Friday, February 5, 2010

Hezbollah is not the IRA.

by Tony Badran

Islamist groups have invited a whole set of analogies purportedly aimed at better explaining them and how best to deal with them. One such analogy that has gained currency in recent years is the oft-encountered comparison between Islamist groups and the Irish Republican Army.

The point of the comparison is to show that as the IRA was purportedly co-opted through dialogue, the same method can be applied to other armed organizations as well. Hence, the argument runs, only such a peaceful process, and not military coercion, will lead to any given group’s decision to abandon violence, and ultimately to disarm and integrate into democratic politics. Of course, forsaking violence is not a prerequisite for dialogue, and engagement is further facilitated by a nifty conceit distinguishing a group’s “military wing” from its ostensibly more moderate or pragmatic “political wing.” Indeed, the British are currently pursuing this policy with Hezbollah – and going nowhere.

The argument has just been trotted out again in a rather fantastical and factually handicapped piece by Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson on the Foreign Affairs website.

The two authors get off to a sound start, noting a major difference between the IRA and Hezbollah, namely the organic ties between the Party of God and Iran, which have no parallel in the IRA. However, when they elide that inconvenient fact and nonetheless claim that “the similarities between the two cases are no less striking than the differences,” their argument goes off the tracks.

One “similarity,” they contend, is that both Hezbollah and the IRA have “political wings.” But this is misleading, not least of all because Hezbollah rejects and ridicules the proposition that it has a “political wing” separate from a “military” one.

Even if everyone knew that the IRA and its political wing, Sinn Fein, were separate only in name, Sinn Fein’s leaders still tried to deny any organizational links or knowledge of IRA operations. But that’s not how Hezbollah works. For instance, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last spring, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general, Naim Qassem, dismissed the supposed dichotomy outright. “All political, social and jihad work is tied to the decisions of this leadership,” he said. “The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions.”

In other words, far from being ready to “shift more decisively to the political realm,” as Simon and Stevenson contend, Hezbollah sees involvement in politics as serving its broader, regional, agenda: “resistance.”

It’s bad enough to misunderstand Hezbollah, but to make the case that engagement in peaceful dialogue is what leads to moderation and disarmament is to distort the historical record regarding the IRA as well. The British did not bring the IRA “in from the cold” through peaceful talks with its “political wing.” Rather they forced them to the table after infiltrating their ranks and cultivating informers even in the top echelons of the movement. Information from these informers was secretly passed to Loyalist paramilitary forces who used it to target IRA members extra-judicially.

In the end, the IRA was cornered, unable to force a British withdrawal, and, worse, unable to even protect its community from Loyalist gangs. It was not the Brits but the IRA that initiated talks when its armed struggle had reached a stalemate.

This is hardly where Hezbollah sees itself today, neither ideologically nor operationally. Instead of finding itself cornered by its local rivals, Hezbollah has used its weapons to extract powerful political concessions, neutralize the unfavorable result of democratic elections, and impose its priorities on its adversaries and the Lebanese government.

Why is Simon and Stevenson’s article riddled with so many errors and misconceptions? Because they assume an affirmative response to a key question that they never bother tackling: Does Hezbollah want to disarm? Without addressing this question convincingly, further misconceptions are inevitable, like the authors’ proposition, unsupported by any evidence, that Hezbollah is trying to distance itself from Iran, whose Ruling Jurist (Wali al-Faqih), as Hezbollah itself declares, has final say over all important decisions. The proper answer of course is that Hezbollah does not want to disarm since it makes no sense for it to do so, neither from a pragmatic perspective nor an ideological one.

The issue here is not sloppiness, but a chronic ailment afflicting Western writing on the Middle East, as what appears to be analysis is often something else entirely. Simon (who was recently in Lebanon at the invitation of the New Opinion Group) and Stevenson are not writing about Hezbollah or Lebanon, but Washington.
In 2003 the two co-wrote an essay arguing that the example of Northern Ireland was “a strong argument” against adopting a “lenient” policy with Hamas, so why do they now argue that such treatment will work with Hezbollah? Perhaps it is because there are figures in the Obama administration who are sympathetic to a policy of engagement with Hezbollah, like the NSC staff’s counterterrorism czar, John Brennan, who has publically implied an acceptance of the “political vs. military wing” dichotomy in Hezbollah, claiming that the “political wing” allegedly denounces the violence of the “military.”

Thankfully, when it comes to Hezbollah, as evident from the State Department’s quick rejection of Brennan’s views, there is more sobriety in Washington than in the poor Foreign Affairs article, or in the British Foreign Office for that matter.

Tony Badran is a research fellow with the Center for Terrorism Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

How jihadis Target Western Youth.

By Steven Emerson

Enablers of our own destruction?

As the new year begins, al-Shabaab, a terror group fighting to overthrow the government of Somalia, has served notice that it intends to play an increasingly prominent role in international jihad. Al-Shabaab fighters declared their support for Al Qaeda in Yemen following the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253, allegedly by a terrorist linked to that group. And police in Denmark said a man charged with the attempted New Year's Day murder of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard (who drew a controversial 2005 cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad) was a member of al-Shabaab with "close links" to leaders of Al Qaeda in East Africa. Al Qaeda and al-Shabaab made official their alliance in September.

"It was a brave step taken by a brave Somali man; he attacked a devil who insulted our honored Prophet Mohammed," an al-Shabaab spokesman told the London Daily Telegraph. "Surely an honored Muslim brother or sister will kill that devil on the next attack."

On Monday, an al-Shabaab terrorist killed seven people and wounded 11 others during a suicide bombing at a clinic near the Mogadishu airport.

It appears that the group intends to carry on that fight with recruits from the United States. Between September 2007 and October 2009, 20 young men (all but one of Somali descent), left the Minneapolis area for Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab.

Thus far, Congress and the intelligence community have been reluctant to conclude that Americans who train with al-Shabaab could return and stage terrorist attacks in the United States or threaten American interests outside the Horn of Africa.

Perhaps the most detailed discussion of al-Shabaab recruiting efforts in the United States was a March 11, 2009 Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing where Andrew Liepman of the NCTC and Philip Mudd of the FBI expressed doubt that al-Shabaab could evolve into a major threat to U.S. interests.

But Mudd, associate executive assistant director of the FBI's National Security Branch, provided one significant caveat when asked how serious a problem the group is.

"I would talk in terms of tens of people, which sounds small but it's significant, because every terrorist is somebody who can potentially throw a grenade into a shopping mall," he said. Mudd added that information about the number of American recruits for al-Shabaab is "fuzzy" because "[t]here are thousands of people - thousands - going to the Horn of Africa every month. You can go to Kenya to look at game parks, and it's hard for me to tell you if somebody's going to a game park or going to Shabaab. So I am sure that there are people out there that we're missing."

At least six Americans have been killed after going to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. One of those was Shirwa Ahmed, who left Minnesota in December 2007. Ten months later Ahmed blew himself up, apparently becoming the first American citizen to carry out a suicide bombing. Another is Jamal Bana, 20, who in July was reported killed in Somalia. He was studying engineering at two Minneapolis schools when he disappeared in November 2008. Bana's family said it learned of his fate when a photograph of his body appeared on a website. Burhan Hassan, 17, also disappeared from his Minneapolis home in the fall of 2008 and flew to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. He, too, was shot to death in June.

At least 14 people have been charged in federal cases related to al-Shabaab recruitment in America, including attending terror training camps, fighting for - and providing support to - the group, designated a terrorist organization. The Justice Department announced the indictment of eight men alone on November 23.

Four defendants have pled guilty and await sentencing. One, Abdifatah Yusuf Isse, admitted in April to training with al-Shabaab, building a terrorist training camp and learning to fire weapons. In July, Salah Osman Ahmed pled guilty to traveling to Somalia in December 2007 to fight Ethiopians. During his time fighting alongside al-Shabaab, Ahmed built a training camp and learned how to fire an AK-47.

Court documents unsealed by federal prosecutors in Minneapolis on November 23, 2009 provide a detailed look at how al-Shabaab recruits and raises money in the United States. The documents examine the case of Burhan Ahmed, who was part of a group of four men who left the Minneapolis area in December 2007 to fight against Ethiopian forces that had invaded Somalia. He first went to Saudi Arabia to participate in the pilgrimage to Mecca, then joined the other three at an al-Shabaab safe house in Somalia.

Between December 2007 and February 2008 the men moved "from northern Somalia to an al-Shabaab training camp in southern Somalia, staying at multiple al-Shabaab houses along the way," according to a criminal complaint by FBI Special Agent Michael Cannizzaro. "The trainees were trained by, among others, Somali, Arab, and Western instructors in, among other things, small arms, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and military-style tactics. The trainees were also indoctrinated with anti-Ethiopian, anti-American, anti-Israeli, and anti-Western beliefs."

Several of the Minnesota men dropped out of the program after a week or two, but Ahmed completed the entire training course. He subsequently took part in an armed ambush of Ethiopian troops. On October 29, 2008, he died in one of a series of coordinated suicide bombings that day targeting Ethiopian, Somali government and United Nations facilities in Somalia. More than 20 people were killed. Ahmed, who drove a truck into an office of the Puntland Intelligence Service, was identified by a fingerprint on a severed finger recovered at the scene.

The criminal complaint alleges that Cabdulaahi Ahmed Faarax and Abdiweli Yassin Isse played key roles in recruiting for al-Shabaab. In explaining the case against Faarax and Isse, it quotes extensively from interviews with three "confidential witnesses" - individuals who have already pled guilty to conspiracy to commit murder outside the United States in connection with supporting al-Shabaab.

Recruitment was accomplished through personal meetings held in the Minneapolis area, emphasizing the need for participation, and the resulting camaraderie. At one, held in an unidentified Minneapolis mosque, according to the complaint, the men called a co-conspirator in Somalia who "explained the need for CW #1 [confidential witness # 1] and his Minnesota-based co-conspirators to travel to Somalia and fight against the Ethiopians."

Speaking about his own work for jihad, Faarax allegedly told another witness that he "did his part for Islam" while fighting in Somalia. But during three interviews with the FBI, he denied fighting or knowing anyone who fought in Somalia. The complaint contradicts this, alleging that during a meeting in the fall of 2007, Faarax "told his co-conspirators that he experienced true brotherhood while fighting in Somalia and that travel for jihad was the best thing that they could do." Faarax also told the co-conspirators that traveling to Somalia to fight jihad would be fun and not to be afraid. Faarax also explained to his co-conspirators that they would get to shoot guns in Somalia."

Some travel to Somalia was financed by deceptively seeking funds from the community for trips to Saudi Arabia. Witnesses said they saw Isse make the claim while soliciting members of the Somali community, telling them the travel was to study the Koran in Saudi Arabia to study the Koran and not mentioning the Somali jihad.

Isse and Faarax were last seen at the U.S.-Mexico border on the morning of October 8, 2009. The pair, who were dropped off by a taxicab at the San Ysidro border crossing near San Diego, carried tickets for a flight from Tijuana to Mexico City. They crossed into Mexico and their whereabouts are unknown.

In a related case, the Justice Department announced in November that charging documents were unsealed against Mahamud Said Omar, who is accused of conspiring to provide financial support and personnel for al-Shabaab. Omar, who has been in custody in the Netherlands, allegedly gave money for young men to travel from Minneapolis to Somalia to fight with and train for al-Shabaab. He is believed to have "visited an Al-Shabaab safe- house and provided hundreds of dollars to fund the purchase of AK-47 rifles for men from Minneapolis."

The Omar indictment alleges that he "committed and caused" nine men to leave Minnesota for Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab. Of that group, "two are believed to have died in Somalia, three have returned and pled guilty to terror charges, and four are still believed to be in Somalia," Minnesota Public Radio reported.

The role of local mosques in al-Shabaab recruitment is shrouded in mystery. Some relatives of the missing men - among them Osman Ahmed of Minneapolis, whose nephew Burhan Hassan was killed in Somalia in early June - contend that the youths were radicalized at the Abubakar as-Saddique mosque in Minneapolis. They point to the fact that many of the young men who went to fight for al-Shabaab attended the mosque, among them his nephew and Shirwa Ahmed. As noted above, the criminal complaint against Isse and Faarax alleges that a jihadist recruiter called a co-conspirator in Somalia from a Minneapolis mosque, but does not name the mosque. Officials at the Abubakar mosque deny any involvement and say they oppose anyone going to Somalia to fight.

Authorities believe one al-Shabaab recruiter was Zakaria Maruf, a charismatic former Minneapolis resident who is thought to have gone to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab and has worked as a recruiter. Maruf was indicted in August for supporting the group.

Al-Shabaab recruitment appears to be growing in Canada, too. Five Somali men in their mid-20s disappeared from the Toronto area between September and November, spurring anxiety among Somali Canadians and triggering investigations by authorities. The first to leave the country was 22-year-old Ahmed Elmi, who vanished in early September. He called his parents a month later to say he was in Kismayo - a Somali city controlled by al-Shabaab. Canadian officials have expressed concern that 20 or more people may have left the country to join al-Shabaab.

"This is a potential menace," said David Harris, former chief of strategic planning for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Harris told the Investigative Project on Terrorism that departures to Somalia could turn into "a developing and metastasizing threat" that could prove dangerous on both sides of the border.

"No one should take comfort from the fact that it is five or six or 20" who have gone to Somalia, he said. "It could easily be 200 or more in the near future" and "it is just a matter of time" before someone who went abroad comes back to North America in an effort to carry out an attack.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner William Elliott apparently agrees. In a speech last October, he said his agency is concerned about Canadians who travel to Somalia "to fight and then return, imbued with both extremist ideology and the skills necessary to translate that into direct action."

In a January 6 interview with Ottawa radio station CFRA, Harris noted there are "clear indications" that "there are transportation networks in America that would take kids to Somalia where they are impressed into service by al-Shabaab. There is no reason to imagine that the Ottawa community would be immune from this, and it would seem to me very much in the interest of Somali-Canadians of good faith to cooperate with the authorities."

Though there have been complaints among some Somali Canadians that the CSIS has been unfairly targeting them, Harris says investigations have been far from excessively intrusive. Canadian security services "are effectively handcuffed in doing their job" when it comes to investigating jihadist activities. Canadian intelligence has been weakened by a series of investigations into alleged human rights abuses that have had "an unbelievably chilling effect on the intelligence services." Canadian intelligence officials now have to ask themselves whether aggressively investigating potential threats is worth "spending the next five to 20 years in court" dealing with government inquiries. This situation means "the enemy has achieved a massive victory."

Terrorism experts on both sides of the border point to Abu Mansour al-Amriki, an American al-Shabaab operative who has lived in the U.S. and Canada. Amriki, a 25-year-old native of Mobile, Alabama, was born Omar Hammami. He grew up as a Baptist before converting to Islam and becoming president of the Muslim Students Association at the University of South Alabama at the time of the September 11 attacks. "Everyone was really shocked," he told an interviewer at the time. "Even now it's difficult to believe a Muslim could have done this." Hammami warned about the possibility of misguided retribution against Muslims.

Hammami dropped out of school in 2002 and went to Toronto two years later. He stayed for a little over a year and made it to Somalia in 2005. He has since become one of al-Shabaab's top commanders and a fixture on recruiting videos like this, in which he denounces human rights and democracy for being at war with Muslim traditions such as stoning and cutting off hands.

Militant Islamists regard the West as "Al-Harb, the land of war," Harris says. "There's…a lack of respect, a profound view that we are a happy, effete civilization. And we are proving it - by allowing them to recruit, we reinforce this stereotype. We reinforce the growing impression among Somalis that the Shabaab writ runs in our backyard, not the democratic governments of the United States and Canada."

Steven Emerson is an internationally recognized expert on terrorism and national security and considered one of the leading world authorities on Islamic extremist networks, financing and operations. He now serves as the Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism, one of the world's largest archival data and intelligence institutes on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Human Rights Watch: The World Needs More Corrupt and Politicized “International Justice”.

by Noah Pollak

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.’”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.
What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On Palestine and Barack Obama.

by Ira Sharkansky

Here is something that President Obama and his advisers should consider before spending any more of their time nudging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to negotiate a peace.

The details are not entirely clear, but reinforce the larger story of corruption in high places of the Palestine Authority, the lack of popular confidence in the Authority among Palestinians, and the likelihood that Hamas would take over the West Bank if Mahmoud Abbas and his people were not propped up by Israel, Jordan, and the United States.

The article resembles what I heard from a lecturer at a Palestinian university who visited me at the Hebrew University. The lecturer's biography featured numerous consulting activities with Palestinian companies and public authorities that had been financed by European and North American governments. When I probed the details and asked if any of the consulting had produced improvements in administration, the answer was negative. My visitor confirmed my impression that a great deal of foreign aid given to Palestine does nothing but provide employment for a few Palestinians. The article in the Jerusalem Post indicates that a fair amount of the aid ends up in the overseas bank accounts of Palestinian officials. It is more public relations for the donors than anything that helps to develop the Authority. "Is the Authority a serious entity?" I asked my visitor. The answer again was negative.

Other news includes revelations from ranking Palestinians of what they claim Ehud Olmert offered close to the end of his service as prime minister, and what the Palestinians rejected. The acceptance of one thousand refugees from 1948 was not enough to justify a response. Neither was what Olmert offered with respect to transferring neighborhoods of Jerusalem to Palestine, and other territorial swaps. The Palestinians were not willing to accept Israel's control of Maale Adumim, a suburb of Jerusalem where 30,000 Jews have made their homes.

We cannot be sure about the above details, insofar as disinformation is as much a part of Israel-Palestine relationships as it is of other political feelers that may be preparing the road for serious negotiations, or preparing the way to avoid negotiations. However, they fit the image of an Authority that is more comic opera, or Greek tragedy, than serious entity.

The best guess is that Palestinians are willing to turn the clock back to 1967, 1948, or 1947--depending on who is talking--but not to engage in their share of concessions in order to end the dispute.

So what should Israel do? And what should be the posture of the Obama administration?
Nothing is the answer appropriate to both questions.

The Palestinian leadership--whether the corrupt figures who claim to be in charge of the West bank or the religious fanatics in Gaza--are not appropriate managers of a state alongside Israel. They may continue to manage what they have, but Israelis do not want them to acquire the authority to import arms and formulate international agreements appropriate to a state.

Doing nothing appears to be the policy of the current Israeli government, learned from the frustrations of negotiations in 2000 and 2008. Israelis do offer lip service about their willingness to negotiate, and to make certain concessions, as befits a supplicant of the United States. Israelis might be gaining a point or two among friendly audiences from the hardening of Palestinian demands as conditions for beginning negotiations.

Insofar as Obama is Obama, we can expect a continuation of efforts, tweaking this way and that, in the hope that something will produce flexibility from Israeli and/or Palestinian leaders. Think of Obama as Sisyphus, and the prospect of getting that rock to the top of the hill.

As far as Israel is concerned, the stand-off is harmless. It is as secure as it has ever been. Iran looms, but no matter what the Iranians claim as their concern for Palestine, their nuclear efforts are beyond the parameters of Israel's dispute with Palestinians. The stand-off is also harmless for most Palestinians of the West Bank. As long as extremists remain quiet, or neutralized, economic development can continue. Gaza is something else, but the people voted for Hamas and many cheered the rockets being sent toward Israel. Neither the German negotiator concerned with Gilad Shalit nor Egyptians concerned to resolve the disputes between Hamas and Fatah have produced any flexibility that is apparent. Egypt is concerned with the spread of Hamas' enthusiasm to its own extremists, and is constructing barriers meant to frustrate smuggling of arms and other material into Gaza.

We remain with the problem of Barack Obama's itch for achievement, and for that there is no solution on the horizon.

Ira Sharkansky(Emeritus) Department of Political Science Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

War and Peace in the Levant .

by Noah Pollak

The dramatic scale of Hezbollah’s rearmament will not be without consequences. Jeffrey Feltman, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told Haaretz yesterday that “he was growing increasingly worried by reports describing the quantity and types of weapons being smuggled to the terrorist organization.” The Washington Post reports that Hezbollah has dispersed its rockets throughout Lebanon, ensuring a conflict that will engulf the entire country. Tony Badran wonders whether Bashar Assad has foolishly convinced himself that he will again be held harmless if another war breaks out.

The war calculations of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah involve an estimation of how much time the Obama administration will give Israel to fight. In 2006 — very much owing, of course, to Israel’s poor performance — the IDF fought for only a month before accepting terms from the UN. There are good reasons to believe that next time, Israel will have even less time.

A new war would explode the myth that Obama’s outreach to the Arabs and pressure on Israel have set the Middle East on a new path. Israeli-Arab wars, this narrative holds, were the kind of things that happened during the Bush years, when the president ignored the peace process and alienated Muslims, and neocons imperiled world peace before breakfast. To have a war unfold in the enlightened, post-Cairo speech era, after dozens of visits by George Mitchell to the region — that would be quite an embarrassment.

How many days — much less weeks — would pass before Obama began criticizing the Israeli operation and refusing diplomatic protection at the UN?

The resistance groups are surely counting on America to enforce a short conflict that restricts the IDF’s ability to strike back forcefully at Hezbollah. But it is not clear, given Obama’s declining political fortunes, how much leverage he will have over Israel. In private, the Arabs will be telling Obama to let Israel finish the job. What Nasrallah is counting on, Obama may not be able to deliver. Or may choose not to. Or F-16s may begin sorties over Damascus. The uncertainty about where America stands is dangerous.

Obama hoped that tilting the United States away from Israel and toward the Arabs would transform America into an “honest broker” and, therefore, a trusted mediator. He has been fastidiously promoting a narrative of equal culpability. But as we have seen over the past year, this rhetoric, aside from its departure from reality, alienates Israelis while gaining nothing from the Arabs but a hardening in their belief that their intransigence will win out in the end.

To the extent that Obama’s evenhandedness is interpreted by Hezbollah as a sign that the risks associated with another attack on Israel have been lessened, there will be a heightened likelihood of conflict. America, as the ultimate guarantor of the regional order, has over the past few decades internalized a hard truth about the Middle East: be a strong ally of Israel and prevent conflict, or be an indecisive friend and invite conflict.

Obama imagines that his presidency allows the United States to transcend old choices — “false choices as he calls them — but one decision he will always have to make is where he stands between friends and enemies. Not to choose is also a choice.

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

Islamist Lawfare Defeated in Texas

by Daniel Huff

Libel suits are not normally associated with national security, but a case the Texas Supreme Court ruled on January 15 carries just such implications. The suit against internet journalist Joe Kaufman is a prime example of how libel law can be manipulated to stifle dissemination of information about terrorism and radical Islam.

It arises out of Kaufman's September 28, 2007 FrontPage Magazine article on the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), which sponsored a "Muslim Family Day" at Six Flags Over Texas. Kaufman vowed to protest the event citing, among other things, ICNA's alleged "physical ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and financial ties to Hamas."

Within days, Kaufman was sued, but not by ICNA. Rather, seven Dallas area Islamist organizations, none of them named in the article, sued Kaufman for defamation arguing they were implicated by inference since they too sponsored the event. In June 2009, a Texas appellate court dismissed the case before it could go to trial because "a reasonable reader who was acquainted with [plaintiffs] would not view Kaufman's statements as 'concerning' them."” Undeterred, the seven Islamist groups asked the Texas Supreme Court for review.

In what Kaufman termed a "victory for freedom", the Court rejected their petition and let the appeals court decision stand.

This result is important for two reasons. First, plaintiffs had argued that Kaufman, as an internet journalist, was not entitled to certain procedural protections afforded traditional media defendants that make it easier for them to get libel cases dismissed before they reach the costly trial phase. In a precedential ruling, the appellate court rejected this contention finding generally that "an internet communicator may qualify as a member of the media”."

Second, the lawsuit fits a growing pattern of Islamists exploiting libel law to silence critics. They file questionable suits knowing they need not win to intimidate, demoralize, and bankrupt opponents. For example, in 2006, a Saudi banker's mere threat to sue prompted Cambridge University Press to pulp unsold copies of a book on terror financing titled Alms for Jihad, and to request American libraries to remove their copies from circulation.

That this tactic of "lawfare" may have had a role in the Kaufman case, was suggested in a May 17, 2009 broadcast of Crescent Report hosted by Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Legal Society Freedom Foundation. After personally castigating Kaufman, Bray explained, "we've got to be willing to spend our money in a court of law … and not necessarily because we're going to look for money, but … to spend our money and make you spend your money."

The appellate court found the plaintiffs could not even meet the basic requirements for proceeding. However, as a bid to use legal fees to bleed Kaufman into submission the suit was much more promising. In fact, Kaufman would almost certainly have been bankrupt well before the case was dismissed were it not for the legal and financial aid of those dedicated to defending journalists from the threat of lawfare, including the Legal Project of the Middle East Forum and the Horowitz Freedom Center.

Kaufman explained that the plaintiffs' goal was to stop him from criticizing "those who wish to do harm to the United States, specifically those tied to the extremist Muslim Brotherhood."” Last Friday's decision has frustrated these Islamists designs.

A Texas tradition of vigorous commitment to free speech is evident in its founding documents. The 1836 Texas Independence Constitution went even further than the First Amendment by guaranteeing an affirmative "liberty to speak" rather than simply restricting governmental interference with debate.

The Texas Supreme Court's decision preserves this legacy and we should applaud it.

Daniel Huff is Director of The Legal Project of the Middle East Forum.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

Suckered by Hamas and Hizballah: How the Media Interprets Radical Documents as "Proof" of Moderation.

by Barry Rubin

After writing my article on the new Fatah Charter, I saw that JTA has published a story positively glowing about Fatah's "moderation," under the title, "New Fatah charter omits language on Israel’s demise." As did the Secrecy Monitor which originally made available the text, it claims:

"The charter focuses on democratizing the movement, a reflection of last summer's political struggle between the young guard and the more established leadership. Whereas the Central Committee for years had been an ad hoc collection of acolytes of the leadership, 18 of its 23 members must now be elected by the entire membership."

Well, not exactly. Most important, as I pointed out, the charter clearly and prominently says that the old charter is still in force and nothing in the new one contradicts it. So nothing has changed in fact. All the old language still stands. Why isn't it repeated? Because this document is only about Fatah's internal structure, not its policies or goals. Pretty obvious, right?

Moreover, while the charter has some language that sounds superficially democratic--and will never be implemented--it endorses the old Communist party system of "democratic centralism" and shows how totally the Central Committee rules by choosing most candidates for parliament, cabinet ministers, and large portions of most other Palestinian institutions. Moreover, while 18 members of the Central Committee were "elected," the leadership packed the delegates to ensure that its candidates all won!

And guess what? Precisely the same thing has just happened with Hizballah's new charter. According to AFP: "It's much more moderate and they've dropped their demands for an Islamist state in Lebanon based upon [the Iranian system]. On the basis of such nonsense, President Barack Obama fails to mention Hizballah's involvement in murdering Americans, his terrorism advisor announces that Hizballah isn't terrorist (because some of its members are lawyers) while the British government is edging toward direct contacts.

This is despite the fact that the charter states:

"The history of the Arab-Israeli conflict proves that armed struggle and military resistance is the best way of ending the occupation....We categorically reject any compromise with Israel or recognizing its legitimacy." In addition, Hizballah daily publicizes the Islamization of the areas it controls and the organization's loyalty to Tehran.

My favorite example is when a high-ranking Hizballah leader denied the group was originally founded in coordination with the Iranian regime, tossing a big Arabic-language book written by one of the founders at a journalist as proof. In fact, as Lebanon expert Tony Badran pointed out citing the page number, that book confirms the claim. Another example is that Hizballah's spiritual guide is the official representative in Lebanon of Iran's spiritual guide, the actual ruler of the Islamist regime there.

To make the situation more ridiculous, the Fatah charter is available in English and Hizballah has been bragging publicly about the hardline provisions in its own new charter.

It is amazing how easy it is for various radical Arab and Islamist groups to fool Western journalists. It always helps to read a document before describing it as a breakthrough for moderation.

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

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hamas is Threatening Who?

by Tariq Alhomayed

Following the assassination of Qassam Brigades leading figure Mahmoud al Mabhouh in his [hotel] room in Dubai, the leaders of Hamas came out threatening and promising to avenge his death. This is understandable and only expected due to the nature of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; however what was not clear was whether Hamas was threatening revenge on Israel or was threatening to violate the land of Arab countries.

Some Hamas leaders began to remind us of the history of the intelligence war between the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] and Israel in the past and it seems that for the first time Hamas is acknowledging the PLO’s struggle and what it did for the Palestinian cause, as Hamas mentioned conflicts that took place in Cyprus for example. Mahmoud Zahar, a leading Hamas figure, went further than that when he openly threatened that “we send a clear message to the Arab countries with ties to the Zionist side to learn from the lesson of this crime that was committed.”

He added, (and this is the crux of the matter), “Today, the incident has been repeated in the UAE, and I believe that the UAE and other [states] must realize that the Zionist side does not respect the sovereignty of any Arab country nor of any state in the world, and that its own interest takes precedence over all interests of nations. [In this regard] there must be reconsideration of ties between the Zionist enemy and the states and [there must be] evaluation [of ties] in light of the crimes committed by the occupying state against the Palestinian people.”

The first mistake is that the UAE does not have ties with the “Zionist side” to use Zahar’s terms. Is Hamas trying to say that Mossad agents are moving around freely in UAE territory for example and that this is known to the authorities there? If Mahmoud al Mabhouh himself – the Hamas commander who was assassinated in Dubai and who was assigned the task of liaising between Hamas and Iran – entered the UAE from Damascus on what was said to be an Iraqi passport (but that is another story altogether) and using a different name, and the UAE authorities did not know at the time that he was a leading figure of the Qassam Brigades or that he was wanted by Mossad for 20 years, then how would the UAE security authorities or others know whether or not those coming to the UAE are agents of Mossad or other apparatus?

If Mahmoud al Mabhouh did not carry a real passport and did not have his real name on it then should we expect that Mossad agents would have their real names and the nature of their work contained in their passports? With al Mabhouh’s presence in Dubai, and after it became known that he was the liaison with Iran, it became clear that it was Hamas that initiated exploiting Arab states including the UAE to carry out its activities that expose those Arab countries to danger. Therefore, what Hamas is trying to say today following the assassination of al Mabhouh is nothing but controversy that can only be described as absurd and as an attempt to cover up previous violations carried out by Hamas against Arab states.

Therefore, the condemnation of al Mabhouh’s assassination does not give Hamas a right to threaten Arab states or to violate Arab territories. Rather, the question here is why al Mabhouh didn’t – and others for that matter – carry out his work in Syria for example? We must remind Hamas here that Imad Mughniyeh and others were assassinated in Syria without there being any ties between Damascus and the “Zionist side” in Zahar’s words!

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

How Bambi Met James Bond to Save Israel's 'Extinct' Deer.

by Charles Levinson

It Took Cloak-and-Dagger Effort to Return Creatures From Iran to Biblical Home

JERUSALEM—On Nov. 28, 1978, as Iran was hurtling toward Islamic revolution, zoologist Mike Van Grevenbroek landed at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, coming from Tel Aviv, carrying a blow-dart gun disguised as a cane and secret orders from an Israeli general.

His mission: to capture four Persian fallow deer and deliver them to Israel before the shah's government collapsed.

It marked the daring climax of a years-long cloak-and-dagger effort to reintroduce the animals of the Holy Scriptures of Judaism to Israel.

In December 2009, Israeli wildlife officials added another chapter to the endangered ruminant's unlikely comeback when they released four descendants of those original deer into the Jerusalem hills. The animals joined the nearly 500 fallow deer that now roam freely in Israel. The deer are the crowning achievement of a program that has also returned biblical onagers, oryxes and ostriches to the wild.

Wildlife preservation was a low priority during Israel's early years of statehood that changed with the passage of a conservation law in 1962. An active-duty general, Avraham Yoffe, a founding member of Israel's pre-statehood militia, the Hagana, and commander of the army division that captured Sharm al-Sheikh in 1956, was appointed head of the newly created Israeli Nature and Parks Authority.

Conservationists say the general, who died in 1983, waged war in defense of wildlife with the same zeal he had brought to the battlefield. The 1978 Iranian "deerlift" remains his most daring feat and his biggest success.

The Persian fallow deer stands about 3 feet tall at the shoulder, with a tawny coat, white spots and flattened antlers like those of a small moose. In the book of Deuteronomy, the deer was listed as one of the hoofed animals the Hebrews were allowed to eat. The Book of Kings says the animal was tithed to King Solomon by his subjects.

The last of the fallow deer in Israel were believed to have been hunted to extinction in the early 1900s. The species was thought to be extinct until the late 1950s, when the deer were rediscovered in Iran.

When Gen. Yoffe learned of the deer's existence, he began courting Iranian officials. He invited the shah's brother, Prince Abdol Reza Pahlavi, who was an avid hunter, to Israel's Negev Desert to hunt the rare Nubian ibex, a desert-dwelling mountain goat found in few places outside Israel. Months later, he arranged a second hunting trip for another senior Iranian wildlife official, Rashid Jamsheed, who bagged an ibex with more than 53-inch antlers, the Safari Club International world record to this day.

It was strictly forbidden to hunt the ibex, but then-Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon, agreed to make an exception for his fellow general's pet project, says Mr. Van Grevenbroek, the Dutch zoologist whom Gen. Yoffe asked to lead the reintroduction effort.

Gen. Yoffe's efforts paid off. In 1978, the prince agreed to give Gen. Yoffe's Nature Authority four fallow deer. Later that year, Gen. Yoffe visited Iran to pick up the deer but had a mild heart attack as soon as he arrived in Tehran, recalls Itzik Segev, Israel's last military attaché to Iran. "As the general was being rolled onto the airplane on his stretcher, he turned to me, clutched my hand, and said, 'Segev, you will get me those deer,' " said Mr. Segev, who is now retired and living in a suburb of Tel Aviv.

In the following months, the Islamic revolution picked up steam. Massive popular protests turned violent. The teetering government declared martial law. In Paris, the Ayatollah Khomeini was preparing for his triumphant return to Iran.

At the Israeli Embassy in Tehran, diplomats and intelligence agents were frantically shredding documents and trying to evacuate the 1,700 Israelis living in Iran, says Mr. Segev. For Gen. Yoffe, the clock was ticking since his deal for the deer would collapse with the shah's government. He dispatched Mr. Van Grevenbroek to help Mr. Segev capture fallow deer.

After arriving in Tehran on Nov. 28, and taking a day to pull together supplies, Mr. Van Grevenbroek left for a game preserve on the Caspian Sea, a 10-hour drive from Tehran. His report to the Israeli nature authority concerning the trip shows he spent five days tracking, capturing and crating four deer before returning to Tehran late on Dec. 4. Meanwhile, Mr. Segev says he went to the Tehran game department to get the necessary export licenses for the deer.

The streets of Tehran were erupting. On Dec. 1, the Ayatollah Khomeini wrote a letter from exile in Paris calling on Iranians to spill "torrents of blood." On Dec. 2, more than one million Iranians marched through central Tehran. Mr. Segev recalls burned-out storefronts throughout the city, burning tires and the acrid smell of tear gas lingering in the air.

Fearing the angry mobs chanting "Death to America," he says, he ditched the Chevrolet Impala favored by VIPs for a low-profile Iranian-made Paykan coupe. He says he exchanged his starched military uniform for civilian rags as he moved stealthily about the city. "There was shooting all over the streets, and here I am, an Israeli general, going to the zoo," says Mr. Segev.

Prince Abdol Reza who had promised the deer to Israel had already fled Iran. Mr. Segev says government officials told him he would instead need to speak with the senior government veterinarian, a man named Mueller—nobody remembers his first name—to secure the necessary licenses. "I said, 'Mueller doesn't sound like an Iranian name,'" says Mr. Segev. "They told me, 'Mr. Mueller is from Germany.' "

They encountered a man who "was very pro-Germany and very anti-Israel. He was hysterical and screaming, 'I don't want these animals going to Israel,' " Mr. Van Grevenbroek recalls.
Mr. Mueller said he would sign the license but only if the deer went to the Netherlands instead, according to Messrs. Segev and Grevenbroek. They said Mr. Mueller also conditioned his signature on their agreement to take the shah's prized cheetah and leopard to Germany as well since angry mobs were threatening to kill off the shah's menagerie. They agreed to Mr. Mueller's demands, but when they swung by to pick up the two big cats, the crowds had already broken into the zoo and killed them, they both said.

At dawn on Dec. 8, the deer's crates were nailed shut, loaded onto trucks and taken to the airport. They were loaded onto the last El Al flight out of Tehran, packed between mountains of carpets and valuables that fleeing Iranian Jews and Israelis were taking with them.
"I arrived to the airport in Tel Aviv, unloaded the deer and there's the big general waiting with tears in his eyes," says Mr. Van Grevenbroek.

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

Obama Excludes the Arab-Israel Conflict.

by Yoram Ettinger

The exclusion of the Arab-Israeli conflict from President Obama's 2010 State of the Union Address reflects a US order of priorities and, possibly, a concern that mediation in the Arab-Israeli conflict does not advance – but undermines – Obama's domestic standing. In fact, Jerusalem should impress upon the US to reduce its mediation profile, minimize tension between Israel and the American broker, while enhancing strategic cooperation between Israel and its American ally.

Obama's address focused on the US economy in general, and on the 26 year record-unemployment and the 65 year record-budget deficit, in particular. Thus, Obama highlighted a national order of priorities, underlining domestic issues, which preoccupy the public mind and tend to determine the fate of an American President and his political party for success or oblivion. Therefore, the global agenda – and even counterterrorism – were marginalized by Obama's address.

Washington's international agenda does not consider the Arab-Israeli conflict to be a top priority. Obama devoted the few minutes, which were allotted to the international arena, to his commitments to evacuate Iraq, to reinforce troops in Afghanistan, to constrain the North Korean nuclear threat, to prevent Iran's nuclearization, to reduce the nuclear arms race, to combat terrorism, to sustain engagement with rivals and enemies and to continue seeking multilateralism in general and with Moslems, in particular. The Avoidance of any reference to the Arab-Israeli conflict was intentional.

President Obama's involvement with the Arab-Israeli conflict has diverted his attention from issues which are much more important to vital US interests. The pressure exerted on Israel has eroded Obama's support among the American people, which have systematically accorded Israel high levels of support (66%-70%), compared with Obama's free fall in public opinion polls (from 65% in January, 2009 to 47% in January, 2010). Obama's pressure on Israel has also complicated his relations with friends of Israel on Capitol Hill, whose support is critical to Obama's legislative agenda. He realized Israel's solid support on the Hill when 334 House Members (76% of the House of Representatives) co-singed a letter condemning the "Goldstone Report," compared with only 57 Members (13%) co-signing a letter calling "to lift the closure on Gaza." In fact, President Clinton's precedent suggests that even a live-telecast of Clinton's participation in signing the Israel-Jordan peace treaty – a week before the November 1994 election – was overshadowed by domestic US politics, which devastated the Democratic Party in the mid-term election.

A lowered US profile in mediating the Arab-Israeli conflict would enhance US-Israel relations and the respective interests of both countries. The more involved the US is as a broker, the less involved it is as a unique ally of the Jewish State. The more preoccupied the US is with mediation, the more it is inclined to be swept into disagreements and finger-pointing matches with Israel. The more entangled the US is in attempts to bridge Israeli-Arab gaps, the more attention is paid to that which causes separation between the US and Israel, rather than that which bonds them.

These observations are accentuated by the lead mediation role played by the State Department – which opposed the establishment of Israel and systematically supports the Arab position – and the CIA and the National Security Council, which tend to embrace Foggy Bottom's position on the Arab-Israeli conflict. President Obama's world view has exacerbated matters, clarifying the direction of US mediation: "Islam has always been part of the American story;" Israel is not a strategic asset and possibly a liability; Israel belongs to the exploiting West and the Arabs belong to the exploited Third World; engagement and not confrontation with rogue regimes; terrorism is primarily a law enforcement challenge; there is no Islamic terrorism, but Taliban and Al-Qaeda terrorism; the UN and Europe are key quarterbacks of international relations; the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict consists of a withdrawal to the 1949/67 ceasefire lines, repartitioning of Jerusalem, uprooting of Jewish settlements, negotiating the return of the 1948 Arab refugees and possibly exchanging land.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is not the axis of US-Israel relations, which are based on a much more solid foundation of shared values, joint interests and mutual threats. Therefore, the unbridgeable US-Israel gap over the Secretary of State Rogers' 1970 peace plan could not derail the substantial upgrading of strategic US-Israel cooperation, due to Israel's deterrence of a pro-Soviet Syrian invasion of pro-US Jordan. Furthermore, the Bush-Baker hostility toward the Jewish State and the severe US-Israel tension over the First Intifada, the Reagan Peace Plan and the First Lebanon War could not stop a series of US-Israel memoranda of strategic understanding and the legislation of a substantially expanded US-Israel strategic cooperation, which were derived from Israel's unique contribution to the US posture of deterrence and its battle against terrorism and ballistic missiles.

The Middle East is a constant source of violently unpredictable challenges, which threaten vital US and Israeli interests. In order to effectively face such critical developments, it behooves the US and the Jewish State to maximize the utility of their mutually beneficial strategic common denominator and minimize involvement – such as US mediation in the Arab-Israeli conflict – which erodes the unique bonds between the two countries.

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

Sweden, again.

by David Harris

Last time I wrote about Sweden, it was in regard to a one-two punch.

First, it was Aftonbladet, Sweden's largest-circulation newspaper, devoting two full pages to accusing the Israeli military of killing Palestinians to harvest their organs. Then came the refusal of Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, to condemn this modern-day blood libel.

That the paper could produce no evidence of this libelous charge didn't seem to bother those making the decision to go with the story. Why should a little thing like truth get in the way of selling papers or smearing Israel?

And that Minister Bildt, seldom shy to express his views, suddenly went silent on an issue affecting Sweden's image abroad and bilateral ties with Israel - even ignoring a plea from some EU colleagues to say something - couldn't have been more telling.

Oops - a slight correction. He wasn't silent when it came to calling his own ambassador in Israel onto the carpet for speaking out. When asked for her reaction to the Aftonbladet article, she appropriately condemned it. That was too much for the minister. His high-minded principles applied to defending freedom of the press, but not to criticizing its abuse.

Now it's the turn of Ilmar Reepalu. He's the mayor of Malmo, Sweden's third largest city.

You might think that the mayor has his hands full with local issues. After all, Malmo has, shall we say, more than its share of challenges.

The city has the largest concentration of Muslim immigrants in Sweden. And things aren't exactly going according to plan. The Swedish model of integration, played out in Malmo, has not begun to live up to the expectations of the social engineers who cooked it up. Instead, there's trouble galore.

Seething resentment among immigrants about isolation in what are effectively ghettoes, as well as a staggeringly high unemployment rate, has spilled over into periodic protests, some violent.

Meanwhile, the city has seen a sharp rise in crime rates and gang activity. There are immigrant neighborhoods where police and fire officials are fearful of entering. Indeed, the fire department has asked for police protection when responding to alarms from these areas, not to mention requests for shatter-proof windows and surveillance cameras for their vehicles.

Those issues should be more than enough to keep Mayor Reepalu busy and trying to figure out how to fix, however late in the day, whatever went wrong.

But no, the mayor, it appears, has time to focus on other things. He was recently asked in an interview, "Would you say that Malmo does not accept anti-Semitism, or is it a controversial topic?" His response:

We don't accept anti-Semitism or Zionism. They [referring to both anti-Semites and Zionists] are extremists who want to set themselves over other groups and believe those others are worth less."

He then called on Malmo's tiny Jewish community, which had shown support for Israel, to "distance itself from Israel's violations of the rights of the civilian population in Gaza." Otherwise, he implied, they could bring anti-Semitism on themselves.

By the way, this isn't the first time that Malmo has made the news on the Middle East. Last year, local politicians decided that a Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel would be played without spectators. The official reason was that anti-Israel protests could disrupt the event. But the mayor indicated that he didn't think the game should be played at all, suggesting that a boycott of Israel was warranted.

The local decision prompted the International Tennis Federation to ban Malmo from hosting Davis Cup matches for the next five years.

Returning to the mayor's interview, it's hard to know where to begin.

The very notion of putting anti-Semitism and Zionism on the same moral plane is utterly preposterous and, of course, contradictory.

On the one hand, the mayor purportedly wants to fight hatred of Jews. Yet, he fuels that very hatred by vilifying the notion of Jews, as a people, expressing their right of self-determination in Israel, where nearly six million Jews live. Remember, the mayor said he doesn't "accept" Zionism.

Why, in the mayor's mind, are Jews to be denied the right of sovereignty? Why is their age-old quest for statehood deemed beyond the pale? Why are international endorsements of Israel's legitimacy, including from the UN, to be so blithely ignored?

Why are Jews to be singled out by the mayor, while he has never denigrated, much less denied, the right of others, including the Palestinians, to states of their own, though many blatantly support religious, racial, or ethnic discrimination?

In condemning Israel's actions in Gaza, doesn't the mayor know that they came about only after Israel had absorbed thousands of cross-border missile and mortar attacks from the Hamas-ruled land? Or doesn't he care?

Doesn't he know that Hamas calls for the annihilation of Israel and uses mosques, schools, hospitals and other elements of Gaza's civilian infrastructure for military purposes? And that the Hamas Charter is replete with anti-Semitism? Or doesn't he care?

And doesn't he know that Israel is a democratic country, where the rights of minorities are far more protected than anywhere else in the region? Or doesn't he care about the travails of others in the Middle East if no link to Israel and Zionism can be established?

And what are we to make of the mayor's statement that Jews in Sweden risk bringing anti-Semitism on themselves by their support for Israel? Do the Jews in a democratic land not have the right to express peacefully their connection to Israel, including during the Gaza crisis, just as others in Sweden voice their own positions?

Doesn't the mayor know that he's skating on thin ice? Or doesn't he care? By suggesting that if anti-Semitism comes - and his own remarks would invite it by justifying hatred against Israel and its supporters - he all but says that the Jews will have no one to blame but themselves.
Haven't we've seen this before? Jews as a group are to be held responsible for the acts of hatred directed at them, while the larger society is let off the hook.

The mayor has it wrong. In fact, he's playing with fire.

Ah, speaking of fire, surely the mayor would be better served by dealing with the safety of Malmo firemen and attacks on them by embittered ghetto youth instead of trolling for votes - or whatever else his motivation might be - at the expense of the small Malmo Jewish community, or of Israel, still seeking to defend its rightful place in the Middle East.

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

Scoop: Fatah's New Charter Shows Why Peace Won't Happen.

by Barry Rubin

Many people seem to think that the Israel-Palestinian or Arab-Israeli conflict or the “peace process” is the world’s most important issue. So who's going to determine whether it gets resolved or not? No, not President Barak Obama; no, not Israel’s prime minister; no, not Palestinian Authority (PA) “president” Mahmoud Abbas or Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

That choice is in the hands of Fatah, which controls the PA and rules the West Bank. Only if and when Fatah decides that it wants a two-state solution and a real end of the conflict based on compromise will that be possible. So the fact that Fatah has issued a new charter seems to be a matter of great importance.

Yet up until now nobody has noticed that such a charter emerged from the August 2009 Fatah General Congress. The document was translated by the U.S. government and has just been leaked by Secrecy News. You are now reading the first analysis of this charter.

Secrecy News remarks: “The document is not particularly conciliatory in tone or content. It is a call to revolution, confrontation with the enemy, and the liberation of Palestine, ‘free and Arab.’" But then the newsletter continues:

“But what is perhaps most significant is what is not in the document. The original Fatah charter (or constitution) from the 1960s embraced `the world-wide struggle against Zionism,’ denied Jewish historical or religious ties to the land, and called for the `eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.’ None of that language is carried over into the new charter, which manages not to mention Israel, Zionism, or Jews at all.

”Now here’s an important lesson for you. When a radical group is portrayed as moderate based on some position it supposedly has taken or some statement made there has to be a catch somewhere. Here’s the tip-off in this case, a single sentence in the new charter:

“This internal charter has been adopted within the framework of adherence to the provisions of the Basic Charter.

”In other words, every detail of the original charter still holds; nothing is repealed, no error admitted, no explicit change of course accepted.

Of course, Fatah has changed a lot from the 1960s. It is less focused on violence (though that doesn’t mean it has renounced terrorism necessarily), less explicitly militant in its demands, more willing to deal in a cooperative manner with Israel. Neither genuine moderation nor remaining intransigence should be exaggerated. On practical day-to-day matters, Israel can work with Fatah and needs to ensure that Hamas doesn't overthrow it. At present Fatah leaders understand well that a return to large-scale violence is against their interests. But make a comprehensive peace agreement? Not going to happen.

And yet offered an opportunity to become a parliamentary political party, a movement clearly dedicated to peaceful politicking and a diplomatic solution, despite massive Western financial subsidies and frequent expressions of support for a Palestinian state from President Barack Obama, Fatah has chosen to remain a revolutionary organization. Indeed, there is no word more used in this charter than “revolutionary.”

“Let us train ourselves to be patient and to face ordeals, bear calamities, sacrifice our souls, blood, time and effort,” says the charter. “All these are the weapons of revolutionaries."

You must know that determination, patience, secrecy, confidentiality, adherence to the principles and goals of the revolution, keep us from stumbling and shorten the path to liberation.

"Go forward to revolution. Long live Palestine, free and Arab!”

At the same time, though, Fatah remains non-ideological. It sees itself as a broad nationalist movement, just as when Yasir Arafat founded it more than fifty years ago. Indeed, despite the challenge from Hamas, the word “Muslim” or “Islamic” is mentioned nowhere in the charter.

In structure, though, Fatah is still a revolutionary organization. Membership is secret; decisionmaking is supposedly based on the Marxist concept of “democratic centralism;” the Maoist phrase “criticism and self-criticism” is recommended; and the organizational structure is based on cells.

Yet while Fatah sounds like some Communist party or tightly disciplined revolutionary underground, the reality is quite different. Arafat set forth an institutional culture that has always been somewhat anarchical. Cadre are undisciplined and the command structure is anything but organized. When Hamas staged a coup in the Gaza Strip, Fatah simply collapsed and didn’t even put up much of a fight. Local bosses prevail; cadre do pretty much whatever they want; indiscipline and corruption is rife.

And so it is sort of a joke to read in Article 95 that members are enjoined to be, “Undertaking their tasks enthusiastically and sparing no effort in achieving the movement's objectives and principles; exerting strenuous efforts to enhance interaction with the masses and winning their respect and confidence.”

What is intriguing, however, is that there is a detailed discussion of transgressions of Fatah rules and punishments for doing so. Clearly, if members do anything the leaders don't like they are going to face severe penalties. Thus it is significant that no Fatah member has been ever disciplined for committing acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians or for making the most extremist statements. Indeed, it isn’t even clear that Fatah has the determination or ability to punish members for collaborating with Hamas against their own leaders.

But the most fascinating aspect of all is the definition of the movement’s structure. Overwhelming power is in the hands of a 23-member Central Committee, including control of Fatah’s military forces. As I have shown previously, the Central Committee elected at the same Congress which formulated this new charter is quite radical. There are few members ready for real peace with Israel. When it comes to making any big decision, Abbas and Fayyad are mere figureheads.

Beneath the Central Committee is an 80-member Revolutionary Committee and, as the next level, a 350-member General Council. The Central Committee chooses a fairly large portion o both groups. Indeed it also selects the Fatah members of the Palestine National Council (the PLO’s legislature); PLO Executive Committee, which rules the PLO; Palestinian Legislative Council (the PA’s legislature); and the PA itself.

What this means is that Abbas and Fayyad do not control the PA, nor can they make peace or even conduct serious give-and-take negotiations. The Central Committee is really in control and the Central Committee is overwhelmingly hardline--at least 16--roughly three-quarters--of the 23 are that way. They still hope to take over Israel and thus reject agreeing to resettle Palestinian refugees in a state of Palestine. Equally, they aren't ready to declare that a two-state solution is the end of the conflict.

Most of the hardliners are supporters of Abbas. But the main reason they back him is their conviction that Abbas is weak both in character and in political base. They want him to be leader because they know he doesn't threaten their power. Like the famous exchange between Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Vice-President Dan Quayle they can say: "I knew Yasir Arafat. I worked with Yasir Arafat. And Chairman Abbas, you are no Yasir Arafat."

He will not, he cannot, do anything they don't like. And one of the things Abbas has done to appease them has been to make Muhammad Ghaneim, perhaps the most hardline among all the committee members, his designaed successor.

These 23 committee members are in control of the fate of the Palestinians (except for Hamas’s considerable say in that matter) and the peace process. Due to their radicalism, there will be no peace or Palestinian state for many years.

Why don’t more people study the details of Palestinian politics? For the same reason that they don’t want to look closely at how sausages are made. It’s too unpleasant. After doing so, one could never go on naively believing that peace is within reach.

PS: Following my article on the new Fatah Charter, I was sent a JTA story about how the new charter is very moderate since it "drops" calls for Israel's destruction, etc. As I pointed out, the charter says that the old charter is still in force and nothing in the new one contradicts it. So nothing has changed in fact. It is amazing how easy it is for various radical Arab and Islamist groups to fool Western journalists. It always helps to read a document before describing it as a breakthrough for moderation.

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

Monday, February 1, 2010

‘Corruption will let Hamas take W. Bank' .


by Khaled Abu Toameh

Dramatic warning delivered by Abbas's former corruption-buster Fahmi Shabaneh.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has surrounded himself with many of the corrupt officials who used to work for his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, and that's why Hamas will one day take control of the West Bank, Fahmi Shabaneh, who was appointed by Abbas four years ago to root out corruption in the Palestinian Authority, said on Thursday.

In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Shabaneh, who until recently was in charge of the Anti-Corruption Department in the PA's General Intelligence Service (GIS), warned that what happened in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, when Hamas managed to overthrow the Fatah-controlled regime, is likely to recur in the West Bank.

"Had it not been for the presence of the Israeli authorities in the West Bank, Hamas would have done what they did in the Gaza Strip," Shabaneh told the Post. "It's hard to find people in the West Bank who support the Palestinian Authority. People are fed up with the financial corruption and mismanagement of the Palestinian Authority."

Shabaneh said that many Palestinians in the West Bank have lost hope that the PA would one day be reformed. "The Palestinian Authority is very corrupt and needs to be overhauled," he said.

Shabaneh cited several specific cases of alleged corruption within Fatah and the PA in the course of the interview, including asserting that Fatah personnel stole much of a $3.2 million donation given by the US to Fatah ahead of the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, won by Hamas, which had been intended to improve Fatah's image and boost its chances of winning.

Shabaneh, a resident of east Jerusalem who worked as a lawyer before joining the GIS as its legal adviser after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, said he was forced to quit his anti-corruption job several months ago after exposing a sex scandal involving one of Abbas's top aides in Ramallah in 2009.

Video footage and other documents presented to the Post by Shabaneh show the aide lying naked in bed after being lured to an apartment in Ramallah by an east Jerusalem woman.

The footage shows Shabaneh and other armed security agents storming the bedroom, much to the surprise of the Abbas aide who is heard uttering: "Thank God it's you and not the Israelis."

Shabaneh said in the interview, the first of its kind with a high-ranking PA security official, that he and his men had been operating on instructions from their boss, Gen. Tawfik Tirawi, the former head of the GIS. Tirwai, for his part, denied that he had authorized Shabaneh to spy on the Abbas aide.

The top aide, who is one of the closest advisers to Abbas, was caught on tape making derogatory remarks against Abbas and Arafat. "President Abbas has no charisma" and is "not in control," he was quoted as saying. The aide was also caught on tape denouncing Arafat as one of the biggest dajjals (swindlers).

After the revelations, which were brought to Abbas's attention and were embarrassing for the PA president, Shabaneh was removed from his anti-corruption post and reassigned as head of the GIS's internal security force. More recently, he was promoted to overall commander of the GIS in the area.

Shortly afterwards, however, Shabaneh was arrested by Israeli police on suspicion of recruiting east Jerusalem residents to the GIS, spying on Israel, chasing suspected "collaborators" and Arabs involved in real estate deals with Jews, and threatening and blackmailing the senior Abbas aide.

Shabaneh has since been released from prison and most of the charges against him dropped. Today he remains under house arrest and is banned from entering the West Bank. The only charge he faces today is membership in a Palestinian military organization – a charge he claims is absurd given the fact that about 1,200 residents of east Jerusalem serve in the various security branches of the PA.

Shabaneh said that he had no doubt that his arrest by Israel was carried out at the request of "someone high in Abbas's office to punish me for fighting corruption and exposing sex scandals involving not only the senior aide, but many other officials as well."

He said that the decision to arrest him and prosecute him was also absurd because was always aware of his work and status in the PA security forces and never did anything to him.

"For many years I worked as legal adviser to the General Intelligence Apparatus and no one ever asked me anything," Shabaneh noted. "When I was commander of the force in the area the Israelis even used to coordinate a lot with us."

Shabaneh insisted that the decision to pursue corrupt officials in Abbas's inner circle was part of the PA president's declared policy to combat financial corruption. "In his pre-election platform, President Abbas promised to end financial corruption and implement major reforms, but he hasn't done much since then," he said. "Unfortunately, Abbas has surrounded himself with many of the thieves and officials who were involved in theft of public funds and who became icons of financial corruption."

Shabaneh said that as head of the anti-corruption unit he and his men succeeded in exposing dozens of cases involving senior officials who had stolen public funds but were never held accountable.

"Some of the most senior Palestinian officials didn't have even $3,000 in their pocket when they arrived [after the signing of the Oslo Accords]," Shabaneh said. "Yet we discovered that some of them had tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in their bank accounts.

Until today we didn't hear about one official who was brought to trial for stealing money from the PA, although we had transferred many of the cases to the Palestinian prosecutor-general."

Questioned as to why he had decided to go public now, Shabaneh said: "I'm not criticizing the Palestinian Authority simply because I like to criticize, but because I want to see a state of law, one with no room for corruption. I was offered $100,000 not to expose the last sex scandal, but I chose not to accept the bribe. I'm the one who resigned after my arrest, because after all that I've seen I no longer believe that Abbas's authority can be reformed.

Asked whether PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is working to establish good government, Shabaneh said: "Salam Fayyad is a good man and I have a lot of respect for him. He's really working to build professional institutions and good government, but the corrupt Fatah people around Abbas are doing their utmost to thwart his efforts."

He added: "Even Abbas tried in the beginning, but the corrupt officials working with him didn't allow him to make progress."

Shabaneh also said he had managed to track down some of the financial aid that went missing during and after the period of Arafat's death.

"I discovered, for example, that several senior officials had taken millions of dollars from the Palestinian leadership under the pretext that they wanted to purchase land that would otherwise be confiscated by Israel," he said.

"Our investigations revealed that many of the purported land deals were fictitious transactions and we even forced one official to return more than $800,000. We had another case where a senior Fatah official and his brother pocketed about $2.5m. which they took from Arafat under the pretext that they wanted to purchase land in the West Bank before Israel lays its hand on it.

Asked whether he believed outside donors should stop channeling funds to Abbas, he said his advice to the donor countries "is to follow up on their donations to examine how and where the money is being spent. We caught some officials who stole about $700,000 from the donors to study the atmosphere in . Why do we need to spend such a huge amount of money on something trivial like this when many people are suffering and have nothing to eat or feed their children?"

Was he serious about Hamas taking over the ? "Yes, no question about that," he said. "It will happen one day if the state of corruption and anarchy continue in the West Bank .

 "Why do you think Hamas kicked us out of the Gaza Strip? Because the people there were fed up with the corruption and bad government of Fatah. What do you think the people in the Gaza Strip used to think when they saw a colonel in the Palestinian Authority driving in a big motorcade and surrounded by dozens of bodyguards and assistants?"

Did he see no chance that Fatah would reform? "As long as the same corrupt guys are running the show we shouldn't expect real changes," said Shabaneh.

"Before the 2006 parliamentary election, the Americans gave Fatah $3.2m. to improve the party's image and boost its chances of winning. But the Fatah people even stole most of the money that was intended to help them improve their image and reputation. These corrupt officials know no limits. They even used to forge Arafat's signature to obtain money by fraud," he said.


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


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Syria Regains Pivotal Regional, Int'l Role - The Triumph of the 'Course of Resistance'. Part I


by N. Mozes


1st part of 3


In a December 29, 2009 speech to the Syrian parliament, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem summed up the achievements of his country's political policy in 2009 by saying, "For Syria, 2009 was a year of political success in every sense of the term, and on all fronts..."[1] Indeed, the past year has seen a significant improvement in Syria's regional and international standing; it managed to extricate itself from its isolation internationally and in the Arab world, and to position itself as an influential regional force. By the end of 2009, the Syrian regime had become self-confident and certain of the effectiveness of its "path of resistance" policy, and was challenging the regional order and the world order and acting powerfully to change both.


The following is a review of Syria's current world view and policy, as reflected in statements by Syrian officials and articles in the Syrian government press.  


Syria – From Isolation to Key Player in the International Arena


Until 2008, President Bashar Al-Assad's Syria seemed to be a pariah state. Syria had been isolated by the West and by some of the Arab countries, and was under international pressure that spiked following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri; in the wake of the assassination, it was forced to withdraw its military from Lebanon.


The aggressive anti-Syria line was led by the Bush administration, which saw Syria as part of an "axis of evil" together with Iran and North Korea, and accused it of involvement in terrorism in Iraq. In 2004, the U.S. intensified its anti-Syrian sanctions, and worked in the U.N. Security Council for the passage of Resolution 1559 calling for Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. In October 2008, the U.S. even bombed insurgents on Syrian territory who were suspected of operating from there against Iraq.


The assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri was a watershed in Syria's relationship with many countries in the West and in the Arab world, particularly France and Saudi Arabia, who had until then been its close allies. This change was evidently due to the close relationship that Al-Hariri had maintained with then-French president Jacques Chirac, and with the Saudi royal family. Evidence of the severing of relations and of the anger that the assassination evoked in Chirac was clear in an interview he gave in 2007 to the French daily Le Monde. He said: "There were times I used to speak with Bashar Al-Assad. I used to talk with his father [Hafez Al-Assad]. But to be honest, [Bashar and I] do not talk any more. It is he who caused [this halt to the dialogue]. I realized that there was no point [in dialogue]. It is hard to reconcile Bashar Al-Assad's regime with security and peace."[2]


In the Arab world, it was Saudi Arabia and Egypt that led the aggressive line against Syria, and there were even reports that it was they who were behind the establishment of the international tribunal to investigate the assassination.



Syria Tightens Its Alliances with Anti-Western Forces


Syria, for its part, grew closer to elements that were, and still largely are, considered to be internationally isolated – Iran and Venezuela.



Syria has maintained very close relations with Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, even though the former country is ruled by the secular Ba'th party and the latter is a theocracy. In certain instances, Syria's relations with Iran have taken precedence over its relations with other Arab countries, as happened during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88).


Since Bashar Al-Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad assumed leadership, there has been increased closeness between the two countries, as expressed by the signing of a joint defense agreement in December 2009, and by the agreement to drop the visa requirement between them. The two presidents have similar views on many issues, such as resistance to what they call "the forces of hegemony," that is, the U.S. and Britain; viewing the current situation a victory for the resistance and a defeat for the "forces of hegemony"; and a vision of a new regional and world order and of their own prominent roles in them.


Evidence of this can be found in the words of Bashar Al-Assad on the eve of his January 13, 2010 visit to Saudi Arabia, when he called Syria-Iran relations "strategic and ideological" and said that Syria and Iran saw eye to eye on all issues.[3] The two leaders even use the same terminology, as reflected in their statements during Ahmadinejad's May 2009 visit to Damascus. In addition, Syria advocates for Iran among the Arab countries, with the aim of reducing Arab fears regarding the Iranian regime and bringing them to see it as their ally.[4]



Syria-Venezuela relations became closer after Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998. As part of his anti-American policy, Chavez tightened relations with countries such as Syria and Iran. In 2006, at the height of Syria's isolation, Chavez paid an historic visit to Syria, during which both he and Bashar Al-Assad stressed their resistance to American imperialism.[5]


Nasser Qandil, a former Lebanese MP who is close to the Syrian regime, explained in his column in the Syrian government daily Teshreen the essence of the alliance between Assad, Ahmadinejad, and Chavez. He said it was like "a declaration of a new world [alliance] awaited and needed by all humanity, [one] that declares that the peoples are again managing their own affairs and that resistance is not just a romantic slogan but also a living fact..."[6]


The Armed Resistance in Lebanon and Palestine

In the recent years, Syria stepped up its support of Hamas and Hizbullah, as representatives of the resistance in Palestine and in Lebanon respectively. It also continued its mostly covert support of the insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.[7]



France, U.S. Turn Towards Syria


This strategy won Syria much support in the Arab street, but brought it into an almost unprecedented conflict – to the brink of a cold war[8] – with many Arab regimes, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as with the U.S. Even though this policy led to its isolation by some Arab regimes and by the West, and seemed to place the Syrian regime in danger of collapse, it has as of late 2009 proven to be wise. In contrast to the Bush administration and to Chirac's government, which saw Syria as an obstacle and as posing a risk to their attainment of their goals in the Middle East, the governments of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and of U.S. President Barack Obama, and, following them, also the Saudi regime, see Syria as a means for achieving broader goals, and they are attempting to get it on their side. With Syria stubbornly clinging to its positions, these governments are moving away from the policies of their predecessors and are abandoning

the approach of clashing with Syria and isolating it. Instead, they have begun treating it as a key regional country capable of mediating between the West and Iran and of influencing the level of violence in the Palestinian territories, in Lebanon, and in Iraq.


The major change started with Sarkozy's presidency. Sarkozy abandoned his predecessor's policy and sought to embrace Syria and to bring it back into the French fold, apparently with the view that it was through the door of Syria that France would be able to expand its influence in the Middle East. One expression of this was Sarkozy's statements to the Syrian daily Al-Watan during his first visit to the country in September 2008: "...Since my election, I have wanted France to regain its place on the international chessboard, and I am interested in my country bearing the responsibility for peace in the Middle East. In order to do this, it is necessary to gain the trust of all sides, and therefore I have made several changes in France's policy in the region..."[9]


France also led the change in EU policy towards Syria, as expressed in an interview that then-president of the European parliament Hans Gert Pöttering gave to Al-Watan in August 2008. He said that during the past three years, the EU had adopted a policy of passivity towards Syria, and that now the winds of change were blowing. He noted that the EU no longer thought that the way to solving the problems was isolation, but rather dialogue among partners.[10]


It should be noted that as of now, it appears that France's efforts have yet to bear fruit, and that Syria is assigning France only a secondary role as mediator in the peace process, and is insisting that Turkey and the U.S. be the main mediators in its negotiations with Israel. Nevertheless, Syria is reaping economic dividends from the rapprochement with France, including France's readiness to break the U.S. embargo so that it can sell Airbuses to Syria.


As for the change in U.S. policy, it began at the end of the Bush administration. Evidence of this can be seen in an interview that then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave to the London daily Al-Hayat in August 2008, in which she denied that the U.S. was implementing a policy of isolating Syria. She said: "...There is a continuous relationship with Syria...  and we have diplomatic relations with Syria... I have met with [Syrian Foreign Minister] Walid Al-Mu'allem when we were in Sharm Al-Sheikh. Our relations with Syria are correct."[11]


This trend grew stronger when U.S. President Barack Obama took office, and it became part of a comprehensive policy vis-à-vis the region that Obama laid out in his Cairo speech on June 4, 2009. His approach might have emanated from his perception that Syria was essential to stabilizing the situation in Iraq when U.S. forces withdrew.[12]


The American openness was expressed by the start of a dialogue with Syria; by the appointment of an American ambassador to Damascus, after the Bush administration recalled the Ambassador in 2005 in protest over the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri; by visits by senior American politicians, such as Senate Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Sen. John Kerry; and by visits by U.S. military delegations. At the same time, it should be noted that the Obama administration set conditions for improving America's relations with Syria,[13] and even renewed the sanctions on Syria; moreover, as of this writing, the U.S. ambassador to Syria has not returned to Damascus. 


The U.S.'s policy of openness towards Syria contributed greatly to the improvement of Syria's status in the region and internationally – from an untouchable and isolated country

to a country courted by several of its main rivals though it is apparently giving nothing in return.



Saudi Reactions to the West's Change of Policy


This new approach on the part of the West was perceived at first by some of the Arab media as rewarding extremist elements and abandoning moderate allies. 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, director-general of the Saudi Al-Arabiya TV and former editor-in-chief of the London Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, called Syria's policy "genius" for successfully misleading the West: "...Damascus has created crises [and then] proposed solutions... Syria's partner Hizbullah occupied western Beirut so that Damascus would intervene and stop it; Syria's friends in the Lebanese opposition refused to elect Michel Suleiman [as president] even though he was the agreed-upon candidate, so that Damascus would intervene, [and then] it would be agreed [that Suleiman would be president]... Syria's friend Hamas ratcheted up the level of violence against Israel so that [Damascus would intervene] and order it to stop. [Damascus] finished up by again ordering its allies in the Lebanese opposition to stop thwarting the formation of the Lebanese government, and thus, just two days before [Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad] left for Paris... Syria convinced [the world] that it had changed, when [in fact] it had changed nothing..."[14]


Saudi Arabia, a backbone of the "moderate Arab axis" which has vehemently opposed Syria's policy in recent years, and which was at first displeased with the French openness towards Syria, has adapted to the shift in the international climate vis-à-vis Syria, and changed its position accordingly. The first sign of this change was Saudi King 'Abdallah's reconciliation with Syria at the Kuwait summit in January 2009. During the Doha Summit, in late March 2009, it appeared that Saudi Arabia was withdrawing nearly completely from its positions towards Syria and the Syria-Iran axis, or at least accepting with silence the fact that the Syrian discourse was taking over the summit.[15] The height of the change came with the monarch's historic visit to Syria on October 7 and 8, 2009, and with the understandings regarding Lebanon, which in effect legitimized Syria's return to Lebanon.[16] 


Several days after King 'Abdallah's visit, the editor of the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh, Turki Al-Sudairi wrote an op-ed stating that the solution to Lebanon's chronic instability was for Syria to again control Lebanon. "Why shouldn't Lebanon return to Syria?", he asked.[17] Other official Saudi newspapers hastened to reassure that the article was not representative of the official Saudi position and to reiterate that the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement was not at Lebanon's expense.[18] However, today it appears that Al-Sudairi's op-ed heralded what was to come.


Currently, Egypt is the only country in the moderate Arab axis that has not backed down from its position vis-à-vis Syria, and is consequently subject to repeated attacks by the Syrian media.[19] Likewise, Syria-Iraq relations are very tense, although it seemed that they were improving, as reflected by the two countries' August 18, 2009 decision to establish a joint strategic council, during Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's visit to Damascus. The day after this decision was reached, a series of grisly bombings aimed at government ministries rocked Baghdad. Following the bombings, Al-Maliki claimed that the perpetrators had links to Iraqi Ba'th members backed by Syrian government figures. Syria denied the accusation, and in response to Syria's denials, Al-Maliki called for an international tribunal or investigative committee to be established, to determine who was behind the bombings; he sent a letter on the matter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-

moon on the matter. Both Turkey and Iran attempted to mediate between Syria and Iraq, but to no avail.


It should be noted that none of the Arab countries stood with Iraq, and the U.S. response was both cool and slow in coming. The lukewarm international response to Al-Maliki's call may be another reflection of the shift in attitude towards Syria.



N. Mozes

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