter) must sign the following pledge:

I  ___________________
__  prime minister
__  president
__  foreign minister
__  secretary of state
__  member of parliament/congress

Of  ____________; (Fill in name of country)
Hereby promise that if I bargain with this
___  name of country or
___  name of terrorist group
And it
__  treats me like dirt
__  lies to me
__  breaks commitments
__  ignore deadlines
__  murders my friends or allies
__  all of the above

I solemnly pledge that if I try and fail in negotiations, and especially if I make concessions in exchange for promises not fulfilled, I will learn my lesson, understand that these forces are extremist enemies, honestly inform my people of this fact, and treat the said regime or terrorist group accordingly in future.

If I do not do so let my popularity fall below zero, my campaign treasury be empty, my secret diary fall into the hostile media’s hands,


(Fill in Title and Name)

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

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An little irony for the Turks

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Ha’aretz reports:

Israel has officially protested against the planned visit of Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Turkey next week.

Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, Gabi Levy, presented the protest to officials in Ankara, and the Turkish ambassador to Israel was summoned to Jerusalem.

“Israel is disappointed that Turkey has invited for an official visit a leader who denies publicly the Holocaust, and thus grants him legitimacy,” was the message given to the Turkish ambassador to relay to his government.

Will the Turks will see the irony in being asked to shun a Holocaust denier, when they themselves officially deny that their predecessors committed genocide against the Armenians?

Israel and American Jews have been caught between a rock and a hard place in regard to the Armenian Genocide. I’ve written a number of posts on the subject.

The Turkish government has its reasons for not admitting that the Young Turks, and later the Turkish Nationalists, murdered about a million and a half Armenians during and after World War I. The Israeli government also has its reasons for not wanting to irritate the Turks. Even the US administration seems to feel that Turkey is too strategically important to annoy by using the word ‘genocide’ to describe the events. But the truth is the truth.

When I first came to Fresno in 1971, you could meet people in the supermarket who had been adult eyewitnesses to the murders, rapes, torture, dislocation, disease and  starvation that characterized the Armenian Genocide. Now it’s not so easy, even harder than finding Holocaust survivors.

Survivors sometimes feel that denial is the final stage of extermination. First the physical forms of the victims were destroyed, and then their memories are erased. Most Jews are familiar with the rage that comes over them when confronted with Holocaust denial. But — at least in the West, if not in Iran or the Arab world — deniers are marginal. After all, the present government of Germany has officially accepted responsibility for the Holocaust.

One can imagine how Armenians feel — actually, you don’t need to imagine, they will tell you — when, almost 100 years after the fact, the Turkish government still insists — against the huge preponderance of historical evidence — that while something happened to the Armenians, it wasn’t genocide, the Turks were not responsible, and it might even have been the Armenians’ fault.

Turkey wants to join the EU. It would only be fair to ask them to follow the example of Germany.

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A note on the windshield

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

My wife left our car with its pro-Israel bumper stickers outside a big local  bookstore today, and she found the following note on the windshield when she returned:





Rasic Racism

The good news is that the person who left this note was apparently capable of recognizing that he/she had spelled “racism” incorrectly the first time, although “seperatism” seems to have slipped by.

Our correspondent doesn’t seem to know what ‘separatism’ is (here’s an example). Even Jimmy Carter didn’t accuse us of that. Probably he or she meant ‘apartheid’, but got tired just thinking about spelling it.

One of the things which characterizes grass-roots anti-Israel people is their complete ignorance of the actual issues and of history (our friend is even ignorant of the actual slogans).

The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has nothing to do with race  — how can it when it is impossible to tell an Israeli from a Palestinian by their appearance? But antisemites of the Right and Left (for example, Shlomo Zand) will go on and on about the Khazars, about how Ashkenazis are not actually Jews, etc. Their obsession with race is indeed racist, but is not shared by average Israeli, who is concerned about Palestinian terrorism, not Arab or Jewish genetics.

It’s true that anti-Israel Arabs have adopted a lot of the trappings of European racist antisemitism in order to stir up hatred. But Israeli Jews have always had more concrete reasons to dislike Arabs, such as the history of murderous attacks, from pogroms in the 1800’s, through the ‘riots’ of the 1920’s and -30’s and the terror attacks of the Arafat period, to the Qassam rockets of today. Who needs racial antagonism when friends and relatives are murdered?

Despite all this, Israel has not exterminated the Palestinians or ethnically cleansed territories captured in wars started by the Arab nations — Israel has not behaved like Jordan, for example, which one way or another eliminated every last Jew in the areas it occupied in 1948.

One might well ask who in the Middle East is actually racist. Egypt, where Mein Kampf is a runaway best seller and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was a hit TV series; Hamas, whose charter calls for the killing of Jews and repeats silly antisemitic cliches — it would be funny if they didn’t actually murder people — or Saudi Arabia, whose official website until very recently carried a statement that “Jewish persons” would not be allowed into the Kingdom? What about Sudan, where an Arab government is committing genocide against three non-Arab ethnic groups, because of their color or religion or both?

If you search for ‘Zionism’ on YouTube, you will find numerous videos in which neo-Nazis, ordinary antisemites, and Iranian TV personalities explain how Zionism is a racist doctrine that holds that Jews are superior to non-Jews and that Jews must strive for world domination (or even the extermination of non-Jews). All of this is false.

Zionism simply states that the Jewish people has a right to self-determination, like any other people. Zionists believe that the State of Israel was legitimately established and has a right to exist as a Jewish State (see: “Zionism — What it is and isn’t“).

Our note writer needs to study history as well as spelling.

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Keep the occupation

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

The recent fighting between Hamas and a Fatah-linked clan in Gaza reminds us that Hamas is not sitting still, but rather is steadily pursuing its aims, rearming, training, consolidating. What does this mean for the “two-state” plan which is given at least lip service by the Israeli government, and which is an article of faith for most liberals and centrists in the US — including the two presidential candidates? What does it mean for those who think that “ending the occupation” is a prerequisite of peace?

Elder of Ziyon wrote,

What is striking is that of all the players in the Arab/Israeli conflict, Hamas and Hezbollah (as Iranian proxies) seem to be the only ones with real plans, strategies and the ability to follow through. The current Israeli government’s strategy is more based on wishful thinking plus some IDF contingency plans, and the Palestinian Authority [PA] has long ago become a joke.

Hamas, though, knows what it wants: it already replaced Gaza with an Islamic state, and it is mopping up any leftover opposition. It plans to take over the West Bank as well.

If, G-d forbid, Israel abandons large areas of the West Bank to Hamas, it really will become another Gaza. Anything Israel does to defend itself from the inevitable rockets will involve civilian deaths. Giving the Palestinian Arabs a state wouldn’t slow Hamas down – on the contrary, it would accelerate Hamas’ reaching its goals. Hamas’ prestige will grow and affect Jordan as well as Egypt, and Israel will literally be surrounded by Iranian proxies.

Liberals scoff that Israel doesn’t face a real existential threat from what are dismissively described as a few kids with stones, but the real threat is what I’ve described – at least two Iranian proxy armies on Israel’s doorstep from the south, east and north.

And the only thing that can stop this sequence of events is Israeli “occupation,” which, from decades of propaganda, is regarded as evil incarnate.

— Elder of Ziyon, “The Hamas threat to the West Bank – and Israel

For those who want to help ‘solve the problem’ in the region today, here’s a quick primer on what the problem isn’t and is:

  • It isn’t checkpoints or the security barrier.
  • It isn’t Israel building houses inside existing settlements or Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
  • It isn’t the closure of Gaza crossings (can you imagine the result if Israel allowed Hamas operatives to cross freely into Israel?).
  • It especially isn’t ‘The Occupation’.
  • Rather, it is Iran’s attempt to destroy Israel and kill its Jewish inhabitants by means of its Hamas and Hezbollah proxies.

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The most strategic place on the planet

Monday, August 4th, 2008

The Strait of Hormuz

The Strait of Hormuz, sometimes called “the most strategic place on the planet”

I do not have secret inside information about the US or Israel’s intentions toward Iran, or of Ahmadinejad’s plans. But anybody can look at certain basic facts and draw conclusions.

For example:

If you think the US economy is struggling now, imagine if Iran took steps to interfere with the transit of oil in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40% of all seaborne oil traffic passes! And Iran is doing its best to make sure that the US understands that they have the ability to do this.

Right now the US, Russia, China, France, the U.K. and Germany are engaging in ‘carrot and stick’ negotiations with Iran to try to get a suspension of nuclear enrichment. The carrots are “economic, technological, and political” and supposedly include everything Iran would need to build a peaceful nuclear program. The deadline for accepting the carrot has officially passed and now there is talk of ‘painful sanctions’.

Iran is temporizing, the six nations are threatening. Iran will hold out for an absolutely ridiculous price — the West is no match for them in negotiations — and while Iran may agree to some kind of suspension of their weapons program, it will never actually permanently dismantle it, and will never permit truly adequate inspections. Possibly they will not agree to a deal until they have enough enriched uranium squirreled away for a bomb or three. The strategy will be to delay, delay, and delay some more. Time is on their side.

Meanwhile, the US — either before or after the election — simply can’t afford the cost of a military solution that leaves Iran the ability to attack ships, mine the straits, etc.  This will be the case whether McCain, Obama or Teddy Roosevelt’s ghost is elected.

What about Israel? An Israeli attack on Iran would have exactly the same consequences for the West’s oil supply as an American one. Even if an Israeli government would dare launch an attack against American wishes, it would have to be done without American tactical support which would make it even more difficult.

There is only one case in which I can imagine Israel striking Iran. That would be if Iran had a nuclear weapon and was actually preparing to use it against Israel. I don’t think this is presently the case (or there would have already been an Israeli attack).

I think that Ahmadinejad understands all of the above and prefers to threaten Israel via Hamas and Hezbollah. In my opinion, these are a greater danger for Israel today than the Iranian nuclear program.

Update [1410 PDT]: It just occurred to me that maybe I have the whole thing backwards.

Maybe the present negotiations are less about preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons than about determining how much the West needs to pay Iran — in strategic concessions as well as money — to keep them from cutting our oil jugular?

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