Saturday, July 11, 2015

Double dealing: Iran violating nuclear sanctions even as talks drag on - Benjamin Weinthal

by Benjamin Weinthal

"Despite the talks to end Iran’s program, Iran did not make an about-turn"
- German intelligence source

While U.S.-led world powers hold talks with Iran in Vienna to curb Tehran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, the Islamic Republic’s spies have been seeking atomic and missile technology in neighboring Germany as recently as last month, according to German intelligence sources.

Iran’s illegal activities have continued since talks between Iran and the P5+1 - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as rotating member Germany - began with a Joint Plan of Action in 2013, according to German intelligence sources. The JPOA was intended to stop Iran’s work on a nuclear weapon until a comprehensive agreement is reached.

With a final agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear program set for Monday, the intelligence data from Germany raises disturbing questions about the success of a deal.

"You would think that with the negotiations, [Iranian] activities would drop," a German intelligence source said. "Despite the talks to end Iran’s program, Iran did not make an about-turn."
The startling revelations of Iran’s ongoing duplicity first appeared Friday on the website of The Weekly Standard.

Iran has a long history of illegally obtaining nuclear technology from within Germany and transporting it in ways that circumvent international sanctions. German companies have shown an eagerness to legally tap the Iranian market, though none are accused of abetting illegality in the latest efforts by Iran.

Tehran has sought industry computers, high-speed cameras, cable fiber, and pumps for its nuclear and missile program over the last two years, according to German intelligence sources. Germany is required to report Iran’s illegal procurement activities to the UN.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency—the equivalent of the FBI—in late June issued a detailed report on Iran’s wide-ranging activities to obtain illicit technology for its nuclear and missiles program.

Bloomberg News reported in June that sanctions experts from the Iran UN panel said, "The current situation with reporting could reflect a general reduction of procurement activities by the Iranian side or a political decision by some member states to refrain from reporting to avoid a possible negative impact on ongoing negotiations.”

A nuclear deal with Iran that lifts sanctions could be an economic windfall for Germany. Michael Tockuss, a spokesman for the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce Association in Hamburg, said annual exports to Iran could rise to the equivalent of $7 billion after a final agreement. The Chambers of Commerce and Industry in Germany sees bilateral trade rising to the equivalent of more than $13 billion annually in a post-sanctions world.

Germany has not taken as skeptical an eye toward the talks as France, whose top diplomat, Laurent Fabius, famously termed the 2013 Iran talks resulting in the JPOA a “fool’s deal.”

Frank-Walter Steinmeier , Germany’s foreign minister, slammed U.S. Senate Republicans for their letter to Iran’s Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei in which they warned that Congress could override a lousy agreement.

“Obviously mistrust is growing...on the Iranian side if we are really serious with the negotiations,” Steinmeier said in March, adding that he hoped “the letter of the 47 senators no longer causes any disturbance in the negotiations.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.,  accused Steinmeier of coming from “the Neville Chamberlain school of diplomacy,” in a reference to the World War II-era appeasement diplomacy of the former British prime minister.

Benjamin Weinthal reports on human rights in the Middle East and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal


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

Iran is a Nuclear Hitler with 56% Of the World’s Oil Supply - Mark Langfan

by Mark Langfan

Iran is much more dangerous than Hitler ever was. Here's why.

Comparing the danger Iran poses to the Judeo-Christian and Sunni Worlds with those dangers that existed from 1939 due to Hitler may sound good, but is in reality an optimistic delusion.  Iran’s current danger to the free world is exponentially greater than any threat Hitler ever posed, even after he occupied France in 1940.  

It looks like Obama will either allow total nuclear concessions to Iran so as to render any “agreement” a meaningless paperweight, or will let Iran do anything it wants anyway without any “agreement.”  Either way, Iran is getting a nuclear arsenal in the medium-term.  In order to understand how bad the situation really is we should compare Iran’s threat to Hitler’s threats.

First, Hitler didn’t have nukes.  If Hitler had had nukes, he would have wiped out London and Eisenhower’s entire invading army of over 2,000,000 allied troops waiting to cross the English Channel in June-August of 1944 without so much as blinking.  Iran will use a nuclear bomb against anyone as surely and unhesitatingly as Hitler would have used a nuke against Stalin’s Moscow before the Red Army ever crossed in Germany.  

And Iran will have dozens of nukes spread everywhere throughout their far-flung country, so they will always be able to deliver a nuke to an American City somehow.

Second, Hitler didn’t have any domestic oil supply, and Iran has a huge oil supply.  And, what’s worse, with a nuclear bomb, Iran will seek to wipe out the Saudi Sunnis and acquire the entire “Black Gold Triangle” that straddles the Mesopotamian Delta running from the head-waters in Turkey into the Persian Gulf.  Unlike Hitler who had no real world conventional economic leverage, Iran will possess an infinite conventional leverage. 

The Iranian sanctions have been virtually worthless in the face of waivers given various countries that need Iran’s oil.  With the Saudi/Sunni side of the Black Gold Triangle, Iran will control 56% of the world’s oil.   And, as such, Iran will be able to dictate terms to China, Japan, and India so as to evade any sanctions from Iran’s attack and occupation of Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states.  There won’t be an OPEC any longer because Iran will control enough oil and gas reserves itself to be an Iran-Pec monopoly in, and of, itself.

Third, unlike Hitler’s Germany, Iran is protected by huge 4,000 meter high mountains around Iran’s entire current geographic perimeter.   Oil-rich Iran will have a nuclear counter-attack inside a ring of impenetrable mountains.  With Iran possessing nukes, the defeat and actual physical occupation of Iran by conventional forces - as the Allies succeeded in doing against Hitler - is incomprehensible.  

Imagine for the moment if Saddam Hussein had had nukes when he invaded Kuwait?  In the face of Saddam’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait, would President Bush (the First) ever have deployed the 500,000 U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia within range of a nuclear missile?  Of course not!  If Iran occupies Saudi Arabia and is armed with nuclear weapons, forget any conventional retaking of Saudi Arabia by the United States or anybody else for that matter.

Fourth, Hitler didn’t control a world-wide fanatical religion, while Iran will.  With Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf States, Iran will be able to bankrupt Sunni Islam and “buy” the Islamic world into becoming Shiite.  Imagine all the “Saudi/Sunni” petro-dollars now funding mosques all over the world disappearing overnight, and being replaced by Iranian Shiite ready-funds because Iran now controls all the Sunni oil fields?  Iran will turn the native base of Muslim Sunnis into Muslim Shiites within a couple of years.  The “Sunni” Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t seem to understand that if they bring down Egypt and Saudi Arabia, they and the Sunnis won’t be empowered.  Instead, the Muslim Brotherhood will have enabled the Shiite Iranians to sweep through all the Eastern Saudi oil fields, and decimate the entire petro-dollar economic base of Sunni Islam.

Finally, and the worst of all:  the secular Hitler and the Nazis were never a “religion” which possessed “protection under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”  Hitler only claimed “A Thousand Year-Reich” not the end-of-days Hidden Twelfth Iman.  Imagine anyone calling anti-Nazis “Hitlerphobes” or “Naziphobes.” The Oxford English dictionary defines “Phobia” as “An extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.”  But why, if Iran has openly called to wipe Israel off the face of the map, and calls for “Death to America”, is fear of a nuclear-armed Iran “Irrational”?  

Under the false cloak of protection of the “Shiite religion,” Iran is engaging in political and actual military wars that would make Hitler jealous. Maybe Hitler’s big "mistake" was that he didn’t call Nazism a “religion.”

The root of the current Islamic evil and danger is that its political forces and actions are “protected” under the shield of “religion.”  After all, Obama has told us, ad nauseam, “Islam is a religion of peace, we are not at war with Islam.”  Yes, Islam practiced within the confines of a mosque is, and should be, protected.  But if the Islam becomes a political banner under which it projects military power and enforces its Shiite Islam against anyone including other Muslims, then, it must lose all “religious” constitutional protection as if it were a secular Hitler Panzer-group.  

If Islam, or any sect of Islam, walks like a Hitler, kills like a Hitler, and destroys like a Hitler, it’s a Hitler no matter what “g-d” it claims to hail from.  The Islamic religion can’t murder other people based on its religion, only then to be granted constitutional protection because it claims itself to be a “religion.”

Let's face it. The current Iranian threshold nuclear weapons’ state threat to the free world is infinitely more dangerous than any threat ever posed by Hitler and his Nazis even in Hitler’s “Finest Hour."

Mark Langfan


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

The President’s Looking-Glass Islamic World - Bruce Thornton

by Bruce Thornton

Obama may have forgotten about “war with Islam,” but war with Islam has not forgotten about him.


President Obama recently gave a speech at the Pentagon about our efforts against ISIS that confirmed he has little awareness of the real world our enemies inhabit. The talk reprised the usual received wisdom and unchallenged orthodoxy that comprise most of the foreign policy establishment’s ideas about Islamic jihadism and how we should fight it. Consider the following particularly egregious examples:

Ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas–– a more attractive and more compelling vision. 

This statement is a classic either-or fallacy. Anyone familiar with history would have added the adverb “just” before “with guns.” Obama is indulging stealth pacifism, a variation on the “violence doesn’t solve anything” and “use your words” mantras of the junior high playground monitor. Such a stance is politically convenient when the voters are against the use of force, and a leader doesn’t have the will or ability to convince them why force is necessary.

In general, the superior quality of what men fight for is indeed a force-multiplier, as the Greeks proved at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea. But significant force still has to be applied to kill a critical mass of the enemy. And even with the best ideas, more often it is the “guns” that in the end make the difference. Those victorious Greek hoplites and rowers had weaponry and tactics superior to the Persians’, as well as the better ideals of freedom and autonomy. World War II was another battle of freedom against tyranny. But Nazism was ultimately defeated by the U.S.’s ability to produce armaments at a rate Germany could not match––just in one month of 1944, America produced more Sherman tanks than all the tanks the Germany produced in a year. If the U.S. hadn’t entered the war, the “better ideas” of English civilization, despite their expression in the soaring oratory of Winston Churchill, would not alone have led to Hitler’s defeat.

So yes, “better ideas” are critical for winning a war. As Napoleon said, morale to the material is as three to one. But the importance of “ideas” like political freedom, confessional tolerance, and individual rights lies not, as Obama suggests, in their power to make our enemies change sides or reject the ideas they are fighting for. Rather, their power lies in the way they motivate and inspire those who fight for their own superior ideals because they are confident that they are superior. Obama in contrast is alluding to the power of mere example when he mentions “a more attractive and more compelling vision,” a phrase vague to the point of emptiness. I think he means that if the jihadists or potential jihadists could understand and experience the freedom, peace, and prosperity we enjoy, they would reject their own motivating beliefs, particularly the doctrines of traditional Islam, which they so passionately believe are superior that in their service they will murder innocents and blow themselves up.

This naïve belief in the attractive power of our ideals has been the big mistake of our war against jihad, one made by both parties. To traditionalist Muslims, the ideals we cherish are not self-evidently superior to those of Islam. What we call freedom, for example, pious Muslims like Ayatollah Khomeini understood to be license: it is the “freedom that will corrupt our youth, freedom that will pave the way to the oppressor, freedom that will drag our nation to the bottom.” Similarly, al Qaeda theorist Ayman al-Zawahiri wrote, “The freedom we want is not the freedom to use women as commodities . . . it is not the freedom of AIDS and an industry of obscenities and homosexual marriages.” Of course, our idea of political freedom is much different from these social practices, but the biggest example of Western freedom that most Muslims see is the degrading spectacles available on satellite television, Hollywood movies, and the Internet.

Likewise with democracy, tolerance, separation of church and state, sex equality, and all the other goods that define the Western civilizational paradigm but are contrary to shari’a law and Islamic doctrine. For a Muslim who takes those doctrines seriously––and poll after poll shows that hundreds of millions do–– none of these goods is worth risking his eternal soul. Indeed, they are seductive temptations for the pious, the subtle weapons the infidels use to weaken the faithful and bring about their spiritual destruction. That’s why the mullahs call us the “Great Satan”: not just because in Muslim eyes we are evil, but because we are tempters who addle the minds of the faithful with what the Iranian political activist Al-e Ahmad in 1962 called “Westoxification.”

Our strategy recognizes that no amount of military force will end the terror that is ISIL unless it’s matched by a broader effort -- political and economic -- that addresses the underlying conditions that have allowed ISIL to gain traction.

The assumption that ISIS exists because of a lack of political and economic opportunity is founded on a similar misunderstanding of jihadists’ motivations. This simplistic explanation of terror has been with us since 9/11, when Bill Clinton said, “These forces of reaction feed on disillusionment, poverty and despair,” and leftist “activist” Barbara Ehrenreich blamed the attacks on “the vast global inequalities in which terrorism is rooted.”

But if poverty or a lack of democracy is the cause of terror, then why aren’t the billions of poor, disenfranchised young men across the globe committing acts of terror at the rate of young Muslim men? Why do so many jihadist leaders and theorists come from affluent backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden, or lucrative professions, like the surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri? Why do Muslim immigrants in the affluent West, with a level of material existence and citizen rights far beyond those of their cohorts in the Third World, murder their fellow citizens or flock to join ISIS?

This economic or political determinism ignores the powerful and passionate reality of religious belief among Muslims, whose faith commands them, “O believers! Fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness” (Koran 9:123). But having reduced religion to a life-style choice, Western materialist determinism cannot imagine that violent acts can be motivated by sincere faith and obedience to Allah’s commands. So like Obama, we search for causes that suit our own materialist, secular world-view, such as poverty or lack of political freedom. But as Ayatollah Khomeini said in refutation of this received idea, “We did not have a revolution to lower the price of melons.”

We’ll constantly reaffirm through words and deeds that we will never be at war with Islam.  We’re fighting terrorists who distort Islam and whose victims are mostly Muslims.

This hoary cliché has done the most damage to our war against jihadism.  And its patent falsity can be easily documented in 14 centuries of Islamic scripture, jurisprudence, history, and practice.  As the Egyptian critic of Islam Ahmed Harqan said recently, “What has ISIS done that Mohammed didn’t do?” Behead captives? In 627, Mohammed beheaded 600-900 males of the Jewish Banu Qurayzah tribe, in line with Koran 8:12: “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”

Enslave the defeated? Mohammed enslaved the women and children of the Banu Qurayzah, and following his model Islam has been one of history’s great slaving civilizations.  Just between 1500 and 1800, the Muslim kingdoms of North Africa took 1.5 million European slaves. These depredations were in line with Islamic doctrine, as the representative of the pasha of Tripoli explained to John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1785. It was “written in the Koran,” he explained, “that all nations who should not have acknowledged their [Muslim] authority were sinners, that it was their [Muslim] right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find.” And as Mohammed showed, taking slaves is the just reward for those who, like ISIS, prevail in battle.

Nor is ISIS’s goal of restoring the caliphate some fringe distortion of Islamic doctrine. Since its final dissolution in 1922––the “catastrophe” bin Laden mentioned after 9/11–– the caliphate has remained a potent dream for many Muslims, for whom secular nationalism is an alien Western idea contrary to the unified political-religious polity of Islamic doctrine. Thus as pan-Arab theorist Nuri al-Said wrote in 1943, Arab Muslim nationalism “springs from the Muslim feeling of brotherhood enjoined on them by the Prophet Mohammed . . . Although Arabs are naturally attached to their native land their nationalism is not confined by boundaries. It is an aspiration to restore the great tolerant civilization of the early Caliphate.”

We can hear the larger import of this same “aspiration” in Islamist theorist Sayyid Qutb’s claim that  “Islam came into this earth to establish God’s rule on God’s earth” and to form “a Muslim community in which individuals . . . have gathered together under servitude to God and follow only the Shari’a of God.” So too Ayatollah Khomeini’s boast: “We shall export our revolution to the whole world. Until the cry ‘There is no God but Allah’ resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.”

Contrary to Obama and others willfully blind to the reality of Islamic doctrine and history, neither the aims of ISIS nor their methods “distort” Islam. Rather, the soldiers of ISIS are the latest in a long tradition of Muslim warriors inspired by Islamic precept and practice. They are a manifestation of Muslim Brothers theorist Hassan al-Banna’s traditional belief that “It is the nature of Islam to dominate not to be dominated, to impose its laws on all nations, and extend its power to the entire planet.” Obama may have forgotten about “war with Islam,” but war with Islam has not forgotten about him.

Just repeating the mantra “nothing to do with Islam” or “religion of peace” or “moderate Muslims” will not change reality. Neither can the other great illusions of modernity like pacifism, disarmament, or the diplomatic settling of disputes that are created by irreconcilable ideologies and conflicting beliefs. The reality of history teaches us that only mind-concentrating, overwhelming force can convince the passionate aggressor to change his ways. The alternative is this administration’s slow-motion appeasement that has left the region a shambles and is escorting Iran to possession of nuclear weapons.

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.


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

Jihadists Disguised as Refugees - Welcome to terror through asylum. - Emerson Vermaat

by Emerson Vermaat

The Egyptian government was worried about radical Muslims who had been granted asylum in England. Some of them were involved in the preparation of terror attacks. The then British Prime Minister John Major declared shortly after the conference that he would make the rules for granting asylum stricter, but nothing was done.

Muslim extremists and jihadists pretend to be asylum seekers and apply for asylum in Europe, according to reports from intelligence and security services since the mid-1990s. The then Dutch Domestic Security Service BVD (now the AIVD) reported in May 1998 that radical Muslims from Tunisian, Egyptian and Algerian terrorist organizations had applied for asylum in the Netherlands. “These asylum seekers can count on the support of local sympathizers.” And in April 2001 the BVD/AIVD warned of “Islamic war veterans” posing as people who “are looking for asylum or illegal migrants who seek refuge in Western countries who will continue the fight or support it.”

In March 1996 a conference about fighting terrorism took place in the Egyptian Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh. The Egyptian government was worried about radical Muslims who had been granted asylum in England. Some of them were involved in the preparation of terror attacks. The then British Prime Minister John Major declared shortly after the conference that he would make the rules for granting asylum stricter, but nothing was done.

Omar Bakri Mohammed was an anti-Semitic hate cleric from Syria who successfully applied for asylum in Britain in 1986. He was the founder of al-Muhajiroun, a terrorist organization which was belatedly banned by the British government in 2005. Bakri Mohammed openly praised the 9/11 attacks on the United States. When I met him in North London in 2002, he expressed his deep admiration for al-Qaeda leader “Sheikh” Osama bin Laden.

In the British TV documentary “Sudan – Are They Training Terrorists?” (April, 15 1996), Hassan al-Turabi, a friend of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, was quoted as saying that bin Laden “doesn’t mind going to England.” But the British would never grant him asylum as they were also opposed to his very presence in Sudan. Bin Laden then left Sudan and settled in Afghanistan in May 1996 where his militant Taliban friends were now in control of most this war-torn country.

A number of Syrian immigrants in Spain played a very important role in al-Qaeda. Mustafa Setmarian Nasar was a personal friend of Osama bin Laden and an architect of global jihad. He lived in London between 1994 and 1997. He was in Afghanistan when the Americans occupied that country after the 9/11 attacks. Another Syrian immigrant in Spain was Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas. He was the leader of al-Qaeda in Spain and was involved in the preparations of the 9/11 attacks.

Not so few former Somali asylum seekers in Europe and the United States joined the ruthless Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012. Ismail Musa Ahmed Guled and Lula Ahmed Dahir, for example, committed suicide attacks in Mogadishu in February 2015. They were in possession of Dutch passports.

The Amsterdam based newspaper De Telegraaf reported on May 28, 2015, how Bashir Abu Muaadh arrived in the Netherlands in the early 199Os. This Somali was still a child at the time. Now he is an IS propagandist in Raqqa, the so-called capital of Islamic State. He appears in an IS propaganda video,  together with four other Somali IS-terrorists. Bashir praises the IS-beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya on February 15, 2015. He also wants al-Shabaab jihadists to join ISIS or IS.

In the middle of February 2015 one of the IS executioners announced from Libya that: “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission.” He pointed in the direction of the Mediterranean Sea with his knife. On more than one occasion did IS threaten to send jihadist fighters disguised as asylum seekers to Europe. Millions of displaced Africans and Muslims want to flee to Europe. In the first six months of 2015 ships have rescued more than 200,000 people who tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

The Dutch National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTB) reported on June 29, 2015, that there are clear indications that jihadists tried to recruit asylum seekers who are currently staying in the Netherlands. This abuse of the immigration system must be tackled. “The intelligence and security services are receiving a growing number of indications from the immigration authorities of matters that could affect national security,” the Dutch  Minister of Security and Justice reported to the parliament in The Hague on June 29, 2015. “This is the result of both awareness-raising campaigns and an increase in the number of asylum seekers entering the Netherlands, particularly from Syria.”

Several criminal investigations into efforts to recruit asylum seekers for the jihad began in Holland in the past months.

Fox News reported on May 20, 2015, that a Moroccan man arrested in the Tunisia museum attack “came to Italy on a migrant boat.” Abdelmajid Touil was arrested in Italy after having arrived a month earlier with other migrants on  smuggler’s boat.” “Touil was arrested on a Tunisian arrest warrant at the home of his mother and two brothers in Gaggiano, near Milan, anti-terrorism investigator Brono Megale told reporters.” “He was wanted internationally for co-participating in, planning and executing the March 18 attack on the Brando Museum in Tunis,” Megale said. Twenty-two people were killed,  four of them Italian.”

The Italian police arrested 15 Muslims on suspicion of having thrown 12 Christians overboard, CNN reported on April 19, 2015. Acccording to the Italian police, these Christians were murdered by Muslims from the Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal before their boat was intercepted by an Italian navy vessel.

There are also many cases of Muslim asylum seekers who harrass women and Christians in asylum centers. Muslim converts to Christianity receive frequent death threats.  Mostafa Talale, an Iranian convert to Christianity, was murdered in the Netherlands in June 2013, either by fellow asylum seekers or by the Iranian security and intelligence service.

Emerson Vermaat is an investigative reporter in the Netherlands specialized in crime and terrorism.


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

Islamic State's meteoric rise scorches the Middle East - Yaakov Amidror

by Yaakov Amidror

Though not invincible, Islamic State's rampage through the region makes many wonder whether its momentum can be curtailed • The jihadi group has mass appeal and its progress in Syria may soon force the international community to choose between two evils.

Smoke billows over north Sinai after Islamic State terrorists launch a coordinated assault on several Egyptian military posts last week
Photo credit: Reuters

Yaakov Amidror


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

Dispatch from Iraq: The Ghosts of Old Baghdad - Jonathan Spyer

by Jonathan Spyer

In 1951-1952, the long story of Iraqi Jewry came to an end with the Arab nationalist agitation; the commencement of anti-Jewish laws from the mid-1930s; growing violence; the Farhud massacres in 1941; and the subsequent persecution and expulsions.

Originally published under the title, "The Ghosts of Old Baghdad."

The Shorja market area in Baghdad, once filled with Jewish businesses.
A few hours in the Shorja open market in Baghdad can teach you a lot – about the Middle East's past, its present and its apparent future. What's to be found there is informative. What is absent – equally so.

My fixer, Yusuf, hadn't wanted to take me to Shorja. I was in Baghdad for a reporting project on the Shia militias. Between heading for Anbar with Kata'ib Hezbollah and up to Baiji with the Badr Corps, we had a few hours of downtime in Baghdad, so I suggested we make for the market area that had once formed the hub of the city's Jewish community.

I am no expert on the Jews of Iraq. But a friend's Iraqi father back in Jerusalem, upon hearing that I was heading for Baghdad, had mentioned the Taht el Takia neighborhood in the heart of the market where he had grown up and asked me to take some pictures if I had the chance.

"Old Baghdad isn't really safe anymore. We won't be able to walk around," Yusuf told me as we debated the issue. "After the Jews were kicked out in the '50s, a load of poor Shi'a moved in and they have been running it ever since."

There has been a market at Shorja since the Abbasid period in the 8th century.
I tried to ascertain what exactly the danger was. But, like much else in Baghdad, it wasn't clear – just a general sense of foreboding, and maybe justified paranoia, of a kind that seemed pervasive in the city.

Baghdad carried with it a tense and febrile atmosphere. Roadblocks everywhere. Muscular, armed men and light armored vehicles outside the hotels. Logos and pictures of armed Shi'a irregulars on every street corner. These latter were the forces defending the city against the Sunni fighters of the Islamic State.

ISIS was just 60 km. away, its black clad fighters waiting behind their positions. Amid the dust and the summer heat and the collapsed buildings.

So I understood Yusuf's reluctance. His driver, an older man and recent refugee from Anbar, was tired, too, and clearly had no special desire to head out into the 40 °C heat of the afternoon – still less if the destination was a poverty stricken Shi'a section of the city.

All the same, I was paying them and didn't feel like spending the whole afternoon sitting around drinking tea and smoking, so I persisted and finally Yusuf agreed. "Taht el Takia? Well, we'll go there and see what's there. But if I say it isn't safe, we don't even get out of the car."

A Jewish family in 1930s Baghdad. Read more about their story.
We set off back into the heat of the afternoon and began the drive to Old Baghdad. After a while, we reached al-Rasheed Street and began the search for the neighborhood. The market and area surrounding it were ramshackle and neglected, looking like they'd last been renovated sometime in the 1970s.

Yusuf began to ask passersby about Taht el Takia. Everyone seemed to have heard of it, but no one quite knew where it was. "The problem is," Yusuf said, "that most of the people here belong to families that came in from the countryside when Baghdad expanded in the 1960s so they don't really know all the names of these old neighborhoods."

Finally, from al-Rasheed Street, we reached a warren of small alleyways and Yusuf declared that this, as far as he could ascertain, was Taht el Takia. The market had closed for the day; it was late afternoon and I made to enter the alley.

This had once been the vibrant heart of Baghdad's Jewish community though not the slightest memory or indication of that was to be found. We wandered the deserted, silent alleyways filled with garbage from the market.

After a few minutes, a plump security man wearing a tatty army uniform with a maroon airborne-style beret on the back of his head, appeared and began to shout and gesticulate in guttural Baghdadi Arabic. "No pictures," Yusuf told me.

Having established his authority with this arbitrary order, the guard then became friendly and inquisitive. I told him I had come to look at the area for the father of a friend of mine who had left in 1951 and hadn't seen it since.

"Oh, a Jew , yes?" he said. I decided to answer in the affirmative, feeling vaguely that to have denied this would have been a sort of betrayal. "From Israel?" the guard persisted. This was going too far, and I replied that I had arrived from England.

The guard was amused by this, and with a show of magnanimity said we could photograph the adjacent mosque and the outside areas, but that he didn't recommend going too far into the warren of alleyways, since it was getting dark.

"Anyone could see that you're a foreigner and just produce a weapon and say 'come with us," he suggested, grinning broadly. "I don't even go in there myself after dark."

He brought us some bottled water by way of a consolation prize. "By the way," he said as we parted, "ask your friend's dad if he can get me asylum in Israel."

There has been a market at Shorja since the Abbasid period in the 8th century. But for some time in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jews dominated trade in the area. It was the hub of a flourishing community.

The expulsion of Baghdad's Jews was a portent of unfathomable brutality to come.
In 1951-1952, the long story of Iraqi Jewry came to an end with the Arab nationalist agitation; the commencement of anti-Jewish laws from the mid-1930s; growing violence; the Farhud massacres in 1941; and the subsequent persecution and expulsions.

Almost the entire community was airlifted or smuggled out of the country from 1949 to 1951; Operation Ezra and Nehemiah brought around 130,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel from May 1951 and early 1952.

Some 60 years on, in Baghdad the Jews are a ghostly memory. The poor Sh'ia who moved into their vacated houses and the mass of the population that came later are neither moved by nor curious about their buried stories. There are, it is said, seven Jews remaining in the city.

The old synagogues are long since demolished or boarded up. The mezuzahs long prised from the doorways. The Laura Kaddoorie Alliance Girls' School, the Jewish Institute for the Blind, the shops of Yehezkel Abu al-Anba and Fattal. All gone.

As it turns out, the expulsion of Baghdad's Jews was a portent of what was to come. The Jews were the first minority to be ripped from the fabric of Iraqi society. For a long, subsequent period, stagnation followed and dictatorships of unfathomable brutality imposed their will on the country. These ensured the dominance of the Sunni Arab minority while other communities lived an uneasy, truncated existence, visited by intermittent catastrophe.

Following Israel's defeat of Arab armies in the 1967 Six Day War, the small number of Jews remaining in Iraq were singled out for retribution. Nine were executed in Baghdad's Liberation Square in 1969.
That period ended in 2003 with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Today, in Iraq, similar forces of tribalism and sectarian hatred to those that ended Baghdad Jewry's long and illustrious history are tearing the whole country to pieces.

Nowadays, these forces no longer seek to cloak and disguise themselves in finery borrowed from the West. There are no claims to secularism, socialism or whatever. They come as they are ‒ sectarian, religious and set on revenge.

And with the irony that history favors, the primary victims of today's sectarian agitation in Baghdad are the formerly ascendant Sunni Arabs ‒ the same dominant population for whom Arab nationalism was the chosen banner in the 20th century. That is to say, the population that produced those responsible for the expulsion of the Jews in the 1950s is today suffering a similar fate to their former victims.

The primary victims of today's sectarian agitation in Baghdad are the formerly ascendant Sunni Arabs.
This justifies nothing, of course. It is merely notable that the inexorable ethnic and sectarian hatreds that made Israel a desperate necessity for Jews and which have formed the basis of Arab opposition to it ever since are now, more and more, openly visible across the region. Few (outside of university departments, at least) bother to claim otherwise anymore. Populations are seeking shelter among their own kind. The splitting of states is the consequence.

"The government doesn't trust Sunnis," Hikmat Guwood of the Albu Nimr tribe tells me. "They only trust the Shi'a militias, who are armed by Iran."

We are meeting with Guwood in a Baghdad hotel. It is our last chance because he is leaving the city.

Guwood is a leader of the Albu Nimr tribe of Anbar, who worked closely with the Americans during the "Anbar Awakening" of 2006-2007. This has made him a marked man for the Shi'a militias of Baghdad, who suspect that he is still operating for the US. A few days before our interview, he was attacked in his home by Shi'a militants. By Kata'ib Hezbollah he tells us, naming one of the most powerful and feared of the militia groups.

So he is going to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. Guwood isn't a Kurd, of course. But in Kurdistan, at least, there is something approaching a government, he says. In Baghdad, by contrast, "The government controls nothing. [Prime Minister] Abadi has no power. The real power in Iraq today is the militias, he says.

A Shi'a militia billboard in Baghdad
What of the future? In an opinion one hears a lot from Iraqi Sunnis, Guwood no longer wants the strong, unitary (Sunni-dominated) state that existed until the 1990s. Rather, he is calling for a "Sunni federation" in the majority Sunni areas to exist alongside the Kurdish area and the Shi'a-dominated south and Baghdad. The latter, he considers, has effectively become the capital of an emergent Shi'a state.
The problem for Iraqi Sunni Arabs, of course, is that the area of their own majority in the center of the country is currently under control of ISIS. As Hamed al-Mutlaq, an MP and former general in Saddam Hussein's army puts it: "Iraq is now divided. In fact, worse than divided. The Kurds and Shi'a are safe in their areas, but the Sunni component of the society has no existence and is displaced. Those who remain are under the sword either of ISIS or of the Shi'a militias."

As for the new and future masters of Baghdad, they too have a very clear plan for the direction of events. The Shi'a militias facing ISIS in Anbar Province west of the city, and in Baiji to its north sense the wind of history at their backs.
Abu Mahdi al Mohandis (right) with Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani (left)
The men of the Kata'ib Hezbollah militia are open in their allegiances and their intentions. "We rely on God and the family of Muhammad," one bearded, red-eyed fighter declares to me, at a frontline position 10 kilometers from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, which fell to ISIS in May. Or, more prosaically, as Abu Mahdi al Mohandis puts it at a meeting of commanders near Baiji city, "We rely on capacity and capabilities provided by the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Abu Mahdi is reputed to be the key figure alongside the Quds Force's Qassem Suleimani in coordinating Iranian aid to and supervision of the militias. So he knows what he's talking about.

The Shi'a militiamen I interviewed view themselves as the nucleus of a new, Iraqi version of the Revolutionary Guards, guarding the piety and Shi'a nature of their Iraq. As one Badr Corps commander expressed it: "In the future, our militias will form something like the Basij militias in Iran – under the control of the "Marjiya" (Shi'a religious leadership) alongside the army."

This is what is in the ascendant in Baghdad right now. It is not surprising that Sunni Arab Iraqis find it hard to locate much place for themselves in it.

In the West, there is concern about the Islamic State and expansionist Iran. Rightly so. But what is underway is deeper than the ambitions of this or that player.

It is a fundamental, long awaited shifting in the basic contours of power across a large swathe of the Middle East (the area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Iraq-Iran border). A mighty, long suppressed ferment of religious and sectarian fervor. It was a long time coming and now it's here.

As for the buried, submerged history of the Jews of Taht el Takia, history will record that their expulsion was the first tug on a complex fabric that later unraveled in its entirety. They and their descendants shall live, nevertheless. But not here. In Baghdad, only the ghosts remain.

Jonathan Spyer, a fellow at the Middle East Forum, is director of the Rubin Center for Research in International Affairs and the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).


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

The End of a Beautiful Friendship: Obama and Netanyahu - Michael Curtis

by Michael Curtis

At the core of Oren’s analysis is his view that Obama has upset two long-term principles of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. One principle is that there be “no daylight,” that disagreements between the two sides would remain private. The other is that there be no “surprises,” namely that no important proposal or speech would be made without the other party being informed.

Michael Oren has had an honorable career, growing up in New Jersey, a baseball fan who got his doctorate at Princeton, a distinguished historian, and Israeli ambassador to Washington from 2009 to 2013. His new book Ally is a valuable and sober dissection of the real existing relationship, one that used to be called a “special relationship,” between Israel and the United States, under President Barack Obama. One concludes from the book that the two countries are just friends, but not like before.

The book, clearly if not eloquently written, is part autobiography, part history, part commentary on the attitudes of American Jewry, and part an account of Oren’s own political views. But above all, it is a work full of anguish at the tension that has developed between the U.S. while Obama has been president, and Israel.

It is not, as some opinionated critics have written, an “imaginary account” of the relationship written for mercenary reasons, as U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro shamefully said, or full of factual errors, or one that, as suggested by Abe Foxman, outgoing head of ADL, veers into conspiracy theories, or one that attempts an amateur psychoanalysis of Obama, though Oren does discuss Obama’s self-identity.

Rather, it reveals conversations at the highest level about the real views of American officials towards the State of Israel. To one’s surprise and deep concern, they show that, contrary to the public display of friendship and advertised comity, they reflect a broad breach and gap between the two sides caused by Obama’s policies and intentions, and his lack of sympathy for Israel.

Oren clearly has a love of two countries, his homeland and Israel to which he made aliyah. His book deals with a number of acute problems besides the relationship between the two countries, and his reflections on the different views and behavior of President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Oren provides a candid appraisal of various persons involved in the game of politics in Washington; Hillary Clinton, who impolitely rebuffed him; the hostility of the UN Human Rights Council; the differences within the American Jewish community and J Street about Israel and its diverse attitude to it; and the vital disagreement over Iran’s nuclear program. One of the tidbits is the reference to Placido Domingo who spoke some Hebrew and began his career with the Tel Aviv opera company.

Oren is fully justified in his criticism of the mainstream U.S. media and the grossly disproportionate number of journalists assigned to cover Israel. All too often the media --Time, the New York Times, and CBS' "60 Minutes" -- among others, make use of gruesome photos, staged images, and feature alleged Israel intransigence while ignoring Palestinian and Arab corruption and crimes.

At the core of Oren’s analysis is his view that Obama has upset two long-term principles of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel. One principle is that there be “no daylight,” that disagreements between the two sides would remain private. The other is that there be no “surprises,” namely that no important proposal or speech would be made without the other party being informed.

The essential problem with this analysis is that, while Oren has created a concept that is useful for purposes of discussion, it is an exaggeration of the real nature of the bilateral relationship. It is doubtful that any such explicit agreement joined the two sides at the hip. If a special relationship existed it was in the awareness and comment on the empirical conduct of the parties rather than an official formula.  

Certainly, one can agree that what Oren calls the first principle was breached right at the start of the Obama administration. President Obama on many occasions made his view public that there must be a total freeze on settlement building by Israel, in east Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank, and that there be a two-state solution. This was a rejection of the policy of President George W. Bush, and disavowal of his April 14, 2004 letter with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that Israeli settlement construction was appropriate in those areas that would obviously remain within Israel’s borders in any reasonable peace settlement. For Obama the letter was not part of the official policy of the U.S.

On this issue, Oren is eminently fair. He reveals that he himself does not favor building of settlements, and also avows that it was a blunder for an Israeli official to announce actions on settlements while Vice-President Joe Biden was in Jerusalem.

Other issues have divided the two sides. Israel was aware of the bewildering inconsistency in the Obama administration on issues in the Arab world, and also of U.S. arms sales to the Arabs. Obama always opposed the blockade of the Gaza Strip. He called, as did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for an investigation of Israeli behavior concerning the Mavi Marmara incident of May 31, 2010. Both Obama and Clinton called for Netanyahu to apologize to their “friend” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then prime minister of Turkey. Under American pressure, Netanyahu on March 22, 2013 extended his apologies, not directly to Erdogan, who had referred to Israel as a racist country and whose action had been a crime against humanity, but to the Turkish people.

If Oren is critical of other actions by Netanyahu, such as making his speech in Congress on March 3, 2015, that some found controversial, he is much more critical of Obama on many issues including this issue when the president referred to the speech as “politics… and theater.” On the settlement issue, the Israeli prime minister received no credit from Obama for his decision to impose a 10-month moratorium on construction. Instead, Obama called for the extension of the moratorium.

More important, Obama has refused to recognize that most of the Arab states and many Palestinians have not made a single gesture towards peace with Israel.

Oren never directly suggests that Obama is hostile to Israel. He points out that Obama, at Ben-Gurion airport, in March 2013 publicly commented that it was in the fundamental national security interest of the U.S. to stand with Israel. The Star of David was flying together with the Stars and Stripes. But if Obama admires Israel it is an idealized Israel, not the existing one. Zionism does not resonate with Obama.

The personal contrast is stark between the cerebral Obama, cold, aloof, and somewhat insular, and Netanyahu, former officer in the Sayeret Matkal, the equivalent of the U.S. Delta Force, with MIT degrees in architecture and management, always haunted by Israel’s need for security and the danger of Iran. If not ambivalent about his prime minister, Oren is not uncritical of Netanyahu whom he regards as part commando, part politico, and thoroughly predatory.

More important than the differences of personality between the two leaders are those of substance and policy. One is center-right; the other is left or center-left politically. At the heart of the problem is Obama’s preconceived ideological view, a view that is at variance with that of mainstream Israel. As a presidential candidate, Obama appeared, with a kind of liberal self-deception, to believe naively that the Arab-Israeli conflict was at the root of Middle East disputes, and that Arab-Israeli peace was the key to regional stability. Right at the start of his presidency, his first phone call to a foreign leader was to Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority. Obama visited the Middle East, skipped going to Israel, and made his historic speech in Cairo on June 4, 2009.

Obama took a startling step in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood that took power in Egypt and its leader President Mohammed Morsi. His ties with the organization, starting in January 2012, became, in Oren’s word, an “embrace.” Morsi, who had referred to Jews as warmongers, apes, and pigs, was invited to the White House. It was only after an Islamist mob attacked the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that Morsi was disinvited.

Oren argues that Obama’s ideological position is one of anti-colonialism, of reconciliation with Islam, a belief in the use of “soft power,” and of cooperation with the “international community,” rather than American unilateral action. Without necessarily accepting the Palestinian Narrative of Victimhood, Obama believes that Arabs have been abused. On June 4, 2009, in a conversation with students in Cairo, Obama spoke of his personal connections with Muslims, his Muslim family members and his childhood days in Indonesia, and his conviction that Islam is part of America.

Though he described American-Israeli bonds as “unbreakable,” Obama thought the Palestinians should not endure “the pain of dislocation… the daily humiliations... that come with occupation.” Oren’s opinion is that to an unrivalled extent Obama identified American interests with the Palestinians.

Obama continually affirmed the relationship with Israel, and made some friendly gestures such as immediate help to Israel in the disastrous Carmel forest fire in December 2010, yet he refused to confirm the well-known reports that Syria was arming Hizb’allah, the terrorist group hostile to Israel.

It is disappointing that Obama’s presidency has strained the relationship, even the alliance between the U.S. and Israel. It is dismaying that real animosity towards Israel, as Oren conveys, exists in the White House and the State Department. It is crucial that this animosity be ended. The president should be more aware of and prepared to deal with the real problems in the Middle East, the turmoil in the Arab world, the civil and external wars, the failed states, the nuclear power of Iran, the use of chemical weapons by Syria, and above all, the threat of Islamist terrorism. Israel needs America, but America also needs Israel.

Michael Curtis


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