Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Voiceless Victims.


by  Evelyn Gordon

In Friday's post, I noted that due to their warped focus, Israeli human-rights organizations are increasingly leaving real victims voiceless. But the damage is incomparably greater when major international organizations do the same. To appreciate just how badly groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have betrayed those who need them most, everyone should read Nicholas Kristof's devastating recent articles on Congo in the New York Times.

The civil war in Congo, Kristof writes, has claimed almost seven million lives over the last dozen years. It has also created a whole new vocabulary to describe the other horrific abuses it has generated – such as "autocannibalism," which is when militiamen cut flesh from living victims and force the victims to eat it, or "re-rape," which applies to women and girls who are raped anew every time militiamen visit their town.

Yet the world rarely hears about Congo — because groups such as Amnesty and HRW have left the victims largely voiceless, preferring instead to focus on far less serious abuses in developed countries, where gathering information is easier.

Neither Amnesty nor HRW has issued a single press release or report on Congo so far this year, according to their web sites. Yet HRW found time to issue two statements criticizing Israel and 12 criticizing the U.S.; Amnesty issued 11 on Israel and 15 on the U.S. To its credit, HRW did cover Congo fairly extensively in 2009. But Amnesty's imbalance was egregious: For all of 2009, its web site lists exactly one statement on Congo — even as the group found time and energy to issue 62 statements critical of Israel.

By any objective standard, of course, there is no comparison in the scope of the violations. Even if you accept all the Goldstone Report's worst slanders against Israel as gospel truth, none of them remotely compares to the kind of atrocities Congo's victims describe – such as experienced by the young woman who told Kristof that after Hutu militiamen tied up her uncle, "they cut off his hands, gouged out his eyes, cut off his feet, cut off his sex organs and left him like that." Nor is this exceptional: such stories are routine.

The same holds for the death toll. The highest estimate of Palestinian fatalities in last year's Gaza war is just over 1,400; for the rest of the year combined, Palestinian fatalities numbered around 115, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs. By contrast, the death toll in Congo is around 45,000 a month — every month.

Human-rights organizations clearly should not ignore genuine violations in developed countries, but they do need to maintain a sense of proportion. Instead, the relative frequency of their press releases paints countries such as Israel and the U.S. as the world's worst human rights violators. The result is that the real worst abuses, like those in Congo, remain largely below the public's radar. And so the victims continue to suffer in unheard agony.


Evelyn Gordon

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


Why is Ahmadinejad Smiling?

by Daniel Greenfield

Sprightly Ahmadinejad tours nuclear facilities, having stolen an election he marches on as his police batter and protesters. And everywhere he goes, he smiles his trademark loopy smile. The smile of a psychopath or a saint.


Why is Ahmadinejad smiling? The answer is not a terribly complicated one. With every step he takes and every day that he remains in power, he discredits the most deeply held ideas of Western liberals about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and internal civil disobedience to achieve peaceful regime change. Despite years of diplomatic and hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets-- Ahmadinejad's grip on power remains as secure as ever.

Walking over the bodies of student protesters, of political dissidents, of the thousands killed by the wars he has touched off, he continues to taunt the rest of the world to do anything about it. And the rest of the world has done nothing except talk. And as Ahmadinejad has demonstrated, talk counts for nothing at all.

While Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be detached from ordinary reality, living in an Islamic version of Charles Manson's fantasies about touching off a spectacular war in order to bring on a new age, he understands his enemies well enough to call them out on their weakness. Like every other Islamic terrorist and warlord, Ahmadinejad sees diplomacy as weakness behind a mask of civility. And like just about every strongman in the world, he laughs at it.

Ahmadinejad may be a monster, but there are no shortage of monsters in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein was just as bad, yet much of the American and European left proved eager to shut their eyes to the rape rooms, to Uday's horrors of mangled limbs and broken fingers, to the ethnic cleansing and gassing-- while demanding that we respect Saddam's sovereignty. Today those very same people pat themselves on the back, as if defending the right of a tyrant to keep killing his own people were some great act of moral courage.

But even Saddam and Ahmadinejad are not particularly unique, because monsters proliferate in the Middle East like mushrooms after a rainstorm, growing off the oil money that their enemies send them, which they exchange for weapons and payments to their own loyalists to secure their base of power. Every petrodollar sent to the Middle East means death of a certain kind, whether it's the death of a passerby by a suicide bomb in Basra funded by Iranian or Saudi money, the death of an imported Indian contract worker in Dubai or the murder of an African Sudanese in Sudan. Either way oil money is death money, and the world knows it, and yet does nothing. No wonder Ahmadinejad keeps on smiling.

The Middle Eastern tyrannies of today often began as client states by Western governments and the USSR, which thought that they could control their oil by way of a strong leader or two. They were right and they were wrong. Because it didn't take a great genius to realize that the leaders would take the oil and the reins would soon be pointing the other way. That's what happened to the United States and Saudi Arabia. The US oil companies were nationalized, and then the Saudis proceeded to nationalize the US government as well.

Eisenhower's intervention on behalf of Nasser's seizure of the Suez Canal, and against England, (despite Nasser being a Soviet ally) demonstrated that America would rather turn on its allies, than risk alienating Arab and Muslim states. When the Saudis nationalized ARAMCO, they were confident that America would do nothing. And they were only partially wrong. America did something, it used taxpayer money to compensate shareholders for the nationalized by our "Saudi" friends.


And then the pattern was set. And it's still set. The Saudi plan of slow conquest is proceeding on schedule, as their front groups promote Islam in America and Europe, their Chevron board members (formerly ARAMCO) hold key positions on foreign policy, and everyone bows to the Religion of Peace. But there are those on both the Sunni and Shiite side who are dissatisfied with slowly boring from within, who want apocalyptic showdowns and governments of the faithful installed post haste in every Muslim and non-Muslim country. Osama bin Laden represents the Sunni extreme. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad represents the Shiite extreme. Together they have become the conductors of the international orchestra of death.

Because the West did not just underestimate their own vulnerability to blackmail, once all that black crude was in the territory of "our close friends", but they failed to take Islam into account. To the mindset of the time, Islam was a borderline irrelevant factor, a primitive tribal religion that few of the Sheikhs took seriously anymore. It might be used by a Mahdi to drive a crowd into a fevered rage. It might be used to command a certain amount of loyalty. But the idea of Islam and the modern world colliding in any way, was not taken seriously by too many of the Oxford and Harvard educated pipe smoking chaps who made the maps and wrote what they thought was the future of the Middle East.

But while Islam may be backward, it is the primitive things that are the hardest to kill and exercise their strongest grip on the mind of man. And while the abstract battle between capitalism and communism raged on, abstract because the Middle East was already full of capitalists who lived communal lives under totalitarian rule, Islam, which had never gone away, inevitably because the dominant theme of the region. And eventually the world.

And what will the West throw up against it? Back in 1956 the British tried to stage a phony crisis in order to send in peacekeeping troops in order to stop Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal, a weak effort that was aborted when Eisenhower threatened to use the Treasury to destroy the British Pound. Eisenhower would later go on to regret it, but the deed was done.

Today the West threatens extensive diplomacy, possible trade sanctions (which amount to a puff of dust in the wind) and eventually perhaps some kind of liberation force intended to implement regime change and democracy. All of which essentially translate into a show of weakness. And that is why Saddam wanted nuclear weapons, knowing that having them would enable him to bluff any threat. Ahmadinejad wants it for the same reason, but his bluff is aimed a lot wider and higher. Because he plans to actually use nuclear weapons and then call the world's bluff to do anything about it. And he may be right.

Ahmadinejad's smile is nurtured by the toxic self-assurance of a monster who knows he is unstoppable. Hitler wore that same smile as his armies tore across Europe, and only when those same armies were finally shattered and sent back in retreat at a terrible cost, did his madness finally turn on him and drive him deeper and deeper into delusion, and finally suicide. Hitler believed he was unstoppable, because the only thing his enemies seemed willing to throw at him was diplomacy and more diplomacy. This only fed his grandiose complex and his sense of omnipotence, for how better to encourage a madman who believes that nothing can stand in his way, than to fail to stand in his way.


But Ahmadinejad's story is also the larger tale of the Middle East. Where the world turns its face away from genocide, terrorism, oppression, gender apartheid and slavery by oil rich Muslim nations, while lambasting Israel in the hopes of winning their favor. The Muslim world has gone from a fetid swamp to a radioactive dump, its green glow shining poisonously into the sky. And there is a very simple reason for that. Because when you do not oppose evil, or worse when you actively pander to it, the evil grows that much worse.

Both the slow Saudi apocalypse and the speedy Iranian armageddon can be stopped by demonstrating that the people who they think are their victims are neither weak nor willing. The tyrants of the Muslim world are not afraid of diplomacy, they are not all that terrified of protests, and bombs and bullets don't worry them too much unless they are backed by real resolve. You can scare a wolf pack away for a time by firing into the air or by occasionally firing at them, but eventually the predators realize how the game works and they either work their way around your position or just charge. The slow apocalypse or the speedy one. Then there is a third option. When the hunters become the hunted. In half a century, oil money has built petty tyrants and tribal coalitions into imaginary nations and states. In less than a decade, all that can be taken away. If we continue retreating or bluffing with the power we dare not use, the wolves will have their way, one way or another. Only by going on the offensive can we win.



Daniel Greenfield

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


Khamenei and the Politics of Indecision.


by Mehdi Khalaji

February 11, the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, is the most important official holiday in Iran. The public faces of the opposition Green Movement, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, have called for street demonstrations to mark the occasion. Meanwhile, government officials at every level have warned against such protests, threatening tough action against any participants. In this tense atmosphere, what are the prospects that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will agree to political compromise?

The rhetoric on both sides has grown more heated in recent days. Gen. Hossein Hamedani -- commander of the Muhammad Rasoul Allah Army, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) branch in charge of Tehran security -- warned that "anyone who protests against the government on February 11 is not part of the Iranian people, and we dare to say that he is foreigner's agent." On the opposition side, Mousavi gave a February 2 interview in which he argued that the 1979 revolution did not end despotism in Iran. "[W]e have been too optimistic about the revolution," he said, implying that the Islamic Republic has deep flaws in its very structure.

Pressure on Khamenei

After the surprising violence on December 27, 2009 -- the Shiite holy day of Ashura -- Khamenei faced intense pressure from government moderates to make at least minimal concessions with the opposition and extinguish the crisis. For example, moderate conservatives in the Majlis issued a report linking Said Mortazavi, former general prosecutor of Tehran, to the torture of prisoners in Kahrizak detention center. They argued that if the government takes action against such notorious hardliners, it will be able to forge a compromise that ends the protest movement.

These relative moderates seem to believe that some concessions are necessary to prevent the imminent demonstrations from spiraling out of control and eclipsing the Ashura violence. They also hope to prevent erosion of the Ahmadinezhad government's legitimacy outside Tehran and in the eyes of citizens who have remained passive thus far. In addition, they seem to believe that without compromise, the regime will do even more harm to its global image and perhaps increase international pressure on Iran. This moderate faction appears to have a strong presence in the Majlis and includes other notable figures such as Tehran mayor Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf, Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezaii, and pro-regime religious authority Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi. Khamenei has faced pressure from other sources as well. In an exceptional move, Ayatollah Abdul Karim Mousavi Ardebili -- one of the Islamic Republic's founding fathers and head of the judiciary under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- recently traveled to Tehran to visit Khamenei. Religious authorities (marjas) rarely pay such visits to the Supreme Leader; in fact, it was Ardebili's first in seventeen years. According to the website Jaras, Ardebili asked Khamenei to compromise, proposing that the Supreme Leader offer "immediate unconditional release of all political prisoners" and reject "extremists and radicals." Khamenei reportedly refused to accept any of these terms.

This reaction seems in line with the Supreme Leader's management style, which has been to exercise full authority without accepting any responsibility or making clear decisions. The recent nuclear negotiations are a good example of his favored approach: Tehran sends contradictory signals to diminish pressure on Iran but avoids reaching (much less implementing) a decisive deal. Khamenei pursues the same policy on domestic issues, with notable exceptions (e.g., his explicit support for President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad after the June 2009 election and his implicit acceptance of responsibility for the outcome). Although he generally seeks to avoid high-profile, violent confrontations, that does not necessarily mean he is willing to compromise with the opposition. In a February 8 speech, he stated, "It is clear now that those who stood up against the Iranian people in the election are not part of the people but rather are either anti-revolutionaries or ignorant, stubborn individuals who do what anti-revolutionaries do; they have nothing to do with the people." In doing so, he implied that Mousavi and Karrubi are ignorant and stubborn, and that a clear line separates them from the Islamic Republic and its supporters.

Why Is Compromise Difficult for Khamenei?

Despite his eagerness to see the political crisis taper off, Khamenei finds compromise difficult. Since the 2009 presidential election, he feels less comfortable trusting the moderates he once supported. With Ahmadinezhad's counsel, he has come to believe that Majlis speaker Ali Larijani, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and other figures such as Qalibaf and Rezaii seek to weaken the president and look for opportunities to usurp his position. These figures have been Ahmadinezhad's competitors throughout his presidency, providing outspoken criticism on economic policies in particular. The mistrust is mutual: the confidence gap between the opposition and Khamenei is widening the more he identifies with Ahmadinezhad. On February 1, for example, Muhammad Khatami said that Iranians are loyal to the Supreme Leader provided he acts as a leader for all.

Khamenei's relations with the clergy are another factor in his stubbornness. Even pro-regime clerics have shown far-reaching discontent about Ahmadinezhad, questioning his economic policies, his decision to appoint women as ministers, and most especially his choice of Esfandiar Mashai as head of the president's office. Mashai represents a new set of ideas about Islam common in revolutionary circles, namely, minimizing the role of clerics. In light of these factors, pro-regime religious authorities did not congratulate Ahmadinezhad for his "victory" in the 2009 election (with the exception of Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamedani, who has little influence over the Shiite community and is seen as economically and politically corrupt). Khamenei, of course, gave Ahmadinezhad immediate, unconditional support after the rigged vote and was not happy about the clerics' reluctance, which he viewed as a sign of weakened support for the Supreme Leader himself. A compromise that undercuts the president could be seen as a signal to the clergy that they need not accept all of Khamenei's decisions.

Indeed, the Supreme Leader's support for Ahmadinezhad has narrowed the circles from which he can draw support. Green leaders and moderate conservatives alike have asked him to back off from this stance and allow the political and judicial institutions to criticize the president and hold him accountable. Instead, Khamenei continues to act as if he believes that his political destiny is intertwined with Ahmadinezhad's, and that any sign of compromise will create space for people to target him.

This belief is not unfounded. Khamenei's main political power base lies with the IRGC (and, to a lesser extent, with the judiciary). The Green leaders oppose the IRGC's political and economic role, however, believing that Ahmadinezhad would have been unable to manipulate the election without the Guards' interference. Therefore, although reining in the IRGC would undercut Khamenei's power base, it is a central prerequisite for any viable compromise. As Karrubi stated in a February 6 interview with Der Spiegel, "If Ahmadinezhad loses his support, then the parliament will topple him. Many conservative groups oppose him. He is only able to hold on to power with the help of the militias.... There is no sign of a willingness to compromise from our side -- and also not from the other side either."

Finally, Khamenei believes that any compromise in this situation will give key rivals such as Rafsanjani the upper hand. If he agrees to negotiate with politicians, he would effectively be admitting that in his twenty years of leadership -- especially the recent period during which he gained control over all three branches of government -- he did not do a good job, and that statecraft is beyond him.

The Supreme Leader faces a serious dilemma. Both of the most likely scenarios -- more violence by government forces or significant compromise under opposition pressure -- would weaken his authority. In other words, he loses either way. The only scenario that would benefit him is if the protests fade away without violence, which at this point seems unlikely.

Mehdi Khalaji is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, focusing on Iranian politics and the politics of Shiite groups in the Middle East.

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

Words, words, words.


by Moshe Arens


One might be inclined to brush off the recent verbal exchanges between Ehud Barak, Walid Moallem and Avigdor Lieberman as no more than Hamlet's "words, words, words" that have little meaningful content. Nevertheless, they are an indication of the thoughts running through the minds of Israel's defense and foreign minister and Syria's foreign minister. So just what are these thoughts?

Let's start with our defense minister. Barak is saying that if Israel does not negotiate a peace agreement with Syria - one that would lead to the return of the Golan Heights to Syrian control - Israel is risking a war with Syria; that after such a war, we would simply return to the present situation and the need to negotiate a peace agreement with Syria and give up the Golan.

Really? Does that mean that in his opinion Israel's deterrent capability against Syria that has existed since the Yom Kippur War and was reinforced during the first Lebanon war has worn thin over the years and, in effect, no longer exists? Does that mean that after a war initiated by Syria, Syria's situation would essentially be no different than before it attacked Israel, that it would continue to remain a threat so that Israel would be forced to concede the Golan Heights? Well, that would be good news for Syrian President Bashar Assad, and if taken seriously by him might even put adventurous thoughts in his mind.


Except that Assad knows better than that. He knows that a war with Israel would probably damage Syria severely and leave him with little chance to continue to make demands on Israel; that is, unless he places great reliance on the thousands of ballistic missiles he has accumulated over the years. Moallem hinted at their use. "Israel should know that a war will move to Israel's cities," he said. So maybe in fear of the destruction of its cities by Syrian missiles, Israel would prefer to concede the Golan Heights to Syria to prevent such a war. Is that really the balance of terror that now exists between Israel and Syria?

Israel did not need Moallem's warning to be aware of the thousands of missiles in Syria's inventory accumulated in recent years. One can only hope that the preparations by the Home Front Command - distributing gas masks and readying shelters for the civilian population - are not the only or even the main answer that Israel has prepared against this threat. Israel has certainly had enough time to develop the weapons systems and an appropriate strategy that would remove from Syrian minds the thought of using these missiles against Israel's cities. Do they really need the statement by Lieberman that the current Syrian regime would not survive a war with Israel to put some sober thoughts into their heads?

One can only conclude that the avalanche of words by the leaders of Israel and Syria this past week was really intended for the Israeli public. The defense minister is using scare tactics to urge Israelis to prepare to abandon the Golan Heights. Rather than risking an inevitable war that will result in no more than a stalemate, Israel should now give up the Golan Heights, he tells us. Moallem echoes Barak's words by threatening the destruction of Israel's cities if a war were to occur. And Lieberman is saying - and it's most probably true - that if Syria were to go to war against Israel, under the impact of Israeli blows, Assad's Alawite ruling regime would probably not survive such a war. That is what deterrence is all about, so Israelis need not worry, Lieberman tells us, despite the defense minister's pronouncements.

As for a sober assessment of the Israeli-Syrian situation, by all indications the Syrians continue to be deterred from attacking Israel by their appreciation of Israel's military capability and the response they can expect to aggression on their part. Over the years they have amassed a large arsenal of ballistic missiles hoping to deter Israel from taking military action against Syria. This Syrian deterrent has been effective enough to keep Israel from calling Syria to account for its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. So far.



Moshe Arens

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


Blinded by Hate.


by P. David Hornik

For anyone wishing to understand the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” as well as the persistence of extremist and anti-Semitic views in that part of the world, the latest Pew Research Center report on attitudes in the Arab and Muslim world makes for must-reading.

The report is based on a survey that the Pew Center’s Global Attitudes Project conducted from May 18 to June 16 last year. It begins by saying that “across predominantly Muslim nations, there is little enthusiasm for the extremist Islamic organizations Hamas and Hezbollah, although there are pockets of support for both groups, especially in the Middle East.” What the Pew Center calls “little enthusiasm,” however, is in most cases quite considerable enthusiasm.

True, in Turkey Hamas gets only a 5% “favorable” rating and Hezbollah only 3%. But the next-lowest ratings are in Lebanon, where 30% approve of Hamas and 35% of Hezbollah—substantial proportions considering that both are terrorist organizations. And regarding Hezbollah, Lebanese Shiites and Sunnis are, not surprisingly, sharply split, with 97% of Shiites seeing the Shiite terror group favorably and only 2% of Sunnis.

As for the Palestinians, when it comes to the most extreme organizations and leaders, only in the case of Hamas—paradoxically—do they trail behind some other nationalities. Some 44% of Palestinians view Hamas favorably; the group does better both in Jordan (56%) and Egypt (52%). That this has something to do with Palestinians’ direct experience of Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, is suggested by the fact that Hamas actually came in less popular in Gaza (37%) than in the West Bank (47%).

When it comes to Hezbollah, though, the overwhelmingly Sunni Palestinians are ahead of the pack with a 61% approval rating for this Shiite outfit; the next highest are in Jordan (51%) and Egypt (43%). It is no secret that Hezbollah has many admirers, cutting across Sunni-Shiite divides, for its perceived military successes against Israel; that its cachet is particularly strong for the Palestinians, though, is consistent with other findings of the survey.

The survey not only gauged attitudes toward organizations but also toward various leaders, including six Arab and Muslim leaders among whom the most extreme were Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Osama bin Laden. Nasrallah – who has said that “If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide” – scored highest among the Palestinians with 65% expressing confidence in him; next came the Jordanians (a majority of whom, it should be noted, are also Palestinians) at 56%, with Nasrallah’s own Lebanese compatriots a fairly distant third at 37%.

As for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president who has said Israel “must be wiped off the map,” he, too, did best among the Palestinians at 45%, edging out Indonesia at 43%, with the next highest scores in Arab countries being Jordan and Lebanon both at 32%.

And as for Osama bin Laden himself, here the Palestinians were almost his greatest fans at 51%, far ahead of the next group—again the Jordanians—at 28%; only among Nigerian Muslims (excluding Nigerian Christians) did the Al Qaeda leader do a bit better at 54%.

The survey also gauged Muslims’ attitude toward religious groups, including Jews. Here, at least, the Palestinians can’t be accused of being ahead of the rest. Ninety-five percent of Egyptians, 97% of Jordanians, 98% of Lebanese, and 97% of Palestinians registered an unfavorable view of Jews; among non-Arab Muslims—Turkey 73%, Indonesia 74%, Pakistan 78%—the rates were only somewhat lower.

Although the findings on Palestinian attitudes and general Arab anti-Semitism are not much different from previous Pew Center surveys, perhaps it is time to take more note of them—especially as hands are being wrung about the hiatus in the “peace process” with the Palestinians. In that connection Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is quoted as saying that “Since there are no prospects of talks on the horizon, and in many ways what their efforts wrought was a wasted year without any negotiations, I believe the [U.S.] administration deserves an ‘F’ for failure to deliver on results.”

It is odd that Foxman, head of an organization devoted to fighting anti-Jewish and other forms of bigotry, apparently sees “peace with the Palestinians” as such a feasible goal. But there is no need to single Foxman out, as his fallacy is widespread.

It is true that Israel has a limited but valuable peace with Egypt and Jordan, no less monolithically anti-Semitic than the Palestinians. That the Palestinians, however, show such high enthusiasm for the likes of Hezbollah, Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad, and Bin Laden gives a better clue as to why “peace” keeps running aground than all the anguished analyses of supposedly failed diplomacy.


P. David Hornik

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


The Fatah fairy tale.


by Caroline Glick

Israel's is the only government that can force the rest of the world to recognize that Abbas is not an ally.


Fahmi Shabaneh is an odd candidate for dissident status. Shabaneh is a Jerusalemite who joined the Palestinian Authority's General Intelligence Service in 1994.

Working for PA head Mahmoud Abbas and GIS commander Tawfik Tirawi, Shabaneh was tasked with investigating Arab Jerusalemites suspected of selling land to Jews. Such sales are a capital offense in the PA. Since 1994 scores of Arabs have been the victims of extrajudicial executions after having been fingered by the likes of Shabaneh.

A few years ago, Abbas and Tirawi gave Shabaneh a new assignment. They put him in charge of a unit responsible for investigating corrupt activities carried out by PA officials. They probably assumed a team player like Shabaneh understood what he was supposed to do.

Just as Abbas's predecessor, Yasser Arafat, reportedly had full dossiers on all of his underlings and used damning information to keep them loyal to him, so Abbas probably believed that Shabaneh's information was his to use or ignore as he saw fit.

For a while, Abbas's faith was well-placed. Shabaneh collected massive amounts of information on senior PA officials detailing their illegal activities. These activities included the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid; illegal seizure of land and homes; and monetary and sexual extortion of their fellow Palestinians.

Over time, Shabaneh became disillusioned with his boss. Abbas appointed him to his job around the time he was elected PA head in 2005. Abbas ran on an anti-corruption platform. Shabaneh's information demonstrated that Abbas presided over a criminal syndicate posing as a government. And yet rather than arrest his corrupt, criminal associates, Abbas promoted them.

Abbas continued promoting his corrupt colleagues even after Hamas's 2006 electoral victory. That win owed to a significant degree to the widespread public revulsion with Fatah's rampant corruption.

With Israel and the US lining up to support him after the Hamas victory, Abbas sat on his hands. Enjoying his new status as the irreplaceable "moderate," he allowed his advisers and colleagues to continue enriching themselves with the international donor funds that skyrocketed after Hamas's victory.

Since 2006, despite the billions of dollars in international aid showered on Fatah, Hamas has consistently led Fatah in opinion polls. Rather than clean up their act, Abbas and his Fatah colleagues have sought to ingratiate themselves with their public by ratcheting up their incitement against Israel. And since Abbas has been deemed irreplaceable, the same West that turns a blind eye to his corruption, refuses to criticize his encouragement of terrorism. And this makes sense. How can the West question the only thing standing in the way of a Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria?

Recently, Shabaneh decided he had had enough. The time had come to expose what he knows. But he ran into an unanticipated difficulty. No one wanted to know. As he put it, Arab and Western journalists wouldn't touch his story for fear of being "punished" by the PA.

In his words, Western journalists "don't want to hear negative things about Fatah and Abbas."

Lacking other options, Shabaneh brought his information to The Jerusalem Post's Khaled Abu Toameh.

On January 29, the Post published Abu Toameh's interview with Shabaneh on our front page. Among other impressive scoops, Shabaneh related that Abbas's associates purloined $3.2 million in cash that the US gave Abbas ahead of the 2006 elections. He told Abu Toameh how PA officials who were almost penniless in 1994 now have tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars in their private accounts. He related how he watched in horror as Abbas promoted the very officials he reported on. And he showed Abu Toameh a video of Abbas's chief of staff Rafik Husseini naked in the bedroom of a Christian woman who sought employment with the PA.

If Shabaneh's stories were about Israeli or Western officials, there is no doubt that they would have been picked up by every self-respecting news organization in the world. If he had been talking about Israelis, officials from Washington to Brussels to the UN would be loudly calling for official investigations. But since he was talking about the Palestinians, no one cared.

The State Department had nothing to say. The EU had nothing to say. The New York Times acted as if his revelations were about nothing more than a sex scandal.

As for Abbas and his cronies, they were quick to blame the Jews. They accused Shabaneh – their trusted henchman when it came to land sales to Jews – of being an Israeli agent. And when Channel 10 announced it was broadcasting Husseini's romp in the sack, Abbas demanded that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bar the broadcast, (apparently forgetting that unlike his PA-controlled media, Israel's media organs are free).

SHABANEH'S ODYSSEY from PA regime loyalist to dissident is an interesting tale. But what is more noteworthy than his personal journey is the world's indifference to his revelations.

Just as the mountains of evidence that Fatah officials – including Shabaneh's boss Tirawi – have been actively involved in terrorist attacks against Israel have been systematically ignored by successive US administrations, Israeli governments and EU foreign policy chiefs, so no one wants to think about the fact that Fatah is a criminal syndicate. The implications are too devastating.

Since at least 1994, successive US administrations goaded by the EU have made supporting Fatah and the PA the centerpiece of their Middle East policy. They want to receive proof that Fatah is a terrorist organization that operates like a criminal organization like they want – in the immortal words of former EU Middle East envoy Christopher Patten – "a hole in [their] head."

As for the Western media, their lack of interest in Shabaneh's revelation serves as a reminder of just how mendacious much of the reportage about the Palestinians and Israel is. For 16 years, the American and European media have turned blind eyes to Palestinian misbehavior while expansively reporting every allegation against Israel – no matter how flimsy or obviously false. When the history of the media's coverage of the Middle East is written it will constitute one of the darkest chapters in Western media history.

But while the American and European allegiance to the fable of Fatah as the anchor of the two-state solution accounts for the indifference of both to Shabaneh's disclosures, what accounts for the Netanyahu government's behavior in this matter?

Shortly after the Post first published Shabaneh's story, the PA issued an arrest warrant against him. He was charged among other things with "harming the national interests" of the Palestinians.

But Abbas's henchmen couldn't put their hands on him.

Israel had already arrested him.

Shabaneh was booked for among other things, illegally working for the PA. It is illegal for Israeli residents to work for the PA. But oddly, although Israeli authorities have known whom he worked for since 1994, until his disclosures were made public, they never saw any pressing need to arrest or prosecute him.

Official Israel has nothing to say about Shabaneh's information. Instead, in the wake of his disclosures, everyone from Netanyahu to Defense Minister Ehud Barak has continued to daily proclaim their dedication to reaching a peace accord with Abbas. This even as Abbas and his cronies accuse Israel of using the "traitorous" Shabaneh to pressure Abbas into negotiating with Israel.

There are two explanations for Israel's behavior. First, there is the fact the presence of Barak and his Labor Party in the government makes it impossible for Netanyahu and his Likud Party to abandon the failed two-state paradigm of dealing the PA. If Netanyahu and his colleagues were to point out that the PA is a kleptocracy and its senior officials enable terror and escalate incitement to deflect their public's attention away from their criminality, (as well as because they want to destroy Israel), then Labor may bolt the coalition.

Beyond that, there is no doubt that an Israeli denunciation of Abbas and his mafia would enrage the US and EU. Apparently, Netanyahu – who to please President Barack Obama accepted the two-state paradigm in spite of the fact that he opposes it, and suspended Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria despite the fact that knows doing this is wrong – is loath to pick a fight by pointing out the obvious fact that the PA is a corrupt band of oppressive thieves.

Shabaneh argues that due to PA corruption, Hamas remains the preferred alternative for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. In his view, the only reason Hamas has yet to take over Judea and Samaria is the IDF presence in the areas.

The strategic implications of his statement are clear. Far from being a bulwark against Hamas, Abbas empowers the Iranian-backed jihadist force. The only bulwark against Hamas is Israel.

WHAT THIS means is that Israel must end its support for Abbas. Every day he remains in power, he perpetuates a myth of Palestinian moderation. As a supposed moderate, he claims that Israel should curtail its counterterror operations and let his own "moderate" forces take over.

To strengthen Abbas, the US pressures Israel to curtail its counterterror operations in Judea and Samaria. To please the US, Israel in turn cuts back its operations.

Abbas's men fight Hamas, but they also terrorize journalists, merchants and plain civilians who fall in their path, and so strengthen Hamas. To ratchet up public support for Fatah, Abbas escalates PA incitement against Israel. This then encourages his own forces to attack Israelis – as happened last week when one of his security officers murdered IDF St.-Sgt. Maj. Ihab Khatib. And so it goes.

It is clear that Barak will threaten to bolt the coalition if Netanyahu decides to cut off Abbas. But if he left, where would he go? Barak has nowhere to go. He will not be reelected to lead his party. And if Labor leaves the coalition, Netanyahu would still be far from losing his majority in Knesset.

As for angering the White House, the fact of the matter is that by pointing out that Abbas is not a credible leader, Israel will make it more difficult for Obama and his advisers to coerce Israel into making further concessions that will only further empower Hamas.


Shabaneh told the Post that he fully expects the PA to try to kill him. But in a way, the yawns that greeted his story are his best life insurance policy. Until the world stops believing that Fatah is indispensable, no one will listen to the Shabanehs of the world and so the PA has no reason to kill him.

Just as the Post was the only media organ that would publish his story, so the Israeli government is the only government that can force the rest of the world to recognize that Abbas is not an ally. But to do that, the government itself must finally break with the fairy tale of Fatah moderation.


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


Friday, February 19, 2010

Does the Obama Administration Define U.S. interests as Protecting its Allies?

by Barry Rubin

Foreign policy is often a matter of wording. When a government is careless about analysis and definitions it sets up a very dangerous situation that might end up killing people and overthrowing governments.

Historians believe that an errant American statement mistakenly leaving South Korea out of the U.S.-protected security zone back in 1949 helped persuade the Soviets and Chinese that a North Korean invasion of the South would not be met by a strong U.S. response. It is clear that a parallel mistake in 1990 was interpreted by Iraq as a sign that if it invaded and annexed Kuwait Washington would do nothing.

So consider the following statement in the new assessment by the director of national intelligence concerning Hizballah:

"We judge that, unlike al-Qa'ida, Hizballah, which has not directly attacked U.S. interests
overseas over the past 13 years, is not now actively plotting to strike the Homeland. However, we cannot rule out that the group would attack if it perceives that the U.S. is threatening its core interests."

The key problem here is the phrase "U.S. interests." To be fair, if one focuses on the word "'directly," as in "has not directly attacked U.S. interests," it is these indirect attacks that threaten the U.S. strategic position in the region.

If the U.S. intelligence community believes that the Iran- and Syria-backed Lebanese Shia group Hizballah is not going to launch a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, they are no doubt correct. It can also be argued, though with less assurance, that Hizballah is not going to kidnap or kill American citizens or attack U.S. embassies.

There is, however, information, ignored in the report, of Hizballah involvement in preparing and helping terrorists going into Iraq to kill Americans. In addition, the role of Hizballah in kidnapping and murdering Americans in the past, as well as in the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Beirut and the Marine headquarters there, has never been punished. When President Barack Obama commemorated the anniversary of that attack,
he didn't mention Hizballah's role at all or give any sense of who had killed 241 U.S. military personnel. Trying to prove Hizballah isn't a threat is leading to ignoring cases where Hizballah is a threat.

Recently, a newspaper close to Hizballah and its Syrian allies implied that the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon might have to be "silenced" if she continues to "interfere in Lebanese politics." There have also been frequent threats that if the UN forces in Lebanon probe too deeply about Hizballah activities--massive imports of equipment from Syria and building up its capability for future war--they might be attacked, threats which have successfully intimidated them.

But this evaluation of whether or not Hizballah has attacked Americans recently is less important than the phrase "U.S. interests," which is supposed to mean far more than an attack on American personnel or property. It also should mean an attack on U.S. allies and damage to U.S. positions on key issues. In the case of Hizballah the organization still is pursuing some very serious goals against U.S. interests, including:

--To destroy moderate, pro-American forces in Lebanon, notably the alliance of Sunni Muslims, Christians, and Druze called the March 14 Coalition.

--To take over Lebanon and deliver it into the Iranian-led bloc, while promoting Tehran's interests and extend its power in every way possible.

--To destroy Israel including launching attacks on it
when it is deemed worth doing.

--To drive American influence out of Lebanon.

The two men most responsible for this assessment are likely to be the director of national intelligence Dennis Blair and the president's advisor on terrorism John Brennan. This duo is by far the most ignorant and dangerous of Obama's foreign policy appointees. Brennan is on record
as saying Hizballah is no longer a terrorist group in part because its members include lawyers.

There are two possibilities in explaining this phrase about "U.S. interests." The first is that it was careless phrasing, a sign of low competence.

The second is that it does reflect a thinking which conflates defining any force that poses a threat to U.S. interests with identifying a force that seeks a direct attack on the U.S. homeland. After all, the Obama Administration only views itself as being at war with al-Qaida because al-Qaida wants to attack New York or Detroit and--though they don't necessarily seem clear on this point--Fort Hood.

But what signal does this send to U.S. allies? That Hamas,
Hizballah, Pakistani-based terrorists striking against India, Syria which is subverting Iraq, Iran's growing power, or countries like North Korea or Venezuela are no big problem?

This may seem a minor problem in Washington but it is a huge concern in dozens of other countries. And if the administration is hazy on this point, it is some day going to find itself in a much weaker position in terms of both America's friends and enemies.

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.


The limits of American engagement with Iran.


by Elie Fawaz

There is nothing solid to the eloquent words US President Barack Obama uses to address the many crises his country is experiencing, especially in the Middle East. By now it has become obvious for enemies and allies of the United States alike that this American administration has no foreign policy at all, and this is a luxury that the United States cannot afford, especially when it comes to the Middle East – the home of 70% of the oil reserves in the world – unless it has decided to cease being the world super power and is instead gunning for the Miss Congeniality title.

Obviously the myriad envoys coming to the region with the mantra of engagement without coercion has sent the wrong message and has so far led the region to the edge of a destructive war. This became clear during the American presidential campaign, when America's enemies and allies understood that an Obama victory would mean the undoing of everything George W. Bush did for the past eight years, regardless of the consequences.

The enemies of the United States had to be a little patient, the allies weary. Undoing Bush's policies in the Middle East meant giving the region up to the next strongest power. It happened in the 1980s, when Iran and its allies decided to push America out of the region successfully, but with the small difference that at the time America's allies were by far stronger, and Iran wasn't going nuclear.

 When a bunch of angry students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held American staff members hostage for hundreds of days, the Iranian revolutionaries were determined but not in total control, Khomeini hadn't yet started the purge that bloodied his country for two years in order to cement his theocracy, and he feared the American reaction, which he thought could be fatal for his revolution. The US reaction soon came in an ill-fated secret rescue mission, Operation Eagle Claw, followed by a letter from then-President Jimmy Carter to the "man of God" – Khomeini. Iran knew then that the Americans were unwilling to act and decided death should be the fate of America.

And death fell on the Americans and their allies starting from that moment, everywhere Iran could reach: from the killing of Dean of the American University of Beirut Malcolm Kerr and the murder and kidnappings of other Westerners by Iranian proxies in Beirut, to the 1983 bombing of the marine barracks in Lebanon, the 1996 Khobar bombings in Saudi Arabia, and the many attacks targeting American soldiers today in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But back then the Americans were able to retreat from the region, secure in that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was heavily armed and able to contain Iran's outreach, Turkey was an ally and able to contain and pressure Syria if needed (mostly through water access), Israel was in control of South Lebanon and Hamas was still an embryo.

Today, after ousting Saddam from power, the US helped unleash the Iranian dream of spreading the Islamic Revolution throughout the Middle East. Tehran, with its nuclear ambition, is now trying to reshape the region in its own image, with the help of its powerful proxies in Hezbollah and Hamas. America's traditional allies are either weak or incapable militarily.

For Iran and its allies, it seems the destructive policies they have followed finally paid off. They destabilized Iraq, they provoked Israel into entering wars in South Lebanon and Gaza, they armed the Houthi rebels in Yemen and sent them into war against Saudi Arabia, their proxies in Lebanon took over Beirut in May 2008, and their partners in Egypt, the Gulf, the Occupied Territories and Lebanon infiltrated the ranks of power and destabilized the countries. Today these forces are waiting for Obama to withdraw from the region in order to make a complete takeover and force the world to accept a nuclear Iran in control.

You can't blame Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for doing what he is doing. Obama saw the Iranian Revolutionary Guards killing innocent protesters on the street and savagely crushing their peaceful Green Revolution but decided to turn a blind eye. Worse, Obama decided to send two letters to the supreme leader of Iran saying that "If countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us." But he failed to say what would happen if the fist remained clenched.

China might veto paralyzing sanctions on Iran, Russia is actively helping it develop a nuclear weapon. All this inaction on America's part is only leading to one path, a war that will erode US influence. Even Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who works to undermine American influence in the Middle East, said this about American power to journalist Seymour Hersh recently: "Now the problem is that the United States is weaker, and the whole influential world is weak as well…. You always need power to do politics. Now nobody is doing politics…. So what you need is strong United States with good politics, not weaker United States. If you have weaker United States, it is not good for the balance of the world."

In the end it seems that even a bad policy is better than no policy at all.

Elie Fawaz

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


Obama Administration Whispers its Total Turnaround on the Israel-Palestinian Issue.

by Barry Rubin

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has issued a nominally routine communiqué after her meeting with Tony Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain and now messenger of the Quartet on matters Israel-Palestinian. Does this two-paragraph document of February 11, 2010, indicate the new direction of U.S. policy on Israel-Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict issues?

First paragraph:

"This Administration has, from the beginning, worked to bring about comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On that issue our approach has been three-fold: (1) to help build the economy and capacity to govern of a Palestinian state; (2) to renew political negotiations to enable the earliest possible establishment of that state; and (3) to achieve these in a manner that ensures the security of Israel and of the Palestinians."

Wait a minute. Note the shift in priorities, very subtle but very important. Up until now, in every statement made by the Obama administration, item 2 has been in the top position. Last September, the president of the United States announced that intensive talks to reach a comprehensive peace agreement would start in early November! Three months later they aren't even in sight. So now the administration has shifted gears and the main priority is a process of state-building and community organizing among the Palestinians to get them ready for the grand opening ceremonies. That makes sense as far as it goes.

Notice it doesn't even say the "earliest possible" renewal of political negotiations but implies that the economic and infrastructure change--not talks--will achieve the "earliest possible establishment" of a Palestinian state.

In light of this shift, the second paragraph reads:

"Consistent with Prime Minister Fayyad's plan for a future Palestinian state, Tony Blair, as the Quartet representative, will intensify his partnership with Senator Mitchell in support of the political negotiations. In his role as Quartet Representative Tony Blair will continue, with full support by and coordination with Senator Mitchell, to mobilize the efforts of the international community: (1) to build support for the institutional capacity and governance of a future Palestinian State, including on the rule of law; (2) to improve freedom of movement and access for Palestinians; (3) to encourage further private sector investment; and (4) to bring change in the living conditions of the people in Gaza."

The mission of Blair and Senator Mitchell, the U.S. envoy, is defined as being, "Consistent with Prime Minister Fayyad's plan for a future Palestinian state." That means, despite the mention of "political negotiations," the Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister's two-year plan to build the Palestinian state economically and institutionally so it can be launched in 2012.

The implications of the Fayyad approach are that negotiations with Israel will be required only when everything is already prepared. This gives the administration the rationale to get nothing done in the meantime on the diplomatic level. It is thus—despite some boiler-plate language—a complete reversal in practice of the administration's previous policy. The U.S. government can "look busy" while doing precisely what its predecessor did: realize nothing much is possible at the present while awaiting some future opportunity.

The emphasis is on helping the Palestinians and not pressing them to give Israel anything. At the same time, however, there is not going to be a big emphasis on pressuring Israel except on two points. One is the "freedom of movement" issue, which means asking Israel to dismantle more roadblocks. That will depend, of course, on the security situation.

The other is the phrase, "To bring change in the living conditions of the people in Gaza." Unfortunately, this doesn't mean overthrowing Hamas and freeing Gazans from that dictatorship of genocidal-minded terrorists. Rather, it implies more pressure on Israel to reduce embargos on the Gaza Strip without removing Hamas, blocking arms-smuggling, or forcing any change in Hamas's plan for future attacks on Israel and indeed the extermination of that country and its people. In other words, still another Israeli concession, though Israel will keep it to a minimum.

Meanwhile, the United States won't push the PA to come to the negotiating table, or reduce incitement, or really convey to its people the need to give up hope of wiping out Israel and taking all the land, or punish terrorists. Trying to do these things would make the PA unhappy; stir up Arab and Muslim complaints, and not work anyway. Of course, failing to do these things will also make any real progress on peace impossible as well.

Fayyad is only kept in office because the United States and European donors, not the Fatah leaders, want him there. His two-year plan will fail completely. Fayyad is too weak to strengthen Palestinian institutions; the regime is too corrupt and incompetent (and massive violence could break out at any moment) to attract foreign investment. Any serious examination of the, albeit welcome, Palestinian economic boom shows it is based on two ultimately unproductive pillars--the aid money and real estate speculation.

In this context, the administration has made its choice, though it would never admit to that fact: maximum popularity, minimum friction, no real change. That is a reasonable choice under the circumstances. It is also in real terms the same policy as the Bush administration adopted.

All this greater recognition of reality—whatever the rhetoric employed--should be accompanied with a corresponding shift in the wider public understanding. Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict is not the key to the Middle East. There isn't going to be any peace or even diplomatic advances in that direction. The reason is internal Palestinian politics. The leadership is still radical, more eager to reconcile with Hamas than to make peace with Israel. The world view is extremist and geared toward total victory. PA media and clerics encourage violence and teach that Israel is temporary and illegitimate.

Overall, the picture is not so bad, especially given what one might have expected from the administration's first months in office. It does seem as if the administration has reached some realization of the fecklessness of the PA, the difficulty of making peace, and is thus reluctant to commit too much effort and political capital to the issue.

Instead, it will try to prove that it loves the Palestinians while trying to keep things quiet as it deals with other things, ranging from domestic issues to Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. The Obama administration has been turned on this issue from self-proclaimed pouncing lion to a lounging pussycat though it still tries to make its meow sound like a roar.

PS: Note that the response to this story of the Associated Press is precisely the opposite of my analysis. The
AP dispatch did not mention a single one of the points made in this article (which is why you should be reading this blog, by the way). Here's their lead:

"Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is going to play a bigger role in efforts to get Israel and the Palestinians back to peace talks by intensifying his partnership with special U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell."

The communique's key phrase is a description of what U.S. policy is, not the request for Blair to work with Mitchell, which means nothing in practice.

In other words, they view this as just a further intensification of the peace-process-as-usual drive for negotiations. Much of the media and public debate has the peace process so much on the brain that the cliche about not seeing the forest for the trees is inadequate. One should rather say that they look at the Sahara desert and see a forest.

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.