BigMo’s Blog

Politics and Economics in Israel

The Palestinian Price Tag

For several years now, since the first sanctions were imposed on Iran for defying the International Atomic Energy Association’s rules, there has been an on-going discussion of military action. A variety of scenarios have been circulated regarding American and/or Israeli air strikes. Some analysts contend that Iran’s nuclear program is too advanced and too far-flung to destroy. Others contend that it hinges on just a few critical sites. Regardless of the level of success, pundits agree that if Israel attacks Iran, Iran will strike at Israel in response.

If the US is seen as involved, the Iranian response will include the various Gulf kingdoms aligned with the US using missiles, possibly armed with chemical or biological weapons. Others predict that Iran will unleash its puppets, Hamas and Hizbullah, and their arsenals of short-range missile. A regional war involving several countries has been forecast, as well as a global wave of terror. Any combination of these is also possible. The Iranian response will undoubtedly be violent, but it will be brief as it is ineffective.

Any solid military analysis of the situation leads to the conclusion that Israel, acting alone, is capable of inflicting enormous damage on Iran. Using just conventionally armed aircraft and missiles, Israel would be able to destroy at least six critical Iranian nuclear facilities in one blow. It could also inflict heavy damage of Iranian petroleum facilities, further delaying an Iranian rebuilding effort.

Having clearly demonstrated that it is militarily superior to every country in the region, and having destroyed the single existential threat that (currently) exists, Israeli leaders would be hard-pressed to claim any additional security concerns. The price tag of success will be a Palestinian state. And there will be intense international pressure for this to occur immediately.

Without American support, Israel would be diplomatically isolated. Traditionally anti-Israel bodies, such as the UNHRC, would be mobilized to condemn Israel. Claims would be brought to the International Court of Justice. UN Security Council resolution would pile up fast. Various treaties and pacts currently under discussion between Isreal and a host of nations would be shelved, if not scrapped outright. If Israel acts alone, it will need to have the diplomatic muscle of the United States behind it in order to deal with the aftermath.

The US and EU would not be overly concerned with the long-term consequences of either a Palestinian state or how such diplomatic pressure might effect Israel’s geo-strategic psychology. The conflict will have sent oil prices to the $150/barrel range – or higher. Energy shortages will cripple the already sluggish global economy. World financial markets will be in turmoil. The US and EU will act hastily to prevent further economic damage. It will not be a time to worry about demographics, Riparian water rights or political stability (Palestinian).

NATO, perhaps with a token Russian presence, would deploy troops over most of the West Bank as an interim measure, probably within a month of the UNSC imposing a ceasefire on all the belligerents. Israel would withdraw the bulk of its forces, probably over a period of 3 – 6 months. The smaller settlements would be dismantled and their occupants transferred to Israel proper or the so-called large settlement blocs. There may be a token exchange of territories and populations between Israel and the nascent Palestinian state.

What would happen to Jerusalem? That depends on how quickly and quietly Israeli leaders agree to the deployment of NATO troops, removal of settlements and the re-drawing of boundaries. Quick accession to these demands might assure continued Israeli sovereignty over most of Jerusalem, with a minimal international presence with very limited authority. Israeli delay could result in Jerusalem being partitioned.

Israeli leaders face an excruciating dilemma. It is universally agreed that sanctions will not dissuade the Iranians from developing a nuclear capability. Unless publicly forced to face the clearest evidence of Iranian intentions, the Obama administration will not act militarily. Thus, Israel must act on her own.
However, military success will also result in the creation of a Palestinian state that is economically and politically unstable, as well as violent. This is likely to remain the situation for at least a decade, meaning that there will be no “peace dividend” for Israel. The question now becomes, not will Israel act, but when? And have Israeli leaders considered how they – and the citizens of Israel – will contend with the aftermath?

October 1, 2010 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Diplomatic Offensive

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.

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

Nuclear Tap Dance

When will the other shoe drop?

In May of this year, one potential piece of Barack Obama’s “comprehensive” peace plan emerged.  It was given very little coverage outside of the Middle East.  On May 5, 2009, the US Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller urged Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the non-proliferation treaty. One hundred eighty six nations have.  This includes Iran, which is flagrant violation; and Libya, which was “scared straight” by former President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

At that time Uzi Even, a former Knesset member and scientist at the nuclear reactor in Dimona, said the statement by the assistant secretary of state is indicative of a change in the US’ policy towards Israel regarding its nuclear capabilities.  “In the past there was an informal agreement between the US and Israel; the Americans knew Israel possessed nuclear arms but looked the other way,” he said, “now the US is breaching this agreement.”   This would not be the last time the Obama regime has unilaterally attempted to re-write its relationship with Israel.

Even suggests that Israel must change its deliberately vague nuclear policy and sign the NPT, which would place Dimona under international supervision.  This would also allow Israel to develop nuclear weapons, at least theoretically.  However, Israel declaring its nuclear program is unlikely to have a positive effect on the stability of the region.  Arab states would then argue that Israel must disarm before any other issues can be discussed – including the dismantling of the Iranian program.

The other shoe drops

This past week, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit appealed to the UN Security Council to put Israel’s nuclear program under international supervision and set a timeframe for a nuclear-free Middle East.  In a letter to the 15-member council last week, Aboul Gheit highlighted that Israel has not signed onto the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) adding: “Israel’s nuclear capabilities cannot evade world attention.”

The resolution, passed at the end of the annual general assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna on September 24, also demands that Israel open its nuclear reactor in Dimona to international inspectors.  Thus, the Egyptians have successfully put Israel’s nuclear program on the agenda.

In the first resolution, a majority of 49 countries passed.   The majority included all the members of the Arab League and the bloc of developing nations.  Opposing the resolution were 45 Western countries, including the European Union and the United States.  There were 16 abstentions.
Although the US and Europe attempted to back Israel, the result was a foregone conclusion.  The institutions the West created in the aftermath of the Second World War were hijacked years ago.  Gotemoeller’s little speech was picked up by Egypt and they ran with it.

Bargaining Chips

If Israel were to sign the NPT treaty, it would theoretically open the door to IAEA inspections.  This means Dimona, the site of most of Israel’s nuclear research activities, as well as several smaller facilities, such as Nahal Sorek. The reasoning goes like this: if Israel were to sign and admit inspectors, it would put pressure on Iran to give IAEA inspectors access to Iranian facilities, and also put pressure on them to start abiding by previously agreed upon limitations.  However, reason and Iran seldom go together.

If it were reasonable, wouldn’t it have responded to the first round of sanctions? What about the second round and third rounds of sanctions, which it ignored?  Reason would also dictate that with 120,000+ US troops based in countries on its eastern and western borders, Iran would act cautiously.  That hasn’t fazed the Iranians, either.  In fact, America, weary of both wars, their costs and their casualties, would like nothing better than to leave both Iraq and Afghanistan.  It knows it cannot do either, as Iran is poised to fill the vacuum should America leave precipitously.

However, let’s get back to the dance.  Increasingly, the Americans and the moderate Arab camp are viewing the Israeli nuclear program as a bargaining chip.  Why not?  It’s a good one that the so-called moderate Arab states can collect on twice.   If Israel is compelled to “come clean” on its nuclear program and weapons, immense pressure could be brought to bear on Iran. While Israel would still retain a strategic advantage, the extent of its capabilities would become known, giving the moderate camp more leverage on a host of issues: weapon purchases, their own nuclear plans and a Palestinian state.

If there were a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, it would benefit Israel and all other nations as well.  If such a prohibition were coupled with a ban on the development of biological and chemical agents, along with missile technology, it would actually be to Israel’s advantage.  Unfortunately, the US and its European allies seem to have lost the testicular fortitude necessary to take action when even their most basic ideas and values are under attack. Obama only wags his finger at tyrants in Damascus and Teheran and mutters “tsk, tsk, tsk” under the chorus of change.

September 28, 2009 Posted by | Middle East, Obama | , , , | 1 Comment

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

The other shoe dropping

From the ‘I told you so files’

On May 15th I posted a column to this site entitled “When will the other shoe drop?”  It analyzed a little-covered diplomatic scuffle that occurred on May 5th, when the US Assistant Secretary of State of State Rose Gottemoeller urged Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the non-proliferation treaty.  In his June 4th speech in Cairo, President Obama stated “I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not.  No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons . . . And any nation – including Iran – should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

Propaganda Victory? Not likely!

If Israel were to sign the NPT treaty, it would theoretically open the door to IAEA inspections.  This means Dimona, the site of most of Israel’s nuclear research activities.  The reasoning goes like this: if Israel were to sign and admit inspectors, it would put pressure on Iran to give IAEA inspectors access to Iranian facilities, and also put pressure on them to start abiding by previously agreed upon limitations.  However, reason and Iran seldom go together.

Some would contend that signing the treaty Israel would score a major propaganda victory over Iran in the struggle to contain the latter’s nuclear development program.  This is shortsighted.

Israel has a well-documented public relations problem.  Even when it takes actions that are totally justified, it takes a beating in the court of world public opinion.  Signing the NPT would focus the non-proliferation spotlight on Israel.  Secondly, signing the NPT would cause Israel to incur many, many obligations vis-à-vis the treaty’s mandatory clauses.  Every time Israel hesitated to fully disclose its nuclear capabilities, failed to give IAEA inspectors full access or provide complete documentation, it would make front-page headlines.

Giving Away Bargaining Chips

Secondly, signing the NPT and fully living up to its commitments would be an intelligence bonanza for the Arab and Iranian governments.  They would know the exact extent of all of Israel’s nuclear development programs.  They would know what technologies were being used and how they are being used.  Israel’s nuclear program would then be a yardstick by which they could measure the need to accelerate their own domestic programs.
Israel has a range of options on this matter, but is going to find itself increasing constrained over the next several years.  The options are:
•  Not to sign NPT and continue the policy of deliberate ambiguity as far as its nuclear weapons program is concerned.  This policy probably has a shelf-life of two years, three years top.
•  Sign the NPT without any pre-conditions and regardless of the fact that Iran has dropped out of it.  This option is flawed for the reasons I stated above.
•  Attempt to cut a deal similar to the one India made with the Bush Administration.  President Obama is unlikely to be so generous, however, what if Israel were to sign a similar treaty with China, India or Russia?  Both China and Russia would benefit immensely in terms of their presence on the world stage, and both countries are quite resilient to international criticism. Israel already has deep military ties with India.
•  Make a bold diplomatic move by announcing its intent to sign the treaty, if India, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea do so.  Since Iran and North Korea are almost certainly going to be unwilling to sign the NPT, it would be any empty gesture.  However, it would put the proliferation question, at least in part, back into its global perspective.

There are probably several more options that are available – like conducting a nuclear test – which I haven’t discussed.  The fall out from that option – excuse the pun – would be too negative to imagine.  Regardless of which option it chooses, either Binyamin Netanyahu or his successor will have to deal with it. The other shoe has dropped, it just hasn’t hit the ground yet.

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

Nuclear Tap Dance

When will the other shoe drop?

A piece of Barack Obama’s comprehensive peace plan emerged in the last few days, but was given very little coverage outside of the Middle East. Israeli papers, and their English-language web sites covered it, there were quite a few op-ed pieces, as well as the usual blog traffic. It involved Israel’s well-known, but opaque nuclear capabilities.

On Tuesday, May 5th, the US Assistant Secretary of State Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller urged Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the non-proliferation treaty. One hundred eighty-nine nations have. This includes Iran, which is flagrant violation; and Libya, which was “scared straight” by former President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Speaking of which, Iraq was also a member of that elite club, but simply chose to ignore the rules. So, what value would a signature have?

Bargaining Chips

If Israel were to sign the NPT treaty, it would open the door to IAEA inspections. This means Dimona, the site of most of Israel’s nuclear research activities. The reasoning goes like this: if Israel were to sign and admit inspectors, it would put pressure on Iran to give IAEA inspectors access to Iranian facilities, and also put pressure on them to start abiding by previously agreed upon limitations. However, reason and Iran seldom go together.

If it were reasonable, wouldn’t it have responded to the first round of sanctions? What about the second round of sanctions, which it ignored? Reason would also dictate that with 120,000+ US troops based in countries on its eastern and western borders, Iran would act cautiously. That hasn’t fazed the Iranians, either. America, weary of both wars, their costs and their casualties, would like nothing better than to leave both Iraq and Afghanistan. It knows it cannot do either, as Iran is poised to fill the vacuum should America leave precipitously.

It’s going to drop soon

Uzi Even, a former Knesset member and scientist at the nuclear reactor in Dimona, said the statement by the assistant secretary of state is indicative of a change in the US’ policy towards Israel regarding its nuclear capabilities. “In the past there was an informal agreement between the US and Israel; the Americans knew Israel possessed nuclear arms but looked the other way,” he said, “now the US breaching this agreement.”

Even suggests that Israel must change its deliberately vague nuclear policy and sign the NPT, which would place Dimona under international supervision. This would also allow Israel to develop nuclear weapons, at least theoretically. Even’s thinking is short-sighted.  Because the other shoe that is likely to drop as part of President Obama’s comprehensive plan is likely to be some sort of “strategic arms limitation treaty” for the Middle East. Everybody gets nukes and missiles, just not a lot of them.

Prime Minister Netanyahu better start polishing his own tap shoes before he goes to Washington: he just might need them.

May 15, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

Durban II – A Dismal Failure, pt. 2

As delegates rightfully walked-out on the ranting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it is worthwhile to review what the source of this hateful bigotry has accomplished in the name of Iran’s devotion to peace, love, rainbows and puppydogs.

On March 27th of this year, two members of the Baha’i community were arrested after being summoned to appear on 18 March at the Ministry of Intelligence’s offices in the city of Shiraz, in south western Iran. And in case you were wondering, yes, they have offices everywhere in Iran.

Based on the information available, Amnesty International believes they are prisoners of conscience, detained solely because of their religious beliefs or their peaceful activities on behalf of the Baha’i community. The Bahai faith has three core principles: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humankind. They are pacifists.

This is problematic for the Iranian government, which has played a large role in fomenting and supporting civil wars in Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq, and genocide in Sudan.

Union leaders, human rights activists and journalists face arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Prisoners are routinely tortured and executed. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. Women have only the most basic of rights and cannot appear in public without an Islamic head covering of some sort and may be beaten by “Modesty Patrols” if they are seen wearing make-up or “consorting” with men, i.e., dating.

As Amnesty International reported (with some irony on the same date that Israel was holding democratic elections), “Ayatollah Khomeini promised that all Iranians would be free. However, the past 30 years have been characterized by persistent human rights violations . . . torture and other ill-treatment, as well as the use of the death penalty remain prevalent. Some sectors of society – including ethnic minorities – continue to face widespread discrimination, while the situation for other groups – notably some religious minorities – has significantly worsened under the current President.”

Now, let’s compare that with the object of his wrath: Israel. Israel has had 17 elections in its modern 61-year history. That’s an election every 3.5 years. Recently, elections have been held with even greater frequency. This is much to the chagrin of the average Israeli voter, not because of his or her distaste for democracy, but rather because the issues never seem to get solved no matter who wins!

In the last election, held in February 2009, thirty-nine different political parties vied for the 120 seats in Israel’s Knesset, or parliament. Twelve of those parties won seats. Five parties placed a Druse candidate on their parliamentary lists: this is twice as many candidates as they could reasonably hope to elect if a “Druse First” party was fielded. Three of those parties represent the interests of Israel’s Arab minority.

Bahais, Circassians, Christians, Druze, Jews and Muslims voters went to the polls. Religious and secular voters went to the polls. The poor went to the polls. The rich also went, most definitely by SUV. Young and old went, men and women. Turnout was a healthy and respectable 77%.

Yes, Israel has its problems. There is a widening gap between rich and poor. Social and cultural development in the country’s urban centers outpaces that in rural areas. It struggles with an increasing illegal immigrant population. Families worry whether schools are giving their children an adequate education. The environmental is constantly under assault with green spaces shrinking. Sounds like America. Or France, or Canada, or Germany or Australia. Doesn’t it?

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

A Statesman Speaks

American President Barrack Obama would like to “engage” in a serious dialogue with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadiniejad.  Here are just a few quotes from this Iranian “statesman.”  I’m told that in the original Farsi, some of this crap actually rhymes!  Dig it: the man can rap! If he shakes your hand, President Obama, remember to wash it well afterwards.

“Our nation has no problem with other nations, but as far the Zionist regime is concerned, we do not believe in an Israeli government or an Israeli nation.”
Press Conference, Teheran, September 18, 2008

“Those who think they can revive the stinking corpse of the usurping and fake Israeli regime by throwing a birthday party are seriously mistaken.”
Remarks on Israel’s Independence Day, as quoted by Iran’s official IRNA news agency May 8, 2008

“The world powers established this filthy bacteria, the Zionist regime, which is lashing out at the nations in the region like a wild beast. … “[Israel] won support [from the other nations] which created it as a scarecrow, so as to keep the people of this area under control.”
Teheran, February 20, 2008

“With God’s help, the countdown button for the destruction of the Zionist regime has been pushed by the hands of the children of Lebanon and Palestine . . . By God’s will, we will witness the destruction of this regime in the near future.”
Speech, as quoted by the Fars News Agency, June 3, 2007

“Israel must be wiped off the map … The establishment of a Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world . . . The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of the war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land.”
October 26, 2005, In an address to 4,000 students at a program titled, ‘The World Without Zionism’

“If you want to have good relations with the Iranian people in the future, you should acknowledge the right and the might of the Iranian people, and you should bow and surrender to the might of the Iranian people. If you do not accept this, the Iranian people will force you to bow and surrender.”
Iranian News Channel on August 15, 2006

“A new Middle East will prevail without the existence of Israel.”
A quoted by Malaysian news agency Bernama website, August 4, 2006

One year of these types of statements should have been enough.  Any public official in a democratic country would have been hounded from office within days of such an outburst!  Why does the West insist on dealing with Third World dictators and tyrants in a “culturally sensitive” manner?  Does this not debase and demean Western culture?  Is getting oil for $10 a barrel less worth selling out 3000 years of art, culture, literature, philosophy and morals?

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

Incompetent, Schizophrenic or Shrewd?

Getting it half-right

On Wednesday April 1st, US General David Petraeus told Congress that when it comes to its nuclear activity, Teheran’s “obstinacy and obfuscation have forced Iran’s neighbors and the international community to conclude the worst about the regime’s intentions.” Petraeus got it partially right. Yes, the Iranian’s have deliberately pursued a policy of “obstinacy and obfuscation.” As for Iran’s neighbor’s, I’m not sure they are very concerned.

Does Afghanistan care? Not really: they are occupied by 20,000+ US and allied forces and in the midst of a civil war. Does Pakistan care? They already have nuclear weapons. Does Iraq care? They are in the same situation as the Afghans, albeit with more American troops on the ground. Does Turkey care? That’s a good question, as civilization theorists think that Turkey should be the natural “leader” of the various states in Central Asia. However, Turkey never really got its act together after the fall of the Soviet Union and that boat has sailed.

he international community is, depending on the cost of a gallon of gas, either very concerned or wondering what the entire hullabaloo is. After all, the French and the British have nukes. The Russians and Chinese do also. All of these nations have overcome various crises and wars over the last half century without resorting to the use of nuclear weapons. And the Iranians pay cash on the barrel-head, so where’s the problem?

Talking the Israelis down?

The next day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Financial Times that Israel was not likely to launch a strike against Iran in 2009 to prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons. “I guess I would say I would be surprised…if they did act this year,” Mr. Gates said in an interview. Gates, who was brought in by former President Bush to give credibility to the latter’s policies in Iraq and kept on by President Obama, appears incapable of bringing credibility to two subjects at the same time.

Asked whether, according to his assessment, the Islamic regime would cross “a red line” this year which would make the development of a bomb inevitable, Gates answered, “I don’t know, I would guess probably not”. He continued this policy tour d’force with the statement “I think we have more time than that. How much more time I don’t know.” Well, I for one feel greatly re-assured.

American Vice President Joe Biden added more seemingly incredulous statements on April 7th. In response to a question from CNN’s analyst Gloria Borger, asking if he was concerned about an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Biden stated, “I don’t believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu would do that. I think he would be ill-advised to do that. And so my level of concern is no different than it was a year ago.”

A year ago, Iran barely had 3000 centrifuges in place and American intelligence estimates placed the likelihood of Iran developing a nuclear weapon at 3-4 years in the future, i.e., circa 2012. Mr. Biden should re-evaluate his level of concern.

All of these statements, along with those issued by staff officers, press officers and advisers are an attempt to “talk the Israelis down.” The fear or the perception is that Netanyahu will strike. Statements like these are intended to calm those fears, change perceptions and are a rather public request to Israel to not preemptively attack Iran and let American diplomacy work.

So what is American policy?
Why are Biden’s and Gates’ assessments so radically different from those of General Petraeus? Much has been made of the fact that the general is a military officer serving his country, whereas the other two are politicians. I think too much has been made of this. If the Obama administration had wanted to send a clear message – tilting one way on the issue or the other – it could have easily coordinated that statements of three senior officials.

Some of stated that the dichotomy of opinions is evidence of the schizophrenic nature of Obama’s administration and his own lack of foreign policy experience. This, too, is an oversimplification. While Biden does have a history of political gaffes and has been critical of Israel in the past, he now has access to the same intelligence briefings that President Obama receives. Unless he’s been dozing off during these meetings, he knows the latest intel. Gates has a reputation as a solid technocrat, not to mention access to the latest reports.

What is American Policy on Iranian nukes? It seems to boils down to one several viewpoints, each what of which has it own partisan coloring.
1. The Obama administration is indeed schizophrenic.
2. The Obama administration is inexperienced and groping for a way forward.
3. The Obama administration is a lot more savvy than you think.

Covering all the bases
Whatever you think of Obama, he is a politician par excellence. He out-Clintoned the Clintons in 2008, and there’s a lot to be said for that. He is an organizer and coalition builder. So, here’s what I think he’s trying to do. Whether it will work in time is another question.

By making several speeches proffering negotiations to the Iranians, having them attend the recent talks on Afghanistan and the US joining the so-called 5+1 talks, he has taken a “European” position, which cannot help but please the Europeans. They would be hard-pressed to move further left on the issue. In addition, Europe needs to have American support on economic matters at this time. The Europeans are also keenly aware of the fact that Russia has invaded one of its neighbors, cut-off gas and petroleum several times in trade disputes and threatened to put ballistic missiles into Eastern Russia.

Obama has said that the plans to base anti-ballistic missiles (ABMs) in Poland and the Czech Republic could be shelved if there were no Iranian missile threat to Europe. It has also stated a willingness to start new talks on strategic arms limitations, including ABMs. The Russians hold these two areas dear. They also realize that a slumping world economy buys a lot less Russian oil, gas and other natural resources and nuclear sales to Iran cannot cover those lost revenues.

These same actions have also put the ball in the Iranians’ court. Finally, an American president is treating them with the respect they so desperately crave. They have been given a voice, albeit a limited one, on the issue of Afghanistan; Iraq too, for that matter. Now, they’ve been asked to negotiate over the nuclear development program.

The current regime knows that it is now in a tight race. Iran’s ability to become a nuclear power is being threatened, not by Israeli F-15s and F-16s, but by a convergence of American, European and Russian foreign policies. The question is, will this convergence come too late or just in time?
Or is the Obama administration truly a group of foreign policy greenhorns who are going to lead America into the worst series of foreign policy disasters since Jimmy Carter?

April 10, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , , , | Leave a comment

A Nuclear Iran? Get ready to Freeze!

What’s the problem with a Nuclear Iran?
It sounds like a set-up line for a joke in National Lampoon, but unfortunately it’s not. Simply stated, a nuclear-armed Iran means that eventually there will be a nuclear war between Iran and Israel. Then, we will all get to be in a science experiment called “Nuclear Winter.”

Nuclear Winter was the theory that if the US and the then USSR ever got into a nuclear exchange, the fall out wouldn’t exactly fall, but rather would stay suspended in the stratosphere for years and years. That would block-out the sun, leading to worldwide crop failures. Worldwide crop failures would lead to famine, disease, wars over dwindling resources, a collapse of living standards – you get the picture.

When the fall-out eventually did fall (everything that goes up, must come down), it would bring along with it all those wonderful heavy metals that reside deep in the periodic table. Things like Cobalt 60, Strontium 90, Cesium 135, plus the many wonderful derivatives of Uranium that the Iranians are playing with now, would poison the soil for generations (something like fifty generations) to come.

Is such a confrontation inevitable?
After all, the US and the USSR had a nuclear standoff for nearly fifty years. The contest between those two superpowers survived numerous crises without either resorting to the sue of nuclear weapons, albeit there were events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the 1973 Yom Kippur War when the two sides drew dangerously close to using the weapon of last resort. However, that is just the point that most people involved in the discussion are missing: both sides looked at nukes as a weapon of last resort. The same cannot be said of Iran.

Israel, it is widely acknowledged, has somewhere around 200 nuclear weapons of at least a Hiroshima-scale. It also has the means to deliver these via F-15 or Jericho III ballistic missiles. Israel has never acknowledged its alleged nuclear arsenal, but then again, it has never denied it. Rather, they have let its indeterminate nature serve as a form of deterrence. This deterrent would be tested if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons.

The US, USSR, Israel and other acknowledged nuclear powers, China, France, Great Britain, India and Pakistan have all realized that nuclear war is not a zero-sum game; if the weapons were to be used, everyone would lose. All of these countries accept the current world system. They understand the consequences of their actions and are willing to accept constraints. Iran is not the same.

The regime has been isolated almost from its inception. This is due in large part to the stance that they have taken in the Middle East and in the World. Its government is a set of overlapping institutions dominated by sometimes competing religious oligarchs. The best of them only want to maintain their grip on power in Iran AND the surrounding region. The worst of them – led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – have adopted a messianic stance. While the former might be willing to consider game theory before deploying nuclear options, the latter group doesn’t even acknowledge it.

Game Theory
“What is game theory?” Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics that is used in the social sciences (most notably economics, political science and international relations). Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behavior in strategic situations, in which an individual’s (or a state’s) success in making choices depends on the choices of others. The term from game theory that you are most likely to be familiar with is “zero-sum game.”

A zero-sum game is one in which one of the players ends up with all the marbles. Someone like Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i or President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t believe in or care about the potential impact of nuclear winter. In a nuclear exchange with Israel, they believe they will win. Israel will be destroyed, Iran will suffer “only” a million or two million casualties. Its prestige in the region will be greatly enhanced. Syria, Sudan, Hezbollah and Hamas will enter into an even tighter orbit around Teheran, the nominally democratic regime in Lebanon will fall, Iraq and the Gulf States will have no choice but to acknowledge Iranian hegemony. Game over.

In their minds, even potentially being able to create such a situation works to Iran’s advantage.

What are the options?
There are, unfortunately, no easy options. The limited sanctions imposed to-date have had no effect on the Iranian regime. They have made day-to-day life marginally more difficult for its citizens, but authoritarian regimes seldom take into account the desires of their citizens until it is too late (consider Nicolae Ceauscu and Romania, if you have any doubts about that). Additional sanctions might work, if they were implemented immediately and forcefully.

These would have to include an embargo on Iran, preventing it from importing refined gasoline and diesel oil. Ironically, it has to import more than 50% of its needs because its refining capacity is insufficient and outmoded. Likewise, a complete embargo of all oil drilling and refining equipment. A complete ban on technology products, including all types of computers, components and software is necessary. Likewise, the embargo would have to include imports of weapons and weapon technology.

On the export side, the world would have to do without Iranian crude oil and natural gas. The economy is basically a two-trick pony. It exports petroleum products and terrorism. Deny it the revenues that the former provides, and the latter will soon stop.

These actions would most likely have to be backed up with a naval blockade of the Gulf of Iran, and land blockades of trade routes through Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. All of these are Muslim countries, and need to realize that they have as much to lose from a nuclear confrontation between Israel and Iran as the participants themselves. Countries like China and Russia, who have made a small fortune supplying the Iranians with weapons and nuclear technology, would have accept a loss of revenue and a complete reversal of their recent foreign policy.

I will leave the military option to a future column.

March 29, 2009 Posted by | Middle East | , , | Leave a comment