Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Peace Process’s Turkey Problem

by Evelyn Gordon

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Israeli pessimism about renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stems from certain important facts that Americans like to ignore but Israelis find impossible to forget. I’d like to add another fact to his list. You might call it the Turkey problem–specifically, President Barack Obama’s blithe disregard of Turkey’s violation of a deal with Israel that he himself brokered.

Any Israeli-Palestinian agreement would presumably involve certain American guarantees, particularly on security. Washington even assigned a very prominent retired general, former commander in Afghanistan John Allen, “to consult with the Israelis about how the United States can help them meet security challenges posed by a Palestinian state,” as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius put it. But America can’t offer this kind of guarantee anymore, because under Obama, U.S. promises to Israel have repeatedly proven worthless. The Turkish deal is a classic example.

While visiting Israel in March, Obama personally twisted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s arm to get him to apologize and pay compensation for Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Since the flotilla sought to break a blockade that even the UN recognizes as legal, and since the Turkish casualties occurred only because an “organized and violent” group of Turks attacked Israel’s boarding party with “iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots” (to quote the UN’s report on the incident), wounding several soldiers and capturing and abusing three, most Israelis considered an apology unwarranted: The soldiers opened fire only in self-defense. Nevertheless, Netanyahu agreed, even making the telephoned apology in Obama’s presence.

In exchange, Turkey was supposed to return its ambassador to Israel, end its show-trials (in absentia) of senior Israeli officials, and otherwise restore normal relations. Five months later, not only has none of this happened, but Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc made clear last month that it never will, because Turkey has appended two new conditions that weren’t part of the deal: Israel must agree that it committed a “wrongful act” (in the original apology, whose wording was carefully negotiated, Israel acknowledged operational errors but not legal wrongdoing), and it must end the Gaza blockade.

Yet Obama hasn’t breathed a word of criticism for this new Turkish stance, much less exerted any pressure on his good friend Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to keep his side of the bargain. So Israel made concessions upfront, the other side pocketed them and then reneged on the promised quid pro quo, and Obama didn’t utter a peep. That hardly encourages Israel to do the same on the Palestinian front.

Clearly, this isn’t the first time Obama has broken a promise to Israel. He reneged on his predecessor’s oral agreement to let Israel continue building in the settlement blocs, outraging even leftists like Haaretz editor Aluf Benn by denying the agreement’s very existence; he reneged on his predecessor’s written promise that any Israeli-Palestinian deal must leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders”–a promise Israel paid for by vacating every last inch of Gaza and evicting every last settler–instead publicly declaring that the border must be based on the indefensible 1967 lines; and he reneged on UN Resolution 242, which also promised Israel both defensible borders and the right to keep some of the territory captured in 1967, thereby abandoning the position of every U.S. government since 1967. All this taught Israelis that his successors might similarly scrap any promises he makes Israel today.

But in the Turkey case, he’s shown that he won’t even uphold his own promises to Israel. And that makes the conclusion inescapable: Any cession of real security assets like territory in exchange for American guarantees is a losing proposition for Israel.
Evelyn Gordon


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

Arab Soldier: I Decided to Enlist, Despite Everything

by Maayana Miskin

Meet Ahmed Inaim, a Bedouin soldier from Nazareth who has enlisted in the IDF, despite losing one brother who fell in military service and seeing another wounded in battle.

In a new video, 24-year-old Ahmed Inaim gives viewers a chance to follow him throughout the day and see how the IDF’s Bedouin trackers live and what they do.

Ahmet describes responding to a 2012 terrorist infiltration in southern Israel, and also talks about why he chose to enlist in the IDF, his experiences as a Muslim in the Israeli army, and what he views as the IDF’s most important value.

Maayana Miskin


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

Does Obama want Egypt to Choose between Aid and Freedom?

by Raymond Stock

On Friday, the chief of Egypt's military, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, has urged all Egyptians to come out on the street to give him a "public mandate to face up to terror" in confronting the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafi allies.

A military source told Cairo's ahramonline that these demonstrations will be "as big almost" as the fifteen-to-thirty million thought to have marched against President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood on June 30.

Those protests, called the largest in human history, prompted al-Sisi to remove the Islamist leader on July 3, just over a year after Morsi was very narrowly elected and sworn into office on June 30, 2012.

At the same time, President Obama, citing a law that automatically cuts off aid to any regime installed by a military coup against an elected government, withheld the scheduled shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt this week.

Though the Bright Star joint training exercises between our military and theirs will apparently go on as planned, The New York Times said on July 24 that the administration "wanted to send …a signal of American displeasure with the chaotic situation there, which has been marked by continued violence, the detention of Mr. Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a transition that has not included the Brotherhood."

Thus Obama is not so much following the law as bending it for his own purposes.

By doing this now, Obama appears to be asking Egyptians to choose between their freedom and aid from the U.S.

For most, the choice is simple. A future without the Muslim Brotherhood—which since losing power has taken over streets and squares in often violent protests, worked with Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups in Sinai that are targeting both security officials and Coptic priests, is suspected in a growing bombing campaign against public buildings, and declared that it will never compromise on its demand to restore Morsi as president—is the only one possible for them.

There is already a widespread movement to tell us where to put the F-16s if it means taking the Brothers back with them.

After a year under Morsi—who from July 3 was held without charges until today, when he was formally accused of being sprung from prison along with others during the 2011 uprising against then-President Hosni Mubarak by Hamas gunmen—the vast majority of Egyptians know that the Brotherhood is not moderate and has lost all legitimacy, even if many voted for them before.

They rose up after Morsi gave himself powers greater than any pharaoh (ancient or modern), and tried to turn Egypt into a one-party, Sharia-based dictatorship.

They watched in mounting horror as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis burned churches and murdered Christians and Shiites, tried to sack non-Islamist judges and prosecutors, persecuted liberal activists, reporters and comedians, attacked secular protesters and freed scores of convicted terrorist killers from prison, while driving the economy out of control.

Yet not only did U.S. aid continue, the administration avoided virtually all criticism of Morsi.

Ironically, only now, when those who want to create a more secular and genuinely democratic government are finally given the chance (however slim) to do so, and when the ousted Islamists are fomenting chaos all over the country, have the deliveries stopped.

But rather than pressuring the determined military, the prolonged deliberations over calling Morsi's removal a "coup" will simply give the Islamists hope that America will restore them to power, over the objections of far more citizens than voted for Morsi.

Meanwhile, it makes many Egyptians think that our president prefers extremists to actual moderates.

Sadly, if Obama hadn't supported the Muslim Brotherhood, you could blame them for their paranoia about U.S. intentions. And yet, ever since his June 4, 2009 speech to the Islamic world from Cairo, which he insisted that the then-outlawed group's leaders be asked to attend (thus excluding his "friend," Mubarak), he has seen the anti-Western, anti-female, anti-gay and anti-Semitic Brotherhood as Egypt's future.

Still, the U.S. should place conditions on aid. But rather than demand inclusion of the irreconcilable Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, or even a too-rushed return to an elected government in a nation so divided, Washington should tie its largesse to the protection of religious minorities, secularists, women and gays. And rather than being almost wholly military, we should gradually shift our assistance as much (or more) into development as arms.

Sixty-one years ago today in Alexandria, on July 26, 1952, after a U.S.-supported military coup, Farouk—Egypt's constitutional monarch (her last)—was forced to abdicate and sail for Italy, ending the country's first experiment with democracy.

That move led to horrific disasters both at home and abroad, with six decades of army rule, albeit with a civilian face.

Egypt's next coup—on February 11, 2011 (again backed by the U.S.)--was in response to the largest protests then seen there in living memory.

Neither featured demonstrations even close to those witnessed last month. Whether or not the military's predictions about today come true, we should all hope that they succeed in defeating Egypt's worst enemies: they are ours too.

Raymond Stock, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a former Assistant Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University, spent twenty years in Egypt, and was deported by the Mubarak regime in 2010.


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

Report: Head of US Air Force Secretly Visited Israel to Discuss Iran Strike

by Zach Pontz

Gen. Mark Welsh addresses the audience after being sworn in as the 20th Air Force chief of staff during a ceremony at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Aug. 10, 2012. Photo: Wikipedia.

The Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, Mark Welsh, visited Israel last week as a guest of Israeli Air Force Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, Israel’s Walla News reported Thursday.

Welsh’s visit was confidential and hidden from the media’s inquiring eye at the request of the Americans, apparently due to tensions in the Middle East.

This was Welsh’s first visit to Israel in his current position, and among the issues discussed with Eshel was Iran’s nuclear program. According to Walla News, Israel has been training its air force to carry out a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities for at least a decade.

The Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. Martin Dempsey, will arrive in Israel next week. Yesterday, officials confirmed that Dempsey’s visit will also focus on Iran.

Zach Pontz


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

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mordechai Kedar: Democracy Yok

by Mordechai Kedar

Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)
In the middle of the 17th century, Ibrahim - the Turkish sultan  called "the insane" - instructed the commander of his fleet to conquer the island of Malta. The admiral went to sea but because of a navigational mistake did not find the island. One version of the story is that he had no intention of getting to Malta and he erased it from the ship's navigational map so the crew would not be able to find it. He returned to Turkey saying: "Malta yok", or, "there is no Malta".  These days, the question is whether there is democracy in Turkey or perhaps "democracy yok"?

This question is not only valid pertaining to the events of last week, when 250 senior public figures who were accused of attempting to bring about a revolution against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were sent to prison, and not only to the past decade either, during which time he ruled the country with an iron fist as the head of the Islamist-oriented Freedom and Development Party. The question can also be applied to the years previous to the Islamists' rule, beginning with the secular revolution of Mustafa Kemal, "Atatürk", who was elected as the first president of modern Turkey, in 1923. Those who have a good memory will certainly remember the film "Midnight Express", which clearly described the Turkish regime's shocking methods of torture during the secular era. Even Erdoğan himself was sentenced to ten months imprisonment in 1998 because he publicly read a poem that included the line "the mosques are our bases, their domes our helmets, their spires our swords and their believers our soldiers". Was he sent to prison because reading that sentence was a democratic act? Was the justice system objective back then?

Since 1923, Turkey has been a battleground for conflicts between two contradictory and conflicting cultural movements: the secular one, Kamalism (from the name Mustafa Kemal, "Atatürk"), that was imposed upon Turkey using violent and dictatorial means, and the Islamic tradition], which had been repressed for decades, managed to come to power and now makes every effort to retain its position, even by using means which would be considered undemocratic by Western criteria.

The guardians of secularism were mainly the army and the judicial system. According to the constitution, the army's role as the guardian of the country's secular character is even more important than its role as defender of the country from external enemies. The army has fulfilled this function four times, when it went into action, sending the politicians home: 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997. The last time was after the Islamic movement's first political victory: Necmettin Erbakan's Welfare Party won in the elections of 1996 but was removed from power by the army a year afterward and the party was banned. Erdoğan's Party of Justice and Welfare grew from the ideological platform of the Welfare Party, and it has been the ruling party in Turkey since 2002.

The present government felt obligated for its own protection to defang the secular watchdogs: the army, the presidency and the court. In a continual, gradual process, Erdoğan has ultimately succeeded to put Abdullah Gul, his friend and his foreign minister in the past, into the presidency. And he has managed to bring about constitutional changes so that he can put judges who are not part of the secular elite into the High Court. The army - which had, in essence, been a totally secular, anti-religious body, underwent changes in personnel, whereby any officer who finished his service or was dismissed, was replaced by an officer  loyal to the Islamic way.

However, the secular elite was still there in the background; they formed a
secret clique composed of a few thousand people who remained faithful to the secular, anti-Islamic doctrine of Atatürk. They included senior military veterans, politicians, academicians, journalists, judges, attorneys, artists, authors, poets, and most important: business people who could make things happen using their economic means. This group felt that the country had been stolen from them, and that the Islamists who came to power - who, only one generation ago, were ignorant and uneducated - are not fit to rule a modern state.

Erdoğan and his party are engaged in a constant struggle against the secular movement, who are represented in parliament by a few small parties. To protect its image in the media, the Islamic government imprisoned dozens of journalists who had criticized the prime minister's conduct and behavior. This took on more importance after the series of violent demonstrations that have swept over Turkey during the past several months as a result of the development project that the government is carrying out in the center of Istanbul. The ties between capital, press and government in Erdoğan's Turkey are just as strong and convoluted as they were in the days of the secular government.

It is
against this background of the power struggle between the secular and religious movements that the Ergenekon Affair arose. In the Ergenekon Affair, hundreds of people, among them senior former officials,were arrested, and were accused of plotting to overthrow the Islamic party's government. Those arrested include military people, business people, media people, academics and artists. All of them were put on trial before a special court, whose evidentiary rules do not make it easy for the defendant to prove his innocence.

According to the charges, each of the accused was responsible for part of the plot, and the operation was accused of being a terror network, a claim that makes it easier for the government to restrict the defendants' rights. The chief defendant was the former army chief of staff, General Ilker Basbug, who was sentenced to life in prison. He was arrested in 2012 and accused of ordering Internet sites to be established where propaganda would be spread against the government and its head. Other senior officers were also sentenced to long prison terms, with the accusation - perhaps falsely - that they had arranged murders and assassinations.

The trial was held in Silivri prison in Istanbul, in a hall that was built especially for the trial, in order to keep the trial from being covered by the media. This way the government could conduct the process however it wanted. Each time demonstrators gathered in front of the prison  to protest the trial and the way it was being conducted, the police broke up the demonstrations very violently.

Turkey's image is now at stake: will it be liberal and modern, as its founder, Mustafa Kemal, "the Father of the Turks", intended, or will it perhaps revert to the days of the Ottoman sultans who waved the Islamic flag over their heads. The whole pot: the army, media, academia, art and commerce, is at stake in the struggle, and we can expect that in the wake of the of the defendants' conviction in the Ergenekon Affair, the struggle will become sharper and stronger. Each side is entrenched in its position and takes increasingly stronger actions, and it may be that Turkey is sliding - but not as quickly as Egypt did - into a series of violent struggles in the public sphere, as we have seen in recent months.

This will effect both Turkey's economy and its international standing, because the European states, who have in the past expressed doubts about allowing Turkey to join the EU because of the way the Turkish government treats its opponents, will now intensify their demand that Erdoğan ease the pressure on his opposition. There may even be international judicial procedures to appeal the sentences that were imposed in the Ergenekon affair, whether in the form of an internal Turkish appeal, or a combination of international tribunals.

Will Turkey continue to claim that it is a democratic state as the cultural struggle between its opposing sides intensifies? Will the world continue to see Turkey as a partner in diplomatic processes when basic human rights are trampled internally? Time will tell.


Dr. Kedar is available for lectures

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 with permission from the author.

Additional articles by Dr. Kedar

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.

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


Silencing a Secularist in Turkey - Erdogan has Abandoned his Moderate Facade

by Sam Nunberg

The Turkish criminal courts have increasingly been used to further Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist agenda through hate-speech prosecutions. The May 22 sentencing of Turkish-Armenian Sevan Nisanyan continues this disturbing trend of strangling political and social discourse.

Mr. Nisanyan is a man of many interests and talents. Linguist, journalist and hotel entrepreneur, Mr. Nisanyan is not only known for his guidebook to small, affordable hotels in Turkey, but also was awarded the 2004 Freedom of Thought Award by Turkey's Human Rights Association for advocating the open discussion on the Armenian genocide. In 2008, he authored "The Mistaken Republic: 51 Questions about Ataturk and Kemalism," arguing that Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, established a fascist dictatorship under the guise of nationalism. Mr. Nisanyan continues to frequently publish witty critical posts against the authoritarian bodies of the Turkish government on his blog, often with direct critiques on the Erdogan regime.

Following the worldwide protests last September by Muslims enraged by the release of the satirical YouTube film "The Innocence of Muslims," Mr. Nisanyan argued in a Sept. 29 post that such discourse should not be criminalized. While mocking Muhammad is "ugly," it does not constitute a "hate crime." Putting emphasis on the distinction, Mr. Nisanyan wrote:

"Mocking an Arab leader — who claimed that he contacted God hundreds of years ago and who gained political, financial and sexual profit from this — is not a hate crime. Almost at the level of kindergarten, it is a test case of the thing called 'freedom of expression.'"

Mr. Nisanyan subsequently explained that his 377-word posting was spawned by Mr. Erdogan's uproar over "that cheapo Muhammad film" and his demand that the West recognize "Islamophobia as a crime against humanity."

The post not only prompted 15 separate criminal complaints, but Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, an Erdogan confidant, called on prosecutors to launch an investigation. Breeching the sovereignty of the Turkish judiciary, he declared, "I'm announcing a crime. This is a typical hate crime. It is a hate crime, and it is a crime that is defined in our penal code."

On Oct. 15, Mr. Nisanyan appeared on CNN Turk's "Contrary to the Questions" to discuss the "The Innocence of Muslims" riots and the Turkish government's denouncements of the film. The Supreme Board of Radio and Television fined the private broadcast on the grounds that Mr. Nisanyan's comments "insulted the Prophet Muhammad," "exceeded the boundaries of freedom of expression" and were "insulting and injurious" to society.

In April, a month before Mr. Nisanyan's trial, world-renowned pianist Fazil Say was handed a 10-month suspended jail sentence under Article 216(3) for tweets made in jest about a call to prayer and heaven. On April 15, European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton's office criticized Mr. Say's sentence, calling for Turkey "to fully respect freedom of expression." Three days later, Mr. Bozdag defended the conviction because Mr. Say "was swearing at someone's values," and "[n]obody should confuse freedom of thought with freedom of swearing."

With both Mr. Bozdag's public declaration of Mr. Nisanyan's guilt and endorsement of the Say verdict, combined with the radio-TV board's ruling, Mr. Nisanyan could not expect an impartial trial. Prosecuted under Turkish Criminal Code Article 216(3), which declares, "Any person who openly disrespects the religious belief of a group is punished with imprisonment from six months to one year if such act causes potential risk for public peace," the magistrate judge of course found Mr. Nisanyan guilty, sentencing him to a 13-month prison sentence, six weeks beyond the statutorily permissible punishment.

Currently appealing his conviction in the Court of Cessation, Mr. Nisanyan will have to serve the entire jail sentence should the magistrate's sentence be upheld. The sentence violates the European Convention on Human Rights' Article 6 (right to a fair trial) and Article 10 (freedom of expression). Mr. Nisanyan's next best course is an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights.

Reporters Without Borders immediately condemned the sentence as a "grave violation of freedom of information" and called for the immediate repeal of the "draconian" Article 216(3), which "has no place in a secular country such as Turkey."

While the Turkish government is secular, the Erdogan regime is not. Following his narrow 2002 victory, Mr. Erdogan declared, "Secularism is the protector of all beliefs and religions. We are the guarantors of this secularism, and our management will clearly prove that." Now in the 11th year of his rule, Mr. Erdogan has abandoned any moderate facade.

Neither the State Department nor any EU agency has issued a statement about Mr. Nisanyan's plight. At this critical juncture, human rights organizations should file appeals on his behalf in the European Court of Human Rights. It is imperative that the international community become engaged; otherwise, opinions will continue to be criminalized by the Erdogan regime.

Sam Nunberg serves as director of the Legal Project, an activity of the Middle East Forum.

Sam Nunberg


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

Stone-Throwers’ Victims

by Michael Oren

To the Editor:

“ ‘My Hobby Is Throwing Stones’ ” (front page, Aug. 5) describes a scene in which a Palestinian teenager “hurled a rock at a passing car with yellow Israeli plates.” The scene continues, “The settlers stopped their car, got out, and began shouting.” A chart shows the amount of time Palestinian stone-throwers have spent in jail. 

While Palestinian protagonists are described in detail, their Israeli victims are largely dehumanized “settlers” — no name, age or gender. And for the record, all Israelis, irrespective of residence and ethnicity, Jews and Arabs, drive with yellow plates. 

The article could have added another chart: the names of Israelis who have been killed or permanently maimed by rock throwers and the time they have spent hospitalized. One of the names would be Adele Biton, a 2-year-old seriously wounded by a stone in March. 

The article notes that Palestinian youths attack Israelis “because their brothers and fathers did.” By breaking that pattern, Palestinian leaders can prepare their people for peace. 

Ambassador of Israel
Washington, Aug. 6, 2013


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

How American Leaks May Help Arm Israel's Enemies

by Yaakov Lappin

Israel has struck four targets in Syria this year, according to international media reports, hitting shipments of Iranian and Russian weapons that were– or were about to be – moved to Hizballah's possession in Lebanon.

The most recent reported attack occurred on July 5 in Latakia, allegedly targeting advanced Russian surface to sea missiles.
The chaos and carnage of the Syrian civil war is a conflict Israel would like to avoid, but Israeli leaders have stated that any attempts by Hizballah to exploit the situation to import advanced arms, such as guided missiles that can threaten Israeli population centers and strategically sensitive targets, are a red line Jerusalem will not accept.

Low signature strikes, if they occurred, are ways for Israel to take pinpoint action to protect its national security, without getting dragged into a wider conflict.

Officially, Israel has neither confirmed nor denied these strikes, apparently in order to avoid placing the Assad regime in a position where it feels it must retaliate.

Indeed, plausible deniability, and a wish to avoid opening a second front in the midst of a civil war, have allowed Assad to ignore the alleged strikes, with the exception of isolated border incidents and a threat to retaliate to future strikes.

Yet, some in the United States seem not to share Jerusalem's reported desire to keep the strikes low profile, and have gone on record to leak details of the incidents. Such leaks cannot be good for Israel, whether the sources intended to cause harm or not.

In a series of U.S. media reports, unnamed American sources have provided information on alleged Israel Air Force strikes in Syria. Most recently, sources described as "intelligence analysts" told the New York Times that the July 5 Latakia strike did not succeed in destroying all of the Russian missiles it targeted, that Assad ordered his army to set fire to the site to try and hide that fact, and that another attack will be needed to complete the mission.

Previously, sources described as American officials told the New York Times Israel carried out the Latakia strike.

In May, an anonymous American official said Israel targeted Iranian Fateh 110 missiles in Damascus air strikes.

These sorts of reports have caused puzzlement and confusion among Israeli observers. Who is behind these leaks, and what are their motivations?

The world of intelligence is murky and confusing, and it is difficult to draw clear conclusions.

Some observers have suggested that someone with high-level intelligence is concerned that the reported strikes may lead to an all-out Israeli-Syrian conflict.

The latest New York Times report effectively provided Assad with an early warning, and instructed him to expect a further strike, thereby sabotaging a potential mission.

These reports raise rather disturbing questions about the nature of the cooperation between the intelligence establishments of the two countries.

To be sure, Israeli officials adamantly maintain that overall defense cooperation with the U.S. has never been better. From missile defense exercises to joint air force drills, and in many other areas, the two militaries work closely together in a fruitful relationship, as the remainder of the Middle East faces anarchy and extremism.

While the big picture on cooperation is encouraging, a few pixels on the screen don't seem to be quite in line with the rest of the image.

Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University, stated that "the mere fact that such leaks happen often indicates that the Pentagon leadership does not have Israel's interests at heart."

Inbar acknowledged the difficulties outside observers have in attributing motive for the leaks.

He listed several potential causes, beginning with the most apparent one: The wish to prevent future Israeli strikes.

That apparent leak could be part of a larger objection to the Israeli strikes among some quarters in the Pentagon.

It is possible that the Pentagon is split into two camps – one opposed to U.S. intervention in Syria, a position formulated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and adopted by the White House – and another camp favoring intervention, a stance promoted by Secretary of State John Kerry.

The anti-intervention camp might be concerned that the alleged strikes risk sparking a larger-scale conflict, which could force American involvement.

 But it is just as conceivable that the pro-intervention camp is behind the leaks, using them to embarrass those who argue that an American intervention in Syria would require many sorties, would be complex, and holds no guarantee of improving the situation.

By pointing to alleged Israeli strikes, the interventionists may be trying to show that taking action in Syria is not as difficult as the rival camp suggests.

Lastly, Inbar said, the reports might be little more than the product of a will by sources in the Pentagon to maintain a good relationship with the media.

"What is clear is that they do not come from elements friendly to Israel, because Israel's preferred modus operandi is low profile. [This is] intended to allow Assad to refrain from reacting," Inbar said.

A second security expert said he is reasonably certain that the leaks did not come directly from the Obama administration, and doubted that they resulted from an official Pentagon directive to share the information with the media.

"Coordination with the U.S. administration now is better than in the past," said Dan Scheuftan, director of the National Security Studies Center at the University of Haifa.

At the same time, he noted, U.S. intelligence has played risky games in the past to influence political decisions. He recounted the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which claimed that Iran froze its nuclear program, as a politicized assessment designed to dissuade former President George W. Bush from launching strikes on Iran.

"U.S. intelligence has played very dangerous games in the political field. I can't rule out someone in U.S. intelligence as a possibility," Scheuftan said.

"There could be elements within American intelligence that are interested in damaging Israel, or promoting a certain policy," he added.

The leakers, whoever they are, could be creating real harm for Israel's overall policy of keeping advanced arms from reaching Iran's proxy terrorist group in Lebanon. That's a problem for American officials to address regardless of whether that harm is deliberate or inadvertent.

Next week, Dempsey arrives in Israel for talks with Israeli leaders. A recent article in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth proposed that among the burning issues of Iran and Syria, talks will also be held to "smooth over the issue of alleged leaks."

In light of the fact that cooperation with the U.S. is one of Israel's most critical strategic assets, perhaps Dempsey's visit will be an opportunity for both sides to deal with the alleged leaks constructively, while focusing on the many joint security challenges faced by both countries, and continuing the already superb cooperation that is in place.

Yaakov Lappin is the Jerusalem Post's military and national security affairs correspondent, and author of The Virtual Caliphate (Potomac Books), which proposes that jihadis on the internet have established a virtual Islamist state.


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

Steinitz: Iran's Nuclear Program can be Destroyed with a few Hours of Airstrikes

by News Agencies, Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff

Exiled opposition group says Iran is building a new nuclear facility east of Tehran • Satellite images suggest new missiles test site being built north of Semnan province • Steinitz: Rouhani is cunning, and he will smile all the way to the bomb.

The Arak heavy-water project, southwest of Tehran [Archive]
Photo credit: Reuters

Iran's new president Hasan Rouhani is "charming, he is cunning, and he will smile all the way to the bomb," Minister for International, Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz said in an interview with The Washington Post, published on Thursday. Israel believes the United States and others in the West are being misled by the moderate cleric's recent election to the presidency. Steinitz told the Post that rather than negotiating with Tehran, the U.S. and the international community should tighten the economic sanctions against Iran’s already stagnating economy.

The Israeli intelligence minister told The Washington Post that Tehran should hear from the U.S. and the international community that it has only two choices: voluntarily shutter its uranium enrichment program or "see it destroyed with brute force," which he envisioned as "a few hours of airstrikes, no more."

Steinitz shrugged at the possible consequences of such a strike and said he could envision Iran firing "several hundred missiles" at Israel in retaliation, producing "very limited damage because we can intercept many of them," he told the Post.

Iran this week denied an exiled opposition group's allegation that it was secretly building a new underground nuclear facility. The dissident National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) claims that it had obtained "reliable" information about a tunnel complex under construction in a mountainous area near the town of Damavand, east of the capital Tehran.

The NCRI did not specify what kind of atomic activity it believed would be carried out at the alleged new facility once complete.

"This news is in no way true and is denied," the Mehr News Agency quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi as saying. 

"These claims are a continuation of the story-telling of the bankrupt group," Araqchi said, adding the "terrorist" organization lacked credibility.

The report sparked new concerns in the West, which already suspects the Islamic Republic is trying to develop military nuclear capabilities. 

The Paris-based NCRI exposed Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy water facility at Arak in 2002, but analysts say it has a mixed track record and a political agenda. The NCRI, which seeks an end to Islamist theocratic rule in Iran, is the political wing of the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), which fought alongside Saddam Hussein's forces in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

The report drew a cautious international response: the U.N. nuclear watchdog and France -- one of six world powers trying to diplomatically resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran -- merely said they would look into the matter.

In 2009, Iran stated that it planned to build 10 more uranium enrichment sites on top of its underground Natanz and Fordo plants, alarming the West as it could enable Tehran to faster produce material which can have both civilian and military uses.

Tehran's refusal to curb sensitive nuclear activity, and its lack of full openness with the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, have drawn tough Western sanctions and a threat of preemptive military strikes by Israel.

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reported Wednesday that Iran has built a new base where it is likely to test ballistic missiles. The report was based on satellite images of the structure, in the northern Semnan province.

Iran claimed in the past that it was building a new space launch base in the area for its domestic satellite program. According to the report, "the new site is close to Iran’s first space centre, but analysts believe it is designed to test ballistic missiles rather than launch space rockets."

Satellite images of the site taken in July and obtained by IHS Jane's, a business intelligence company specializing in military and national security, show a 23-meter (75 feet) tall launch tower sitting on a launch pad measuring 200 meters by 140 meters (656 feet by 460 feet). The satellite images also show a 125-meter (410 feet) long exhaust deflector.

IHS Jane's analysts said the site has no storage for the liquid rocket fuel -- used in the Iranian space program -- suggesting it is meant to house ballistic missiles, which use solid fuel.

"This site could be a facility for launching satellites into orbit. However, Iran is already building at least one other site for this purpose and, looking at the satellite imagery we have got, we believe that this facility is most likely used for testing ballistic missiles. IHS editor Matthew Clements was quoted by the Telegraph as saying. 

"Its location and orientation would be suitable for long-range missile tests as they would fly over Iranian territory for 870 miles, meaning large quantities of flight data could be gathered before they drop into the Indian Ocean… At the same time, we can’t see any storage facilities for the liquid fuel needed for the rockets that launch satellites, suggesting it will be used for solid-fuel ballistic missiles."

Clements says there was no indication the Shahrud base was a nuclear facility.
Tehran said it plans to expand its space program. 

Minister of Communication and Information Technology Mohammad Hassan Nami said last month that Tehran was "building other [space] centers and we are trying to have a powerful start."

But according to Clements, IHS findings "along with public Iranian claims, suggest that they would have three launch sites. That seems excessive at a time when Iran is in severe economic difficulties because of Western sanctions."

News Agencies, Reuters and Israel Hayom Staff


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

How the EU Empowers Hezbollah's "Military Wing"

by Samuel Westrop

By preserving contact with, and funding of, Hezbollah's "political wing" without substantial measures against its "military wing," the EU not only legitimizes Hezbollah's "political" leadership, but also promotes the entire organization as an important actor in both Lebanese politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In July, after lobbying led by the UK and Dutch governments, the European Union placed the "military wing" of the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah on the terror blacklist. The designation does not apply, however, to Hezbollah's "political wing," which will remain a partner of the EU.

On August 2, just weeks after the "blacklisting," Hezbollah flags were paraded by thousands of marchers across Europe as part of Al Quds Day, an annual march in cities throughout the world.

Hezbollah supporters march through London in thousands on Al Quds Day, August 17, 2012. (Photograph by Samuel Westrop)

Hezbollah itself does not share the EU's belief that it consists of separate "wings." As Hezbollah's deputy leader, Naim Qassem, told the Los Angeles Times in 2009, "We do not have a military wing and a political wing…The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel."

A number of critics have already claimed that the EU listing will have little effect. Soeren Kern, writing for the Gatestone Institute, noted that, "The onus will be on European counter-terrorism police to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Hezbollah monies … are being expressly destined for terrorist activities rather than for 'political' purposes. Because of this legal uncertainty, it remains unclear if the EU will actually target any of Hezbollah's assets or individuals in Europe."

Hezbollah's own television station, Al Manar, dismissed the EU's decision as inconsequential. Nadim Shehadi, an associate fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Programme in Chatham House, said, "They [the EU] distinguish between the military and political wing when in reality there isn't much distinction. But it's a way of creating constructive ambiguity to maintain engagement at the same time as sending a strong message."

EU diplomats acknowledge that empowering Hezbollah's "political wing" is deliberate. European officials argue, according to Al Jazeera, and despite a staggering lack of evidence, that targeting the military wing could "persuade some of its members to move away from violence into the political sphere."

Britain's Ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher, wrote on Twitter that the blacklisting "does not alter cooperation with Lebanon Government, nor EU contact with political reps [of Hezbollah]." And, in 2009, Bill Rammell, a British Foreign Office official, said, "Our overriding objective is to press Hezbollah to play a more constructive role."

By preserving contact with, and funding of, Hezbollah's "political wing," without substantial measures against its "military wing," the EU not only sanitizes and legitimizes Hezbollah's "political" leadership, but also also legitimizes the entire terror group as an important actor in both Lebanese politics and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Even the European media have been puzzled at the EU's decision to bolster one side of the terror group while symbolically -- though not practically -- punishing the other side. An editorial in The Times noted, "It is implausible to believe that Hezbollah's political organisation is sealed from its terrorist wing. These are one entity, not two. Hezbollah comprises a murder gang and a public relations front."

It is this "public relations" front for a group that blows up civilians, however, with which European officials should be most concerned. As the journalist Benny Weinthal has written:
In particular, Europe has become infatuated with Hezbollah's social welfare programs. "They are quite professional in this," The New York Times quotes researcher Stephan Rosiny saying, "and this is something some Western donors are admitting that has a positive impression on some Western politicians." This, says the Times, "provides a rationale for the group's charitable networks" in Europe, which are essentially left alone by both police and intelligence services, giving authorities little means of knowing where the funds are actually going.
What the "political wing" of Hezbollah expresses also warrants concern. Hezbollah officials, for example, regularly address academic conferences in Europe. In 2009 Dr. Ibrahim Moussaoui, a Hezbollah spokesman and a senior director at Hezbollah's television station, Al Manar, and who recently addressed a conference at the University of London, once -- "politically," we assume -- described Jews as "a lesion on the forehead of history."

As for Al Manar, it has broadcast, along with inflammatory outbursts against the United States and Israel, a libellous series entitled, "Diaspora" -- a drama based on the anti-Semitic forgery, Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The drama depicts Jews planning the Holocaust and murdering children to satisfy a satanic desire.

Al Manar is banned in the United States, Spain, Germany and France for its promotion of "racial hatred" -- exactly the job with which Hezbollah's "political wing" is tasked. Al Quds Day marches and Iranian-sponsored television broadcasts only help Hezbollah to acquire financial and political support for its role within Lebanon and the wider Middle East -- an empowerment which European governments largely ignore.

Further, the proscription of Hezbollah's "military wing" is a textbook example of European governments' carrot-and-stick diplomacy, which invariably -- as with its fruitless negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program for the past decade -- features a lot of carrot but not much stick. Several days before the proscription was enacted, the EU published a directive that recommended the cessation of any funding, cooperation, awards of scholarships, research funds or prizes to anyone living in the Jewish neighborhoods within the West Bank or East Jerusalem.

Sami Ramadani, a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University, believes that the EU's justification for blacklisting Hezbollah had little to do with terrorism: "Well basically because it's nothing to do with the terrorist attack and Bulgaria … European political figures are on the record as saying that really Bulgaria is not the issue – the issue is to do with recent developments within Syria."

For the bureaucrats in Brussels, the murder of Israelis is an extraneous detail. The EU apparently believes it has a far greater incentive to act on the question of Syria rather than fight the threat of terror against civilians: rather than working against terrorism, the EU has hedged its bets: by proscribing only the military wing of Hezbollah, which assists Assad's forces in the violent suppression of the Syrian people, the EU has expressed a clear position against Hezbollah in Syria while simultaneously pledging tolerance for Hezbollah's role in Lebanon, yet avoiding the real nature of Hezbollah's structure in Europe.

Further, as is consistent with European government practises, the blacklisting of Hezbollah's "military wing" was preceded by a boycott on West Bank goods designed to demonstrate that Europe was not working to serve the interests of Israel. Similarly, in 2011, as the British government passed legislation that prevented the exploitation of international law to arrest visiting Israeli officials, Prime Minister David Cameron publicly resigned as patron of the Jewish National Fund -- an honorary position that, for decades, every Prime Minister has held.

EU officials may be trying to sell the gambit that, despite token gestures to the contrary, they can sponsor Hezbollah -- a terror group committed to the propagation of Iranian Islamism as well as to Israel's destruction -- as a "constructive" part of Middle East diplomacy. But as long as Europe legitimizes terrorists, it emboldens violent groups everywhere.

Samuel Westrop


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