Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

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.

Great Power Diplomacy: Big Stick or Good Will…What works?

May 5, 2009

It is legitimate in foreign affairs to employ both the carrot and the stick.  Both policies can secure a nation’s interests; the trick (and difficulty) is to employ the strategy a given situation warrants.  In spite of partisan name-calling, whereby stick-wielders are called warmongers and carrot-salesmen weak, all Great Powers, all statesmen (and women), must be prepared to use both.  In the United States, at least since Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, these two camps have savaged each other in the political arena.

The emotional name-calling is unfortunate.  It distorts policy.  President Obama has suggested he will utilize American goodwill around the world far more effectively than did his predecessor.  Maybe he will.  But, George W. Bush had a point – that America could utilize its overwhelming military superiority to further its interests.  Notwithstanding the critique of Bush’s point by the Democrats, it wasn’t Bush or Cheney who said to Colin Powell, “What’s the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can’t use it?”  It was Madam Secretary, Madeleine Albright, during America’s unipolar moment. 

Further, President Obama, as candidate Obama, vilified Bush for his big stick policies.  He decried neo-con tactics in the war on terror, but has now adopted many of them.  In a blog last month, I noted that Daniel Byman of Georgetown University in a March 18th Foreign Affairs piece, referring to a U.S. Predator strike against militants in Pakistan in early March, wrote, “The strike, the fifth drone attack in Pakistan since late January, demonstrates that the Obama administration is not jettisoning the policies of the Bush administration regarding targeted killings; in fact, it appears to be ramping them up.”  Even those that advocate goodwill on the campaign trail will wield the stick in the Oval Office.

Likewise, in another era, another Obama-esque candidate, Ronald Reagan, vilified a sitting president for weakness, vis-à-vis the Soviet Union.  Exaggerations of Soviet strength were put forth, with Reagan offering us “morning in America,” which was, we the American electorate decided in 1980, change we could believe in.

With regard to Iran, it seems unclear to me today which will work, the carrot or the stick (if either).  Can the threat (or use) of military force or diplomatic engagement stop or slow Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, or can either succeed in changing the nature of the Iranian regime?  Both options have merit.  While Bush wasn’t able to further this objective, the jury is still out on whether Obama, with a mix of engagement and crafty horse-trading with powers such as Russia, will be more effective.  It is not worthwhile, however, for partisans to call each other names. 

And, just as during the Cold War when Soviet capabilities were exaggerated, politics can prevent an accurate assessment of Great Power strengths today.  Secretary of State Clinton’s awkward remark that the engagement of China and Iran in Latin America is “disturbing,” represents just such an exaggeration of the threat of these Rising Powers, not to mention how condescending this must sound to Latin ears (Monroe Doctrine redux) and how belligerent to Chinese and Iranian ears.  Let us not exaggerate the threat of these two nations, especially in regions where it may be difficult for them to project power.  Such exaggeration is just as much folly as was the neo-con overestimation of American power.

On the other hand, the Middle East is somewhere the Iranian threat is real.  If you want to raise emotions over the carrot vs. stick debate, initiate a discussion of Israeli foreign policy.  It appears that the Netanyahu government, fronted in foreign affairs by tough guy Avigdor Lieberman, is reassessing its foreign policy approach (see article in this Sunday’s NYTimes).  The Israelis will raise with their American and European partners the notion that the carrot of Palestinian statehood and land-for-peace has not worked at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the last thirty years, since Israel gave back the Sinai to Egypt.  Netanyahu and company instead believe that Iran is currently fomenting trouble in the region, including by emboldening (and arming) Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria to reject accommodation with Israel.  Ahmadinejad cancelled his worrying trip to Latin America this week in order to go where?  Syria.  Iran is a regional power, a dangerous one, but very unlikely to project power extra-regionally to places like Latin America, though don’t rule out mischief there.

Likewise, the Netanyahu government will argue that Palestinian economic, civic and political institutions must be upgraded before real peace can be negotiated.  This view will seem “war-mongering” to some.  While this blogger is not advocating such a change of direction in Israeli policy – the jury is still out — I believe that considering a new approach, wielding the stick where carrot sales have failed, is worth discussing.  Let the name-calling begin…

More on war…and peace…

April 12, 2009
President Obama meets Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki  Source: AFP
President Obama meets Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki Source: AFP
President Eisenhower and Nikita Krushchev (and Nixon)  Source: PBS
President Eisenhower and Nikita Krushchev (and Nixon) Source: PBS

President Obama said back at the end of February that all U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011, with most out by August 2010.  His policy is to pull out of Iraq and take American power instead to Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to root out Al Qaeda and do some nation-building there.  There will be ramifications of this policy shift.   One risk, highlighted by those on the right and in a weekend New York Times article, is that the successes of the surge, namely the build-up of the Sunni Awakening Councils that took back Sunni strongholds from Al Qaeda, could be reversed. 

The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has allegedly ramped up arrests of Awakening leaders, while U.S. forces stand by.   President Obama’s policy could leave the Iraqis to slug it out, as perhaps they should.  But, nonetheless, let us be clear on what the ramifications of this policy shift might be:  increased bloodshed and instability in Iraq; Shiite dominance in a sizable power so close to Iran and the Gulf; and, possibly a resurgence of Al Qaeda in the Sunni areas.

General Raymond T. Odierno, America’s top commander in Iraq and a key architect of the surge, weighed in on the issue and with his opinion of President Obama this weekend on John King’s State of the Union:

“He’s our commander-in-chief,” Odierno said.  “As our commander-in-chief, we take direction from him.”  He added:  “He’s very attentive. He listens. He’s incredibly intelligent. He talks through the issues. . . .He makes a decision and then we execute those decisions and that’s all you can expect out of your commander-in-chief. And I’ve been very pleased with the interaction that I’ve been able to have with him.”

In a New York Times column this weekend, Jean Edward Smith argues that President Obama, in handling Iraq, should take a page from President Eisenhower’s decision to end the war in Korea in 1953.  Eisenhower, in spite of the hawks in his own party, decided to negotiate an armistice at the 38th Parallel with the communist adversary.  With 150,000 U.S. war dead, America and the West would reap no gain, nor the flip side, inflict no punishment on the communist aggressor.

Just like Obama did in Iraq last week, Ike went to Korea and had a look for himself and decided it was a stalemate.  When South Korean President Rhee tried to derail the talks with the north, Ike threatened to pull out of Korea entirely, which would have left Rhee to face the communist onslaught himself.  U.S. troops, though reduced in recent years, remain in Korea to this day.

The parallel that Smith makes between Ike and Obama is not compelling.  What the Obama administration plans for Iraq is more akin to the threat Ike made to Rhee (to pull all U.S. troops out) than it is to the Korea policy followed by successive administrations since 1953.  That is, to maintain a U.S. troop presence to help secure South Korea from aggression.  Smith makes a good point that only Ike, the former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe in World War II, could have pushed through such an armistice in Korea.  Had Truman tried this, he might have been impeached.  While President Obama doesn’t have the military stature that Ike had, his Iraq policy is broadly popular.

Ike and Truman both sought a measured response in Korea.  They both sought to contain the extension of communism without triggering a world war with China and the Soviet Union.  MacArthur and others on the Republican right wanted to take the war to the Chinese. (Ike’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles even said the Chinese required “one hell of a licking.”)  Kissinger has argued that the best scenario for U.S. interests would have been something in between what Ike and Truman sought and what the right wing aspired to.  He has argued that U.S. forces should have moved, early in the war, not to the border with China at the Yalu River, which MacArthur did, triggering a massive Chinese response, but to one hundred miles south of that, at the “narrow neck” of the Korean peninsula, a defensible position where the country would have been nearly reunified, with 90% of the population and the capital of the north behind allied lines.  This way the U.S. would still have avoided threatening China, but would have secured a non-communist reunification of Korea.  We wouldn’t have this pesky nuclear arms mess with North Korea today.  But there are no sure bets in war and peace: there is no certainty that the Chinese would have tolerated even Kissinger’s scenario.

Perhaps President Obama should endeavor to find Kissinger’s middle ground in decisions on where to apply U.S. military power.  Reap the maximum advantage without threatening the major powers.  Easy to write, much harder to do.  That’s why I blog…

Military force: Use it and lose your soul

April 6, 2009
IDF soldiers in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead   Source:  Haaretz
IDF soldiers in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead Source: Haaretz

Political scientists study the power of states, looking at the linkages between a society’s economic and political strengths and its capacity to use or threaten military force.   The assessment of a country’s power is made relative to other states in the international system.  Yet the use of military force itself is tricky, because it can subvert the very values that underpin the strength of a people.  Just wars are fought, true, but as Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic said in a recent article, “no just wars are fought only justly.”  He adds, “No state was ever innocent, but not all states are evil.”

History and headlines are full of immoral military actions.  U.S. troops have allegedly committed them in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those of us who remember the Vietnam War remember the My Lai massacre.  Going back further, many label the R.A.F.’s firebombing of Dresden in its effort to break Germany’s will a significant moral lapse.  Russia’s actions in Chechnya, Turkey’s against the Kurdish PKK, India’s in Kashmir, all warrant examination.  Rising Powers must deal with this question of morality and the use of military force, increasingly as they rise.

Israel was roundly criticized for Operation Cast Lead in Gaza earlier this year, bearing a very serious diplomatic cost, not to mention the agonizing ethical issues the country faces.  Fighting terror organizations in densely populated cities will by definition involve the unintended killing of civilians.  The argument that the IDF, with enemies on three sides embedding combatants where civilians live, has performed more ethically over the years than almost any other national army would in similar circumstances, while not proveable, may have some merit.  Nevertheless, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz has begun to publish IDF soldiers’ accounts of serious lapses in the conduct of the war in Gaza.  Wieseltier in his article rightly bemoans a “coarsening” of Israel’s conscience – exemplified by some Israeli commentators and politicians arguing that IDF actions are justified by Hamas’s inhumanity.  If anybody doubts the nature of Israel’s enemy in Gaza, a read of the Hamas Covenant is in order.  Wieseltier is encouraged, on the other hand, by the willingness of Israel to examine its moral condition, much as the U.S. did after Vietnam and Abu Ghraib. 

Global powers – both rising and declining — face this test.  President Obama, in spite of his harsh criticism of Bush’s use of military force, will employ much the same tactics.  Daniel Byman, of Georgetown University, in a March 18th Foreign Affairs piece, referring to a U.S. Predator strike against militants in Pakistan in early March, wrote, “The strike, the fifth drone attack in Pakistan since late January, demonstrates that the Obama administration is not jettisoning the policies of the Bush administration regarding targeted killings; in fact, it appears to be ramping them up.” 

Byman, an expert on Israel’s use of targeted killings in the intifada, argues that targeted killings work because they disrupt enemy leadership, but cannot alone defeat an enemy. He notes as well that there is a heavy cost — 40% of the deaths from Israel’s targeted killings from 2000-08 were unintended, usually civilian and sometimes children.  A tough choice for any power to make.

Why I started blogging…

May 2, 2008

Actually, this piece explains why I started sending around my opinions to an email list in October 2001…which has now morphed into this blog.  Nervous about sending around my opinions on issues as diverse as film, the Middle East and American politics, I have been lucky that many of my readers have been supportive, saying they find my pieces “smart” and “insightful.”  I’m always late to technology, like when I first bought a VCR in the late 90s, and a friend said, “Welcome to the 80s!”  

Writing opinion really isn’t that new to me.  (And being opinionated started in the womb, I think.)  I edited a journal of political opinion at Tufts University in the eighties with big-time Democrat, Simon Rosenberg (more on that in another piece), but had a bit of a hiatus while doing other odd jobs.  Nevertheless, this latest bout of political-opinion writing began for me in September 2001, driven by my support of Ariel Sharon’s speech warning the freshly-installed President Bush, only weeks after 9/11, not to treat Israel the way the Western democracies treated Czechoslovakia in 1939. 

Sharon gave a speech (see excerpts below in a BBC article), after Bush, crossing a line no president had crossed before him, said he backed a “vision” of a Palestinian state.  This was something Bush wasn’t willing to stay until after 9/11, when he was trying to build a coalition to invade Afghanistan to chase Osama bin Laden and the Taliban out of there (and unfortunately into Pakistan, where they have since remained.)  Arafat, his people dancing in the streets after the 9/11 attacks, took advantage of the times to unleash a wave of attacks on Israelis, against which Sharon launched IDF actions.  The Bush administration sought to restrain the IDF, Colin Powell making a number of forceful telephone calls.  So, these developments, in conjunction with the first-ever US pronouncement in support of Palestinian statehood, compelled Sharon to make his rhetorical flourish that Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. 

Bush’s spokesman, Ari Fleischer, retorted that Sharon’s remarks were “unacceptable.”  Bush, who views himself as a Churchillian, was truly pissed off.  In subsequent years, Israeli political analysts have told me that Sharon’s speech was viewed by the Israeli political class as a mistake, requiring significant subsequent sucking up on the part of Sharon to reinstate the “special relationship” between the Israeli PM and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

So, I wrote a couple of Op-ed articles and submitted them to the New York Times, which didn’t publish them.  So, I began sending my views around to an email list.  Anyway, after W’s “successes” in Afghanistan and Iraq, he became much more sensitive to Israeli concerns, which was his natural Churchillian position.

The article at the end of this “Why I started blogging” section was a BBC report on the October 2001 nadir of recent US-Israeli relations.  Before that are the two Op-eds I submitted and a paragraph I wrote about the double standard Israel must face in its fight against terrorism.

Op-ed I wrote in October 2001 on Bush’s “Vision” of Palestinian statehood:

President George W. Bush’s “vision” for a Palestinian state could not come at a worse time for international relations.  In the twisted minds of terrorists across the world, it will be viewed as a victory for the perpetrators of the crimes of September 11.  The lesson they will learn is that by leveling buildings in American cities and killing more than six thousand people, more than one-tenth the number of America’s Vietnam War casualties, they altered the foreign policy course of the world’s only superpower.  This will lead to pressure on Israel to give in to violence as well.  Bush’s statement and assumed policy shift is the most recent example of a policy of “appeasement”, so tragically followed by the opponents of Hitler in the 1930s and so thoroughly repudiated by the president’s father in the Gulf War. 

By refusing to let the invasion of a sovereign nation stand in 1991 during the Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush (Senior) proved that he had learned something as a fighter pilot in the skies over the Pacific during World War II.  Appeasement never works.  It emboldens those who would use violence to achieve their ends.  In the ten years since that war, global peace has been maintained.  In one careless statement, coming so soon after the tragic attacks last month, H.W.’s son has cast doubt on this principle.    

So, Israel has become the latest casualty of the World Trade Center attack. Western nations appear ready to exert their considerable pressure on Israel’s leaders as part of their efforts to bring Arab and Islamic nations into the anti-terrorism coalition.  Secure in Israel’s supposed invincible military might, the West could ask Israelis to make concessions that would probably cause a war in the Middle East, far bloodier than the Intifada.  

Western nations wish the Arab-Israeli conflict would just go away.  Especially when some argue that it is the root cause of terrorism in the West.  It has lead to everything bad from high oil prices, to terror in the skies and in our cities, to falling stock markets and attacks on our men and women in uniform.  Can’t the Arabs and Israelis just solve their own problems?  The president of the United States apparently thinks a Palestinian state would solve things, even prevent terrorism against the United States. 

Oslo”, the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians begun in Norway in the early 1990s, gave guns to Palestinians where previously they had stones.  And, they are firing these guns right now at Israeli soldiers and civilians.  Last year, Arafat rejected the peace deal offered by Barak, preferring to hold on to his maximalist demands and to throw Palestinian boys with guns at the Israeli military. 

Arafat’s demands, including a return to the 1967 borders, a Palestinian state with the right to fully arm itself, half of Jerusalem, and the right of return to Israel of Palestinians who fled the land after 1948, constitute nothing short of dismantling the State of Israel.  Barak’s offer itself would have put Israel’s survival at risk, by cutting Jerusalem, the heart of Israel, in half.  But still, this was not enough for the Palestinian leadership.   

Several years ago, Yossi Beilin, the Israeli Labor Party politician, outlined the crux of a workable peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis.  It was a simple trade.  A Palestinian state for Jerusalem.  That is, Israel would get Jerusalem with certain assurances for Muslim holy sites, and the Palestinians would get their sovereign state on the West Bank and Gaza, with certain assurances for Israeli security. 

One day, hopefully, a Palestinian “F.W. DeKlerk” or “Mikhail Gorbachev” will have the courage to accept such a deal.  Sad to say, Arafat, who himself can’t kick the habit of using terror for political gain, is not the man.   Hopefully, such a leader will emerge among the Palestinians, a leader who will accept the Beilin formula and who would do more. 

For starters, by educating Palestinians in history.  It is not true that the Holocaust was a hoax created by Jews to steal Arab land.  And, Arab and Islamic children should not be reading “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, that lamentable anti-Semitic diatribe from the 19th century that was excerpted in Arab and Islamic textbooks for years.  Until and unless such leadership emerges, Israel has the right to fight the suicide bombers and their masters and to demand a cessation of violence in the territories before talks begin.   

A radicalized, sovereign Palestinian state, fully armed, would likely go to war with Israel.  With enemies like Hamas, which is really a Palestinian government-in-waiting, the Islamic Jihad, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and their sponsors in the Islamic world, including Osama bin Laden, Israel must stand firm in the face of terror attacks and the propaganda barrage (remember the U.N. conference on racism).   And, if the West believes that a Middle East war will not spill over into their countries, they will be sorely mistaken. 

So, President Bush made a gaffe with his statement, and the Arab world applauded.  Hopefully, his vision of a Palestinian state will be a mirage.  It is not too late for him to explain that before a Palestinian state can be established, Palestinians must give up their most extreme claims, including Jerusalem, and must disarm and arrest the terrorists in their midst.  It is not too late for Bush to correct this first step toward a policy of appeasement of terrorists and extremists. As for Israel, let us hope that if America and the rest of the West do succumb to Arab and Islamic pressure, that Israel will have the courage and stamina to resist. 

 

 

Op-ed I wrote one week after 9/11 on Implications of the attack for Israel:

The world is coming together to fight terrorism and that is good.  George W. Bush, like his father before him, is putting together an international coalition, including Arab and Islamic nations.  This time, it is to break the terror networks and “smoke out” the terrorists, as the president so colorfully put it this week. 

These efforts should be commended, but friends of Israel should hope that there will be no unforeseen negative consequences for the Jewish state. After Prime Minister Sharon called here last week to offer his condolences, President Bush told him to get to work with the Palestinians on the peace process.

With French President Jacques Chirac at his side this week, Bush said that, as regards the Middle East, he hoped some good would come out of this evil.  His Majesty Abdullah of Jordan told Larry King this week that the acts of terror in the United States stemmed from anger and frustration in his part of the world.   These comments sound innocuous enough.  But, they could be an indication of the kind of pressure the international coalition, including moderate Arab states, Pakistan and Europe as well as the United States, once it has disposed of Osama bin Laden, could bring to bear on Israel. 

Heavy pressure could be exerted on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians that would endanger the long-run viability of the Jewish state. Western nations are getting tired of the Middle East conflict.  Especially when some in these countries argue that the Arab-Israeli conflict is the root cause of terrorism in the West.  Westerners wish the conflict would just go away.  It has lead to everything bad from high oil prices, to terror in the skies and in our cities, to falling stock markets and attacks on our men and women in uniform.  Can’t the Arabs and Israelis just solve their own problems?   

Oslo”, the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians begun in Norway in the early 1990s, gave guns to the Palestinians where previously they had stones.  And, they are firing these guns right now at Israeli soldiers and civilians.  Last year, Arafat rejected the peace deal offered by Barak, preferring to hold on to his maximalist demands and to throw Palestinian boys with guns at the Israeli military. 

Arafat’s demands, including a return to the 1967 borders, a Palestinian state with the right to fully arm itself, half of Jerusalem, and the right of return to Israel of Palestinians who fled the land after 1948, constitute nothing short of the dismantling of the State of Israel.  Barak’s offer itself would have put Israel’s survival at risk, by cutting Jerusalem, the heart of Israel, in half.  But still, this was not enough for the Palestinian leadership.   

Several years ago, Yossi Beilin, the Israeli Labor Party politician, outlined the crux of a workable peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis.  It was a simple trade.  A Palestinian state for Jerusalem.  That is, Israel would get Jerusalem with certain assurances for Muslim holy sites, and the Palestinians would get their sovereign state on the West Bank and Gaza, with certain assurances for Israeli security. 

One day, hopefully, a Palestinian “F.W. DeKlerk” or “Mikhail Gorbachev” will have the courage to accept such a deal.  Sad to say, Arafat, who himself can’t kick the habit of using terror for political gain, is not the man.  Until such a leader emerges among the Palestinians, Israel has the right to fight the suicide bombers and their masters and to demand a cessation of violence in the territories before talks begin.   

 The World Trade Center attack could change things for Israel. Western nations may try to exert their considerable pressure on Israel’s leaders.  Secure in Israel’s supposed invincible military might, the West could ask Israelis to make concessions that would probably cause a war in the Middle East, far bloodier than the Intifada.

A radicalized, sovereign Palestinian state, fully armed, would likely go to war with Israel.  With enemies like Hamas, which is really a Palestinian government-in-waiting, the Islamic Jihad, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and their sponsors in the Islamic world, including Osama bin Laden, Israel must stand firm in the face of terror attacks and the propaganda barrage, which was most vividly seen in the U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa, earlier this month.  

And, if the West believes that a Middle East war will not spill over into their countries, they will be sorely mistaken. When a country has peaceful intentions and is on the side of right, its leaders should never shrink in the face of evil and terror. 

President Bush understands this.  This was clear in the days following the attacks in the United States, when he explained over and over again that America is a peace-loving nation and that the perpetrators are enemies of freedom, not freedom fighters for the oppressed.  Let us hope that President Bush does not check his sense of right and wrong and his quest for justice at the door when he comes around to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  And let us hope that if he and the rest of the West do succumb to inevitable Arab and Islamic pressure on Israel, that Israel will have the courage and stamina to resist. 

My email from October 2001:

 

 

It seems as though George W. Bush has discovered Israel on the map.

In September, U.S. President George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban government hand over terrorists who had perpetrated an attack on the territory of the United States.  The Taliban refused, and the U.S.-led coalition forces entered Afghanistan with troops, not to rule over Afghans, but to apprehend the criminals, and to replace the govt harboring them.  On October 19, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon asked PA President Yasser Arafat to hand over the terrorists who assassinated an Israeli minister.  He sent tanks into Palestinian towns, towns relinquished to the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo negotiations, in order to pressure the PA to hand over the criminals.  Yet the U.S. govt has demanded that Israel pull its forces back, while coalition forces make mincemeat out of Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden.  That is a double standard.  I guess might makes right in the mind of the misguided leadership of the world’s only superpower.

BBC article on Sharon speech, October 6, 2001:

Analysis: Sharon’s appeasement warning

   
 

The United States and many countries in the Middle East are now reflecting on the significance of a speech made on Thursday night by Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.In his speech, following the death of three Israelis in an attack in northern Israel, Mr Sharon compared Israel’s situation to that of pre-World War II Czechoslovakia.

Do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when Europe sacrificed Czechoslovakia
Ariel Sharon

It was, in the words of some analysts here, an astonishing speech – a speech which has pleased right-wingers but which has surprised, even horrified, others. In the key passage Mr Sharon said: “I call on the Western democracies, and primarily the leader of the Free World, the United States, do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when Europe sacrificed Czechoslovakia. Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense.”“Israel will not be Czechoslovakia. Israel will fight terrorism,” he added.Clear messageMr Sharon’s message could hardly be more clear – Israel will not sit quietly on the sidelines during the international war on terror. It will respond when it is attacked.This is a direct challenge to US policy in this region.

 

 

Since the attacks on the United States, the Bush administration has worked hard to contain the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.It has tried to make a shaky ceasefire work and it has made conciliatory approaches to many Arab states, knowing that America needs their active support in its campaign against Osama Bin Laden.Rejecting his roleThese approaches include Mr Bush’s remarks earlier this week in which he talked of a vision of a Palestinian state.In the American script of events, Ariel Sharon must keep quiet, act with restraint – even if Israel is attacked – and not jeopardise the coalition.But Mr Sharon does not like the role he is being asked to play, which is why he spoke as he did last night.And we now wait to see what effect Mr Sharon’s words and actions will have on US coalition-building efforts.CNN article on Bush’s new “vision” of a Palestinian state in October 2001, conveniently just after 9/11:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Bush said Tuesday that a Palestinian state was always “part of a vision” if Israel’s right to exist is respected. He said the two parties needed to get to work “on the Mitchell process” which he said provides a clear path to solving the crisis in the Middle East.

 

He refused, when asked, to say whether he had been prepared to announce his support for a Palestinian state prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.

 

The president’s statement at a meeting with congressional leaders, follows news that the administration is considering a series of high-profile steps related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to secure much-needed Arab support for the international coalition against terrorism.

 

State Department and other senior administration officials told CNN on Monday that drafts of a major policy speech on the Middle East, to be delivered by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, are circulating in the State Department for review.

 

Officials said the speech will “clarify its [U.S.] views on an end result” of the peace process, which would lead to the eventual “creation of a Palestinian state.”

 

 

 

 

 

Obama’s Position Statement on Israel…

February 13, 2008
There was some negative reaction to my sending around that NYTimes article which described Barack Obama’s faith and his pastor, who reportedly has said that Zionism has elements of white racism and whom Obama has looked to for inspiration.  My sending that around did not come from a bigoted place.  In fact, I posted on my website several weeks ago Obama’s position paper on Israel in which he expresses his support for the basic tenets of a pro-Israel foreign policy.  I didn’t send that around in an email yet, so I am doing so now.  Also below the link to the Obama position statement are two opposing opinion pieces on Obama’s likely policies toward Israel. 
 
If there is any axe I have to grind with the Obama campaign, it is a recoiling I experience in the face of charisma and movements that seem to quickly capture the imagination of the masses.  History is full of blind following, so I recoil at such phenomena and find refuge in his boring, uncharismatic, but competent opponent.  Having said that, I believe he is a good person (though with the narcissistic and hubristic flaws typical of most politicians) with a very compelling, eclectic background; and, like many, I am truly moved by his speeches.  But to quote myself from an earlier piece:
 
Why can’t we find someone who may be a little clumsy behind the lectern, but authoritative, knowledgeable, and decisive behind the desk? 
 
Anyway, please have a look at the Obama campaign position statement on Israel below and the related articles. 
 
Obama’s Israel Position Statement
Two articles from JPost:

In the first article, Alon Pinkas argues that it is a myth that Obama is not sufficiently pro-Israel.  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. 

I would add that it is no accident that Obama hews to the conventional US line in support of Israel.  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 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 (though Obama seems to be doing fine lately with a more fragmented donor pool, buttressed by MoveOn.org).  The latter donors just don’t have as much focus policy-wise as the large Jewish donors.  Many of the large Jewish donors, in addition to asking about a liberal policy agenda, want to 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, or that Jews control the US government.  Let’s not get paranoid, okay?  Finally, just because a national candidate makes pro-Israel noises, doesn’t mean he/she will always remain that way once safely in office.  Remember Jimmy Carter. And, it does concern me that Obama hangs around with the likes of Zbig Brzezinksi (not the most pro-Israel member of the foreign policy establishment) and MoveOn.org.  But, I’m not such a big fan of Richard Holbrooke either, a Hillary foreign policy adviser, though for other reasons.

What’s more, it seems that Jewish-American voters have been split between Hillary and Obama in recent races (see an article on this on my website).  And, in spite of the Republicans’ arguably more staunch support of Israel, Jewish voters still consistently poll around 70% in support of Democrats.  So, in spite of what some may think, Jewish-Americans are not single issue voters; they back the candidate that supports their liberal tendencies in spite of a somewhat less staunch support of the Jewish state (a point Dems may dispute).

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. Jan 21, 2008 9:48 | Updated Jan 21, 2008 19:43

Obama’s mixed record on Iran

 

By SAUL SINGER 

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.

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.

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.

Al Qaeda uses women with Down’s syndrome as suicide bombers…

February 1, 2008

Al Qaeda uses women with Down’s syndrome, strapped with bombs and triggered remotely by a cell phone, to kill 99 in Iraq.  I don’t think a surge or withdrawal would change that outcome.

From Jpost 2/1/08

Two mentally disabled women strapped with remote-control explosives – and possibly used as unwitting suicide bombers – brought carnage to two pet bazaars, killing at least 99 people in the deadliest day since Washington flooded the capital with extra troops last spring.

Iraqi’s participate in the cleanup at the site of a suicide bombing at a popular pet market in central Baghdad.
Photo: AP

The coordinated blasts – coming 20 minutes apart in different parts of the city on Friday – appeared to reinforce US claims al-Qaida in Iraq may be increasingly desperate and running short of able-bodied men willing or available for such missions.

But they also served as a reminder that Iraqi insurgents are constantly shifting their strategies in attempts to unravel recent security gains around the country. Women have been used in ever greater frequency in suicide attacks.

The twin attacks at the pet markets could also mark a disturbing use of unknowing agents of death.

Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, Iraq’s chief military spokesman in Baghdad, said the women had Down syndrome and may not have known they were on suicide missions. He said the bombs were detonated by remote control.

On Saturday, dozens of charred bodies covered with canvas tarps lay in an alley outside a nearby hospital morgue. Weeping relatives loaded the bodies into simple wood coffins and strapped them atop minivans for transport to cemeteries.

A teenage boy was curled up in the back of a pickup truck, moaning over the coffin of a dead friend.

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the bombings prove al-Qaida is “the most brutal and bankrupt of movements” and will strengthen Iraqi resolve to reject terrorism.

Iraqi officials raised the death toll to 99 on Saturday, with 62 killed in the first bombing at the central al-Ghazl market and 37 others killed about 20 minutes later at the New Baghdad area pigeon market. The police and Interior Ministry officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.

Police said one of the women wearing the bombs sold cream in the mornings at the al-Ghazl market and was known to locals as “the crazy lady.” At least 88 people were wounded in the attack, officials said.

The pet bazaar has been bombed repeatedly, but with violence declining in the capital, the market had regained popularity as a shopping district and place to stroll on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer.

But on this Friday, it was returned to a scene straight out of the worst days of the conflict.

Firefighters scooped up debris scattered among pools of blood, clothing and pigeon carcasses.

A pigeon vendor said the market had been unusually crowded, with people taking advantage of a pleasantly crisp and clear winter day after a particularly harsh January.

“I have been going to the pet market with my friend every Friday, selling and buying pigeons,” said Ali Ahmed, who was hit by shrapnel in his legs and chest. “It was nice weather today and the market was so crowded.”

He said he was worried about his friend, Zaki, who disappeared after the blast about 40 meters away.

“I just remember the horrible scene of the bodies of dead and wounded people mixed with the blood of animals and birds, then I found myself lying in a hospital bed,” Ali said.

The second female suicide bomber was blown apart in a bird market in New Baghdad, a predominantly Shiite area in a southeastern section of the capital. Some 37 people were killed and 56 injured, police and hospital officials said.

Rae Muhsin, the 21-year-old owner of a cell phone store, said he was walking toward the bird market when the explosion shattered the windows of nearby stores.

“I ran toward the bird market and saw charred pieces of flesh, small spots of blood and several damaged cars,” Muhsin said. “I thought that we had achieved real security in Baghdad, but it turned that we were wrong.”

The bombings were the latest in a series that has frayed Iraqi confidence in the permanence of recent security gains.

The US military in Iraqi issued a statement that shared “the outrage of the Iraqi people, and we condemn the brutal enemy responsible for these attacks, which bear the hallmarks of being carried out by al-Qaida in Iraq.”

The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said the bombings showed that a resilient al-Qaida has “found a different, deadly way” to try to destabilize Iraq.

“There is nothing they won’t do if they think it will work in creating carnage and the political fallout that comes from that,” he told The Associated Press in an interview at the State Department.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki issued a statement Saturday saying the attacks revealed terrorists’ “hatred of humanity and all Iraqis.”

“Terrorists are aiming to prevent normal life from coming back to Baghdad, and turn it back to the pre-surge period,” the statement said.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said the attacks were motivated by revenge and an attempt “to stop the march of history and of our people toward reconciliation.” He confirmed the death toll was about 70.

Navy Cmdr. Scott Rye, a US military spokesman, gave far lower casualty figures – seven killed and 23 wounded in the first bombing, and 20 killed and 30 wounded in the second.

He confirmed, however, that both attacks were carried out by women wearing explosives vests and said the attacks appeared coordinated and likely the work of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Associated Press records show that since the start of the war at least 177 people have been killed in at least 17 attacks or attempted attacks by female suicide bombers, including Friday’s bombings.

The most recent previous attack was Jan. 16 when a female suicide bomber detonated her explosives among men preparing for the Ashoura holiday in a Shiite village in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.

While involving women in such deadly activity violates cultural taboos in Iraq, the US military has warned that al-Qaida is recruiting women and young people as suicide attackers because militants are increasingly desperate to thwart stepped-up security measures.

Syria also has reportedly tightened its border with Iraq, a main transit point for incoming foreign bombers.

Iraqi’s participate in the cleanup at the site of a suicide bombing at a popular pet market in central Baghdad.
Photo: AP

Women in Iraq often wear abayas, the black Islamic robe, and avoid thorough searches at checkpoints because men are not allowed to touch them and there are too few female police.

Even the use of the handicapped in suicide bombings is not unprecedented in Iraq. In January 2005, Iraq’s interior minister said insurgents used a disabled child in a suicide attack on election day. Police at the scene of the bombing said the child also appeared to have Down syndrome.

Many teenage boys were among the casualties in the al-Ghazl bombing Friday, according to the officials who gave the death toll. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.

In Late November, a bomb hidden in a box of small birds exploded at the al-Ghazl market, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens.

The US military blamed the November attack on Iranian-backed Shiite militants, saying they had hoped al-Qaida in Iraq would be held responsible for the attack so Iraqis would turn to them for protection.

The US military has been unable to stop the suicide bombings despite a steep drop in violence in the past six months. Friday’s blasts were the deadliest in the capital since an April 18 suicide car bombing that killed 116 and wounded 145. Washington’s “surge” of an additional 30,000 soldiers into Baghdad and other parts of central Iraq began in February, but did not reach full strength until June.

February 1, 2008

Read this Arab academic’s statements and you’ll see why any accommodation with the Arab/Muslim world over Israel’s right to exist, with or without settlements and Jerusalem, will be challenging at the very least. 

From Jpost 2/3/08: 

An Israeli academic has withdrawn from a panel discussion at a respected London science-based institution after learning about the radical views of one of the invited members of the panel.

Prof. David Newman, professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, was scheduled to take part in an event entitled “Israel-Palestine” on Tuesday at Imperial College London’s Student Union as part of its Political Philosophy Society’s Conflict Case-Study Week.

On the panel is Robin Kealy, a former UK consul-general in Jerusalem. But it also features Azzam Tamimi, director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought in London.

Tamimi is a Hamas supporter who does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, openly calls for its destruction, and supports suicide bombings.

In a BBC interview in 2004, Tamimi said that the act of suicide bombing was “glorious and honorable.” In the same interview, Tamimi boasted that he would himself carry out a suicide bombing in Israel. In 2006, Merrill Lynch pulled its sponsorship from an event at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies because of Tamimi’s participation.

Last week on Press TV, an Iranian television channel, Tamami said during a discussion with London-based Israeli academic Yossi Mekelberg that “The struggle is for our homeland. See, I don’t give a damn about a Palestinian state – as a Palestinian. My mother was born in Beersheba. My mother has a house in Beersheba. I want to go back to my mother’s house… I don’t give a damn about the future of Israel, and yes – I want to see Israel come to an end.”

Tamami said that he believed Hamas represented his “people’s future.”

“Are we, the Palestinians, made to pay for the crimes of the Nazis? If the Nazis killed the Jews in Europe, why should the Jews come and live in my mother’s house, on my father’s land? Is that extremism? If that is extremism, then I am an extremist. If that is terrorism, then I am a terrorist. We are freedom fighters, we are not extremists,” he added.

Speaking at a demonstration commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War in London’s Trafalgar Square last June, Tamimi called Israel “a racist entity that see us [the Palestinians] as subhuman while they see themselves as superhuman.”

“Zionists from Europe, helped by the leaders of this country in order to rape my country and turn them into refugees,” he said.

Newman has been involved in peace-related activities and Track II discussions and negotiations, including joint Israeli-Palestinian projects that examine territorial and border issues. Recently, he has participated in a project looking at religion’s role in influencing the peace discourse in Israel. He is also responsible for a project at the United States Institute of Peace that examines models for cooperation between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

In a letter to the organizers of the Imperial College event, Newman said that he shared platforms with many Palestinian scholars and politicians, and would continue to do so so long as a “serious exchange of views was possible.”

He said he believed that there were “many” serious Palestinian academics could have been invited to participate in Tuesday’s panel.

“I am prepared to discuss, dialogue and debate with academics and scholars and even exchange difficult views and questions with people who hold vastly different views to my own, but given Tamimi’s public declared support of suicide bombers and his volatile statements at various public events, I do not think that this is a person with whom I am prepared to share a platform,” Newman said.