Archive for April, 2009

Clinton confuses cart with horse

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

The shape of the Obama administration’s Mideast policy is beginning to become clear, and it shows either a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts or a deliberate tilt in an unsavory direction. Secretary of State Clinton commented last week:

Clinton said she did not want to “prejudge the Israeli position until we’ve had face-to-face talks.” But she then cautioned that Israel was unlikely to gain support for thwarting Iran unless there were visible efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood.

“For Israel to get the kind of strong support it’s looking for vis-a-vis Iran it can’t stay on the sideline with respect to the Palestinian [sic] and the peace efforts, that they go hand-in-hand,” Clinton said.

Clinton noted that every Arab official she has met with “wants very much to support the strongest possible policy toward Iran.” But, she said, “they believe that Israel’s willingness to reenter into discussions with the Palestinian Authority strengthens them in being able to deal with Iran.”

Now we know that Sunni Arab states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are very concerned with Iran’s attempt to expand its sphere of influence — both political and religious — to include the entire region. Through Hezbollah, which has been called the “Foreign Legion of the Iranian revolution”, Iran has established control over Lebanon, attempted to subvert Egypt and of course terrorized Israel’s northern frontier. Iran has armed Syria with a formidable missile force and supports the most radical Palestinian elements — Hamas, Islamic Jihad and radical elements of Fatah with money, arms and training.  It is likely that after the US leaves Iraq, this country too, with its Shiite majority, will almost certainly fall under Iranian influence or control.

All this so far has been accomplished by an Iran with a relatively weak conventional military. If it obtains nuclear weapons, they will be used for blackmail and as an umbrella for Hezbollah, making Iran by far the dominant power in the Muslim Middle East.

One would think that the last thing that the Arab states would worry about today is the tiny Palestinian territories. Especially since Palestinians are treated like subhumans in Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, etc. Of course this is correct: they don’t care a fig for the Palestinians, and they are worried about Iran. But they see an opportunity to apply pressure on Israel via the US, and the Obama administration seems ready to oblige them.

In fact the chain of causality acts in the opposite direction to Clinton’s suggestion: the Iranian problem does not depend on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; rather, the reverse is true.

Efforts to reach a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) that would lead to a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel have so far failed to bear fruit, primarily because the PA has not deviated from its hardline positions: Israel must fully withdraw to pre-1967 borders including East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, Israel will not be recognized as a Jewish state, and there must be a right of return for Palestinian ‘refugees’.

Israeli-suggested compromises involving land swaps that would allow some settlements close to the Green Line to remain while the PA would be compensated with land from Israel proper, or arrangements that would permit partial Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount have been rejected.

'Moderate' Abbas displays 'moderate' map of 'Palestine'

‘Moderate’ Abbas displays ‘moderate’ map of ‘Palestine’

One might ask what leverage the PA has that justifies this stubbornness. It’s simple: the alternative to peace on their terms is Iranian-sponsored terrorism. Mahmoud Abbas has said as much:

But [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas said that unless Israel halts expansion of settlements, “it would be futile to dream of the peace that we all hope for. Because if we fail, if we do not attain peace, then the alternative poses a serious threat.

“The alternative will plunge the entire region into the deadly cycle of violence once again. I don’t even wish to imagine what that might lead us to,” he added. — (Reuters, Sept. 2008)

“Expansion of settlements” is a red herring, referring to Israel’s building houses within existing settlements — most of  them either in neighborhoods of East Jerusalem or right next to the Green Line. We now know that progress in the Annapolis talks was really stymied by the PA’s refusal to compromise. Nevertheless, they never failed to raise the spectre of a renewed intifada if they did not get their way.

And don’t forget that the biggest obstacle to a peace agreement is that almost half of the Palestinian territories are controlled by Hamas — Iranian-supported Hamas — which will not agree to end the conflict on any terms, even unreasonable ones.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed this succinctly in a recent interview:

What is the biggest problem for the Palestinians. It’s not Israel. It’s their internal Palestinian problem. We saw so many atrocities. There is such danger within – between Hamas and Fatah. Their biggest problem is first of all Hamas. Hamas in Judea and Samaria, Hamas in Gaza – supported by the Iranians.

The Iranians are the biggest sponsor of worldwide terrorist activity, whether it’s Hizbullah or Hamas or Islamic Jihad or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or anywhere around the world…

It’s impossible to resolve any problem in our region without resolving the Iranian problem. This relates to Lebanon, to their influence in Syria, their deep involvement within Egypt, in the Gaza Strip, in Iraq. If the international community wants to resolve its Middle East problems, it’s impossible because the biggest obstacle to this solution is the Iranians.

Think about it, Mrs. Clinton: are you putting the cart before the horse?

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Only a few Nazis

Monday, April 27th, 2009

News item:

The administration is looking for a way to keep aid flowing if the Palestinians form a government that includes elements of Hamas, the militant anti-Israel group that controls Gaza.

Obama wants to alter language in the fiscal 2009 catchall spending law (PL 111-8) that makes the State Department worry about the possibility of a cutoff of aid to the Palestinian government should Hamas join the more moderate [sic] Fatah party in a power-sharing arrangement.

The administration said it is focused on ensuring that a Palestinian government meets internationally accepted conditions regarding Israel.

“This legislation is consistent with our policy,” said Benjamin Chang, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

“It would prohibit assistance to a government that does not accept the Quartet principles but would preserve the president’s flexibility to provide such assistance if that government were to accept and comply with the Quartet principles,” he said, referring to requirements that a Palestinian government accept Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and abide by prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

In other words, Hamas can participate in a Palestinian government which receives US aid as long as the official policy of that government meets the “Quartet principles” — even though Hamas rejects them. Of course, it is not clear if Hamas would participate in a government which did agree to them, but you can bet that efforts will be made to find a magic formula to make the problem go away.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill) likened this to supporting a government that had “only a few Nazis in it”.

The absurdity of the situation is remarkable:

  • There is no Palestinian state or economy; they are totally dependent on international aid (mostly originating in the US). This is because their leadership (Fatah and Hamas) and their allies in the Mideast have always chosen war over acceptance of Israel.
  • Many Palestinians living in Hamas-controlled Gaza allegedly ‘work’ for the Palestinian Authority [PA], so they get salaries from the PA, funded by the US and paid via Israel. Others have refugee status, so they receive aid from the UN.
  • Hamas also gets direct aid in the form of money and munitions from Iran. All its resources are used to make war on Israel.
  • When Israel struck back, the US agreed to pay to rebuild the damage in Gaza! But nobody can figure out how to do this without aiding Hamas.

Meanwhile, there’s a world-wide clamor to legitimize Hamas — despite the fact that it’s hard to find a more antisemitic and violent bunch anywhere.

Maybe the problem is that the Obama administration is looking at things from the wrong angle. Maybe the absolute top priority in the Mideast today should not be establishing a Palestinian state?

Maybe acting to stop the destabilizing activities of Iran — its sponsorship of Hezbollah in attacking Israel, destabilizing Lebanon and even Egypt, its support of Hamas, its attempt to control half the world’s oil supply by nuclear blackmail — is more important than establishing yet another Arab state ruled by racist thugs like those of Hamas and Fatah?

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Short takes: pro-terror lobbies, modern warfare, Iran, Palestinian ingenuity

Sunday, April 26th, 2009


Barry Rubin and Jonathan Speyer on The Anglo-American pro-Hamas lobby (yes, there is one. Hizballah, too). Incidentally, Barry Rubin’s new blog is excellent, and should be on everyone’s list to read regularly.

Ralph Peters on 21st Century diplomacy and War, the complete article by Peters with comments by Richard Landes on Landes’ blog. Peters explains how and why the ostensibly greatest military power the world has ever known has apparently forgotten the most basic truths about warfare.

Why-do-they-write-such-dumb-stuff department:

Iran canceled air show when Russia warned Israel planned to destroy all 140 warplanes

DEBKAfile’s Iranian and intelligence sources disclose that Moscow warned Tehran Friday April 17 that Israel was planning to destroy all 140 fighter-bombers concentrated at the Mehr-Abad Air Force base for an air show over Tehran on Iran’s Army Day the following day. The entire fleet was accordingly removed to remote bases and the display canceled.

In the first week of April, Tehran announced it would stage its biggest air show ever to dramatize a ceremonial military parade in the capital on April 18. Iran would show the world that it is capable of fighting off an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities. Instead only four aircraft flew over the saluting stand. Iranian media explained that the big show was canceled due to “bad weather and poor visibility,” when in fact Tehran basked in warm and sunny weather.

1) The logistics of an air attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities are complex enough that it’s doubtful that any aircraft would be diverted to  a secondary target. The poorly-maintained Iranian air force would not be a threat to the strike force, so why attack it? Syrian and Hezbollah missiles aimed at Israel pose a greater danger.

2) While Israel will likely attack Iran when there is no alternative to prevent Iran from obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons, nobody thinks that this point has been reached yet.

DEBKA’s sensational fantasies do not do anything for their credibility.

Interesting photos department:

The following picture is making the rounds in Israel. It supposedly shows a Palestinian truck modified for use as a mobile Qassam launcher. If anyone knows whether this is for real or a product of Photoshop, please let me know.

Palestinian dump truck

The top caption reads “note from where they are launching the Qassams and mortars”. The bottom one translates the Arabic sign on the cab: “if this vehicle violates traffic laws, please contact the Palestinian Authority”. Indeed.

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UC Irvine Muslim students to stage hatefest (again)

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

The Muslim Student Union [MSU] at the University of California, Irvine — one of the most militant anti-Zionist groups on the US campus scene — is staging a massive multi-week anti-Israel event, including appearances by notorious Israel-haters such as George Galloway, Cynthia McKinney, Anna Baltzer, Amir Abdel Malik Ali, and the inimitable Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz.

I could write a book about every one of them, but suffice to say — absolutely without exaggeration — the leadership of Hamas is no more fervently devoted to the destruction of the Jewish state than any of the above. And the same goes for the MSU, which explicitly supports Hamas.

The event is called called “Israel: the Politics of Genocide”, which is actually quite accurate if you think about the goals of the terror organizations supported by the MSU. If you are a member of Facebook, you can see the MSU’s announcement here.

The thing that really drew my attention, though, is the list of useful idiots co-sponsors. Here they are:

Afrikan Student Union
Alpha Epsilon Omega [an Armenian fraternity on campus]
Armenian Student Association
Asian Pacific Student Association
Hindu Student Council
Hip Hop Congress
Pakistani Student Association
Society of Arab Students
Sikh Student Association
The Agora
Radical Student Union
Vietnamese Action Committee
Young Americans for Liberty
Workers Student Alliance

OK, I understand the Society of Arab Students and the Pakistani Student Association, but the Hip Hop Congress? The Hindu Student Council?

I’m particularly unhappy to see the Armenians there. As Christian victims of a Muslim genocide like the one Hamas and the MSU would perpetrate in Israel if they could, they should understand that they are on the wrong side (consider Hamas’ treatment of Christians in Gaza).

Yes, they are understandably annoyed by Israel’s failure to call for Turkey to admit that the events of 1915 were in fact genocide. But it would be better for them to concentrate their efforts on the US — or the EU, which Turkey wants to join — than on a tiny country whose foreign policy is dictated by considerations of survival.

Oh, in case you are interested in what to expect, here’s Amir Abdel Malik Ali speaking at a previous event held at UC Irvine:

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Testing Zionist ideas

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Still not convinced that Iran must be prevented — by any means necessary — from becoming a nuclear power?

Watch as a member of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s entourage abuses Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel:

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Words are not an adequate response to the gutter trash that is Ahmadinejad and his cohorts. And Ahmadinejad is not the only one. The same sewer rhetoric — or worse — can be heard in the mouths of Palestinians of both the Hamas and Fatah varieties, and even from ‘progressive’ activists here in California.

Ahmadinejad has done us a favor by showing the world that antisemitism is real, Jews are not ‘obsessed with the Holocaust’, and it’s not just ‘Jewish paranoia’. They do hate us and want to wipe us out.

The Zionist idea that a Jewish state can prevent another Holocaust is about to be tested as severely as it has ever been since the end of WWII. Another Zionist idea, whose truth was firmly established then, is that the Jewish people needs to defend itself — nobody, not the US, not any other nation or international organization, will do it for them.

I’m confident that Israel will defend herself and the Jewish people yet again, and Ahmadinejad’s place in history will be assured — not as the destroyer of Israel he aspires to be, but rather as one who brought catastrophe onto his own people.

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First, recognize the Jewish state

Sunday, April 19th, 2009


I am prepared to negotiate with any side that desires to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians…Contrary to reports, I don’t condition dialogue with the Palestinians on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Nevertheless, progress in the peace process does depend on the willingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. — Jerusalem Post

It is hard to understand what ‘dialogue’ there could be without such recognition.

When the Arabs refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, they are simply saying “you do not have a right of self-determination here”. They are reaffirming their opinion that Israel does not belong to the Jewish people, it belongs to them. Indeed, they do not think there is a Jewish people, only Jews living in Western Palestine.

This goes far beyond saying that although they rejected the UN partition in 1947 they now agree that the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan should be partitioned between Jewish and Arab states. It says that there should not be any Jewish state.

One often hears that a Palestinian state is a necessary condition for peace. In any event, as the establishment of Palestinian sovereignty in Gaza has shown, it is certainly not a sufficient condition.

A Palestinian state which does not recognize Israel as a Jewish state will be a state at war with Israel. So doesn’t it make sense to deal with recognition first, before creating the state?

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Even ‘moderate’ Palestinians don’t accept Israel

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Yesterday I mentioned the fact that no Palestinian leadership — not Hamas, not Fatah — was prepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. I must have been prescient. Today, the following news item appeared:

The Palestinian Authority [PA] and Hamas rejected over the weekend Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition for resuming the stalled peace talks between the two sides…

Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state was “an admission by the Israeli prime minister that he cannot deliver on peace.” Erekat pointed out that the PLO had already recognized Israel’s right to exist when it signed the Oslo Accords, while Netanyahu was refusing to mention a Palestinian state.

Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official closely associated with Abbas, said on Saturday that the Palestinians would not return to the negotiating table until Netanyahu publicly accepted the two-state solution.

“We reject Netanyahu’s demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” he said. “This demand illustrates the racist nature of Israel and the extremist policies of its government. It also shows that Israel is not serious about making peace with its neighbors…”

Omar al-Ghul, an adviser to PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, said that Netanyahu’s demand was aimed at transferring the Palestinians to another country.

“No Palestinian leader can ever accept this demand even if the whole world recognizes Israel as a Jewish state,” he stressed. “The state of Israel belongs to all its citizens, the Palestinians owners of the land and the Jews living there.”Jerusalem Post [my emphasis]

There you have it, in words that even an idiot can understand. What Salaam Fayad, the moderate of moderates, beloved by the West for his pragmatism and University of Texas Ph.D,  believes is that ‘two-state solution’ means ‘two Palestinian states’. One of them, Palestine, will  be entirely unpolluted by Jews, while the other — temporarily called ‘Israel’ — will be a ‘democratic state of its citizens’, including of course the almost five million hostile Arab claimants of refugee status.

The Palestinians are quite clear that there is something called a ‘Palestinian people’, although they didn’t talk much about it before 1967,  and they believe that there is an inalienable right of self-determination that entitles them to a state. But for some reason, they are unable to accept that there is a Jewish people with a similar right. We can see this by their insistence that a Jewish state is ‘based on religion’, although more than half of Israel’s Jews are secular.

The Palestinians insist that the idea of a Jewish state is a racist concept, although Arabs can live in today’s Jewish state while Jews will be expelled from ‘Palestine’.

Since the Oslo accords, the PA has equivocated and temporized about recognition of Israel. Netanyahu’s demand is, finally, a sign from an Israeli government that it will no longer be possible for the Palestinians to profit from the Arafatian strategy of talking out of both sides of their mouths.

If even ‘moderate’ Palestinians like Salaam Fayad can’t understand this, then a Palestinian state is not in the cards just yet.

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Big obstacles to Palestinian state

Friday, April 17th, 2009

The Obama Administration is pushing hard for a Palestinian state. But as Khaled Abu Toameh explains so well,

If the Obama administration is serious about promoting the two-state solution, it must focus its efforts first and foremost on helping the Palestinians solve the dispute between the Fatah-run state in the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled entity in the Gaza Strip.

The divisions among the Palestinians, as well as failure to establish proper and credible institutions, are the main obstacle to the realization of the two-state solution.

Less than half of the West Bank is controlled by the corruption-riddled Fatah faction, which seems to have lost much of its credibility among the Palestinians, largely because of its failure to reform itself in the aftermath of its defeat to Hamas in the January 2006 parliamentary election.

The Gaza Strip, on the other hand, is entirely controlled by the radical Islamic movement that has, through its extremist ideology, wreaked havoc on the majority of the Palestinians living there.

The Obama administration is mistaken if it thinks the power struggle between these two groups is a fight between good guys and bad guys. This is a confrontation between bad guys and bad guys, since they are not fighting over promoting democracy or boosting the economy, but over money and power.

There is also another problem — which Obama’s envoy George Mitchell seems to be putting aside to solve later, after the establishment of the Palestinian state — that even if a Palestinian government could be put together out of the aforementioned bad guys, it would be unstable and shortly thereafter controlled by Hamas. Such an entity would be born at war with Israel.

Mitchell and others seem to think that US pressure can keep the ‘good guys’ in power — the moderates who are more interested in creating a prosperous Palestinian state than in destroying Israel.

But as Abu Toameh implies, the ‘moderates’ are only moderate in that they put their personal enrichment ahead of killing Jews. So even if they can be kept in power — and the evidence of Gaza shows that they cannot — a functioning state based on primarily on larceny is highly unlikely.

But there’s more: the ‘moderates’ of Fatah — that is, the ones who do not officially call for armed jihad against Israel — even now permit antisemitic incitement in the Palestinian media, and refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state. And of course Fatah has its own terrorist wing, the al-Aksa Brigades.

I think this is really the most telling point: after all, Mitchell is talking about setting up a Palestinian state which will satisfy the nationalistic aspirations of the Palestinians. As such, why should it care about the self-definition of its neighbor, Israel?

The simple answer is that they think ‘Palestine’ should include all of Israel, “from the river to the sea” as they are fond of saying. But there’s more to it than this.

If this were all, why would they not also claim Jordan? Jordan has a Palestinian majority and was part of historic ‘Palestine’. In 1922, imperialist Britain, the colonial power in control of the area sliced off more than half of ‘Palestine’ and gave it to the Hashemite Abdullah, who became the first king of what was then called Transjordan. No Palestinians were consulted! And in 1948, Jordanian troops marched into the West Bank, into the area set aside by the UN for a Palestinian state, which they then illegally occupied for 19 years. But neither of these injustices generated one-tenth of the outrage reserved for the Jews who bought land or obtained it as the result of a war started and lost by Palestinians and their allies.

Occupation, therefore, is not a problem unless it is Jewish occupation. Indeed, even Jewish presence is a problem, as illustrated by the insistence of ‘moderates’ like Mahmoud Abbas, that all Jewish residents must be removed from the territories that will become the Palestinian state (although he demands that the descendants of Arab refugees who fled the 1948 war be allowed to ‘return’ to Israel).

So even for the moderates the real issue is not that there isn’t a Palestinian state, but that there is a Jewish one.

Nevertheless, most of the world seems to think that the solution is to pressure Israel!

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Radical Islamists unite against conservative regimes

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Most of us have assumed that the most significant split in the Arab-Iranian world was Sunni vs. Shia. But new developments suggest that possibly it also divides along the lines of radical Islamists vs. conservative regimes.

Islamists of the World Unite; You Have Nothing to Lose Except Any Pretext of Being Moderate

By Barry Rubin (GLORIA Center)

It’s a development of tremendous importance and you probably won’t be hearing about it from anywhere but here.

Mahdi Akef, supreme guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, has defied his own country’s government to ally himself with Hizballah. What makes this such a remarkable and high-risk step?

  • The Muslim Brotherhood is Sunni Muslim; the Lebanese Hizballah group is Shia. Brotherhood leaders do not view Shia Islamists as brothers and in the past have been alarmed at the rising power of Shia forces in Lebanon and Iraq.
  • Hizballah is a client of Iran’s regime. As a Shia and non-Arab power, Iran is not on the Brotherhood’s Ramadan greeting card list.
  • Egypt’s government has just announced a major Hizballah effort to destabilize the country by staging terrorist attacks there. Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has openly called for the overthrow of Egypt’s regime. He has now acknowledged connections with the arrested terrorists, though he claims their mission was to help Hamas and attack Israel. The Egyptian government has rejected this justification. As a result, siding with Hizballah risks a government-sponsored wave of suppression against the Brotherhood.
  • This step also makes the Brotherhood look unpatriotic in Arab and Sunni terms to millions of Egyptians by siding with Persian Iranians and Shia Muslims.
  • Akef’s statement tears the chador off the pretension that the Brotherhood has become moderate. Of course, while not engaging in political violence within Egypt, it has long supported terrorism against Israel and the United States (in Iraq). Now, to this is added backing an Iran-Syria takeover of Lebanon and at least the image of accepting armed struggle against the Egyptian government by others.
  • And most importantly of all, Akef has endorsed the strategic line of the Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas axis in open defiance of not only Egypt’s government but of the country’s national interests as well.

What did Akef and his colleagues say that was so significant? The story is told in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, April 15. Put into a seemingly innocuous framework of supporting the Palestinians, the Brotherhood’s new line ends up in some shocking conclusions.

Akef said that Hamas should be supported, “By any means necessary.” The implication is, since the Brotherhood has always favored abrogation of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty that Egypt should go to war with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. A Brotherhood government would probably do just that.

Hussein Ibrahim, deputy leader of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, which includes about 20 percent of the legislators, in calling for full Egyptian support of Hamas, stated, “Our enemy and Hizballah’s enemy are the same.” That enemy would seem to be Israel. But is Israel the only such enemy?

Akef took Hizballah’s side against Egypt’s rulers. Since Hizballah leader Nasrallah had denied he was doing anything against Egypt, everyone should take his word for it rather than that of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.

In a statement to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Akef said there were two competing camps in the region, respectively waving the banners of “cooperative resistance” and of the “protection of the state’s sovereignty.” Countries like Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are rejecting Iranian influence and Islamist takeovers in the name of their own continued sovereignty.

Yet “resistance” is the basic slogan of the Iranian-led coalition. Akef insisted that he didn’t seek to compromise Egypt’s sovereignty. But asked how he could reconcile these two “axes” and why Egypt should help Hizballah he responded:

“There are two agendas [in the region]…an agenda working to protect and support the resistance against the Zionist enemy, and an agenda that only cares about satisfying the Americans and the Zionists.”

Any Arab listener must take this to mean that there are the properly struggling forces—Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah—and the vile traitors—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Iraqi government.

Ibrahim made another telling statement in saying that the Muslim Brotherhood “do not see any contradiction in supporting the resistance and protecting the state’s sovereignty. We are in support of the resistance, in Gaza, and Palestine, and Lebanon….”

Why, however, did he include Lebanon? After all, the overwhelming majority of Lebanese Sunnis oppose Hizballah, viewing it as an arm of Syrian-Iranian power. The apparent answer is that Hizballah is fighting Israel and that the Palestinian issue overrides every other consideration.

Yet the Brotherhood is making choices. It certainly doesn’t support the Palestinian Authority, controlled by nationalist forces, but only the Islamist Hamas. And it opposes having an independent Palestinian state created through a peace process with Israel.

Moreover, so what if both Hizballah and the Brotherhood support Hamas? One would expect that the Brotherhood would feel itself engaged in a battle of influence with Hizballah as to who would be Hamas’s patron, and that of a supposed future Islamist Palestine. Could Brotherhood leaders not have noticed that in Lebanon there is no Hamas among Palestinians there because Iran and Hizballah seek to control them directly?

Under cover of supporting “the Palestinians,” then, the Brotherhood’s priority is on backing Islamist revolution in Iraq, Lebanon, among the Palestinians, Egypt, and elsewhere. The Brotherhood doesn’t engage in violence not out of principle but because the Egyptian government is too strong, the Brotherhood is too weak, and it hopes to make gains through elections aided by “useful idiots” in the West.

If it feels the power balance shift in the future, it would have no compunction about launching a revolution. And as it gains in power, the extremism of its program will be more openly exposed.

When Ibrahim says, “Our enemy and Hizballah’s enemy are the same,” it sends two messages to the Egyptian government and those who oppose an Islamist Egypt. First, that enemy includes the Egyptian regime itself. Second, the Brotherhood’s friends and Hizballah’s friends are also the same.

In this analysis, the conclusion is inevitable: who is fighting the hardest and being the most intransigent? The “resistance” led by Iran, which may have nuclear weapons in a year or so.


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, or write to Barry Rubin at

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Roger Cohen gets it backwards again

Monday, April 13th, 2009

The inimitable Roger Cohen is back yet again. This time it’s a plan for “normalizing” relations with Iran:

Iran ceases military support for Hamas and Hezbollah; adopts a “Malaysian” approach to Israel (nonrecognition and noninterference); agrees to work for stability in Iraq and Afghanistan; accepts intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency verification of a limited nuclear program for peaceful ends only; promises to fight Qaeda terrorism; commits to improving its human rights record.

The United States commits itself to the Islamic Republic’s security and endorses its pivotal regional role; accepts Iran’s right to operate a limited enrichment facility with several hundred centrifuges for research purposes; agrees to Iran’s acquiring a new nuclear power reactor from the French; promises to back Iran’s entry into the World Trade Organization; returns seized Iranian assets; lifts all sanctions; and notes past Iranian statements that it will endorse a two-state solution acceptable to the Palestinians.

But the Iranian leadership sees nuclear weapons as a high priority. Resources that could have been used to improve the struggling Iranian economy have been diverted to the nuclear project. Iran continues development in the face of at least somewhat damaging sanctions. And it does so in pursuit of major geopolitical goals — becoming the regional superpower, controlling the Mideast’s oil resources, and exporting its revolutionary brand of Shiite Islamism. So why would it suddenly agree to give all this up in return for a lifting of those same sanctions and some minor economic carrots?

Keep in mind that Iran has been offered Western help in building power-generating reactors that would not be capable of creating weapons-grade uranium or plutonium. Iranian leaders have not been interested.

“Work for stability in Iraq?” Iran wants to leverage Iraq’s Shiite majority to gain influence — more correctly, control — over Iraq when the US leaves, thus converting a traditional enemy into an ally or a satellite. What else would — or could — it do?

But notice the centrality of Israel, a tiny country separated from Iran by several countries and more than 500 miles. Why would a deal between the US and Iran have so much to do with Israel and the Palestinians? Only Cohen knows.

Cohen is afraid that his peaceful scenario will be interrupted by an Israeli attack:

Any such deal is a game changer, transformative as Nixon to China (another repressive state with a poor human rights record). It can be derailed any time by an attack from Israel, which has made clear it won’t accept virtual nuclear power status for Iran, despite its own nonvirtual nuclear warheads.

“Israel would be utterly crazy to attack Iran,” [International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed] ElBaradei said. “I worry about it. If you bomb, you will turn the region into a ball of fire and put Iran on a crash course for nuclear weapons with the support of the whole Muslim world.”

Cohen obviously thinks that Israel is utterly crazy. And it would be crazy to attack Iran and face the certain retaliation via Syria and Hezbollah, the attacks on Jewish targets all over the world, the possible repercussions of Iranian actions to cut the West’s oil supply — unless there were absolutely no alternative. Unless the choices were simply ‘strike first or be destroyed’.

One of the considerations most important to Israeli military planners is the price Israel would pay for bombing Iran, a price possibly measured in thousands of civilian deaths. The only way that this would make horrible sense would be if it avoided the hundreds of thousands of deaths that might result from an Iranian nuclear attack.

But Cohen apparently doesn’t understand this; he thinks that Israel is chomping at the bit to attack Iran because it “won’t accept virtual nuclear power status” for it.

And this is unsurprising, because Cohen’s ideas of Israeli motivations are obscene. Here’s an example from an op-ed published a month ago (and ignore the transparent device of ‘one view'; it’s the only view he presents, in an article which calls for diplomatic contact between the US and Hezbollah and the integration of Hamas into the Palestinian Authority):

One view of Israel’s continued expansion of settlements, Gaza blockade, West Bank walling-in and wanton recourse to high-tech force would be that it’s designed precisely to bludgeon, undermine and humiliate the Palestinian people until their dreams of statehood and dignity evaporate.

Cohen, an advocate of the “everything is Israel’s fault” school, presumes that the main obstacle to good relations between Iran and the US — never mind the issue of who will be the predominant power in the Mideast — is crazy, evil Israel. He writes,

To avoid that nightmare [of an Israeli attack and Iranian reaction] Obama will have to get tougher with Israel than any U.S. president in recent years. It’s time.

Of course, this is backwards. The danger comes from the aggression and threats of Iran to destroy Israel, the effort to force her further and further into a corner from which she will have no recourse but to defend herself. The way to defuse the crisis is not to try to prevent Israel from mounting a last-ditch effort of self-defense — something which is impossible anyway — and to get tough, rather, with Iran.

Update [1931 PDT]: Here’s Elder of Ziyon’s take on Roger Cohen’s foolishness.

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Support Israel to contain Iran

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

A commenter on this blog recently asked (in effect), “if you’re so smart, what would you do about Iran?” How would it be different and better than what the Obama administration is trying to do? I’ll try to answer.

First, let’s look at what Iran is doing and how that affects the US.

Iran has several goals. One is to replace the US-Saudi alliance, which presently dominates the politics and economy of the region. Until recently, the effect of this alliance has been to keep the price of oil low, which has benefited the Saudis with their modern American-built oil infrastructure and hurt Iran with its relatively high cost of production. The US has also acted to keep the reactionary regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia in power, in opposition to radical Islamic opposition.

Although cheap oil has been a great benefit (at least in the short-term — it may not be so in the long term) to the US, Saudi policies in other areas, such as the support for radical Islamists throughout the world (anywhere but Saudi Arabia) has been bad for the US, and 9/11 is an example of how this has played out.

The Reagan and two Bush administrations, very close to oil companies and Saudi Arabia, worked to strengthen this alliance by opposing traditional enemies of the Saudis such as Iran and (more recently) Saddam’s Iraq. Indeed, the US armed and supported Iraq in its 12-year war with Iran, thus weakening two Saudi competitors at once. When Saddam overreached, invading Kuwait and threatening Saudi Arabia, the US slapped him down.

But the second Bush administration made a serious mistake by trying to take direct control of Iraq. Once the repressive lid of Saddam’s regime was lifted, Iran was able to take advantage of the pent-up desire of the Iraqi Shiites to strike back at the minority Sunnis that had treated them cruelly under Saddam. And Sunni Islamists — both unrepentant Baathists and radicals of the al-Qaeda variety — began to fight the Shiites and US troops.

This made Iranian leaders happier than pigs in mud. The price of oil went sky-high, making it possible for Iran to profit greatly and thereby fund its unclear program. And with the US tied down in Iraq, Iran was free to pursue its parallel goal of exporting its revolutionary brand of Shiite Islam, in particular by means of Hezbollah in Lebanon. And it has been spectacularly effective, with Hezbollah now probably the most powerful single political force in Lebanon.

Iran has also made Syria a strong ally, by supplying it with huge quantities of weapons. And Syria has been happy to help destabilize the situation in Iraq by allowing foreign fighters and weapons to cross its border. Syria has also become the corridor for Iranian arms going to Hezbollah in Lebanon in defiance of UN Resolution 1701.

Which brings us to Israel. Iran sees Israel as an American base, an obstacle to its further advance. For that reason Iran has built up huge missile forces in Syria and in the hands of Hezbollah, tens of thousands of rockets, some with chemical or biological warheads.  And for that reason Iran has armed and funded Hamas, even though Hamas is a Sunni organization, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Iran has made this alliance of convenience for one reason, which is to try to crush Israel between Hamas and Hezbollah. Indeed, Ahmadinejad has often said that it is the Palestinians, not Iran, who will destroy Israel.

The Obama administration appears to have seen that the Saudi-centered policy was not optimal, and seems to be trying to balance it by approaching Iran. The administration seems to be planning to replace the single center with a dual focus, a focus on both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Unfortunately, it’s too late. The balance of power in the region has already tipped in favor of Iran, thanks to our misadventure in Iraq. The Iranian nuclear program cannot be stopped by diplomatic means. Hezbollah cannot be easily dislodged. The US will be lucky to get out of Iraq without further disasters, and most likely the future of Iraq will be as an Iranian satellite. Iran will be in the driver’s seat in its relationship with the US, and the concessions will flow all one way. Why should they give us anything?

But support for Iran means support for an nuclear-armed Iranian Middle East. I suggest that if you thought the cold war with the Soviet Union was scary, the anti-Western ideology of radical Islam — and the Shiite version of the Iranian Mullahs is radical — is much scarier. The weak Saudi and Egyptian regimes are not likely to prevail in such a place, and certainly not against a nuclear Iran.

US policy today must be aimed at freezing the Iranian advance. 

The ‘realists’  in our foreign-policy establishment argue basically “there are way more Muslims than Jews in the Mideast and they have the oil. So make nice to them.” And this means ‘reduce support for Israel’. If there is one thing both the Saudis and Iranians can agree on, it’s that Israel should be eliminated.

But I suggest that they have it backwards: maybe the only way for the US to keep any leverage at all in the region is to throw its weight behind the only truly pro-Western power in it: Israel.

This means that the US must fully support the actions needed to crush Hamas and Hezbollah (at least as military powers). Instead of encouraging Fatah and Hamas to think that their ‘resistance’ will ultimately succeed in throwing the Jews out of ‘their’ land, the US should explain that only by abjuring terrorism will they ever have a chance to realize their national aspirations — that there will not be a Palestinian state unless it is not hostile to Israel. One step in this direction would be to affirm Lieberman’s interpretation of the Roadmap and Annapolis.

This also means that the US should do whatever is necessary to prevent Iran from achieving deliverable nuclear weapons. That won’t be easy, but one step that it could take would be to remove the embargo on the sale of equipment to Israel  — such as tanker aircraft — which could be used to strike Iranian facilities.

A credible Israeli deterrent might not have to be actually used in order to prevent Iran from completing its weapons project. On the other hand, by publicly taking steps to prevent Israel from attacking Iran, the US is encouraging Iran to continue its weapons development.

In short, I am suggesting that the US replace its Saudi-centered policy not with a dual-centered one or even an Iranian-centered one, but rather an Israel-centered one. If the Arabs (Palestinians and others) and Iranians can come to understand that the real American bottom line is a strong Israel, then perhaps they will recalibrate their goals to finally, 61 years after 1948, understand that Israel is not temporary. The ambiguity of present American policy does the opposite, encouraging the most radical elements.

Exactly the same argument applies to nuclear weapons. Just as the Palestinians are allowed to maintain the hope that they will someday get Haifa, Acco, etc. back, weak US policy allows the Iranians to believe that they will get nuclear weapons. But this, too, must be part of a firm American bottom line: Iran will not be allowed to posses them.

This will not be easy, and we are already some distance down the wrong road. But here’s a thought experiment: suppose Israel had been successful in the Second Lebanese War of 2006, suppose she had been allowed to destroy Hamas as a military force in Operation Cast Lead, and suppose that everyone knew that Israel had the ability to bomb Iranian nuclear plants without US interference.

Would Obama have an easier or harder time negotiating with Iran today?

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Iran won’t crush Israel

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

In a remarkably depressing article, Cliff Thier writes that Israel is finished when Iran gets its nuclear weapons, even if they are not used.

The minute Iran has the bomb, Israel will begin to shrink. Jews in Israel will start to pack up and leave. Some at first, but more and more over time, Israelis will leave. Panic will begin to set in after the first 100,000 Jews or so have left their homes vacant. Businesses will be unable to fill job openings. The armed forces will find themselves combining brigades and companies.

There’s more emotional prose, including the image of newspapers blowing along empty streets, but you get the idea.

The fact is, that despite the fact that the Obama Administration is strongly opposed to an Israeli attack on Iran, Israel will fight for her life  in a way that nobody envisions — not Iran and not the  US — when the red line is crossed. Despite the political weakness of recent regimes and even a certain spiritual malaise affecting some segments of Israeli society, this is not a nation that will sit under a nuclear shadow and wait. The lessons of the Holocaust are part of the national consciousness in Israel, much more so than among Diaspora Jews.

But Thier thinks that this outcome is inevitable, because the US administration will not allow Israel to strike until it is too late, even if it must use military force to prevent it:

Israel knows it must do take out the nuclear weapons capability of Iran. And yet, Israel will not be able to do it. Not because it doesn’t have the military might to do so. And not because it lacks the will. But because Barack Obama will order the United States Air Force to stand in its way if it tries. Between the airfields of Israel and the reactors and research labs and storage facilities of Iran sit the armed forces of the United States and its hundreds of planes, missiles and radar. With our bases in Iraq and those floating in the Persian Gulf, the United States separates Israel and Iran. Obama would have to give his okay for Israel to pass. Obama will not.

With all due respect to the US Air Force and Navy, as well as the x-band radar which the US has installed at Nevatim, near Beersheba — and from which Israeli personnel are barred — Israel will find a way to do what is necessary. Survival is a powerful motivator, and the history of the IDF could be told as a series of episodes of solving problems like this. The destruction of the Iraqi (1981) and Syrian (2008) atomic reactors are examples.

Thier also goes on at length about the way Obama bowed to Saudi King Abdullah at the recent G-20 summit, in support of his thesis that Obama has decided to tilt towards the Arab world and away from Israel (never mind that Bush, too, bowed to the Saudi monarch), and he castigates American Jews for their unreasonable support for Obama (never mind Republican incompetence in governing and campaigning).

Leaving aside Thier’s political hobbyhorse, he’s right that powerful elements of the US administration are pushing to move the US away from Israel and in the direction of the Muslim world. This is not necessarily the same direction — Saudi Arabia and Egypt are on a very different wavelength from Iran and Syria, for example. But there is no question that the one way to make all the Arabs and Iranians happy is to withdraw support for Israel; and while most US officials would say that we continue to support Israel, some would add that we have favored Israel, and that we should stop.

But this is disingenuous. Unfortunately for Israel, she is engaged in a struggle to survive, and a US tilt away from her would be disastrous. I am sure that many of those who advocate it, like Zbig Brzezinski or Brent Scowcroft, understand this quite well and wouldn’t shed a tear over Israel if the worst happened.

And as I’ve argued,  rather than Thier’s nightmare scenario of Israel withering under Iranian nuclear threat while the US stays its hand, the most likely outcome will be that Israel will take necessary action anyway, sooner rather than later.

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