Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

Netanyahu’s Speech: Coarse, but airs Israel’s point of view

June 15, 2009

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister   Source: www.yglesias.thinkprogress.org

Well, actually, Israel has several points of view.  The one expressed by Netanyahu is just one of them.  Nevertheless, in the “dialogue of civilizations” launched by expert bridge-builder Barack Obama in Cairo earlier this month, when he raised the Arab-Israeli conflict as an obstacle to dialogue, one voice was not heard.  Israel’s.  It’s like negotiating an end to the global financial crisis without inviting China.

Benjamin Netanyahu is no Barack Obama.  He is no Shimon Peres.  He lacks their diplomatic skill.  I have had extensive meetings with him on a number of occasions, and found him to be a man enthused with his own self-importance.  Just like Barack Obama and Shimon Peres, but a lot less charming.  What a discovery?  Political leaders are vain.  Yet Netanyahu proved an effective leader as Israel’s finance minister, freeing up the economy to realize its potential.  Can he be an effective and visionary prime minister his second time around?  This speech falls short of the mark.

What Netanyahu did in his speech yesterday (see text) was to say, Wait a minute!  Listen to our point of view! 

Obama made efforts to recognize the Arab narrative in his speech in Cairo.  He recognized the Jewish narrative in part by discussing the Holocaust.  Netanyahu gave voice to another part of the Jewish narrative – the claim to the land in Israel.

But the Arab reaction has been sour.  Mubarak is angry, saying that the requirement that Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state, a cornerstone of Netanyahu’s speech, “scuttles the chances for peace,” and that no one in Cairo will answer the phone when Netanyahu calls.

It’s not a very radical idea.  Given the Arab insistence on the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees to Israel, an act that would destroy Israel as a Jewish state, it’s not asking a lot.  The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which Obama and some Israeli leaders have applauded, called for a just solution to the refugee problem, according to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, which many insist calls for a right of return (“Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date…”)

Arguably, Obama’s conciliatory speech in Cairo opened the door for this sharp Arab reaction to Netanyahu’s speech.  Bush pushed the Arabs to accept Israel’s narrative; Obama is pushing Israel to accept the Arab narrative.  Obama may have inadvertently created huge expectations on the Arab street for Israeli concessions.

There is a deal to be had in the Arab-Israeli conflict.  But both sides have to make concessions.  The deal is:  the dismantling of most West Bank settlements in exchange for Jerusalem.  Israel gets sovereignty over Jerusalem – because no cities, including Berlin, remain divided over the long term – with substantive measures to ensure that Muslim/Palestinian interests in Jerusalem, especially around the holy sites, are overseen by Muslims and Palestinians, much as the Ottomans allowed the French and Russians to oversee their holy sites in centuries past.  In exchange, Israel dismantles most West Bank settlements, forcing tens of thousands, perhaps over a hundred thousand Jewish people to relocate inside Israel behind agreed borders.  As George Bush agreed to, some Israeli settlement blocks, major cities in place for over forty years, generally in and around Jerusalem and very close to the Green Line, perhaps representing some eighty thousand people, will remain as part of Israel.  The Palestinians get a viable, contiguous state in the West Bank with transportation links to Gaza.

That is a deal in which both sides make concessions.  The Arab Peace Initiative demands one-sided concessions from Israel in exchange for the Arabs agreeing not to make war.  It’s like Vito Corleone making you an offer you can’t refuse.

The only problem with the Jerusalem-for-Settlements idea is that Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims will never go for it.  It’s become too emotional a part of their narrative.  Jerusalem is the third holiest city of Islam.

Putting aside such discussions of what is fair, the key question in all of this is, Whose side is time on?  Given demographic realities, it seems that time is on the Arab/Muslim side.  Peres and others on Israel’s left acknowledge this, which has underpinned their efforts to move quickly to a negotiated settlement.  The right in Israel emphasizes their neighbors’ weaknesses – economic and political — and argue that time is on Israel’s side, a potentially risky misconception. 

Netanyahu, spokesman of the right, basically said in his speech, Here is our position; now come to us.  He has adopted the Arab strategy:  stake out a hard line and let others begin concessions.  Netanyahu has stood up to Barack Obama, maybe not the last foreign leader to do so.  Read Jeffrey Goldberg for insight into how Mr. Netanyahu thinks.

Politics in Israel is dysfunctional, leaving that nation bereft of visionary leadership.  It takes so much effort to make and hold coalitions together there, that politicians have little time for policy making.  Political reform is needed, included raising the minimum for parties to be seated in parliament.  The religious parties must be folded into larger groupings.  If things remain as they are, Israeli leaders will miss opportunities, and for tiny Israel with so few friends in the world, this could be an existential threat.

Photo:  Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister.   Source:  www.yglesias.thinkprogress.org

Does the election in Iran matter?

June 14, 2009

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader   Source: www.thewashingtonnote.com

Yes…but…

Iran remains divided between reformists and conservatives.  President Ahmadinejad “won” the election Friday, and hundreds of opposition leaders have been detained.  Emotions among Iran-watchers worldwide have been on a roller coaster ride, as hopes of a new era have been dashed.

Certainly, elections in Iran matter – the importance of nascent democratic institutions, even in a theocracy, should not be underestimated.  Still, all rivers of power in Iran converge and flow directly into the office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.  In making sense of the elections in Iran, the task is twofold:  one, understanding Khamenei and how the election fits into where he is taking Iran; and two, what is the outlook for Iran in a post-Khamenei era.  For these tasks, I recommend reading an article by Karim Sadjadpour, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Iran is ruled by a small group of clerics, desperate to stay in power.  They have opened enough avenues of expression to channel social pressures, while retaining ultimate power.  They garner support from a segment of the populace (arguably a declining one) by appealing to the ideals of the Islamic Revolution and warning of foreign enemies, especially the United States.  And, they position loyal “clerical commissars” throughout the bureaucracy, maintaining informal control of formal institutions.  This give-and-take between the clerical oligarchy and the people they rule can become a game of chicken that the authoritarians in the end ultimately lose.

The Constitution of 1979, as amended in 1989, confers extensive powers to the Supreme Leader.  Sadjadpour says:

“ As Supreme Leader, Khamenei’s constitutional authority is unparalleled. He controls the main levers of state—the courts, military, and media—by appointing the heads of the judiciary, state radio and television, the regular armed forces, and the elite Revolutionary Guards. He also has effective control over Iran’s second most powerful institution, the Guardian Council, a twelve-member body (all of whom are directly or indirectly appointed by Khamenei) that has the authority to vet electoral candidates and veto parliamentary decisions.”

It is true that the Supreme Leader is chosen by and answers to the elected Assembly of Experts, headed by one-time ally and rival, former President Rafsanjani.  The Assembly is a body of 86 largely septuagenarian clerics, required to meet twice annually.  Assembly members are elected by the people to eight year terms; however, candidates come from a list prepared by the government.  So, in theory, Khamenei controls the body that can, in the end, dismiss him.  He likewise has a finger, if not a full hand, in many of Iran’s complicated and overlapping political institutions.

In addition to his formal powers, as the Constitutionally-sanctioned final interpreter of Islamic issues, the Supreme Leader has the potential for nearly absolute power.  As a consequence, the Iranian president has much less power than the Supreme Leader, executing policy and managing the bureaucracy.  Yet in practice, the president is the country’s front man, as we have seen so unpleasantly with Ahmadinejad, both because of Khamenei’s reclusive nature and the regime’s strategy of fostering a theological mystique about the man and the office.

Khamenei, a close disciple of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, remains true to the ideals of the Revolution.  He does so probably out of belief and as a strategy for survival.  The Iranian mullahs’ claim to legitimacy rests on their role in expelling foreign influence and cleaning up the corruption of the Shah.  They accomplished this through a return to Islamic piety.  Naturally, they keep sounding these themes to remind the impoverished Iranian public of the clerics’ rightful claim to power.  We shall see if this claim remains credible as time puts greater distance between the Iranian public and the Revolution.  (Regarding Iran’s mistreatment over the years at the hands of the great powers, especially the British, see Ken Pollack’s book, The Persian Puzzle.)

Khamenei is said to lack both the charisma and clerical legitimacy of his predecessor.  He was only made an ayatollah shortly before Khomeini designated him as his successor.  There is a dissident group of clerics in Iran that does not recognize his legitimacy.  Even though he has been in power twice as long as Khomeini, his shortcomings relative to the father of the Iranian Revolution can explain his behavior.  For example, even if he wanted to (and it is likely he does not), he could not become an Iranian Gorbachev or F.W. DeKlerk.  He must placate right-wing clerics by continuing to condemn the United States and Israel, and by maintaining strict Islamic piety, including the mandatory veil (hejab) for women.

Khamenei’s insecurity as leader has also necessitated a balancing of clashing interests in Iran.  First, by supporting Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami from 1989-2005, Khamenei countenanced an opening of Iran to the world — while never compromising on the regime’s hostility to the United States and Israel, and a modest loosening of restrictions on social practices.  Later, as a result of the popularity of the reformers, he swung back to the conservative “principalists,” epitomized by the pious, young engineer and mayor of Tehran, Ahmadinejad, who ensured a re-emphasis of the ideals of the Revolution.  This way he kept his rivals off balance, facilitated modest pragmatism both domestically and internationally (which by the way, ensured progress on the nuclear weapons program), reminded Iranians not to abandon key tenets of the Revolution, and allowed a release of pent-up social tension.  His swing back to orthodoxy was largely domestically driven, however, the advent of Bush on the international stage likewise facilitated this swing.

As for potential successors to Khamenei, the outlook is unclear.  Ahmadinejad, as a layman, is precluded from becoming Supreme Leader.  However, lest we forget that Khomeini had to amend the constitution to allow Khamenei to succeed him, the Assembly could amend the Constitution again.  Rafsanjani is five years older than Khamenei.  There are both conservative and reformist ayatollahs in the wings.  Sadjadpour’s article discusses some scenarios. 

What is clear is that authoritarian regimes can ignore popular pressure for participation only by delivering the economic goods. This is what we have seen in China over the last three decades, and in Russia more recently.  However, political monopoly can coexist with economic diversity only so long, especially once economic growth and the distribution of wealth falter.  Iran’s economy is state-dominated and creaking, with billions of petro-dollars going to food and energy subsidies, buying off the populace, especially the poor.  As in Russia, Venezuela and other populous oil exporters, as long as oil prices are high, the authoritarian regime has time.  But, commodity markets rise and fall, as do governments.

What about Iran’s so-called democracy?  We should not dismiss the importance of formal institutions, such as Iran’s legislature, presidency and other elected bodies.  These institutions, though emasculated of real power, can ease a transition to a broader democracy, the way the Soviet Duma did with the fall of Communism.  Countries with arguably less-developed institutions, such as Saudi Arabia, where some 5,000 princes rule and its consultative assembly (majles) is very limited, should have a more difficult time transitioning to representative democracy.

Finally, what does the election mean for relations with the West?  First, the bad news.  Whether reformists or conservatives rule Iran, the nation’s determination to acquire a nuclear weapon will likely remain firm.  Self-reliance and freedom from foreign influence remain key pillars of the Revolution and of the Iranian narrative.  A nuclear weapon symbolizes a broad-based commitment of the Iranian nation to rising to great power status.

Sure, engagement would be easier with moderates.  Further, the probability of an acceptable agreement over the bomb, however low, is higher with the moderates.  And, the bomb is only one aspect of the West’s relationship with Iran, though arguably the most important.  Nevertheless, if the West really wants to stop Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon, nothing short of a boycott of oil exports would do the trick.

Sadjadpour says this about a policy of engagement with Iran:

“Any successful approach to engaging Iran must be tailored to take into account Khamenei’s central role in Iran’s decision-making process and his deeply held suspicions:

• Khamenei must be convinced that the United States is prepared to recognize and respect the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic and must be disabused of his conviction that U.S. policy is to bring about regime change, not negotiate behavior change.

• Khamenei will never agree to any arrangement in which Iran is expected to publicly retreat or admit defeat, nor can he be forced to compromise through pressure alone. Besides the issue of saving face, he believes deeply that compromising in the face of pressure is counterproductive, as it projects weakness and only encourages greater pressure.

• Successful engagement will require a direct channel of communication with the Supreme Leader’s office, preferably with Khamenei himself. He is wary of domestic rivals and will not take any foreign policy decision that may benefit Iran but risk hurting his own political interests. The Clinton administration’s unsuccessful attempts to downplay and bypass Khamenei and engage Khatami and the reformists in 2000 are a case in point.”

So, engagement is possible.  President Obama may have the magic to do it.  Nevertheless, engagement is unlikely to yield extensive results, especially regarding nuclear weapons.  And, the good news?  In spite of Moussavi’s loss this Friday (real or fraudulent), reformism is alive and well in the Islamic Republic.

 Photo:  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.  Source: http://www.thewashingtonnote.com

Obama’s Speech to the Muslim World

June 4, 2009

President Obama with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak  Source:  Huffington Post

President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world today, titled “A New Beginning,” was at its best when it explained the grievances of both sides of the Muslim/non-Muslim divide, but much less effective when it dealt with substantive issues, such as Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon. 

Like he did so powerfully for Americans in his famous speech on race of March 2008, President Obama in this speech exhorted the citizens of Planet Earth to bridge our differences, understand each other better, and solve our common problems peacefully.  I applaud his effort at launching a new beginning between what he calls Muslim-majority nations and the rest of the world, especially the United States, in order to build a peaceful “alliance of civilizations.” Barack Obama, in his now-famous speech on race (“A More Perfect Union”), drew tens of millions of Americans to his movement, even though arguably he failed to adequately explain his association with his pastor, whose comments had offended Americans and precipitated the speech.  Nevertheless, this kind of speech, which the president is so good at, can work well.  It helped get him elected; and, he believes the power of his personality can solve Huntington’s clash of civilizations.

In spite of the hubris underlying Movement Obama’s appeal to our better angels (his predecessors were incapable of the moral transformation this singular man and his team believe they can accomplish), we all hope it works.  It is foolish to cynically dismiss such important, yet elusive, building blocks of civilization as legitimacy that can win over hearts and minds to good causes.  Charismatic moral leadership can help us pitiful humans stop the slaughter and evolve.   Yet it is likewise naive, though emotionally satisfying, to discount the risks of disillusionment that underlie a phenomenon such as Barack Obama.

The president outlined seven key issues that Muslims and the West must address: the violence of extremists, the Arab-Israeli conflict, nuclear weapons, democracy, religious freedom, women’s rights, and economic development.  He definitely covered the major issues, though some of them, while not unimportant, appear more the product of a Democratic focus group, or more accurately, an effort to please a number of constituencies, than issues really critical to a new beginning of peace and cooperation between the West and the Muslim world.  I’ll let the reader decide which ones should be high on the priority list.

Here is a transcript of the speech, but it is worthwhile to have a look at what he said specifically about nuclear weapons and Iran.  Of note is how short this section was, especially when compared to issue number two, the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is indeed a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically-elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I have made it clear to Iran’s leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question, now, is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America’s interests. It is about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold 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. That commitment is at the core of the Treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I am hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.”

He alludes to the differing perceptions underlying the mistrust between Iran and the West.  He points out  the danger of a nuclear arms race in the region.  And, as he does throughout the speech, he portrays himself as someone who, unlike his predecessors, understands the other side’s point of view.  He understands Muslim frustration over the fact that some countries are allowed to have nuclear weapons, while others are not. 

What is missing in this speech is anything Churchillian.  What is missing is realism…for example, a statement that the U.S. is determined to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons by unstable or radical regimes, be they Muslim or not.  The risk of the Obama phenomenon is that his extended hand and emotional understanding will not be backed up by a steely determination to oppose dangerous regimes.  True, he takes a stab at this in his remarks about Al Qaeda and extremism.  However, just as it was nearly impossible for Bush to establish moral authority, it will be challenging for Obama to convey strength and determination, and to inspire respect and, yes, fear among America’s adversaries.  I understand he was addressing Muslims, but still there were no unequivocal statements against the Iranian acquisition of the bomb.  

He acquiesced to the Arab narrative in many ways.  The most salient example was his putting the Arab-Israeli conflict, or as he termed it, “the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world,” as one of his seven key issues causing tension in the region.  It sure is, but why not the India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir?  The Shia-Sunni divide was noted, but not as a key cause of tension.  Genocide in Darfur was not mentioned.  Saudi Wahhabism and other sources of extremism in Muslim education were not mentioned. 

The Arab narrative suggests that everything nasty that happens in that part of the world is linked to, if not caused by, Israeli actions vis-à-vis the Palestinians.  Never mind how the rest of the Arab World has treated the Palestinians, refusing to settle these refugees in neighboring countries, the way India and Pakistan settled Hindu and Muslim refugees after their 1948 conflict.  What’s more, the language about Israeli settlements was harsher in this speech than in the past.  The United States does not accept the legitimacy of settlements, and the settlements must stop.  This is quite different from Bush’s statement that after forty years of conflict, forty years of woeful Palestinian (and in most cases, Arab) leadership, some of Israel’s settlements have become a reality on the ground and the subject of negotiation.  Of course, Obama may turn around and tell the Israelis he was only talking about the “growth” of settlements, not the full dismantling of all settlements.  The Obama administration has asked the Israeli government for clarification of its views on settlements, when “clarify” is exactly what Team Obama needs to do on this issue.   

Nevertheless, all in all, it was a valiant effort on the part of President Obama.  I hope he can engender understanding and cooperation through the power of his personality.  His administration has orchestrated this overture to the Muslim world quite well.  The president argued as much in his speech.  He has stuck it to Israel on settlements.  He is pulling out of Iraq. He has called for all nations in the region, and in the world, to give up nuclear weapons.  He is giving humanitarian aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan.  He is launching educational and economic initiatives in the region.  This is the change he offers from Bush’s bluster.  And, he says, the Arab world must do its part.  I hope it works.

Combatting Nuclear Proliferation

March 3, 2009

One way for an aspiring power to avoid the hard work of building a formidable economic base upon which to base future military power is to acquire nuclear weapons. Although not easy, this constitutes a fairly cheap way to become a major regional, if not a global, power in spite of one’s pygmy status in the global economy. The Soviet economy in the late forties, ravaged by World War II, was dwarfed by the US economy and challenged by a rebounding Western Europe; but the Soviet Union still managed to test an atomic weapon in 1949, thus securing its status as America’s only rival. Likewise Iran today, with an economy the size of Austria’s and Saudi Arabia’s, and not much more than one-tenth the size of China’s, may soon catapult itself into the club of nuclear nations. Engineers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel have developed a technique for rendering plutonium unsuitable for making nuclear weapons. As a result of this breakthrough, the world’s nuclear fuel producers – the US, Russia, Germany, France and Japan – could ensure that any future buyers would receive “declawed” nuclear fuel, only usable for peaceful purposes. While this would not stop Iran, which is well on its way to having the fuel for a weapon, it would prevent other economic pygmies aspiring to great power status from utilizing this short cut. And by stymieing nuclear weapons proliferation, it could make the world a safer place. Read the article here.

Bio of Hizballah Supreme Commander killed this week…

February 12, 2008

Read about his 25 yr career.  Bear in mind it’s from Debka, which is a website some believe to be affiliated with the Israel Defense Forces.  Best cataloguing of this man’s crimes over the years I have seen. 

On a personal note, he was one year older than I and about the same age as Barack Obama.  It’s interesting to see what people my age have done with themselves in the 20-25 yrs since high school.  After college, I went to intl relations/business grad school, worked at the Federal Reserve examining banks and tracking the foreign exchange market, had a stint in politics on the Gore campaign, a stint in the Foreign Service in Venezuela, and have worked on Wall Street for much of the balance, covering emerging markets.  Okay, so that’s an interesting mix and you can judge what positive I’ve contributed to the planet, if anything (something I think about from time to time). 

Not to put myself on the same plane, but he is the same age — Obama studied international relations and law, worked briefly in an econ/finance job, then did community organizing, and finally spent the balance in politics in a highly successful career. 

By contrast, Imad Mughniyeh began killing Americans, French, Israelis and other Jews in 1982 when I was a sophomore.  He started out in Arafat’s Force 17 and then was enlisted in Hizballah and for the Iranians and Syrians.  He allegedly became one of the only terrorists trusted by both Iranian leader Khamenei and Osama bin Laden.  His nominal boss, Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hizballah, is also a contemporary of ours and currently heads the organization.   Remember, if I grew my beard, it could be as gray as his.

To follow on this line of grandiosity, one thinks of the generation born around the 1880-90s, which included Churchill, Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin, David Ben-Gurion, and a little later, my two grandfathers, one of which served as a young man in the US Army in the trenches of Belgium during WWI, became an insurance salesman and had two sons who grew up in Brooklyn; the other was a soldier in the British Jewish forces in pre-State of Israel Palestine before immigrating to the United States and having six kids including my mom. 

Interesting to contemplate what members of your generation are up to.  The fellow below cut his teeth in the 80s-90s like I did, but in a very different manner.

Notorious Hizballah terrorist hostage-taker Imad Mughniyeh killed in Damascus

February 13, 2008, 6:31 PM (GMT+02:00)

 

 

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Imad Fayez Mughniyeh, the Hizballah’s supreme commander and plotter of major anti-US and anti-Israel terror operations in the last 25 years died aged 46 in a car bomb explosion in the Damascus district of Tanzim Kafr Susa Tuesday night, Feb. 12.

Hizballah TV interrupted its broadcasts Wednesday to announce his death, accusing Israel of assassination. Hizballah TV interrupted its broadcasts Wednesday to announce his death, accusing Israel of assassination. Its leaders are conferring in Beirut on how to retaliate. Special security imposed at Israeli embassies and Jewish centers worldwide.

The Iranian News Agency reports that Haj Hussein Khalil, the Hizballah’s deputy for political affairs was killed in the same explosion.

Hassan Nasrallah will eulogize the dead man at his funeral in Beirut Thursday by video link. Beirut is already tense since the funeral falls on the third anniversary of the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

On Aug. 5, 2006, DEBKAfile described Mughniyeh as the only undercover agent in the Middle East who enjoys the complete personal trust of both Iranian supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. In recent years he has liaised between them. His death is a blow to both.

The elusive Mughniyeh surfaced before both of them on the Islamist terror horizon. In 1982, He orchestrated the suicide bombings of US Marine and French Beirut headquarters, in which 241 Marines and 58 French soldiers were killed, prompting a decision by President Ronald Reagan to evacuate US troops from Lebanon.

In 1983, he orchestrated the US embassy bombing, which killed 63 people and wiped out the top CIA Middle East staff. That year, the Israeli command center in Tyre was blown up killing scores of troops.

In 1985, the United States indicted him for hijacking TWA Flight 847 and the resulting death of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem.

Mughniyeh was also infamous for numerous brutal kidnappings of Westerners in Beirut through the 1980s, most notably, that of Terry Anderson and William Buckley, the CIA’s Station Chief in Beirut, who was later murdered.

The dead terrorist’s association with Tehran and its violent overseas exploits went back twenty years. In 1988, in collusion with Tehran, he organized the kidnapping of Colonel William R. Rich Higgins, the most senior American intelligence officer in Lebanon, who was tortured to death by Iranian Revolutionary Guardsmen and Hizballah operatives.

The same partnership is believed to have staged the Khobar Towers blast in eastern Saudi Arabia on June 25, 1996, targeting US flight crews guarding Saudi oil fields. At least 19 Americans were killed and 200 injured.

Mughniyeh, acting for Tehran and Hizballah, was held responsible for the 1992 bombings of the Israeli embassy and Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, in which more than a hundred people died.

He planned the kidnap and murder of three Israeli soldiers eight years ago on Mt. Dov and his hand is believed behind the abduction of two Israeli reservists in 2006.

After numerous attempts to capture him, the FBI in Oct. 2001 put him on its list of 22 most wanted terrorists and a $25 million bounty on his head the same as for bin Laden.

The dead terrorist mastermind’s first mentor was the Palestinian Yasser Arafat as a member of the Fatah’s Force 17.

While America and Israel come first to mind as responsible for Mughniyeh’s death, DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources note that a possible inside job is worth considering. Dissatisfied with his performance in the 2006 Lebanon War against Israel, Tehran deposed Hizballah’s secretary-general Hassan Nasralah as its supreme commander and replaced him with Mughniyeh.

Nasrallah was confined to political functions, while his successor was assigned the task of rehabilitating Hizballah militia forces and preparing them for the next war on Israel.

The dead terrorist may have set up his headquarters in Damascus under the protection of Syrian and Iranian security services because he did not feel safe in Lebanon. Penetrating these two security belts to slay the wanted man was undoubtedly an exceptional intelligence feat.

No free election in Iran…

February 6, 2008

From the Financial Times:

Iran reformists’ electoral hopes dashed

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Published: February 6 2008 

Iran’s reformists say they may be unable to compete for more than 10 per cent of seats in the forthcoming parliamentary elections because of the mass disqualification their candidates.Over 2,400 nominees, most of them reformists, have been barred from running for the 290 parliamentary seats that come up for election on March 14.

A grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 revolution, was also among those rejected, on the grounds of a lack of loyalty to Islam and the constitution.

Mohammad-Reza Aref, a former first vice-president, who was supposed to head the list of the main reformists’ coalition, withdrew on Wednesday in protest at the disqualifications, even though he was one of the few senior reformists who had passed the vetting procedure.

The interior ministry last month disqualified most reformist candidates in the first round. The Guardian Council, the constitutional watchdog, this week upheld the government decision and barred more nominees.

Disqualified candidates can appeal, but it is doubtful that many will be de-barred. This process, which can continue until early March, has kept reformists in limbo and unable to make any plans.

Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister, one of those disqualified for being against Islam and constitution, said reformist were reviewing their choices , one of which was not to run even in the remaining constituencies.

“We have been left with the ablity to contest maybe 10 per cent of Majlis seats, he said. “We don’t want to boycott the election but how can we run without candidates?”

Another reformist party, Etemad-e Melli (national trust) which is headed by former parliamentary speaker, Mehdi Karroubi, and is not part of the coalition, has been left with 36 out of its 260 candidates.

Those reformist candidates that have passed the test are mostly relatively unknown, with only a few prominent figures remaining who have a good chance of winning.

The mass disqualifications have guaranteed that conservatives will retain their absolute majority in the next parliament, which they won four years ago following disqualifications on a similar scale.

Mr Karroubi and two former presidents, Mr Khatami and Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani held an emergency meeting recently in which they decided to appeal to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say in all state affairs, to intervene.

All three reportedly had separate meetings with Ayatollah Khamenei, but the outcome has not been disclosed to the media.

“The result only seems to be more disqualifications,” said one despairing reformist.

The tripartite lobbying team has urged reformists not to boycott the election but to compete wherever they can.

Europeans keep doing business with Iran

February 6, 2008

From a January 6, 2008 Jpost article:

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik was here this week on her third visit in her current post. The visit was no doubt a friendly one. As our Foreign Ministry gushed, it was “a symbol of the improvement in relations between the two countries in recent years.”

Yet there is a major fly in the ointment. Austria, according to diplomats, is among the “weakest links” in the international campaign to sanction Teheran. The major item on Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s agenda with Plassnik was a €22 billion deal between Austria’s state-owned gas company OMV and Iran that was signed last April.

As a sign of how far off the reservation this deal is, another weak link, Germany, has criticized Austria. German Chancellor Andrea Merkel reportedly chastised Austria for setting a bad precedent by seeking to develop Iran’s oil sector.

Coming from Germany, however, this is close to the pot calling the kettle black. Germany is Iran’s largest European trading partner and has been the most resistant to tightening sanctions among the pivotal EU-3 – the UK, France and Germany.

On the one hand, Merkel wrote in Handelsblatt on December 27, “It remains in the vital interest of the entire international community to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, if necessary by intensifying sanctions.” But the German Ambassador to Iran told Iranian Press TV that the “German Embassy is trying to… improve economic ties between the private sectors of the two countries.” Further, the ambassador admitted that German exports to Iran have not been affected by UN sanctions because they pass through the Dubai free-trade zone.

Berlin’s criticism of Vienna could equally be levelled at itself. As Yves Pallade, director of the Foreign Affairs Network of B’nai B’rith Europe, put it, “If the special relationship with Israel… counts for anything, this is the time for the Federal Republic to set an example… by enacting comprehensive and if need be even unilateral sanctions and slashing all export credit guarantees.”

Germany is hardly alone in Europe. In January 2007, Shell, a Dutch company, joined with Repsol, from Spain, in signing a preliminary deal to develop Iran’s South Pars oil field. The project would allow Iran to liquefy 8 million tons of natural gas a year and, according to Iran, is valued at $10b.

In the same month last year, the Norwegian company Statoil began talks with China’s National Petroleum Corp on a $3.6b. Iranian natural gas project.

All such deals put these companies at risk of being sanctioned by the US under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 (ISA), which could apply to any company investing over $20 million directly into Iran’s oil sector in any given year.

Given France’s recent leadership on the Iran sanctions issue, it is ironic that the firm that arguably has violated ISA most consistently is Total, France’s oil company. In 1997 and 1999, after ISA became law, Total signed multi-billion dollar deals with Iran. Indeed, in each of the years since 1996, Total has made investments in Iran (excluding South Pars) in excess of $20m. Further, the company has reported to US regulators that it expects to invest significantly more than $20m. per year in Iran in the foreseeable future.

As critical as such investments are for Iran, they are minuscule in relation to European economies. A full 40 percent of Iran’s trade is with Europe, while only 1% of Europe’s trade is with Iran. Even Total, as of 2006, reported that its operations in Iran produced only 1% of its total worldwide production.

Iran, and the radical Islamist movement it spearheads, pose the greatest totalitarian threat to international peace and security since the defeats of Soviet communism and Nazi fascism. As in the 1930s, we are at the point when the threat is growing, but can still be stopped by imposing draconian diplomatic and economic sanctions, without military force.

Europe’s foot-dragging on sanctions is leading inevitably to military action, war, a nuclear Iran, or some combination of the exact scenarios that European leaders claim they want to avoid. The refusal to impose small economic costs now will result in a major economic costs – both through rising terrorism and oil prices – to European economies later, not to mention growing loss of life, freedom and security in the world.

Though Europe is acting blindly to its own self-interest, let alone Israel’s, our government should make clear that any nation that fails to take minimal effective steps to confront the Iranian threat cannot be considered a friend of the Jewish state.

Article on Iran’s failing economy…

February 2, 2008

…in spite of record high oil prices.  There’s an important legislative election there on March 14.  Hopefully, Ahmadinejad’s supporters will lose and the ayatollahs won’t rig the results.

Published: February 3, 2008
TEHRAN — In one of the coldest winters Iranians have experienced in recent memory, the government is failing to provide natural gas to tens of thousands of people across the country, leaving some for days or even weeks with no heat at all. Here in the capital, rolling blackouts every night for a month have left people without electricity, and heat, for hours at a time.

The heating crisis in this oil-exporting nation is adding to Iranians’ increasing awareness of the contrast between their growing influence abroad and frailty at home, according to government officials, diplomats and political analysts interviewed here.

From fundamentalists to reformists, people here are talking more loudly about the need for a more pragmatic approach, one that tones down the anti-Western rhetoric, at least a bit, and focuses more on improving management of the country and restoring Iran’s economic health.

The mounting domestic challenges, the most serious of which is a grinding period of stagflation, with inflation growing and the economy weakening, have apparently deepened tensions between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the religious establishment he ultimately answers to. And they have helped spur a collective rethinking of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s stewardship as Iran prepares to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution this month and to hold parliamentary elections on March 14.

“I think the Islamic Revolution is going through an identity crisis, and is trying to mature,” said Nader Talebzadeh, a filmmaker who supports Mr. Ahmadinejad. “We are maturing, gradually.”

There are increasing signals, however, that the government is not interested in hearing other voices and is geared instead toward maintaining power by silencing critics. For the parliamentary elections, so far about 70 percent of all reform candidates have been disqualified.

While the president’s supporters say the rejections were based on legal standards, like a lack of loyalty to the Islamic system or the idea of having a supreme leader, reformists say the rejections are an effort to keep them out of power.

Last week, the government shut down Iran’s most important feminist magazine, which had been published for 16 years. The authorities also arrested a small group of students after a protest at Tehran University over poor conditions in their dormitory.

In the middle of a snowy, icy winter, women have been arrested for not wearing proper Islamic clothing. Hats over head scarves, boots over pants, can bring trouble.

“Their harsh reaction to everything shows they feel very vulnerable,” said Morad Saghafi, a philosopher and writer in Tehran. “They arrest 10 students because they think if they don’t, 100 will come. Yes, they feel vulnerable.”

In recent weeks, even Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme religious leader, changed his tone regarding the president, offering rare public criticism while reasserting his own standing as the steward of Iran’s foreign and nuclear policies.

“The present government, similar to any other government, has certain shortcomings which should be mentioned sympathetically,” Ayatollah Khamenei said recently before warning critics not to go overboard. “But some individuals attempt to criticize and insult every move by the government. The majority of these individuals are, however, negligent, that they are acting in line with the enemies’ propaganda.”

Sayeed Laylaz, an economist who was briefly a deputy minister in the former reform government, said: “The supreme leader realizes this economy, this country, doesn’t work anymore. He is trying to reconstruct it from within.”

An adviser to the supreme leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid a dispute with the president, added that “there is a consensus” on the need for better management.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s office refused requests to discuss events in Iran with the president or his advisers. The president’s new chief security adviser, Saeed Jalili, refused to be interviewed unless the entire content of the interview was printed in a question-and-answer format in the newspaper. Posting it on the Internet would not suffice, his office said.

But political analysts, politicians and supporters say that the president does not have to change as long as the mood for change stops with the political elite, and that the troubles so far have not undermined his support among the pious poor. He continues to be popular, they say, seen as a man of principle and good intention, though that may be wearing thin.

South of Tehran, near the Imam Khomeini International Airport, in a neighborhood called Robat Karim, people were without gas for days last month, and they continue to suffer cuts in power at midday and at night, residents said.

Iran’s natural gas shortage became a crisis when Turkmenistan, to the north, cut off supplies in December over a pricing dispute. Iran does not have the refining capacity to meet its own needs.

Robat Karim is a conservative neighborhood, wary of foreigners, and supportive of the president. But with streets that have not been cleared of snow, and the cold nights, nerves have frayed.

“I have a tenant in an apartment upstairs, and there was no gas for days,” said Nour Asadzade, 70, a shopkeeper in the neighborhood. “He asked me to help, but I said, What can I do, it’s in the hands of the government.”

Outside, a 52-year-old woman stepped carefully around the ice, the potholed road and the puddles. “I want to say, ‘No, they don’t pay attention to us.’ ” She said her name was Akram, then grew frightened and slipped into her house.

For years it seemed that Iran was evolving away from a state defined exclusively by revolutionary ideology. Former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, himself a father of the revolution, emphasized pragmatic economic ties. His successor, Mohammad Khatami, eased up on social restrictions and called for a “dialogue of civilizations.”

Then came Mr. Ahmadinejad, who rose from a new generation, a class of men who fought in the eight-year war with Iraq, and who have since moved to roll back Iran to a time when revolutionary ideology defined the state. For example, Kaveh Bayat, a historian, said the desire to export the revolution was back.

“The idea that you have to export the revolution or you will cease to exist is another deeply ingrained element — it was dormant during Rafsanjani and Khatami but it is awake again,” Mr. Bayat said. “We tried to forget it, but it is back.”

President Ahmadinejad so changed the direction of the state that it has led many to assert that three decades after the revolution, Iran remains a place defined by individuals, not institutions.

Nearly everyone seems to recognize that one of the biggest problems is the nature of the political system — divided as it is among multiple factions, each striving for access to power. It is not one devised to build compromise, and the internal fighting can send confused messages to the outside world. “It would make our job a lot easier, if only they could agree,” said a Western diplomat based in Tehran who spoke on the condition of anonymity, which is standard diplomatic protocol.

Another diplomat said, “I am stunned by their emotion and antagonism they demonstrate in their fighting with each other.”

At least two views exist about where this is leading. One view is that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his radical allies needed to come to power to see that ideology cannot be a successful guide to running a modern state like Iran. The economic hardships, according to this view, will ultimately moderate or marginalize them. “They come into the center of power and they realize running a country like Iran is difficult,” said a business consultant and political analyst in Tehran who asked to remain anonymous to avoid retribution.

“This specific topic, the management of gas resources, hits every home,” the consultant said. “I think with this, the system as a whole has reached a climax.”

Another view holds that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his ideologically driven allies will not give up power, and will not be driven from power. “From a social point of view, we have a social structure in place for the emergence of fascism,” Mr. Bayat, the historian, said. “Like Europe in the 1920s, we have a dissatisfied proletariat looking for radical and extreme solutions. Ahmadinejad is not imposed on us.”

Obama and Israel…

February 1, 2008

Obama’s Israel Position Statement

Plus two articles from JPost below.

In the first article, Alon Pinkas argues that it is a myth that Obama is not sufficiently pro-Israel.  Read Obama’s position statement on Israel using the link above.  In the second article, Saul Singer argues that while Obama says all the right things on Israel, he is too mild in his approach to Iran, unlike Hillary, and therefore too mild in countering Israel’s number one existential threat (note the statement in bold). 

I would add that it is no accident that Obama hews to the conventional US line in support of Israel, saying all the right things.  Because although Jews don’t control American politics and American foreign policy, as Walt and Mearsheimer and others would have it, we can say that in national races, Jewish financial contributors can have an impact.   National candidates have to raise money with large Jewish contributors from Wall St. and Hollywood (and elsewhere), in addition to the many, many other large donors with other agendas.  The latter donors just don’t have as much focus policy-wise as the Jewish donors.  Many of the large Jewish donors, in addition to asking about a general liberal policy agenda, wanna know, so buddy, what do you think about Israel.  We can say that wealthy Jewish contributors can influence candidates without saying there is anything wrong with that, that it is an overwhelming influence, and that Jews control the US government.  Let’s not get paranoid.  Finally, just because a national candidate makes pro-Israel noises, doesn’t mean he/she’ll always remain that way once safely in office.  Remember Jimmy Carter.  That is why everyone is trying to read the tea leaves on the Senator from Illinois.  Read on…

Obama is not ‘bad for Israel

By ALON PINKAS
 

A dumb, misinformed, misguided and vicious accusation is circulating lately in cyberspace. According to anonymous commentators, Barack Obama is “bad for Israel“. He has an Islamic chapter in his biography (“radical” says one expert on both Obama and fundamentalist Islam), he called for talks with Iran, Syria and whomever else the US defines as an enemy and has never expounded what are commonly regarded as “Pro Israel” comments.

So troubling and critical were the accusations and their implications, that one Israeli newspaper, Maariv, took this lunacy one step further and sprinted to announce in a page-one headline that there are “Concerns in Jerusalem about an Obama Presidency”. Quoting “officials in Jerusalem“, the paper explained that Obama’s foreign policy inexperience (compared to George W. Bush’s extensive experience in managing relations between Texas and Oklahoma prior to his presidency) and calls for a diplomatic dialogue with Iran may result in policies inconsistent with Israeli security interests, hence the “concern”. I used to be an “Official in Jerusalem“.

There is no way in the world that anyone remotely involved in foreign policy or US policy ever expressed any concerns. At worst, Obama may have been described as a question mark we know little about as were, before him, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in 1992 and 2000 respectively. The paper fell just short of recommending that Israel withhold the $2.6 billion military grant it provides the US with annually or refrain from vetoing anti-American resolutions in the UN Security Council.

For due diligence, I am not an American citizen and therefore I cannot vote in US elections. In fact, despite having friends who both work for and support Senator Obama, I’m not sure I would have necessarily voted for him had I had the right to vote. I can vote in elections in Israel every 18 months for patently pro-Israeli candidates, so I probably just don’t have the urge.

Trying to refute the ridiculous allegations on their merits is relatively easy: Obama’s voting record on issues pertaining to Israel is impeccable. Amongst his supporters and contributors are prominent Chicago and New York Jewish community and civic leaders, and I assume there are many more in Los Angeles, Miami and elsewhere. He has never outlined a policy that Israelis may find incompatible with what they believe a pro-Israeli Mid-East policy should be. In fact, Sen. Obama’s essay in Foreign Affairs is balanced and contains absolutely no policy prescriptions anyone in their right mind can define as “anti-Israeli”.

This leads me to question the very premise of the argument. What constitutes “Pro-Israel”, and who appointed or commissioned anyone to cast a judgment on the issue?

Does it constitute being “Pro-Israel” to support settlements? Is it pro-Israeli to pressure Israel into signing some peace agreement and dismantle settlements?

An American presidential candidate repeatedly pledges his eternal love for and belief that a united Jerusalem should and will remain Israel‘s capital. He then proceeds, as president to refuse to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Is he then considered pro-Israeli or just a pandering politician? (Answer: when he said it, he was genuinely pro-Israeli and of course he meant it, as he said in Boca Raton to Cohen and Levy during the campaign. When he didn’t move the embassy, it was because of the Arab-loving pencil pushers at the State Department and the corrupt Saudis who control Washington).

But the issue deserves a more elaborate answer. So let’s take a brief, broad-brush look at several past presidents who are case studies.

Richard Nixon for example. His background, education, early years in Congress, loathing of the northeast liberal establishment, borderline anti-Semitic remarks made while in the White House hardly made him a prime candidate for centerfold in “Pro-Israel Monthly’ magazine. 85% of US Jews voted for Humphrey and McGovern. So was Nixon “Anti-Israeli”? No.

History will judge him as the president who rehabilitated the Israeli Defense Forces after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, launched the annual military grant to Israel and pulled Egypt away from Soviet orbit. Jimmy Carter, now there is a real anti-Israel president. Oh really? His involvement in the Camp David negotiations was critical and indispensable in enabling Israel and Egypt to sign a peace agreement that has ever since been a pillar of stability (not much “peace” though) and part of Israel’s national security posture.

Ronald Reagan, now there is a true Zionist, a man who embodies and defines pro-Israelness. No kidding.

Who sold F-15 jets and AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia? Who consolidated the US-Saudi alliance which in turn contributed to the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism and Wahabi extremism? It sure wasn’t Barack Obama. Yet Jews voted for Reagan in unprecedented numbers for a Republican (35%). So Carter facilitates a peace deal between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and Jews vote for Reagan. They did so for perfectly legitimate reasons. They did so for “American” reasons because they thought he’d be a better president than Carter was.

Ah, you say, then came George H.W. Bush, AKA “41”. He really hated us. Didn’t his secretary of State, James Baker say: “F**k the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.” And didn’t he complain about the pro-Israel lobby? And didn’t he impede the loan guarantees?

But Bush 41 presided over the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the elimination of Iraq as a viable threat against Israel from the east and invaluably assisted Israel (and never asked for credit) in bringing Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Bill Clinton was the greatest friend Israel ever had. Until he involved himself in the Israeli-Palestinian process which included recognizing the PLO, establishing a Palestinian Authority and would have entailed, had Camp David in July 2000 produced an agreement major territorial concessions. Then he was somewhat less pro-Israeli in the eyes of some.

And then there is the new greatest friend Israel ever had, the big W. himself. Contrary to all presidents before him since Truman, he called for the establishment of a Palestinian state, an end to Israeli occupation (his words, last week in Jerusalem) and further strengthened ties to the Saudis. He also attacked the wrong menace in the region. Iraq instead of Iran. Of course it’s Colin Powel’s fault, then Condi Rice’s infatuation with Palestinian “suffering”.

The point is, an American president is “Pro-Israel” when he profoundly appreciates the basic friendship with Israel, when he respects Israel as a democracy, when he truly believes in Israel as an idea and an enterprise. When his core value system and strategic outlook is similar to that of Israelis.

In this respect, if Barack Obama is not “pro-Israel”, then neither are most Israelis.

Obama’s mixed record on Iran

 

I agree with Alon Pinkas that the rumor campaign against Barack Obama is unfair. He is not a Muslim, nor is there anything in his voting record or statements to suggest that he is anti-Israel. He is, from what I can tell, well within the “pro-Israel” mainstream of the Democratic party today. The problem is more with the narrowness of the definition of “pro-Israel,” as that label is normally used. The truth is that a candidate’s voting record and position paper on Israel (here’s Obama’s) tells the voter little about what the presidency of that candidate would mean for Israel, or for
the
US, for that matter.

There are two reasons for this. First, thank goodness, the position papers of candidates and Members of Congress are now so uniformly pro-Israel, regardless of party (with some exceptions) that it is almost impossible to distinguish between them.

Second and more importantly, what matters most for Israel right now is not a candidate’s stance on foreign assistance or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, or even more controversial issues such as settlements and targeted killings of terrorists. Much more significant is the candidate’s position on the wider threat of radical Islamism and its potential nuclear epicenter, Iran.

Here Obama’s record is mixed. On the one hand, he has co-sponsored a bill to impose further sanctions on Iran, and has spoken out on the seriousness of the Iranian threat. On the other, while he supported the sanctions that the Administration eventually imposed on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, he opposed the amendment that Hillary Clinton voted for because, “it tied our presence in Iraq to an effort to counter the Iranian threat, which he felt could 1) give a green light to premature military action against Iran, and 2) provide a rationale to keep our troops in Iraq, when of course, he believes we need to end our presence there,” as his staff explained to me in an email.

In other words, Obama placed the risk of a US military response to Iran and the risk of lengthening the US stay in Iraq as higher and more important than the risk that international sanctions will be too weak to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Such logic is warped and mistaken.

It also reveals Obama’s talk about sanctions and the need to stop Iran as lip service, rather than a serious, thought-through policy designed to succeed. It is all well and good to be for sanctions, but if this position melts away in the face of extremely tenuous excuses based on extraneous issues, than the “tough” position on Iran is meaningless.

It is not possible to be “pro-Israel” without a serious policy for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power, because a nuclear Iran – besides threatening Israel directly – would substantially ramp up its support for all the forces that are arrayed against Israel and the US:
Hamas, Hizbullah, and al-Qaida.

Iran is the primary foreign policy challenge not just for Israel, but for the United States. The presidential candidates need to be measured first and foremost by the seriousness and coherence of their prescriptions on this issue. By this measure, all the major Democrats are currently fairing worse than all the major Republicans, but this could change as the campaign moves toward the general election.

Learning to believe what politicians say…

January 28, 2008

From a Jpost article, 1/28/08.  Humans have ignored what “bad actors” have said and written in the past at their peril.  Olmert says he will believe what Ahmadinejad says…

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed Monday that Israel would not ignore any calls for its obliteration, as the Knesset held a special session to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We will not permit ourselves to be complacent to the sounds of voices calling for the obliteration of Israel, which are backed by murderous and jealous ideologies, tyrannical regimes, supporters of terrors and malicious programs to develop weapons of massive destruction,” Olmert said during his address to the Knesset, held one day after the international day of remembrance.

The United Nations declared three years ago that each January 27 would be the International Day in Memory of Holocaust Victims.

It was the first time since the end of World War II that the UN recognized the killing of an estimated 6 million Jews and minorities by Nazi Germany.

Germany nominated the day as a national day of commemoration in 1996, while the UN named the date International Holocaust Remembrance Day in November 2005.

In his address to Knesset on Monday, Olmert also accused the allies of the Second World War of not making even the slightest effort to stop the extermination of Jews.

“The killing machine worked nonstop. Military aircrafts bombed hundreds of thousands of places across Europe, but not one raid was meant to stop the extermination process. Auschwitz, the railroads, the trains and the platforms, all worked uninterrupted, like a clock, a Nazi clock, but the sky remained clear; the sun went up and down as usual. Rain fell, snow piled up, the murderer murdered, and not a single aircraft interrupted the killing routine,” Olmert said.

Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik said during the session that at the height of the Holocaust many of Israel’s present-day friends said they did not see, hear or know anything.

“Today, there is no doubt about the existential danger we’re facing, and no one could claim that they didn’t know,” she said.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said that “the allies knew everything, but did not dispatch even one pilot. They had intelligence in real time and some of the most enlightened leaders of the 20th century. But they were apathetic to the fate of the Jewish people.”

On Monday, the UN General Assembly will hear addresses by survivors of Nazi death camps, including U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos, and a concert by the Tel Aviv University Symphony conducted by Zubin Mehta. The UN plans also to issue a special stamp to mark the day.