Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rejoice on Jerusalem Day


by Isi Leibler

Jerusalem, referred to over 600 times in the Bible, has represented the cornerstone of our Jewish identity for more than three millennia since it became the capital of King David's Israelite monarchy. It remained at the core of our spiritual longings following the second dispersion when for 2,000 years our forefathers faced Jerusalem in their daily prayers, yearning for a return to their ancestral homeland. Moreover, even throughout their exile, Jews retained a significant presence in their Holy City and since the 1840s have constituted the largest group inhabiting the city.

Jerusalem also has major religious significance for Christians and Muslims, both of whom denied freedom of worship to other religions when they ruled over the city. During the Jordanian control of the Old City from 1948 to 1967, in flagrant breach of armistice agreements, Jews were refused all access to holy sites, and synagogues and graveyards were desecrated and destroyed. And the world remained silent.

Since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, the government of Israel - for the first time - ensured that all faiths could freely worship and maintain their religious institutions. If anything, the Israeli authorities discriminated against Jews, denying them the right to worship on the Temple Mount lest Muslims took offense.

Yet to this day many Palestinians deny that there ever was a Jewish presence in the city and make preposterous allegations that the Jewish holy sites, including the Temple, were Zionist fabrications concocted to justify "the Jewish colonialist enterprise."

To this end they have been systematically destroying archeological evidence on the Temple Mount.

In addition, we are now faced with a determined campaign in which most of the world, including the Obama administration, is pressuring us to once again divide Jerusalem. Even prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, an architect of the Oslo Accords, on the eve of his assassination warned the Knesset that Jerusalem must remain united. And indeed in this day and age the concept of dividing cities is considered retrograde.

We are also painfully aware of the appalling track records of many Islamic states which deny freedom of worship to non-Muslims. The record of the Palestinians in this context is particularly vile, and we should be under no illusions how they would behave if they gained control of the holy sites.

But beyond this there is also the question of security. Every Israeli withdrawal in recent years has led to emboldening the jihadists and intensified aggression and terror. A division of Jerusalem would virtually guarantee that a corrupt or impotent Palestinian Authority or a rabid Hamas would be tempted to launch terror actions against neighboring Jewish areas.

JERUSALEM DAY should therefore not merely be a day of celebration. It should also be a day in which we pledge that, irrespective of the creative solutions devised to provide greater autonomy for Arabs in Jerusalem, the city must never be divided and Israel must remain the custodian to guarantee freedom of worship to Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Alas, today, many of us tend to overdramatize the challenges confronting us and display a penchant for self criticism which approaches masochism. Jerusalem Day should be a day when we give thanks to the Almighty for His intervention and pay tribute to those who fought against overwhelming odds to reunite the city and establish our national homeland.

Despite successive wars, facing ongoing terror and still being surrounded by enemies pledged to destroy us, Israel is here to stay. Seven and half million Israeli citizens, three quarters of whom are Jews, have achieved a demographic critical mass and notwithstanding the many doomsday predictions, the Jewish state can never be undone.

And despite an absence of natural resources, we have transformed our country into a veritable economic powerhouse which has achieved miraculous progress in science, technology, industry and agriculture. Tiny Israel has more hi-tech start-ups and companies listed on NASDAQ than any country other than the US. Our arts and cultural development is expanding and we continue producing Nobel Prize winners.

We have undergone a religious revival and today there are more Jews in Israel learning Torah than in any age in Jewish history.

We have successfully absorbed millions of Jews, the majority being Holocaust survivors and refugees finding haven from oppression. They originate from all four corners of the globe ranging from Western olim to Ethiopians. And while the integration process has still a long way to go, no society in the world has succeeded in absorbing such a mass of immigrants and molding them into a nation.

WE SEE the shocking global resurgence of anti-Semitism, mankind's oldest and perennial hatred, throughout the Western world. Many Diaspora Jews, especially in Europe, have reached the obvious conclusion that there is no future for their children in societies that treat them as pariahs. In contrast, our children live without ever experiencing the pain and humiliation of discrimination or being treated as inferior. For them Jewish identity is natural and requires no justification. The world applies double standards against us. With millions of innocent human beings murdered or denied human rights, we Jews remain the people who dwell alone.

The bitter lesson of our history has been that while we are obliged to forge alliances, ultimately we must rely on our own resources, rather than the goodwill of others. That is why we should continuously celebrate the fact that after 2,000 years of persecution, degradation and exile, the creation of a Jewish state has now empowered us. We must realize that so long as the majority of our people remain determined, our future rests in our own hands Those who wail about our shortcomings and the corruption within our ranks should realize that it is a mark of a a healthy society when it transparently discloses its weaknesses and exacts harsh punishment on leaders who transgress.

We failed to achieve peace with our neighbors because we lack a peace partner. For years we deluded ourselves into believing that providing Arabs with land would achieve peace, only to belatedly realize that the Palestinian goal was neither peace, nor an independent state for themselves. Their primary objective was to deny legitimacy to Jewish sovereignty in the region.

When in years to come, our neighbors ultimately come to the realization that they can never vanquish us, they will follow the example of Egypt and Jordan - and appoint leaders who will peacefully coexist and enjoy prosperity with us.

I often contemplate what our grandparents would have thought during the dark years of the Holocaust had someone predicted to them that the Jewish people would rise like a phoenix from the ashes to resurrect a Jewish homeland which would become the greatest success story of our century. That is the theme that should run through our minds as we celebrate Jerusalem Day. And it should make us smile.


Isi Leibler

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


Linked In


by Lee Smith



The one uncontroversial fact about the Middle East is that the Arab-Israeli conflict is inextricably linked to every other problem in the region. Known as "linkage," this is the one idea that has won the support of a broad consensus of U.S. congressmen, senators, diplomats, former presidents, and their foreign-policy advisers, seconded by journalists, Washington policy analysts, almost every American who has ever watched a Sunday morning news roundtable, and the Obama Administration, from National Security Adviser James Jones to the president himself: "If we can solve the Israeli-Palestinian process," candidate Obama said on Meet the Press in the spring of 2008, "then that will make it easier for Arab states and the Gulf states to support us when it comes to issues like Iraq and Afghanistan. It will also weaken Iran, which has been using Hamas and Hezbollah as a way to stir up mischief in the region."

It is hardly surprising, then, that commanders of U.S. armed forces who during the last decade have spent more time on the ground among Arab and Muslim populations than American diplomats also subscribe to the concept of linkage and have even made it into a tenet of U.S. military strategy. For instance, in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus explained that, "The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests" in the region.

Petraeus's comments were used by some to advance the linkage-based argument that Israeli actions were endangering U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Petraeus himself has clarified his remarks, and last week Defense Secretary Robert Gates jumped into the fray to explain that, "Petraeus did not say that the lack of progress in the peace process is costing American lives." According to Gates, the issue is that:

The lack of progress in the peace process has provided political ammunition to our adversaries in the Middle East and in the region, and that progress in this arena will enable us not only to perhaps get others to support the peace process, but also support us in our efforts to try and impose effective sanctions against Iran.

Gates and Petraeus, then, are adherents of what might be called "soft" linkage. This is the idea that since, in Petraeus's words, "The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel," it's the work of U.S. policymakers to keep working on the peace process that will lead to a Palestinian state in order to show U.S. good faith to the Arabs. The soft linkers don't believe that all the regional problems will melt away with a resolution to the conflict, but progress on the peace process will render regional U.S. allies more willing to cooperate on matters of U.S. national interest. Robert Malley is a soft linker, so are Aaron David Miller and Dennis Ross and almost everyone else who has ever worked on the peace process in a U.S. presidential administration.

And then there are the apostles of "hard" linkage, most of whom do not like Israel and believe, like John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, that popular anger over the Palestinian issue actually motivates the policymaking decisions of Arab rulers. As preposterous as it may seem—that hard security regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt really care that much about popular opinion—there are plenty of moderate Arab leaders who keep feeding ammunition to the hard linkers. For instance, King Abdullah of Jordan is the latest in a long line of Hashemite leaders who warns that failure to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli crisis endangers moderate rulers like himself. The difference between Abdullah and the hard linkers of the U.S. policy establishment is that the latter want Washington to sever its relationship with Jerusalem, while the Jordanian king knows quite well that a weakened Israel, less capable of stopping Palestinian militants on his border, could bring his regime down.

Having written a book that describes the Middle East in terms of a clash of Arab civilizations, I give no credence to the notion that the Arab-Israeli arena is the region's defining issue. Rather, it is one among many conflicts that plague this conflict-prone area, and so I see the Arabic-speaking regions in terms of intra-Arab clashes, or an Arab cold war, where regional actors—not just nation states, but also regimes and their domestic rivals, in addition to competing sectarian groups—are warring with each other at varying levels of intensity. There is the Palestinian civil war between Hamas and Fatah that has cooled for the time being; in Lebanon, Hezbollah has routed the pro-democracy March 14 forces; the Houthi rebellion taking place on the Saudi-Yemen border is effectively a proxy war between the Saudis and the Iranians; in Syria, the ruling Alawite minority simultaneously fears the country's Sunni majority even as it uses Sunni militants to advance its interests in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian territories; and in Iraq, Sunnis and Shia seem to be poised for a continuation of the civil war that will ensue after the U.S. withdrawal. That's the real Middle East, where the Arabs' fight for power among themselves takes priority over whether or not Washington negotiators have the percentages right in proffered land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians.

Nonetheless, I can hardly help but recognize the central role that U.S. Middle East policy has given to the belief that, from the Persian Gulf all the way to Western North Africa, a region encompassing many thousands of tribes and clans, dozens of languages and dialects, ethnicities and religious confessions, the Arab-Israeli issue is the key factor in determining the happiness of over 300 million Arabs and an additional 1.3 billion Muslims outside of the Arabic-speaking regions. Where does such an extraordinary idea come from? The answer is the Arabs—who might be expected, in the U.S. view of the world, to give us an honest account of what is bothering them. However, this would ignore the fact that interested parties do not always disclose the entire truth of their situation, especially when they have a stake in doing otherwise.

In all relations, intimate as well as international, the goal is to convince the other side to see the world in the way that you have chosen for them to see it. As Zionist immigration started to pick up in the 1920s and 1930s, long before the United States was even a factor in the Middle East, Arab rulers explained to the British that the creation of a Jewish state would cause deep anger among the Islamic umma, or community. The notion that all Muslims could feel strongly about one particular issue that did not touch on them directly was not necessarily false, but neither was it invariably true. Religious affiliation is only one form of identity in the region, where tribal and clan loyalty often trump everything else: It tests credulity that, say, the Saud clan of the Nejd on the Arabian peninsula was more concerned with protecting wealthy Jerusalem families than with defeating its own local adversaries, such as the Hashemites.

Linkage is the narrative the Arab rulers—specially Ibn Saud, the Hashemites who ruled Iraq and Transjordan, and the Egyptian monarchy—used to compete with each other to represent the Palestinian file to the British, a privilege that would enhance the winner's power and prestige at the expense of his rivals. If the Saudis, say, owned the right to speak for the Arabs of the Palestinian mandate, then the British would have to go through the Saudi king to win concessions, a path that the British would need to pave with gold and concessions of their own to the Saudis. The competition for the role was stiff.

In the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, many of the British Foreign Office's bureaucrats were, following in the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence, obsessed with the notion of a great and unified Arab nation. But even as the Foreign Office's advice to Whitehall was largely based on sentimental, or irrational, grounds, London was not entirely foggy-headed. Recognizing that war with Germany was on the horizon, the Brits did not wish to risk their position in the Levant or energy sources in the Gulf by pushing the Arabs over to the Nazis. After the war, with the Brits losing their holdings and discovering that they were incapable of continuing to balance the Jews and the Arabs, the American moment in the Middle East began in earnest. The U.S. Department of State inherited the Foreign Office's Arab nationalist inclinations and with it the idea of linkage. President Harry S. Truman's Secretary of State Gen. George Marshall was the first in a long line of American military men reaching up to the present who subscribed to the idea that U.S. support for the Zionist state would antagonize the world's Muslim population. Marshall was a proponent of hard linkage who not only warned the president against recognizing Israel, but also threatened to vote against him if he did so.

So, how did Washington manage to navigate these dangerous shoals, balancing not only the Arabs and Israel, but also a large segment of its own foreign-policy establishment that was suspicious, if not downright hostile, to the Jewish state? An even neater stunt than convincing the other side to accept your perspective is to turn their idols upside down—that is, to take their worldview and use it against them. This is exactly the trick that Washington accomplished in the wake of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the energy crisis. Henry Kissinger's State Department began exploiting the Arab narrative for the United States' own benefit: The United States told the Arabs that it, too, believed in linkage, and that if they wanted anything from Israel, they'd have to come through the United States to get it. The Arabs were happy to go along for the ride, especially the Saudis, who wanted to avoid a repeat of the oil embargo that OPEC imposed on the United States for siding with Israel.

Those who say they see through the myth of linkage note that the Palestinian issue can't be that important because in fact the Arabs don't really care about the Palestinians and just use them as a political football for their own benefit. That's both true and not true, but what's more instructive is that the Palestinians have caused a lot of trouble in the region for their Arab brethren. Palestinian refugees started civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon and sided with Iraq when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. If, like me, you see the region in terms of an Arab civil war, then these Palestinian uprisings are simply evidence of how one group has fought its rivals for power. But if you see the Middle East in terms of linkage, you would argue this proves your circular logic: If the Palestinian issue was resolved these wars never would have happened in the first place.

The myth of linkage owes its power in part in part to the nature of the Middle East, where American policy walks a fine line between reason and faith. For instance, the United States supports Israel because Israel is a strategic ally with whom the United States shares liberal democratic values—and because Israel is the national homeland of a people whose line of prophets culminates with the Christian messiah who was resurrected three days after his death. Similarly, the United States dares not dismiss the Arabs' claim to Jerusalem, a city revered as the third-holiest city in all of (Sunni) Islam because the prophet of Islam's flying horse touched down there during his night journey to heaven.

As the origins of any myth fade into the past, the myth, paradoxically, becomes more and more powerful, sometimes even taking on the appearance of truth. Two generations removed from the American policymakers who turned linkage to the advantage of U.S. regional interests, a dangerous stage begins in the history of a myth invented by one Arab tribe to gain the support of the British in their battle with another Arab tribe and that Washington turned around to make itself the power center of the Middle East.

Consider this statement taken from Petraeus's Senate testimony: "Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR [Area of Responsibility] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world." This is boilerplate material that could have been written for any U.S. official over the last 40 years, and it's totally uncontroversial, except for the fact that it's not true and has never been true. Moderate Arab regimes do not enjoy political legitimacy as liberal democracies do; rather, their legitimacy is proportionate to the capacity of their security services to repress domestic opposition, especially of the Islamist variety, and deter intra-Arab enemies. Their legitimacy depends only on their ability to stay in power. Washington's regional partnerships—with Arab regimes and not with Arab peoples—are to ensure that these regimes do stay at the helm. For example, $2 billion annually of the U.S. taxpayers' money helps Egypt's military and security chiefs stay loyal to President Hosni Mubarak, while the Bahrain-based U.S. Fifth Fleet makes sure that oil receipts fill the coffers of the Saudi royal family and the Gulf Arab emirates. In other words, Washington's Arab allies are not willing to commit suicide over the Palestinian question by telling Washington to stop supporting them.

Indeed, the American position in the Middle East is founded on the idea that Arab regimes are incapable of defending themselves against anyone. Washington made sure these regimes can't defeat Israel; the United States protected the Saudis from the Soviets and then from Saddam, when the American presence in the desert made the Saudis vulnerable to their own domestic opposition in the form of Osama Bin Laden. What the Saudis want now is to be protected against the Islamic Republic of Iran, but they can't say that publicly any more than they can explain that the myth of linkage was always more about intra-Arab politics than it was about the fate of the Palestinians.

Nor apparently can the Americans admit that linkage was just a strategic instrument that leveraged the Arab narrative to the advantage of the United States. The further U.S. policymaking gets from the origins of the myth, the more magical and enticing it has become. The myth of linkage has grown to such legendary proportions at this point that it is the extent of the current White House's Middle East policy. We have no other strategy to stop the Iranian nuclear program but linkage. Movement on the peace process, the Obama Administration believes, will get the Arab regimes to help us with Iran. The problem is that the Arabs will not help us with Iran. They want us to deal with Iran ourselves, but if we keep forcing the issue of linkage they have no choice but to go along with the ruse that everything is linked to the Arab-Israeli crisis. After all, it's their narrative, and they can't disown it now.

In reality, the reason the Obama Administration, Gates, and Petraeus are pushing linkage into overdrive is that there is no Iran strategy, and nothing—not even linkage—is going to stop the Iranians. They are telling the Arabs that they are going to do what they can about the Palestinian question, because they are not going to do anything about Iran. That's the Arabs' consolation prize for being an American ally. What a cruel joke fate has played at the expense of Arabs, who have been talking out of both sides of their mouth about the Palestinians and linkage for almost a century, a myth that came to link the fate of the Americans to that of the Arabs, and theirs to ours. Since we have no other policy than a magic trick, the Arabs have no choice but to pretend to believe it's real.


Lee Smith

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


A Zionist Renaissance


by Joseph Puder

Avner S., 26, is a handsome young man with a smooth face that gives him the appearance of a teenager. He is, in spite of his soft exterior, a hardened ex-combat soldier who served in the top combat unit of the Israel Defense Forces – Sayeret Matkal. Both Avner and his colleagues are wearing helmet-like skullcaps and tzizits, which are flowing out of their T-shirts. The roofers, busy putting on red tiles, and the other two dozen workers, all of whom are veterans, are now on a new mission- to build up the land of Israel.

This group, led by Avner, and many others like them, have began a movement that is reminiscent of the early 20th century. An idealistic and pioneering movement of Jewish Labor, inspired by the philosophy of A.D. Gordon. Unlike many secular-leftist, post-military service young men who let themselves go and use drugs in Thailand or India’s Goa, Avner and his crew are being true to a paraphrased rendition of JFK’s famous words: “See what you can do for your country, for your ancestral heartland.”

While the kibbutz youth, who once symbolized Israeli idealism and self-sacrifice, have left the kibbutzim in droves moving either to Israel’s cities or abroad, the young men of the West Bank settlement communities stay where they were born and raised and raise large families. They are reviving today’s sagging idealism and bringing back the old values of self sacrifice that characterized Israel’s pre-state era and the early decades of its existence, in the 1950’s and 1960’s. And they are doing it in the face of cynicism and malice coming from the Israeli urban and leftist elites who control the media and academia.

Globalization and Americanization have left many of Israel’s secular and urban youth in an almost nihilistic state. Youthful Israelis living in the cities seem to have more in common with their rudderless peers in Western Europe and the U.S. than with their fellow Israelis in the settlements. When they are not occupied with drugs, sex, and other hedonistic pursuits, they seek lucrative jobs in high tech industries abroad that provide them with a luxurious lifestyle. Edna G., 21 is typical for her generation. Originally from Beersheba, in the Negev, she moved to Tel Aviv six months ago after completing her military service. She is now hoping to move to New York to study and, she hopes, to “make money and live the good life…”

In the leftist, post-Zionist, bastion of Shenkin Street in Tel Aviv, idealism is dead. The talk in the popular coffee-houses is about government corruption, but animus towards the settlements and settlers is ready to burst out at a moment’s notice. Young people here have more sympathy for the Palestinians in Gaza than for the settlers in the West Bank. Their Judaism has long ago turned into some form of universalism, and the Torah is simply meaningless to them. They are cynical about patriotism and believe in nothing else but living for today.

Sweating in the midday heat Avner comes down on a ladder from the rooftop to get his jug of water. What about Tel Aviv and its post-Zionism, I ask? He thinks for a moment and replies in a quiet and assured voice, “Our mission of rebuilding the country and bringing back its idealism will not end at Yitzhar, we plan to go to Tel Aviv and build there too – not only houses but souls as well.”

“And what about the Arab-Palestinians surrounding you,” I continue? “We respect them as people, and they respect us.” Unlike the Jewish developers in cities of central Israel who hire and exploit mostly non-Israeli labor, Avner and his ilk believe in Jewish Labor – to “Build and be built by it” as a well-known old Zionist pioneering song goes.

The Arabs from the surrounding villages are ambivalent about these hard working Jews who cultivate the land and build their own homes. In their hearts, the Arab villagers admire the fortitude these young Jews display. At the same time they resent the fact that the Jewish Labor movement is denying them construction jobs. Still, commercial activities between Jewish settlers and local Arabs in the West Bank benefit both communities. Tension and acts of terror arise primarily when the local Arabs are incited by visiting officials of the Palestinian Authority or by radical Islamist activists.

The land that Jewish settlers live and build on is government ownded, not taken from local Arabs. Although pioneers like the legendary Moshe Zar of Karnei Shomron, a community not far from Itzhar, would buy land for cash from Arab landlords occasionally, there are few, if any cases of Jewish settlements built on “stolen” Arab land as the anti-Israel movement abroad often charges.

The young men of Jewish Labor are not only reviving the idea of Jewish manual work, a long forgotten pursuit by ordinary Israelis, they are also creating a defensive and strategic shield for Israel by building a chain of hilltop settlements that control the passages from the Jordan Valley to Israel’s coastal communities and that surround Palestinian cities like Nablus, Jenin, Kalkilya, and Tulkarm. The Jewish settlements in the West Bank are the first line of defense for the State of Israel.

History seems to repeat itself. The kibbutzim of the pre-State era formed the front line of defense for the Yishuv – the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine, against Arab attackers. Nowadays, the Jewish settlers in the West Bank have taken up their roles. Similarly, the idealism of Jewish Labor once practiced by the Kibbutzim is now carried on by practical and idealistic young men like Avner and his friends.


Joseph Puder

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


Friday, May 7, 2010

Syria's record intact


by James H. Anderson

Sponsorship of terror reaches 30 years

Syria has an unmatched streak as a state sponsor of international terrorism, as documented by the State Department's annual Country Reports on Terrorism, expected to be released soon. The United States has designated Syria a sponsor of state terrorism for 30 straight years, ever since Congress first required that such offenders be listed, beginning in 1979.

No other state shares this serial distinction. To put this odious streak in perspective, President Carter was in the Oval Office and eight-track tapes were still in vogue when Syria debuted as a charter member of the terrorist list.

The State Department list is not chiseled in stone. Other states have fallen off the list after changing their behavior. For example, Libya had its sponsorship-of-terrorism designation rescinded in 2006. But Syria has never shown a willingness to relinquish terrorism as a core element of its statecraft, whether it is used to suppress political dissidents at home or further its regional ambitions.

In addition to supplying Hezbollah with sophisticated weapons in Lebanon, Syria continues to permit Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups to maintain offices in Damascus. The regime has a lengthy track record of allowing jihadists to transit Syrian territory en route to unleashing suicide attacks against American soldiers in Iraq. In recent years, Syria also increasingly has aligned itself with Iran, itself another longtime sponsor of state terrorism.

In response, the Obama administration has sought to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran. On paper, this policy approach appears tempting, especially because the theocratic regime in Tehran and the secular Ba'athist regime in Damascus appear to make strange bedfellows. But Tehran and Damascus share similar regional aims that underlie their ideological marriage of convenience, especially with respect to menacing Israel and interfering in Lebanon. With Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beside him at a February news conference, President Bashar Assad openly mocked U.S. efforts to split the two allies.

Despite Syria's history of sponsoring international terrorism, diplomats of late have been practically tripping over themselves en route to Damascus International Airport in the hopes of promoting better relations. The initial rush began nearly two years ago, with President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2008 invitation for Mr. Assad to attend his Pan Euro-Mediterranean initiative and France's annual Bastille Day ceremony during the same trip. Since taking office, the Obama administration has sent its own emissaries to Damascus, including the State Department's third-ranking official, Undersecretary of State William J. Burns in February.

U.S. diplomatic outreach efforts to Damascus are not new. President George W. Bush also sent high-level officials to Damascus, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in February 2001 and May 2003. But those missions ended after it became clear that Mr. Assad had no intention of moderating Syria's behavior, despite repeated assurances to the contrary.

Senior Obama administration officials are quick to point out that "engaging" Syria is not the same as "embracing" the regime. Fair enough. As a practical matter, though, this distinction is often lost because Syria is adept at playing the optics of engagement. Every visit by a senior U.S. government official is considered a political victory by Mr. Assad because it helps reaffirm the legitimacy of his regime.

Nonetheless confident that his engagement policy eventually will gain traction, Mr. Obama nominated career diplomat Robert Ford as ambassador-designate to Syria in February. His Senate confirmation, however, has stalled recently in light of disturbing reports about Syria supplying increasingly advanced weaponry to Hezbollah.

Herein lies the rub. The problem with the Obama administration's Syria policy is not lack of communication, per se. Syria has an embassy in Washington, and the State Department can haul in Syrian diplomats anytime it wants, as it already has done on several occasions. The problem, rather, is Syria's bad behavior, most of it related to terrorism, and the fact that the administration has yet to outline a compelling strategy to change such behavior.

On this point, the State Department's annual report serves as a useful reminder about the nature of the Syrian regime. A state does not make the list for three consecutive decades because its sponsorship of terrorism is incidental to its policies. On the contrary, terrorism lies at the very core of the Assad regime. It is this harsh reality that makes well-intentioned efforts to engage Syria problematic in the absence of any compelling strategy to induce constructive behavioral changes.

James H. Anderson is a professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. He was director of Middle East policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense during the George W. Bush administration.

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


The myth of the Arab triangle


by Tony Badran

The last couple of weeks have shed the spotlight again on the tensions between Egypt and the regional Iranian axis, which includes Syria. The tensions surged with the conviction of Hezbollah cell members by the Egyptian judiciary, as well as with Cairo’s friction with Hamas and the persistence of its strained relations with Syria. Despite talk of reconciliation between Cairo and Damascus, the gap dividing the two states remains wide, as they have conflicting objectives and opposing strategic alignments.
The possibility of Egyptian-Syrian reconciliation had received ample airtime ahead of the Arab Summit in late March, but it amounted to very little. During the summit, the political differences dividing the two states were on display, pitting Egypt and Syria in opposing camps on key issues such as Palestinian politics, the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, their respective positions on “resistance,” and, in general, Syria’s strategic position within the Iranian camp.

In the end, the Egyptians and Syrians only agreed to stop media campaigns against each other, which had reached a fevered pitch. It was speculated that the freeze in media wars was to pave the way for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to visit his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, who had undergone surgery.

A host of Arab papers kept talking up the prospect of such a visit throughout last month. The Kuwaiti paper Ad-Dar claimed that the visit was due in mid-April. It was soon followed by similar reports in a number of Kuwaiti outlets, as well as in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi and the Lebanese Al-Liwaa, which announced everything from a visit within a “few hours,” to a readjusted “in the next two days,” all the way to a more vague “very soon.”

Al-Quds al-Arabis widely-recycled April 21 report claimed that Assad’s visit would be to participate in a tripartite summit along with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Perhaps reflecting a Saudi push in that direction, one unnamed Saudi source, quoted in a separate report, went as far as to declare that the summit would signal the return of the so-called “Arab triangle” of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria. The men were also reportedly set to discuss the growing tensions with Israel as a result of the crisis of the Scud missiles, which Syria is said to have smuggled to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Cold water was quickly poured over this story, as both the Egyptians and the Syrians denied it. A couple of days later, during a trip to Lebanon, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit diplomatically told reporters that Assad’s visit, while welcome, “has not yet been scheduled.” Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Mubarak yesterday.

Moreover, the Saudi monarch has also yet to pay a visit to Egypt. Instead, King Abdullah dispatched a letter to Mubarak with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faysal, who traveled to Cairo to participate in the meetings of the Arab League’s Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee.

Evidently, there was no change in the political status quo to warrant even a pro-forma photo op. There were several sources for the continued strain, not least being the Scud story, and they quickly bubbled to the surface.

For instance, one of Bashar al-Assad’s closest Lebanese associates, former Minister Michel Samaha, unleashed a scathing diatribe on Al-Manar TV against Egypt immediately following Abu al-Gheit’s visit to Beirut. Samaha rehashed all the issues dividing Syria and Egypt (specifically Cairo’s position on Hezbollah and Hamas), strongly criticizing the Egyptians and accusing them of seeking to sow dissent among the Lebanese and the Palestinians, to sabotage the Syrian-Saudi rapprochement and to lend Arab cover for an Israeli attack on Lebanon. He added, “Egypt is still holding on to its position, and we [sic] to ours.”

Indeed, Hamas officials have also come out criticizing Egypt’s rigidity over its proposed solution for the inter-Palestinian conflict. Hamas, backed by Syria and Iran, wants to introduce amendments (for example, on the issue of “resistance”) to the Egyptian document, while Egypt refuses any change. Hamas and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have also railed against Egypt’s increasingly tight border measures with Gaza. Most recently, Hamas accused Egypt of gassing smuggling tunnels from Gaza.

Then came the Egyptian judiciary’s conviction of members of the Hezbollah cell caught operating in Egypt, which revived tensions with the Party of God, including public condemnation by the party’s secretary general and a vow to work to set free the incarcerated cell members. And finally, at the Follow-up Committee’s meeting last week, Syria repeated its objection to granting Arab cover for renewed talks between the Palestinians and Israel, and its ambassador to the Arab League strongly attacked the committee’s resolution. 

Therefore, the issues dividing Egypt and Syria remain unresolved, regardless of whether Assad ends up visiting Cairo or not. These are strategic differences highlighting how, in the regional cold war between Iran and pro-American Arab states, Egypt and Syria are entrenched in opposing camps. This reality exposes the fallacy of the theory of the “Arab triangle” – a variant of the “returning Syria to the Arab fold” argument.

The Jordanian analyst Saleh al-Qallab made this keen observation in his As-Sharq al-Awsat column last Thursday. The calls for reviving the “Arab triangle” are badly misplaced, he wrote. In fact, this “triangle” never really existed, he added. Contrary to the common wisdom about Syria’s supposed “marriage of convenience” with Iran, in reality, it was the so-called “Arab triangle” that was the transient, ad hoc arrangement that faded, whereas Syria’s alliance with Iran endured for three decades. Egypt sees Syrian policies as subverting Cairo’s regional clout, which Damascus holds as its own entitlement. That is partly why, as Qallab noted, the idea of an "Arab triangle" was always unsustainable.
It is Egypt’s ongoing conflict with Iran’s regional axis that lies at the heart of the divide, all visits of protocol and wishful thinking about a Syrian “strategic realignment” notwithstanding.


Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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


Time to plan for war


by Caroline Glick

The repeated abdication of responsibility by the Obama administration from preventing nuclear non-proliferation leaves it on Israel's shoulders.

So much for US President Barack Obama’s famed powers of persuasion. At the UN’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that opened this week, the Obama administration managed to lose control over the agenda before the conference even started.

Obama administration officials said they intended to use the conference as a platform to mount international pressure on Iran to stop its illicit nuclear proliferation activities. But even before the conference began, with a little prodding from Egypt, the administration agreed that instead of focusing on Iran, the conference would adopt Iran’s chosen agenda: attacking Israel for its alleged nuclear arsenal.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that US officials were conducting negotiations with Egypt about Egypt’s demand that the NPT review conference call for sanctions against Israel for refusing to join the NPT as a non-nuclear state. The Journal quoted a senior administration official involved in the discussions saying, “We’ve made a proposal to them [Egypt] that goes beyond what the US has been willing to do before.”

Among other possibilities, that proposal may have included a US agreement to appoint a UN envoy responsible for organizing a UN conference calling for the greater Middle East to become a nuclear-free zone. In diplomatese, “Middle East nuclear-free zone” is a well-accepted euphemism for stripping Israel of its purported nuclear capability while turning a blind eye to Iranian, Syrian and other Islamic nuclear weapons programs. Egypt’s demand, which it convinced more than 100 members of the Non-Aligned Bloc to sign onto, is for Israel to open its nuclear installations to international inspectors as a first step towards unilateral nuclear disarmament.

On Wednesday, the US joined the other four permanent members of the Security Council in signing a statement calling for a nuclear-free Middle East and urging Israel, Pakistan and India to accede to the NPT as non-nuclear states. Following the US’s lead, on Thursday Yukiya Amano, the new director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, wrote a letter to IAEA member states asking for their suggestions for how to convince Israel to sign the NPT.

So as Iran – an NPT signatory – makes a mockery of the treaty by building nuclear weapons in contempt of its treaty obligations, the US has actively supported Iran’s bid to use the NPT review conference as yet another UN forum for bashing Israel.

It bears recalling that the primary goal of the NPT is to prevent nuclear proliferation. From the amount of attention Israel is receiving at the NPT review conference, you could easily get the impression that Israel’s purported nuclear arsenal is the gravest proliferation threat in the world today. But history shows that this is nonsense.

Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal, which it has reportedly fielded for four decades, has not led to a regional nuclear arms race. Notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary, Israel’s neighbors fully recognize that the purpose of Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal is to guarantee Israel’s survival, and consequently it only threatens those who would attack the Jewish state with the intention of annihilating it. This is why although it is four decades old, Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal has never caused a regional nuclear arms race. It has never harmed or called into question the relevance or usefulness of the NPT’s international non-proliferation agenda. Moreover, as a non-signatory to the NPT, Israel has the right to develop a nuclear program.

Iran on the other hand gave up that right when it joined the NPT regime. So, too, in sharp contrast to Israel’s alleged program, it is clear that Iran’s nuclear project is aggressive rather than defensive. Consequently, it is universally recognized that if Iran becomes a nuclear power, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other states will begin developing their own nuclear arsenals in short order. That is, it is absolutely clear that if the NPT is to have any relevance in the coming years, if there is to be any hope that counter-proliferation regimes can be useful, preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons must be its signatories’ chief aim.

But due to the Obama administration’s diplomatic fecklessness and ideological blinders, administration officials were incapable of making these points. And so, instead, through its actions, the administration has advanced the cause of nuclear proliferation. The US has now joined the ranks of fools who claim that nuclear weapons in the hands of states like the US and Israel are as problematic as nuclear weapons in the hands of states like Iran and North Korea.

BUT THEN, in the end it makes no difference that the US has followed Iran’s lead at the NPT conference. Even if the administration had managed to make Iran’s nuclear weapons program the focus of debate, it wouldn’t have mattered because diplomacy is no longer a relevant tool for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Appeasement has failed. Sanctions are dead in the water in the Security Council.

And even if the Security Council passes a sanctions resolution, they will have no impact on Iran’s behavior. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made that much clear in his speech on Monday and in subsequent remarks to the media. As he put it, “While we do not welcome sanctions, we do not fear them either. Sanctions cannot stop the Iranian nation.”

What all of this demonstrates is that the diplomatic track – from appeasement to sanctions – is irrelevant for contending with Iran’s nuclear program. The only way to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear bombs is to use military force to destroy or severely damage its nuclear installations.

And this of course is something Obama will not do. His begging-to-shake-hands policy towards Iran and the one hand and his iron fist policy towards Israel on the other makes it absolutely clear that Obama will do nothing to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Rather than correct his abysmal failures, Obama seeks to hide them by minimizing the seriousness of the threat.

In remarks to the media this week, a White House official downplayed the Iranian threat. He told the Financial Times that Iran’s “nuclear clock has slowed down. They are not making dramatic technical progress given the difficulties they are facing in their [uranium] enrichment program and the fact that their efforts to build secret facilities have been disclosed.”

The fact that the US’s published intelligence estimates of Iran’s nuclear program contradict this claim didn’t seem to faze the official.

THE US abdication of its responsibility as the leader of the free world to prevent the most dangerous regimes from acquiring the most dangerous weapons means that the responsibility for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons has fallen on Israel’s shoulders. Only Israel has the means and the will to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. And the message the NPT follies convey is that Israel must develop contingency plans for attacking Iran as quickly as possible.

Daily reports of weapons build-ups and military exercises in Iran and among Iran’s clients Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas expose the contours of their war plans.

Syria and Iran have armed Hizbullah with some 40,000 missiles and rockets, including hundreds of Scud missiles and guided surface-to-surface solid fuel M600 missiles with a 250 km. range. This week, Hizbullah threatened to attack Israel with non-conventional weapons. Syria itself has a formidable chemical and biological arsenal as well as a massive artillery and missile force at its disposal.

As for Hamas, since Operation Cast Lead Iran’s Palestinian proxy Hamas has expanded its own missile arsenal. Today it reportedly has projectiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv and beyond.

As for Iran, as its seemingly endless military exercises make clear, the mullocracy has the capacity to use conventional weapons to imperil global oil shipments from the Persian Gulf. So, too, this week’s report that Osama bin Laden may have decamped to Iran in 2003 merely underlined Iran’s ability to utilize jihadist terror forces throughout the world.

From the open preparations for war that Iran and its clients have undertaken, it is clear that if they initiate the next round of fighting they will fight a four-front war against Israel. That war will be dominated by missile attacks against the entire country, aimed at breaking the will of the Israeli people while forcing the IDF to divert vital resources away from Israel’s primary target – Iran’s nuclear installations – to contend with Iran’s proxies’ missile stores.

As they consider Israel’s options going forward, Israel’s political and military leaders have to take two considerations into account. First, the side that initiates the conflict will be the side that controls the battle space. And second, there is a real possibility that the Obama administration will refuse to resupply Israel with vital weapons systems in the course of the war. The fact that Israel will be roundly condemned by the UN and its component parts is a certainty regardless of who initiates the conflict and therefore is irrelevant for operational planning.

Armed with these understandings, it is apparent that Israeli contingency plans for war must have limited goals and should be guided by the overarching aim of beginning and ending the war quickly. Luckily, Israel excels at limited, swift campaigns.

Responding to one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s recent threats, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman promised last month that if Assad attacks Israel, Israel will bring down his regime. While bringing about the utter defeat of Iran’s regional proxies is a reasonable goal, it cannot be Israel’s goal in the coming war.

In the coming war, Israel will have only one goal: to destroy or seriously damage Iran’s nuclear installations. Every resource turned against Iran’s proxies must be aimed at facilitating that goal. That is, the only thing Israel should seek to accomplish in contending with Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas is to prevent them from diverting Israeli resources away from attacking Iran’s nuclear installations.

This means that Israel must launch a preemptive strike against Hizbullah’s missiles and missile launchers, Syria’s missiles, artillery and launchers, and Hamas’s missiles and launchers. As for their short-range rockets, Israel should do its best to intercept them and otherwise hunker down to weather the storm of Katyushas and Kassams. Life of the homefront won’t be easy. But it won’t be impossible either, as we saw in 2006.

Almost every assessment of a possible Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear installations has assumed that Israel will use its air force to strike. All that can be said of that analysis is that, just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, so there is more than one way to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations. An Israeli strike should utilize all of them to keep the Iranians off balance and on the defensive.

These are dangerous times. Iran, which seeks to position itself as a regional superpower, has been emboldened by the Obama administration’s abdication of US global leadership. Only Israel can prevent Iran from endangering the world. But time is of the essence.

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