Friday, June 22, 2012

Thoughts on Iran, Nuclear Weapons, and Tehran’s Regional Role

by Barry Rubin

“Hitler’s primary task was to put himself over as a misunderstood moderate….Trotsky summed it up neatly: ‘Anyone who expects to meet a lunatic brandishing a hatchet and instead finds a man hiding a revolver in his trouser-pocket is bound to feel relieved. But that doesn’t prevent a revolver from being more dangerous than a hatchet.’” –Joel Carmichael, Trotsky: An Appreciation of his Life, p. 396.

Months ago, when it was at its height, I wrote that the hysteria about Israel allegedly being about to attack Iran and the argument by some that Israel should do so were nonsense. Now it is clear that there was never any chance that such a thing would happen. And that idea was a bad one expressed by non-Israelis who didn’t know what they were talking about.

Now, former Mossad head Meir Dagan, identified, along with former Israel Security Agency director Yuval Diskin, as the main critic of any such preemptive attack, has made some interesting remarks.

Dagan explained that he agreed that the international community wasn’t doing enough to stop the Iranian nuclear project. Israeli threats were made to prompt more action, not as a signal of an imminent attack.

While sanctions are high against Iran, the Obama administration is also granting exemptions to key countries like China, Russia, and Turkey. While the burden on Iran’s economy remains onerous, a regime like that in Tehran is not going to buckle to such pressure, especially since it believes that once it has nuclear weapons that will secure the government’s safety from foreign threats. The ongoing negotiations, which seem eternally able to trigger naive hopes in Western circles, will go nowhere.

For his part, Dagan correctly noted, “The military option must always be on the table with regards to Iran,but it must also always be a last option.” Israel always retains such a choice even if Tehran does get some deliverable nuclear capability. And such an outcome is still years away. The idea of a crazy Iranian government eager to launch nuclear missiles against Israel at the first opportunity is not realistic, though the Tehran regime is bad enough and may do so at some later time. At any rate, if and when Iran actually has a small number of weapons and if Israeli leaders feel there is sufficient danger, they can preempt then. And a wide variety of Israeli defensive measures — ranging from sabotage to computer viruses, to electronic countermeasures and to planes and missiles — should not be underestimated either.

The Israeli position is clearly explained by President Shimon Peres in an interview:

The problem is the following: If we would say only economic sanctions [will be imposed], then the Iranians will say, “Okay, we will wait until it will be over.” Now what the Americans and Europeans and Israelis are saying is, “If you won’t answer the economic challenge, all other options are on the table.” It will not end there. Without that, there is no chance that the sanctions will [work]….The Iranians must be convinced [the threat of a military attack] is not just a tactic.

Dagan was also right in saying that Iran’s influence is waning in the Middle East. The last year has been a disaster for Tehran’s regional ambitions. With Sunni Islamists in the ascendancy throughout most of the Arab world, these countries and movements have no need for Iran.

The Palestinian Hamas group will take Tehran’s money, but it is now in the orbit of the Muslim Brotherhood that is going to be controlling Egypt. Iran’s influence is thus limited to competing in Lebanon (where its Hizballah ally is in a strong position), Iraq (where its influence is real but limited), Syria (where its ally is under sharp attack by rebels), and Bahrain (where it backed the losing side).

Thus, while Tehran getting nuclear weapons in, say, 2010 would have had a dramatic effect in boosting its regional power, that is no longer true today and will be less so in the future. There are certainly shortcomings in Western thinking: How can the United States contain Iran when its leadership’s willpower and courage is not taken seriously in Iran, Arab capitals, and Israel? And since containment is defined so narrowly, only in terms of blocking an Iranian launch of nuclear missiles, how can you counter Iran’s — albeit more circumscribed — ambitions?

Iran’s moment in the region as a whole is over, though it can still do a lot of damage in the Persian Gulf area. But we are now about to enter a new era in which Egypt, under Sunni Islamist leadership, has the option of playing the leading role. The last round of such Egyptian activity began almost precisely sixty years ago today with the Arab nationalist coup of July 23, 1952. Today it is revolutionary Islamism that is sparking likely efforts from Cairo to promote revolution abroad and to make some futile new effort to wipe out Israel. The new regime’s first priority, though, is going to be consolidating power at home and fundamentally transforming Egyptian society.

Barry Rubin


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Analysis: Syrian Rebels Gaining Ground

by Jonathan Spyer

As the UN Supervision Mission in Syria ceases its activities, there are indications that the Syrian rebels are beginning to gain the upper hand against President Bashar Assad’s regime. The rebels have scored notable achievements against government forces in recent days. There are corresponding signs of growing demoralization among regime troops, and among those sections of the population still supporting Assad.

The advantage in the civil war in Syria has ebbed and flowed. The rebels began to establish “liberated zones” in parts of the country around last October. In late February, the regime launched a determined, bloody counterattack to reconquer these areas, and largely achieved this in time for the “cease-fire” of April 10. With the cease-fire now in tatters, the indications are that the momentum of the insurgency has picked up again, and is now driving forward against the regime’s forces.

Once again, it is the central Syrian city of Homs that is the main focal point.

Government forces were massing outside of the city over the weekend, apparently in preparation for a fresh assault. But as the troops assembled to retake the urban center of Homs, it has become apparent that large swathes of the surrounding countryside are no longer under government control.

A reporter for McClatchy Newspapers, embedded with Free Syrian Army fighters in Homs governate, noted that the rebels have now expelled government troops from the towns of Rastan and Talbiseh, north of Homs city.

The rebels are also battling for Qusayr, to the south of Homs. The FSA unit engaged in this area is the Farouq Brigade, one of the best organized of the free army formations.

An individual identified as a former captain of Assad’s army captured by the FSA expressed his surprise at the rebels’ strength. “We didn’t imagine they had these numbers and so much equipment,’ he told McClatchy.

Rebels also noted the increased use of attack helicopters by regime forces, to avoid the necessity of engaging rebels on the ground.

The A-Sharq al-Awsat Arabic newspaper is indicating a similar direction to events.

The paper this week described a growing mood of “restlessness and fear” among mid-level officers of Assad’s army.

It noted a conviction spreading among many of Assad’s officers that the rebels must prevail in the end, through sheer force of numbers. Officers quoted similarly acknowledged that the rebel forces were larger and more organized than they had expected. They dismissed the notion that the insurgents consisted merely of “gangs,” as regime propaganda maintains.

One officer said: “There is a new reality that we are feeling daily on the ground.

But the regime refuses to recognize this.”

The spread of the violence into areas that regime supporters had considered firmly under Assad’s control is increasing the mood of despondency.

For a period, the capital managed to maintain an appearance of near-normalcy.

No longer. In an underreported but significant development, the rebels launched a series of coordinated attacks in and around Damascus last Friday.

The neighborhood of Kfar Sousa, a stronghold of anti-regime sentiment in the capital, was the scene of heavy fighting. Large explosions were also heard in the Mazzah, Qudsiyeh and al-Qadam neighborhoods.

The town of Douma, in the Damascus suburbs, also witnessed clashes. Sources suggest that the eruption of the rebellion into urban Damascus – for the first time – has removed the last vestiges of normalcy to which pro-regime elements were clinging.

The fighting in the heart of the capital, especially in Kafr Sousa, is seen by Damascenes as a major loss for the government. Many members of the city’s upper middle class have left for abroad.

Damascus’s Old City is almost under curfew, with checkpoints at all points of entry and exit.

All these indications are at root the product of a significant increase in recent months in the abilities of the rebel forces. This improvement is almost certainly the result of greater quantities of Saudi and Qatari aid reaching the rebels, mostly across the border from Turkey. There have been some intimations that US intelligence and special forces are helping to direct this aid, though this has yet to be confirmed.

The battle is not over yet, nor is it decided. But it is the rebels who now have the initiative, and who are gaining ground.

The regime, meanwhile, appears to be following a dual strategy. While maintaining a fortress-like hold on the capital, and still seeking to reconquer urban centers held by the rebels, the regime is also carving out an Alawite enclave in the northwest of the country.

Non-Alawites are being expelled from the designated area. This area will form a safe zone and “baseline” for the regime, Assad hopes, in the event of a long, protracted war.

It is not clear if this strategy will succeed. But the very fact that it is being adopted shows that the regime is seeking to reduce and consolidate its commitments, in the face of the widening rebel assault upon it. The Syrian civil war is entering a new phase.

This article was also published in the Jerusalem Post.

Jonathan Spyer


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Clemency Deal for Assad in the Works?

by Rick Moran

There is no doubt that offering safe passage and clemency to Syrian President Bashar Assad in order to get him to attend a conference on political transition in Syria would be an odious deal. Assad has the blood of thousands on his hands and most would say he belongs in a war crimes court rather than basking in a luxurious exile.

But if Russia's Vladmir Putin says its ok, I guess that just about seals the deal.

The Guardian:

Britain and America are willing to offer the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, safe passage - and even clemency - as part of a diplomatic push to convene a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva on political transition in Syria.

The initiative comes after David Cameron and Barack Obama received encouragement from Russia's President Vladimir Putin in separate bilateral talks at the G20 in Mexico.

A senior British official said: "Those of us who had bilaterals thought there was just enough out of those meetings to make it worth pursuing the objective of negotiating a transitional process in Syria."

With daily reports of civilian deaths and the conflict apparently taking on an increasingly sectarian hue, Britain is willing to discuss giving clemency to Assad if it would allow a transitional conference to be launched. He could even be offered safe passage to attend the conference.

One senior UK official said: "It is hard to see a negotiated solution in which one of the participants would be willing voluntarily to go off to the international criminal court." It was stressed Cameron had not made a final decision on the matter.

During talks at the G20, British and American officials were convinced Putin was not wedded to Assad remaining in power indefinitely, although even this limited concession is disputed in Moscow.

On the basis of these discussions, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will now seek to persuade the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to change the format of his plans to construct a contact group on Syria, and instead host a conference using the transition on Yemen as the model.

Is it worth letting Assad off the hook if that means saving many thousands of lives? Saleh is an old man and will not live much longer. But Assad is in his 40's and the probability of him living a long, healthy life outside of Syria is a little too much to bear.

What the offer of clemency shows is a lack of will on the part of the rest of the world to do what is necessary to topple the dictator. I'm not necessarily referring to military force or assassination. So far, the world's response to Assad's brutality has been timid, piecemeal, and ineffective. There are plenty of steps short of war that can be taken that would isolate Assad even more than he is now and bring down his economy so that even his erstwhile allies might be forced to take up arms against him.

But if giving him immunity is the only realistic way to get him out of power, so be it.

Rick Moran


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NY Times Soft-Pedals Rocket Barrages from Gaza on Civilian Targets in Israel

by Leo Rennert

Judging from New York Times coverage of the sharp escalation of rocket attacks on Israel by Gaza terrorists, it really wasn't a big deal at all -- and besides Hamas has accepted an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that was bound to end the onslaught ("Hamas Military Wing Accepts a Cease-Fire - Deal Ends 3 Days of Violence With Israel" by Isabel Kershner, June 21, page 11).

Reality is starkly different from Kershner's roseate account. For one thing, the headline is flat wrong -- the so-called cease-fire didn't end. Gaza terrorists kept firing rockets.

Kershner, in her dispatch, bends over backwards to depict the incessant rocket barrages -- well over 100 -- as benign and inconsequential as possible.

Here's how she puts it:

"The confrontation remained relatively contained, with the Gaza groups firing mostly short-range rockets that did not reach southern Israel's major cities."

This sentence tells worlds about Kershner's determination to sanitize the terror war unleashed from Gaza. For one thing, why the benchmark that rocket fire from Gaza is OK as long as it spares major cities? What about smaller Israel towns and communities hit by rocket fire? Don't their residents matter?

But even by Kershner's dubious criterion that only attacks on major cities matter, she's wrong again. Rocket fire hit the Be'er Sheva and Ashkelon areas. The attack on Be'er Sheva, the largest city in the Negev, came as kids were going to school. Numerous residents showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Kershner overlooks all that.

Nor does she report that the mayor of Ashkelon, another big southern Israeli city, at the behest of fearful parents, on Wednesday when Kershner was writing her piece, ordered schools closed the next day. Several rockets took aim at the Ashkelon area. Since Monday, four Israeli border patrol officers were injured by rocket fire.

Nor is there any mention by Kershner that Israel's Home Front Command on Wednesday ordered all non-reinforced schools within seven kilometers of Gaza to close the next day. Public gatherings of 500 or more people have been banned. The human impact from rocket fire goes totally missing in Kershner's report.

Her predicate for covering Palestinian terror attacks is to dismiss Israeli psychological casualties -- lingering post-traumatic stress symptoms, especially among the young -- and even physical injuries. Israelis have to be killed before Kershner deigns paying any attention -- and then as little as possible.

At the same time, Kershner's coverage sets impossibly high standards for Israel's right to defend itself against terrorist attacks. Never mind that the IDF goes to great lengths to minimize collateral casualties, implicit in her writing is that even a single Palestinian civilian casualty puts Israel in the wrong.

Accordingly in writing about Israel's military response to the rocket attacks, she first lists a Gaza teenager killed by an Israeli airstrike. Never mind that a half dozen or more Palestinian terrorists also were killed. That fact rates minimal attention -- "at least seven other Palestinians were killed in the three days of fighting, most of them said to be militants."

"Said to be militants" -- a neat, absolving euphemism for terrorists bent on killing civilians.

In sum, Kershner is quick to critique Israeli counter-strikes against rocket-firing terrorists, but at the same time sanitizes these terrorists as merely "militants" belonging to the "military wing of Hamas."

Such is her moral compass.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers


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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Over 75 Rockets Fired from Gaza Hit Israel

by IDF Website

Over the past three days terrorists in the Gaza Strip continuously fire rockets at Israeli communities, IAF aircraft respond with precise airstrikes preventing attacks
19:10 A short while ago, IAF aircraft targeted two terror sites in the northern Gaza Strip. Direct hits were confirmed.

The targeting is in response to over 75 rockets that were fired at Israel during the past three days, threatening the life of over one million Israeli civilians living in the region.

12:50 In a joint IDF-ISA activity in the southern Gaza Strip, IAF aircraft targeted a Global Jihad terror operative involved in the planning and execution of a terror attack on Monday (June 18) against Israeli construction workers on the Israel-Egypt border, in which an Israeli civilian was killed.

06:30 IAF aircraft struck six terror sites in Gaza overnight. An additional strike was carried out this early this morning, targeting a terror sites in northern Gaza. Hits were confirmed and all aircraft returned safely to their airbases.

The sites were targeted in response to ongoing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip over the past few days, targeting civilian communities in southern Israel.

Most schools in the region surrounding the Gaza Strip are closed, and civilians are advised to stay indoors and in protected areas.

The IDF will not tolerate any attempt to target Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers and will continue to operate with strength and determination against anyone who uses terror against the residents of the State of Israel. The Hamas terror organization is solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip.

IDF Website


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Arab Spring vs. Women's Rights

by Raheel Raza

In a propaganda trap doubtlessly intended to cripple one politically – like so many others of its kind, such as "racist" – if a woman speaks in ways expected of a woman she is considered an inadequate leader; if she speaks in ways expected of a leader she is considered an inadequate woman. If you can dismiss the person, you can dismiss the issue.

In the "Arab Spring" countries in transition, women are now marginalized or excluded entirely from political bodies. Denial of one's fundamental right to participate in the democratic process in one's own country is one form of violence. Yet it is not, unfortunately, alone in the pattern of violence involving restrictions on women.

In much of the Muslim world today, when a Muslim woman speaks out or is qualified to take a leadership role, she is called "militant." In a propaganda trap doubtlessly intended to cripple one politically – like so many others of its kind, such as "racist" – if a woman speaks in ways expected of a woman, she is seen as an inadequate leader; if she speaks in ways expected of a leader, she is seen as an inadequate woman. If you can dismiss the person, you can dismiss the issue.

During the revolutions and uprisings across the Arab world, violence targeting women has been reported frequently as committed by police, soldiers, and militia. There have even been accounts of violence against women by demonstrators.

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence that results in psychological harm or suffering to women." Prohibitions on participation in the political, economic, and social decisions which will affect oneself and one's family are a form of violence. Decisions about women made without consultation with women create psychological harm and suffering. Refusing women the right to support or oppose laws concerning them is a violent act against them.

I attended a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March and heard testimony about women's rights being violated across the Middle East. That women's rights continue to be usurped and that women continue to be dehumanized by Islamists is a reality and a horror.

Another international organization, Women Living Under Muslim Laws, has identified anti-women policies as a danger sign of spreading fundamentalism. These practices, whether they involve limitations on freedom of movement, on the right to education and employment, or imposition of discriminatory laws, under authoritarian and theocratic rule, represent a challenge for women to organize and act together. As Islamic fundamentalism is misogynistic, feminist input in debates about the future of Islam and Muslims is considered "provocative." But Muslim women's ever-greater political leadership in attaining freedom and gender equality is indispensable to defeating fundamentalism.

The first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist, recently said "My dear women: You have revolted from all over the country of Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria in order to construct a dignified life and a better future. Therefore, there is no way that we should bend down or go back."

Many women hoped the so-called "Arab Spring" would bring changes to the Middle East to help them realize their dreams and secure a better life for the next generation of women through peaceful transitions away from dictatorship, and collaboration between men and women, Muslims and non-Muslims, government and civilians. But, as Tawakkol Karman also pointed out, "One of the necessities of partnership is for women to obtain their full rights. No dignity and no liberty for a nation which oppresses women and takes away their rights."

Tawakkol Karman, is a member of Al-Islah, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has benefited most from the electoral aftermath of the "Arab Spring" in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt. Her position may therefore be considered ambivalent: she is a female rebel within a revolutionary movement that historically has emphasized the subordination of women according to alleged "Islamic" concepts. The "new" MB has followed the model of its current Turkish patron, the neo-fundamentalist Justice and Development Party (known as the AKP), in emphasizing an ostensible commitment to modern principles of equality and citizenship. But in practice, AKP has left its "moderate" promises behind as, recently, it proposed an educational reform that Turkish parents fear would encourage girls, in particular, to quit school after only four years.

For decades, Egyptian Muslim women suffered because divorce was not easy for them to obtain. But the right of women to initiate divorces in court actions ("khul") was established under ex-president Mubarak. Recently, however, an independent member of the Egyptian parliament suggested limiting women's right to initiate divorces. Mohamed al-Omda, deputy head of the People's Assembly Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee has submitted a draft law that would abolish the prerogative of "khul."

In Syria, women have been abducted by pro-regime forces, to spread fear in the population, and there is a mass of evidence involving rape, arbitrary detention, torture, "disappearances" and summary executions. In Libya, rape has been employed as a weapon of war, and the victims are stigmatized into silence. In Egypt, women demonstrators have been sexually assaulted by male protesters, and several women dissidents were detained by the army, and forced to undergo "virginity tests".

Hanaa Edwar, head of the charity Al-Amal ("Hope" in Arabic) has said, "Iraqi women suffer marginalization and all kinds of violence, including forced marriages, divorces and harassment, as well as restrictions on their liberty, their education, their choice of clothing, and their social life."

No commentary on human rights in the Arab world would be complete without mention of the outstanding example of denial of women's rights: Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is so flagrant in its violations of women's rights that one article cannot encompass all of them. A Saudi journalist, Dr. Khalid Al-Nowaiser, wrote on March 21, 2012, in Arab News, "Saudi women urgently need equal rights." He added, "There are always men who want to control women's rights in the name of religion or otherwise."

Many Arab women want emotional and intellectual liberation, including free participation in public life. These are not new demands. The United Nations Development Programme's 2007-08 survey of Middle Eastern women's status revealed that the rate of education among Arab women is the lowest in the Muslim world – in societies where we believe that educating one woman is like educating the entire nation.

Resistance to the establishment of women's rights may be blamed on self-appointed male caretakers of Muslim tradition, who feel threatened by the appearance of a significant number of women in a public space, considered reserved for men only, and who say they see emancipated Muslim women as negative exemplars of Westernization.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has attacked other laws regulating personal status in Egypt. They accuse the National Commission for Women, established in 2000 and chaired by Mubarak's wife, Suzanne Mubarak, of implementing Western strategies to undermine the family and social life in Egypt.

Women can bring about change – call it "The Silent Revolution." Women in Morocco already helped bring about significant improvements in marriage, divorce, and other family law, and polygamy has nearly disappeared there. Many relevant voices have been heard in the past year. Speaking in Rabat, Morocco, in March 2012, Michele Bachelet, a former president of Chile and executive director of the new organization, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, called for greater equality, especially in rural areas, where inequality between men and women is "most marked." At the same time, in Tunis, several thousand women demonstrated outside parliament against any attempt by the new Islamist-dominated government to cut back their recognized rights.

In March 2012, in Saudi Arabia itself, female students at a branch of King Khalid University in Abha, in the country's southwestern Asir region, joined in a major protest against trash piled up on the campus, abuses by administrators, and the corruption alleged against the university president, Abdullah Al-Rashid. The students were attacked by female security guards. When the demonstrations continued for a second day, state security agencies, including the so-called "morals patrols" or mutawiyin, often referred to as a "religious police," gathered at the university in an attempt to suppress the demonstration. Saudi sources reported 53 students injured and hospitalized, and one dead of an epileptic seizure.

Even in the Saudi kingdom, protest and change initiated by women are inevitable. We need only the courage to recognize and support them.

Raheel Raza


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Washington Backs Islamists as Sinai and Gaza Explode

by P. David Hornik

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Obama administration is “deeply concerned” by the Egyptian military regime’s having seized powers so as to prevent a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the country.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said that “We…urge the [military] to relinquish power to civilian-elected authorities….” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that “We are particularly concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military’s hold on power.”

As the report notes, the military regime’s move is aimed at preventing the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi—if he has indeed been elected—from “declaring war without the agreement of the ruling generals.”

In other words, it’s a move aimed at preventing an Egyptian attack on Israel, the total collapse of Israeli-Egyptian peace, and a drastic regional destabilization.

The generals are not acting against the Islamists because they’re wonderful people who love Israel and the West. They are, however, sane pragmatists who do not want Egypt, with its severe economic problems, to be dragged into a ruinous conflict.

And for their efforts, the generals have the Obama administration up in arms and crying foul.

How differently the situation is viewed in Israel is revealed by, for instance, veteran military analyst Alex Fishman, who wrote: “This is no longer the same Egypt. It is no longer the same border, the peace treaty is dying, and we better start to change our way of thinking.”

Fishman was referring to how much the situation has already deteriorated since the fall of Hosni Mubarak—hailed at the time by the likes of Obama and Thomas Friedman—in February last year. He was also referring to a military flare-up over the past few days that has seen scores of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza.

The flare-up began, however, south of Gaza on Monday when terrorists—Gaza-based but of Al Qaeda provenance—tried to breach the fence Israel has been building along its southern, Sinai border with Egypt to keep out terrorists, smugglers, and illegal labor migrants.

And it is since Mubarak’s fall that the situation in Sinai has gone to seed as this tract of land—which figured in the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty as a peacekeeping buffer zone—has been taken over by both Bedouin and international-terror gangs, sometimes working in tandem, as the central regime in Cairo has its hands full trying to quell anarchy closer to home.

The current round of hostilities has also seen Hamas—the Islamist rulers of Gaza—openly taking credit for the rocket fire for the first time in years. That lack of inhibition is widely viewed in Israel as reflecting a surge of confidence over the developments in Egypt, particularly the prospect of Hamas’s parent movement—the Brotherhood—and other Sunni extremists taking over or at least steadily gaining ground there.

Indeed, a year and a half after the start of what some may still be calling the Arab Spring, the view from Israel is not among the more uplifting in the country’s short history.

To the west and south, the direct security threat steadily worsens as arms from Libya—a country where the Western powers succeeded to sow anarchy and a possible Islamist takeover—flow unhindered into Sinai and Gaza.

To the east and north, the ongoing Syrian crisis poses grave risks of the Assad regime’s huge chemical-weapons stockpiles falling into dangerous hands through—again—either anarchy or a Sunni-jihadist takeover.

And in the background Iran—which hopes to capitalize on the Islamist energies of the Arab Spring, which it more accurately calls the “Islamic Awakening”—is succeeding along with the world powers to sustain a transparent sham of “nuclear talks” with, incredibly, yet another “round” having been scheduled for Istanbul in July 3 after this week’s “round” in Moscow yielded absolutely nothing by all accounts.

Israel’s worsening security environment along with stubborn Western failure to understand the regime’s dynamics—a failure that is the flipside of sheer tiredness and cynicism—does not, then, add up to an encouraging picture.

The situation has, though, fostered an enhanced unity that has seen the rise of an almost wall-to-wall, apparently stable governing coalition, and a decline of Israel’s own delusions that not long ago produced such bitter internal dissensus.

With Washington backing the belligerent fanatics in Egypt against the moderates, and still, with its allies, playing ineffectual games with Iran, Israel will need all the unity and realism it can muster.

P. David Hornik


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Fast and Furious Goes Nuclear

by Arnold Ahlert

The Fast and Furious gunwalking scandal, largely downplayed by the mainstream media for months, can no long be contained. President Barack Obama granted an eleventh hour written request by his embattled Attorney General Eric Holder and invoked executive privilege, withholding documents and communications by administration officials that occurred after Feb. 4, 2011. Those communications have been subpoenaed by House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), who had warned Mr. Holder that he would be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn them over. On Wednesday, Issa made good on his promise. The Committee approved a resolution 23-17 along party lines, holding the Attorney General in contempt of Congress. The ruling will now go to the full House for a vote.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) issued an immediate statement:

Despite being given multiple opportunities to provide the documents necessary for Congress’ investigation into Fast and Furious, Attorney General Holder continues to stonewall. Today, the Administration took the extraordinary step of exerting executive privilege over documents that the Attorney General had already agreed to provide to Congress. Fast and Furious was a reckless operation that led to the death of an American border agent, and the American people deserve to know the facts to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again. While we had hoped it would not come to this, unless the Attorney General reevaluates his choice and supplies the promised documents, the House will vote to hold him in contempt next week. If, however, Attorney General Holder produces these documents prior to the scheduled vote, we will give the Oversight Committee an opportunity to review in hopes of resolving this issue.

For more than a year, Mr. Issa gave Mr. Holder every opportunity to provide the information. Yet a 20-minute meeting Tuesday night produced nothing in the way of an agreement. Mr. Holder reportedly insisted he would be willing to brief the committee on documents detailing what the Justice Department knew about the program. He also agreed to turn over some of the additional documents Issa wanted. In return Mr. Issa would have to drop the contempt effort. Issa didn’t bite, saying he wanted to see the documents before deciding whether or not to proceed with the contempt vote.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and other Democrats claimed Mr. Holder never made such a demand, further contending that the AG had come to the meeting in “good faith” in the attempt to reach an agreement. Issa counter[ed] that Mr. Holder briefed the committee instead of providing the requested documents. Issa told Fox News that Holder didn’t provide “anything in writing.”

February 4th is critical because a letter written by the Justice Department (DOJ) on that date contended that there had never been a gunwalking program, an assertion the DOJ was forced to withdraw in November when it didn’t square with the facts in the case. Yesterday, the DOJ was forced to make a second retraction regarding Mr. Holder’s claim in a hearing last week that his Bush administration predecessor, Attorney General Michael Mukasey, had been briefed about a gunwalking program called Operation Wide Receiver. The DOJ is now saying Mr. Holder “inadvertently” made that claim to the Committee. That Mr. Holder “inadvertently” made it while under oath is apparently irrelevant

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee who started the Fast and Furious investigation eighteen months ago, minced no words regarding these so-called errors. “In his eagerness to blame the previous administration, Attorney General Holder got his facts wrong,” Grassley wrote. “And his tactic didn’t bring us any closer to understanding how a bad policy evolved and continued. Bad policy is bad policy, regardless of how many administrations carried it out. Ironically, the only document produced yesterday by the Department appears to show that senior officials in the Attorney General’s own Department were strategizing about how to keep gunwalking in both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious under wraps.”

Under wraps has now taken on a whole new meaning. Yesterday morning Deputy Attorney General James Cole sent a letter to Mr. Issa. “I write now to inform you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the relevant post-February 4, 2011, documents,” it read. Thus, for the time being, the release of the subpoenaed documents has been effectively prevented by the White House.

Yet the exercise of executive privilege also brings a whole new dimension to the scandal. The Supreme Court has concluded that executive privilege pertains to communications directly with the president. Thus, its invocation inexorably leads to one of two conclusions: either the president himself is involved with Fast and Furious, or his administration intends to challenge the scope of 1974 Supreme Court decision limiting executive power.

Sen. Grassley illuminated that reality. “The assertion of executive privilege raises monumental questions,” he contended. “How can the president assert executive privilege if there was no White House involvement? How can the president exert executive privilege over documents he’s supposedly never seen? Is something very big being hidden to go to this extreme? The contempt citation is an important procedural mechanism in our system of checks and balances,” he added.

Unsurprisingly, several Democrats attempted to politicize the scandal. “They keep moving the goal posts,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) in reference to the requests made by Mr. Issa to get the additional documents. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), was “horrified” and claimed the investigation had become a “political witch hunt.” Rep Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA) referred to the contempt proceeding as a “kangaroo court,” ultimately aimed at the president. The ever-colorful Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) apparently missed the DOJ’s retraction of Mr. Holder’s aforementioned assertion and offered up an all-too-familiar Democratic refrain. “This Fast and Furious debacle started under the Bush administration,” she said. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer also hammered Committee Republicans. “Instead of creating jobs or strengthening the middle class, congressional Republicans are spending their time on a politically motivated, taxpayer-funded election-year fishing expedition,” he said.

“Fishing expedition” is an incredibly callous assessment of an operation that claimed the life of Border Patrol Agent Brain Terry, more than 300 Mexican civilians, and possibly that of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata as well. Terry’s parents were furious with the president for invoking executive privilege. “Attorney General Eric Holder’s refusal to fully disclose the documents associated with Operation Fast and Furious and President Obama’s assertion of executive privilege serves to compound this tragedy,” Josephine Terry and Kent Terry, Sr., wrote in a statement released by family attorney Pat McGroder. The statement’s conclusion hit home. “Our son lost his life protecting this nation, and it is very disappointing that we are now faced with an administration that seems more concerned with protecting themselves rather than revealing the truth behind Operation Fast and Furious,” it read.

They were not alone in venting their disgust. On Monday, the National Border Patrol Council, representing all 17,000 of the agency’s non-supervisory agents called for Mr. Holder’s resignation, with Council President George E. McCubbin III describing Mr. Holder’s actions in the case as “a slap in the face to all Border Patrol agents who serve this country” and “an utter failure of leadership at the highest levels of government.”

Ironically, it is the president himself who has amplified that failure. By invoking executive privilege, Mr. Obama has made a complete mockery of his promise that he would run the “most transparent administration in history,” and revealed the hypocrisy of his 2007 accusation claiming Bush administration officials “hide behind executive privilege every time something a little shaky is taking place.”

Yet the biggest error Mr. Obama made is political. By invoking executive privilege he has turned Fast and Furious into a national story, one even the most hopelessly compromised members of the mainstream media can no longer ignore. Nothing reveals the extent of that ideologically tainted compromise better than this excerpt from a Washington Post column by blogger Chris Cillizza. Note the sneering contempt for the public as well:

While the debate over “Fast and Furious” — and the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches — is an important one, it is also decidedly complex, meaning that most undecided voters simply won’t engage on it


No matter how “Fast and Furious” ultimately turns out, this will be (yet another) motivator for an already very enthusiastic Republican base to turn out in hopes of ousting President Obama from office. For everyone else, it’s not likely to move many votes–either way.

In other words, unless one is an “enthusiastic Republican,” one can’t possibly be bothered to follow a “complicated” gunwalking scandal that armed Mexican drug cartels with thousands of weapons, killed American agents and Mexican civilians, and might involve some of the highest-ranking officials in the current administration, including the president himself. This is whistling past the graveyard in the extreme.

Barring something currently unforeseen, the next stop in this saga will be a full vote on contempt of Congress charges in the House of Representatives — whether the mainstream media bothers to cover it or not. And contrary to Mr. Cillizza’s assessment, one suspects the general public will indeed be alarmed at this bloody debacle once it has gotten the publicity it deserves.

Arnold Ahlert


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Carrying Water for Jihad at ‘The Nation’

by Robert Spencer

The Left’s flagship publication, the Nation, has devoted its latest issue to “Islamophobia,” demonstrating yet again the lengths to which American “progressives” will go in order to run interference for their Islamic supremacist charges.

The Nation’s fondness for the enemies of America and the West is nothing new. Over a period of fifty years, its record is consistent: The Nation supported Communism through the Stalin and post-Stalin eras, and even offered comradely support to Maoism and Castroism. Thus its new role as shill for Islamic supremacists and the Muslim Brotherhood is really not new at all. Throughout its post-World War II history, the Nation has always had a soft spot for totalitarians who trample on human rights, while claiming to be the foremost defender of those rights.

On the other hand, the Nation is a Johnny-come-lately to the “Islamophobia” game. Its special issue is preceded by the smearing of critics of Islamic supremacism by Hamas-linked CAIR, the Marxist retreads at FAIR, and the Islamic supremacist-infiltrated Center for American Progress. The only innovation in the Nation’s gutter attack on those who have had the temerity to stand up for the human rights trampled on in the Islamic world is the new low achieved by Max Blumenthal in his hit piece on philanthropist Nina Rosenwald, who has given a large part of her fortune to efforts to defend freedom.

As David Horowitz and I show in our pamphlet, Islamophobia: Thoughtcrime of the Totalitarian Future, the very term “Islamophobia” is an invention of the Muslim Brotherhood designed to intimidate and discredit its critics. FBI statistics show that there is actually no serious problem of “Islamophobia.” In fact, many “anti-Muslim hate crimes” have been faked by the very organizations – CAIR in particular – that cry wolf every time an Islamic terrorist is fingered. As a matter of hard statistical fact, Jews are eight times more likely than Muslims to be the victims of hate attacks.

Meanwhile, Islamic jihadists continue to penetrate our borders and operate in the United States. Recent jihad plotters include Naser Abdo, the would-be second Fort Hood jihad mass murderer; Khalid Aldawsari, the would-be jihad mass murderer in Lubbock, Texas; Muhammad Hussain, the would-be jihad bomber in Baltimore; Mohamed Mohamud, the would-be jihad bomber in Portland; Nidal Hasan, the successful Fort Hood jihad mass-murderer; Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square jihad mass-murderer; Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, the Arkansas military recruiting station jihad murderer; Naveed Haq, the jihad mass murderer at the Jewish Community Center in Seattle; Mohammed Reza Taheri-Azar, the would-be jihad mass murderer in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh, who hatched a jihad plot to blow up a Manhattan synagogue; and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be Christmas airplane jihad bomber.

Nonetheless, as far as the Nation is concerned, any attention paid to the Islamic jihad against the West is a manifestation of bigotry — Islamophobia. Genuine bigotry and persecution of innocent people is never excusable, which is why the Nation’s special issue is so repellent. To dismiss concerns about jihad and smear those who oppose it is sinister in the same way that the American progressives who worked for the Soviet Union – and thus betrayed their country — were sinister.

The overt agenda of Islamic “civil rights” groups like CAIR, which are fronts for Islamic jihad groups, is that America become a Sharia state and thus that our Constitution be overridden and, in effect, abolished. In 1998, CAIR cofounder and longtime board chairman Omar Ahmad told a Muslim audience: “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Qur’an should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.” This is the voice of religious totalitarianism. But to say so, according to the Nation, is Islamophobia.

Since 9/11, CAIR executives have learned to be more careful with their public utterances, and today Ahmad denies making the statement. But the journalist who reported it stands by the accuracy of her story. And one of the leading Muslim spokesmen in the United States, the imam Siraj Wahhaj​, who in 1991 became the first Muslim cleric to give an invocation to the United States Congress, has warned that the U.S. will fall unless it “accepts the Islamic agenda.” He has also said, “If only Muslims were clever politically, they could take over the United States and replace its constitutional government with a caliphate.”

Most telling is the failure of any Muslim state or authority, or the Nation’s editorial board, to condemn Islamic entities – Hizballah, Hamas and the Islamic Republic of Iran — for their oft-expressed hopes for the genocide of Americans and Jews. The mainstream media habitually presumes the existence of a large population of moderate Muslims who condemn the excesses of their more violent-minded brethren, and yet these moderates remain invisible. They have never mounted any significant movement to condemn the genocidal Jew hatred of Hizballah and Hamas, much less the violent and supremacist Islamic theology of Osama bin Laden and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Although aided and abetted by the Nation fellow travelers, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation is conducting its own campaign through the UN and other international agencies to outlaw all criticism of the global jihad and Islamic supremacism as heresy: “hate speech.” The campaign against “Islamophobia” is integral to this agenda. It is an attempt to destroy the opponents of the religious totalitarians and their secular totalitarian allies. Should the campaign succeed, the Nation leftists – whose secularism is an instrumental help to the Islamic supremacists but a strategic enemy — may one day live to rue its triumph.

Robert Spencer


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Syrian Fighter Jet Reportedly Defects To Jordan During Training Exercise

by News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff

A Syrian MiG 21 fighter jet lands in Jordan on Thursday in what Syrian opposition activists say is the first defection involving an aircraft since the start of the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
A Syrian MiG 21 fighter jet landed in Jordan on Thursday in what Syrian opposition activists said was the first defection involving an aircraft since the start of the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff


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Mordechai Kedar: What’s Next for Saudi Arabia?

by Mordechai Kedar

Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)

The Death of the Crown Prince

Approximately one week ago, the Saudi crown prince, Prince Naif Bin Abd Al-Aziz died at age 78, apparently from complications of diabetes. The official media of the kingdom assumed an air of mourning and spoke of the death of the prince as a "loss to the homeland". For many years Prince Naïf has been a cornerstone of the of the Saudi family regime, because he fulfilled a number of key roles: minister of the interior (36 years), under deputy to the prime minister (3 years) and crown prince (less than one year). In his various roles he actively supervised matters of internal security, pilgrimage, religion and overseeing the media. His political importance mainly stemmed from having taken a hard line against the regime's domestic opposition, from the liberals to al-Qaeda, from the feminists to the Shi'ites. He was worthy of the titles "Strongman" and "Support of the Regime" that he was given.

About one year ago the kingdom lost the previous crown prince, Naif’s brother Sultan, who was 86 years old. One brother, King Abdullah, is 89 years old, but there are those who think that he is in his 92nd year, and his health is unstable: during the funeral prayer for Naif, in Mecca, the king sat on a chair instead of standing, as is customary, because of the burden of his years, the effects of disease, the stress of the kingship and the death of his younger brother, which factors, combined, made it difficult for him to stand. Some friends came to the funeral to support him: the Amir of Kuwait, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, head of the Supreme Council of the Egyptian military, Field marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, the present prime minister of Lebanon - Najib Mikati, and the previous one - Saad al-Hariri as well as other heads of Arab and Islamic states. Those who get fat checks from him often...

An important detail of the funeral of Naif is the fact that he was buried in Mecca, despite that the family is not originally from Mecca, which is in the Hijaz, but from Riyadh, in the Najad area. Naif is the third amir who was buried in Mecca of the sons of the founder of the kingdom, Abd al-Aziz, after two of Naif's brothers were buried there: Mansur, who was minister of defense and Majid who was governor of the Mecca region. Some of Abd al-Aziz's grandchildren are already buried in Mecca (they were not so young either). It is worthy of note that the sons of Najid who are buried in Mecca are buried in a cemetery specifically designated for them, which is called "Maqbarat al-adal", Cemetery of the Just, meaning godly justice. Tribalism - it seems - exists even in death... Their devotion to Mecca stems from their desire to show their reverence for the Islamic holy places, reflecting the nickname of the king as "The Servant of the Two Holy Places", Mecca and Medina.

The Dirty Business of the King's Replacement

"Hayat al-Bi'a" - "the Council of the Declaration of Faith" - was established a number of years ago, and its senior members are princes from the generation of the sons and the generation of the grandsons of the founder of the kingdom, Abd Al-Aziz ibn Saud, for whom the kingdom is named. The role of the council is to deal with the senior appointments of the state, to assure that only the candidates who are the most talented and most acceptable to all will reach the head of the pyramid of power in the kingdom. Prince Mashal, the king's brother, heads the council, which is supposed to meet in the near future, in order to choose a new crown prince. Prince Salman, who is 76 years old and minister of defense, is the apparent choice, or it may be the 71-year-old Prince Hamad, who officiates in the role of deputy minister of interior.

The struggle among the sons of Abd al-Aziz is difficult and stormy, and is accompanied by intrigues, coalitions and manipulations, all of which occur behind the scenes; only the bottom line becomes known to the public, such as the firing of Prince Abd al-Rahman, minister of defense, or Prince Talal's slamming the door after the king named Naif to be the under deputy of the prime minister, despite the fact that he wasn't recommended by the Bi’a Council.

The fact that Abd al-Rahman and his brother, Muta'ib, did not come to congratulate Naif on his new position and declare their loyalty was very meaningful, because Naif dared to bypass Muta'ib, who is older than he is, for the position of deputy prime minister, and Abd Al-Rahman was angry because Salman was named minister of security after the death of Sultan. Complicated? Perhaps, but it seems that the advanced years of these aged princes does not diminish the craving for power or their rivalry for honor, which is reminiscent of the rivalries between the relatives and cronies of the heads of power of past empires: the Roman, Byzantine, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman, which collapsed as a result of - among other reasons - squabbles of this sort.

However, everyone remembers that the king appointed Naif without the Council of Bi’a, and it may be that he will surprise everyone again, this time with a choice from among the generation of the grandsons to be crown prince. Everyone knows that the day will come when the last of the brothers - the sons of Abd al-Aziz will pass away, and there will be no choice but to name one of the many grandsons. If this occurs without the presence of a "responsible adult" from the generation of the sons, the grandsons may bicker over the coveted position of king. Therefore the possibility exists that the present king will expedite the "succession of the generations" by naming a crown prince, who will become the next king when the time comes, according to his own choice. The question in the background is "from which grandmother - wife of Abd al-Aziz" - will a future king be chosen to sit on the royal throne, because there is a hierarchy among the grandmothers.

A great number of grandsons, aged approximately in the sixties, already fulfill important roles in the governmental system, mainly as deputy ministers, and each time one of the sons' generation is brought to his final rest, every one of the grandsons sees himself as the likely candidate for upgrade. The most coveted position after the kingship is minister of the interior, since whoever serves in this role sits at the nerve center of state administration. This is how Prince Naif, who was the dominant and actual ruler of the kingdom for more than thirty years, designed it in recent decades.

The members of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia are traditional, passionate and very resistant to change, and it's not clear if the king will take radical steps, like naming a young prince, with whatever talents he may have, to the role of crown prince. Rather, biology, years and illness impose themselves upon all of the events, and the recent cases of deaths among senior officials - the death of two crown princes, Sultan and Naif, within eight months of each other - may undermine the stability of the family and consequently, the stability of the monarchy. One possible candidate from among the grandsons is Mukran, the head of intelligence, however he is nearing 70... The generation of the grandsons is not only younger but is also different from the point of view of their educational background, since many of them spent years in the West studying in leading universities. The leading names in this group are Khaled and Turki, sons of King Faizal, Mahmoud bin Naif, Bandar bin Sultan (the past ambassador in Washington), Abd Al-Aziz bin Fahd, Abd Al-Aziz son of the current king Abdullah, and there are many more.


The crown prince will have to cope - perhaps soon, as king - with the difficult and volatile situation in the region and especially in Syria, the Iranian threat on Saudi Arabia and the other states of the Gulf, and the status of the monarchy in the region and in the world, as the state that exports the greatest quantity of oil.

In the internal arena, the king will need to cope with the contradictory and conflicting trends that are exerting great influence on Saudi society: on one side - the increasing demand to carry out political reforms based on expanding the number of recipients of the government pie beyond the family of King Abd al-Aziz, founder of the monarchy, in order to give opportunities to other talented people; to bring about a more just division of the wealth of the kingdom, mainly pertaining to the income from oil; to sever the connection between the legal system and the ruling family, so that the court will be seen as more just and legitimate in the eyes of the people; to broaden the circle of institutions that are chosen by the public and to increase their authorities; to separate the branches of government, and improve the monitoring of performance through a legislative authority and free, independent and effective oversight. A "state family" does not easily accept changes of this sort, which might undermine its power within the state systems.

The public demand for internal changes increased during the past year following the events of the "Arab Spring", when the people of Saudi Arabia saw, by live broadcast, how the Tunisian, Egyptian, Yemenite and Syrian throngs streamed into the streets with the demand to overthrow the head of the pyramid of power and to bring about economic, social and political justice.

These demands are driven by the economic situation in Saudi Arabia, which differs greatly from the image of the rich kingdom: unemployment, mainly among the young and educated is high, which has severe ramifications on their ability to establish a family. As a result of this, many of the young remain unmarried or try to emigrate, and others commit suicide. Saudi Arabia is one of the last states in the world that lacks a constitution with provisions for the division of powers among the branches of government, an elected parliament, freedom of the press, the right to public demonstration, freedom to form political and professional organizations, and a woman's' right to act in the public domain without gender-specific limitations.

The modern media, chiefly the social networks, enable the youth of the kingdom to express themselves, and their demands arise and increase, and take the form of petitions demanding that the monarchy conduct political reforms, bring about social justice, free prisoners of conscience and do away with the governmental, economic and religious monopolies that are all bound up with one another. Recently a few demonstrations and strikes have been organized - despite the ban on their existence - in universities and in front of the offices of the government and labor offices, against corruption, tyranny and unemployment. In one case, despite its explicit prohibition, a huge demonstration was organized against administrative imprisonment without trial.

The media, both local and, unfortunately, global, remain silent and blind to these events and their implications. It seems that the world prefers Saudi Arabia to remain always beyond the mountains of darkness, far from global culture, so that its stability will be ensured and the oil will continue to flow to the opulent West, which is addicted to Saudi oil and its products.

The Status of Women and the Morality Police

There are two cultural issues that are simultaneously burdening Saudi society: the issue of the status of woman and her freedoms, and the role played by the "agency for commanding the good and forbidding the evil", which is the notorious Morality Police, whose main activities are primarily associated with women, gender and modesty. The matter recently rose to the headlines after a video clip was recorded on a cellular telephone, in which a Saudi woman is confronted with a group of people from the Morality Police, who accuse her of a terrible crime: that she dared to go out to shop in the mall, with fingernails – goodness gracious! - painted. She defends herself by repeating again and again that she was born free, and that she can paint her fingernails; they left her alone after they realized that they were being recorded.

The question of women driving is disturbing, because many of the women of Saudi Arabia who have lived abroad have a driver's license, and the prohibition of driving a car places them effectively under house arrest or makes them dependent on a paid driver or a male member of the family. The issue of the Morality Police is complicated because they harass anyone whose views do not agree with those of the regime, by accusing him of heresy. By investigating what Saudis write on social networking sites, the police present "proof" against the "heretics", who are then put on trial for what they wrote. Even worse is that the Morality Police enlist the aid of informers from among the public, so that many people in Saudi Arabia feel that they are not free to say what they feel even in the privacy of their own homes.

The reliance of the regime on the Morality Police is the "tax" which the Saudi family pays to the religious establishment, principally the religious scholars of the families of bin Baz and ibn Alat'min, and this alliance of religion and state is anathema to most of the population.

The Shi'ites

In Eastern Saudi Arabia, in the oil-rich region of Hasah, live the members of the Shia minority. The Sunni rulers, members of the Hanbali-Wahabbi population, view Shi'ism as a kind of heresy against Islam, and place many limitations upon them. The Shi'ites are forbidden to call the "adhan", the call to prayer, from the minarets of the mosques, and they are forbidden to publicly mark the day of the "Ashura", the day on which, in 680 CE, al-Hussein bin Ali, the Shi'ite leader, was murdered by the forces of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid. The Shi'ites in Saudi Arabia, in spite of being Arabs, are routinely accused of loyalty to Iran and treason against the homeland. In recent months the Alawites in Syria have been added to the list of targets for Saudi media, because - ultimately - they are also heretics...

The Issue of Identity

This issue is apparently the most severe of all the issues exerting their influence on the society in the kingdom. National identity is defined by a group of values, ideals and principles which together, constitute an identity of individuals as well as groups among the people, and these are expressed in its art, culture, literary creations, philosophy and history. Some of these components are fixed and stable, but others integrate changes that are occurring within the cultural environment of the people.

In Saudi Arabia, the youth, who constitute the majority of the population, can be divided into three groups according to their cultural identity: the first group has a traditional nature, characterized by customs and social traditions specific to them, mainly the adherence to tribal culture, which has lately increased among the public and the media. The increasing awareness of the tribal unit among those tribes who are not part of the coalition of the Saudi family, results in increasing self-awareness and independence, isolating them from the state, which is not theirs. The second group integrates religious values with imported values which appeal mainly to the younger generation. One can see many young people coming to prayers in the mosques wearing jeans and western hair styles, and in their pockets are cell phones that contain material inconsistent with the values of Islam. These young people do not represent a stable element of society, and their conduct can change within short periods of time. The third group comprises youths who are increasingly attracted to the radical side of religion, which they feel is the proper compass to guide the individual, the society and the state. This group views tribal culture, and especially the tribal ruler, negatively, mainly because of rumors of the immoral behavior of some members of the royal family.

To all of these groups we must add the millions of foreign workers who reside permanently in the kingdom, most of whom - whether from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, or the Arab world - work under difficult conditions and for very low wages, and many times must cope with with humiliating and degrading treatment from their Saudi employers. Foreign women who work as housekeepers in Saudi Arabia are treated with a double portion of humiliation and exploitation. The identity of the foreign workers with the state is no greater than the salary that they receive for their services.

The ruling family is well aware of the various trends among the population, and tries to buy the public and the their loyalty with "charity" money that it distributes to whomever it pleases. A caricature making the rounds on the Internet expresses the situation well.

In light of the situation in which the kingdom must stand up to external challenges, principally an Iranian threat on the territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia, it is not clear whether the population of the kingdom will indeed lend strong support to the leadership of the ruling family. It is not clear how dear this family is to the hearts of the public, or how much the public identifies with it and with the aging, shabby governmental system that runs the state. Will the citizens of Saudi Arabia agree to pay the price of war with Iran only to leave the sons and the grandsons of the House of Saud exclusively in power? Does Iranian self confidence in relation to the Gulf states stem from a sense of weakness emanating from Saudi Arabia? Does the tense atmosphere that reigns recently between the royal family and the White House in Washington stem from some doubt in the hearts of Americans about the value of investing in the "State of the Saud Family"? The future holds the answers.


Dr. Mordechai Kedar ( is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav.

Links to Dr. Kedar's recent articles on this blog:

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Executive Power Grab on F&F Documents

by Alana Goodman

Because nothing says “I have nothing to hide” like an executive power grab to block investigators from looking at government documents:

President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege over documents sought by a House committee investigating the botched Fast and Furious gun-running sting, according to a letter to the panel Wednesday from Deputy Attorney Gen. James Cole.

The move means the Department of Justice can withhold the documents from the House Oversight Committee, which was scheduled to consider a contempt measure Wednesday against [Attorney General Eric] Holder.

The immediate question raised by this sudden assertion of executive people is whether President Obama was involved in the scandal. Why would he put himself at risk of serious political backlash if this was all about simply protecting Holder — who is about to be charged with contempt of Congress anyway? And if there is something damaging about Obama or top White House officials in those papers, maybe that explains why Holder still has a job despite the growing calls for his resignation.

The Department of Justice and the Obama administration is going to try to defend this as a necessary response to a baldly political witch hunt by House Republicans. But will the public buy that at this point? Not only are there numerous signs of behind-the-scenes shadiness that we already know about — the timing inconsistencies, Holder’s misstatements — there’s also the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent at the top of the story. Is the Obama administration actually going to argue that the family of Agent Brian Terry doesn’t deserve to know the full circumstances surrounding his death?

Obama’s assertion of executive privilege turned this from a political back-and-forth between the DOJ and a congressional committee into a full-blown scandal ensnaring the president. What exactly is hiding in those papers that pushed Obama to take this risk?

Alana Goodman


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Governing by Presidential Decree Should Scare the You-Know-What out of Hispanics

by Silvio Canto, Jr.

Years ago, I was working in Mexico City and enjoying lunch in one of those wonderful "Zona Rosa" restaurants. I was catching up with a couple of Mexican friends who happened to be PAN-istas, or members of the conservative party. (Back then, the PRI was still governing the country, and PAN never thought that they'd elect a president. They did in 2000 and 2006.)

It turned out that President López-Portillo was delivering his "informe," or the Mexican version of the State of the Union speech, that day.

Let me add some context. Mexico was reeling from a February devaluation and more currency collapses in August. It got so bad that a Mexican delegation was sent to Washington, D.C. for an emergency meeting with President Reagan and then-Treasury Secretary Regan. It was a very bad summer for Mexicans, and capital flight was the order of the day.

López-Portillo's informe was a boring speech, full of numbers and "I did this" and "I did that."

At one point, López-Portillo dropped the bomb. He expropriated the Mexican private banking system. He was trying to blame the bankers for the devaluations that his own irresponsible policies had caused.

My two friends screamed at the TV and called him a "dictator." They also said a couple of Spanish words that I can't repeat in a PG blog.

I said: Can he do that?

My friend replied: Yes, that's what's wrong with Mexico. The president can do whatever he wants.

I said: What about Congress? What about the courts?

My friend looked at me and said: This is Mexico, not the U.S.

I never forgot that moment. I was witness to an irresponsible power-grab by a man desperately trying to change the subject.

I can add to that story what is happening in Venezuela with Hugo Chávez. Or what my parents saw in Cuba -- who can forget Fidel Castro saying, "Elections, for what?"

Every Hispanic in the U.S. has roots in Latin America. We are either political refugees like my family or people looking for a better economic opportunities.

What do we have in common? We are from countries with no rule of law.

Let me caution my Hispanic friends who are cheering amnesty by presidential decree.

First of all, it is not a change in the law, because the next president can cancel what President Obama just did.

Second, it is a bad habit to let presidents get away with violating the U.S. Constitution. What will they do next?

Silvio Canto, Jr. can be reached at


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What is the Obama Administration Hiding, and Why Are They Hiding It?

by Peter Wehner

Attorney General Eric Holder has a problem with the accuracy of his congressional testimonies.

For example, on May 3, 2011, Holder – when asked when he became aware of the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, told the House Judiciary Committee, “I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” But as CBS News reported, “Internal Justice Department documents show that at least ten months before that hearing, Holder began receiving frequent memos discussing Fast and Furious.” This forced Holder to confess to Senate Republicans that the Justice Department had provided “inaccurate” information to Congress during his May 3 testimony.

Now comes Retraction Number Two.

In a memo today from Republican Senator Charles Grassley, we’re informed, “The Justice Department has retracted a second statement made to the Senate Judiciary Committee. During a hearing last week, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that his predecessor, then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, had been briefed about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver. Now, the Department is retracting that statement and claiming Holder ‘inadvertently’ made that claim to the Committee. The Department’s letter failed to apologize to former Attorney General Mukasey for the false accusation.”

Grassley went on to make this statement:

This is the second time in nearly seven months that the Department has gotten its facts wrong about gunwalking. Attorney General Holder accused Attorney General Mukasey, without producing any evidence, of having been briefed on gunwalking in Wide Receiver. The case Attorney General Mukasey was briefed on, Hernandez, is fundamentally different from both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious since it involved cooperation with the Mexican government. Attorney General Holder’s retraction should have included an apology to the former Attorney General.

In his eagerness to blame the previous administration, Attorney General Holder got his facts wrong. And his tactic didn’t bring us any closer to understanding how a bad policy evolved and continued. Bad policy is bad policy, regardless of how many administrations carried it out. Ironically, the only document produced yesterday by the Department appears to show that senior officials in the Attorney General’s own department were strategizing about how to keep gunwalking in both Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious under wraps.

So let’s consider where we are. Congress has been misled several times by the Attorney General. We don’t yet know if Holder committed perjury or was simply incompetent in making the claims he did. But we do know that President Obama, who was once a harsh critic of executive privilege when it came to his predecessor, has suddenly discovered a real fondness for it. Obama, in fact, is now invoking executive privilege in order to prevent Congress for getting the documents it needs in order to investigate a program that was, by any measure, a scandalous failure that led to the deaths of innocent Americans and Mexicans.

Which raises these questions: As Alana noted earlier, what is the Obama administration hiding? And why are they hiding it?

Peter Wehner


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