Archive for April, 2009

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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Obama policy will force Israel to bomb Iran

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

News item:

US OFFICIALS are considering whether to accept Iran’s pursuit of uranium enrichment, which has been outlawed by the UN and remains at the heart of fears that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capability.

As part of a policy review commissioned by President Barack Obama, diplomats are discussing whether the US will eventually have to accept Iran’s insistence on carrying out the process, which can produce both nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material….

Yesterday, Mr Obama summarised the US message to Iran as, “Don’t develop a nuclear weapon” – a form of words that would not rule out a deal accepting Iranian enrichment. Mr Bush was much more specific in calling for Iran to halt enrichment…

Asked last month whether the administration was considering allowing Iran to keep a limited enrichment capability, Robert Wood, a state department spokesman, said: “I don’t know . . . Let’s let the review be completed and then we can spell out our policies.” — David Dombey, Financial Times (h/t: LGF)

The next step will be “you can make a bomb, but please don’t put it on a missile.” And then,  “you can develop deliverable weapons, but please don’t use them.”

The Obama Administration certainly knows where Israel’s red lines are. It must understand that if — when — they are crossed, there will be no practical way that the US can stop Israel from attacking Iran.

Obama and his people are playing a very dangerous game, which can be described as trying to squeeze Israel to make every possible concession up to the brink of actual suicide, in order to prove to the Arabs and Iran that the US is their friend.

The rapidly radicalizing Muslim world will never be friendly to the West as we know it. Giving up Israel will only speed up the process. But the administration seems incapable of understanding this.

I cannot judge what the next step will be. In the best case it will be to try to impose a peace, which is probably impossible. In the worst, it will be to let Israel fall into the abyss because that was the intention from the start. There are certainly those in the administration who are aiming for the second outcome.

But there are some concessions which Israel simply can’t make because they are existential.  So Obama should be prepared for the results of his policy.

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Oliphant, Ha’aretz dehumanize Israel

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Remember the outrageous Oliphant cartoon which appeared in the NY Times and the Washington Post last week? Barry Rubin said that it was “reminiscent of Arab propaganda cartoons” in the way it portrayed Israel as innately and irredeemably evil, not deserving of existence.

Well guess what — Hezbollah thinks so too, and Rubin notes that The Cartoon appears in a place of honor on the Hezbollah TV website with the caption “Zionist Nazism” (h/t: Soccer Dad).

The popular fury being unleashed against Israel, its army and its leaders recently is a phenomenon of mass psychology that will be studied by future social scientists (if there is a future). Although there have been similar campaigns throughout the centuries (Carthago delenda est!, “Remember the Maine!”, etc.),  the power of the media to induce hysterical blood lust in the days of the Internet and world-wide satellite TV channels has grown by orders of magnitude since Cato the Elder’s oratory and Hearst’s newspapers.

This may be the first time, though, that major media belonging to the victim of a dehumanization campaign have done their best to provide ammunition for their enemies. It is as if the most important German newspapers in 1914 ran articles headlined “The Hun Rape of Belgium”.

I am talking, of course, about the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, considered the newspaper of record in Israel and sometimes compared to the New York Times, which repeated unfounded accusations of murder and other misconduct by IDF troops in Gaza on its English website, which — like Oliphant’s cartoon — were then disseminated as fact by hostile media all over the world.

Even after the IDF investigated and showed that the accusations were hearsay about events that did not happen, Ha’aretz has continued on the attack. On March 31, staffer Amos Harel wrote this:

There is no reason to cast doubt on the sincerity of the military advocate general, or in the thoroughness of the military police investigators. Nonetheless, it is unclear how they can be so certain that the “combat soldiers’ testimonials” were just a series of “rumors and concoctions while the soldiers were truthful during the investigations conducted by the military police and the Givati brigades commander.”

Will this also appear on Hamas and Hezbollah websites?

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The real Avigdor Lieberman

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

The great Media Fraternity of Israel-Haters has turned its demonization engine in a new direction, and focused it squarely upon Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Adjectives such as ‘racist’, ‘fascist’, ‘ultranationalist’, ‘thuggish’ (all of these are from recent major media ‘news’ articles) are gleefully applied along with the usual ‘hawkish’ and ‘far-right’. In addition to the personal abuse, Lieberman is accused of renouncing prior agreements with the Palestinian Authority (PA), failing to support a two-state solution, and advocating the expulsion of Arabs from Israel. All of this is demonstrably untrue. Apparently one can say anything at all about Mr. Lieberman.

What did he do to deserve this? Start with renouncing agreements and the two-state solution. Here’s  what Lieberman said in his inaugural speech as Foreign Minister:

There is one document that binds us and it is not the Annapolis Conference. That has no validity. When we drafted the basic government policy guidelines, we certainly stated that we would honor all the agreements and all the undertakings of previous governments. The continuity of government is respected in Israel. I voted against the Road Map, but that was the only document approved by the Cabinet and by the Security Council – I believe it was Resolution 1505. It is a binding resolution and it binds this government as well.

The Israeli government never approved Annapolis, neither the Cabinet nor the Knesset, so anyone who wants to amuse himself can continue to do so. I have seen all the proposals made so generously by Ehud Olmert, but I have not seen any results.

What actually happened — or didn’t happen, to be precise — at the Annapolis conference was that Israel and the PA were unable to reach an agreement because the PA refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, insisted on a right of return for the descendants of Palestinian refugees, and demanded all of East Jerusalem.

The “Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict“, which was accepted by the Sharon government (although with some reservations), leads directly to a Palestinian state in its final phase. It makes certain demands on the PA in the first phase, including ending violence, terrorism and incitement against Israel, and establishing an effective security apparatus to suppress terrorist elements.

What Lieberman opposes — and what most proponents of the ‘Annapolis process’ support — is the short-circuiting of the first phases of the Roadmap, in which the Palestinians actually have to do something other than take US and EU aid, and the acceleration of the later phases in which Israel withdraws and the Palestinian state is created. He wants, in other words, to keep the “performance-based” part of it.

Now let’s get to the ‘racism’. Lieberman is famous for having semi-seriously called for all Israeli citizens to take a ‘loyalty oath’. Of course it is aimed at Israeli Arabs — although I strongly doubt that all the Jewish members of the Ha’aretz editorial board could honestly sign such a document — but one only needs to look at the actions of some of the radicalized Israeli Arabs to understand why he said this.

He’s also supposedly advocated the ‘transfer’ or even expulsion of Israeli Arabs from Israel. Well, not exactly. Lieberman proposed a land and population swap in which heavily Arab areas inside Israel would become part of the PA while areas in the West Bank with large numbers of Jews would be appended to Israel. Israeli Arabs opposed the idea vehemently — and not only because they enjoy the economic benefits and freedom of being Israelis. A more important reason is that they believe that what we call Israel actually belongs to them, and they should remain part of it — albeit as a ruling majority instead of a minority. In any event, whether or not the proposal is a good idea, it is hardly racist.

I should add also that supporters of the PA — whose position is that no Jews may live in ‘Palestinian’ areas — and of Hamas — whose position is that Jews should be killed — are hardly in a position to make accusations of racism.

Lieberman’s basic position — with which I wholeheartedly agree — is that additional concessions by Israel do not bring peace closer, but actually drive it farther away. Here’s more from his inaugural speech:

I think that we have been disparaging many concepts, and we have shown the greatest disdain of all for the word “peace.” The fact that we say the word “peace” twenty times a day will not bring peace any closer. There have been two governments here that took far-reaching measures: the Sharon government and the Olmert government. They took dramatic steps and made far-reaching proposals. We saw the Disengagement and the Annapolis Conference.

Yisrael Beiteinu was not then part of the coalition, Avigdor Liberman was not the foreign minister and, even if we had wanted to, we would have been unable to prevent peace. But none of these far-reaching measures have brought peace. To the contrary. We have seen that, after all the gestures that we made, after all the dramatic steps we took and all the far-reaching proposals we presented, in the past few years this country has gone through the Second War in Lebanon and Operation Cast Lead – and not because we chose to. I have not seen peace here. It is precisely when we made all the concessions that I saw the Durban Conference, I saw two countries in the Arab world suddenly sever relations, recalling their ambassadors – Mauritania and Qatar. Qatar suddenly became extremist.

We are also losing ground every day in public opinion. Does anyone think that concessions and constantly saying “I am prepared to concede,” and using the word “peace” will lead to anything? No, that will just invite pressure, and more and more wars. “Si vis pacem, para bellum” – if you want peace, prepare for war; be strong.

We definitely want peace, but the other side also bears responsibility. We have proven our desire for  peace more than any other country in the world. No country has made concessions the way Israel has. Since 1977, we have given up areas of land three times the size of the State of Israel. So we have proven the point.

The Oslo process began in 1993. Sixteen years have passed since then, and I do not see that we are any closer to a permanent settlement.

I believe that Lieberman understands the reason for this: that concessions can only draw two sides together when there is a point somewhere in the middle where they both can stand. Today there is no such point. The Palestinians cannot accept that there is a Jewish state. Period.

Israel, understandably, will never be able to come to this point, so concessions only serve to damage security and make war more likely.

These are not the ideas of an ‘ultranationalist’ or a racist thug. These are the ideas of a pragmatist who, unlike many Israeli politicians, is able to see the situation as it is — and it isn’t encouraging — and does not feel bound to repeat the nonsense formulas so beloved by the UN, the EU or the US State Department.


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