Archive for October, 2013

Egyptian and Israeli interests closer to each other’s than those of US

Friday, October 11th, 2013

It probably annoys the hell out of the antisemites there (practically everybody), but Israel is a better friend to Egypt than the US. And maybe vice versa.

OK, nations don’t really have ‘friends’. It’s a philosophical category mistake, like saying that colors are things.  What they have are interests, and Israel’s interests align with Egypt’s more closely than either nation’s interests do with those of the US.

Israel and Egypt’s military regime see Hamas as a dangerous destabilizing force which challenges both of them. Egypt has probably destroyed more of Hamas’ smuggling tunnels under its border with Gaza in the last few months than Israel ever did (to great international silence, by the way). The US defines Hamas as a terrorist organization, but forced Israel to end economic pressure on it after the Mavi Marmara affair.

Hamas, of course, is the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, closely aligned with the Brotherhood in Egypt. There are reasons to think that the Brotherhood is excessively influential with the Obama Administration.

Hamas’ biggest buddy in the Middle East has become Turkey, whose ruler Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has turned his country from an ally to an enemy of Israel. President Obama has emphasized his closeness to Erdoğan, the first national leader with whom he had a bilateral meeting after his election.

Hamas also gets weapons and support from its ideological enemy but pragmatic patron, Iran, Egypt’s historic rival — and Israel’s foe.

Speaking of Iran, we note that both Israel and Egypt find the idea of an Iranian bomb unacceptable. Despite statements to the contrary, so far the US is acting in a way that will provide Iran the time to develop nuclear weapons, and has prevented Israel from taking direct action.

The recent partial cutoff of US aid to Egypt, along with a humiliating lecture on the subject of “inclusive democracy,” has done a great deal of damage to relations between Egypt and the US. Although it is probably true that Egypt doesn’t need F16s or Abrams tanks,  the US also cut off several hundred million dollars of cash aid to the regime. And while it could have shifted the cost of the ‘big weapons’ to food aid and other economic help, it did not do so.

Note also that continuing US aid to Egypt is part of the Camp David Accords that brought ‘peace’ between Israel and Egypt, and interrupting it weakens the treaty.

The worst part of the US action, in my opinion, is the way it is tone deaf to the realities of the Middle East. Does it expect the military leaders to become “inclusive” about the Muslim Brotherhood, which wants to kill them?

By the way, the argument that the US “had to cut aid” against Egypt due to a law that prohibits assistance after a coup is wrong, because senior US officials say that there has not been — and there is no need for — an official determination that the takeover was a “coup.”

And it won’t save our struggling government much money either, because as officials also point out, the government has obligations to defense contractors that will be met regardless of where the F16s and tanks end up.

The whole idea was to “send a message” to Egypt!

Well, the first part of the message is received, in Egypt and Israel, that the USA does not support its allies.

The rest will be coming shortly when the final chapter in the saga of the Iranian nuclear project is written.

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Can this relationship be saved?

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013
Egyptian military head General  Abdel Fatah al-Sissi

Egyptian military head General Abdel Fatah al-Sissi

News item:

The U.S. is leaning toward withholding most military aid to Egypt except to promote counterterrorism, security in the Sinai Peninsula that borders Israel, and other priorities, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

The official said U.S. President Barack Obama had not made a final decision on the issue, which has vexed U.S. officials as they balance a desire to be seen promoting democracy and rights with a desire to keep up some cooperation with Egypt’s military. …

The removal of Morsi has left Obama with an acute dilemma: whether to get tough with the army for toppling a democratically elected president, albeit an Islamist who had few friends in Washington, or whether to acquiesce in his overthrow.

Just once, I would like US officials to make a statement that doesn’t leave me thinking “are they really this ignorant, or are they lying?”

‘Democracy’ and ‘Egypt’ do not belong in the same sentence. Whether or not there are elections, the concept of a government whose actions reflect the popular will and where the citizens exercise the kind of freedom and civil rights that we think of as being associated with living in a ‘democratic’ country, does not and never has fit Egypt.

It is also important to understand that, to put it politely, a tradition of peaceful political opposition does not exist. Either the military will suppress the Brotherhood, killing and imprisoning its members, or the Brotherhood will overthrow the military and kill and imprison them.

Over one-fourth of Egyptians and one-third of Egyptian women are illiterate. The highly educated young people that represented the face of the Arab Spring back in 2011 were a tiny minority, and one with no political power. The Egyptian economy, weak at best, was devastated by the uprising and the continued strife.

Egypt will need massive aid to get through the winter without starvation. If it is to get back on its feet, it will need security to develop its shattered tourism industry. Its short experiment with Islamist rule led to pogroms against Christians which haven’t abated (and which won’t stop until the military government finally crushes the Muslim Brotherhood). And the chaos has provided an opportunity for al Qaeda-linked terrorists to establish themselves in the Sinai.

The best thing that the US can do for the Egyptian people today is to support the military in its struggle with the Brotherhood and with the extremists in the Sinai. If the Obama Administration wants to cut military aid, it would make sense to eliminate the F16’s and Abrams tanks that are on the way — these have no constructive role (except as a subsidy to US defense contractors). But other military and economic assistance should not be terminated.

Egypt is the largest and (still) the most powerful Arab nation. The policy of the present administration has alienated Egyptians at all levels, from the leadership to the educated elite, to the person on the street. But unlike the Iranian regime, the present Egyptian leadership does not see its interests as diametrically opposed to those of the US.

It is still possible to save the relationship, and the US should do everything in its power to do so.

Update [1948 PDT]: The administration announced that it will cut some aid:

The U.S . is suspending the delivery of additional military aid to Egypt that includes big weapons systems like F-16′s, Apache helicopters, kits for M1-A1 Abrams tanks and the Harpoon missile system.   It is also withholding $260 million in cash payouts to Egypt, which receives $1.5 billion in total U.S. aid annually.

The administration’s goal is to convince Egypt’s leaders that progress is necessary on restoring an inclusive, nonviolent democracy there while preserving American national security interests in the region. …

One official said the aid “will not be delivered until there’s progress towards the inclusive democracy that we want to see. So I think that’s a pretty clear signal of the U.S. approach and the importance that we place on the issues that we’re talking about.”

I am pleased that “big” weapons systems will be cut. But cutting cash aid while lecturing the Egyptians about “inclusive democracy” is insulting — this counts a great deal in the Middle East — and stupid.

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Obscenity in the NY Times

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

I suggested recently that once the US begins negotiating with Iran, regardless of the small probability that talks would lead to the end of Iran’s nuclear program, Israel would be constrained from acting on its own. Any Israeli strike, I said, would be portrayed as “sabotaging diplomacy.”

It’s starting already. And not only is Israel constrained from taking military action, its Prime Minister is not even allowed to talk about keeping sanctions in place.

Here is a snippet from an editorial in Tuesday’s New York Times, Obama’s Pravda:

Mr. Netanyahu has legitimate reasons to be wary of any Iranian overtures, as do the United States and the four other major powers involved in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. But it could be disastrous if Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in Congress were so blinded by distrust of Iran that they exaggerate the threat, block President Obama from taking advantage of new diplomatic openings and sabotage the best chance to establish a new relationship since the 1979 Iranian revolution sent American-Iranian relations into the deep freeze. … [my emphasis]

So PM Netanyahu’s words of caution at the UN that Iran’s President Rouhani is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and his warning that if Israel is forced to confront Iran alone it will, constitute ‘sabotage’! And US congresspersons who support Israel are saboteurs too.

Strong words indeed, in response to a speech that simply stated facts about Iran’s behavior that any high school student could verify, and which promised that the Jewish state would not allow itself to be sacrificed for the sake of a very chancy diplomatic process.

The Times, however, isn’t finished. The editorial continued,

Mr. Netanyahu has hinted so often of taking military action to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon that he seems eager for a fight. He did it again at the United Nations on Tuesday, warning that Israel reserved the right to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities if it deemed that Iran was close to producing nuclear weapons. “Against such a threat, Israel will have no choice but to defend itself,” he said.

The insinuation that PM Netanyahu would welcome a war in which thousands of Israeli civilians and soldiers might die is more than just offensive, it is obscene. He is well aware of the likely response to an Israeli strike, and he has made it quite clear that he views military action as the last resort if Iran cannot be stopped peacefully. In his speech, he described how the international community could do this:

First, keep up the sanctions. If Iran advances its nuclear weapons program during negotiations, strengthen the sanctions.

Second, don’t agree to a partial deal. A partial deal would lift international sanctions that have taken years to put in place in exchange for cosmetic concessions that will take only weeks for Iran to reverse.

Third, lift the sanctions only when Iran fully dismantles its nuclear weapons program. My friends, the international community has Iran on the ropes. If you want to knock out Iran’s nuclear weapons program peacefully, don’t let up the pressure. Keep it up.

The key word here is ‘peacefully’. But the Times prefers to paint the PM, who has the responsibility of protecting his people against a regime which repeats over and over that Israel will be destroyed while it develops the weapons to do it, as a warmonger.

The concluding paragraph of the Times editorial is perhaps the most offensive:

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Rouhani have hard-line domestic audiences and allies that they will need to consider and cajole as they undertake this effort to resolve the nuclear dispute and develop a new relationship. For Mr. Obama, that means working closely with Israel and helping Mr. Netanyahu see that sabotaging diplomacy, especially before Iran is tested, only makes having to use force more likely. That would be the worst result of all.

In other words, Obama and Rouhani, both ‘moderates’ who want a new relationship, need to overcome “hard line” opposition, which apparently includes Netanyahu and his US lobby as well as Iranians screaming “death to Israel,” who want to “sabotage” their peace offensive!

But nothing reveals the Times’ attitude — and probably that of the administration for which it speaks — more than the last sentence.

Using force against the Iranian nuclear facilities would not be the “worst result of all.” That would be atomic bombs exploding over Israel’s cities.

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Maybe the bond is a little too unbreakable

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

President Obama mentioned the “unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel yet again at the UN last week.

It hasn’t always been that way. In 1947, the US imposed an arms embargo on the region, while the Arabs were being supplied by the British. But until Stalin put an end to it in 1949, Israel was able to import much-needed weapons and ammunition from Czechoslovakia. From 1953 until 1967, Israel bought weapons — and a nuclear reactor — from France.

American support began secretly and on a small scale in the early 1960’s and became overt after 1967, as part of a proxy struggle with the Soviet Union for control of the Middle East (of course the US also sold weapons to Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia).

After Israel suffered massive losses in the first days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, officials approached the Nixon Administration for resupply. The initial response was that the US would have to think about it, but after Israel began to prepare its nuclear arsenal for use, and while the Soviets were sending large quantities of war materiel to the Arabs, Nixon and Kissinger decided to take action, and ordered a 32-day airlift of tanks, aircraft and other weapons and supplies to Israel.

US policy became less pro-Israel after the war, as a result of the Arab oil boycott and the desire to woo the Arabs away from the Soviet Union. Although aid to Israel reached new heights with the 1976 Camp David accords — keeping in mind that this aid was almost entirely directed to the purchase of US arms — US policy began to emphasize the goal of bringing about an Israeli withdrawal from the territories captured in 1967. Meanwhile, Western Europe, also stung by the boycott and lacking the pro-Israel base of the American people and Congress, moved still closer to the Arabs.

Since then, Israel and the US have developed a somewhat ambiguous relationship, with very close military and security cooperation along with growing distrust (it’s recently been revealed that Israel is one of the main targets of US espionage, along with Russia and China).

American and Israeli interests have never been perfectly aligned, but they diverged further with the end of the Cold War struggle for influence in the Mideast. More recently the divide has widened even more, for several reasons.

One is a leftward shift in the Democratic Party, with cold warriors being replaced by activists with roots in the New Left that gained influence at the time of the Vietnam War. These circles (and we can probably thank the KGB for this) tend to see Israel as an oppressive colonial power rather than the national liberation movement of an oppressed Jewish people. This has culminated in the election of Barack Obama, probably the president with the least amount of personal sympathy for Israel of any US chief executive since Israel’s founding.

Another recent wedge driven between the US and Israel is the Iranian nuclear program. Israel sees an Iranian bomb — or the ability to quickly produce one — as a threat to Israel’s continued existence, and is prepared to use military force to stop it. The US believes that rapprochement with Iran is more important than ending the development of its nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, Israel’s dependence on the US has reached the point that it can’t say ‘no’ to US requests. One example is recent US pressure on Israel to give in to PLO demands to release Arab terrorists, some of whom are convicted mass murderers serving life sentences, as a condition for negotiations — which I called a “national degradation.” Given that the overwhelming majority of Israelis are convinced that there is no possibility of peace with the PLO, Israel’s justice system and the feelings of the families of terror victims appear to have been sacrificed for nothing — or for no other reason than to give President Obama a foreign policy ‘success’.

Even more serious is the near certainty that the US vetoed a planned Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities last October. There have also been several cases in which the US prevented Israel from developing weapons systems in order to protect the US arms industry, or kept Israel from selling equipment to particular countries (e.g., China) for its own policy aims. The US, on the other hand, has no compunctions about selling the most advanced weapons to Saudi Arabia.

US interference in Israel’s affairs has reached the point that one could say that Israel is becoming a satellite of the US rather than an independent sovereign state. Those of us who remember the Cold War remember the contempt with which the governments of ‘countries’ like the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) were held. Although Soviet satellites had their own national character, everyone knew that policies were dictated from the Kremlin.

It’s becoming clear that it is imperative for Israel to start reducing its dependence upon — and its obeisance to — the US, which is increasingly making it harder for Israel to take the necessary actions to defend itself. The greatest threat to Israel’s existence today is Iran’s nuclear program, but in the longer term, the loss of strategic depth as a result of an imposed agreement with the PLO is equally dangerous.

The US is not the only foreign ‘ally’ that is acting counter to Israel’s interests. European funding of anti-state NGOs in Israel also needs to be curtailed. But the Europeans do not appear to exercise the kind of control over Israel’s government that the US does.

There are other great powers in the world than the US, particularly China. A recent $130 million grant to the Technion in Haifa is hugely encouraging. Israel should do its best to develop commercial, diplomatic and security relationships with China, India, even Russia, as well as tell its story to the people in those places.

As much as it would be satisfying, it is probably impossible to simply tell Obama to go to hell tomorrow. But Israel should make it a top priority to get out from under the American thumb, which will only get heavier in the future.

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