Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

The Battle for Egypt Begins

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

There has been much jubilation over the ouster of President Mubarak and much ridicule at the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood would take over. Well, the Egyptian Revolution ended a week ago with Mubarak’s resignation. Yesterday, the second revolution began with the return from exile of a radical Imam. Sound familiar ?

As I posted yesterday, over a million Egyptians turned out in Tahrir Square last Friday to cheer the vile anti-Semitic Sunni cleric Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who had been exiled by Mubarek, and who espouses the fundamentalist Islamic view that Jews must live as Dhimmis under Islamic control. Instead of accurately reporting the significance of this event, The New York Times whitewashed the cleric as someone who supports a “a pluralistic, multiparty, civil democracy.”

His version ?

Based in Qatar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is one of the most influential clerics in Sunni Islam. He currently serves as president of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFW), and is a highly influential spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qaradawi has twice (in 1976 and 2004) turned down opportunities to serve as the Brotherhood’s highest-ranking leader. His preference, he explains, is to avoid tying himself to “any movement which might constrain my actions, even if this is the Muslim Brotherhood under whose umbrella I grew and which I so defended.

It’s OK, though, because they are secular.

Here is the video of the rally (in Arabic, via Israel Matzav) with the crowd chanting:

“To Jerusalem We go, for us to be the Martyrs? of the Millions.”

Here is the transcript.

We demand that the Egyptian army liberate us from the government, which was formed by Mubarak in the days of his soon-to-be-erased rule. We want a new government, without a single one of the faces that people cannot tolerate anymore. Whenever people see these faces, they remember the injustice, the killing, they remember the invasion of the camels, mules, and horses, as well as the snipers who killed the people.


A message to our brothers in Palestine: I harbor the hope that just like Allah allowed me to witness the triumph of Egypt, He will allow me to witness the conquest of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and will enable me to preach in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Oh Allah, allow us to preach in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

There is a peaceful sentiment. The Al Aqsa Mosque sits atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Another helpful statement:

Sheik Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: The Rafah border crossing will be opened for you. This is what I demand from the Egyptian army and from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

That will open the border to Gaza. Frankly, that makes sense as Gaza was part of Egypt before the 1967 war. It has nothing to do with Palestine. The only problem is with the Hamas terrorists who rule Gaza. This may well be Obama’s Khomeini moment.

One of the most publicized figures outside Egypt in this story the last few weeks is a Google executive who is Egyptian.

One of the western media’s favorite Egyptian rebels is Google executive Wael Ghonim. No surprise there: if you had to choose among radical clerics like al-Qaradawi, hooligans like those who assaulted Lara Logan, and a suave, Westernized Google exec, whom would you want to interview? Ghonim was present on Friday and intended to address the crowd, but he was barred from the platform by al-Qaradawi’s security. He left the stage in distress, “his face hidden by an Egyptian flag.” Is Ghonim Egypt’s Kerensky? Well, at least Kerensky got to rule for a while.

Ghonim is one more proof, as if we needed any more, that brilliance in another field is no guarantee of common sense in politics, especially revolutionary politics. We are now about to move to the next stage, which in the French Revolution ended with the Terror. In Iran, it still goes on.

UPDATE: Here is a more optimistic view.

Afghanistan, Egypt and Obama

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

I have previously posted my opinion that Afghanistan is not worth the cost. I stated my reasons why we should leave here and here and here. Nothing has changed there but a lot is happening elsewhere in the Middle East.

Egypt’s escalating tensions amount to the first real foreign crisis for the Obama administration that it did not inherit. The crisis serves as a test of Obama’s revamped White House operation. Daley, a former Commerce secretary in the Clinton administration, is now running a staff that is briefing Obama regularly on Egypt.

They have handled it badly. This is a very dangerous time for us. The Egyptian Army seems to be siding with the protesters. That may or may not last.

The left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz says that Egyptian army officers in Cairo’s central square have tossed aside their helmets and joined the crowd. “The Army and the people are one,” they chanted. MSNBC’s photoblog shows protesters jubilantly perched on M1A1 tanks. The real significance of these defections is that the army officers would not have done so had they not sensed which way the winds were blowing — in the Egyptian officer corps.

And even as Mubarak tottered, the Saudi king threw his unequivocal backing behind the aging dictator — not hedging like Obama — but the Iranians continued to back the Egyptian protesters. The Saudi exchange tumbled 6.44% on news of unrest from Cairo. Meanwhile, the Voice of America reports that Israel is “extremely concerned” that events in Egypt could mean the end of the peace treaty between the two countries. If Mubarak isn’t finished already, a lot of regional actors are calculating like he might be.

But Washington will not be hurried. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that President Obama will review his Middle Eastern policy after the unrest in Egypt subsides. The future, in whose spaces the administration believed its glories to lie, plans to review its past failures in the same expansive place. Yet time and oil wait for no one. Crude oil prices surged as the markets took the rapid developments in. U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu observed that any disruption to Middle East oil supplies “could actually bring real harm.”

Of course, Mr Chu should not worry as we have wind and solar to take up the slack. Actually, we get our oil from Canada and Mexico but the price of oil shifts with the world’s supply.

The present Obama commitment to Afghanistan is ironic since he promised to bring troops home but he has declared that Iraq was NOT necessary and Afghanistan is. This is slightly crazy. The Iraq invasion was an example of US power being applied in a critical location; right in the middle of the Middle East. Afghanistan is a remote tribal society reachable only through unreliable Pakistan. It has minimal effect on world events. We went there to punish the Taliban for harboring the people who attacked our country. Thousands of them have been killed. We have little of interest there now. We should have left last year.

With a Shi’ite dominated government in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a Muslim Brotherhood that may keep Egypt in neutral or tacitly accept Teheran’s leadership, how could things possibly get worse?

They can if Saudi Arabia starts to go. And what response can the U.S. offer? With U.S. combat power in landlocked Afghanistan and with the last U.S. combat forces having left Iraq in August 2010, the U.S. will have little on the ground but the State Department. “By October 2011, the US State Department will assume responsibility for training the Iraqi police and this task will largely be carried out by private contractors.” The bulk of American hard power will be locked up in secondary Southwest Asian theater, dependent on Pakistan to even reach the sea with their heavy equipment.

This is not where we want to be. The problem is that Obama and Hillary and the rest of this administration have no concept of strategy.

The Obama administration made fundamental strategic mistakes, whose consequences are now unfolding. As I wrote in the Ten Ships, a post which referenced the Japanese Carrier fleet which made up the strategic center of gravity of the enemy during the Pacific War, the center of gravity in the present crisis was always the Middle East. President Obama, by going after the criminals who “attacked America on 9/11? from their staging base was doing the equivalent of bombing the nameless patch of ocean 200 miles North of Oahu from which Nagumo launched his raid. But he was not going after the enemy center of gravity itself.

For all of its defects the campaign in Iraq was at least in the right place: at the locus of oil, ideology and brutal regimes that are the Middle East. Ideally the campaign in Iraq would have a sent a wave of democratization through the area, undermined the attraction of radical Islam, provided a base from which to physically control oil if necessary. That the campaign failed to attain many of objectives should not obscure the fact that its objectives were valid. It made far more strategic sense than fighting tribesmen in Afghanistan. Ideology, rogue regimes, energy are the three entities which have replaced the “ten ships” of 70 years ago. The means through which these three entities should be engaged ought to be the subject of reasoned debate, whether by military, economic or technological means. But the vital nature of these objectives ought not to be. Neutralize the intellectual appeal of radical Islam, topple the rogue regimes, and ease Western dependence on oil and you win the war. Yet their centrality, and even their existence is what the politicians constantly deny.

Events are unfolding, but they have not yet run their course; things are still continuing to cascade. If the unrest spreads to the point where the Suez and regional oil fall into anti-Western hands, the consequences would be incalculable. The scale of the left’s folly: their insistence on drilling moratoriums, opposition to nuclear power, support of negotiations with dictators at all costs, calls for unilateral disarmament, addiction to debt and their barely disguised virulent anti-Semitism should be too manifest to deny.

Leftism is making common cause with Islamic terrorism. Why ? I don’t really know. Some of it may be the caricature of Jews making money and being good at business. Some may simply be the extension of animosity to Israel extending to all Jews. The people behind Obama are not free of these sentiments. His Justice Department is filled with lawyers who defended terrorists at Guantanamo. Holder seems uninterested in voting rights cases if a black is the offender. He was even unwilling to say that Islamic terrorism was behind 9/11.

Because it will hit them where it hurts, in the lifestyle they somehow thought came from some permanent Western prosperity that was beyond the power of their fecklessness to destroy. It will be interesting to see if anyone can fill up their cars with carbon credits when the oil tankers stop coming or when black gold is marked at $500 a barrel. It is even possible that within a relatively short time the only government left friendly to Washington in the Middle East may be Iraq. There is some irony in that, but it is unlikely to be appreciated.

I would add a bit to this from one of my favorite essays on the topic. It compares Gorbachev to Obama.

Nor are the two men, themselves, remotely comparable in their backgrounds, or political outlook. Gorbachev, for instance, had come up from tractor driver, not through elite schools including Harvard Law; he lacked the narcissism that constantly seeks self-reflection through microphones and cameras, or the sense that everything is about him.

On the other hand, some interesting comparisons could be made between the thuggish party machine of Chicago, which raised Obama as its golden boy; and the thuggish party machine of Moscow, which presented Gorbachev as it’s most attractive face.

Both men have been praised for their wonderful temperaments, and their ability to remain unperturbed by approaching catastrophe. But again, the substance is different, for Gorbachev’s temperament was that of a survivor of many previous catastrophes.

Yet they do have one major thing in common, and that is the belief that, regardless of what the ruler does, the polity he rules must necessarily continue. This is perhaps the most essential, if seldom acknowledged, insight of the post-modern “liberal” mind: that if you take the pillars away, the roof will continue to hover in the air.

In another passage:

There is a corollary of this largely unspoken assumption: that no matter what you do to one part of a machine, the rest of the machine will continue to function normally.

A variant of this is the frequently expressed denial of the law of unintended consequences: the belief that, if the effect you intend is good, the actual effect must be similarly happy.

Very small children, the mad, and certain extinct primitive tribes, have shared in this belief system, but only the fully college-educated liberal has the vocabulary to make it sound plausible.

With an incredible rapidity, America’s status as the world’s pre-eminent superpower is now passing away. This is a function both of the nearly systematic abandonment of U.S. interests and allies overseas, with metastasizing debt and bureaucracy on the home front.

The turmoil in Egypt is a test that, I fear, Obama and his Secretary of State, will not pass.

UPDATE: The situation in Egypt festers with an ambiguous statement by Obama no help. Here is an example of how Reagan handled the Philippine overthrow of Marcos. A very different approach.

UPDATE #2: A column by Charles Krauthammer is indispensable reading today.

Elections will be held. The primary U.S. objective is to guide a transition period that gives secular democrats a chance.

The House of Mubarak is no more. He is 82, reviled and not running for reelection. The only question is who fills the vacuum. There are two principal possibilities: a provisional government of opposition forces, possibly led by Mohamed ElBaradei, or an interim government led by the military.

ElBaradei would be a disaster. As head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), he did more than anyone to make an Iranian nuclear bomb possible, covering for the mullahs for years. (As soon as he left, the IAEA issued a strikingly tough, unvarnished report about the program.)

Worse, ElBaradei has allied himself with the Muslim Brotherhood. Such an alliance is grossly unequal. The Brotherhood has organization, discipline and widespread support. In 2005, it won approximately 20 percent of parliamentary seats. ElBaradei has no constituency of his own, no political base, no political history within Egypt at all.

He has lived abroad for decades. He has less of a residency claim to Egypt than Rahm Emanuel has to Chicago. A man with no constituency allied with a highly organized and powerful political party is nothing but a mouthpiece and a figurehead, a useful idiot whom the Brotherhood will dispense with when it ceases to have need of a cosmopolitan frontman.

The Egyptian military, on the other hand, is the most stable and important institution in the country. It is Western-oriented and rightly suspicious of the Brotherhood. And it is widely respected, carrying the prestige of the 1952 Free Officers Movement that overthrew the monarchy and the 1973 October War that restored Egyptian pride along with the Sinai.

The military is the best vehicle for guiding the country to free elections over the coming months.

El Baradei also attempted to intervene in the 2004 US elections by releasing a letter that alleged US forces had allowed radicals to steal hundreds of pounds of explosives in Iraq by failing to guard the facility. After the election, it was proven that the letter was not true. The man is anti-American and a liar.


Sunday, September 26th, 2010

We may be entering an era when cyberwar is a real threat, at least to some. I was a computer programmer in 1958-59 but that is the stone age of computing. The machine I programmed was An IBM 650 which was so primitive that it did not use hexadecimal code. This was even before FORTRAN was written so I claim no current expertise. Later, after medical school, I took some computer science courses and learned to program in Pascal and C. Still later, I learned Visual Basic but never got very far in C++ so I am pretty much a neophyte in Object Oriented Programming. The term, often abbreviated to OOP, is a way of creating small pieces of code that can be reused over and over without rewriting it and the attendant risk of error. It is also faster. This also applies to modular programming and the differences are explained in the wiki entry.

It now appears that a new “worm” has been created by someone that is capable of attacking the Iranian nuclear program. Roger Simon is the only one I have seen so far discussing it and its implications. This involves small devices called PLCs, or “Programmable Logic Controllers” some of which run your washing machine. They are the heart of computer controlled machinery, such as the 30,000 Iranian centrifuges that are purifying Uranium 235. What if all those 30,000 centrifuges went crazy, spinning so fast that they self destructed ?

This brings up the subject of Stuxnet, a computer “worm.” It attacks one specific system, the Siemens company’s SCADA systems. It happens that Siemens designed and built the SCADA systems that run its nuclear program. What a coincidence !

Has the war with Iran already begun ? Maybe.

But just as television news was transformed by technology before the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and politics was transformed by social networking before it appeared that Twitter would bring about a second Iranian Revolution, process and progress need crystallizing events, where the political and cultural significance of technological innovation becomes indisputable.

Such a moment came in July with the discovery of a worm known as Stuxnet, which sought out a particular version of the Siemens’ SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems that control power grids and industrial plants. According to Ralph Langner, an expert in industrial control systems who published a study of the worm last week, Stuxnet was capable of taking over SCADA controls in order to deliver a kinetic attack by causing critical systems to physically malfunction. The systems infected weren’t randomly targeted: a majority are in Iran.

It’s an interesting idea. A lot of Windows 7 code was written by Israeli engineers. Maybe their target is more than the nuclear program.

Stuxnet is an even more dramatic transformational event: warfare is never going to be the same, at least while the underlying protocols governing the Internet create these kinds of systemic vulnerabilities. But even if there was agreement to rewrite these protocols starting tomorrow, such a project would take a decade. So, let the damage assessment begin. Who knows? By demonstrating how Iran could so very easily experience a Chernobyl-like catastrophe, or the entire destruction of its conventional energy grid, the first round of the “war” may have already been won.

Unfortunately, the Chinese have been working very hard at the same sort of thing and we had a determined cyberattack on the Pentagon e-mail system two years ago. This may be what war looks like in the future.

UPDATE: Some body is noticing.

A long and essential discussion of the Middle East.

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

I have long read Michael J Totten and he is, in my opinion, the best person to explain the Middle East to Americans. Today, he has a long column on the Middle East which any thinking person should read to understand where we are right now.

If you read nothing else of this column, please read this. It explains so much. It is an interview of a young Israeli PhD scholar of middle east politics.

Jonathan Spyer: And what they have to face up to now—and you know this very well—is that the three most powerful countries in the Middle East are not Arab.

MJT: Yes.

Jonathan Spyer: Israel, Turkey, and Iran. This is difficult for Arabs to deal with.

MJT: Many have a hard time even admitting it. I pointed this out years ago and got all kinds of grief in my inbox from Arabs who said I had no idea what I was talking about.

Jonathan Spyer: I’m sure.

MJT: They said I’m a stupid American who knows nothing of the Middle East, but they’re in denial. The only Arab country calling shots right now is Syria, and that’s only because Bashar Assad is a sidekick of the Persians.

Jonathan Spyer: A Palestinian friend of mine just the other day was telling me how Turkey and Iran are competing with each other to be the standard bearer of the Palestinian cause. Iran, with its sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah, and Turkey, with its flotillas, are the two countries with all the creative ideas. What do the Arab states have next to that? Nothing. Arabism’s flagship cause is championed by two non-Arab states.

How Syria fits into all this is one of the biggest divides here in Israel. There are those in the defense establishment who believe Assad’s championship of the resistance is entirely cynical and instrumental, and they want to pry him away from Iran.

MJT: His foreign policy is just instrumental and cynical, but I don’t believe for a minute he can be pried away from Iran.

Jonathan Spyer: I don’t either. And I’m glad that the people around the prime minister don’t buy it.

MJT: How do you know they don’t buy it?

Jonathan Spyer: Because I know some of them. The people around Netanyahu don’t believe this is possible.

MJT: I’m glad to hear that, because I’ve met lots of Israelis who do. And I think they’re crazy to think that. A lot of Israelis simply do not understand Syria.

Jonathan Spyer: Absolutely. They aren’t naïve people by any means. On the contrary. But they find it very hard to except the irrational and ideological elements in Middle East politics. They themselves are not irrational or ideological. They’re extremely rational, and they assume everyone else is, as well. And so they make massive errors.

MJT: It’s a common problem all over the world. Lots of people assume everyone else is just like themselves. Americans often assume most people in the Arab world want what we have. I’ve met plenty of Arabs who believe the United States is involved in these dark conspiracies like their own governments are.

Jonathan Spyer: Yes. Arabs often think they’re being mature and sophisticated by talking this way, but in order to have a proper, grown-up, three-dimensional understanding of American foreign policy you need to understand that the idea of America is one of the things that informs American foreign policy. If you don’t understand that, you won’t be able to understand what the U.S. is doing and why.

And some of the planners and thinkers here in Israel still believe that everyone at the end of the day wants the same things they want. That isn’t the case, and you will make grave errors if you assume that it is. I’m not a fan of Netanyahu’s prime ministership down the line, but he does have people around him who understand the role ideas play in this region. It stops us from making the kinds of errors that, for example, Ehud Barak made in 2000.

MJT: I thought Barak’s withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon was the right thing to do, and so was offering Arafat a Palestinian state. I supported both, and I still do even in hindsight, but we have to be honest about the results of those policies. War followed both, and Israelis will have to be extremely careful about withdrawing from the West Bank and the eastern half of Jerusalem.

Jonathan Spyer: Absolutely. Many people still say we all know what the final settlement is going to look like, so we just need to get the two sides together and work it out. To that I say, “No. You don’t know what the final status is going to look like. The final status you have in mind is what you came up with by negotiating with yourself.”

I was an early skeptic of the Oslo peace process.

MJT: Why? I wasn’t, but you were right and I was wrong. What did you see then that I didn’t?

Jonathan Spyer: We all get things wrong in the Middle East, but that time I was right. I’m not saying I was some kind of genius—I was just a kid—but I did manage to call that one for whatever it’s worth.

All you had to do at the time was be interested enough in Arab political culture to listen carefully to what the other side said. That’s all it took. Once you did that, you’d have to be a moron not to see what was coming. Most people weren’t doing that.

Hezbollah erected a billboard on the border facing south into Israel showing a severed head being held by its hair. Text in Hebrew says, Sharon, don’t forget. Your soldiers are still in Lebanon.

MJT: It’s the same in the U.S. today. Too many people don’t want to listen to what’s being said in the Arab world. A lot of it is deeply disturbing. I could be wrong, and I don’t like to psychoanalyze people, but I think that’s the problem. They’re afraid of the implications of all this crazy talk in the Middle East. So they pretend they don’t hear it, they explain it away, or they say it’s not serious.

Jonathan Spyer: I think that’s right.

MJT: I don’t like what I often hear either, and I don’t know what we should do about it, but I’m aware of it, and it’s there whether I like it or not.

Jonathan Spyer: That’s the bottom line. And from there you have to build a rational policy. You may not like it, but what else can you do?

Israelis were exhausted by a half-century of war before the peace process started. Every family in the country was shaped by it. There was an immense longing in the 1990s for peace, normalcy, and the good life. We had an intense will and longing for that. So when the Oslo crowd came to town and said, “You can be born again, you can have peace with the Arabs,” people bought into it.

They were idealists, and they were rationalists. If a note of triumphalism creeps into my voice, it’s only because I remember how arrogant they were during the 1990s when they thought they were right. They were extremely contemptuous toward everyone at the time who was trying to warn them. We were described as anachronisms from a different century.

MJT: That’s what I thought at the time.

Jonathan Spyer: Okay. Fine. It’s okay.

MJT: I was young. I wasn’t writing about the Middle East then.

Jonathan Spyer: Sure. It’s fine. Everyone gets this place wrong.

MJT: No one has ever been right consistently. I don’t think it’s possible.

Jonathan Spyer: It’s not.

MJT: This place is too weird.

Jonathan Spyer: [Laughs.] Yeah. It is.

MJT: It took me years to understand how this place works just on the most basic level because it’s so different from the part of the world I grew up in. I first had to stop assuming Arabs think like Americans. Then I had to learn how they think differently from Americans. I still don’t fully understand them, and I probably never will.

Jonathan Spyer: It’s hard. I used to try to figure it out by extrapolating from the Jewish experience, but it doesn’t work. Their response to events is totally different. It’s useless. You have to throw this sort of thinking into the trash or you can’t understand anything.

MJT: When the U.S. went into Iraq, I thought Iraqis would react the way I would have if I were Iraqi.

Jonathan Spyer: Sure.

MJT: But they didn’t. But I wasn’t only projecting. I knew they weren’t exactly like me. They’re Iraqis. I guess I expected the Arabs of Iraq to react the way the Kurds of Iraq did, and the Kurds reacted the way I would have reacted. But the Arab world isn’t America, and it is not Kurdistan.

MJT: The Arab world has its own political culture, and it’s not like the political culture I know, or even like other Middle Eastern political cultures.

If the Palestinians had a Western political culture, the problem here could be resolved in ten minutes. If you Israelis were dealing with Canadians instead of Palestinians, you would have had peace a long time ago. And if the Palestinians were dealing with Canadians instead of Israelis, there would still be a conflict.

Jonathan Spyer: That’s exactly right. And that’s why it’s so frustrating sometimes when people say, “If only the two sides could sit down and talk.”

This is why the people who worry that the GZM controversy will affect how Muslims think about Americans, are foolish. The GZM controversy is a pimple on the ass of the issues between Islam and the West. The sooner we understand this, the less chance of catastrophic error.

Israel, the existential threat.

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

UPDATE: We are staring to see some frank talk about Turkey’s role in the crisis. Turkey has turned away from us and should no longer be considered an ally. That includes the F 35 fighter we have agreed to sell to them. We might as well sell them to Iran, at this point.

I have previously posted on the Cordesman paper about a possible Iran-Israel nuclear exchange. He estimates that Iran would lose with 28 million dead and “the end of Iran as an organized society.” While that would deter a rational state, Iran is not a rational state.

The recent raid on a ship carrying cargo and militant Islamists to Gaza has brought world wide opprobrium on Israel although that was to be expected. The UN, as expected, postured and pontificated. Obama produced vague generalities that are faintly anti-Israel. The American left has become progressively (no pun intended) more hostile to Israel. A former ambassador attacks them for “alienating” supporters, as if defending oneself would alienate a true supporter.

In less than six months, under its truncated Likud government, Israel has managed to alienate its most important regional Muslim ally, Turkey; angered the United Arab Emirates with the botched assassination saga in Dubai; endured expulsion of diplomats from Australia and the United Kingdom — two of Israel’s greatest friends; accorded Hamas’ supporters a public relations bonanza, and kicked settlement construction sand in the eyes of Vice President Biden.

Here we see much of the leftist narrative. Turkey has been shifting toward the Islamist forces since Erdogan and the AKP party took over seven years ago. Army officers are being arrested for “treason” as the Islamists try to emasculate the secular army. This has nothing to do with Israel and everything thing to do with Islamist politicians who are destroying the legacy of Ataturk.

It is all Israel’s fault. Hamas is just a political party; the settlements in Jerusalem were not in traditional Jewish neighborhoods, and so on. The fact remains that Israel has control of the West Bank and Gaza because the Arabs started a war and lost. In fact, they started three wars and lost them all. When Germany started a war and lost, they lost East Prussia and Sudetanland. We do not see German suicide bombers in Poland or Czech Republic protesting that they were dispossessed just because they lost a war and demanding “right of return.” They would be laughed out the UN. Why is Israel different ?

Well, they are Jews. They were expelled from what is now the West bank in 70 AD after rebelling against the Roman provincial officials. However, there have always been some Jews living in what is now Israel, especially Jerusalem. The Zionist movement began when Theodore Herzl recognized the implications of the Dreyfus Affair. After watching anti-Semitic rallies in paris, he came to the conclusion that assimilation was a trap, an opinion reinforced in Germany in the 1930s. The emigration of Jews to the portion of the Ottoman Empire now called Israel and Palestine began with the Russian pogroms in 1888. Herzl then encouraged more emigration around the turn of the century. Arab- Jewish violence was well established by the 1930s, mostly at the instigation of the Arabs. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the 1930s was an avid follower of Hitler. Copies of Mein Kampf are still on sale in Cairo and, interestingly, in Turkey. Turkey, in recent years, has seen a rise in anti-American conspiracy theories that are intertwined with anti-Jewish folklore. One that goes back to the Middle Ages is the cannibalism of Christian children. The modern equivalent is seen in a popular Turkish movie in which Americans harvest the kidneys from dead Iraqis for shipment to Israel. It starred many well known American actors.

The level of vicious anti-Israeli rhetoric is high and this is not just disgusting but dangerous. Some American leftists have concluded that Israel is an embarrassment rather than an ally. They have no strategic sense and the instinct is to dump your friends when they are
not being helpful. Harry S Truman once said that about a famous Roman Senator, “His downfall began when he took his friends for granted and tried to bribe his enemies.” This is a profound statement and one I have lived by. It is an instinct to try to add to our circle by recruiting new members, even if it may push aside a loyal supporter. This appears to be the central tenet of the Obama foreign policy, illustrating how far the Democratic Party has come from its origins.

Anyway, the present crisis has its origins long ago and has nothing to do with the actions of Israel, which are totally defensive.

Israel, Gaza and the Palestinians

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

UPDATE: Commentary is critical of this piece and they are absolutely correct on this item.

NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip – Palestinians looted dozens of greenhouses on Tuesday, walking off with irrigation hoses, water pumps and plastic sheeting in a blow to fledgling efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.

American Jewish donors had bought more than 3,000 greenhouses from Israeli settlers in Gaza for $14 million last month and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority. …

Palestinian police stood by helplessly Tuesday as looters carted off materials from greenhouses in several settlements, and commanders complained they did not have enough manpower to protect the prized assets. In some instances, there was no security and in others, police even joined the looters, witnesses said.

That story was well known and I was disappointed to see him bungle that issue.

Lawrence Wright is an expert on the Middle East and militant Islam. He is the author of The Looming Tower, the best book I’ve seen on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qeada. He had a piece in the New Yorker that I think it is important to read. There has been quite a bit of misinformation about the Israeli invasion of Gaza that was called “Cast Lead.” The recent report by Richard Goldstone, is as anti-Israel as one would expect in a report coming from the UN. The report can be downloaded from that link. It is very popular on the left, as one might expect give the left’s infatuation with militant Islam lately. Of course the Jews and gays on the left are too smart to actually go to see for themselves. That might be dangerous. Haaretz, the self hating leftist Israeli newspaper is on the case with all venom one could expect. Just for a microsecond, imagine a newspaper in the Muslim world that would attack its own government like that. They even claim that the fact that Goldstone is Jewish inoculates him from the anti-Semitism claim. I would remind them that there is an American member of al Qeada who was raised Jewish.

Anyway, I will accept Lawrence Wright as a fair observer.

Every opportunity for peace in the Middle East has been led to slaughter, and at this isolated desert crossing, on June 25, 2006, another moment of promise culminated in bloodshed. The year had begun with tumult. That January, Hamas, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist group, won Palestine’s parliamentary elections, defeating the more moderate Fatah Party. Both parties sent armed partisans into the streets, and Gaza verged on civil war. Then, on June 9th, a tentative truce between Hamas and Israel ended after an explosion on a beach near Gaza City, apparently caused by an Israeli artillery shell, killed seven members of a Palestinian family, who were picnicking. (The Israelis deny responsibility.) Hamas fired fifteen rockets into Israel the next day. The Israelis then launched air strikes into Gaza for several days, killing eight militants and fourteen civilians, including five children.

I think the artillery shell story has been debunked. The wounded children were taken to a Palestinian hospital and something was done to them, possibly removal of telltale shrapnel fragments, before they were allowed to go to Israel for definitive care. One version of the story is here but there are inconsistencies. Even this story notes the odd incident with the shrapnel.

The victims had initially been treated by Palestinian doctors who removed almost all shrapnel from the bodies of victims before they arrived at Israeli hospitals for treatment.[26] Representatives of the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center said that Palestinian doctors at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, who had treated a woman wounded during the blast, had made unnecessary cuts all over her body in an effort to remove all the surgically reachable shrapnel. The Israeli hospital said they had never before received a patient from which all possible shrapnel had been removed.”[27]

To go on with the story.

Amid this strife, Mahmoud Abbas—the head of Fatah, and the President of the Palestinian Authority, the governing body established by the Oslo peace accords of 1993—put forward a bold idea. The people of Palestine, he declared, should be given the chance to vote on a referendum for a two-state solution to its conflict with Israel. Perhaps it was a cynical political maneuver, as the leaders of Hamas believed. The fundamental platform of Hamas was its refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist, yet polls showed that Palestinians overwhelmingly supported the concept of two states. A referendum would be not only a rebuke to Hamas; it also would be a signal to Israel—and to the rest of the world—that Palestinians were determined to make peace. Abbas set the referendum for July.

A paranoid person would suspect that Hamas and their al Qeada allies would try to create an incident to derail this olive branch.

Just before dawn on June 25th, eight Palestinian commandos crawled out of a tunnel into a grove of trees in Kerem Shalom. A new moon was in the sky, making it the darkest night of the month. With mortar fire and anti-tank missiles providing cover, the commandos, some of them disguised in Israeli military uniforms, split into three teams. One team attacked an empty armored personnel carrier, which had been parked at the crossing as a decoy. Another team hit the observation tower. The two Israelis in the tower were injured, but not before they killed two of the attackers.

The third team shot a rocket-propelled grenade into a Merkava tank that was parked on a berm facing the security fence. The explosion shook the tank; then its rear hatch opened and three soldiers tried to flee. Two of them were shot and killed, but a third, lightly wounded, was captured. The attackers raced back into Gaza with their prize: a lanky teen-ager named Gilad Shalit.

That was the beginning of the Gilad Shalit hostage story. It is pretty clear that the provocation was planned well. It has ended all chance of reconciliation and eventually ended in the Gaza invasion. The entire story is worth reading as it contains what I consider to be a fair account of the invasion and the circumstances surrounding it. Wright may occasionally lean toward the Palestinians in his account but he is fair.

It has been said that the “Palestinians never lose an opportunity to lose an opportunity.” The militants have little interest in governing. They are conducting a war with Israel. He even recounts stories of young women being harassed at the beach, the only feature of Gaza that is not a slum, even though they are fully dressed.

I would like to visit Israel and hope it might be possible next year.

Implausible deniability

Monday, September 21st, 2009

The Obama administration seems to be well on the way to surpassing the record for ineptitude of the Carter administration. Its actions in the ballistic missile defense situation in eastern Europe are about as bad as it can get.

UPDATE: There is another theory about Obama’s actions. It is that his actions are deliberate gestures and indicate his contempt for the US allies he insults.

We must keep in mind the fact that Obama is not a yokel and that the State Department is there to prevent an ill-informed president from unnecessarily stepping on toes. What happened last Thursday was a deliberate gesture. It was aimed at our allies in eastern Europe and at Russia, and it was recognized as such in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia. Vladimir Putin spoke of Obama’s decision as a courageous act. Our friends in eastern Europe would not have used that adjective. A signal has been given, and they know the meaning.

We are living in a dangerous time. It seems highly unlikely that Barack Obama will get his way in domestic affairs. The Democrats may control Congress, but they now fear a rout in 2010, and they are likely to tread with caution from now on. In foreign affairs, however, presidents have a relatively free hand, and this president has ample time to do damage to a country that, there is reason to suspect, he deeply hates.

I don’t know if this is a credible explanation but nothing in American history so far explains these actions.

Last week the Obama administration announced that it was reconfiguring U.S. plans for ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Europe, beginning with halting plans for installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. The shift would include an increased emphasis on Aegis-equipped warships already being upgraded to BMD capability that would patrol the waters of the North Sea and Mediterranean. At a press conference last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates emphasized the technical rationale for the decision: The assessment of Iran’s ability to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile had shifted, indicating that the development of such a missile is a long way off; this new scheme would protect Europe, which was still at risk and would continue to be vulnerable; and the new scheme would be in place sooner and ultimately would be more effective.

As it happened, technology aside, the decision met one of Russia’s ongoing demands — that the United States should not base BMD installations in Poland and the Czech Republic. However, Gates stated that “Russia’s attitude and possible reaction played no part in my recommendation to the president on this issue. Of course, considering Russia’s past hostility toward American missile defense in Europe, if Russia’s leaders embrace this plan, then that will be an unexpected — and welcome — change of policy on their part.”

This is unbelievable and is a cause for worry that the Russians will perceive this statement as worse than weakness.

U.S. President Barack Obama insisted that the decision had nothing to do with the Russians, saying it was merely a bonus if Russia’s leaders ended up “a little less paranoid” about the United States. Speaking to CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Obama said, “My task here was not to negotiate with the Russians. The Russians don’t make determinations about what our defense posture is.”

If Gates and Obama are to be believed, the decision to halt deployment in the Czech Republic and Poland was made without any consideration of Russian views whatsoever. It was simply the result of technical and military analysis, and the question of how the major power in the region — Russia — might react simply wasn’t considered.

Once again, this is simply not credible.

The issue is not, as the president has put it, one of Russian paranoia. The Russians might well be paranoid, but that paranoia is not a matter of incidental importance to the United States. Unless the United States is abandoning the idea of sanctions and moving to accept Iran as a nuclear power, or has already made the decision to strike Iran, Russia — paranoid or not — is important to the United States. We suspect that it crossed someone’s mind that in making this move now, the United States would be capitulating to a major Russian demand.

Certainly, it could not have escaped the administration’s attention that the decision, regardless of how it was made, would be seen by all as a response to the Russians. This is how the Poles and Czechs saw it; it is how the Russians saw it; it is how any reasonable observer would have seen it. That’s because this was a core Russian demand and because the announcement came two weeks before the meetings on Iran.

Is Obama really this incompetent?

In foreign policy, it is always important to be prepared to pretend that the elephant is not in the room. But there has to be a touch of plausibility to the pretense. In this case, the problem is that the administration’s description of how it made this decision indicates breathtaking incompetence. In saying they took the decision without considering diplomatic consequences, U.S. officials are claiming the administration doesn’t know how to play major league ball — and seem proud of that.

Maybe he is really this incompetent. Let’s look at Israel, another erstwhile ally. Obama promised change we could believe in and he has been as good as his word .

U.S. relations with Israel have had their minor bumps, but Israeli trust of America and respect for the American president have been constant. This was true whether the president was Nixon or Carter, Clinton or George W. Bush.

As a result, Israeli prime ministers — even crusty old war horses like Yitzak Shamir and Ariel Sharon — have struggled mightily to remain on good terms with the U.S. president. It can be argued that when a brash young Benyamin Netanyahu got on President Clinton’s bad side, the price was his office.

But in nine months all of this has changed. A recent survey sponsored by the Jerusalem Post showed that only 4 percent of Israelis believe that President Obama’s policies are more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian. Considering that the margin of error in the poll was 4.5 percent, one might wonder whether any Israeli, or at least any Israeli Jew, believes Obama is on the side of America’s long-time ally.

Meanwhile 51 percent of those polled believe that Obama’s policies are more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel. When more than half of the Israeli population believes that the American president tilts towards their sworn enemies, it’s fair to say that Obama has produced a sea-change in this small but important corner of the world.

But this is only the beginning of “change you can scarcely believe” in Israel. For decades Israelis have been bitterly divided, often more or less down the middle, over politics. And throughout much of this period, Benyamin Netanyahu has been among the most divisive Israeli politicians.

When Netanyahu formed a largely “right-wing” coalition government earlier this year, his regime was considered fragile even by Israeli standards. But then the Obama administration insisted that Israel halt all new construction in West Bank settlements, including construction of new homes within large settlements to accommodate natural population. Then it protested plans to build a new apartments in East Jerusalem.

When Netanyahu rejected these demands, his popularity soared. Obama had transformed the least lovable of all Israeli politicians into a leader around whom a strong majority of Israelis could rally.

How has Obama’s change in policy affected the Arabs, his preferred partners in the middle east ? There is no sign of any positive response as the Arabs worry much more about Iran than about Israel, rhetoric notwithstanding. They see the same weakness in Obama as he considers abandoning Afghanistan and accepting Iran as a nuclear power.

This will not end well.

The Prince of Darkness

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

This weekend, I spent four days on my sailboat at Catalina Island, in Avalon Harbor. My son and his friends were celebrating his coming marriage. I spent most of the weekend reading a book I should have read several years ago when it came out. It is called The Prince of Darkness and is a memoir by Robert Novak who died last week. Novak was a reporter who spent 50 years reporting on politics from Washington, DC. He began as a young reporter for the Wall Street Journal after an apprenticeship as a local sports reporter and then as an AP writer, rewriting phone reports by AP stringers. He then was invited, much to his surprise, to a partnership with Rowland Evans, a well-connected Washington socialite and political reporter. They began with a column that emphasized political gossip but soon moved on to hard reporting mixed with opinion. They were probably the most effective and influential partnership in national political history. The best comparison would probably be Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson, who combined hard reporting and strong opinion for many years although they were not a partnership so much as a succession from Pearson to Anderson.

I disagreed with Novak on several issues, chiefly Israel and the Iraq War. On the Iraq War he was consistent and, unlike most Iraq War critics, he was also opposed to the 1991 Gulf War. My problem with most critics of the Iraq invasion of 2003 is that they have no realistic opinion on the alternatives Bush faced after the 2001 attack. Once we had been attacked, the alternative to an invasion was withdrawal from Saudi Arabia and a concession that Saddam should be allowed to continue his regime with the risk of nuclear weapons and further aggression. The usual critics try to say that we had Saddam “in a box” and sanctions would have been sufficient to prevent further adventurism on his part. This is ignoring the failure of sanctions, which were being attacked by the same leftists who attacked the invasion. Had we conceded that we could not prevail, radical Islam would have been empowered and we would face further attacks. Novak, almost unique among serious pundits, opposed the 1991 war and was willing to accept the Kuwait annexation and the potential for a second invasion of Saudi Arabia. Given that Saudi Arabia was the origin of most of the 2001 hijackers, and that they have continued funding of radical Islamic activity throughout the world, his position had consistency and a logic that, while I may oppose it, is far more compelling than the opportunism seen on the left wing since 1991.

I also disagree with him on Israel and he does not provide the same logic and consistent argument that he provides on Iraq. His book shows a seamy side of Washington that, no doubt, led to his cynical and skeptical view of the machinations of the federal government over the 50 years in which he wrote his column. The book is a real education on the workings of the federal government and a cause for concern that nothing seems to have changed except, perhaps, for a lessening on the quality of political leaders. He is very critical of Newt Gingrich, for example, and his reputation as a right wing critic should be discounted as his criticism is bipartisan and well founded. I have seen enough politics at close hand to be impressed that this is an account that will stand for many years. I highly recommend it.

Iran in flames

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

UPDATE #2: Even Gary Sick calls it a coup.

UPDATE: An Iranian blogger agrees with me. Michael Ledeen credits Obama with the force of the protests.

Until quite recently, the Iranians did not believe they could do such a thing on their own. They believed they needed outside support, above all American support, in order to succeed. They thought that Bushitlercheney would provide that support, and they were bitterly disappointed. But nobody believes that Obama will help them, and they must know that they are on their own.

Any hope they might have had in the Obama White House was quickly dismissed in the administration’s two statements on the matter. The first came from the president himself, anticipating a Mousavi victory (it is too soon to speculate on the source of this happy thought), and of course, in his narcissistic way, taking personal credit for it.

Yes, Obama can do great things. Some interesting comments:

I’m following the “tweets” from Iran. Fascinating. As of a few hours ago the tenor seems to be changing as the regime seems to be taking an even harder stand. One tweeter writes that students are now being rounded up by the hundreds; another writes that the police are increasingly beating people up; and another writes that police are speaking in Arabic and suggests that these police have been imported from Lebanon.

Hezbollah ?

More now about foreign forces being used to suppress the rioting:

Reports are circulating that Venezuela has sent anti-riot troops to Tehran to help Ahmadinejad, joining Hezbollah members from Palestine and Lebanon who are employed by the Islamic government as anti-riot police — the reason such forces are being brought in is that some of the Iranian police are unwilling to hit people as ordered and some are even joining the protesters.

Sounds more and more like Tiananmen Square.

The Iranian election, “won” in record time by Ahmadinejad, has set off huge riots in Tehran. Michael Totten has the best coverage of what is going on in English. It is not yet clear how much danger the regime is in but there is little doubt that the election was a fraud. The regime has been unpopular for years and half the population of Iran is under age 25. They are sophisticated and the Farsi language is the most popular language of blogs. The regime has taken steps to shut down the internet and Twitter to try to control communication among the resistance.

I have read a couple of books about Iran and recommend them. One is Guests of the Ayatollah, by Mark Bowden (who also wrote Blackhawk Down), which is a history of the revolution and the American embassy hostage crisis. He managed to interview, not only most of the former hostages, but many of the Iranian hostage takers as well. An interesting moment in the book is his visit to the former embassy which is now a museum. As he left, the guards at the entrance asked him if he was American. When he answered that he was, they both said “Go George Bush !” and gave him the thumbs up.

The other book I have read, and one not well known, is James Calvell’s novel Whirlwind, which takes place over a few days when the Shah was overthrown. It provides a picture of the bazaar culture of the Iranian cities and the suddenness of the change that occurred. While his novels of Japan and Hong Kong are better known, this one appears to be as accurate as history.

Another book I plan to read is Amir Taheri’s, Persian Night, a history of Iran since the revolution.

Written in sorrow rather than anger, The Persian Night clearly and calmly describes Iran’s descent into unreality. It is a masterwork of information and argument. Formerly editor of Iran’s most influential paper, Amir Taheri is now perforce an exile but he remains in touch with all sorts of insiders. In addition to his native Farsi, he is fluent in Arabic and the main European languages. Frequent quotations from Persian poetry, old or contemporary, reveal his love of his native country and its culture, but he is equally likely to make good use of Plato and Cicero, Hobbes and Goethe, or even Frantz Fanon to illustrate a point. More than ironic, it seems outright improbable that one and the same Iran could be home to ignorant bigots like Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors–in particular the vicious and narrow-minded president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad–and a sophisticated humanist like Taheri.

That is from a review.

Another good source is “Know Thine Enemy, written under a pseudonym by a CIA agent who, upon retirement from the Agency, decided to smuggle himself into Iran for a more personal look at the culture he had come to love. He is better know these days by his real name, Reuel Marc Gehrect, and he writes for several publications, including The Weekly Standard. It will be interesting to see what he has to say about the current upheaval in Iran.

This story will be developing for a while. The New York Times has a typically fatuous story on the election.

Among downcast Iranian journalists and academics, the chatter focused on why the interlocking leadership of clerics, military officers and politicians, without whose acquiescence little of importance happens, decided to stick with Mr. Ahmadinejad. Did they panic at the unexpected passion for change that arose in the closing weeks of the Moussavi campaign? Did Mr. Moussavi go too far in his promises of women’s rights, civil freedom and a more conciliatory approach to the West? Or was the surge an illusion after all, the product of wishful thinking?

Many of the early stories focused on the suspicious speed with which the result was determined. Among other factors is the voting by illiterates. Unlike other countries with large illiterate voter populations, there are no symbols or photos of the candidates to guide them. Instead, the voter has his ballot marked by a “helper” from the Revolutionary Guards. Since 20% of the electorate is illiterate, that forms a nice base for the IRG candidate, Ahmadinejad.

Andrew Sullivan, for once on the right side, has updates.


Monday, May 18th, 2009

Bibi Netanyahu is in Washington today to talk to President Obama. Last week, I was very concerned about some tough talk that had come out of the Obama administration. This week the concern seems to have been premature. Obama has been cautious in action, much more cautious than in talk. Theodore Roosevelt famously proposed to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Obama appears to believe the opposite.

Obama is much stronger politically, but he has consistently acted with caution, particularly in the foreign policy arena. Much of his foreign policy follows from the Bush administration. He has made no major breaks in foreign policy beyond rhetoric; his policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia and Europe are essentially extensions of pre-existing policy. Obama faces major economic problems in the United States and clearly is not looking for major changes in foreign policy. He understands how quickly public sentiment can change, and he does not plan to take risks he does not have to take right now.

I don’t know if the serious people Obama has to deal with across the world will grow tired of his lies but, for now, they are better than his proposals. The realities of the situation make his previous assertions about a two-state solution sound foolish.

The foundation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for years has been the assumption that there would be a two-state solution. Such a solution has not materialized for a host of reasons. First, at present there are two Palestinian entities, Gaza and the West Bank, which are hostile to each other. Second, the geography and economy of any Palestinian state would be so reliant on Israel that independence would be meaningless; geography simply makes the two-state proposal almost impossible to implement. Third, no Palestinian government would have the power to guarantee that rogue elements would not launch rockets at Israel, potentially striking at the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem corridor, Israel’s heartland. And fourth, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have the domestic political coherence to allow any negotiator to operate from a position of confidence. Whatever the two sides negotiated would be revised and destroyed by their political opponents, and even their friends.

So, the two-state solution is a delusion. What comes next ?

Overall, Israel is a conservative power. In terms of nation-states, it does not want upheaval; it is quite content with the current regimes in the Arab world. But Netanyahu would love to see an international conference with the Arab states roundly condemning Israel publicly. This would shore up the justification for Netanyahu’s policies domestically while simultaneously creating a framework for reshaping world opinion by showing an Israel isolated among hostile states.

Obama is likely hearing through diplomatic channels from the Arab countries that they do not want to participate directly in the Palestinian peace process. And the United States really does not want them there, either. The peace process normally ends in a train wreck anyway, and Obama is in no hurry to see the wreckage.

So, once again, it is all theater and talk, no substance. Since most of Obama’s policies fit that description, it should be no problem.