Saturday, July 21, 2012

From Assad’s Palace to Terror in Burgas

by Yoav Limor

Despite the anger and the desire for revenge, Israel will not respond from the gut, but from the head. If it does embark on a military campaign in Lebanon, it will not be to settle scores. Rather, it will serve a strategic purpose, namely preventing Hezbollah from becoming stronger.

The victims' coffins. This week's terror attacks have focused attention back to Israel's northern border.
Photo credit: Yossi Zeliger
Yoav Limor


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Analysis: Syrian Civil War Enters New Phase

by Jonathan Spyer

For most of the past 16 months, the insurgency against the regime of President Bashar Assad has been confined to certain specific areas of the country. Assad has also managed to keep the top levels of his own elite intact, and largely loyal.

The regime has done its utmost to preserve this situation, and above all to maintain quiet in the two largest cities of the country, the capital Damascus, and Aleppo.

But the regime has failed.

The clashes in Damascus this week, the growing stream of defections and yesterday’s bomb attack on the National Security Building in the capital, set the seal on the failure. The deaths of Defense Minister Daoud Rajiha, Assad’s brother-in- law Assef Shawkat and former chief of staff Hassan Turkmani in a bomb attack on a meeting of senior officials in Damascus exemplify the sharp erosion in the regime’s position in recent weeks.

The intelligence required for such an operation indicates that individuals close to the Assad regime’s inner sanctum are now providing information to its enemies. However, observation of the fighting in Damascus suggests the latest developments do not yet represent the climactic battle for the control of Syria.

The trend of events in the Syrian civil war is clear. Assad’s power and options are dwindling; those of the rebels are growing.

But the dictator is not yet finished.

While the outbreak of fighting in Damascus this week appeared to erupt out of nowhere, this was not the case. That misleading impression derives from the inadequacy of media coverage because of restrictions imposed by the regime. In reality, the security situation in Damascus has been deteriorating for some time.

Rebels fought government forces in the Kfar Soussa district in mid-June. These clashes were seen by many Damascus residents as the writing on the wall.

A large number of middle- and upper-middle-class Syrians have left the city over the past months. The overt security presence on the streets of the capital has sharply increased.

The immediate cause of the fighting this week, meanwhile, was a regime initiative, rather than one undertaken by the Free Syrian Army. The government wanted to drive out FSA fighters from a number of Damascus neighborhoods. It therefore began the shelling of the Tadamon area, close to downtown Damascus, as a first step.

The rebels fought back, challenging government armor, and the fighting spread to a number of other areas, most notably the Midan district.

The FSA rushed large numbers of fighters toward the capital, to take advantage of the breakdown of order in the city. The decision by the regime to abandon the last pretenses of normality, in order to try to prevent the erosion of its position in Damascus, is testimony to its increasingly beleaguered position.

Still, opposition fighters confirmed that despite the public proclamations, the FSA sees the current clashes in the city as a test of strength between the sides, rather than the final, climactic confrontation.

Two things should be noted regarding the latest events: First, the steeply improved performance of the rebels over the last three months is the result of increased aid to the FSA and other elements from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. There are credible claims of US intelligence involvement in this process, and less clear rumors of involvement of Western special forces in the training of the rebels.

The improved capabilities of the rebels are being felt in the realities of the combat on the ground. They are now inflicting a steady toll on the government forces, averaging 150 killed and wounded daily. It also looks likely that the FSA was responsible for the bomb attack in Damascus.

Second, the pattern of regime activity suggests that Assad does not believe the battle will be decided in Damascus. Rather, the regime is currently engaged in a process of ethnic cleansing in the north-west of the country.

It is trying to carve out an area of purely Alawite population west of Homs and Hama cities.

The recent massacres in Tremseh and Houla appear to constitute elements of this plan.

Once this Alawite enclave is achieved, it will then form the baseline for further conflict between Alawites and Sunnis in Syria.

As Assad’s forces lose control of increasing parts of the country, they are attempting to consolidate their position in the areas still under their power, including the capital. They are doing so by all available means, including helicopter gunships and artillery fire on civilian neighborhoods. The pretense of normality is a luxury the regime can no longer afford.

So the outbreak of fighting in Damascus and the attack on Assad’s inner sanctum represent an important turning point in the Syrian civil war.

The rebels are winning. But the latest events do not yet herald the beginning of the regime’s last stand.

That moment has not yet arrived. When it does, it may well not take place in Damascus.

This article was also published in the Jerusalem Post.

Jonathan Spyer


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Is Assad Regime Really Falling?

by Jonathan S. Tobin

The events of recent weeks in Syria have finally made some of the optimistic predictions about the fall of the Assad regime coming out of the Obama administration a bit more believable. The terrorist attack that decapitated the defense establishment as well as the defections of prominent supporters of President Bashar al-Assad has contributed to the idea that his government must soon collapse. The conventional wisdom of the day is that it is only a matter of time until he will be forced out, as his bloody efforts to eradicate domestic opponents has failed to destroy a movement that began as peaceful protests in the spring of 2011 and has now evolved into an armed and potent insurgency.

But the problem with this faith in his imminent departure is that we’ve been hearing this talk for more than a year and yet the murderous ophthalmologist is still on his throne, albeit with a far shakier hold on it. Even though things look bad for Assad, Americans who assume that he can’t go on killing people in this manner and retain legitimacy don’t understand him or the political culture that created his regime. The variables in Syria are many, but the iron rule of history about despotism remains that tyrants lose power when they lose their taste for shedding blood. Assad’s willingness to commit atrocities seems intact. Just as important, the descent of the country into chaos with fighting in the streets of the capital and thousands of refugees fleeing the country is also putting President Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy into question. Those who assume Assad is doomed believe that by staying out of the maelstrom, the United States will succeed in avoiding responsibility for the Syrian mess. But if Assad has far more staying power than Washington thinks, the result will be even messier than President Obama imagines, and he will bear much of the blame.

The Obama administration’s assumption is that sooner or later Assad will get the message from the international community and his disgruntled people and head for the exits. But Assad and the rest of the Alawite sect that rules the roost in Damascus understand all too well that the only real alternatives for them is to win or to die. There is little future in Syria for Alawites once Assad is gone. What’s more, the Syrian leader knows there will be no safe haven for him anywhere even if he agrees to step down. The precedent for prosecutions of deposed despots has already been established. He knows that he will either end his days in his palace or eventually wind up in a courtroom in The Hague. That has concentrated his mind wonderfully on the task of slaughtering as many of his compatriots as needed to ensure the latter is not the case.

He must be shaken by the ability of his foes to snuff out members of his inner circle. But even more than the support of Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries, the willingness of the Russians to both fend off Western diplomatic initiatives and to keep his forces well-armed is giving Assad the confidence to go on resisting. The presence of armed Russian forces in their armed enclave in the port of Tartus also provides the regime with a fall back point from which it could go on fending off the rebels even if Damascus was lost. Tony Karon of TIME speculates this could lead to a Yugoslavia-style breakup of Syria into Sunni, Alawite and Kurdish sections. That is far from certain, but what all this does mean is the fighting could go on indefinitely rather than coming to a swift conclusion, as was the case when Muammar Qaddafi was toppled.

The one scenario that could bring the fighting to an end would be a Western intervention, but given President Obama’s reluctance to get the country involved in another conflict during his re-election campaign, that is highly unlikely. But absent such a move, the chances are increasing that not only will the fighting get worse and casualties increase, but that the region will be destabilized as the Syrian army comes apart and their chemical weapons become a spoil of war in which Islamist rebels will compete for them with Assad loyalists.

The point is, as the fighting in the streets of Damascus this week showed, Assad’s demise may not only not be imminent, but the entire country and the region could wind up bathed in blood long before his final chapter is written. In this case, the president’s “leading from behind” is being proven again to be no leadership at all.

Jonathan S. Tobin


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Anarchy Surrounds Israel

by Daniel Pipes

Of Israel's neighbors, Lebanon always stood out by virtue of its weak central government, but for the first twenty years, 1948-68, this did not present difficulties to Israel; only when the Palestinian created a state-within-a-state there did its anarchy became a major challenge to the Jewish state, as symbolized by the Beirut airport raid of December 1968. Many skirmishes followed as well as two wars (those of 1982 and 2006). Lebanon remains anarchic and the home base for Hezbollah; it could well be a future Arab-Israeli battlefield.

The powerful Egyptian state ruled Sinai with an iron fist until late in Mubarak's term when, as the Bedouin became increasingly Islamist, his regime did not keep control. Terrorism against Egyptian tourist targets followed (such as the attack on Sharm el-Sheikh in 2005) as well as against Israeli territory. These attacks increased after Mubarak's resignation, making the region a no-man's-land, and will probably continue to rise.

Hamas took over in Gaza two years after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal in 2005; not surprisingly, it began shelling Israeli territory, especially the town of Sderot, leading to the Israeli invasion of 2008-09. That tamped down on the violence but the shelling continues.

A public shelter in Sderot, painted so as not to scare the children.

Now comes word from Israeli military intelligence that it expects the Golan Heights to become anarchic as the Assad regime pulls its forces for more urgent duties and various terrorist groups make hay.

If this is the case, then the only two borders left with any security are those of Jordan (where the monarchy has its own troubles) and the West Bank (where the IDF continues to patrol).

Comments: (1) As I noted a half year ago in "Anarchy, the New Threat," this trend away from despotism and toward anarchy is worldwide and especially pronounced in the Greater Middle East, where it also includes Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan. (2) The Israeli preoccupation with Iranian nuclear weapons should not distract completely from this homelier but still significant threat. (July 18, 2012)

Daniel Pipes


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Iran Linked to 9 Plots Against Israel

by Rick Moran

Reuters is reporting in an exclusive that the New York police have evidence of 9 terror plots by Iranian Revolutionary Guards or their proxies that target Israelis or Israeli interests around the world.

New York police believe Iranian Revolutionary Guards or their proxies have been involved so far this year in nine plots against Israeli or Jewish targets around the world, according to restricted police documents obtained by Reuters.

Reports prepared this week by intelligence analysts for the New York Police Department (NYPD) say three plots were foiled in January, three in February and another three since late June. Iran has repeatedly denied supporting militant attacks abroad.

The documents, labeled "Law Enforcement Sensitive," said that this week's suicide bomb attack in Bulgaria was the second plot to be unmasked there this year.

The reports detail two plots in Bangkok and one each in New Delhi, Tbilisi, Baku, Mombasa and Cyprus. Each plot was attributed to Iran or its Lebanese Hezbollah militant allies, said the reports, which were produced following the bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria of a bus carrying Israeli tourists.

Iran on Thursday dismissed "unfounded statements" by Israel linking Tehran to the Burgas blast, saying they were politically motivated accusations which underscored the weakness of the accusers.

Wednesday's bombing in the Black Sea city is listed in a document headed "Suspected Iranian and/or Hezbollah-linked Plots Against Israeli or Jewish Targets: 2012 Chronology", the latest of the nine 2012 plots linked to the Islamic Republic or its proxies.

U.S. officials say they increasingly concur with Israeli assessments that Iran and its proxies organized the killing of seven Israeli tourists in Burgas by a suicide bomber after they boarded an airport bus.

One U.S. official said Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shi'ite Muslim militia, had in the past carried out suicide bombings.

Hezbollah says that while it carried out suicide bombings against Israeli army posts in south Lebanon when it was occupied, until 2000, it has never staged attacks outside Lebanon.

The U.S. official noted that the Burgas bombing occurred on the 18th anniversary of the bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which Argentina linked to Iran.

Meanwhile, President Ahmadinehjad of Iran could be seen gloating over the Burgas bus bombing:

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gloated publicly on Thursday over the deaths of Israelis in a terror bombing in Bulgaria, and hinted that Iran was responsible for the attack.

Speaking hours after Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had publicly blamed the bombing Wednesday at Bulgaria's Burgas airport on "Hezbollah, directed by Iran," Ahmadinejad described the attack as "a response" to Israeli "blows against Iran."

"The bitter enemies of the Iranian people and the Islamic Revolution have recruited most of their forces in order to harm us," he said in a speech reported by Israel's Channel 2 TV. "They have indeed succeeded in inflicting blows upon us more than once, but have been rewarded with a far stronger response."

Whether it was the Quds Force or Hezb'allah, Iran has decided to heat up its war against Israel. Before the tit for tat is done with, Iran is probably going to wish it hadn't challenged the Jewish state.

Rick Moran


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Egyptian Reformists Alarmed By Hillary and Obama

by Nonie Darwish

Since I am originally from Egypt and monitor daily Arab media I am witnessing an unprecedented alarm from Egyptian reformists who represent the almost half of the Egyptians who reject the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate political group.

There is a counter Anti-Islamist and an anti-Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt that Secretary Hillary Clinton, President Obama and the US media are not fully aware of. The US government by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood has alienated Egyptians who are the natural allies of the US. Non-Islamist Egyptians today believe that the Obama administration and Secretary of State are behind the success of the new Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi in reaching power. Rightly or wrongly, many reformist Egyptians believe that Hillary and the Obama administration have been supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and have empowered them since taking office 3 years ago, when Obama gave his famous speech in Cairo.

The Arabic internet is full of incredible accusations of Hillary and American conspiracies to support the Muslim Brotherhood, which of course mention her trusted Muslim aide, Huma Abedin. Also there are many rumors on Obama's having Islamists all over the White House, especially his head-covered Islamic affairs aide, Dalia Mugahid. The reason that I mentioned that she is head-covered is because we Egyptians know that when a woman covers herself the Islamic way it means one thing, "I am for Sharia." No ifs ands or buts. Incidentally Mugahid was nominated as the most powerful Arab woman for one reason and one reason only; her being a trusted aide of Obama in the White House.

The rumors are also all over the internet regarding Islamists in every part of the US government and some Muslims and homeland security. Such rumors are not mentioned as a negative by Arabs who talk about it, but as a wonderful accomplishment after 9/11. It is a proof to many Muslims that terror can work like magic on Americans.

Below is a letter addressed to Secretary Hillary by a well known and highly respected Egyptian reformist by the name of Tarek Heggy (presented verbatim):

This message shall be (today) hand-delivered to the USA Secretary of State H. Clinton.
Secretary H. Clinton ..

I know, every scholar in the world knows and you (yourself) know that you know very little about Islam, the history of Muslim people, Islamic Jurisprudence, Political Islam, the literature and march of the Muslim Brotherhood since 1928, Wahhabism and the (impossible to be changed) agenda of Egypt's MBs. I also know that your boss (like yourself) does not know much about all the domains that I just referred to. Obviously, neither you nor your country shall bear the detrimental consequences of the policy that have been drawn by those who know very little about these Islam related subjects.

We (the non-Islamist sons and daughters of Egypt and the 15 million Copts) who will pay a tragic price. The USA failure in Afghanistan and Iraq say a lot about the consequences of policies decided by those who either do not know or they know very little about the characteristics of complexest cultures. I have been more than 40 times to the USA. In these visits I spoke at most of the top think-tanks (The American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, The WINEP, the Rand Organization ... etc.) and lectured at many of the USA top universities (Princeton, Columbia, California Berkeley ... etc.). Even in such reputable organizations I never met with people who understand sufficiently the domains mentioned herein above. The exceptions (such as Professor Bernard Lewis and others) were rather tangibly rare and do not negate the phenomenon that Islamism is far from being understood in your (very young) country.

In Egypt, you will here a lot of hypocrisy about how moderate the MBs have become! Which is 100% incorrect. Not only that, but a lie that will cost the non-Islamist Egyptians, the Middle East region, the entire world and the USA a gigantic catastrophe. It takes decades of a hard work and profound research to come to the conclusion that while there are many moderate Muslims, there is no single moderate Islamist on the face of earth. I know (having been the CEO of the world top Oil company at the age of 36) that senior positions affect the human mind and make it (in general) inclined to reject strong advice as this one, but I insist to render such an advice.

I also insist on saying that before the world lives with another Osama bin Laden and another Qa'eda nightmare, I strongly recommend that you arrange to get some intensive education on the true agenda of the MBs. Please do not be offended of this piece of advice. You know that you know very little about Islamism. A briefing by the American (usually "shallow") advisers (aide-memoires in a few pages) shall never help in this regard. You need to listen (for hours) to a world-class scholar of the caliber of Bernard Lewis. Did I upset you? probably "YES". But this was not the objective of this message.

The aim was to try to stop the occurrence of another grave mistake such as the one committed in 1979 when the CIA & The Saudi Intelligence (headed at the time by an idiot and radical Islamist named Turky al Faisal) agreed to create the Mujahedene Movements (and troops) to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. While every true scholar was aware that the USSR was about to (naturally) collapse. In 1978, I wrote and published a book that explained how the USSR would collapse in about a decade by the effect of its inner economic decay).

Finally, let me assure you that all the Islamists that you shall meet with today in Cairo are nothing but disguised terrorists ... they are (undoubtedly) anti-modernity, anti-tolerance, anti-women-rights, anti-plurality, anti-otherness, anti-freedom of speech and anti-critical mind .... they are atavistic, destructive and backward criminals more than anything that you could imagine. With my best regards,

Tarek Heggy.

Cairo : 14th July, 2012.

The above views of Mr. Heggy are shared by many Egyptians whose hopes for freedom were crushed by the Islamists who are now treated as serious partners by the US government. Obama's support and welcome of the Muslim Brotherhood to power as a moderate group goes against what the majority of many Egyptians believe. America does not have to take a sides in complex internal Arabs conflicts. When we take sides, we end up blamed and taking sides in Libya, Egypt, Syria etc. will eventually come back to bite us. It is better and wiser for America to standby and let the Arab League handle internal matters and civil wars. The choice for America's national interests are not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood either. So why are we taking sides?

Nonie Darwish


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The Burgas Attack: Iran’s Terror War Against Israel

by P. David Hornik

Wednesday’s suicide bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Burgas, Bulgaria killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian tour guide, as well as the bomber himself. Over thirty Israelis were also injured, three of them seriously.

The bomber had a fake driver’s license of the state of Michigan. On Thursday evening Bulgarian media named him as Mehdi Ghezali, a Swedish citizen who was in the Guantanamo detainment camp from 2002 to 2004 and whose freedom was basically secured by the Swedish authorities. Sweden, however, denied the report’s accuracy.

Video footage from the day of the bombing shows that the perpetrator, with long hair, shorts, sneakers, a baseball cap, and a backpack, clearly intended to look like something other than a suicide bomber.

On the other hand, the Israeli daily Haaretz reports that “airport security cameras captured the suspect roaming the airport for at least one hour.” If so, it’s hardly to airport security’s credit that their suspicions weren’t even aroused enough to question him—if they were watching at all.

But Iran—to which Israel’s prime minister, defense minister, and foreign minister publicly assigned ultimate responsibility for the attack—has been trying for months to mass-murder Israelis in less-efficient countries like Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, and others. This time the attempt “succeeded”: “Body parts were strewn across the ground, mangled metal hung from the bus’s ripped roof and black smoke billowed over the airport.”

Israel prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said: “All signs point to Iran…. This is [part of] a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react firmly to it.” In a press conference Thursday evening he added “that Israel and world security agencies have caught Hizbullah and Iranian operatives in [numerous] countries, after attacks, planning terror attacks and laying the infrastructure to wage their war of terror.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated: “The immediate executors [of Wednesday’s attack] are Hizbullah operatives, who of course have constant Iranian sponsorship.” Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also said he had conclusive information implicating Hizbullah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Speculations have attributed the attack to Hizbullah’s desire to avenge the 2008 assassination in Damascus of its terror mastermind Imad Mughniyeh, for which it blames Israel, and Iran’s desire to avenge the recent assassinations of nuclear scientists, for which it blames Israel as well. But these are, at most, proximate causes; for both these bodies the destruction of Israel is a central goal, and the murder of its citizens has consistently been a means toward it.

Iran, for its part, denied involvement in the Burgas attack—which is meaningless, since it also, for instance, denies involvement in the 1994 bombing attack on a Jewish community building in Buenos Aires. Not only does Argentina openly charge Iran with that atrocity, which occurred exactly 18 years before Wednesday’s bombing and killed 85, but Iran’s current defense minister, Ahmed Vahidi, is wanted by Interpol for his role in it.

The Burgas bombing comes at a time when the defense analyst for Haaretz, Amos Harel, reports that Israel and the United States are not really “on the same page” regarding Iran despite U.S. claims to the contrary. Harel says the Obama administration is worried about Defense Minister Barak’s “uncharacteristic silence” lately.

Israel, for its part, doesn’t share Washington’s optimism about the sanctions on Iran and believes Iran can last them out for another year. Which, from Jerusalem’s standpoint, is too long, since it would enable Iran to “pass the ‘threshold’—the point at which they could produce nuclear weapons without Israel being able to stop them militarily.”

Meanwhile Con Coughlin, defense editor of Britain’s Telegraph, reports that a

specialist team of 60 [Iranian] nuclear scientists has been seconded to a specially-designated unit…which answers directly to the Revolutionary Guards, the elite force under the control of Iran’s supreme leader….

The new unit, which [was] set up last year, has been established to work on the key areas of the weapons programme that still need to be completed before Iran can start work on assembling a nuclear weapon….

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s spiritual leader who has overall responsibility for Iran’s nuclear programme, is keen for Iran’s nuclear scientists to intensify their efforts to achieve the technological expertise required for making an atom bomb….

Many of the scientists working for the new unit are in direct contact with the newly-constructed underground uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, another top-secret complex whose existence was only revealed three years ago by Barack Obama.

Coughlin attributes the current flurry of top-level U.S. visits to Israel—recently by National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta due later this month—to “mounting concern in Washington that the Israelis are in the final stages of preparing an attack.”

Whether or not that’s the case, the reasons that Israel has a shorter timeline on Iranian nukes than the U.S. are clear, and the Burgas slaughter should make them even clearer: that Iran’s rhetoric constantly singles out Israel for genocide; that Iran and its proxies already pursue Israeli diplomats and civilians all over the globe in hopes of mounting murderous attacks on them; that possession of nukes would vastly multiply Iran’s murderous capacity; and that Israel is small and quite close to the Islamic Republic.

P. David Hornik


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Azerbaijan: Israel’s Back Door To Iran

by Stephen Brown

The terrorist attack in Bulgaria on Wednesday that saw five Israeli tourists killed caused the war drums in the Persian Gulf to beat louder as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak blamed Iran for the massacre and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised a powerful response. American naval forces have been enlarging their presence in the Gulf, while the Israeli air force has been practicing long-distance flights for the long-expected attack to take out Iran’s facilities for producing nuclear weapons.

Holding the key to making any eventual Israeli aerial assault on Iran’s nuclear program a success may lie with Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic located in the Caucasus Mountains on Iran’s northern border. Unknown to many, Israel has developed strong commercial and defense relationships with this mostly Shiite Muslim country, and is described as being “deeply embedded” there for the past 20 years.

The importance Azerbaijan holds for Israel in any war with Iran lies in its airfields. An article in Foreign Policy magazine last March claims that US officials believe the Israelis have negotiated a deal to use Azeri airbases if Israel ever launches its air force against the mullah regime.

“In particular, four senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel and has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran’s northern border,” the article states.

Considering the route Israeli warplanes must fly to Iran and back is 2,200 miles long, airfields placed at Israel’s disposal in Azerbaijan would, the article maintains, cancel out the need to refuel in mid-air as the Israeli planes would just continue flying northwards and land in Azeri territory. The Azeri airfield deemed most suitable for Israeli use is an old, unused Soviet-era airbase about 40 miles from Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku. Absence of an Azeri refuge would see the attacking Israeli planes “stretched to the limit,” especially the fighter planes escorting the bombers.

“The problem is the F-15s, who would go in as fighters to protect F-16 bombers and stay over the target,” said retired Air Force Col. Mark Gardiner in the article concerning the Israelis engaging Iranian interceptors. “Those F-15s would burn up fuel over the target and need to land.”

Having access to an Azeri airfield, the article claims, could also benefit Israel in other ways. Intelligence-seeking drones could be launched from there, if they haven’t been already, and the airbase could also serve as an air rescue center for downed Israeli pilots.

For its part, Azerbaijan’s defense minister has denied his country leased airfields to Israel and stated it would “never permit” an attack to be launched against Iran from its soil. But with such a powerful neighbour like Iran next door, possessing anti-Azerbaijan designs, this statement may simply serve to camouflage the largely hidden Azeri-Israeli military co-operation (Azerbaijan’s president said nine-tenths of his country’s relations with Israel, like an iceberg, are “below the surface.”)

Azerbaijan, an oil-rich nation with a population of nine million, used to be part of Iran where most Azeris still live. It is estimated between 16 to 25 percent of Iran’s population are Iranian Azeris. An expanding Russia acquired what constitutes present-day Azerbaijan from Persia (Iran) after a war it won in the early 1800s. The former Persian possession became a Soviet republic shortly after the 1917 Russian Revolution and gained its independence with that country’s demise in 1991. Iran, however, would like to reclaim its lost possession, not least of all because it serves as an independence model for its own Azeri population.

Iran has other reasons for disliking Azerbaijan. Its neighbor is secular and, being 85 percent Shiite, its existence “gives the lie to the millenarian pretensions of the Tehran regime.” Azerbaijan is also disputing with Iran oil exploration areas in the Caspian Sea which they both border. And to top it off, the mullahs can’t stand its neighbor’s good relations with Western countries, above all with Israel, whose military relationship with the Azeri government on its northern border must be a source of great concern for Iran. All this has led the mullahs to adopt a hostile stance towards it fellow Shiite neighbor.

“…Iran has for years been seeking not only by words but by deeds to destabilize the legitimate government of Azerbaijan,” states Asia Times.

Assassinations, a conspiracy to overthrow the Azeri government and thwarted attacks against Israeli targets, including a plan to attack Israeli employees of a Jewish school, are among the black deeds the Asia Times article lists Iran as having committed against Azerbaijan. This year, internet sites in Azerbaijan were also attacked by hackers, calling themselves the Iranian Cyber Army. They posted “images of the devil over pictures of the Azeri and Israeli presidents and messages saying ‘Servants of the Jews’ and Enemies of Islam’.”

Israel strengthened its relationship with Azerbaijan, and undoubtedly further infuriated the mullahs, when it sold the Azeris $1.6 billion in arms last January. Anti-ship missiles, UAVs, Barak air defense missiles and an anti-missile radar system were among the items purchased. Israel and Azerbaijan have also launched a joint venture to manufacture Israeli-designed UAVs in Azerbaijan which may help Israel with sales to Islamic countries, since the UAVs are being built in a Muslim state. Israel has also established extensive commercial relations with Azerbaijan and had become its fifth-largest trading partner by 2005.

The anti-missile radar system may be particularly useful in any coming conflict with Iran. As part of its war strategy, Iran may use its missiles to destroy the oil facilities, upon which the West depends, in eastern Saudi Arabia and in Azerbaijan. Both countries are within range of such an attack. Israel also would be negatively affected by such a development; it imports one sixth of its oil from Azerbaijan, while Europe and the United States are also big customers.Azerbaijan also serves as an important transit country for oil coming from Central Asia across the Caspian Sea.

Not everyone is happy with Israel’s arms sales to Azerbaijan, since it may turn around and use those weapons against neighboring Armenia, with whom it fought, and lost, a war in the early 1990s over the Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. In the past, the Azeri president has uttered anti-Armenian threats such as “Armenians will live in fear” and “Our main enemies are Armenians of the world.” Others are against Israel having access to Azeri airbases at all since this may invite attack from Iran and extend any war to the Caucasus and thus to Azerbaijan’s all-important oil fields.

But Iran with its nuclear weapons program, terrorism and radical Islamic fundamentalism is a vital concern not just to Israel but also to Azerbaijan and other countries of the region. So if Israel having access to Azeri airbases will help end this destabilizing, large-scale threat, then who could be against it? Definitely not the five innocent Israelis and their bus driver so tragically killed in Bulgaria.

Stephen Brown


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Who Will Save the Christians in the Gaza Strip?

by Khaled Abu Toameh

"We only hear voices telling us not make too much noise. Today it is happening in the Gaza Strip, tomorrow it will take place in Bethlehem. In a few months, there will be no Christians left in Palestine." — Christian man, Gaza City

Are Palestinian Christians living in the Gaza Strip being kidnapped by Muslims who force them to convert to Islam?

This is a story that is considered taboo among many Palestinians, who prefer to lay all the blame only on Israel.

According to the Greek Orthodox Church in the Gaza Strip, at least five Christians have been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam in recent weeks.

If anyone has good reason to fear for his life it is Archbishop Alexios, head of the Greek Church in the Gaza Strip, who is spearheading the protests against persecution of Christians and forced conversions.

In the past few days the archbishop has come under sharp criticism from many Palestinians and the Hamas government for daring to speak out about the plight of his community.

Islamic groups and human rights activists in the Gaza Strip claimed that the Christians converted to Islam of their own free will.

They even released a videotape of a young Christian man, Ramez al-Amash, 24, in which he declared that he had voluntarily abandoned his faith in favor of Islam.

The church blamed an unidentified terror group of being behind the forced conversions and called on the international community to intervene to save the Christians.

Church leaders also accused a prominent Hamas man of being behind the kidnapping and forced conversion of a Christian woman, Huda Abu Daoud, and her three daughters. Shortly after she disappeared, the woman sent a message to her husband's mobile phone informing him that she and her daughters had converted to Islam.

In a rare public protest, leaders and members of the 2,000-strong Christian community in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in strike in the Gaza Strip this week to condemn the abductions and forced conversions in particular, and persecution at the hands of radical Muslims in general.

The protest has further aggravated tensions between Muslims and Christians in the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007.

Leaders and members of the Christian community now fear reprisal attacks by Muslim extremists. Some have appealed to the Vatican and Christian groups and churches in the US, Canada and Europe for help.

But according to Christian families, the world does not seem to care about their plight. "We only hear voices telling us to stay where we are and to stop making too much noise," said a Christian man living in Gaza City. "If they continue to turn a blind eye to our tragedy, in a few months there will be no Christians left in Palestine. Today it's happening in the Gaza Strip, tomorrow it will take place in Bethlehem."

The public protest by the Christians in the Gaza Strip is a first step in the right direction. This is a move that could finally draw the attention of the international community, including Church leaders across the US, to the real problems and dangers facing Palestinian Christians.

Radical Islam, and not checkpoints or a security fence, remains the main threat to defenseless Christians not only in the Palestinians territories, but in the entire Middle East as well.

Khaled Abu Toameh


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Mega-Mosques: "Building a French Islam"

by Soeren Kern

Its towering minaret, which has purposely been designed to change to change the suburb's skyline by being taller than any church steeple in the neighborhood, is supposed to become the "new symbol of Islam in France."

The Socialist government in France has inaugurated a new mega-mosque in Paris as a first step towards "progressively building a French Islam."

The new mosque, located in the northern Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise, is not only vast in its dimensions (photo here), but is also highly visible and symbolic: its towering minaret, which has purposely been designed to change the suburb's skyline by being taller than any church steeple in the neighborhood, is supposed to become the "new symbol of Islam in France."

The blue-domed mega-mosque also has an important political dimension. French President François Hollande owes his May 6 electoral victory to the large turnout by Muslim voters, who cast the deciding votes that propelled Hollande into the Élysée Palace. It is now political payback time, and the mosque at Cergy is one of at least 150 new mosque projects that the Socialist government has pledged to support.

Speaking on behalf of President Hollande at the inauguration ceremony of the mosque in Cergy, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls articulated the Socialist government's policy vis-à-vis the construction of new mosques in France. He declared: "A mosque, when it is erected in the city, says a simple thing: Islam has its place in France."

The 2,000 square meter (21,500 square foot) three-story mega-mosque in Cergy can accommodate up to 1,500 worshippers at a time; it has two main prayer halls (one for men and one for women), ablution rooms, two kitchens, a tea room, an apartment and office for the imam, a funeral hall, classrooms and a multipurpose room.

The mayor's office in Cergy, which is controlled by the Socialist Party, has tried to downplay local concerns about the size of the mosque, which has a price tag of €3.7 million ($4.5 million). It has justified the project by arguing that the mosque is being financed exclusively through local donations (many if not most of the major mosques in France and other European countries are financed by foreign governments such as Morocco and Saudi Arabia).

But the Socialist Mayor of Cergy, Dominique Lefebvre, has actively worked to make the mosque project a reality by circumventing French laws on secularism. Under his leadership the town council agreed to provide the mosque with a lease of land at very low rent for a term of 99 years. The town council also agreed to provide the mosque with a bank guarantee so it could obtain a €2.5 million loan for construction.

Lefebvre has justified his efforts on behalf of the mosque by saying he wants to "ensure the free exercise of religion." But at the ceremony inaugurating the mosque, he also joked: "I am often asked if the minaret is higher than the steeple of the church."

Separately, a French appeals court has granted permission for the construction of a mega-mosque in the southern city of Marseille, home to the largest Muslim community in France.

The ruling, which overturns an October 2011 decision by a lower court to annul the construction permit for the mosque, represents a major victory for proponents of the mosque, long touted as the biggest and most potent symbol of Islam's growing place in France.

The €22 million ($27 million) project would have the Grand Mosque -- boasting a minaret soaring 25 meters (82 feet) high, and room for up to 7,000 worshippers in a vast prayer hall -- built on the north side of Marseille's old port in the city's Saint-Louis district, an ethnically mixed neighborhood that suffers from poverty and high unemployment.

Several decades in the planning, the project was granted a construction permit in November 2009. At the time, city officials said the new mosque would help the Muslim community better integrate into the mainstream and foster a more moderate form of Islam.

The first cornerstone of the 8,300 square meter (90,000 square foot) project was laid in May 2010. The elaborate stone-laying ceremony was attended by Muslim religious leaders and local politicians, as well as more than a dozen diplomats from Muslim countries.

Full-scale construction of the Grand Mosque -- which will include a Koranic school and a library, as well as a restaurant and tea room -- was scheduled to begin in February 2012.

But the project has faced stiff opposition from local residents and businesses. Opponents of the Grand Mosque have argued that it would be out of harmony with the neighborhood's economic and social fabric. The appeals court ruling, dated June 19, means that construction of the mosque can now continue unimpeded.

In October 2011, the French newspaper La Marseillaise published extracts of a leaked intelligence report about the rise of Islam in Marseille, which is now home to some 250,000 Muslims.

The confidential seven-page document, drafted by domestic intelligence in the French region of Bouches-du-Rhône in March 2011, warns against construction of the grand mosque: "This building would dominate an entire part of the city…it would be visible from most of the surrounding main roads…the mosque is generally considered aggressive to the point where a local referendum on the matter would give results at least equivalent and perhaps more pronounced than the voting organized in the Swiss confederation last year [the Swiss vote to ban minarets]."

The report also states that although "the number of individuals [in Marseille] who have been radicalized to the point of supporting the jihadists is relatively low, Islamic fundamentalism has progressed to the point where it has won over the majority of the Muslim population."

The report describes the Muslim population of Marseille as a "marginalized population, poorly informed, uncultured and with a limited understanding even of their own religion, finding themselves in the hands of self-appointed imams who are no more competent than their flocks but sufficiently charismatic to obtain their obedience."

The document concludes by stating that Muslims in France appear to want the state to intervene in religious matters: "It is interesting to note that the majority of Muslims find it natural for the state to organize religious practice, even by force if necessary, and that many of them even declare that they do not understand the neutrality of France in this matter."

The same might be said of the French Socialist Party, which, thanks to ideology and political expediency, is increasingly inclined to accommodate Muslim demands. During his election campaign, Hollande offered an amnesty to all of the estimated 400,000 illegal Muslim immigrants currently in France. He also pledged to change French electoral laws so that Muslim residents without French citizenship would be allowed to vote in municipal elections as of 2014.

These measures, if implemented, would enable the Socialist Party tighten its grip on political power, both at the regional and national levels. As the politically active Muslim population in France continues to swell, and as most Muslims in the country vote for Socialist and left-wing parties, conservative parties will find it increasingly difficult to win future elections in France.

One of the predictable outcomes of this political backscratching will be the construction of more government-sponsored mosques in France, all in the name of multiculturalism, of course.

Soeren Kern is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.


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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mordechai Kedar: On Academia, Politics and Survival in the Middle East

by Mordechai Kedar

Read the article in the original עברית
Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)
I will begin with a disclosure: I am the head of The Israeli Academic Monitor, an organization whose goal is to expose publicly the political activities of those Israeli academics who engage in activities against the state of Israel and against its ability to stand up to the political and security pressures that it faces. These academicians call on institutions and individuals to boycott Israel, to impose sanctions upon it and to withdraw investments from it, while camouflaging and disguising these activities as if they are done in "the academic spirit". It must be noted that there are, among Israeli academicians, some "righteous" people who call on states and academic institutions of the world to boycott Israeli academic institutions and to impose punishments on those same institutions in which they themselves are employed, and from where they receive their salaries, the source of which is the government of Israel. We, members of The Israeli Academic Monitor, out of concern for Israeli academia in particular and for the state of Israel in general, act within the boundaries of freedom of speech and expression, and publish widely the despicable deeds of these Israeli academicians.

Today I dedicate my article to a matter that has been with us for years, which is the status of the academic institution that was established 30 years ago in the city of Ariel, in Samaria; whether to have it remain as a college or "University Center" (a concept which is not clear to me), or perhaps to raise it to the level of a university. Those who are faithful to the land of Israel support promoting it to become a university, while those who object to Israeli rule in Judea and Samaria (they call it "occupation") oppose it. Each side of the argument brings economic, budgetary and academic justifications to support its view, but it is clear that the basis for one's position is primarily political, and that this position dictates which of the justifications are emphasized.

The fact that there is a political argument, engenders the perception among the Israeli public that all of the other seven universities are "not political", and only the institution in Ariel is "political" because it is "in the territories" and therefore its establishment in Ariel has a "political" meaning. My claim is that all of the universities in Israel are political, and moreover: all of the colleges, schools, yeshivas, hospitals, prisons, factories, places of residence, roads, trees - everything that we have established, built, and planted in Israel - everything, but everything, is political. The whole Zionist enterprise is a political project because it is the political and nationalistic manifestation of the desire of the Jewish people to return to its land and to renew within it its national life, its independence and its sovereignty. Everything that we have done here since the students of the Gaon of Vilna arrived in Israel two hundred years ago until today, everything is aimed at renewing our political life as of old, indeed, the whole Zionist enterprise - including universities - has a political, as well as national connotation, and there are also those who see a religious component in this matter, connected in some way to the final redemption.

Jews the world over have joined this great political enterprise of the Jewish people, whether with their bodies or with their wealth. Those who joined bodily came, fought, built, paved, planted, seeded, reaped, learned, taught and did research, all in order to establish the political enterprise of the Jewish people - the State of Israel. Those who joined with their wealth remained in the Diaspora and donated their money to the establishment of schools, hospitals, yeshivas for men, yeshivas for women, colleges and universities, all in order to take part in the political, national and collective endeavor of the people of Israel.

The cornerstone of the first academic institution in Israel was laid exactly 100 years ago. This was the Technion in Haifa. Dr. Paul Natan, was behind the idea to establish "the Technikum" (the original name), enlisted the aid of David Wissotzky (the Tea producer) to donate the required funds, and they established the institution specifically in Israel, and not in the Diaspora, for the same nationalistic and political reason that influenced others to establish other institutions in Israel. Their motivation was to promote the "return to Zion" and the fact that the government of the land was then in the hands of the Muslim Ottoman Empire didn't bother them. When they founded the first academic institution, their connection was to the Land, not the state, and to establish the life of the people in its land was their top priority.

The first university that was established in Israel, Hebrew University, was also, at first, in 1925, a political act that was intended - this time under the British Mandate - to show the whole world that the people of Israel is returning to its land and intends to live a full life here. But the academic act with the clearest and most political message was the establishment of the University of Tel Aviv in 1956, during the period of the fedayeen and the terror that they perpetrated. This university was deliberately established upon the ruins of the Arab village Sheikh Munis, an act which stated in a clear and lucid manner, that the people of Israel has returned to its land in order to build it and to be built up in it, and it will not yield or bend to its enemies or detractors, who fled in the defensive war of 1948.

The Weizman Institute is named for the noted Zionist political leader, who was also the first president of the state of Israel, and Ben Gurion University in the Negev until today, proudly carries the name of "the" politician par excellence who arose to lead the people of Israel in the modern era, and with his strength of spirit, established the state despite all odds. The University of Haifa was also established by a man from the boiling cauldron of Israeli politics, Aba Hushi, and the academic tower that rises almost 100 meters above the Carmel Mountain Ridge, and is clearly visible from a distance of dozens of kilometers, clearly states the nationalistic and political message that "We are here".

Only Bar Ilan University carries the name of Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, a religious, rather than political figure, who was one of the heads of the national-religious "Mizrachi" movement, and its establishment in 1955 was also a political and public message of religious Judaism.

The inescapable conclusion from all of the above is that all of the academic institutions in Israel are a political and nationalistic expression of the return of the people of Israel to its land and its revival after 1900 years of exile. Israeli academia is not separate from the overall Israeli experience, which is entirely a nationalistic, political deed. The return to Zion was not and is still not a natural development, but rather it is a phenomenon that is outside of nature, and involves an ongoing struggle against the natural environment. Any endeavor of this sort requires activity in the national arena, just as all of the activities connected with it, from the establishment of universities to the planting of trees, are activities that are conducted in the political arena as well. Therefore the names of institutions honor the political leaders who promoted the great achievement of the "return to Zion" in every sense of the phrase.

The fact that the world accepted Israeli academia as an equal member in the global academic community, stemmed from the consensus that included all of the Jewish people, in Israel as well as in the Diaspora, regarding the legitimacy of the state of Israel and its institutions, including the academic ones. This is no simple matter, since there are many countries in the world who do not see Israel as a legitimate state, which is why they boycott the academic institutions. The academic boycott of Israel by these states began in 1948, not in 1967, because the "occupation", in their eyes, includes Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, Be'er Sheva and Ramat Gan, not only Ariel and Hebron.

On the agenda these days is the question of the academic institution in Ariel, a city in Israel, that was established on territory that was conquered in 1948 by the Arab Legion and until 1967 was occupied by Jordan, although Jordan's rule over this territory was never recognized by the world as legitimate. The world also does not recognize the legitimacy of Israeli rule there, and because no state has universally accepted sovereignty, this is not "occupied territory" but rather "disputed territory" according to international law. This fact has been known since 1967, and the report of Judge emeritus Edmond Levi again confirms this important legal fact. Just a reminder: the Technion and Hebrew University were not originally established under Israeli sovereignty because when they were established the state of Israel did not yet exist. One could say that the state of Israel won sovereignty over the land of Israel partly because of the existence of these institutions, which arose in the land of Israel together with other institutions. Is it not so, that the presence on Mount Scopus of the Hebrew University together with the Hadassah University Hospital, is the reason that this mountain remained under Israeli sovereignty even between 1948 and 1967, even though it was surrounded by the illegitimate Jordanian occupation?

On Tuesday of this week I received from the Council of Higher Education of Judea and Samaria, the decision to promote Ariel University Center to the status of "university", and I ask: why was this institution not established as a "university" in the first place, 30 years ago, in 1982, exactly like all of the other universities? When the cornerstone was laid for each one of the other universities, did they already have libraries, laboratories, researchers, staff members, publications, and international partnerships, so that they could be categorized from the start as "universities"?

And to anyone who is concerned about the Gordian Knot that exists between academia and politics, it is important to note that in the beginning of the month, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) recognized the Islamic University in Gaza as an institution suitable for academic partnership. I don't know what motivated this honorable organization to recognize a university that was established in territory occupied by a terror organization and which operates under its aegis, but my heart tells me that the matter stems from the economic difficulties of UNESCO, since the United States has ceased funding it, and it is trying to attract Arab oil revenues by recognizing the Islamic University in Gaza. Therefore, if it is permissible for the UN to recognize a university that is operated by a terror organization in territory which it conquered, why do the noble knights of Israeli academia not recognize a university that was established in territory that is not occupied and is administered by a democratic state?

But the most important political message is that which was sent by the Council of Higher Education of Judea and Samaria to our neighbors, which is that we in Israel are here to stay. We will not give in to pressure or to terror, we will not apologize for having returned to our land, and we will not yield our rights to do research and to study wherever we live, just as every other people in the world. We did not apologize for establishing the University of Tel Aviv upon the ruins of Sheikh Munis, and therefore there is no reason to apologize for establishing the University of Ariel in the desert. In the Middle East they accept only those who stand up for their rights and are ready to fight for them, because in this area, only those who are invincible live in peace. Moreover: we are willing to help our neighbors establish a university in any of the Arab cities of Judea and Samaria, in order to develop science and education, and to bring the message of progress to the area which needs it so badly: the Universities of Bir Zeit (near Ramallah) and al-Najah (in Nablus) received the status of university not while under Jordanian occupation but under Israeli "occupation", in the year 1977, and this carried a political message as well, both to Israelis and to the heads of these institutions.

Conclusion: the establishment of a university in any location is an act charged with political significance, and therefore there is no justification for criticizing any specific institution with the accusation that its establishment is a political act. So to all of those who criticize Ariel University I say: look in the mirror, and as we know, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.


Dr. Mordechai Kedar ( is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav.

Links to Dr. Kedar's recent articles on this blog:

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.

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