Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Will Assad Unleash His Palestinian Terrorists Against U.S., Israel?

by Khaled Abu Toameh

"We are worried that Syria's Assad will use his Palestinian agents to get the Palestinians into big trouble with the U.S. and the European counties." — Senior Palestinian Authority official
While in Syria, Palestinian terror groups loyal to Syria's President Bashar Assad threaten to attack U.S. and Western targets in retaliation for a possible US-led military strike against Syria, Palestinians in the West Bank worry that these attacks might harm their own relations with the US And the EU.

They are especially concerned that any terrorism coming from Palestinians in Syria might affect financial aid to all Palestinians, including the Palestinian Authority.

They are also concerned that the involvement of Palestinians in terrorism would cause them to lose the sympathy and political support they enjoy in many Western countries.

One of these Syrian Palestinian groups is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, headed by Ahmed Jibril.

Founded in 1968, the PFLP-GC is one of several Palestinian terror groups based in Syria. In 1974 it broke away from the PLO to join the Rejectionist Front, an alliance of radical groups opposed to any peace settlement with Israel.

The group, which is funded and operated by Syria and Iran, is responsible for a series of terror attacks against Israel and the U.S. over the past four decades.

Over the past two years, the PFLP-GC has been helping the Syrian army in its conflict with the rebels. Members of the group have been fighting alongside the Syrian army, and in some cases they have even targeted Palestinians for aiding Bashar Assad's enemies.

Palestinian sources said this week that if Syria is attacked for using chemical weapons against its people, Assad is likely to instruct the PFLP-GC, which has a few thousand militiamen, to prepare for launching terror attacks against U.S., EU and Israeli interests.

According to the sources, Iran, which funds and arms some of the Palestinian terrorists, has also asked them to be prepared for launching terror attacks against Western targets.

Informed sources told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper that the PFLP-GC has reached an agreement with the Syrian regime, Iran and Hizbullah to retaliate for a US-led military strike, and that Israel would be the first target of such retaliation.

Hussam Arafat, one of the leaders of the PFLP-GC, said that his group would not remain idle "while Syria is being slaughtered."

"Any Western aggression on Syria," he added, "would serve the interests of Israel and we will stand with Syria and join it in war."

Pro-Assad Palestinian terrorists based in refugee camps in Lebanon are also said to be preparing to "defend Syria against Western aggression." Many of these terrorists are affiliated with Syria's allies in Lebanon: the Shiite terror group, Hizbullah.

Earlier, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization also warned that its members would retaliate when and if Syria is attacked. The organization, based in Damascus, has a few thousand terrorists in Syria and Lebanon.

The Syrian regime has in the past used Palestinian terror groups to launch attacks against Israeli and Western interests, in addition to some Arabs.

Palestinian Authority officials in the West Bank expressed fear that the involvement of Palestinian terror groups in the Syria crisis would have disastrous consequences for the Palestinians.

The officials pointed out that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have already paid a heavy price for meddling in the internal affairs of Syria.

More than 1,500 Palestinians have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the conflict there. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been forced to flee their homes in several refugee camps in Syria.

"We will pay a heavy price if any of the Palestinian groups based in Syria start attacking Western targets to help Assad," said a senior Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah. "We are worried that Syria's Assad will use his Palestinian agents to get the Palestinians into big trouble with the U.S. and European countries.

Khaled Abu Toameh


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Barry Rubin: Turning Point: Obama and Israel, The Next Three Years

by Barry Rubin

President Obama and PM Netanyahu (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama and PM Netanyahu (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
It is not every day that one can announce a shift in world history, but this day is today. And we are now in a new era in the Middle East and the world.  This is not a joke–definitely not a joke–and as you will see, it is not an exaggeration.
Let me explain. For the last seven weeks I have been in the United States, mostly in Washington D.C.  I have spoken and listened to many people. As a result, I am in a position to describe for you with a high degree of accuracy what the policy will be for the next 3.5 years, and perhaps for many more.
The administration has crossed a line to, in simple terms, backing the “‘bad guys.”
This is literally true in Egypt, Syria, Sudan, the Palestinian Authority, Bahrain (with its support for the opposition), Qatar, and Turkey.
And in some ways, as we will see, the war on terrorism has been turned into the war for terrorism.
Too extreme? On the contrary, this is not a conservative or liberal analysis but merely a true one. Come along over the next few weeks, and let’s take a serious analysis 0f Obama’s Middle East policy in the second term, from 2013 to January 20, 2017.
The real diplomatic line is: Bad boy, Bibi (and Israel), why can he/they not be moderate and flexible (unlike releasing 100 terrorist murderers in exchange for nothing), like Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas (and the Palestinians, who [Abbas] in fact is inflexible, constantly; escalates demands; and rejects U.S. strategy on the peace process); or like Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan (throwing intellectuals and journalists in prison, betraying U.S. strategy 0n Iran, backing anti-American Islamists, and sending former army officers for long jail terms on phony charges)?
During the coming months, and even years, if they are given to me, I will pursue these themes. You may not believe what you read here today or tomorrow, but you will, oh you will see it.
But before we begin, let me repeat that this is going to happen. It will not change, and as shocking as it is, this is already happening. It is unavoidable, because with a president who will not learn, a bought-off elite, a sold-out second-term Congress, and a remarkably cowardly or partisan media, nothing will change. The situation will only get worse and more obvious.
In this series of articles, I will describe eight very likely things that will almost certainly happen during the rest of Obama’s term, extending far beyond Israel, and how to minimize the harm to the interests of the United States and of its would-be Middle Eastern allied people and governments.
Here are the inevitable themes, any one of which would be horrid enough but note they can all be mitigated and delayed.
That doesn’t mean that Obama and others will not provide military aid or say nice words at every event. But there is no commitment that one can assume would be fulfilled nor any Israeli initiative that will really be implemented.
This is a complex issue, but here are some brief points:
The idea that Obama and his team are the greatest friend of Israel is a deadly insult, and I can prove it two minutes.
Minute one: The United States has undermined Israel on many issues. Do I have to provide a list?
Okay, here is a partial list: Egypt (support for a hostile Muslim Brotherhood government); Tunisia (ditto); Sinai  (enablement of insurgency); Hamas (the desire to keep the Brotherhood–an ally of Hamas–government in power in Cairo); Turkey (supporting the Islamist, anti-Israel government); Syria (support of radical Syrian Islamists); Europe (lack of support for Israeli position on peace process); America itself (encouragement of anti-Israel forces among Jewish community and in Obama constituency); Palestinians (lack of criticism or pressure on Palestinian Authority, PA).
I’ll save more for later, but I think this is an impressive list.
Minute two: But, there’s something more here. The most dangerous, insulting argument is this: Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly said–and this is the theme of the administration supporters, including Jewish supporters:
The greatest danger to Israel is if Israel does not get peace soon.
This is an absurd lie. The greatest danger to Israel would be for Israel to accept a dangerous and unworkable peace agreement that the other side would not implement.
In other words, the greatest danger for Israel would be to listen to the bad advice of Obama, Kerry, and their supporters.
Consider this; who should be more knowledgeable about their situation and more aware of their real interests, Israel or America? Do people think that Obama knows better than Israelis? Does he care more? That’s absurd and insulting.
Of course, people assume that states and political leaderships put their own interests first, whether or not they understand this. And that lays the basis for overruling Israel’s democracy.
For example, a survey by the very dovish Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) showed 65.6 percent of Israelis questioned did not expect to see a deal in talks between Israel and the Palestinians within a year. And if you take into the account the don’t-knows and no opinions, that increases the percentage.
Incidentally, spot the gimmick in Reuters’ story:
“The talks resumed last month after a three-year hiatus.” Actually, except for one week there have not been real talks for 13 years.”
Second gimmick:
“But even if the Israeli government managed to defy skeptics and secure an accord, the poll…suggested it would struggle to sell it to its people.”
Wrong, the government and  the vast majority of the people agree with each other. But there is a revealing hint here. The U.S. government and its supporters believe that the Israeli government in partnership with Obama should betray the beliefs, aspirations, and security of the Israeli people. And we are not only talking about Jewish settlements, even for those willing to give every one up for real, lasting peace.
In fact, 55.5 percent of the Israeli people–and 63 percent of Israeli Jews–said it was were against Israel to agree to return to the 1967 lines, even if there were land swaps which would enable some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to remain part of Israel. It is not the terms ostensibly offered, but the credibility of the United States and the Palestinians.
Mind you, the figure is higher, because most people feel that this simply won’t work in terms of providing more security and stability.
You cannot understand what has just happened without the analogy of the monster movie. Israel is not na├»ve, but it was walking down a dark alley and thought that kindly old Uncle Sam–perhaps a bit grumpier lately–had his back; then it peered over its shoulder and froze in horror at seeing a scary monster. Yet you will never ever hear an Israeli politician admit that.
Read Netanyahu’s unprecedented memo on the talks and the prisoner release. It reads as if he saw a ghost; he is trying to signal something very grim and serious, and there is no implication that he believes in any possibility of compensation for this concession.
Faced with a wasted effort of an extremely unilateral Palestinian prisoner release, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government went along because they realized something in the middle: This was not a routine exercise. During the process, they realized that the indifference of the United States to Israel’s interests was extremely high; that Congress was hypnotized; that the Jewish community in its Obama worship was largely neutralized; and that rather than fighting European hostility, the White House was conducting it.
Looking over their shoulder in the misty night, they realized that a very large monster was following them. If you read Netanyahu’s unprecedented memo to the Israeli people as to why the terrorist prisoners were released, you get that clear signal. They realized that the Obama administration was extremely dangerous and that it was necessary to buy time.
Of course, the talks will not go anywhere, because the Palestinians know that they have a strong hand and they will overplay it. But the administration’s willingness to punish Israel to win public relations points and shore up the doomed U.S. alignment with Islamists has to be reckoned with.

Barry Rubin


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Mass Attack Thwarted in Jerusalem

by P. David Hornik

israel hotels_jerusalem hotels_jerusalem hotel _mamila jerusalem hotel_mamilla_mall 

As Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) approaches on Thursday this week, the mood here in Israel has been oddly “schizoid.” On one hand, the usual rush on apples, honey, pomegranates and the like for the holiday; on the other, a rush on gas masks as Syria and Iran threaten “retaliation” against Israel for a possible U.S. strike on Syria.

This week there was more news on the grim side of the ledger. It turned out Israel’s Shin Bet (internal security service) had arrested five Hamas operatives who were planning a terror attack on a Jerusalem mall—timed for, and exploiting, the holiday season (reports here and here).

The leader of the cell was 22-year-old Hamdi Romana of Ramallah in the West Bank. He recruited two other West Bankers to make the explosives—and two East Jerusalem residents with Israeli ID cards, who worked as maintenance men in the mall, to plant the bomb.

The plan was to “cover the bomb in wrapping paper to make it look like a present, then place it in a restaurant, cafe or store while the mall was filled with shoppers….” The “explicit aim” was to “kill…the maximum number of Jews.”

The cell was also
planning other attacks, including planting a bomb in Ramallah that would target Israeli soldiers, firing homemade rockets at Israeli settlements near Ramallah, and firing at soldiers stationed at [a] checkpoint in northeast Jerusalem.
A few things are worth pointing out here:

● The West Bank remains a terror tinderbox. The Shin Bet said the cell’s discovery “demonstrates that terrorists in the West Bank, led by Hamas, are highly motivated to carry out terror attacks in Israeli territory….”

In other words, even with the West Bank under Palestinian Authority rule and ultimate Israeli security control, Hamas remains strong there. This at a time when, intensively pushed into it by Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel and the PA are engaged in “peace talks” aimed at an Israeli withdrawal from the area. But if Hamas remains potent and dangerous there even when Israeli security forces are active, one is hard pressed to understand why, or how, anyone thinks Hamas’s takeover could be prevented if those forces were gone—any more than upheavals and takeovers have proved preventable recently elsewhere in the region.

● While the cell’s three operatives from the West Bank are part of a population widely regarded in the West as living under “occupation” and having a grievance against Israel, the two East Jerusalem bearers of Israeli ID cards had—rationally speaking—no such grievance. While the reports don’t mention whether they had taken out Israeli citizenship, as East Jerusalem residents they had that option. Indeed, as I’ve noted,
the numbers of [East Jerusalem Arabs] requesting Israeli citizenship have dramatically climbed in recent years. Polls find that, even if the Palestinian state was established, most East Jerusalem Palestinians would prefer to remain Israeli.
And yet, in the wake of this incident, the Shin Bet warned of a high risk of West Bank-based terrorists “exploiting those who have Israeli identification and enjoy freedom of movement, and using them to carry out terror attacks inside Israel.”

The two East Jerusalem members of the cell, in other words, were representative of the Arab world’s real, fundamental grievance against Israel: its existence, not its control of any specific territory.

● As Rosh Hashanah nears, Israelis can look back at another year in which lethal terror attacks have been kept to a minimum. But as the Shin Bet keeps emphasizing, the reason is not any drop in motivation or attempts to commit them but because Israel retains security control over the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. There could be no more fervent prayer than that situation should continue.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva and author of the new book Choosing Life in Israel. He blogs at


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Time to Designate Muslim Brotherhood as Terror Group?

by Fox News

Multimedia for this item

Click Image to View Video
Cynthia Farahat appeared on Fox News earlier to discuss the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) terroristic policies and activities in Egypt. Farahat stated that the MB gatherings cannot be described as protests, comparing the MB "protestors" to the Boston bombers. The MB have publicly threatened Christians with terrorists attacks, setting improvised explosives and burning them alive.
As for the U.S. policy, Farahat pointed that the United States can still have leverage if it decided to ally with the Egyptian people in their war against terrorism, given the fact that it might get designated as a terrorist organization in Egypt.

Jon Scott brought up the widely circulated argument that since Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected, and therefore the United States should stand behind the democratic process; Farahat responded, "That notion could have been applied after Hitler was democratically elected as well, but the United States waged a war against the Nazis, and rightfully so. Democracy should not be an excuse to support fascism and mass murder."

Fox News


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Foreign Policy Pros Aghast at Obama's 'Rookie Mistake' on Syria

by Thomas Lifson

As Congress prepares to debate President Obama's proposed strike on Syria, normally taciturn foreign policy experts, including some former members of his diplomatic team, are letting the Solons know that we do not have a steady hand at the helm. Writing at left wing website Buzzfeed, Miriram Elder cites one such critic:
Frederic Hof spent President Obama's first term as the State Department's point man on Syria. He is now a furious administration critic, and a symbol of the growing consensus in the professional foreign policy community that the Obama Administration - no matter how its last-minute detour through Congress turns out - has badly bungled its Syria policy through two years of popular uprising turned bloody civil war.
"The events of the past ten days suggest that there was no administration forethought to the possibility of a major chemical incident in Syria," wrote Hof, currently a fellow at the Atlantic Council, where his former boss is Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Hof had floated the specter of a chemical attack by the regime months ago.
"The results of this mystifying lack of preparedness have been abysmal," he wrote, calling Obama's decision to seek congressional approval for the strikes "constitutionally sound, but strategically appalling" and suggesting the White House find "an objectives-based strategy."
Hof struck at what, for those who spend their time thinking about grand strategy and not domestic politics, is the heart of the matter. The administration has consistently separated the goals it hopes to achieve with a military strike - punish Assad, send a warning to similar states, restore U.S. credibility - from the objectives it hopes to achieve politically: to reach a negotiated peace in Syria with Assad no longer at the country's helm. In terms of strategic planning, the separation of the two is almost a rookie error.

It is quite extraordinary for such an important foreign policy honcho to publicly speak so candidly about his former boss, especially when that boss is still in office.

The Associated Press's White House correspondent Julie Pace explains that extent to which Obama is operating as almost a lone wolf, ignoring or overruling his experts in the State Department and elsewhere, and holing up with close political advisors to make (and change) political decisions:

As Obama grappled with putting military action to a vote in Congress, he didn't consult his foreign policy team. Instead, he sought out Denis McDonough, a longtime adviser who now serves as his chief of staff. And most of the administration's foreign policy leadership was absent from the Oval Office meeting Friday night when the president informed several advisers about his decision to seek congressional approval.
Rice, a member of the White House staff, was in the room. But Kerry and Hagel were only informed about the decision later that night during phone calls from the president.
"All power flows from and into the White House," said Aaron David Miller, a former adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations and current vice president at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "He's relied, not surprisingly, on a very close circle of trusted advisers. He really is a controlling foreign policy president."

So, we have a "controlling foreign policy president" who thinks he knows more than his experts, who casually drew a red line and made a "rookie mistake" on strategy. Now he is left with the task of diverting blame for the downstream consequences of his threatened attack on Syria to Congress.

The mainstream media will never inform the general public of the depth of incompetence of the president. But overseas media who are not necessarily committed to maintaining the public image of the First Black President are not so shy. There is every possibility that Obama could trigger a disaster with his planned strike. Syria, Iran, and others get a vote in determining what happens next.

God save the United States.

Thomas Lifson


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Hezbollah Vows to Launch Rockets at Israel from Homs

by Dan Lavie, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff

Terrorist group says if Syria is attacked by American forces, it will launch surface-to-surface rockets at Israel from Homs, in Syrian territory, to "keep Lebanon out of the war" • Homs sits some 322 kilometers (200 miles) from Haifa in northern Israel.

Hezbollah fighters on parade [Illustrative]
Photo credit: AP

Dan Lavie, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff


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US, Israel Carry out Joint Missile Exercise - or Did They?

by Rick Moran

Originally, the US Navy said that there were no missile launches by US ships in the Med, but the IDF later confirmed that it was a joint test of the Arrow II missile defense system.


Israel and the U.S. carried out a missile test in the Mediterranean sea on Tuesday, Israel's Defense Ministry said in a statement, amid rising tensions in the region over the crisis in Syria.
The confirmation came after morning reports indicated that Russia had detected two ballistic "objects" launched toward the eastern Mediterranean from the central part of the same and a U.S. denial that its navy had been involved. 
The Arrow III missile defense system was tested with a "sparrow" missile, which simulates a ballistic missile, and is launched from a plane, during the exercise.
The exercise was carried out from an Israel Air Force base in central Israel, the Defense Ministry said in the statement.
The Defense Ministry's statement contradicted those made earlier Tuesday by a spokesman for the U.S. Navy's European headquarters, who said it had not fired any missiles from ships in the Mediterranean. "No missiles were fired from U.S. ships in the Mediterranean," said the spokesman. He had no further comment.
The projectiles fell into the sea, a sources in Damascus was quoted as saying by the state-run Russian news agency RIA.
Russia's embassy in Syria said there was no sign of a missile attack or explosions in Damascus, according to the Itar-Tass news agency. A Damascus resident told Haaretz he did not heard anything that might indicate a strike on the capital. 
Syria's early warning radar system did not detect any missiles landing on Syrian territory either, according to a Syrian security source quoted by Lebanon's Al-Manar television on Tuesday.
The Interfax news agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying the launch was detected at 10:16 A.M. Moscow time (0616 GMT) by an early warning radar station at Armavir, near the Black Sea, which is designed to detect missiles from Europe and Iran.
The agencies did not say who had carried out the launch and whether any impact had been detected. The ministry declined comment to Reuters.
There may have been more to this test than meets the eye. Syria is on edge waiting for a US strike. Launching a few missiles may have been a test of Syrian air defenses. An AWAC would have been able to detect any radar activity that tracked the missiles., thus revealing Syrian capabilities - and targets for our cruise missiles.

Lots of nervous people in Syria.

Rick Moran


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Obama's Tightrope Walk

by George Friedman

Last week began with certainty that an attack on Syria was inevitable and even imminent. It ended with the coalition supporting the attack somewhere between falling apart and not coming together, and with U.S. President Barack Obama making it clear that an attack was inevitable, maybe in a month or so, if Congress approves, after Sept. 9 when it reconvenes. This is a comedy in three parts: the reluctant warrior turning into the raging general and finding his followers drifting away, becoming the reluctant warrior again. 

Begin with the fact that the United States was not the first country calling for military intervention in Syria after pictures of what appeared to be the dead from a chemical attack surfaced. That honor went to France, Turkey and Britain, each of whom called for action. Much as with Libya, where France and Italy were the first and most eager to intervene, the United States came late to the feast.

The United States did not have any overriding national interest in Syria. It has been hostile for a long time to Assad's regime. It has sympathy for the Sunni insurgents but has drawn the conclusion that the collapse of Assad is not likely to lead to a democratic regime respecting human rights, but to an Islamist regime with links to al Qaeda. The United States is in the process of recovering from Iraq and Afghanistan, and is not eager to try its hand at nation building in Syria, especially given the players. Therefore the American attitude toward Syria has been to express deep concern while staying as far away as possible, much as the rest of the world has done.

What started to draw the United States into the matter was a statement made by the president in 2012, when he said that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line. He didn't mean he wanted to intervene. He set the red line because he figured that it was the one thing Assad wouldn't try. It was an attempt to stay out, not an announcement of interest. In fact, there had been previous evidence of small-scale chemical attacks, and the president had dodged commitment.

Washington's Human Rights Faction

This time, with major foreign partners demanding action, the president felt he had no choice. A significant faction pressed him on this in his foreign policy apparatus. There were those, like National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who favored the use of military force in the events of war crimes and human rights violations on a major scale. One would have thought that she would have supported the war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the epitome of war crimes and human rights violations, but she didn't, and that's another matter. The point is that, leaving Iraq, this faction felt that the United States failed to carry out its moral obligations in Rwanda, and applauded the intervention in Kosovo. 

This faction is not small and appeals to an important tendency in American political culture that sees World War II as the perfect war, because it was waged against an unspeakable evil, and not for strategic or material gain. That war was more complicated than that, but there was an element of truth to it. And the world, on the whole, approved of American involvement there. For them, this was the model of U.S. foreign policy. Secure behind distance and power, the United States ought not be a typical insecure political power, but should use its strength to prevent the more extreme injustices in the world. 

For them, the suffering in the Syrian civil war was the result of the repressiveness of the Assad regime. This faction had an interesting perspective. It focused on the current injustice, not always aware, interested or believing that what came later would be worse. I remember arguing with academic colleagues before the fall of the Shah that while he was certainly a thug, we and the Iranian people would regret what came next. There was a romantic belief that the crowd in the street was always more virtuous than the tyrant in his palace. Sometimes they were right. It is not clear that the fall of the Shah reduced the sum total of human suffering.

Throughout the Arab Spring there has been a romanticizing of the crowd in the street, particularly when the crowd is seen through the lens of American exceptionalism. A belief was held, especially by those who saw the United States' primary responsibility as promoting human rights, that the majority of those in the streets wanted to create American-style democracy. Ironically, two groups that despise each other -- neo-conservatives and human rights activists -- took the same view: that if you eliminate tyrants, what would emerge would be constitutional democracies respecting human rights. Obama's Rice in 2013 assumed the same role as Bush's Paul Wolfowitz in 2003. 

Thus the removal of Assad became a foreign policy goal of the human rights faction deeply embedded in the ideology of the Obama administration. They were disappointed when, instead of intervening, he set the red line. When the red line appeared to be crossed, they pressed for action. 

Obama had learned a thing or two about the crowd, Arab and otherwise. He was far less romantic about their intent, particularly after Libya. After Libya he was also aware that after the self-congratulations, the United States would have to live with the chaos or new tyranny. He didn't want to attack, and that was clear in the first days after the affair.

There were two reasons. First, he had lost confidence in the crowd. Second, he had vowed not to go to war as Bush had, without international support validated by the United Nations, and with the burden of war leadership shared by other allies. In Libya the war started under French leadership, and over time the fact that the United States had the force needed and France didn't pushed the United States to the front, a position Obama didn't want to take again.

Pressed by the human rights faction in his administration to take action in Syria, he was also under pressure from three key countries: Britain, France and Turkey. Turkey in particular was important to him. Relations had been strained since 2003, when Turkey refused to let American troops attack Iraq from its soil. Agreeing to help in Turkey's call for intervention appealed to him, but not to the point where he was prepared to do more than a symbolic strike using only cruise missiles directed against uncertain targets, perhaps primarily missiles that could carry chemicals. Turkey demanded a Kosovo-type attack that was designed to loosen the regime's hold on the country. Obama resisted not the principle of attack but the scale Turkey wanted. 

The Reluctant Coalition Leader

Then something interesting happened. Over the course of the week, rather than the United States' following other countries call for action, Washington turned into the main advocate for intervention. The United States is the major global power. Its mere presence in the coalition focuses the coalition on the United States. In part, this is military; the United States has capabilities others don't. In part, it is political; the United States might be able to organize a global coalition while no one else can.

Obama was prepared, given his red line and given pressure from key advisers, to participate in a coalition. He was, I think, surprised when the United States stopped being part of the coalition, but its leader and instigator, and then further, when others became disillusioned with its leadership. The whole idea had become his. He wasn't quite sure what to do with the honor. 

Then the British Parliament voted against going to war, and Prime Minister David Cameron, an advocate from the beginning, now had to bow out. The British had been part of wars the Americans had dreamed up. This was one that the British had helped concoct, and the parliament voted against it, with many parliament members saying the United Kingdom was no longer the Americans' lap dog. Obama, who had worked so hard to avoid leadership, had become George W. Bush to the British Parliament.

There was also behind the scenes diplomacy, as there always is. The focus was Russia. Russia had supported the Assad clan since Hafez al Assad's coup in 1970, when the Soviet Union supported the coup and the regime. Their relationships in Syria went back a long way, and the Soviet (now Russian) influence in Syria had been institutionalized on a personal and institutional level. The Russians were completely committed to the survival of the regime.

The United States was less passionate, but Obama, while willing to do the minimum gesture possible to satisfy his human rights impulse, did think about what would come later and didn't want to see the regime fall. In this, the Russians and Americans had common interests. 

During the week the president began focusing his attention on Bashar al Assad, holding him personally responsible for the chemical attack even if he didn't know of its planning and a junior officer had carried it out. His focus on Assad seemed to hint at a direction. If Assad and his closest supporters would step down, the regime could continue. The regime is a complex and enduring entity. It had survived two years of civil war. It was not simply a personal tyranny but a government with a lot of people with a stake in it. It would survive without him.

Getting rid of Assad and keeping the regime to block the jihadists would have been the best outcome in all of this. Of course while the Turks wanted more, the Russians didn't want any of it. They were building credibility through the Middle East and Eastern Europe based on American weakness, and they saw no reason to bail Obama out. He wasn't going to take the risks needed to take out the regime anyway.

The Russian calculations came down to its read of the United States, which is that it was not in a position to impose an international system in the region because of internal political weakness. Therefore the Russians had a rare opportunity to impose if not a system, then a presence. Most of all, the Russian view was that it had nothing to fear from the United States, in spite of its power imbalance. Obama was not likely to take action.

Others, like Poland, that had been with the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan also bowed out. The Poles are interesting because they had been the most eager for collaboration with the Americans, but felt the most betrayed by not getting an American commitment for significant military aid and collaboration. They made it a point to tell the Americans that they would not support action in Syria -- not because they cared about Syria, but to show the consequences of American policy even to a relatively minor player.

By the end of the week, the Russians were hurling insults at Obama, the British finally freed themselves from American domination, and the Turks were furious at American weakness. The French -- and France's interventionist flow is fascinating (Libya, Mali, now Syria) -- stood with the United States. This is a tale to consider in itself, but not here. And the Canadians decided that much as they disliked chemical weapons use, they would not be available. The wheels just came off the strategy.

The U.S. Dilemma

It is easy to blame Obama for losing control of the situation, but that is too simple. Every administration has its ideologues, and every president wants allies and no one wants to go to war without those allies flying aircraft beside them. And it would be nice if the United States could be just another country, but it isn't. The moment that it enters a coalition, it leads a coalition.

The United States had a strategic interest in neither faction taking power in Syria -- its Lebanonization. That is brutal, but it is true, and the United States was not the only country with that interest. It also ran against the grain of the administration's ideology and the passions of key members. The president tried to walk a tightrope between regime change and inaction (or a small action that left the regime in place). All of this is what presidents have to do.

The real problem is this: After the Islamist wars, the United States has, as happened before, sought to minimize its presence in the world and while enjoying the benefits of being the world's leading economy, not pay any political or military price for it. It is a strategy that is impossible to maintain, as the United States learned after World War I, Vietnam and Desert Storm. It is a seductive vision but a fantasy. The world comes visiting.

Without a clear understanding of our strategy that goes beyond caution, it is impossible to clearly state the national interest or what things matter and what things don't. Syria didn't. But driven by an insufficient national strategy, the president was trapped by internal ideologies, the penchant of foreign allies and the temptation to do something, however ineffective. But as we know, the ineffective frequently becomes more expensive than the effective, and choosing where to be effective -- and where to pass -- is essential. 

This is not over yet. If Congress votes for strikes, it is likely that Obama will do something. But at that point he will be doing it by himself, and the inevitable death of innocents in even the smallest attack will bring him under fire from some of those most insistent that he do something about the war crimes in Syria. 

It is not easy to be president, nor is it easy to be the world's leading power. It is nice to be able to sit in moral judgment of men like Assad, but sadly not have the power to do anything. Where life gets hard is when sitting in moral judgment forces you to do something because you can. It teaches you to be careful in judging, as the world will both demand that you do something and condemn you for doing it.

George Friedman


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Humanitarian Tragedy: Iran’s Beleaguered Jewish Community

by Majid Rafizadeh


One of the crucial humanitarian tragedies- that the world and the mainstream media has failed to focus on- is the fate and current living situation of Jewish communities in the Muslim-dominated countries, particularly the Shiite-Islamist country of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Jewish community in the Islamic state of Iran has been subject to little scholarly work and research. Largely due to the fact that the Islamist theocratic regime of Iran has not granted access to scholars, journalists, and other researchers to deeply investigate the conditions of the Jewish community under Islamist rule in Iran.

Although the Jewish community has long faced discrimination, inequality, and intolerance in Muslim communities such as Iran (for example in March 1839 many Jews in Iran were horrifically forced to convert to Islam in what is known as the Allahdad incident), the persecution of the Jewish people exponentially increased since the Shiite-Islamist and Sharia law-based ruling cleric came to power under the rule of the Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini. The Jewish community of Iran is a staple of the nation’s history though, as the Jews of Iran trace their history back 2,800 years, when communities of the tribes of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrian king and sent into exile. The Jewish community primarily settled in the Giliard region of Damavand, near Tehran.

When Ayatollah Khomeini began galvanizing the Iranian people against Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, he issued statements on the condition of Iran’s Jewish community. Before ascending to power; Khomeini claimed that he believed the Jewish people in Iran should enjoy the same citizenship rights as every other citizen. This classic Machiavellian strategy was intended to gain the support of influential Jewish social groups in Tehran, which comprised approximately 150,000 members.

Nevertheless, when the Ayatollah Khomeini was capable of overthrowing the Shah’s government, and when the Islamist state of Iran was established, he and the ruling clerics immediately arrested some of the most prominent Iranian-Jewish community leaders and businessmen, including Habib Elghanian. The Jewish community leaders were tortured and executed. Since the onset of the persecution, the Israeli flag has been repeatedly torched, and the Star of David desecrated, in Palestine Square in Tehran. The Jewish community found their survival threatened and humanitarian rights repressed. These actions forced them to flee the area after calling the area home for thousands of years. The Iranian-Jewish population decreased to approximately 10,000 people who chose to remain in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Jewish community that was unwilling to flee from Iran was made up of devout and committed people aiming to protect their sacred places and synagogues regardless of the threats and persecutions, as well as seniors who were unable to resettle elsewhere.

When I lived in the city of Esfahan in Iran— a place where a few hundreds of Jewish people still reside— I met a young intelligent, cheerful, and kind girl called Zahra. After time I realized that her real name, what she was called at home, was indeed Abbey. She explained the reason for having two names:  “I feel as if we live two different lives. We have to keep everything secrets about our faith, religion, and family from the public. We even have to have different names in the public. All my family members have two names. My parents always tell me that these times will pass.”

As the Islamist party of Iran came to power, verses of the Quran claiming the inferiority of the Jewish and Christian peoples became popular slogans for the Shiite-Islamist ruling clerics. The several verses of the Quran include:

“5:51- O you who believe! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people”,  “4:91- If the unbelievers do not offer you peace, kill them [The Jews] wherever you find them. Against such you are given clear warrant”, “5:59-Jews and Christians are evil-livers”, and “9:30- Christians and Jews are perverse. Allah himself fights against them.”

Disregarding the public persecution, intolerance, and inequality that other religions face, the constitution has been used to safeguard the rights of the Muslim population in Iran. Article 12 of the Iranian Constitution states:

“The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja’fari school, and this principle will remain eternally immutable.  Other Islamic schools are to be accorded full respect, and their followers are free to act in accordance with their own jurisprudence in performing their religious rites.  These schools enjoy official status in matters pertaining to religious education, affairs of personal status (marriage, divorce, inheritance, and wills) and related litigation in courts of law.  In regions of the country where Muslims following any one of these schools constitute the majority, local regulations, within the bounds of the jurisdiction of local councils, are to be in accordance with the respective school, without infringing upon the rights of the followers of other schools”

Currently, Jewish people are not allowed to take key governmental positions in Iran. According to the constitution, the Jews cannot hold decision-making positions such as being a member of the influential Guardian Council, a Commander in the Iranian Army, and serving as the President of the nation, among others. More fundamentally, the Jewish people can neither become judges at any level nor assist in the judicial and legislative systems. Furthermore, Jewish-Iranians are banned from becoming members of parliament (The Consultative Assembly) through general elections.

In addition, qisas or the right to equal retaliation has not been specified in the Penal Code for the Jewish people. Meaning that in the case of murder, the right of a family member to demand execution of the murderer would be totally left to the discretion of the Islamist judges. Furthermore, the diya, or blood money (compensation for the family of a victim) is half for the Jews and women.

These few Islamist rules and laws based on the Quran, Shiite-Iranian clerical and Shari’a law only begin to encompass the deep-rooted religious inequality of the region. Western Muslim scholars who enjoy their lives in the majority Christian societies, must look more closely at how other minorities, particularly the Jews, are being treated in nations such as Iran under majority Islamic and Shiite rule.

Majid Rafizadeh


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