Thursday, April 23, 2009

The New War


by Raphael Israeli


As  one looks to the new character of  Israel’s wars (and the West’s wars for that matter) with the Arab and Islamic worlds during the past decade, one is struck by the profound changes which they have undergone. The war in Afghanistan, and to a great extent the war in Iraq , which have begun as with conventional deployments to wage conventional wars, which are decided rapidly by overwhelming force and fire power, have tapered into unconventional,  prolonged guerilla warfare, with no decision in sight. The terrorists are succeeding not only in  sapping the West’s forces, but are also winning the media war, as they arouse sympathy as the defenders of a cause, while the western defenders against terrorism are exposed as hopeless aggressors. Similarly, Israel’s response to the Hizbullah aggression in Lebanon(2006) and to Hamas belligerency in Gaza (2009), ended inconclusively and remain pregnant with more hostilities to come, with much of the Western sympathy leaning towards the  Muslim aggressors, not towards their victims.


Abu-‘Ubeid Qurashi, one of the aides of Osama Bin Laden, published after the September 11 Disaster, in the Arabic press and in the al-Qa’ida site on Internet, a very stunning article regarding his organization’s strategy in its unseemly confrontation with the US and western civilization in general. The article demonstrates that not only do those champions of evil do their home work adequately, and that they are equipped with the requisite patience, sophistication and methodical thinking, the fruits of which we saw in the deadly precision of their operation against the Twin Towers, but that we too have something to learn in our war against terror. For it transpires that the Muslim terrorist organizations which have been waging war against us directly, are inspired by the Qa’ida war doctrine, and it is not too early to try to comprehend their schemes.


The author, who has obviously  studied the most recent  western research in matters of the future battlefields and war doctrines, has come up with conclusions that send shudders down your spine: first, that the era of massive wars has ended, because the three war models of previous generations have been eroded;  second, the fourth-generation wars of the 21st Century will consist of non-asymmetrical  confrontations between well-armed and well-equipped armies, who have a turf, a way of life and material interests to defend, and therefore are clumsy; and small groups armed with light weaponry only, who have no permanent bases and are on the move at all times. Thirdly, in these wars, the main target is not the armed forces, but civil society that has to be submitted to harassment and terror to the point of detaching it from the army that fights in its defense; and fourthly, television is more important than armored divisions in the battlefield.


This war doctrine lay in the gray zone between war and peace. Namely those who initiate this kind of war, e.g. by wanton terrorism, would not declare it openly, and would leave it to the defendants to announce war and thereby become the “aggressors”. They themselves would create atrocities that are sure to attract the attention of Television so as to strike fear in the heart of the enemy, and retreat to their bases. But when the victim strikes back in self-defense, television can again be counted on to show the “abuses” of the “aggressor” and gain sympathy for the cause of the terrorists.  On television, the huge armies which crash everything in their path

will always look worse that the “poor”, “frustrated” “freedom fighters” who are “oppressed” and “persecuted” by far superior troops.


Thus, the author could show that small groups of poorly equipped Mujahideen have been able throughout the past two decades to defeat super- and lesser powers: the Soviet in Afghanistan, the US in Somalia, Russia in Chechniya and Israel in Lebanon.. According to this analysis, the three major components of modern warfare are: early warning, the ability to strike preventively and deterrence, and these were exactly the elements that were paralyzed by al-Qa’ida on 11 September. As for the early warning, the writer claims that they have achieved a strategic surprise, in spite of American technology, on the scale of Pearl Harbor, the Nazi attack against the Soviet Union, the assault on the Cole in Aden and the Suez crossing in the Yom Kippur War. Therefore, the terrorists could deliver that deadly blow on September 11, and levy on the Americans a very heavy economic and psychological price.


The ability to deliver a preventive strike is linked, in the mind of the author to the issue of early warning, because when the latter fails, then a preventive strike becomes irrelevant,. But even if it had worked, there would be no one available to strike, as the terrorists are small, hidden and mobile. And finally – deterrence totally collapses in the face of the asymmetry between an institutionalized state which entertains life and a desire to live and prosper, and a group of Mujahideen who are indifferent to life, and indeed desirous to perish in the Path of Allah and attain the delights of Paradise. Thus, since nothing can deter them, they can always determine, against all odds, when, where, how, what, and whom to strike, without fearing anyone or anything.


It is harrowing to reflect on how applicable this doctrine is in our daily lives here, not only on the Hizbullah in Lebanon, who is linked to the Qa’ida, not only ideologically, and has had some successes, but has also exported this doctrine to the Muslim terrorist movements in the Palestinian Territories, such as the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Moreover, “secular” organizations such as the Tanzim and the Aqsa Shahids, have been converted to these tactics, once Arafat’s call for martyrdom, with himself at the helm, has become the favorite form of struggle against Israel.


There is, however, a way to counter every deed or doctrine, with a view of reducing its effect, immunize our society from its deadly threat and eliminate the terror it imposes on us. For example, if they mean to detach our society from our armed forces, something that they have been partly successful in inoculating into our protest movements, maybe it is time for these elements to wake up as they realize that they have been unwittingly used by our enemies to attain their ends, to dismantle our national unity and incite us against our government and to play into the hands of their subversive doctrine. Or, if television is a declared means of discrediting Israel, why can’t we imitate the Americans in Afghanistan and the British in the Falklands and bloc the way of the media into the battlefield until the end of hostilities? Maybe it is better for our image to be accused of obstructing the media than let them document the asymmetry between us and the  terrorists in the field.


And if  terrorism has adopted the recourse of fighting against us by martyrdom, because there is arguably nothing to be done against “suicide-bombers”, each of whom can terrorize and paralyze an entire public,  then we have to demonstrate, like President Bush during his tenure, that we are facing not a war against individuals, who are desirous to die, and whom we cannot bring to justice when they succeed in their task, but against those who dispatch them, arm them, indoctrinate them, support them and finance them, and that as long as we keep them on the run, they will be less able to concoct and carry out their dark and cruel schemes against us.



Prof. Raphael Israeli is a professor of Islam and Middle East at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.

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


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Leaders' mortality may sway Iraq's health.


by Michael Rubin

US President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq is predicated on an assumption that Iraq's stability is durable. On 29 January 2009, General Ray Odierno, commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, said: "We are getting close to enduring stability, which enables us really to reduce [US military forces]." Advocates of military withdrawal by the United States are optimistic: the 31 January 2009 provincial elections proceeded without much incident.

According to US government figures, violence is down to 2003 levels. Progress, however, has less to do with the governance system, and more to do with key personalities: President Jalal

Talabani, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, both of whom met Obama in Baghdad on 7 April, as well as Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani each conciliate crisis and reconcile disparate interests. Without them, stability and security in Iraq may not be sustainable.


Pivotal president

Iraq's National Assembly elected Talabani, a septuagenarian Kurdish political leader, as president on 6 April 2005, nine weeks after Iraq's first free elections. Talabani is a pivotal official. Fluent in Arabic, Persian, Kurdish and English, he is equally at ease in Baghdad, Washington and Tehran. While Iraq's executive on paper is weak and ceremonial, Talabani has used his relationships cultivated during decades in opposition to cajole Sunnis and Shia, Kurds and Arabs into compromise – first on the constitution and then to walk absolutist politicians back from the brink of civil war.

The Obama administration, like the Bush presidency, sees Talabani as a primary ally in Iraq. Vice President-elect Joseph Biden visited Talabani just eight days before inauguration to discuss Obama's strategy and Obama telephoned Talabani less than two weeks into his presidency to discuss the way ahead. Talabani is not deemed a figure head but a partner.

However, basing policy on Talabani is not without risk. On 12 March 2009, Talabani told an Iranian interviewer that he would not seek re-election when his term ends this year. This is not definitive: Talabani has been known to change his mind and the White House may enlist Talabani to mediate even after his return to his hometown of Sulaymaniyah.

Retirement, however, is not the main concern. At 75, Talabani's health is tenuous. In February 2007, he was flown to Amman for emergency medical care after falling unconscious. He was later transferred to Minnesota's Mayo Clinic, which discreetly treats foreign leaders suffering heart ailments and cancer. Jordanian doctors contradicted Iraqi officials who said Talabani was suffering from exhaustion. Talabani made at least three subsequent visits to the Mayo Clinic, the first in May 2007 for 10 days of tests. In June 2008, the clinic confirmed Talabani's return. His office said he was receiving treatment for a knee problem. Two months later, Talabani returned and, after he missed several events, his office acknowledged he had had emergency heart surgery.

Talabani returned to duty, but his age and poor health make him an unwise pillar upon which to tie Washington's Iraq policy. While Western officials treat the Iraqi president as a permanent fixture, senior cadres in his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party openly jockey for position in a post-Talabani Iraq. Talabani's former deputy Noshirwan Mustafa broke from the PUK in November 2006 and will now head a list to challenge the PUK at polls on 19 May. On 7 October

2008, a number of other senior PUK officials broke away to form the Movement for Democratic Change. Still, none of these officials will be able to replace Talabani on the national stage.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih is popular in Western capitals, but lacks a powerbase in either the PUK's peshmerga militia or its intelligence services. Equally as important, he is disliked by Talabani's wife, Hero Ibrahim Ahmad, whose opposition dashed Barham's hopes of leading Iraq's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That slot went instead to Hoshyar Zebari, Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Massoud Barzani's uncle. However, tribal politics may preclude Zebari's promotion to the presidency. Not only is he an outcast within the Zebari tribe (which is centred on Mosul) for backing Barzani but like Barham, his popularity among Iraqi peers falls short of that afforded him by Western diplomats. Barzani, increasingly unpopular in Iraqi Kurdistan and long dismissive of Iraqi unity, would not politically be able to replace Talabani. Talabani had served in the Iraqi army and after the fall of Saddam spent as much time in Baghdad as in Kurdistan. Barzani on the other hand antagonised Arabs with his statements and seldom voiced any consideration for Iraq's unity. Accordingly, there is no obvious Kurdish leader able to succeed Talabani on the national stage.


Prime health

Unlike Talabani, 48-year-old Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in good health. Maliki's May 2006 ascension to the premiership surprised observers. The White House had hoped Vice-President and former minister of finance Adil Mahdi, a moderate within the Islamic Supreme

Council of Iraq (ISCI), would win the top slot. Many US politicians publicly denounced Maliki as too polarising to lead. In August 2007, Maliki became a campaign issue in the US. Hillary Clinton, then front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination and now US secretary of state, declared her "hope that the Iraqi parliament will replace Prime Minister Maliki with a less divisive and more unifying figure". Washington's assessment changed as Maliki both showed willingness to reach across sectarian lines to Sunnis in Anbar province and to take on the excesses of Shia militias. He then proved his mettle to Washington by forcing the Status of Forces Agreement through parliament in November 2008.

For the White House, the adversary became an asset. US officials cheered the success of Maliki's supporters in provincial elections, especially given the US assumption that the ISCI strays too close to Iranian interests. However, Maliki's consolidation of control undercuts the development of potential successors, a dangerous phenomenon in a country where all officials remain vulnerable to assassination. Meanwhile, Maliki's Dawa party is characterised by its factionalism, making the process of succession more intricate.

The ISCI provides no clear alternative. Its leader, Abdul Aziz Hakim, has terminal cancer, and it is uncertain whether his 37-year-old son Ammar can consolidate control. In such a vacuum, no leader can rise above the fray without Iranian financial and logistical support. Western officials are anxious that under such circumstances, Moqtada al-Sadr emerges as the strongest Shia leader.



The greatest wildcard is 78-year-old Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. He is Iraq's leading religious figure and possesses significant implicit political clout. Like many traditional Shia clerics, Sistani sees his role as an indirect guide rather than an active political leader. While he advocates Shia empowerment, he tempers populist anger, discourages Iranian-style clerical political control and eschews violence. When he dies, it is unclear who might fill his role. Najaf is home to other Grand Ayatollahs – Afghan-born Muhammad Ishaq Fayadh and India-born Bashir Najafi – but neither has a large enough following to replace Sistani.

Many senior Shia leaders live in Iran but to prevent even passive challenge to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the most prominent traditional clerics in IranHossein Ali Montazeri and Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi – remain under house arrest or in prison. At best, should Sistani die in the near future, there will be no clear marja at-taqlid (source of emulation), to represent the Shia voice. In such a situation, firebrands such as al-Sadr may find little impediment to religious demagoguery.

Alternatively, 73-year-old Iraqi-born Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah may return from Lebanon. While scholars debate whether or not Fadlallah is a patron for Lebanese Hizbullah, they do not debate either his long association with the group nor his support for their actions. Should Fadlallah return, no cleric is likely to be able to challenge him as the pre-eminent Shia religious authority in Iraq. As much as Sistani has been a voice for calm, his successor could become a force for discord.

As long as Iraqi security is dominated by personalities rather than checks and balances, stability in the country will be a mirage. The situation in Baghdad has improved greatly since 2007, but while success rests upon the longevity of old men and unwillingness to acknowledge the prime minister's mortality, any gains could fast reverse.

Michael Rubin is editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Target of Convenience


by Michael Rubin

On April 13, Roxana Saberi, a 31-year-old Iranian-American journalist, appeared before a closed hearing of a revolutionary court to answer charges of spying for the United States — potentially capital charges. Iranian officials brushed off Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's request for Saberi to be released. Iranian justice was quick. On April 18, the court found Saberi guilty and sentenced her to eight years. Her case calls to mind that of Farzad Bazoft, a Western journalist executed by Saddam Hussein in 1990. It is worthwhile to reflect on the two cases, and to ask how the West might avoid repeating with Iran today the mistakes it made with Hussein almost two decades ago.

The charges against Saberi are spurious; she was a target of convenience, arrested to make a diplomatic statement. Since 2003, Saberi has worked as a freelance journalist, reporting for the BBC, Fox, and NPR.

Most Western journalists working in the Islamic Republic self-censor to maintain access. The Ministries of Information, Foreign Affairs, and Culture and Islamic Guidance monitor foreign reports and blacklist any journalist who files reports not to the liking of Iranian authorities. Visas to Iran are a rare commodity, even for non-journalists, and the visas of critical reporters are not renewed and sometimes revoked.

Some Iranian Americans, like Saberi, get around the visa controls by traveling on Iranian passports. This carries risks, however. "She entered the country as an Iranian citizen and holds Iranian residency, passport and national identity card. Even if she has another citizenship, it will not affect the way we will proceed with her case," her prosecutor, Hassan Haddad, said.

U.S. officials have expressed displeasure with the arrest, but there is every reason to believe the Iranians do not take them seriously. Addressing Washington, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an April 15 campaign rally in the southern Iranian city of Kerman, "You today are in a position of weakness and you can't achieve anything."

Saberi's fate is in the air. Robert Mackey, a blogger for the New York Times, speculated that Iranian authorities view Saberi as a hostage, a bargaining chip to win the release of alleged Qods Force operatives seized by U.S. forces in Iraq. This is plausible. But for Obama, such bargaining would be a dangerous game to play.

First, it is not wise to equate an innocent American journalist with Iranian special-force operatives working to kill American soldiers and Iraqi civilians. And while some proponents of engagement argue that, however odious, prisoner swaps work, experience suggests otherwise. Between 1984 and 1992, terrorists — most linked to Hezbollah — kidnapped 24 Americans. They killed several, most famously former CIA station chief William Francis Buckley (no relation to the founder of National Review) and U.S. Marine colonel William R. Higgins, who had been snatched while on a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. Most of the captives were left to languish, however. And when Reagan tried to trade arms for hostages, the lull in kidnappings lasted only until his administration supplied the last shipment of military spare parts; then the terrorists seized three more Americans.

There is a more dangerous scenario. Throughout the 1980s, foreign-policy "realists" in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, as well as a bipartisan array of congressmen and senators, sought to engage Saddam Hussein, calling the Iraqi president a moderate and a bulwark against Islamism. A Western consensus that Saddam was dangerous developed only in 1990, two years after the Iraqi leader had ordered the chemical-weapons bombardment of Halabja and other Iraqi Kurdish towns and villages The incident that convinced Western officials was the Iraqi regime's execution of journalist Farzad Bazoft; this led U.S. News & World Report to run a portrait of Hussein on its cover with the caption "The Most Dangerous Man in the World."

The similarities between Bazoft and Saberi are uncomfortable. Bazoft also was 31 years old. Though a naturalized British citizen, he was of Iranian heritage. Ambitious and adventurous, he too established himself as a freelancer, working in Iraq for the Observer, the Sunday edition of the Guardian.

Iraqi security arrested Bazoft in September 1989 as he investigated reports of an explosion at an Iraqi military facility south of Baghdad. As Iranian authorities did with Saberi, Iraqi officials held Bazoft for several months before trial. On March 10, 1990, after a trial also closed to outside observers, the Iraqi court found Bazoft guilty of espionage. On March 15, Iraqi authorities led Bazoft to the gallows and hanged him.

In language similar to that of the Iranian authorities today, Iraqi authorities said they were refusing to compromise because — as the Iraqi ambassador to France put it — Western officials had used "threatening terms and blackmail," and were insufficiently respectful of Saddam Hussein. On March 26, 1990, the Arab League expressed "its complete solidarity with Iraq in the defense of its sovereignty and national security." While the U.S. Foreign Office ordered its ambassador home for consultations, British foreign secretary Douglas Hurd declined to send the Iraqi ambassador home or sever relations. In 2003, after U.S. and British troops occupied Iraq, the Observer investigated the Bazoft case. It tracked down Bazoft's interrogator, who acknowledged that Bazoft was no spy, and said the execution took place on Saddam's orders.

Saberi no longer faces the gallows, but it is not uncommon for detainees to die of unnatural causes in Iranian custody. Just ask the family of photographer Zahra Kazemi, who was raped and beaten to death after her arrest in 2003.

Once, the world bent over backward not to recognize Saddam Hussein for what he was; today, many foreign-policy and intellectual elites try to explain away Iranian actions.

Just as the Arab League rallied around Iraq and against the West between Bazoft's execution and Iraq's invasion of Kuwait four months later, today the Organization of the Islamic Conference and other international bodies rally around Iran. International organizations are fickle,and seldom adhere to their founding principles.

It is not possible to erase the noxiousness of rogue states with rhetorical flourish. In 1990, it took the death of a 31-year-old journalist to wake up the West. Let's hope we needn't make the same sacrifice today.


Michael Rubin, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School.

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


The confrontation Con-Game


by Barry Rubin

There are many people eager to see President Barack Obama and his administration bash Israel, or predict that's already happened. But the administration has yet to make significant direct anti-Israel actions or statements.

Despite rumors and speculation at this point there's still no solid evidence. While, obviously, things could change at any time I expect this widely predicted conflict isn't going to take place.

Let me emphasize the word "direct" from the first paragraph. Inasmuch as the U.S. government gives up too much to Iran, Syria, and radical Islamists, it hurts Israel's interests, as well as those of most Arab governments and the United States itself.

Still, what's happened so far is being taken out of context by those who want a U.S.-Israel confrontation because they hate either Israel or Obama.

Contrast this alleged confrontation with the real but largely ignored conflict in U.S.-Europe relations. Obama's trip to Europe was a failure. To everything he asked—a parallel strategy for dealing with economic troubles, getting Turkey into the European Union, or more help in Afghanistan—the Europeans said "no." Then everyone proclaimed the visit a great success.

With Israel, it's the opposite. No confrontation happens but it's presented that way. Let's look at some examples:

--Endorsing a two-state solution isn't an attack on Israel's government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't oppose a two-state solution—and hasn't for 12 years--but emphasizes this would only happen if and when a Palestinian leadership proves its credibility and makes a decent offer. If the Obama administration says it's going to succeed, so did its last three predecessors.

This issue raises the most important single guideline for Israeli policy, which shouldn't merely consist of saying, "We want peace and a two-state solution" ten times a day. It should raise its own demands that the Palestinian Authority keeps its commitments and that any negotiated solution include Palestinian as well as Israeli concessions.

Giving the Palestinians a state is conditional on that happening, not a blank check given whatever they do. There's nothing wrong with Israel demanding reciprocity. A strategy of offering everything and demanding nothing neither made Israel popular nor brought about a negotiated solution.

--U.S. engagement with Iran: While this is risky and likely give Iran's regime time to develop nuclear weapons, administration statements say engagement's purpose is to stop that. I'm not sure a Bush administration would be doing much more. The key point will be whether the Obama administration ever concludes Iran's regime doesn't intend to change its behavior.

At any rate, the administration has not made any material concessions to the Tehran regime. Undersecretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey, who managed financial sanctions against Iran during the Bush administration, is still doing so for the current government.

Vice-President Joe Biden's and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' statements opposing an Israeli attack on Iran, like the Bush administration stance, argued Israel should give diplomacy more time to work. Israel agrees. These positions apply to the present and don't close off a U.S. shift when Iran's program is closer to success.

--Obama's endorsement of the Saudi plan as a positive element in the peace process is nothing new either.

--The administration will boycott the Durban-2 hate-fest.

--While talking about engagement with Syria, the administration hasn't made concessions and the Syrian regime is visibly upset. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Jeffrey Feltman, her choice for assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, are highly skeptical about Syria and Hizballah.

--Only one high-level presidential foreign policy appointment, White House advisor Samantha Power, is clearly anti-Israel.

--The administration appropriated lots of money for Gaza reconstruction but conditions on not giving it to Hamas seem serious and there's no rush to send funds.

An extremely important factor here is that in fact the PA and Hamas, not Israel, are the barriers to peace. An Obama presidency would be far more dangerous if there was a PA determined to say anything to get a state, get U.S. pressure Israel to massive concessions, and then break its word. The same applies to a Hamas happy to pretend to abandon terrorism and genocidal rhetoric.

But that's not the case. The PA will criticize Israel but offer nothing. It won't provide a moderate alternative program to Hamas, stop incitement, accept resettlement of Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state rather than Israel, make any territorial concessions, or agree that a two-state solution permanently ends the conflict. And it won't accept Israel as a Jewish state alongside a Palestine which—according to the PA's own constitution—is an Arab and Muslim state.

It's predictable that the PA won't give those who want to ram through a two-state solution, based only on Israeli concessions, the bare minimum they need to make such a strategy credible. The same point applies to Syria and the Golan Heights.

Given that situation, there won't be a serious broad collision between the United States and Israel over the peace process, whatever smaller storms erupt from time to time as they have done with previous administrations.

Why are direct U.S.-Israel relations relatively secure? Aside from the other side's intransigence, which will inhibit U.S. policy from giving them more, is the experience of the historically anti-Israel Obama himself.

He learned in the campaign that he could insult large sections of the American people and abandon the most basic assumptions of American patriotism and get away with it. In contrast, he learned that it is politically costly to attack Israel.

This isn't to say there aren't administration policies damaging Israel's security, especially the strategy of futile engagement giving Iran's regime time to get nuclear weapons. The administration's approach also emboldens radical, terrorist, Islamist forces and demoralizes relatively moderate Arab regimes.

The biggest loser from Obama's policy, however, is not Israel but U.S. national interests. Will there come a point when the administration realizes this and changes course?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).


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


Islamists and the Left Working Together in Muslim-majority Countries?


by Daniel Pipes

The Iranian revolution of 1978-79 influenced relations between Islamists and the Left in two ways:

·         Muslim-majority countries: The falling out of Khomeini and the Tudeh (communist) party created bad relations. For a recent example: If one opposes the Islamist AK Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) in Turkey, one votes for a leftist party.

·         The West: Michel Foucault's delighted response to an actual revolution brought the two together. For a recent example: The Socialist Party in Belgium now relies heavily on Muslim votes.

Of course, these patterns do not always hold, but so far there has been so systemic break. Here are two worrisome signs of rapprochement of Islamists and Leftists in the Muslim world:

des Forces Populaires (USFP), and of the Islamist party, Partie de justice et developpement (PJD) are trying to work together against the monarchy, reported La Gazette in July 2008 (and pointed out to me by Farid Hajji of Germany).

Abdelilah Benkirane, secretary-general of the PJD announced that "L'alliance avec les socialistes de l'USFP est même souhaitée par tout le monde au sein du PJD" ("Everyone within the PJD hopes for an alliance with the socialists of the USFP"). Lahcen Daoudi, another PJD leader, added that the two parties have found "plusieurs points communs qui peuvent constituer une base pour l'élaboration d'une plate-forme de travail" ("a number of commonalities that can provide a base to build a common platform").

In reply, Mohamed Elyazghi, first secretary of the USFP, announced that "Jamais, l'USFP n'a fait de l'intégriste PJD son ennemi juré" ("Never has the USFP made the PJD its sworn enemy"). To the question, could there be a rapprochement with the PJD, Elyazghi did not mince words: "tout est possible" ("everything is possible").

These amicable feelings are not undisputed, however: Driss Lachgar, a member of the Political Bureau of the USFP, noted that the USFP is in the government and PJD is not, therefore:

Il est de ce fait impossible, que ce soit pour le PJD ou pour l'USFP, qu'on travaille ensemble. Ceci est en fait inimaginable. Les bases d'une telle alliance sont inexistantes, sauf si l'un des deux partis change de positionnement.

This makes it impossible for the PJD or the USFP to work together. That is unimaginable. The grounds for such an alliance do not exist, unless one of the two parties changes its positions.

Egypt: Mustafa Naggar, 29, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Mohammed Sherif, 23, a self-styled revolutionary socialist are finding common ground, according to Daniel Williams in "Rivals Unite to Challenge Mubarak." The two find common cause in the struggle to end the 27-year reign of Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak. Promoting their message through blogs ­ like hundreds, if not thousands, of other young political activists ­ they agree that Mr. Mubarak, 80, must go and that Egyptians need to end the historic animosity between Islamists and secular democrats that has bitterly divided Arab politics for a century.

Mr. Naggar, 29, and Mr. Sherif, 23, became acquainted through their Web sites and describe themselves as newly found friends. Interviewed in cafes on opposite sides of Cairo, they displayed remarkably common sentiments, given their distinct roots. "We must reach a middle ground," said Mr. Naggar, a dentist. "We need to understand that to achieve democracy is more important than holding on to old ideologies." His blog is decorated with an olive branch and often features a photo of someone praying. "We can't be always antagonistic," said Mr. Sherif, a government computer technician. "I think democracy can respect the beliefs of the people, so long as the beliefs are not imposed." His blog is adorned with the clenched socialist fist.

Both young men reject Islamic rule in Egypt. Naggar: "Better to have a civil state with Islamic references." Sherif: "We have to recognize that Egypt is majority Muslim and increasingly religious." They also agree on a model that could work, the AK Party in Turkey. Revolutionary socialist Sherif allows that "It has been successful in Turkey and would be even more successful in Egypt. The party respects the religion of the people but also responds with laws that the people want."

 For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood will have nothing to do with this reach across the spectrum. "They can talk all they want; the Brotherhood will not change," says the brotherhood's 80-year-old supreme guide, Mohammed Akef.

Williams finds that the two men "typify a younger group of Egyptians who challenge the notion that secular democrats and Islamic activists are locked in an immutable struggle." Hala Mustafa, editor of Democracy Review, observes that their coming together "is a real development, potentially a new generation that is neither just liberal or Islamist."


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


Monday, April 20, 2009

Israel, Despite Hamas Rockets and Media Scorn, Must Not Compromise on Peace or Terror.

by Mort Zuckerman


Did you hear about the two policemen who stopped to help a driver stuck with a flat—and were shot to death in the head at point-blank range?

Did you know about the 120-kilogram bomb planted in a parking lot adjacent to a shopping mall where thousands of people were milling about the stores, restaurants, and movie theaters?

No, of course, you didn't. These are just two everyday incidents of the ordeal confronted by people in Israel while the world and the political leaders look away. Outrages like these do not make it into the Western media, which exhibit the familiar phenomenon of monitoring only the conflicts that are the flavor of the month. And when they do turn to Israel, sporadically, it is with the excitement of thinking they can expose Israeli wrongdoing: The New York Times just drummed up a front-page story alleging the deliberate murder of innocent civilians by Israeli soldiers during the Gaza war, a poorly investigated report that turned out to be yet another urban myth and then was shamefully corrected by the Times only on the inside pages and only by blaming Israel for the false report. (Remember another urban myth alleging thousands of citizens massacred in the battle against terrorism in Jenin in 2002 when it turned out no more than 54 died, most of them combatants?)

Ordinary Israelis despair of the cruel bias. The policemen died because Israel eased restrictions on movement in the Nablus area of the West Bank. Hundreds survived in the attack on the mall near Haifa only because a woman reported hearing an explosion. Security found it was a detonator that expired without setting off a car bomb that would have lacerated the crowds with sharp metal and ball bearings.

The willingness to give a free pass to terrorism was, of course, manifest most luridly in the Gaza war. Hamas fired thousands of rockets with the short-term aim of murdering as many innocent civilians as possible in the service of the longer-term ambition to terrorize Israel.

Then, when Israel finally responded (with military restraint and humanitarian aid), it was faced with world demands for an unconditional cease-fire. Ironically, the fiercest criticism in the Arab world about Israel's conduct in Gaza stems from Israel's failure to achieve a decisive victory, for the Arab world rightly perceives not Israel but Hamas as a threat: It knows full well that Hamas is a fifth column for Iranian influence.

Once the cease-fire was achieved, the world lost interest in Israel. Except that now, in a fit of selectively lethal amnesia, it is on the verge of providing the selfsame murderous Hamas with a huge influx of funding that will rebuild the authority of a terrorist organization dedicated to killing Jews.

The tragedy for the Palestinians as much as the Israelis is that they do not have leadership strong enough to make peace. Hamas wants perpetual war: No one can doubt that it aims not to have a two-state solution but to have a "no state" solution—that is, to have the State of Israel stop existing. For its part, "moderate" Fatah is hopelessly corrupt and weak and seemingly incapable of reform or of enforcing law and order on its people. That is why an Israeli-Palestinian peace remains a dream today and why what Israel can offer the Palestinians is less than what any Palestinian politician is willing or able to attempt.

Even the language of peace is eroding. The Palestinians say they support two states for two peoples but refrain from saying that one of those is the Jewish people. Most recently, a major Palestine Liberation Organization figure, Mohammed Dahlan, asserted that the Fatah movement hasn't even recognized Israel thus far and that the Palestinian Authority's apparent "recognition" of Israel is to make the PA "acceptable" to the international community, in order to bring in international aid. Who can trust that?

There is justification for the widespread Israeli concern that if a Palestinian state were established, power in Gaza, and then in the West Bank, would soon fall into the hands of Hamas. After all, Hamas won 44 percent of the vote and the mayoralty in several major cities in the last West Bank election. Another unreported fact that reflects on what would happen if Hamas won: The most credible of the Palestinian-run news operations, the Ma'an News Agency, has posted three listings involving a total of 181 persons—all Fatah people—shot by Hamas in Gaza since December 2008.

The Fatah party is facing an election within a year, which may well be won by Hamas. If the Iranian-supported Hamas ultimately succeeds in its 20-year effort to be the principal voice of Palestinian nationalism, Israel will have a neighbor that truly speaks for Iran's goal of seeing Israel "wiped off the face of the Earth."

In a "unity" government, Hamas would undoubtedly be integrated in the security services, which would end Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation covering the majority of the West Bank cities. Hamas wants Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stop negotiations with Israel and to embrace the political program that allows for "resistance"—in other words, violence.

No wonder the Palestinian Reconciliation Conference in Cairo ended in failure. Even the lure of billions of dollars in aid has not brought Fatah Sunnis in Judea and Samaria, i.e., the West Bank, any closer to Shiite supporters of Hamas in Gaza. These are two parallel lines that cannot meet, and this division will persist.

And what of Israeli leadership? Now Israel has Binyamin Netanyhu trying to form a cabinet. The world may be skeptical about the will and political ability of a more conservative Likud government to make historic and dramatic decisions that involve painful concessions to the Palestinians in the interest of a two-state solution, but history suggests otherwise. It was Menachem Begin's Likud government that brought about the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. It was Yitzhak Shamir's Likud government that began the peace process at the Madrid Conference in October of 1991. Netanyahu's Likud party and its reservations should not be dismissed lightly, for it was Netanyahu who predicted way back in 1994 that handing over territories to Palestinians would lead to the creation of a fundamental Islamic terrorist base adjacent to Israel.

Israel has taken many risks for peace. The response has been rocket fire, terrorism, more incitement, more vilification, more shedding of Israeli blood, and less security, not to mention an ongoing historic campaign to defame, denounce, denigrate, and delegitimize Israel in every international forum.

Contrary to many reports, Netanyahu has asserted that he is not opposed to a two-state solution, provided it does not put at risk the national security of the Jewish state. The key component would be a record of Palestinian determination and ability to fight terrorism and to live in peace with Israel. Like so many experts, Netanyahu feels that the chances of an enforceable, comprehensive arrangement are low to negligible. In the meantime, as a matter of law and order, he intends to oppose illegal settlements, be they in the West Bank or among Bedouins in Sinai. His major priority would be to promote prosperity on the West Bank, creating an incentive for the Palestinians to make a commitment to peace. He notes that Palestinians in the West Bank remained calm during the fighting in Gaza and didn't engage in mass protests.

Therefore, Netanyahu will focus on improving Palestinian life by lifting roadblocks (100 so far) and reducing checkpoints (they have gone down from 50 to 15) and making other improvements on the ground for the Palestinian community. In this he is supported by dovish Israeli President Shimon Peres, who now has doubts about Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza without first having established a peaceful and democratic Palestinian party to which it could hand the territory. That Palestinian party does not yet exist.

A Palestinian state cannot be created by terrorism. It can be created through the reformation of political and economic institutions so that they reflect democracy, market economics, and real actions to confront terrorism. When there is an effective, Palestinian-based security force with counterterrorism capability in the West Bank, the Israelis will then be prepared to withdraw their defense forces and the Shin Bet from operating there. Hence the importance of the U.S. effort, led by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, to develop a decent Palestinian security force. The new units have been enforcing order in the cities of Jenin and Hebron, which had been basically lawless. But it is not enough to target car thieves and robbers. The critical counterterrorism ability of the Palestinian security forces is still limited; above all, they must have the will to target terrorist cells and their networks.

In the interim, Israel must not wait on events. Israel would be wise (despite the risks) to allow even freer movement in the West Bank; it should help to create more jobs and a better standard of living. Yes, the West must press Israel on these issues, but it must also press the Arab states. They should underwrite the training of PA security forces and invest sensibly in housing and agriculture.

Peace will come only when the Palestinians are liberated from their age-old hatred of Israel and Jews. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for many times, there must be teaching, preaching, and celebrating, from childhood on, that hatred, disrespect, violence, terrorism, anti-Semitism, and war against Israelis and Zionists are unacceptable. Today, it is exactly the opposite.

A great Middle East authority, Prof. Bernard Lewis, recently pointed out in Foreign Affairs how easily the West is misled. In contrast to reports in English, he writes, "the discourse in Arabic—in broadcasts, sermons, speeches, and school textbooks—is far less conciliatory, portraying Israel as an illegitimate invader that must be destroyed." Israel cannot make peace with those whose first priority is to blow up Israeli women and children and who deny the nation's right to exist. As Lewis puts it, "There is no compromise position between existence and nonexistence."

The sad but realistic fact is that we are much closer to the establishment of two Palestinian states, one in the West Bank and one in Gaza, than to reaching a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.


Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report.

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


Will/Should Israel attack Iran?


by  Ami Isseroff 


It's that time of year again. London Times, as they did in the past, is reporting that Israel is about to attack Iran, or at least it is giving that impression. And the impression "worked" -- it spawned a lot of headlines in other journals that make it look to the casual reader as though Israel is really on the verge of attacking Iran.

Reading the fine print shows that it is not so, even according to the London Times

[quoting a "Senior Defense official"] "We would not make the threat [against Iran] without the force to back it. There has been a recent move, a number of on-the-ground preparations, that indicate Israel's willingness to act,” said another official from Israel's intelligence community.

He added that it was unlikely that Israel would carry out the attack without receiving at least tacit approval from America...

Ephraim Kam, the deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies, said it was unlikely that the Americans would approve an attack.

"The American defence establishment is unsure that the operation will be successful. And the results of the operation would only delay Iran's programme by two to four years," he said.
"Many of the leaks or statements made by Israeli leaders and military commanders are meant for deterrence. The message is that if [the international community] is unable to solve the problem they need to take into account that we will solve it our way, Mr Kam said.

The emphasized text tells us clearly that Israel is not about to attack Iran and does not consider it a good option, but holds this option in reserve as a deterrent. Yossi Melman advises Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to attack Iran. Others also think Israel can and should and will attack Iran to prevent development of a nuclear weapon.

As for the Obama administration, on the one hand it keeps warning Iran not to develop a bomb, but on the other, it keeps taking the wind out of the Israeli deterrent by warning Israel not to attack Iran. Admiral Mullen warned against it, while explaining that he appreciates Israel's peril. US Vice President Joe Biden also warned Israel would be 'ill-advised' to attack Iran. He did not explain what Israel would be well advised to do in case Iran is building a nuclear weapon. Biden and Mullen do not seem to understand also, that the United States, its Arab allies and all its interests in the Middle East (meaning oil supply) would be "imperiled" when Iran has nuclear weapons. The United States would be very "ill advised" to let that happen, regardless of what Israel does and what "advice" it gets.

Thus far the United States' new conciliatory policy toward Iran has not necessarily met with great signs of Iranian willingness to compromise, though that is a matter of interpretation. It is true that Iran jailed a US journalist for eight years for "espionage." It is also true that the usual penalty for such offenses is hanging. So maybe the lady "got off easy." Leniency is relative. The U.S. is "deeply disappointed", but if they really expected anything else from the Tehran regime, they are even stupider than I thought.

Benjamin Netanyahu hardly needs the advice of Yossi Melman as he is already ably advised by Ehud Barak, and if Barak will be the voice of caution and reason, there will of course be the voice of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is hardly known as a pacifist. But there are good reasons why Israel is not going to attack Iran any time soon.

As the Times article notes, such an attack has been compared to the Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor in Iraq. That is true. Anything can be compared to anything else, but an attack on Iran would be a very different proposition. The biggest difference is that the Osirak attack already happened. It surprised everyone including Saddam Hussein. But once it happened, such an attack by Israel on Iran would not surprise anyone. The Iranians would be prepared with defensive measures as they no doubt are. The crucial facilities are in underground camouflaged locations and nobody can know for certain where they are and where they are not. The Hezbollah would be prepared with a rain of rockets on Israel, for which Israel has no Iron Dome rocket defense or equivalent ready. Intelligence is never perfect. Warhead assembly factories, enrichment facilities and the like may or may not be hidden anywhere in Iran. Critical sites may be relatively remote from population centers, or they could be beneath any of several recently remodeled holy shrines, right in the middle of major cities. Consider realistically what will be the probable result of any such attack. Iran, which will still be there with its propaganda apparatus intact if nothing else, will become the wounded hero of the Middle East, achieving regional hegemony politically, which is its real goal. Every journal and television station in the Middle East will praise the brave Shahid victims of Zionist aggression. In the West, every center and left journal and press service and television outlet from the Independent to CNN to the New York Times will write or say that the right-wing ultranationalist war criminal leaders of the right wing Zionist warmonger ultranationalist expansionist government of Benjamin Netanyahu have committed aggression and war crimes that must be investigated and punished. Remember the reception given to Avigdor Lieberman's speech about Annapolis? That will look like a Hadassah meeting communique compared to the reaction in the press -- and in European capitals -- to an Israeli attack on Iran. Israel could never have absolutely convincing proof the Iranians were really developing nuclear weapons, especially since a large constituency in the United States are absolutely unwilling to be convinced, and they can cite the non-existent WMD of Saddam Hussein to back their point.

The leaders of Iran understand all this quite well, and that is why all the stories planted in the London Times, and all the earnest threats of the United States do not impress them very much. The only time the equation might really change might be if they actually developed nuclear weapons and announced it. Even then, of course, the Iranians could point out (as they do) that the United States has nuclear
weapons and Israel is "widely believed" to have them.

Attacking Iran is not as simple as Yossi Melman or some others seem to think.

Ami Isseroff

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