Archive for November, 2009

On threats and opportunities

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Recently Israel has been warned of the ‘threat’ of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state if it doesn’t move to make ‘peace’ with the PA soon. Ha’aretz threatened,

Concerns are growing in Israel’s government over the possibility of a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence within the 1967 borders, a move which could potentially be recognized by the United Nations Security Council.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently asked the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to veto any such proposal, after reports reached Jerusalem of support for such a declaration from major European Union countries, and apparently also certain U.S. officials.

The reports indicated that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has reached a secret understanding with the Obama administration over U.S. recognition of an independent Palestinian state. Such recognition would likely transform any Israeli presence across the Green Line, even in Jerusalem, into an illegal incursion to which the Palestinians would be entitled to engage in measures of self-defense.

There is no doubt that some ‘major EU countries’ and “certain U.S. officials” would love to see the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria declared illegal, not to mention East Jerusalem (in fact, these same countries and officials would probably say that Israel should be replaced by a Palestinian Arab state if they spoke honestly).

But a secret agreement? There’s still enough support for Israel in the US Congress and the public to make this a very dumb idea. At least today.

Here’s another threat, of a different kind, this one from Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas:

“I don’t know what the Israelis want,” he said. “They must start thinking about what needs to be done if they really want peace.”

Meanwhile, Hassan Khraisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, called on Abbas to seriously consider dissolving the PA because of the failure of the peace process. “This authority was created so that it could prepare for the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Khraisheh said. “But after more than 15 years of thorough negotiations with Israel, this state still hasn’t been established.”

On Sunday, The Jerusalem Post, quoting senior PA officials, revealed that Abbas was already considering dismantling the PA, to protest Washington’s failure to force Israel to freeze settlement construction.

Leaving aside the fact that the dissolution of the PA would end the hundreds of millions of dollars that flow to Abbas and Co. from the US, as well as the arms and training for the PA’s new army, the implied danger here is that Hamas — or Israel — would take over control of PA territory and population.

Both of these threats, one from the Left and one from the PA, imply that Israel must make a deal — and that means a deal according to Palestinian parameters — before it is too late. There is also a subtext, which is that what prevents a deal is Israeli ‘intransigence’, which is, in fact, the opposite of the real reason.

The main putative ‘obstacle to peace’ is that Israel refuses to stop all construction activities in East Jerusalem and within existing settlements in Judea and Samaria. This is a problem for the Palestinians because they have sold their version of the ‘two-state solution’ as a total Israeli withdrawal. Israeli ideas that include keeping some of the large settlement blocs close to the Green Line in return for swaps of territory elsewhere are non-starters for them.

In particular, possibly because it is trying to keep ahead of the agitation of the Hamas-influenced Islamic Movement of Raed Salah, the PA’s position on Jerusalem has become harder than ever.

Israel has actually been observing a ‘settlement freeze’ by not constructing new settlements or expanding the boundaries of old ones for years. The only thing that changed was Barack Obama’s unfortunate early insistence on a more restrictive freeze than what the Bush administration agreed to. Now suddenly, it’s impossible to talk at all without it.

From Israel’s point of view, accepting a freeze in East Jerusalem means that it is not sovereign there. It means that outsiders can tell Israel what it can or cannot do in its capital (unlike Judea and Samaria, Jerusalem was officially annexed to Israel in 1980, although this is not recognized internationally). While Israel is prepared to cede parts of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians — and perhaps even some Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem — it will not give up the principle of sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Another problem for Abbas is that his version of a ‘two-state solution’  includes a right of return to Israel for descendants of Arab refugees. This has always been unacceptable to Israel and always will be, since it means that the Jewish state will cease to exist. I can’t imagine that Abbas didn’t realize this all through the Oslo and Annapolis periods, but he seems to be pretending that this is a new demand suddenly thrown up by Israel’s (not really so) right-wing government.

And of course Abbas, Fayyad and others will not agree that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. In their ‘two-state solution’, Israel is the state where Jews are permitted to live. That’s their big compromise — they’ll let us live, for a while, in part of their land, at least until the 5 million ‘refugees’ can ‘return to their homes’.

The PA and Ha’aretz (speaking for the international Left) are telling us that Israel needs to hurry up and surrender — give up its insistence on sovereignty in East Jerusalem, in keeping the settlement blocs, and who knows what else — because there are certain to be more demands — before the window closes. What is not said is that the window isn’t open now, not even a crack. It has been closed for almost two decades.

Although the Obama administration made an error in initially calling for a settlement freeze, other issues will certainly prevent a real peace between the PA and Israel. The fundamental mistake that led to the present deadlock was made in the early 1990’s, when there really was a window of opportunity. The mischief-making Soviet Union had collapsed, Saddam Hussein had been humbled and Iran was exhausted from its long war with Iraq. Perhaps, free from outside interference, Israelis and Palestinian Arabs could actualize their common interest of peace.

And then, the Oslo agreement, which called for the return of the exiled PLO terrorists, led by Yasser Arafat (and including his second-in-command, Mahmoud Abbas) was signed. The PLO, whose name was used in Israel as a curse, the organization that has killed more Israelis than any other including Hamas, was designated the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Arafat went immediately to work, establishing an educational and media system to teach hate, funding terrorism against Israel, talking peace to the Americans in English while calling for jihad in Arabic, etc. His efforts culminated in the second intifada, in which thousands of Israelis and Palestinians were killed, and which multiplied the mistrust and hatred that Arafat had created and nurtured many more times.

Although Abbas is less outspoken in favor of violent terrorism than Arafat, his fundamental positions are no different. He is not prepared to compromise on borders, not on right of  return, not on Jerusalem, and — importantly — not on recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.

Unfortunately, everyone is in for a long pull. Maybe the PA will collapse and Hamas will take over, maybe a Palestinian state will be declared. Israel will simply have to meet the security challenges as they come up. Some day there may be another possibility to make peace, but now it is farther off than ever.

Today’s threats are not the alternative to opportunities. They are just threats.

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ElBaradei’s moral blindness

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Mohammad ElBaradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is shockingly biased, and should never have held that position.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency downplayed Israel’s concern over an Iranian nuclear threat on Wednesday, telling a New York audience, “Truth is in the eyes of the beholder…”

“If you look from the Arab point of view, the Arabs are as concerned or more about the Israeli nuclear weapons program as the Israelis are about the Iranian’s,” he said.

The only solution, he said, “is to rid the whole Middle East from weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons,” he said. “You cannot have a security system that is perceived to be imbalanced.” — Jerusalem Post

ElBaradei’s philosophical musings are out of place for someone responsible for answering objective questions like ‘is Iran developing a nuclear weapon?’ We presume that he was speaking about his private beliefs, not his approach as head of the IAEA. We hope.

Some background:

The IAEA is not exactly a UN agency, although it presents reports to the UN. Its authority comes from a document signed by all but about 40 UN member states called the IAEA Statute.  The main function of the agency is to facilitate the peaceful use of atomic energy by providing technical assistance for members wishing to develop such peaceful uses, with appropriate safeguards.

The Statute also provides that the IAEA may also be used as part of an enforcement mechanism for international treaties regarding nuclear energy:

5. To establish and administer safeguards designed to ensure that special fissionable and other materials, services, equipment, facilities, and information made available by the Agency or at its request or under its supervision or control are not used in such a way as to further any military purpose; and to apply safeguards, at the request of the parties, to any bilateral or multilateral arrangement, or at the request of a State, to any of that State’s activities in the field of atomic energy;

The treaty that’s relevant, of course, is the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, or NPT, whose Article III calls for signatories to accept the ‘safeguards’ of the IAEA Statute.

The NPT says that only five nations may develop nuclear weapons: the US, Russia, the UK, China and France. India, Israel and Pakistan have not signed the treaty (North Korea did, but withdrew). Iran is a signatory, and therefore is in violation of it.

When the treaty was originally signed in 1968, only the US, the Soviet Union and the UK officially had nuclear weapons (France and China were added in 1992). Interestingly, Israel may well have had a weapon in 1968, and certainly did by 1970 when the treaty came into force. Maybe it should have signed the treaty as a nuclear power!

In any event, Israel’s nuclear arsenal does not violate the treaty since Israel never signed it. Despite the way the phrase ‘international law’ is often used to mean ‘my belief system’, it really refers to adherence to treaties and agreements. Thus Iran is violating international law, and Israel is not.

Back to ElBaradei:

His statement that “the Arabs are as concerned or more about the Israeli nuclear weapons program as the Israelis are about the Iranian’s” is outrageous.

Israel has had nuclear capabilities since at least 1970, perhaps even in 1967.  Historian Avner Cohen has described its policy:

The original Ben-Gurion rationale for acquiring nuclear weapons was conceptualized and defined…in terms of having an option of “last resort.” They also produced the early articulation of “red lines” whose crossing could trigger the use of nuclear weapons. There were four specific scenarios that could lead to nuclear use: (a) a successful Arab military penetration into populated areas within Israel’s post-1949 borders; (b) the destruction of the Israeli Air Force; (c) the exposure of Israeli cities to massive and devastating air attacks or to possible chemical or biological attacks; (d) the use of nuclear weapons against Israeli territory. Each of these scenarios was defined, in qualitative terms, as an existential threat to the State of Israel against which the nation could defend itself by no other means than the use of atomic weapons, which would be politically and morally justified. — Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, (1999) p. 237

It can be argued that this doctrine has influenced the behavior of Israel’s friends — the US in 1973, when Nixon and Kissinger decided to resupply Israel at a critical moment — and enemies (Saddam’s scuds had conventional warheads) so as to enable Israel’s continued existence, or at least to prevent massive loss of life.

Insofar as the Arabs are ‘concerned’ by this, they are concerned that it prevents them from eliminating Israel!

ElBaradei complains that the system is “unbalanced.” It seems to me that it is very well balanced indeed, a system in which Israel’s nuclear capability has balanced Arab chemical-biological weapons, as well as providing some essential diplomatic ‘balance’.

To compare this to Israel’s concern about Iran — when various Iranian leaders, including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Ayatollah Khamane’i and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani have threatened to destroy Israel or facilitate its destruction — is an example of the moral blindness unfortunately too common among those with “the arab point of view.”

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Short takes: postcolonialism, silly denials, media jihad

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

I few weeks ago I wrote about ‘postcolonialism‘, whose adherents seem to believe that ‘the colonized’ can do no wrong. I said:

Once it is established that one party is a ‘colonizer’ and the other ‘colonized’, the game is over. For the postcolonialist, nothing that the colonizer does to defend himself is permissible, and anything that the colonized does in the name of resistance is justified.

Today I have a wonderful example of this kind of thinking. Here’s a quote from the Palestinian Ma’an News agency:

Islamic Hamas movement on Thursday slammed the Palestinian UN observer, citing that he did not deny accusations of war crimes against Palestinians in an international report.

The Gaza war report, submitted by a UN fact-finding mission headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone, accused Israel of committing war crimes during a 22-day military offensive that ended on Jan. 18. The UN report, which was debated Wednesday by the UN General Assembly, also criticized Hamas for committed war crimes by firing rockets at Israeli civilians.

The Hamas government, holding sway in Gaza, said Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian National Authority (PNA)’s UN observer, “admitted the possibility that some Palestinian sides have carried out violations against Israel in the wartime.”

“This is the first time that a representative of a people under occupation agreed that his people had committed the so-called violations against the occupying power,” Taher al-Nounou, spokesman for the Hamas administration, said in a statement. Al-Nounou called on the PNA, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, to prosecute Mansour for his comments.

You see, it is impossible by definition for “people under occupation” to commit war crimes!


Here’s some more fun with ridiculous statements from the radical bloc: the arms ship seized by Israel on Tuesday containing hundreds of tons of rockets, guns, mortar shells, etc. was bound for Syria or even Lebanon. Analysts agree that the weapons on it were almost certainly intended for Hezbollah. But both Syria and Lebanon claim that the arms have nothing to do with them:

[Hizbullah] issued a statement saying that it “categorically denies” any connection to the weapons “that the Zionist enemy claims to have confiscated from the ship.” Hizbullah also condemned “Israeli pirates operating in international waters.”

Hizbullah’s statement echoed a statement made by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who denied late Wednesday that the cargo ship was carrying weapons from Iran, and implicitly called the Israeli naval forces “pirates.”

“Unfortunately there are official pirates disrupting the movement of goods between Iran and Syria,” he told reporters on a visit to Teheran. “I stress, the ship was not carrying Iranian arms bound for Syria, nor was it carrying material for manufacturing weapons in Syria. It was carrying [commercial] goods from Syria to Iran [sic].”

If they don’t know anything about the arms, why are they upset? Incidentally, here’s a Sa’ar-5 class corvette like the one that was reportedly used to intercept the ship:

Sa'ar-5 class corvette: 1227-ton, 33 knot Israeli 'pirate ship'

Sa'ar-5 class corvette: 1227-ton, 33 knot Israeli 'pirate ship'


The radical bloc will say anything and expect people to believe them — and they’re right, especially if it makes Israel, the US or even conservative Arab states look bad. This next item illustrates one way of responding:

Egyptian and Saudi satellite broadcasters stopped broadcasting Iran’s Arabic-language television channel, Al-Alam – “The World” – this week.

A report on Al-Alam’s Web site accused the broadcasters of ceasing the transmission for “political reasons,” while MENA, Egypt’s state news agency, attributed the move to an unspecified contractual breach…

[Former Israeli ambassador to Egypt Zvi] Mazel, however, says that Al-Alam broadcasts “Iranian propaganda – that Egypt is betraying Arabs in general, that they work with Israel, all that kind of stuff.”

Dr. Moti Keidar, an Arabic-language specialist at Bar-Ilan University, said that the move marks an escalation in the conflict between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam, and was a necessary step for Egypt and Saudi Arabia to take.

“Al-Alam broadcasts incitement against the Arab regimes, the Sunni ones,” he told the Post Thursday. “They are promoting Hizbullah and Hamas, and promoting jihad against Arab regimes.” Keidar said that by cutting off Al-Alam, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are fighting against “media jihad…”

“This is what Israel has not yet realized – that some Arab channels like Al Jazeera, which broadcast from within Israel, are no more than a device of jihad against Israel. Egypt and Saudi Arabia realized [the threat from Al-Alam], and they stopped jihad from within. Only Israel lets this continue,” said Keidar.

Israel needs to learn from its neighbors, not only to defend against media jihad but to wage it.

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Iran violates international law, Obama wants ‘mutual respect’

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009
One of the thousands of rockets captured on its way from Iran to Hezbollah

One of the thousands of rockets captured on its way from Iran to Hezbollah

News item:

Hundreds of tons of weaponry, ten times the size of the Karine A shipment of 2002, were seized in an overnight raid Tuesday by the Israeli navy, some 100 nautical miles west of Israel, officials said. Defense officials said the 140-meter long Francop, captured near Cyprus, was carrying arms sent by Iran and destined for Syria and Hizbullah.

The weapons seized on the ship, which was sailing under an Antiguan flag, included 3,000 rockets of various types… Israel Radio reported that advanced anti-aircraft platforms never before found in the region were also on board… The weapons included 107-millimeter rockets, 60-millimeter mortars, 7.62-rifle Kalashnikov-ammunition, F-1 grenades and 122-millimeter Katyusha rockets. On the side of some of the cases inside the containers the words “parts of bulldozers” was written.

[Update: See this report at The Muqata for more details, pictures and video of the 500 tons of arms carried by the ship!]

In shipping arms to Hezbollah, Iran is violating international law and UN Security Council resolutions. It will be interesting to see if there are diplomatic repercussions for Iran, but probably the UN will follow Syria’s lead, which has called Israel’s Navy ‘official pirates‘.

Those who are concerned with peace should consider the behavior of Iran. First, let’s look at some of the actions of Iran’s wholly owned terrorism subsidiary, Hezbollah, to which the following actions are generally attributed:

  • The 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon in which 299 members of the Multilateral Force, including 220 US Marines, were killed
  • The bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut, also in 1983, in which 60 people were killed
  • The 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847, in which US Navy diver Robert Stethem was murdered
  • All or some of the 96 hostages taken in Lebanon between 1982 and 1992, of which 10 died in captivity, some by torture
  • A 1992 suicide attack at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in which 29 died
  • The 1994 bombing of the Jewish Mutual Association building, also in Buenos Aires, in which 94 people were murdered
  • A war of attrition against Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon from 1982-2000, including an attack that killed seven in 1993
  • Sporadic Katyusha rocket barrages from Lebanon at Israeli cities; in 1996, the amount of damage from these reached a level that provoked Israel to bombard South Lebanon (Operation Grapes of Wrath)
  • A cross-border raid in 2000 in which three Israeli soldiers were abducted and killed
  • A similar raid in 2006 in which seven Israelis were killed accompanied by rocket fire into Israel, which provoked the Second Lebanon War
  • Attacks against coalition troops in Iraq in 2006

I may have missed some.

By arming, training and financing Hezbollah, the Islamic Republic of Iran has participated in armed aggression against one UN member state, terrorism against the citizens of several others, and antisemitic violence.

In addition, Iran continues to violate the nonproliferation treaty that it signed, pressing forward with its development of nuclear weapons.

So President Obama today, on the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran by Islamic ‘students’, the beginning of the horrific ordeal of 52 Americans for 444 days, strongly rebuked Iran for these violations and for its murderous and disruptive role in world affairs.

Oops… No he didn’t!

Here’s what he said instead:

This event [the 1979 hostage crisis] helped set the United States and Iran on a path of sustained suspicion, mistrust and confrontation… I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.

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What are our policymakers thinking?

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Yesterday I had the honor of meeting Barry Rubin, one of the most knowledgeable people around about the Mideast.  One of the questions I asked him was this:

FZ: We know that Syria is closely allied with Iran, receiving a large amount of weapons and other aid. We also know that Syria is helping Sunni insurgents in Iraq, who are fighting with Americans there, but who also are killing Iraqi Shiites in murderous suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. But if Iran is trying to gain influence in Iraq through the Shiites there, why does it permit (or even encourage) this?

Rubin replied, in effect, that if you understand this, you understand the Middle East.

Iran and Syria have a common goal, which is to increase their joint influence in Iraq and to hurt the US. The insurgent attacks accomplish this in several ways, including making the Iraqi government more dependent on Iran and less on the US — to whom can they turn to make the attacks stop? — and by weakening American-aligned Shiites like PM Nouri al-Maliki and strengthening those closer to Iran such as the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr.

Dead Iraqis, both Sunni and Shia? Collateral damage.

The Maliki government has accused Syria of ‘facilitating’ the massive dual bombings in Baghdad last Sunday, in which at least 155 people were killed and hundreds injured.

What's left of the Iraqi Justice Ministry after last Sunday's massive suicide bombing

What's left of the Iraqi Justice Ministry after last Sunday's massive suicide bombing

One would think that the US would do everything it could to help Maliki — and incidentally protect our troops in Iraq — like put pressure on Syria to close the border. But here’s what Rubin wrote last week:

Remember that the Iraqi government has been warning about this for months, blaming Damascus for specific attacks based on evidence and interrogations. When this last happened in September, the U.S. government refused to take Baghdad’s side. Nor was there any break in the move to engage Syria. Nor was there any interruption–in fact, the exact opposite–in the European move to make a partnership agreement which would pump more money into Syria.

What are our policymakers thinking?

It’s almost as if, instead of doing what it can to ensure that Iraq will remain independent when US troops leave (I know, it’s unlikely in any event), we have accepted the idea that it will join the Iranian orbit, and are acting to ingratiate ourselves with the new regional leaders, Iraq and Syria.

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