BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

A Diplomatic Offensive

Rehovot
15 May 2010

What Israel needs right now is a dramatic diplomatic offensive. The goals of this diplomatic offensive are two-fold. The first is to change dramatically the perception of Israel in world opinion. The second is to achieve a strategic breakthrough in the current stalemate vis-à-vis the Palestinians and Syrians. What is notable is that the first goal can be achieved without achieving the second goal; whereas achieving the second goal automatically assures achieving the first goal.

It may seem strange to state that the first goal is to achieve a dramatic change in world public opinion. However, given the recent tilt in world public opinion, this is desirable. Restoring Israel’s public image to its previous status would be a serious set-back to the radical Arab and Muslim states that have sought, and to a certain degree been successful, to de-legitimize Israel. In addition, the restoration of Israel’s public image to its previous status would fortify the country in terms of negotiations with the Palestinians and Syrians.

As for the second goal of achieving a strategic breakthrough in the current stalemate vis-à-vis the Palestinians and Syrians, we must remember that neither of them recognize Israel’s right to exist, Israel’s right to define itself as a Jewish State and the alliances that both the Palestinians and Syrians have forged with radical Arab and Muslim states. All of these factors point to the likely failure of any negotiations, unless there is an equally radical breakthrough in Arab cultural and political thinking.

So, how should this diplomatic offensive proceed? I propose the following steps.

  • Israel should meet Hamas’ demands and release all the prisoners on Hamas’ list without any preconditions regarding to where they will be released. In return, Gilad Shalit will be released and sent home. Israel should insist that the released prisoners not return to terrorist activities, but in reality, both Israel and the Palestinians know that this condition cannot be enforced. We all know that there are numerous precedents for this: Israel has agreed to lop-sided prisoner exchanges before.

Hamas would benefit from such a move instantly, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas would be just as quickly undermined. In order to burnish his credentials, Abbas would be compelled to publicly and loudly demand Israeli acceptance on a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital and the right of return for refugees. All of these are obvious non-starters, as far as Israel is concerned. When Abbas makes these statements, as surely he must after a prisoner swap, Jerusalem would have proof that Abbas is not willing to negotiate in good faith.

  • Thirty days after this release, providing that there has been no escalation in Palestinian violence and terrorism, Israel should unconditionally release all remaining Palestinian prisoners.

At first, this may seem to be a radical change in Israeli policy. However, there is a precedent for this too. When the British Mandate ended in May 1948, the British released all Jewish prisoners. If we accept Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement made at Bar Ilan University in 2009, Israel accepts a two-state solution. It is inconceivable that Israel would continue to hold thousands of Palestinian prisoners after the successful conclusion of peace negotiations and the establishment of a Palestinian state. This would also undermine Abbas, as this second prisoner release would be announced shortly on the heels of the first.

  • Thirty days after this second prisoner release, Israel should state that it will send a delegation to negotiate unconditionally with the Palestinians and Syrians. It should be stated that this delegation will arrive in a specific city, probably some location in Switzerland, on a specific date. The government of Israel recognizes all previous pronouncements made by Palestinian and Syrian leaders as simply “public statements of intended negotiating positions.”

If this diplomatic offensive were put into action later this month, Israel would effectively change world public opinion by the end of August. However, there is more. Israel also needs to increase the heat in America, China, Europe and Russia regarding Iran. As I have noted in editorials posted here in the past, there are already signs that any successful diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear development program will inevitably involve Israel signing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If this is inevitable, Israel should use this to its advantage. Here is how to do that:

Early in the month of August, Israel should invite the head of the IAEA to Israel for a “discussion.” This discussion should be treated with all seriousness and the head of the IEAE should be afforded all honors typically reserved for a Head of State. Israel should use this as an opportunity to impress upon him the unique historical position of our country. The agenda for this visit includes:

  • The Prime Minister, the Minister of Energy, the Minister of Science and a full military honor guard, receiving him at Ben Gurion Airport;
  • A tour of the Weizman Institute, particularly its Physics Department;
  • A tour of the Nahal Soreq nuclear research facility;
  • After this, the IEAE chief should be driven south and be given a tour of Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, showing him how deeply the Egyptian army penetrated into Israel in 1948. After this, a tour of Sderot.
  • In the evening, the IEAE chief should have dinner with the President and the Prime Minister.
  • On the morning of the second day, the IEAE chief should be given a full tour of Yad Vashem and be invited to lay a memorial wreath.
  • After this, he should meet for several hours with the ministers of Science and Energy and provide them with a information regarding the process for applying for membership to the IEAE. While all of this is well known, it would be a tremendous public opinion coup.
  • Early in September, before the United Nation’s annual General Assembly meeting, Israel should announce that it is formally inviting an “advance team” from the IAEA to come to Israel to start preliminary preparations for Israel’s application for membership in the IEAE.

It should be clearly stated however, both publicly and in private meetings with the leaders of America, China, Europe and Russia, that any UN resolutions against Israel’s interests would be regarded with the utmost severity. Such resolutions would have a negative impact on both negotiations with the Arabs and signing the NPT. Examples of anti-Israel resolutions would include recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, and further talk about alleged Israel war crimes during Operation Cast Lead. If the autumn UN General Assembly passes without incident, then in October the IAEA “advance team” would arrive in Israel for what will be the first of many meetings.

While all this is going on, the Israeli government should keep up a steady drumbeat pointing out how consistently America has supported Israel in the past, and how Israel has been a faithful ally. It should be pointed out that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and as such, it is the vanguard of Western civilization and values. It should be pointed out to every audience that peace with Egypt and peace with Jordan was achieved through direct negotiations and mutual recognition. It should be pointed out to every audience that the Jewish people have had a cultural, historical and religious connection to the Land of Israel for over 2000 years. It should be pointed out that Israel has the right to live in peace in secure and recognized borders, and that it has the right to use all means to defend itself and its citizens.

While all this has been said before, the message has not been articulated clearly, consistently and continuously. It is time to do that.
Talking points should be sent weekly, perhaps even daily to the Israeli embassy in Washington, as well as all consulates in the United States. The emissaries of the Jewish Agency should also be drafted into this campaign. Israeli ministers should visit Jewish communities throughout the United States, focusing their appearances in electoral districts held by the Republican Part and electoral districts that the Republic Party stands a god chance of winning in Congressional elections in November.

One hundred and twenty-eight Israeli corporations are listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Certainly, all 128 of these corporations have a vested interest in going to the United States and meeting with the officials of the NASDAQ stock exchange, as well as other corporate leaders and public officials. Equally, they have a vested interest in strengthening and improving commercial and diplomatic relations between Israel and the United States. These Israeli corporate leaders should be “drafted” into this campaign, and coached as to what they should say in all their public announcements while they are in the United States.

These diplomatic initiatives and the public relations “offensive” in the US, will dramatically improve Israel’s status in world public opinion and put the Obama administration on the defensive. And what of the second stated goal, achieving a strategic breakthrough in the current stalemate vis-à-vis the Palestinians and Syrians? A shift in Israel’s status would almost automatically entail a downgrading of the Arabs’ status. This might be enough to compel them to negotiate seriously. As was stated at the outset of this position paper, negotiations are likely to fail unless there is a radical breakthrough in Arab cultural and political thinking. However, Israel should not pay the price for Arab intransigence.

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May 14, 2010 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s all in the timing

Rehovot, Israel
21 March 2010

So much in life is about timing. Five minutes can make the difference between catching the bus and making it to work on time or missing the bus and having to endure the wrath of an irate boss. A one-week vacation can be a welcome respite from work (and the aforementioned irate boss). Three months, well, what can one expect from three months?

For the next three months, Israel can expect to endure a publicly televised and coordinated policy assault from the Obama administration in Washington. Forty years of American policy in the Middle East will be thrown overboard – along with Israel’s security – in order for the Obama administration to achieve its ill-conceived foreign policy objectives. Why three months?

After the American July 4th celebrations, campaigning for the mid-term congressional elections will hit full stride. At stake is the Democratic Party’s on-going control of the House of Representatives and Senate. While the Democrats are almost ensured of retaining a majority in the House, the Senate may be up for grabs.

If the Senate falls into Republican hands, the first two years of President Obama’s administration will end with scant few accomplishments. Despite having controlled both the White House and Congress, Obama will have precious little to show for it, except a still floundering economy and a bevy of dictators contemptuous of America’s resolve. Commentators and pundits will begin to write him off as a lame-duck, a “one-term wunderkind.”

President Obama can expect no help on the economic front. The US economy will not suddenly begin creating 500,000 per month. Housing prices will not recover their pre-depression values. The stock market may rally, but it must essentially climb 50% just for the average investor to get back to where he stood two years ago. China will not reverse its currency policy and cheap goods subsidized by the Communist regime will continue flooding into American stores, thus sending dollars overseas and draining American industries.

President Obama can expect no foreign policy dividends either. The American body count in Afghanistan will continue to rise. Iraq has reached equilibrium of sorts, sectarian violence only claiming a hundred lives or so every week. Iran has, as expected, skillfully eluded Obama’s grasp. There are no objectives in Africa, Asia, Europe or South America that would fire American voters with a sense of accomplishment. Only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict holds such “promise.”

This is why Obama must push it as much as possible.

However, by July 4th the President Obama will be called upon by his party to deliver the votes – and the more important dollars – that the congressional campaigns require. This will require the president to withdraw from foreign policy and concentrate on domestic policy. Certainly, in districts in Baltimore and Detroit, Florida and California, New York City and Philadelphia, the president and his minions will raise the Middle East in order to wring money out of Arab and Jewish voters.

He must not be allowed to succeed! Here is what you can do.

1. Register to vote: either as an independent or a republican.
2. Contribute what you can – be it financially or otherwise – to non-Democratic Party candidates.
3. Make your voice heard for those candidates: bumper stickers, signs in front yards, editorials to newspapers, write your own blog supporting the candidate, call into radio talk shows.
4. In November, get out and vote! Get your siblings, parents and children of voting age to the polls. Get your neighbors and co-workers to the polls.

Every day Hamas and the Palestinian Authority utter the most despicable anti-Semitic lies since Adolf Hitler. Neither President Obama nor his Jewish capos, David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, react.

Every day Hamas and the Palestinian Authority inculcate school children with hatred towards Israel and the Jewish People. There is no censure, no protest from Washington.

Every day, the Israel Defense Forces uncovers and foils another terrorist attack. President Obama does not object to Palestinian terror directed at Israel or the Jewish People.

All it takes for evil to succeed is for people of good character to sit idly by and do nothing. Act!

March 21, 2010 Posted by | Israel, Middle East, Obama | , , , , , | 1 Comment

No Consequences Obama

10 January 2010
Rehovot, Israel

It’s a great time to be alive, if you happen to Islamic fundamentalist terrorist, fighting America and all it supposedly still stands for. Why is that? Because, whether you are holed up in a cave in Afghanistan, the mountains of Yemen, the Islamic Emirate of Gaza or a recently exposed secret Iranian nuclear site, there are no consequences for your actions. You can send suicide bombers, foment civil wars, plot mass murder, and expect nothing more than “good talking to” from American president, Barack Hussein Obama.

“Why do you say such things about such a distinguished statesman?” you ask. After all, didn’t he just win the Nobel peace prize after just three weeks in office? He gives hope to millions and the promise of change is in the air! Unfortunately, it is not quite clear to which millions he is giving hope or the type of change that is exactly promised. Consider the following.

On June 12, 2009 the Iranian people went to their voting booths and chose between two candidates that had been pre-selected by Ayatollah Khamenei himself. Since the Ayatollah had personally vetted both candidates, could he possibly care about which one actually won the election? A great many Iranians were dismayed when incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term. They turned to the street in peaceful protest, when Iran’s Guardian Council, which is appointed by the Ayatollah, conceded that the number of votes in fifty Iranian cities exceeded the number of registered voters. It seems that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had transferred Tammany Hall to Teheran.

Then Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showed he had learned another new trick: the Chicago-style police riot. Thousands of protesters were tear-gassed and beaten. Hundreds were arrested. Scores were killed, perhaps more. All of this is documented in video uploaded by hundreds of daring Iranian citizen-journalists. Pictures flooded into Internet sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. The beatings, arrests and murders continued.

How did Barack Obama react? Certainly this Nobel Prize winner could bring hope and change to the people of Iran, who had been cheated of fair elections and them brutalized for protesting this fact. Obama told stated that the world was “watching.” This is a stark contrast to John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to ensure the survival and success of liberty.

Obama is watching.

When the communist government of Poland started to crush the Solidarity Movement, President Reagan stated:

We view the current situation in Poland in the gravest terms, particularly the increasing use of force against an unarmed population and the violation of the basic civil rights of the Polish people.

Obama is watching.

President George W. Bush proclaimed in his second inaugural address:

“When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you.”

Obama is watching. Watching while people risk their lives to bring about the change that candidate Obama spoke of; dying in hopes of achieving the basic freedoms that President Obama spoke of in his (in)famous Cairo University speech of 4 June 2009. This is the change that President Obama has brought to the Middle East: no dictator, no terrorist, no Islamic radical need fear America, need fear democracy. It is something the radicals and terrorists have been hoping for!

January 10, 2010 Posted by | Middle East, Obama | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iran Watch Update

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog on Sunday said inspectors would be examining Iran’s recently revealed nuclear facility on October 25. Mohamed ElBaradei spoke in Teheran following talks with Iranian officials over a recently revealed uranium enrichment facility located near the Iranian city of Qom. “It is important for us to send our inspectors to have a comprehensive verification of the facility and to make sure that it is for peaceful purposes,” he said. “We agreed that our inspectors will inspect the site on the 25th of October.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s president claimed on Saturday that his country had not sought to hide its construction of a new nuclear site, arguing that Teheran reported the facility to the UN even earlier than required. Apparently, no one at the IAEA got the memo, Mr. Ahmadinejad. In a speech on Saturday, Ahmadinejad said that Iran voluntarily revealed the facility to the IAEA in a letter on September 21. By his interpretation, that was one year earlier than necessary under the agency’s rules.

In a meeting last Thursday, October 1st, Iran agreed to allow UN inspectors into the facility after the P5 + 1 group finally started putting serious pressure on the rogue regime at a meeting near Geneva. In a related development, the New York Times reported on Sunday, October 4th, that it had access to a secret report compiled by IAEA officials.

The report indicates that Teheran has acquired “sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device,” based on highly enriched uranium.

The discovery of the facility near Qom is the third time Iran has been caught red-handed deceiving the world about the extent of its nuclear ambitions. The first time was in 2002, when the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed in a press conference that Iran was building a massive uranium enrichment facility – filled with thousands of centrifuges – in an underground, heavily-fortified bunker in Natanz. Several years later, in the second case of deception, the CIA uncovered evidence that Iran had secretly tried designing a nuclear weapon and warhead.

It would appear that the stage is set for a show-down between Iran and the US and Europe by late-October. Will inspectors be allowed into the 2nd uranium enrichment facility? How much access will they have? What evidence – if any – will the Iranians be “sanitizing” between now and then? The UN Security Council has already levied three rounds of sanctions against Iran with apparently no impact on the Islamic regime’s nuclear program. And while US President Barack Obama has recently talked tougher on the issue, this might be his administration’s first true foreign policy test. Let’s hope he passes.

October 5, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

The September Deadline

Multiple deadlines are approaching our region, and they have the most dire consequences imaginable. President Obama has set September as the deadline for Iran to return to serious negotiations over its nuclear ambitions. In the last week, the Iranians have made some small gestures toward the IAEA, but their public statements are still combative. The G20 nations are meeting in Pittsburgh in late September; Obama intends to forge a unified position among the G20, but will he succeed? Military analysts have been carefully studying what Israel’s “non-diplomatic” options are. The following paragraphs summarize a number of approaches that have been discussed over the last two years.

The Targets
There are three prime targets south of Tehran which are believed to be involved in Iran’s nuclear program. The first is Natanz, where thousands of centrifuges are being installed for uranium enrichment. The second is Isfahan, where, according to the Iranians themselves, a uranium conversion facility has produced 250 tons of gas for the enrichment process. The third is a heavy water reactor at Arak, which may in future produce enough plutonium for nuclear weapons. Israeli officials believe that destroying all three sites would delay Iran’s nuclear program indefinitely.

The Limited Nuclear Option
One option ironically involves the Israeli use of tactical nuclear weapons. Israeli air force squadrons are training to attack Iranian facilities using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters,” according to several Israeli military sources. These weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the atomic bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima in WWII. Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open “tunnels” into the targets. “Mini-nukes” would then immediately be fired into the tunnels, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

Missile Strikes
Israel has its own missile arsenal, consisting of Jericho I, II and III missiles. How many of these weapons does Israel possess? According to a report by the US Congressional Research Service, Israel had deployed, by the year 2000, fifty Jericho-I missiles on mobile launchers. The Jericho I has a range of 500 km and a CEP (Circular Area of Probability) of 1,000m, and it can carry a payload estimated at 400 kg. It was intended to carry a nuclear warhead. However, due to Israel’s ambiguity over its nuclear weapons program, the missile is classified as a ballistic missile.

The Congressional Research Service report also stated that Israel has one hundred Jericho-II missiles on underground, wheeled launchers. It is capable of carrying a considerable amount of high explosives (estimated at 1000kg) or a 1 megaton yield nuclear warhead. It uses a two-stage solid propellant engine, meaning it can be launched on a few minutes notice. Its accuracy is unknown, although it can be assumed as accurate as the Jericho I.

It is estimated that the Jericho III entered service sometime in 2008. The Jericho III is believed to have a three-stage solid propellant and a payload of 1,000 to 1,300 kg. It is possible for the missile to be equipped with a single 750 kg nuclear warhead or two or three low yield MIRV warheads. That means one missile can hit multiple targets. It is estimated that it has a range of 4,800 to 7,000 km (2,982 to 4,350 miles). It is believed that the Jericho 3 is inertial guided with a radar guided warhead and silo-based with mobile vehicle and railcar capabilities.

Conventional Attacks
There are three potential routes that Israeli aircraft could fly; each has its own logistical, military and political difficulties and ramifications. The first is up the coast of Lebanon and then through Turkish airspace. The second involves going through a combination of Jordanian and Iraqi airspace. Finally, the option that has received some attention recently, is through Jordanian and Saudi airspace. Israeli F15I squadrons have been reported flying to Gibraltar and back, roughly equivalent to the 2000-mile round trip to south-central Iran. Additional reports have spoken about the “heavy configuration,” consisting of maximum fuel and weapons loads.

Increasingly though, it appears that conventional strikes by aircraft will be unable to achieve the goal of eliminating the Iranian nuclear threat. It is questionable whether Israel has enough of the right kinds of planes to carry out such a mission and strike all three targets. It is further complicated by the hardened facilities they will be attacking – some of which lie under 70 or more feet of concrete and earth. Regardless of which route they might take, it is a mission that can only be flown once.

Red Lines
Anonymous sources in the Pentagon have identified two key “red lines” that could trigger an Israeli offensive. The first is tied to when Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility produces enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. According to the latest U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessments, this is likely to happen sometime in 2009. Obama’s September deadline for Iran to return to the negotiating table may in fact be linked to hard intelligence that has not yet been shared with the public. “The red line is not when they get to that point, but before they get to that point,” the official said. “We are in the window of vulnerability.” The second red line is connected to when and if Iran acquires the SA-20 air defense system it is trying to buy from Russia. The Israelis would want to strike before that system — which would make an air attack much more difficult — is put in place.

Something else?
Of course, there could be permutations on all of the above. Harpoon missiles launched from Israel’s Dolphin-class submarines strike command-and-control centers in the region as the opening blow. A large formation of fighter aircraft makes a feint toward the valuable nuclear facilities at Tabriz in northeastern Iran, drawing away Iranian fighter aircraft. At the same time, a parallel wave of F-15Is uses a combination of laser-guided bombs and “Mini-Nukes” to destroy Arak, Isfahan and Natanz. Jericho III missiles then pummel the Bushehr reactor, and possibly key oil facilities. Targeting oil facilities would put the West on notice: Israel will not allow regimes like Iran rebuild their arsenals with petrodollars.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | 2 Comments

Iranian Elections, etc.

The BBC reported this morning Saturday, 13 June 2009, that Iranian TV has begun putting out calls for calm in the wake of an apparent landslide re-election victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. One opposition newspaper had been closed down and BBC websites appear to have been blocked by the Iranian authorities.  There were also reports that an opposition rally had been broken up for candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Let’s see, that is 1) closing down an opposition newspaper – 1st Amendment; 2) blocking access to a news web site – 1st Amendment; and 3) breaking up a peaceful assembly organized for political purposes – 1st Amendment.  The candidates themselves were screened by Iran’s Council of Guardians, so one would think that such actions would be unnecessary.  Apparently, that is not the case.

How does this factor into Obama’s new thinking and fresh approach to the Middle East?   So far, it is long on rhetoric, but short on accomplishments.  His speech in Cairo was perhaps a beginning towards some sort of American reconciliation with the Arab/Muslim world.   However, if the American public starts actually paying attention to what is going on there, it is not going to like what it sees. Arab/Muslim reaction – at least that which isn’t subject to state censorship – has been mixed on Pres. O’s Cairo address.   I’ll score it as a draw, but an impressive one.

Lebanon certainly goes into the win column. Only by field goal, though. Saudi money and lots of diplomatic and political support from Egypt and Jordan tilted the playing field.  Iran was somewhat distracted by its own elections to interfere to heavily in the Lebanese contest.  Syria, playing a diplomatic game of cat-and-mouse with the Americans, was also low-key in its support for the Hizbullah-led opposition.

Iran is definitely a loss for the “Yes We Can” crowd in Washington.  There is scant evidence that Iran’s nuclear policies would have been altered by any of the opposition candidates.  After all, it is the result of a 20-year effort, not just the last four years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency.  However, it would have made it easier for President Obama to appease a new Iranian dictator than the old one.

Thus, the Obama Administration is 1-1-1, with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s highly anticipated response to the Cairo address tomorrow . . .

June 13, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

As I’ve been saying

In an editorial published today, Yisrael Hayom has already performed the post mortem on US President Barack Obama’s much anticipated 4.6.09 speech in Cairo.  The daily notes that, “Three days after the speech, an earthquake is expected to occur in the Middle East that will push it into a dark corner: In the Lebanese parliamentary elections, Hezbollah is liable to turn its veritable control over the Land of the Cedars, thanks to Iranian weapons and money, into legal, legitimate control, if it succeeds in filling parliament with a majority of its supporters.”

Of course, this was noted several days ago on this blog.  Nasallah’s victory will provide additional, albeit unneeded momentum, to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bid for another term as president of Iran.

Yisrael Hayom  “Then the world, including Obama, will awaken to find that a country with a democratic past has become Ayatollah Nasrallah’s country under Iranian patronage.”

What the editorial fails to point out is that the “world” is not democracy-friendly.  Only about 20% of the world’s people live under demcratic systems of government.  And in about half of those the commitment to democracy is less than full-fledged.

Yisrael Hayom  goes on to state that “Ten days after the speech, Hamas’s leaders will celebrate two years since the founding of their state in the Gaza Strip and the Iranians, as he [Obama] well knows, are preparing a bomb in any case. Obama’s speech, as positive as it may be, will be – very quickly – forgotten and buried under the bitter reality of the old Middle East.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Hizbullah, Middle East, Obama | , , , , | Leave a comment

Durban II – A Dismal Failure, pt. 1

Delegates attending the UN’s the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Geneva, unofficially called “Durban II,” walked-out as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered yet another of his infamous hate-filled speeches. At a conference that was supposed to demonstrate, in the word’s of BBC correspondent Imogen Foulkes the “shining example of what the UN is supposed to do best – uniting to combat injustice in the world,” the leader of one of the world’s most repressive regimes lashed out in his usual delusional manner.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, the only major leader to attend the conference, said Jewish migrants from Europe and the United States had been sent to the Middle East after World War II “in order to establish a racist government in the occupied Palestine”. He continued, through an interpreter: “And in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine.”

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner had warned that French delegates would walk out if the forum was used as a platform to attack Israel. Speaking after the walkout, he said: “The defense of human rights and the fight against all types of racism are too important for the United Nations not to unite against all forms of hate speech, against all perversion of this message. Faced with attitudes like that which the Iranian president has just adopted, no compromise is possible.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed dismay at the boycotts, and the speech, saying Mr Ahmadinejad had used his speech “to accuse, divide and even incite”. Mr. Ban’s shock is surely feigned. If he bothered to read the front page of the New York Times – or any of a dozen other newspapers – he would surely have seen this farce developing. By allowing it to play out, he is culpable in its perpetration.

The Secretary General has so far delivered an insipid and uninspiring performance in his role as the world’s premier diplomat. He has allowed dictators and fanatics to maintain their grip on UN institutions, much as his predecessor Kofi Annan did. By allowing this sad performance to take place, he allows the institution to slide deeper into irrelevance and infamy.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , | Leave a comment

Chickens coming home to roost

The chickens come home to roost

The Egyptian government announced last Thursday the arrest of 49 people for plotting terrorist attacks, espionage, forgery, weapons smuggling and conducting terror training.  For several years Israeli officials have been pleading with Egypt to honor its treaty commitments and crackdown on the weapons smuggling that occurs in Sinai.  The Egyptians always state that they are doing everything they can, but as long as the weapons find their way to Gaza and are used against Israel, the Egyptians were content to turn a blind eye to these activities.

To no one’s surprise, those arrested included Palestinians, Lebanese, Sudanese (all proxies of Iran) and their Bedouin interlocutors.  Egypt and Iran have been locked in a battle of wills for leadership of the Arab world.  Egypt was satisfied to have its Palestinian faction (Palestinian Authority) and Iran was happy to have its Palestinian faction (Hamas).  In an accord worthy of  The Godfather, Don Corleone Mubarak allowed the other Dons (Meshaal, Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad) to “draw water from the well” and use Sinai for transferring weapons, money and trained fighters.

As long as those resources were not turned against it, Egypt was only too happy to play both sides of the fence.  It mediates between the Palestinian factions, between Israel and Hamas and between the EU and Hamas.  Thus, it has bolstered its supposed reputation as the address for diplomatic initiatives and as a so-called moderate Arab state.  However, now the rules of the game have suddenly changed.  Egypt is on the terrorist hit list.  The chickens have come home to roost.

Why now?

The timing doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. There is no imminent transition of power in Egypt, no new leader that needs to be tested. Neither America nor Israel have made any threatening moves toward Iran, forcing them to call their proxies into action. In fact, just the opposite has occurred: American bureaucrats scurry after Iran’s representatives like star-crossed schoolgirls seeking an autograph. So why now?

On the other hand, America’s allies in the region – Egypt, Israel, Lebanon’s elected government, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – are increasingly on the defensive. Egypt has been unable to negotiate a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel or mediate a Palestinian national unity government. Israel has been battered in the court of public opinion. Lebanon is on the razor’s edge with elections coming up in 56 days, trying to avoid a Hizbullah-Syrian putsch ala the one that Hamas orchestrated in Gaza in 2006. Jordan and Saudi Arabia are watching Washington’s new policies unfold (unsuccessfully) with trepidation.

Indeed, Egyptian authorities reported that the first arrests came in November of last year.  The rest of the network was unraveled over the following months.  Apparently, Iran and its proxies were reading the tealeaves and foresaw Barack Obama’s election; Obama’s election surprised no one really.  Neither is it surprising that plans to test a new American president would be put into action so quickly.  Their brazen nature underscores not only how litle regard radical Islamists have for the new American leader, but also how little regard they have for the international system.

The leopard can’t change his spots

As Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, a columnist for the paper Asharq Alawsat put it this way:

“Most of the victims of extremist Islamist groups . . . are not Europeans but in fact Muslims from Indonesia, Pakistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. It is the same for the extremist ideology of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has launched battles between different Islamic factions more than he has harmed the West.  The belief that Obama’s connections to Islam would reassure the extremists and end the confrontation is naïve and demonstrates lack of knowledge of the situation of the Islamic world.”

Another Asharq Alawsat columnist, Tariq Alhomayed, stated:

“The danger of Bin Nasrallah and those like him is that they strive to overthrow governments and create chaos in regions . . . in the interest of Iran.  The excuse that is given of course is that this is all for the sake of defending Palestine, just as Bin Nasrallah said.  This is the same excuse that Saddam Hussein used when he occupied Kuwait; the same excuse that Bin Laden used after he caused havoc in our countries and throughout the world; and the same excuse used by a battalion of criminals in our region.”

Just in case you’re wondering, President Obama, Asharq Alawsat is also published in English, so there’s no need to waste anytime learning Arabic; you can continue chasing after the Ayatollah for that precious autograph!

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , , , | Leave a comment