Saturday, August 7, 2010

Column One: Israel’s American-made foes

by Caroline B. Glick

It wasn't a US Army sniper who killed IDF Lt.- Col. Dov Harari and seriously wounded Capt. Ezra Lakia on Tuesday. But the Lebanese Armed Forces sniper who shot them owes a great deal to the generous support the LAF has received from America.

For the past five years, the LAF has been the second largest recipient of US military assistance per capita after Israel. A State Department press release from late 2008 noted that between 2006 and 2008, the LAF received 10 million rounds of ammunition, Humvees, spare parts for attack helicopters, vehicles for its Internal Security Forces "and the same frontline weapons that US military troops are currently using, including assault rifles, automatic grenade launchers, advanced sniper systems, anti-tank weapons and the most modern urban warfare bunker weapons."

Since 2006, the US has provided Lebanon some $500 million in military assistance. And there is no end in sight. After President Barack Obama's meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in June, the White House proclaimed Obama's "determination to continue US efforts to support and strengthen Lebanese institutions such as the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces."

And indeed, in late June, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates informed Congress that the Pentagon intends to provide the LAF with 24 120mm mortars, 24 M2 .50 caliber machine guns, 1 million rounds of ammunition, and 24 humvees and trailers. The latest orders should be delivered by the end of 2011.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the administration has already allocated $100m. in military assistance to Lebanon for 2011.

According to Lebanon's As-Safir newspaper, in written testimony to Congress, last week Obama's nominee to head the US Central Command, Gen. James Matthis, claimed that relations between US Central Command and the LAF focus on building the LAF's capabilities "to preserve internal stability and protect borders."

And how is that border protection going? Tuesday's unprovoked LAF ambush of Lt.-Col.

Harari's battalion within Israeli territory showed that the LAF is fully prepared to go to war against the US's closest ally in the region, in order to deter IDF units from crossing the border.

Indeed, they are willing to commit unprovoked acts of illegal aggression to harm Israel.

As The Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday, there is no reason to be surprised by what happened.

Since 2009, LAF men have frequently pointed their rifles at IDF soldiers operating along the border. In recent months they have also cocked their rifles while aiming them at IDF forces. It was just a matter of time before they started shooting.

The same aggressive border protection is completely absent, however, along Lebanon's border with Syria. Since 2006, the LAF has taken no actions to seal off that border from weapons transfers to Hizbullah. It has taken no steps to protect Lebanese sovereignty from the likes of Syria and Iran that are arming Hizbullah's army with tens of thousands of missiles.

THEN THERE'S Centcom's "internal stability."

For the past four years, in open breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which set the terms for the cease-fire that ended the Second Lebanon War, the LAF has done nothing to block Hizbullah from remilitarizing and reasserting control over southern Lebanon.

Moreover, the institution that the State Department views as the anchor of a multiethnic, independent Lebanon did not lift a finger against Hizbullah when Hizbullah staged a coup against the Saniora government in 2008.

In a sense, by effectively collaborating with Hizbullah, the LAF did ensure "internal stability."

But it is hard to see how such "internal stability" advances US interests.

In stark contrast, as the Los Angeles Times reported last week, the US-supported Lebanese Internal Security Forces have used US signals equipment to help Hizbullah ferret out Israeli agents. According to the Times, "A strengthening Lebanese government is helping Hizbullah bust alleged spy cells, sometimes using tools and tradecraft acquired from Western nations eager to build up Lebanon's security forces as a counterweight to the Shi'ite group."

The US has refused to reckon with the consequences of its actions. As the Times reported, last week Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow visited Beirut and said that continued US aid and training to the LAF would allow the Lebanese Army to "prevent militias and other nongovernmental organizations" from undermining the government.

It bears recalling that Hizbullah has been a partner in the Lebanese government since 2005. Since its successful coup in 2008, Hizbullah has held a veto over all the decisions of the Lebanese government.

It also bears recalling that during the 2006 war, the LAF provided Hizbullah commanders with targeting data for their missiles and rockets.

The LAF also announced on its official Web site that it would award pensions to families of Hizbullah fighters killed in the war.

Unfortunately, the LAF is not the only military organization aligned with Israel's enemies that the US is arming and training. There is also the US-trained Palestinian army.

As Israel Radio's Arab Affairs commentator Yoni Ben-Menachem reported last month, the IDF is deeply concerned about the US-trained Palestinian force. Ben-Menachem recalled that since 1996, Palestinians security forces have repeatedly taken leading roles in organizing and carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel.

Hundreds of Israelis have been murdered and maimed in these attacks.

The Palestinian force being trained by the US Army represents a disturbing, qualitative upgrade in Palestinian military capabilities.

OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Avi Mizrahi warned IDF ground forces about the new USPalestinian threat in May.

As Mizrahi put it in a speech at Tze'elim training base cited by Ben-Menachem, "This is a well trained force, better equipped than its predecessors and trained by the US. The significance of this is that at the start of a new battle [with the Palestinians] the price that we will pay will be higher. A force like this one can shut down a built-up area with four snipers. This is deadly. These aren't the fighters we faced in Jenin [in 2002]. This is an infantry force that will be fighting us and we need to take this into account. They have offensive capabilities and we aren't expecting them to give up."

The IDF assesses that the US-trained force will be capable of overrunning small IDF outposts and isolated Israeli communities.

To date, the US has spent $400m. on the Palestinian army. The Obama administration has allocated an additional $100m. for the next year.

And the US is demanding that Israel support its efforts. In a General Accounting Office report issued in May, Israel was excoriated for hampering US efforts to build the Palestinian forces.

The GAO railed against Israel's refusal to permit the transfer of a thousand AK-47 assault rifles to the Palestinian forces. It criticized Israel's rejection of US plans to train a Palestinian counterterror force. It complained that Israel does not give freedom of movement to US military advisers to the Palestinian forces in Judea and Samaria.

The US claims that what it is doing cultivates stability. It argues that the Palestinian and Lebanese failure to prevent terror armies from attacking Israel is due to their lack of institutional capacity to rein in terrorism rather than the absence of institutional will to do so. The US claims that pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into these Lebanese and Palestinian armies will enable them to become stabilizing forces in the region that will engender peace. What the administration ignores, however, is the fact that the members and commanders of these UStrained forces share the terrorists' dedication to Israel's destruction.

TO ITS undying shame, Israel has publicly supported, or, at best failed to oppose these American initiatives. By doing so, Israel has provided political cover for these US initiatives that endanger its security. Although it is crucial to call the US out for its sponsorship of terroraligned armies, it is also important to understand Israel's role in these nefarious enterprises.

Israel has gone along with these US programs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it has been due to domestic politics. Sometimes it owed to Israel's desire to be a team player with the US government. But generally the Israeli rationale for not loudly and vociferously objecting to US assistance to enemy armies has been the same as Israel's rationale for embracing Yassir Arafat and the PLO in 1993 and for every other Israeli act of appeasement toward its enemies and allies alike.

Successive Israeli governments have claimed that by supporting actions that strengthen Israel's enemies, they gain leverage for Israel, or, at a minimum, they mitigate the opprobrium directed against Israel when it takes actions to defend itself. In Lebanon, for instance, Israel agreed to the US plan to support the Hizbullahdominated Saniora government in the hopes that by agreeing to give the Lebanese government immunity from IDF attack, the US would support Israel's moves to defeat Hizbullah.

But this did not happen. Indeed, it could not happen. The pro-Western Lebanese government ministers are beholden to Hizbullah.

Whether they wish to or not, former prime minister Fuad Saniora and his successor Hariri both act as Hizbullah's defenders to the US.

And once the US committed itself to the falsehood that the Sanioras and Hariris of Lebanon are independent actors, it inevitably became Hizbullah's advocate against Israel as well. The logic of appeasement moves in one direction only – toward one's enemies.

The same holds for the Palestinians. Israel believed that once it capitulated to international pressure to recognize the PLO the US, the EU and the UN would hold the PLO to account if it turned out that Arafat and his minions had not changed their ways. But when Arafat ordered his lieutenants to wage a terror war against Israel rather than accept statehood, the US, the EU and the UN did not rally to Israel's side.

They had become so invested in their delusion of Palestinian peacefulness that they refused to abandon it. Instead, at most, they pinned the full blame on Arafat and demanded that Israel support their efforts to "strengthen the moderates."

And so, in this demented logic, it made sense for the US to build a Palestinian army after the Palestinians elected Hamas to lead them.

And so on and so forth. In every single instance, Israel's willingness to embrace lies about the nature of its enemies has come back to haunt it. Never has Israel gained any ground by turning a blind eye to the hostility of the likes of Salam Fayyad and Saad Hariri.

It is true; the US is abetting and aiding the war against Israel by supporting the LAF and the Palestinian military. But it is also true that the US will not stop until Israel demands that it stop. And Israel will not demand that the US stop building armies for its enemies until Israel abandons the notion that by accepting a lie told by a friend, it will gain that friend's loyalty.

Caroline B. Glick

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

Why the Ground Zero Mosque is Counterproductive to the Islamist Cause


by Raymond Ibrahim

While vexing to many, the mega mosque set to be built two blocks from Ground Zero has produced one interesting but unintended consequence: like the 9/11 strikes a decade before it, the "9/11 mosque" is also creating a stir, is making people think and talk — about Islam.

Consider: Before the Islamist strikes of 9/11, mainstream America was incognizant of the threat posed by radical Islam. Islamic apologetics and anti-U.S. polemics were unquestioned orthodoxy, not only in their natural habitat — academia — but more generally.

After 9/11, however, the veil was partially lifted: a flood of books dealing with Islam, political Islam, jihad, sharia, "dhimmitude," and any number of related topics appeared; politically incorrect books on Islam became bestsellers. The media began at least to acknowledge the existence of radical Islam; biased and politicized academics were exposed and refuted.

In other words, one of the unintended consequences of 9/11 was that more Americans began to take note and interest in Islam — which led to greater scrutiny of its formerly esoteric epistemology. After 9/11, it was no longer a few aging Orientalists who knew, for instance, that military jihad is obligatory in Islam, or that enmity for the infidel is standard, or that women and dhimmis are subjugated. The layman — the heart of democracy — began to be aware. In this sense, then, the 9/11 strikes were counterproductive to the Islamist cause.

All Islamists, of course, desire what jihadist groups like al-Qaeda desire — the reestablishment of a global caliphate and enforcement of sharia law. But unlike al-Qaeda, most mature Islamists know that the time is not ripe for all-out violence, which only exposes their activities to greater scrutiny. In fact, Islamists have long found it more expedient to "destroy Western civilization from within," necessitating projects such as the Middle East Forum's Islamist Watch, which monitors and exposes subversive, nonviolent Islamist machinations on U.S. soil.

Yet if one of the unintended consequences of 9/11 was to place the spotlight on Islam, ten years later, one of the unintended consequences of the 9/11 mosque is the same: Since it became known, the mosque project has been reported by all mainstream media, including CBS, CNN, Examiner, Fox News, Al Jazeera, NY Daily News, New York Times, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Washington Times, ad infinitum.

Prominent political personalities, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, have also publicized the matter — the former arguing that the mosque project is part of "an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization," the latter calling it an "unnecessary provocation; it stabs hearts." The National Republican Trust produced an ad saying the 9/11 mosque constitutes "an invitation for more" strikes like 9/11. Most recently, the Anti-Defamation League asserted that "the building of an Islamic Center at this location [near Ground Zero] is counterproductive to the healing process."

The inevitable result of all this media attention is precisely what Islamists seek to avoid — unwanted attention — as Americans, once again, take notice, think, and talk, including about dormant issues.

And while the main issue at stake (whether or not the 9/11 mosque should be built) has little to do with exposing Muslim doctrines or Islamist ideologies per se, consider: the more it is discussed in the media, the more the great majority unfamiliar with the larger issues begin to wonder what all the ruckus is about. A stray word lingers in the mind — perhaps "jihad" or "sharia" or "political Islam." People begin to investigate some more, and learn some more; some become better informed of the Islamist threat, which they go on to discuss with friends and family. A cycle begins.

In short, it took jihadist violence on 9/11 to alert Americans to the threat of radical Islam. Many Islamists learned their lesson only to join their less conspicuous brethren working beneath the radar, via subversive means. The greater lesson of the 9/11 mosque, however, is that, so long as Islamists rock the boat and bring attention to themselves — even through nonviolent means — so long will they risk exposing their true selves.

And if the 9/11 mosque is actually built, based on the amount of controversy it has already generated, there is reason to believe that it will be a permanent source of attention, provocation, and scrutiny — that is, a permanent Achilles' heel for the Islamist movement.

Finally, it should be observed that, while the stir being caused by the 9/11 mosque is not as far-reaching or consequential as that caused by the 9/11 strikes, it is proportionate: For just as subversive Islamists work bit by bit, so too does every bit of unwanted attention work against them.


Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum.

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


Friday, August 6, 2010

An All-Purpose Paradigm: The West’s Absurd Claims of Israeli Racism


by Barry Rubin


Among the scores of ridiculous things said, thought, and written about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the pretense that it has something to do with "race" may be the most foolish.


As the waitress whose family had come from Ethiopia put the pizza on the table at the Tel Aviv Italian restaurant, I contemplated the ridiculous misuse of "race" as a factor in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Regardless of skin color, we belong not only to the same country by way of citizenship but also to the same nation and people in a very profound way that isn't true for countries that are merely geographical entities.

Among the scores of ridiculous things said, thought, and written about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the pretense that it has something to do with "race" ranks high among them. This has been interjected for two reasons.

First, this is a blatant attempt to demonize and delegitimize Israel.

Second, as part of that point but also due to trends in Western intellectual discussions, there is a conflation of nationality and race. Often, there is an attempt nowadays to portray any form of nationalism in the West as racist, though this is never applied to Third World nationalist situations. Neither the internal conflicts in Iraq (among Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds) nor in Lebanon (among numerous groups) are about race, but rather arise from national, ethnic, and religious (sometimes all rolled up into one) conflicts.

One of the most basic lessons in looking at foreign or international affairs is to understand that countries just don't think alike about issues. America, and in a different way Europe, has been obsessed with race. That doesn't mean everyone else is racially oriented. Israelis don't think about skin color as such, and are well aware that Jews, while having a common ancestry, have been affected by many cultures and societies.

With intermarriage rates between Jews whose ancestors came from Europe and those who came from the Middle East approaching half in Israel today, there is no way to classify people. In fact, Israelis are far less interested than other countries about people's ancestral travels.

Moreover, what does one say about such "darker-skinned" Israelis as my Hungarian-Yemenite colleague or my Syrian-origin pianist neighbor (whose wife is from Poland by way of Argentina)? There is absolutely no issue involved here. And many Israelis of European origin are not exactly "white" in their appearance.

Indeed, Israel has more "blacks" among its Jews (from Ethiopia) than do the Palestinians by far. Israeli media never use racial stereotypes or epithets while Arab and Palestinian media have had numerous racist remarks and cartoons about such American leaders as Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and now even Barack Obama. In a recent radio interview, one of the leaders of the Islamist movement in Israel — in other words, from the Arab minority here — said that it was a disgrace that a black Israeli soldier could ask for the identity document of an Arab Muslim.

Yet such racism from the Arab/Palestinian side is ignored in the Western media.

While there have been some incidents in reaction to the arrival of Jews from Ethiopia, these have been few and universally rejected. Moreover, Israel has given refuge to the American "Black Hebrew" movement when it easily could have deported them.

It is officially estimated that at least 19 asylum seekers have been shot dead by Egyptian forces in Sinai. To my knowledge no one in this category has ever been injured in Israel.


I have had friends, mostly Filipinos, who were illegal workers (they overstayed work permits) deported from Israel, and they simply accepted it and were soon working in another country. None of them bear any grudge against Israel, quite the contrary — they could serve as citizen ambassadors on its behalf. None of them ever reported a single case of "racial" mistreatment and I don't believe there has ever been — and workers' advocacy groups have never reported — a racial assault on any foreign worker in Israel. The problem, of course, is that there is at times terrible economic exploitation by unscrupulous employers, which is in no way atypical in the world today.

The Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts are in no way "racial." National identity is something quite different from "race" generally. Israelis and Arabs are not easily distinguished by skin color, though of course there are exceptions. I was in an Israeli government agency meeting with a high-ranking official whose skin shade was darker than that of Barack Obama. This was only something I noted because I was planning to write the article you are reading now.

I arrived at the meeting mentioned above by taking a cab from my neighborhood taxi stand. I gave the address, and the driver went back to speaking on his mobile phone in Arabic, which is the only reason I realized he was an Israeli Arab. I couldn't tell just by looking at him.

The attempt by anti-Israel slanderers to inject a racial aspect is ludicrously nonsensical. If you have ever traveled in Syria you would find that the average skin color of people there is lighter than that of Israelis on average. Generally speaking, there is less variation in "racial terms" between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs than there is among member states of the European Union.

But if you can label someone as a "racist" because they are engaged in a conflict with another nation or group it automatically "proves" they are in the wrong. If the conflict is a national one, however, you actually have to think about it. Who's right in the following conflicts: Irish Catholics or Protestants; Basques or Spain; Bosnians or Serbs; Russians or Chechens, Somalis or Ethiopians; Iraqi Sunnis, Shias, or Kurds; India or Pakistan; Azerbaijan or Armenia, and so on? The answer cannot be deduced automatically. But label one side as racist, and the discussion is over.

This is a trick for deceiving, not a tool for understanding.

The ridiculousness of attempts to transfer American or European situations to Israel was embodied in an American student asking an Israeli professor how many blacks were on his university's basketball team. Actually, there are many on the professional teams but they are all from the United States, though I believe one or two have converted and remained in Israel.

I don't think there's any question that there is far far more racism in Europe or in the Arabic-speaking world than in Israel — and that's an understatement.



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.


Isolation as political warfare


by Gerald M. Steinberg


Since 1948, Israel has been relatively isolated. In contrast to the Arab League, there is no "Jewish" League, and alliances depend on shared interests and values. European support has generally been problematic, and close cooperation with the United States only developed after 1967, with periodic friction, particularly during the Carter presidency (1977-1981). In the region, informal security links with Iran, Turkey and Jordan and the 1979 treaty with Egypt were exceptions.


The 1993 Oslo declaration opened many doors, and the era of Israel's isolation appeared to be over. But the Oslo process' violent end and other changes in the region reversed much of this progress. European governments became more distant again, and tentative ties with some Gulf countries and North Africa were reversed. However, cooperation with the US during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations remained very strong and Israelis were able to ignore the wider isolation.


The Obama administration has different priorities and perceptions, and relations have cooled considerably. Friction over Jerusalem construction, and images of humiliation during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's March 2010 visit to the White House, suggested a major crisis. Conflict with Europe over the peace process and demands for Israeli concessions also expanded. In the region, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reversed years of close ties, instead forming alliances with Syria and Iran and joining in their support for Hamas and Hizballah.


In parallel, a different form of isolation grew out of campaigns based on accusations of "war crimes", opposition to settlements and acceptance of a version of history that argues that Israel, as a Jewish homeland, has no right to exist. The NGO Forum of the 2001 UN Durban Conference on Racism, in which 1500 organizations participated, called for promoting "a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state . . . [and] the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes . . . between all states and Israel". The text highlighted alleged Israeli "racist crimes against humanity, including ethnic cleansing, acts of genocide."


This strategy has been quite successful, generating momentum from the Jenin "massacre" myth (2002) through the "apartheid wall" (2004-5), Lebanon (2006) and Gaza. The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHR Council after 2006), dominated by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, provides the base for this political warfare. In each round, the OIC and its non-governmental organization allies have established a committee to condemn Israel for alleged "disproportionate force" and "violations of international law".


The 2009 Goldstone report on the Gaza conflict, which quoted many NGO publications, has been the most effective, reflecting Judge Richard Goldstone's reputation and Jewish background. Goldstone's recommendations are addressed to the UN Security Council and include the threat of proceedings in the International Criminal Court.


These accusations also propel the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, designed to promote political, economic and cultural isolation. The 2002 British academic boycott campaign was followed by church-led divestment efforts and other forms of economic warfare. The BDS movement, like other aspects of the Durban strategy, is aimed at reversing Israel's acceptance as the Jewish national homeland.


In parallel, a number of NGOs have initiated highly publicized legal cases against Israeli military officers and political leaders, using universal jurisdiction statutes as a means of waging "lawfare". In 2002 political NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, launched such a case in Belgium against then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This tactic has since been used against Israeli firms and officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former foreign minister (and current opposition leader) Tzipi Livni. All these cases were eventually dismissed, but the main purpose has been to add to the isolation and demonization, as articulated in the Durban strategy.


In general, the Israel Defense Forces and government of Israel have downplayed the implications of media spin, NGO claims and UN inquiries, while the Palestinian and Hizballah leadership give these dimensions priority. Videos disproving some key allegations against IDF forces were not released for months after the events, and suggestions for policy changes, particularly regarding non-cooperation with UN investigations, were rejected. At the civilian level, until very recently, no Israeli government ministry devoted resources to respond to academic and other forms of anti-Israel boycotts.


However, as the threats from this form of isolation have increased, including boycotts, lawfare, ICC involvement and possible arms embargoes, the need for an effective Israeli counter-strategy has finally been recognized. A concerted effort prevented the convening of another NGO forum at the UN's 2009 Durban Review Conference. Israeli policies that contributed to this isolation have been changed, including an end to the prohibition on transfer of civilian goods into Hamas-controlled Gaza. The publication of detailed reports on the Gaza war, as well as prosecutions resulting from human rights violations, suggest that Israel has begun to implement a strategy aimed at preventing ICC involvement resulting from the Goldstone report.


Most importantly, the relationship between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama appears to have warmed, at least for now. As a result, European leaders are less likely to shun Israel, while some of the sharper aspects of conflict with Turkey are easing. Although Israel is unlikely to win political popularity contests regardless of developments, the threat of complete isolation has receded.



Gerald M. Steinberg is the founder and president of NGO Monitor and professor of political science at Bar Ilan University.

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


Iran Cannot Be Contained Part I of IV‏

by Bret Stephens

Quietly within the foreign-policy machinery of the Obama administration—and quite openly in foreign-policy circles outside it—the idea is taking root that a nuclear Iran is probably inevitable and that the United States and its allies must begin to shift their attention from forestalling the outcome to preparing for its aftermath. According to this line of argument, the failure of the administration's engagement efforts in 2009, followed by the likely failure of any effective sanctions efforts this year, allows for no other option but the long-term containment and deterrence of Iran, along the lines of the West's policy toward the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. As for the possibility of a U.S. or an Israeli military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, this is said to be no option at all: at best, say the advocates of containment, such strikes would merely delay the regime's nuclear programs while giving it an alibi to consolidate its power at home and cause mayhem abroad.

Whatever else might be said of this analysis, it certainly does not lack for influential proponents. "Deterrence worked with madmen like Mao, and with thugs like Stalin, and it will work with the calculating autocrats of Tehran," writes Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria. In a Foreign Affairs essay titled "After Iran Gets the Bomb," analysts James Lindsay and Ray Takeyh echo that claim, saying that "even if Washington fails to prevent Iran from going nuclear, it can contain and mitigate the consequences." Another believer is Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, who argues that while Iran "may be dangerous, assertive and duplicitous... there is nothing in their history to suggest they are suicidal."

As for the Obama administration, it insists, as Vice President Joseph Biden put it in March, that "the United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, period." But it sings a different tune in off-the-record settings. "The administration appears to have all but eliminated the military option," writes the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, while in the New York Times David Sanger reports that the administration "is deep in containment now." In January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired off a confidential memo to the White House that, according to the Times, "calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran's power if it decided to produce a weapon." If the Times's reporting is accurate, it suggests how little faith the administration has that a fresh round of sanctions will persuade Tehran to alter its nuclear course.

But how sound, really, is the case for containment, and do its prospective benefits outweigh its probable risks? The matter deserves closer scrutiny before containment becomes the default choice of an administration that has foreclosed other options and run out of better ideas.


Superficially, the case for containment looks remarkably good. The concept has a distinguished American pedigree; it has room for tactical, diplomatic, and strategic maneuver; it was practiced over many decades by Republican and Democratic administrations alike; it suggests a counsel of mature patience against naïve calls for accommodation and impetuous calls for military action. And, of course, it ultimately delivered the (mostly bloodless) surrender of the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

Perhaps the most convincing case put forward in favor of the containment of a nuclear Iran is that it is the best of a bad set of options. Many of containment's current advocates are former supporters of engagement with Iran. Having invested their hopes in President Obama's "outstretched hand," they now understand that Iran's hostility to the United States was not merely a reaction to the policies of the Bush administration but rather is fundamental to the regime's identity. The Islamic republic, it turns out, really means what it says when it chants "Death to America." It believes—and not unwisely—that more contacts with the U.S. and more openness at home will pave the way only to a kind of Iranian glasnost that is as dangerous to the regime as outright rebellion.

The failure of the administration's engagement efforts, however, has by no means done anything to convince advocates of containment that preemptive military strikes offer a better course. They entertain grave doubts that a U.S. strike would set Iran's programs back very far. That goes double for an Israeli attack, since Israel may not have the capacity for undertaking a sustained series of strikes. And any attack, American or Israeli, would be met by some sort of Iranian reprisal, the nature or severity of which nobody can predict. But several nightmare scenarios are often trotted out: that Iran mines the Straits of Hormuz or attacks shipping in the Persian Gulf, perhaps tripling the price of a barrel of oil overnight; that Iran redoubles its efforts to destabilize Iraq, undermining the gains we have made there, while increasing its support for the Taliban; that Iran launches ballistic missiles at Israel while seizing control of Lebanon through Hezbollah, and so on.

A larger worry about the wisdom of military strikes concerns the political consequences within Iran itself. It is a concern shared by at least some people traditionally identified with the neoconservative camp, such as historian Bernard Lewis and analyst Michael Ledeen. In this analysis, any attack would give the regime what Lewis has called "the gift of Iranian patriotism," a gift they have never really possessed and have only further squandered since last year's bloody post-election fracas. Yet many Iranians who despise the regime, including the most prominent figures of the Green movement, nonetheless support its nuclear program and would rally behind the leadership in the event of an attack. That deeply felt if knee-jerk nationalist impulse—traditionally powerful in Iranian society—could spell the death of the Greens and thus any hope that regime change could, over time, happen from within.

Advocates of containment also see a positive side to the policy. Containment has a way of locking in pro-U.S. alliances against a common enemy for the long haul. That was true during the Cold War—think of NATO, SEATO, and even CENTO, the Central Treaty Organization that for a few years brought together Britain, the U.S., Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and, briefly, Iraq. In the case of Iran, advocates of containment believe that the antipathy the Shiite regime elicits throughout the region could help smooth relations between Israel and such Sunni powers as Saudi Arabia, and thus perhaps also bring about more favorable conditions for an Israeli-Palestinian accord. The same goes, arguably, for Iraq in terms of its still-fraught relations with the rest of the Arab world.

Another alleged virtue of containment is that the policy is relatively stable and predictable. So long as certain expectations are fulfilled—defense pacts, diplomatic support, credible expectations of military action in case of war—friends and foes alike know where they stand. This also supposedly gives parties to a conflict a strong incentive to avoid outright confrontation and instead seek marginal advantages. At the same time, it allows internal developments to take their course, which in Iran's case is presumed to be the evolution of the Green movement into a robust and broad-based opposition campaign that might, like Solidarity in Poland, wear the regime down.

But wouldn't a nuclear Iran be able to break out of the containment "box"? Not at all, say the policy's proponents. While a nuclear Iran might initially feel emboldened to throw its weight around its neighborhood, it would, they say, quickly discover that a nuclear arsenal is more of an insurance policy against foreign attack than it is the strategic equivalent of venture capital. "Paradoxically, a weapon that was designed to ensure Iran's regional preeminence could further alienate it from its neighbors and prolong indefinitely the presence of U.S. troops on its periphery," write Lindsay and Takeyh in their Foreign Affairs essay. "Nuclear empowerment could well thwart Iran's hegemonic ambitions."

As for the idea that Iran might actually use its weapons, containment advocates note that nuclear states—even ones as erratic as Maoist China or present-day North Korea—aren't so crazy as to seek anything but political advantage from their bombs. Nor do the advocates believe that a nuclear Iran will necessarily set off a wave of nuclear proliferation among Middle Eastern states. "If Israel's estimated arsenal of 200 warheads... has not prompted Egypt to develop its own nukes," writes Zakaria, "it's not clear that one Iranian bomb would do so."

All this makes for a powerful case for containment. Yet it is far from being convincing.

Bret Stephens

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

Iran Cannot Be Contained Part II of IV‏

Bret Stephens

An Iran with nuclear weapons might behave as other nuclear powers have, but there are reasons to fear it would not. And the United States and its allies might  succeed at containing it. But again, there are reasons to suspect they would not. No less important, it's an open question whether even a policy of containment that did succeed—over many years and through various crises—would not exact a higher price on the U.S., its allies, and its interests than a series of military strikes that prevent Iran from going nuclear in the first place.

Today there is an odd tendency to think of the Cold War as a period during which containment served strategically as a stabilizing force abroad and politically as a clarifying one at home. In fact, containment exacted a staggering strategic, political, and human price. Nearly 100,000 Americans died in the Korean and Vietnam wars, both fought to enforce containment. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers stood guard in places like the Korean DMZ, Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie, and West Germany's Fulda Gap. Trillions were spent on defense, intelligence, foreign aid, and prestige projects like the Apollo space program. And the U.S. repeatedly toed the nuclear brink during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the several crises over Berlin, and the Yom Kippur War.

Throughout all this, the U.S. was riven by intense domestic debates and public upheavals, not least during the Vietnam War. Containment was repeatedly attacked for its excessive reliance on nuclear deterrence and "brinksmanship" and its huge peacetime military expenditures, sometimes giving way to enfeebling periods of detente. Nor did containment prevent the Soviet Union from making steady geopolitical encroachments through the acquisition of client states in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Western Europe was never entirely safe from Soviet political encroachments, either, given so-called Euro-Communist parties and a fellow-traveling "peace" movement.

That all this now seems to be largely forgotten is both remarkable and even amusing considering how often the same neoconservatives who are wary of a containment policy toward Iran are accused of being wistful for the Cold War. Of course Iran is not the Soviet Union, and the challenge it poses the U.S. is not on the global scale that was the USSR's. But if comparisons with the Cold War are to be made, those comparisons must acknowledge what a complex, costly, and close-run thing containing the Soviet Union proved to be.

At the same time, it's important to note the ways in which containing Iran would differ from the Cold War model. For starters, Soviet power was mostly symmetrical with America's: "Regime change" against Stalin was never a serious option, nor did the U.S. have the means to stop Russia from developing nuclear weapons. Neither is necessarily the case with Iran today, where both military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities and a broader regime-change policy are feasible options—at least as long as Iran does not have nuclear weapons.

Then, too, the Soviet Union threatened the U.S. primarily and directly, a fact that did much to bolster American political will to persevere in the contest. By contrast, the threat a nuclear Iran would pose (at least until it acquires an ICBM capability) would be principally to countries other than the U.S., calling into question American readiness to sustain a containment policy for the long haul. "Why die for Danzig?" was the question advocates of accommodation with Hitler were fond of asking in the 1930s. Some Americans may soon be asking the same question about Doha or Dubai or Tel Aviv.

But the most important difference between the Soviet Union and Iran may be ideological. A credible case can be made that Communism is no less a faith than Islam and that Iran's current leadership, like Soviet leaders of yore, knows how to temper true belief with pragmatic considerations. But Communism was also a materialist and (by its own lights) rationalist creed, with a belief in the inevitability of history but not in the afterlife. Marxist-Leninist regimes may be unmatched in their record of murderousness, but they were never great believers in the virtues of martyrdom.

That is not the case with Shiism, which has been decisively shaped by a cult of suffering and martyrdom dating to the murder of Imam Husayn—the Sayyed al-Shuhada, or Prince of Martyrs—in Karbala in the seventh century. The emphasis on martyrdom became all the more pronounced in Iran during its war with Iraq, when Tehran sent waves of child soldiers, some as young as 10, to clear out Iraqi minefields. As Hooman Majd writes in his book The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, the boys were often led by a soldier mounted on a white horse in imitation of Husayn: "the hero who would lead them into their fateful battle before they met their God." Tens of thousands of children died this way.

The martyrdom mentality factors into Iran's nuclear calculus as well. In December 2001, former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani—a man often described as a moderate and a pragmatist in the Western press—noted in his Qods (Jerusalem) Day speech that "if one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."

Then there is the recent rise within Iran of an ultra-conservative sect that has sprung up around Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, an ayatollah who numbers Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad among his leading disciples. In 2005, Mesbah-Yazdi published a book openly calling for the acquisition of nuclear weapons. "Divine, messianic support has been the determining factor in the success of the Iranian regime during various trying periods," he wrote. "We cannot be broken because of temporary difficulties."

A year later, the influential cleric Mohsen Gharavian, another of Mesbah-Yazdi's disciples, reportedly called for Iran not only to acquire but also to use nuclear weapons as a "countermeasure" against the U.S. and Israel. These are, of course, some of the more extreme voices in Iran, which are not necessarily authoritative. Still, Mesbah-Yazdi's call to develop nuclear weapons is, in fact, precisely what the regime is doing for all its many denials, just as the increasingly repressive direction of Iranian politics squares with his long-held anti-reformist views.

All this suggests that a better comparison for Iran than the Soviet Union might be Japan of the 1930s and World War II—another martyrdom-obsessed, non-Western culture with global ambitions. It should call into question the view that for all its extremist rhetoric, Iran operates according to an essentially pragmatic estimate of its own interests. Ideology matters, not only on its terms but also in shaping the parameters within which the regime is prepared to exhibit flexibility and restraint. Ideology matters, too, in determining the kinds of gambles and sacrifices it is willing to make to achieve its aims. To suggest that there is some universal standard of "pragmatism" or "rationality" where Iran and the rest of the world can find common ground is a basic (if depressingly common) intellectual error. What Iran finds pragmatic and rational—support for militias and terrorist organizations abroad; a posture of unyielding hostility to the West; a nuclear program that flouts multiple UN resolutions—is rather different from the thinking that prevails in, say, the Netherlands.


Put simply, Iran has demonstrated time and again that it is prepared to pay a steep price to realize its ambitions. The real questions are: What are those ambitions? What does the regime think it can afford? And how would the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal affect their calculus?

Bret Stephens is a deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and the author of the paper's Global View, a weekly column.

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

Iran Cannot Be Contained Part III of IV‏

by Bret Stephens

Advocates of containment generally believe that Iran's ambitions are limited and regional. As Lindsay and Takeyh write,
the regime has survived because its rulers have recognized the limits of their power and have thus mixed revolutionary agitation with pragmatic adjustment. Although it has denounced the United States as the Great Satan and called for Israel's obliteration, Iran has avoided direct military confrontation with either state. It has vociferously defended the Palestinians, but it has stood by as the Russians have slaughtered Chechens and the Chinese have suppressed Muslim Uighurs. Ideological purity, it seems, has been less important than seeking diplomatic cover from Russia and commercial activity with China. Despite their Islamist compulsions, the mullahs like power too much to be martyrs.

As for Iran's nuclear bid, this too, Lindsay and Takeyh believe, is intended to serve limited aims:

    During the presidencies of Hashemi Rafsanjani and Muhammad Khatami, nuclear weapons were seen as tools of deterrence against the United States and Saddam Hussein's regime, among others. The more conservative current ruling elite... sees them as a critical means of ensuring Iran's preeminence in the region. ... And this may be all the more the case now that Iran is engulfed in the worst domestic turmoil it has known in years: these days, the regime seems to be viewing its quest for nuclear self-sufficiency as a way to revive its own political fortunes.

This analysis, however, omits a few key facts. Iran has been waging war against Israel for decades via Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran also had a direct operational role in the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires in 1992 and of the Jewish community center there in 1994. The man chiefly responsible for the last of those attacks, Ahmad Vahidi, is today Iran's defense minister. Iran has also carried out high--profile assassinations of its enemies on European soil; taken British sailors hostage; put U.S., Canadian, and French nationals on trial (and in jail) on patently bogus charges; and, famously, imposed a death sentence on British novelist Salman Rushdie.

Moreover, Iran's seizure of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 was a direct attack on sovereign U.S. territory and an act of war by any legal standard. Iran almost certainly had a hand in the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, in which 241 American servicemen perished, while the FBI has long believed that Iran was also responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed another 19 Americans. Then there was the war in Iraq, during which Iran did little to disguise the fact that it supplied Shiite militias, and perhaps also Sunni terrorist groups, with sophisticated, armor-piercing munitions responsible for the deaths of scores, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. soldiers.

Iran is thus very far from being the pragmatic and mostly circumspect power depicted by advocates of containment. On the contrary, the regime has stood out since its earliest days for its willingness to pick fights with powerful enemies, to undertake terrorist strikes at great range, to court international opprobrium and moral outrage, to test international diplomatic patience, and to raise the stakes every time the world seemed ready to come to terms. In short, it has pursued policies that have seemed almost calculated to enshrine its status as a global pariah.

Why has it done this? Much as containment advocates would discount the fact, Iran's leadership remains faithful to the regime's founding principles. "We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah," said the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1980. "For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam remains triumphant in the rest of the world." More than a quarter-century later, Ahmadinejad would send a letter to President Bush that would sound a similar theme. "Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the Liberal democratic system," he wrote. "We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point—that is the Almighty God. ... My question for you is: 'Do you not want to join them?'"

These ideas may sound deranged to us, but it would be foolish not to give them their due. Like other revolutionary regimes—the Nazis, the Bolsheviks, and, let's face it, the Americans—the Iranian regime makes a philosophical claim, a claim it believes has relevance not only for Iranians and Muslims but also for all mankind. In this sense Iran, as a country, amounts to little more than an accident of geography and culture. What matters to this regime, what sustains and motivates it, is a set of ideas about justice that is bound by neither geography nor culture.

No wonder the Obama administration and its allies in Europe have had such a difficult time trying to get the regime to see reason; by the regime's lights, it is the rest of the world that fails to see reason, because the rest of the world is adhering to an inequitable and self-serving international system. No wonder, too, that the regime has pressed forward with its ideas for reordering that system by whatever means it has at its disposal; in the absence of those ideas, the revolution would be a failure even if the regime itself managed to survive. To desist from its efforts to seek Israel's destruction, or maintain a confrontational stance toward the West, or build a bomb is not simply something the regime will not do. Rather, it cannot do it, lest it betray its deepest purposes.

It is for this reason that the regime has consistently been willing to take apparently reckless risks for the sake of its objectives—and would most likely take many more such risks if it had a nuclear arsenal at its disposal. Then again, it also has learned something from a 30-year experience of watching its enemies routinely back away from confrontation. This was true of the Carter administration vis-à-vis the embassy hostages, and of the Reagan administration vis-à-vis the hostages in Lebanon. It was true of Israel's failure to deliver the coup de grace against Hezbollah in 2006, and of the failure of the Bush administration to avenge the murder of its soldiers in Iraq or greenlight an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities in 2008.

Above all, it has been true of the West's collective failure to stop Iran's nuclear programs in their tracks. As of this writing, the U.S. can point to three UN Security Council resolutions that rebuke Iran for its nuclear deceptions and impose relatively trivial sanctions. But Iran can also note with satisfaction that it is mainly the West that has been in retreat, allowing Iran to cross one supposed red line after another without consequence. As Ahmadinejad noted last December: "A few years ago, they [the West] said we had to completely stop all our nuclear activities. Now look where we are today."


The combination of Iranian aggressiveness and Western diffidence has consequences for how a containment strategy would play out against a nuclear Iran. Behavior, after all, is largely a function of experience: why would a nuclear Iran, emboldened after successfully defying years of Western threats and sanctions, believe that the U.S. was seriously prepared to enforce this or that red line for the sake of containment? More likely, the U.S. would be at continual pains trying to restrain its allies, Israel above all, from responding too forcefully against Iranian provocations, lest they "destabilize" the region.

Consider also the red lines that Lindsay and Takeyh say would be essential for a policy of containment to work. Washington, they believe, would have to "publicly pledge to retaliate by any means it chooses if Iran used nuclear weapons against Israel"; it would have to tell Tehran that it "would strike preemptively, with whatever means it deems necessary, if Iran ever placed its nuclear forces on alert"; and it "should hold Tehran responsible for any nuclear transfer, whether authorized or not."

Merely to list these conditions underscores the risks the U.S. would be required to run to enforce a containment policy. And given its habits of provocation, Iran would almost certainly be inclined to test America's mettle at the earliest opportunity, probably by finding ambiguous ways to transgress America's red lines. What would the U.S. do, for instance, if Iran found ways to transfer components of a nuclear program, perhaps of a dual-use variety, to Syria? Would that suffice as a casus belliagainst a nuclear Iran as far as the Obama administration was concerned? Or, as so often has been the case in the past, would the administration be content to express "grave concern" and perhaps refer the matter to the International Atomic Energy Agency?

One might also ask why Iran shouldn't consider making wholesale nuclear-technology transfers to other parties if that suited its needs. After all, there is a precedent here: following North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006, President Bush warned that "the transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action." Yet when Pyongyang was exposed in 2007 as having made precisely that kind of transfer to Syria, it paid no price (other than the loss, at Israel's hands, of its investment). On the contrary, thanks to a bit of diplomatic gamesmanship, North Korea was soon rewarded by the Bush administration by being removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Iran is well aware of this history, just as it is aware that the Bush administration had previously been adamant that a North Korean nuclear test would be "unacceptable." For too long, every red line the U.S. has drawn for both Pyongyang and Tehran has been exposed as a bluff. Yet the essence of any successful containment strategy is that the red lines cannot be bluffs—and, what's more, that the country being contained must be convinced of that. When America's containment of the Soviet Union began in the late 1940s, the memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was still fresh. By contrast, the U.S. would be moving toward a containment policy toward Iran following years of hollow threats and a perceptibly weakening will to thwart its ambitions. For an American president to pledge today that the U.S. would bear any burden, meet any hardship, or support any friend to contain Iran would simply not be taken seriously by the leadership of Tehran.

Nor would such a pledge carry much weight among America's traditional allies in the region, who are already openly expressing doubts about U.S. seriousness. Speaking at a press conference alongside Hillary Clinton in February, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal cast doubt on the administration's sanctions efforts and, by implication, the merits of a containment strategy: "Sanctions are a long-term solution," he said. "They may work, we can't judge. But we see the issue in the shorter term maybe because we are closer to the threat. ... So we need an immediate resolution rather than a gradual resolution." Why would Saudi Arabia—or, for that matter, Egypt, Iraq, the Gulf emirates, or Israel—be more inclined to put its trust in U.S. security guarantees after America had failed to stop Iran from going nuclear than it is now?

The answer, say the advocates of containment, is that these countries wouldn't have much choice: American power would remain their single best hedge against Iranian encroachments. But that may not be true, at least in the long term. Sunni states, both Arab and non-Arab, could also choose to compete with a nuclear Iran. Or they could seek to cooperate with it. Both possibilities would be ruinous for U.S. interests.

Competition with Iran would most likely take the form of Arab (or Sunni) states developing nuclear arsenals of their own. In recent years, Turkey, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and even Yemen have all expressed an interest in building nuclear power plants, ostensibly for civilian reasons, though with other purposes plainly in mind. Egypt, which has not had full diplomatic ties with Iran since it signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1979, and which more recently has tangled with the Islamic republic over its support of Hamas in Sinai and Gaza, has been even less circumspect in advertising its intentions. "We don't want nuclear arms in the area but we are obligated to defend ourselves," Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in 2007. "We will have to have the appropriate weapons. It is irrational that we sit and watch from the sidelines when we might be attacked at any moment."

Then there is the cooperative approach. Turkey has mended its previously frayed relations with Iran (as it has with Syria), with the effect that it is now on the point of becoming a de facto enemy of Israel and a diplomatic thorn in America's side (as Michael Rubin explains in his article, beginning on page 81). The rest of the Muslim states in the region hardly need Iran to persuade them to hate Israel. But they do need to be persuaded that a nuclear Iran would respect their sovereignty and that Iran would exercise its newfound regional pre-eminence with a light hand. Nothing prevents Iran from doing so. Over time, Iran could easily apply some combination of inducements and pressure to persuade Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain to shut down their U.S. military bases. Iran could also learn from its mistakes in Iraq—where its brazen and often violent tactics provoked a popular backlash—to mend relations with its neighbor while promoting the fortunes of its numerous and influential political sympathizers.

Additional scenarios come to mind, in various combinations. What happens, say, if Egypt develops an indigenous nuclear arsenal as a counterweight to Iran—and then its regime collapses, Iranian-style, to a Muslim Brotherhood–led Islamic revolution? What happens, too, if the Saudi monarchy falls to some of its most radical elements after it has purchased a nuclear arsenal from Pakistan? Such scenarios may be unlikely, but they are far from implausible—and there are many of them. And if any of them were to come to pass, they would almost certainly force America's effective withdrawal from much of the Middle East, leaving Israel to fend for itself.

Still, the most frightening scenario of all would be a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran. Most advocates of containment believe the possibility is highly remote, since Iran would not risk its own annihilation by attacking the Jewish state. But as even Lindsay and Takeyh acknowledge, "Iran's possession of a bomb would create an inherently unstable situation, in which both parties would have an incentive to strike first: Iran, to avoid losing its arsenal, and Israel, to keep Tehran from using it." To manage that risk, the authors place great weight on Jerusalem's "assessment of the United States' willingness and ability to deter Iran." Yet as with its Arab neighbors, Jerusalem's assessment is unlikely to be positive following Washington's failure to prevent Iran from going nuclear in the first place.

Bret Stephens is a deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page and the author of the paper's Global View, a weekly column.

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