Thursday, May 29, 2008

Syria isn't Serious; Lebanon is

Barry Rubin

May 27, 2008
Why is Israel negotiating with Syria and what happened in Lebanon?
One of these events may be the Middle East's most important development for 2008. Hint: it isn't the first of them.
Let's consider why the two sides are "negotiating" including the fact that they aren't negotiating.
There isn't going to be a deal. Both sides know it, yet have good reason to be seen talking, indirectly that is.
Start with six factors that account for Israeli government policy.
1.Keep Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in power. It's not the only issue but sure it's there. Olmert wants to claim he's amidst such important negotiations that it's a sin to interfere. What's more important, he says, envelopes filled with cash or peace? Olmert has used this strategy with Palestinian talks for a while and is now jumping on a different horse. This doesn't mean he's going to give away national security assets to save himself. The beauty of this strategy is that he doesn't have to do that. Just making headlines achieves this goal.
2.Show everyone Israel wants peace. The country is indeed ready to take chances and make compromises--though only if sufficiently rewarded and proving this seeks to muster support from Western governments, media, and public opinion, and also to ensure its base within Israel.
3.Give Syria reason to show restraint. If Syria is gabbing away in contacts that are all-win, no-lose for that dictatorship--it doesn't want to wreck them by too much terror or another Hizballah war on Israel. Keeping things quiet in the north lets Israel focus on the south, the Gaza Strip.
4.Keep Turkey happy. Turkey is an important friend of Israel and has tied its prestige to this initiative. Not real important but should be on the list.
5.Show the Palestinians that Israel has an alternate partner, as a way of pressuring them. Israel gains a freer hand for dealing with them (see point 3, above) by at least momentarily widening the gap between Palestinian and Syrian interests. Many of those backing the Syrian track don't believe progress with the Palestinians is possible. If point 1 is most important for Olmert's political calculations; point 5 is central for coalition partner Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
6.Media coverage and political statements ignore or misinterpret the fact that Israel isn't negotiating with Syria. It's merely holding more systematic, indirect contacts to establish whether Israeli preconditions for direct negotiations can be met. Even though the answer is "no," this means Israel can do this at little cost and no substantive concessions.
Thus, Israel is doing something totally different from the ideas of Senator Barack Obama which would bring disaster if he becomes the U.S. president. If Syria is ready to move away from Iran, stop backing terrorist groups, be ready to make full peace with Israel, and meet other conditions (limiting forces in the Golan Heights, early warning stations, etc.), talks can advance. When this doesn't happen the talks will either collapse or enter a long, obviously dead, slow-motion process.
This game, in my opinion, is not a good thing, since it weakens the struggle against the Iran-led bloc which is the region's most important issue, but it is unlikely to inflict material damage to Israel's strategic position.
What, then, are Syria's motives? It, too, has good reasons to play the game.
1.Syria's main problem is international isolation. The alliance with Iran as well as sponsoring terror against Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel, has brought Syria serious diplomatic and economic costs. Negotiating with Israel bails it out of jail. The precedent is 1991-2000. Without concession or policy shift, the dictatorship survived a decade when it was vulnerable (USSR's collapse; America's Kuwait victory). Understandably, it wants to repeat this triumph.
2.The Damascus regime argues that if the West and Israel want it to talk peace, they better treat it right. Forget about investigating Syrian-planned murders in Lebanon; cancel the tribunal trying the regime's highest level to murder.
3.Ditto, forget about punishing Syria's building a secret nuclear weapon installation with North Korea. Ignore Syria's backing for insurgents in Iraq who kill Iraqis and American soldiers.
4.Demand more concessions which might be obtained without any of their own.
5.Stall for time in the belief that Obama will become president and follow a pro-Syria policy. This is what they're saying in Damascus.
6.Focus on what they really want: consolidating control over Lebanon without interference from abroad. The world, including especially the UN and State Department, did nothing to stop Hizballah-Iran-Syria victory in Lebanon, then compounded the betrayal by pretending it was a step toward stability. This probably would have happened without the Israel-Syria drama but that couldn't hurt, so reasoned Syria's rulers.
Of course, the idea that Syria wants real peace, will recognize Israel, move away from Iran, abandon Hamas or Hizballah, and cease terrorist meddling in Iraq is purest nonsense. All these steps are against the regime's vital interests. Yet, as demonstrated above, it can play the talks' game without doing any of these things.
Meanwhile, Lebanon has fallen to Hizballah, another state added to Iran's bloc. This catastrophe is intensified by ignoring it. One day, this tragedy might be seen as equivalent to the 1938 sacrifice of Czechoslovakia at Munich to appease Germany. Bashar is no Hitler (perhaps closer in this parallel to Germany's junior partner, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini), but toward Lebanon the United States and Europe, especially France, acted like British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at Munich.
And this is even without Iran having nuclear weapons or Obama being in the White House. What could come next may be far worse unless the West wakes up.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). Prof. Rubin's columns can be read online.

The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) CenterInterdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya P.O. Box 167 Herzliya, 46150 IsraelEmail: Phone: +972-9-960-2736 Fax: +972-9-956-8605To unsubscribe click here © 2008 All rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Fall of Lebanon

Barry Rubin

May 24, 2008

"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now....Oh, what a fall was there...Then I, and you, and all of us fell down."--William Shakespeare, "Julius Caesar," Act 3, Scene 1.
May 21, 2008, is a date--like December 7 (1941) and September 11 (2001)--that should now live in infamy. Yet who will notice, mourn, or act the wiser for it?
On that day, the Beirut spring was buried under the reign of Hizballah.
Speaking on October 5, 1938, after Britain and France effectively turned Czechoslovakia over to Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill said, "What everybody would like to ignore or forget must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat...."[1]
In contrast, Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said that the agreement over Lebanon was, "A necessary and positive step." At least when one sells out a country one should recognize this has happened rather than pretend otherwise. But this is precisely what took place at Munich, when the deal made was proclaimed as a concession that brought peace and resolved Germany's last territorial demand in the region.
Churchill knew better and his words perfectly suit the situation in Lebanon today:
"The utmost [Western diplomacy] has been able to gain for Czechoslovakia...has been that the German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course."
Yes, that's it exactly. On every point, Hizballah, Iran, and Syria, got all they wanted from Lebanon's government: its surrender of sovereignty. They have veto power over the government; one-third of the cabinet; election changes to ensure victory in the next balloting; and they will have their candidate installed as president.
The majority side is not giving up but is trying to comfort itself on small mercies. The best arguments it can come up with are that now everyone knows Hizballah is not patriotic, treats other Lebanese as enemies, and cannot seize areas held by Christian and Druze militias. It isn't much to cheer about.
Nevertheless, as in 1938, a lot of the media is proclaiming it as a victory of some kind, securing peace and stability in Lebanon.
Not so. If Syria murders more Lebanese journalists, judges, or politicians, no one will investigate. No one dare diminish Hizballah's de facto rule over large parts of the country. No one dare stop weapons pouring over the border from Syria and Iran. In fact, why should they continue to be smuggled in secretly? No one dare interfere if and when Hizballah, under Syrian and Iranian guidance, decide it is time for another war with Israel.
This defeat was not only total, it was totally predictable. Just as Churchill said:
"If only Great Britain. France and Italy [today we would add the United States, of course,] had pledged themselves two or three years ago to work in association for maintaining peace and collective security, how different might have been our position.... But the world and the parliaments and public opinion would have none of that in those days. When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have affected a cure."
Instead there was a lack "of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong...." Actually, though, as Churchill knew, when he spoke these faults were still not corrected. The folly continued.
And so is what comes next? Back to Churchill:
"All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness." That country suffered because it put its faith in the Western democracies and the League of Nations (now the United Nations). In particular, she was betrayed by France whom the Czechs then, and the Lebanese today, trusted to help them.
The UN Security Council on May 22 endorsed the Lebanon agreement even though it totally contradicted the Council's own resolution ending the Hizballah-Israel war, thus betraying the commitments made to Israel about stopping arms smuggling, disarming Hizballah, and keeping that group from returning to south Lebanon. The UN's total reversal of its demands from two years ago--constituting a total victory for Hizballah--did not bring a flicker of shame or even recognition that this in fact had happened.
All this is a victory for terrorism. It is quite true that the Lebanese Shia--like the German minority in Czechoslovakia which Hitler promoted--has genuine grievances and that Hizballah has real support in its own community. But how did it overcome the other communities, the other political forces in Lebanon? Through assassination and bombing albeit done by Syria's surrogates rather than directly), by intimidation and fear, by demagoguery and war.
Iran and Syria help their allies; the West doesn't. And so the message was: We can kill you; your friends cannot save you. Look at their indifference! Despair and die.
And here, regarding the future, we can only quote Churchill's speech extensively:
"In future the Czechoslovak State cannot be maintained as an independent entity. I think you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi regime. Perhaps they may join it in despair or in revenge. At any rate, that story is over and told. But we cannot consider the abandonment and ruin of Czechoslovakia in the light only of what happened only last month. It is the most grievous consequence of what we have done and of what we have left undone in the last five years - five years of futile good intentions, five years of eager search for the line of least resistance...."
Lebanon will not disappear as a country on the map, of course--contrary to the Iranian alliance's intentions toward Israel--but it is now going to be part of the Iranian bloc. This is not only bad for Lebanon itself but also terrifying for other Arab regimes. The Saudis deserve credit for trying to save Lebanon. But what will happen now as the balance of power shifts? They are less inclined to resist and more likely to follow the West's course and adopt an appeasement policy.
Again, Churchill in 1938:
"Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi power. The system of alliances in Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. The road down the Danube Valley to the Black Sea, the road which leads as far as Turkey, has been opened.
In less than four years, that is where German armies were marching, thankfully a situation far worse than we can expect in the Middle East. Yet the trend toward appeasement and surrender could well be similar. Churchill said:
"In fact, if not in form, it seems to me that all those countries of Middle Europe... will, one after another, be drawn into this vast system of power politics--not only power military politics but power economic politics--radiating from Berlin, and I believe this can be achieved quite smoothly and swiftly and will not necessarily entail the firing of a single shot."
His specific example was Yugoslavia whose government within three years was ready to join Germany's bloc. (It was prevented from doing so only by a British-organized coup but was then invaded and overrun by the German army.)
Only the names of the countries need be changed to make Churchill's point apply to the present:
"You will see, day after day, week after week [that]...many of those countries, in fear of the rise of the Nazi power," will give in. There had been forces "which looked to the Western democracies and loathed the idea of having this arbitrary rule of the totalitarian system thrust upon them, and hoped that a stand would be made." But they would now be demoralized.
Churchill knew that his country's leader had good intentions but that wasn't enough. His analysis of British thinking applies well both to Europe, to President George Bush's current policy, and very well to the thinking of Senator Barack Obama:
"The prime minister desires to see cordial relations between this country and Germany. There is no difficulty at all in having cordial relations between the peoples. Our hearts go out to them. But they have no power. But never will you have friendship with the present German government. You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which...vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy."
Churchill understood that his nation's enemies took their ideology seriously and that their ambitions and methods were incompatible with his country.
And finally, Churchill understood the trend: things will get worse and would even make it politically incorrect to criticize the enemy:
"In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands with which we shall no doubt be invited to comply. Those demands may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty. I foresee and foretell that the policy of submission will carry with it restrictions upon the freedom of speech and debate in Parliament, on public platforms, and discussions in the press, for it will be said--indeed, I hear it said sometimes now - that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticized by ordinary, common English politicians. Then, with a press under control, in part direct but more potently indirect, with every organ of public opinion doped and chloroformed into acquiescence, we shall be conducted along further stages of our journey."
In short, what could be called "Germanophobia" or seen as war-mongering in resisting German demands and aggression would be...verboten, something often seen in contemporary debates when political correctness trumps democratic society and pimps for dictatorial regimes and totalitarian ideology..
Churchill predicted victory but only if the free countries--and even some not so free whose interests pushed them to oppose the threat--were strong and cooperated:
"Do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time."
Wow. Well if you don't see yet the parallelism with the current time let me continue on my own. Lebanon's brief period of independence has ended. Lebanon is now incorporated--at least in part and probably more in the future--into the Iranian bloc.
Only three years ago, after the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, almost certainly ordered at the highest level of the Syrian government, a popular mass movement called the Beirut spring helped push out the Syrian military. The resulting government was called "pro-Western" in the newscasts, but it might have well been called pro-Lebanon.
Forget about the Israel-Palestinian (and now Israel-Syrian) negotiations or the latest reports from Iraq or Afghanistan. What has happened in Lebanon is far more significant. When all these other developments are long forgotten, the expansion of the Syrian-Iranian zone of influence to Lebanon will be the most important and lasting event.
Basically, the supporters of the Lebanese government--the leadership of the majority of the Sunni Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities--capitulated to the demands of Hizballah. And who can blame them? With a steady drumbeat of terrorist acts and assassinations, with the Hizballah offensive seizing Sunni west Beirut, with the lack of support from the West, they concluded that the battle was unwinnable.
Politicians, intellectuals, academics, and officials in the West live comfortable lives. Their careers prosper often in direct relationship to their misunderstanding, misexplaining, and misacting in the Middle East.
Then, too, all too many of them have lived up to every negative stereotype the Islamists hold of them: greedy for oil and trade; cowardly in confronting aggression, easily fooled, very easily divided, and losing confidence in their own societies and civilization.
In a statement of almost incredible stupidity, the New York Times stated:
"Everybody knew President Bush was aiming at Senator Barack Obama last week when he likened those who endorse talks with 'terrorists and radicals' to appeasers of the Nazis."
During the Cold War, I remember that it was said that if a Soviet official or supporter began a statement like that--everyone knows--what followed invariably is a lie. So it is in this case. For several years, the main criticism of Bush has been his strategy of pressure and isolation on Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, and assorted terrorists. There have been hundreds of op-eds, eds, speeches, reports, and other formats on this point. It is the administration's number-one problem. Suddenly, it applies only to Senator Barack Obama. What rubbish.
Equally, the principle issue is not just one of contacts with extremist forces but how much toughness, pressure and isolation as opposed to concessions (of which negotiations are one) and compromises are offered. For example, there have been numerous ongoing contacts with Iran over the nuclear issue for years, supported by the Bush administration. They have all failed. For someone to come and say that negotiations have not been tried is pretty ridiculous. The hidden element there is really as follows:
The real fault is with us, not them.
You haven't offered enough.
And the assessment that no agreement is possible because of the other side's aims and behavior is always unacceptable. This implies that even if you talk with them and get nowhere, you just have to keep listening to grievances, avoiding giving offense, trying, conceding, and apologizing.
In this context, what better example could there be of this dangerous malady than Obama, the apparent Democratic nominee and possible future president of the United States?
According to Obama at an Oregon rally, Iran does not "pose a serious threat" to the United States. His reasoning is as disturbing--or more so--than his conclusion. Obama explained that Iran has less to spend on defense and if it "tried to pose a serious threat to us they wouldn't . . . stand a chance."
We can now feel secure that the Iranians won't load their soldiers onto landing craft and storm the New Jersey beaches. Unfortunately, that isn't their military strategy. Perhaps Obama doesn't understand that the average B-1 bomber costs less than a suicide bomber. Has he heard about asymmetric warfare?
Forget that. Has he heard of terrorism, the Marine barracks' bombing, or September 11?
According to Obama:
"Iran they spend one one-hundredth of what we spend on the military. I mean if Iran tried to pose a serious threat to us, they wouldn't stand a chance. And we should use that position of strength that we have to be bold enough to go ahead and listen. That doesn't mean we agree with them on everything. That doesn't, we might not compromise with them on any issues. But, at least we should find out are there areas of potential common interest and we can reduce some of the tension that have caused us so many problems around the world."
One cannot pretend away the implications of this paragraph. Let's list them:
No understanding that Iran follows strategies designed to circumvent that problem of unequal power including terrorism, guerrilla war, deniable attacks, long wars of attrition, the use of surrogates, and so on.
The only way Obama sees for using the U.S. "position of strength" is to listen to their grievances, as if we are not familiar with them. In short, the only thing you can do when stronger is to get weaker. Presumably the same applies when you are the weaker party.
Why is he so totally unaware that dialogue has been tried? A decade with the PLO, longer with Hizballah by other Lebanese, four straight years of European engagement with Tehran over the nuclear issue, multiple U.S. delegations to talk with the Syrians, and so on. Was nothing learned from this experience?
And what happens afterward if Obama's dialogue doesn't work? What cards would he have left? What readiness to try another course? Perhaps by then the Iranians will have nuclear weapons and other gains negating that "position of strength" so fecklessly frittered away.
What possible issues can the United States find to compromise with Iran? Let's say: give them Lebanon (oh, we already did that); ignore their sponsorship of terrorism; give them Iraq; give them Israel; withdraw U.S. forces from the region, accept their having nuclear arms. What?
Why should the United States be able to reduce tensions through negotiations when Iran wants tensions? There is an important hint here: if the United States makes concessions it might buy off tensions. Since Iran and the others know about Obama's all-carrots-no-sticks worldview, they will make him pay a lot to get the illusion of peace and quiet.
There is no hint, not the slightest, of his understanding the option of using power to intimidate or defeat Iran, or as a way to muster allies. If Obama had the most minimal comprehension of these issues, he would fake it with some blah-blah about how America would combine toughness with flexibility, deterrence with compromise, steadfastness in order to gain more from the other side in negotiations. A critical element in peace-keeping, peace-making, and negotiations is to act tough and be strong in order to have leverage. Even in responding to criticisms, Obama has only talked about whether negotiations are conditional or unconditional and at what level they should be conducted. He is oblivious to the fact that the chief executive does things other than negotiations.
If this is Obama's strategy while Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons what would he do in dealing with a Tehran owning them?
Make no mistake, Obama is channelling Neville Chamberlain--precisely because what he says shows his parallel thinking. Many people may get a chill listening to Obama but it certainly isn't a Churchill. Apologists, sympathizers, and wishful-thinkers keep endowing this would-be emperor with beautiful suits of clothes. He doesn't have any.
And at present, even more if Obama wins, the threat is of an Iran that's aggressive precisely because it knows that it will not have to confront U.S. forces. Tehran knows that it can sponsor terrorism directly against U.S. forces in Iraq, and also against Israel and Lebanon, because that level of assault will not trigger American reaction.
Yet anyone who doesn't want to get into war with Iran should be all the more eager to talk about sanctions, pressures, deterrence, building alliances and backing allies; in short, combating Iran indirectly to avoid having to confront it directly.
All the more so now, however, Syria won't split away from Iran; Iran won't give up on its nuclear program; Hamas won't moderate; Hizballah won't relent. Why should they when they not only believe their own ideologies but also think they are winning? In each case, too, they are banking on an Obama victory--whether accurately or otherwise-- to bring them even more.
There are too many Chamberlains and not enough Churchills, perhaps none at all. Things are bad, very bad, for the West right now. The beginning of repairing those strategic fortunes is to recognize that fact.
[1] All quotes taken from the full text at

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). Prof. Rubin's columns can be read online.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


By Barry Rubin

It’s become fashionable to match celebration of Israel’s founding (though part of the media can’t even admit Israelis are celebrating) with Palestinian marking of their 1948 “nakba” catastrophe. Yet whose fault is it that they didn’t use those six decades constructively?
And who killed the independent Palestinian state alongside Israel that was part of the partition plan?
Answer: The Arab states and Palestinian leadership themselves. The mourners were the murderers.
You can read details in my book, The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict.
Here’s a summary. The key point is that in rejecting partition, demanding everything, and starting a war it could not win, the Arab side ensured endless conflict, the Palestinian refugee issue, and no Palestine.
It wasn’t murder it was suicide. Or in the words of General John Glubb, commander of Jordan’s army: “The politicians, the demagogues, the press, and the mob were in charge….
Warnings went unheeded. Doubters were denounced as traitors.” Briefly, the British tried to help the Arabs win; the Americans to assist them in finding a last-minute way out, and the soon-to-be Israeli Jews were ready to have a Palestinian state alongside Israel if their neighbors had accepted it. The British government provided money and arms to Arab states (for Egypt 40 warplanes and 300 troop carriers; for Iraq, planes as well as antiaircraft and antitank guns; for Saudi Arabia, a military training mission) while embargoing them to Israel, tipped off Arabs about the timing of its withdrawals (giving them a head start to seize abandoned installations), subsidized the Arab League,
blocked Jewish immigration, and let British officers run Jordan’s army in the war against Israel. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said later said, “It became clear to us that Britain viewed with favor the Arab aims regarding Palestine.”
It’s well-known that President Harry Truman supported partition and quickly recognized Israel. But in March 1948 the U.S. government offered the Arab states a serious plan to suspend partition, block a Jewish state, and create a new, long-term trusteeship.
They considered but rejected it, even after Washington proposed an international peacekeeping force—including Egyptian troops—to maintain order. Finally, if the Arab side has accepted partition, the Jewish leadership would have accepted establishment of a Palestinian Arab state. Many were desperate to get a state at all, lacked confidence they would win the war, and knew they could not buck an international consensus.
Why, then, did the Arab side, and especially the Palestinian leadership, reject partition, go to war, and trigger a 60-year-long crisis that was a disaster for their people?
There are four basic reasons: --Palestinian leader Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, was a man who thought like Hamas.
Fresh from his stay in Berlin, where he cooperated with Adolph Hitler, he hated Jews, wanted to destroy them, and could not envision compromise. --Pressure from radical forces and public opinion made it unthinkable, or suicidal, for Arab regimes not to go along with all-out war even when they feared the worst. --Arab states competed for influence, seeing the future Palestine either as their satellite or a place they could seize land for themselves. --Finally, they thought they would win easily.
Even the moderate Jordanian King Abdallah said, “It does not matter how many there are. We will sweep them into the sea!” Syria’s prime minister warned that the Arabs would “teach the treacherous Jews an unforgettable lesson.”
The leader of Syria’s client guerrilla force, Fawzi al-Qawukji, bragged, “We will murder, wreck, and ruin everything standing in our way, be it English, American, or Jewish.”
He explained that the holy war would be won not through weapons but through the superiority of self-sacrificing Arab fighters. The idea was revived, with the same failed result, by Yasir Arafat in the 1960s. Today, having learned nothing from experience, radical Arab nationalists and Islamists frequently make the same claim. True, Arab armies in 1948 were badly led, badly trained, and uncoordinated.
Arab regimes distrusted and disliked the Palestinian leadership and bickered among themselves, striving for individual advantage.
This pattern, too, was often repeated in later years. Abdallah secretly negotiated with the Zionists but they distrusted him, knew he couldn’t control the other leaders, and he offered too little. Still, the consensus was, in the words of a U.S. intelligence report, “The loosely organized, ill-equipped armies of the Arab nations do not have any capabilities against a modern opponent but they do have the strength to overrun Jewish resistance in Palestine….” It didn’t work out that way.
The nascent Israeli forces gained ground against the Husseini and Qawukji forces before the Arab states’ invasion then largely won the ensuing international war. Neither during the conflict nor after their defeat did the regimes help create an independent Palestinian Arab state. Egypt held the Gaza Strip; Jordan annexed the West Bank. Their rejecting peace so often thereafter made the conflict last until today.
The continuation of these policies today by much of the Palestinian leadership—either explicitly or in practice—could make it last another century.
The underlying concept was that either the Palestinian interest should be subordinate to wider movements (Arab nationalism, Islamism) or at least a Palestinian state could only be established after total victory, in all the lands between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
Even if some Palestinian leaders think differently today, they are unable to act differently. Another element in the self-perpetuated nakba was the management of the Palestinian refugee problem. In contrast to all other refugees in the world, the UN set up a system in which Palestinians who left in 1948 maintained that status forever, even if they obtained another nationality. By not integrating Palestinian refugees—though this sometimes happened on an unofficial level—and keeping them in camps, Arab regimes with the collaboration of the PLO ensured that their suffering would fuel endless conflict and provide recruits for violence. Fifteen million people were expelled from India and Pakistan, twelve million Germans had been thrown out of eastern Europe, about the same number of Jews were forced out of Arab states, and other such situations had occurred.
They are all resolved and mostly forgotten today.
In the Palestinian case, however, the nakba was deliberately perpetuated because the Arab world, including the Palestinian leadership, decreed that it could only be ended by a triumphant return to what was now Israel. Neither resettlement elsewhere nor in a West Bank/Gaza state was satisfactory. Indeed, this was one of the main issues on which Arafat destroyed the peace process in 2000. Even the “moderate” leadership of the Palestinian Authority maintains this stance today. Of course, regarding peace—and even more the desire to avoid war--there has been some real progress in Arab states, including full, but not fully accepted, peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. Most Arab leaders know they cannot win the struggle with Israel by total victory, but that was also true back in 1948. What has changed is their margin for doing nothing has increased, which lets them avoid war.
Yet their ability to admit the truth publicly, change their course fully, and accept peace formally and fully still remains quite constricted. And the strong challenge from Islamist movements threatens to reverse even this minimal progress. Such is the reality misunderstood or ignored by all those who think peace is easily obtainable with enough effort or unilateral Israeli concessions. Peace, however, cannot be achieved by pretending since those who engage in this process only fool themselves.
Despite the lessons of sixty years ago and throughout the ensuing time, the Arab side has the chutzpah to complain—and a good part of the Western media echo—that they were Israel’s victims in 1948.
Back then, Qawukji explained that once the Arabs started winning, the Western media would proclaim, “The Arab cause is a just one.” The Arab side made no secret of the fact that the Jews were the underdog and everyone knew what happened to underdogs. As Arab League Secretary-General Abd al-Rahman Azzam explained, “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre….” By the way, what slogan were Palestinian schoolchildren told to chant at the Nakba Day demonstrations organized by the Palestinian Authority?
Why, “Palestine is all ours!” of course, the same slogan as in 1948. Sad to say, the main complaint of Palestinians today is still not so much that they are Israel’s victims but that so far Israel hasn’t been theirs, Azzam-style.
What would Qawukji think to learn that in fact the Western media would proclaim, “The Arab cause is a just one,” only after they had so thoroughly and repeatedly failed to gain such a bloody total victory, though long before they fully accepted the lessons of that failure?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit
Professor Barry Rubin,Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center <>Editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal <> Editor, Turkish Studies

Thursday, May 15, 2008


By Barry Rubin

After seeing how Western leaders are handling Lebanon, said an Israeli official privately, “Hizballah could only laugh. We have to take it into consideration that nobody will ever help us.” Of course, Israel is not alone because there are so many others becoming victims of a combination of Western dithering and radical aggressiveness. Whether or not the West figures it out, the other side knows well what’s going on. “There are only two sides—Iran and the United States,” said the Iranian newspaper Kayhan. Another leading Tehran daily, Jomhouri-e Islamia, explained that as a result of Hizballah’s victory in Lebanon, “The U.S.’s Influence in the Region will stop, and the regimes identified with it will be replaced.”[*] From Tehran’s viewpoint, that’s about 20 countries, all but Syria, maybe Sudan, and the Gaza Strip." It’s a zero-sum game: Them or U.S., so to speak. Today, Lebanon (or at least west Beirut); tomorrow the world! Somewhere to the south of Iran target Lebanon, a bit west of Iran target Iraq, north of Iran target Egypt, and adjoining Iran targets Jordan and the West Bank, sits little Iran target Israel. A Gulf Arab journalist, in an article tellingly entitled, “Iran is Enemy Number One,” wrote a few days ago: “The true feeling of the Saudis, Bahrainis, Kuwaitis, and Qataris is that Iran is the enemy and it must be brought down and weakened.” These people know they are at war, with the two fronts right now being Lebanon and Iraq. The Arab-Israeli conflict still exists but has become more of an Israel-Palestinian, Syria, and Iran conflict in practice. For most Arab regimes, it’s useful for making propaganda and proving their militant nationalist-Islamic credentials but things have changed a great deal from past decades. Of course, this doesn’t mean they will cooperate or make peace with Israel. Moderation not only threatens to expose them to radical subversion but also to weaken their own dictatorships’ structure, which rests heavily on demagogically blaming Israel for all their shortcomings. As one Gulf ruler put it privately, “We can use Israel and bash Israel simultaneously.” In other words, Israelis—as well as Americans and some Europeans—must oppose Iranian ambitions for their own reasons. So why should Arab regimes give anything to them for doing so, even if it means protecting their own sovereignty and systems as well? In this context, the idea that solving the Palestinian issue will bring peace and stability in the region, ensure good Arab-Western relations, and quiet radical Islamism becomes especially laughable. Consider the following. If Iran gets nuclear weapons, it might use them on Israel. This is such a serious threat genocide that Israel must be prepared to attack Iran’s installations to block the possibility. But this is just a possibility. There is also an absolute certainty. If Iran gets nuclear weapons: no Western country will stand against it, Arab regimes will rush to appease it, and hundreds of thousands of Muslims will join radical Islamist groups to replace all those regimes Iran says must go. For the moment, however, Lebanon is the Spanish Civil War before the main conflict. A democratic majority, a united front of Christians, Druze, and Sunni Muslims, defies terrorist attacks sponsored by Syria, Iran’s ally. They simply don’t want to live under an Iran-style Islamist regime. Government supporters are angry that Hizballah can launch war on Israel whenever it pleases at great cost to their nation. They angrily remember decades of Syrian domination, repression, and looting. Spain, of course, became progressive humanity’s great icon of in the 1930s. Such people were horrified that the Western democracies would not help Republican Spain while the German and Italian fascists poured troops, weapons, and money into the Fascist side. But why didn’t Britain and the others act? Their motives were precisely the same as inhibits determination today. They feared war and the resulting cost and casualties. They profited by trading with the other side. They disliked the great power that was doing more (in those days the USSR, today America of course). Since the Catholic Church backed General Francisco Franco’s cause they didn’t want to be labeled what today would be called “Catholophobic.” They lacked confidence in their own society, which Ezra Pound called a “botched civilization,” “an old bitch gone in the teeth.” Pound eventually preferred the fascists, as too many intellectuals and artists now find the Islamists the lesser of the two evils. William Butler Yeats said it best: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere, The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst , Are full of passionate intensity.” In 2006, for example, the UN—all the world’s nations nobly assembled—decided that troops would be sent to southern Lebanon, Hizballah would be kept out from there and disarmed, weapons smuggling would be blocked. Hizballah disagreed and did what it wanted. The world gave in: Hizballah (Syria and Iran), 1; World, 0. So if the world won’t even help Arab, Muslim-led, democratic, Lebanon, why should Israel give credence to any such promises or guarantees. Ah, but Israel can defend itself. It’s the toughest of all Iran’s intended targets. Prime Minister Winston Churchill recalled in December 1941, speaking to Canada’s parliament, that collaborationist French generals warned him that if Britain, too, didn’t surrender to Hitler, “In three weeks England will have her neck wrung like a chicken." Churchill wryly told his cheering audience: “Some chicken; some neck!” A few years later, Hitler lay dead and defeated. Mr. Ahmadinejad take note. * A somewhat different version of this article was published in the London Jewish Chronicle, May 15, 2008. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit [*] MEMRI translation
Professor Barry Rubin,Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center <>Editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal <> Editor, Turkish Studies
Professor Barry Rubin,Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center <>Editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal <> Editor, Turkish Studies

Monday, May 12, 2008

Life in Israel

Barry Rubin

Tel Aviv, Israel

A slightly shorter version appeared in the Ottawa CitizenMay 9, 2008

I'm sitting in Israel's Independence Hall, a 10-minute walk from my home, a small, relatively bare room that was Tel Aviv's first city hall. Sixty years ago today, it was the place where Israel was declared a country.
It was given that honor back on May 14, 1948, because of its thick walls and small windows. As has been the situation so many days since, there was a war on. Within hours of the ceremony, the Egyptians bombed Tel Aviv, hitting a nursing home for senior citizens not far away.
About six months earlier, in November, the UN had voted to partition Britain's Palestine mandate into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, the plan to be implemented on May 15, 1948. The Jews had accepted; the Arabs rejected.
Almost immediately after the UN voted, irregular Arab forces launched offensives seeking total victory. The British often tipped them off, as archival documents show, so they could seize local strong points, army bases, and police stations. Instead, they were defeated and lost more than they could have obtained through negotiations, another pattern often repeated since.
On midnight on May 14, surrounding Arab state armies crossed the border. The secretary-general of the Arab League, the most important representative of the Arab world, Abd al-Rahman Azzam said, "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the [Genghis Khan] massacres and the Crusades."
And most of the world thought that they would win, and had little doubt who would be massacring who. The response of David Ben-Gurion, about to become Israel's first prime minister was rather different. The Declaration of Independence he read included the following lines, "We extend the hand of peace and good neighborliness to all the states around us and to their peoples...."
It was understandable, though, that most experts thought that relatively untrained Jews, not known for being fighters, would have no chance against professional Arab armies. Already, Jerusalem was under siege, with no food or water allowed to get through, a sharp contrast to the present situation where the world expects Israel to provide fuel, electricity, and other supplies to a Gaza regime openly sworn to exterminate its people.
The Western world, most notably Britain, declared an arms' embargo. The Arab armies had already been supplied for years with equipment; the "even-handed" action hurt Israel's chances further. And the Jordanian army soon to join the siege of Jerusalem and eventually to capture the city's eastern part was led by British officers seconded from that country's army.
But despite the high odds, Israel basically won the war and established its independence. The cost was also high. One percent of its population died in 1948, the equivalent for the United States today would be more than 3,000,000 people.
Fast forward sixty years. Despite facing terrorism every year, being involved in wars for too much of its history, weathering slander and economic boycotts, Israel has made spectacular progress. High politics, boundaries, and conflicts are the stuff of the news but daily reality relates to people and actual lives.
As part of the sixtieth anniversary celebration, Israelis are choosing their national bird but they have long since picked the national sport: self-criticism.
The great Israeli humorist Ephraim Kishon described his own arrival in the country shortly after independence by joking that as the ship approached the coast it became very hot and we began criticizing the government over the weather.
Daily Israel, every conceivable failing (real or imagined) is relentlessly dissected. The negative is usually highlighted, though afterward people feel optimistic at having been able to vent their pessimism. One day walking down the street I ran into a friend.
"How's everything?" he asked.
"Great," I answered.
"How can you say that!" he exclaimed. "Don't you read the newspapers?"
This characteristic has a positive effect, by inspiring a ceaseless effort to make things better. In dictatorships and places ruled by extremist ideologies, the stifling of this process has been one of the main reasons for their failings.
I know our society could have been, and could be today, far better. Don't get me started on the teacher's strike or the low calibre of politicians. The president and prime minister have rightly both faced charges of malfeasance. One cannot help but think that if so much effort didn't have to go into self-defence, the country would be within shouting distance of utopia.
Still, when annual quality of life polls are taken, the positive scores from Israelis are into the 90th percentile. Moreover, although Israel faces very real threats, its security situation is better than the great majority of those sixty years. While there is full, formal peace with only Egypt and Jordan, most Arab states--except for Syria--have in practice made the material, as opposed to verbal, pursuit of the conflict, a low priority.
Again, though, these issues are by no means the full story.
When I think of Israel it is no abstraction but the people of my neighbourhood, an air force officer and a chef, a museum official and a pianist, a real estate agent and an editor, an artist and a plumber. Some are religious and others secular. They don't spend all that much time debating the peace process or obsessing what the foreign media says about them as they go about their daily lives.
Israel is both a continuation of 4000 years of Jewish history and a distinctive development from 120 years of Zionism, plus 60 years of statehood. It has taken in influences from all over the world, including the most modern, usually giving them a twist of its own. It is simultaneously Mediterranean and Eastern European and Middle Eastern and more in a mixture all of its own that has become a cohesive national ethos.
Sometimes these things are unique syntheses, as when the children of Holocaust survivors--one from Greece, the other from Poland --come together to make a remarkable rock album on the Holocaust. At other times, they seem mere copies of Western fads. Yet if you view the Israeli versions of shows about surviving in wilderness, rival chefs, or competing singers, each have been coloured by Israeliness. And that also applies, albeit in a very distinctive way, to the 20 percent Arab minority.
It's true that the old comradeship of decades ago has declined, as have the institutions created to build the state. As in other countries, privatization has replaced statism. I can remember when a telephone installation took a month. Now it takes a day. Television stations have gone from a single choice to dozens. The national airport has been upgraded from a place barely fit for a small provincial town to a large, thoroughly modern one.
This tiny state of now seven million people is a world leader in science, medicine, and hi-tech among other things, yet still has some of the globe's best-tasting fruit and vegetables as well as internationally exported flowers.
And nothing more symbolizes Israeli daily life than the driver behind you setting off his horn to beat the speed of light from the changing traffic signal. Yet civility, too, is creeping in gradually.
With all of its problems--at times because of its problems--it is a great place to live.
Oh yes we are human beings, a fact that often seems forgotten in the hate-filled propaganda that pervades too many institutions, the slanderous misrepresentation of latest fact and longer-term history which is heard far too much. A friend told me today that he was seriously informed on an international television broadcast that former prime minister Ariel Sharon drank a glass of Palestinian blood every day.
As the twentieth century began, Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Jewish nationalism, recorded an amazing fact. Despite advances in technology, transportation, and communication, one thing remained as it was when the Ottoman Turks conquered Byzantium, Columbus set sail, and oxcarts were the main means of travel.
That one thing was antisemitism. Indeed, Herzl mournfully pointed out, "After a short breathing space...bad times have come again...not only in the backward countries...but also in those that are called civilized."
It's often explained that criticism of Israel is not antisemitism as such but increasingly the extreme, crazed attacks precisely duplicate that hateful standpoint. More important is this: historic antisemitism's claims and assumptions have simply been adapted to Israel; the word "Zionism" simply substituted for "Judaism" and "Israel" for "Jews."
We are the only people in the world continually called on to apologize because we survived, even after 85 percent of European Jews were murdered and about 90 percent of Middle Eastern Jews were expelled or had to flee the countries where they were born.
In contrast to the false accusations, we will be delighted to agree, cooperate, and celebrate the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state willing to live in peace alongside Israel. Unfortunately, that prospect seems distant. Equally unfortunately, that movement's Islamist and much of its nationalist leadership prefers to continue the conflict--and intensify their own, and our, people's suffering--rather than accept anything less than Israel, in the words of Iran's president, being wiped off the map.
A thousand years ago, Chasdai Ibn Shaprut wrote from Spain: "Dishonoured and humiliated by our dispersion, we have to listen in silence to those who say: `every nation has its own land and you alone possess not even the shadow of a country on this earth.'"
But if there really was a place, Shaprut said, "where harassed Israel can rule itself, where it is subject to nobody...I would not hesitate to forsake all honours, resign my high office...and travel over mountains and plains, over land and water," to reach it.
Well, now it exists and will keep on doing so, very probably long after seemingly more established states or at least societies vanish in its neighborhood or elsewhere.
Nahum Lenkin, one of my few relatives who escaped with his life from wartime Poland, wrote how his parents there often "went without food" to pay for the town's Zionist school where he and others could be prepared "to one day go as pioneers to Eretz Israel." Virtually all that town's survivors, and their children, live in Israel.
In fact, some of us had a barbecue today to celebrate 60 years of national existence.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). Prof. Rubin's columns can be read online.

Barry Rubin May 12, 2008
While America's secretary of state devotes her time to doomed Israel-Palestinian talks and America goes ga-ga over a candidate whose main foreign policy strategy is to talk to dictators, still another crisis strengthens radical Islamists and endangers Western friends and interests.
William Butler Yeats said it best: "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere, The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst , Are full of passionate intensity."
The "best" are often too innocent indeed, sunk in constant self-criticism, persuading themselves they must atone for having done too much in the past by doing nothing in the present, trying to convince the other side of their niceness and sensitivity. Their priority is to ensure no one will accuse them of being imperialistic. And to prove it they will let another country fall into the enemy camp.
The Lebanese logjam has broken at last as Hizballah seized west Beirut and inflicted a big defeat on the pro-government side.
While Iran and Syria provide guns and strong backing to their friends, the West responds with words backed by nothing. Who can blame Hizballah and Damascus and Tehran for laughing with contempt, believing they are the tide of the future, assuming their "passionate intensity" will inevitably triumph over the weak-willed West?
The historic great powers act as pitiful, helpless giants but their enemies will take no pity on them. In short, Hizballah is pulling a two-stage version of Hamas's Gaza strategy in Lebanon and no one does anything effective about that either.
What Spain was in 1936; Lebanon is today.
Does anyone remember the Spanish Civil War? Briefly, a fascist revolt took place against the democratic government. The rebels were motivated by several factors, including anger that their religion had not been given enough respect and regional grievances, but essentially they sought to put their ideology and themselves into power. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy backed the rebels with money and guns. The Western democracies stood by and did nothing.
Guess who won? And guess whether that outcome led to peace or world war.
Funny, I thought September 11 changed everything.
Why should Lebanese Sunni, Druze, and Christians risk their lives when the West doesn't help them? Every Israeli speaking nonsense about Syria making peace; every American claiming Damascus might split from Tehran; every European preaching appeasement has in fact been engaged in confidence-breaking measures.
Hizballah doesn't need to win a military victory but only to show it can win one, using that position of strength to try to force its demands on the moderate government. . The government has already accepted Michel Suleiman, Syria's candidate for president. But Hizballah and the rest say this is not enough: they want veto power over everything.
The goal of Hizballah, and its Syrian and Iranian backers at present is not the full conquest of Lebanon--something beyond their means--but to control the government so it does nothing they dislike: no strong relations with the West, no ability to stop war against Israel, no disarming Hizballah's militias or countering that group's control over large parts of the country, and certainly no investigation of Syrian involvement in terrorism there.
Why, three years after Damascus ordered the murder of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri do investigators dawdle, having edited out the names of top Syrian officials they blamed for the killing in their initial report?
Israel bombed a nuclear reactor being built in Syria. Rice reportedly opposed the action. The world yawned.
Iran drives for nuclear weapons. There is some effort but too little, too slow. Whether or not the war in Iraq was a mistake, when terrorists murdered Iraqi civilians, much of the West blamed America; all too many Americans agreed.
Far too much Western media, intellectual--sometimes political life--reviles Israel. But Israel is no threat to them; other forces are. And events in Lebanon are one more proof that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is only a portion, say one-fifth, of the wider Middle East crisis.
Many in the West think Israel will pay the price for their follies. But Israel is ready to do what it needs for its self-defense. If anything, the mistakes of the last round in Lebanon reinforced this determination.
Instead, the main victims will be Arabs, mostly Muslims, in Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq, and Lebanon, killed by the various Jihad groups, or ruled by them where they take power or dominate through intimidation. And second they will be Western interests, which would not fare well in a region dominated by a combination of Islamists and those who feel they have no choice but to appease them.
When Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama says he will negotiate with Syria and Iran over Iraq's future, he signals every Persian Gulf regime to cut its own deal with Iran. When his stances convince Hamas that he's the guy for them; when Iran and Syria conclude they merely need stand defiant and wait until January 21 for any existing pressure vanishes, the U.S. position in the Middle East is being systematically destroyed.
Note that this does not make Obama the candidate favored by Arabs in general but only by the radicals. Egyptians, Jordanians, Gulf Arabs, and the majorities in Lebanon and Iraq are very worried. This is not just an Israel problem; it is one for all non-extremists in the region.
If the dictators and terrorists are smiling, it means everyone else is crying.
The Syrian and Iranian regimes know that while they may walk through the valley of the shadow of sanctions they need fear nothing because there are all too many who comfort them.
After all, if the UN human rights committee is run by Libya, if UNIFIL forces in Lebanon tread lightly so Hizballah won't be angry with them, if Westerners tremble and repeal freedom of speech lest some Muslims be offended, why should the "bad guys" worry?
Yet the West doesn't have to play it stupid forever. Now is the time for energetic action on Lebanon to wipe that confident sneer off their faces. To contain Iran and Syria, to buck up the Lebanese government side and all those Arabs who, whatever their faults, don't want to live in an Islamist caliphate.
If you want to know what's wrong, consider Obama's May 10 statement on Lebanon. He starts out playing tough, talking about "Hezbollah's power grab in Beirut....This effort to undermine Lebanon's elected government needs to stop, and all those who have influence with Hezbollah must press them to stand down immediately." He calls for supporting the Lebanese government, strengthening the Lebanese army, and to "insist on disarming Hezbollah."
But how to do this? By "working with the international with the international community and the private sector to rebuild Lebanon and get its economy back on its feet."
In other words, according to the Obama world view, it's a problem of development. If people have more money they won't be terrorists. Of course, that was the policy of Hariri, which was countered by Syria blowing him up. In politics, bombs trump business. And any way you can't have a strong economy with no government and chaos. Part of the mistake here is Obama's assumption that Hizballah (and other radicals) want stability and prosperity. In fact, they want to use instability as blackmail in their pursuit of power. They don't want conciliation. It's a military-strategic problem, not one of community organizing.
The statement continues: "We must support the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions that reinforce Lebanon's sovereignty, especially resolution 1701 banning the provision of arms to Hezbollah, which is violated by Iran and Syria."
Great. But the UN is no substitute for U.S. power. As David Schenker of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy writes, "It is highly unlikely that the UN -- which failed to even prevent the rearming of Hizballah--would agree to more dangerous deployments in Lebanon." America doesn't need a president whose solution is to turn over crises to the UN.
Nor can Obama pass the buck to Lebanon's army. Its commander is Syria's presidential candidate, its soldiers are mostly pro-Hizballah, and the quarter-billion dollars of U.S. aid given since 2006 may well become additional assets for Tehran.
As President Harry Truman said of the president's desk, the buck stops here. So the president of the United States must take the lead, be tough, and make credible threats. What's needed is not a conciliator but a confronter.
These are the questions Obama isn't even pretending to try to answer: Are you willing to fight on this issue? To defy an "international community" that opposes action? To intimidate and defeat the radicals? Answer: No.
But here's the worst part that few in America but everyone in Lebanon will understand all too well:
"It's time to engage in diplomatic efforts to help build a new Lebanese consensus that focuses on electoral reform, an end to the current corrupt patronage system, and the development of the economy that provides for a fair distribution of services, opportunities and employment."
Here, make no mistake, Obama is endorsing the Hizballah program. It wants a new Lebanese consensus based on it having, along with its pro-Syrian allies, 51 percent of the power. What's needed is not consensus (the equivalent being getting Fatah and Hamas to bury their differences, or bringing in Iran and Syria to determine Iraq's future) but the willingness to fight a battle. In effect, Obama without realizing it, is arguing for a Syrian-, Iranian-, and Hizballah-dominated Lebanon. Such talk makes moderate Arabs despair.
Here, at the "From Beirut to Beltway" blog, is a typical, sarcastic, reaction by Lebanese government supporters:
"Oh the time we wasted by fighting Hizballah all those years....If only we had engaged them and their masters in diplomacy...sitting with them around discussion tables, welcoming them into our parliament, and letting them veto cabinet decisions. If only Obama had shared his wisdom with us before, back when he was rallying with some of our former friends at pro-Palestinian rallies in Chicago. How stupid we were when, instead of developing `national consensus' with them, we organized media campaigns against Israel on behalf of the impoverished people who voted for them.
"During that time when we bought into the cause against Israel, treating resistance fighters like our brothers, we really should have been `building consensus' with them. Because what we did...was...unnecessary antagonism, a product of a `corrupt patronage system and unfair distribution of wealth.'"
"We stand today regretting the wasted time that could have been wisely spent talking to them, to the Syrian occupiers who brought them into our system, and the Iranian revolutionary guards who trained them.[1]
The battle isn't over, which is all the more reason for real--not just verbal--international action. Hizballah has made its point for the moment, that it is the most powerful and to it every knee must bend. Yet without serious political and diplomatic support for Lebanon's government and real costs inflicted on Syria and Iran, the battle will be lost eventually.
For all those in the West who don't like Israel, then at least help the people you pretend to like. Back the Lebanese government with real power and aid, covertly or overtly, those battling the radical forces in Lebanon.
Rick: "Sam, if it's December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?"
Sam: "Um, my watch stopped."
Rick: "I bet they're asleep in New York. I'll bet they're asleep all over America."

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). Prof. Rubin's columns can be read online.

The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) CenterInterdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya P.O. Box 167 Herzliya, 46150 IsraelEmail: Phone: +972-9-960-2736 Fax: +972-9-956-8605To unsubscribe click here © 2008 All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

UNRWA: Refuge of Rejectionism?

UNRWA: Refuge Of Rejectionism

By Barry Rubin, Asaf Romirowsky, and Jonathan Spyer

May 8, 2008
The GLORIA Center has released a new report, "UNRWA: Refuge of Rejectionism?" The report details how this UN agency, nominally a humanitarian effort to help Palestinian refugees, has in fact become a major barrier to resolving the conflict as well as furnishing finances, facilities, and recruits for terrorist groups.
Following is the Executive Summary. The full report is available at: The Gloria Center.
We hope you can publicize this important endeavor. Contact us if you are interested in more information or having original op-ed pieces written for you on this issue.

On the surface, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) seems a humanitarian group helping Palestinian refugees. In reality, it actually helps destroy the chance of Arab-Israeli peace, promotes terrorism, and holds Palestainians back from rebuilding their lives.
Unique in history, UNRWA's job is to keep Palestinian refugees in suspended animation--and at low living standards--until they achieve the goal set for them by the PLO and Hamas: Israel's extinction. In the meantime, their suffering and anger is maintained as a weapon to encourage them toward violence and intransigence.
UNRWA schools become hotbeds of anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Semitic indoctrination, recruiting offices for terrorist groups. UNRWA's services are dominated by radicals who staff and subsidize radical groups while potentially intimidating anyone from voicing a different line. UNWRA facilities are used to store and transport weapons, actually serving as military bases.
In this process, UNRWA has broken all the rules that are supposed to govern humanitarian enterprises. Consequently, UNRWA is the exact opposite of other refugee relief operations. They seek to resettle refugees; UNRWA is dedicated to blocking resettlement. They help refugees to live normal lives so that they can move on with their existence; UNRWA's role is to ensure their lives remain abnormal so they are filled with anger and a thirst for revenge that inspires violence and can only be quenched by a victorious return. They try to create stable conditions for refugees; UNRWA's mission is to enable radical political activity and indoctrination by armed groups which ensures a continual state of near chaos.
The time has come, especially given the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, which also signals a Hamas takeover of the UNRWA facilities there, to reevaluate the role of UNRWA. If it is indeed very much a part of the problem--a barrier to resolving the refugees' status and returning them to normal lives; a barrier to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict; and a source of violence--it should be dissolved and replaced by something better.
Three basic steps are required to do this. They would improve the refugees' lives and strengthen moderate Palestinian forces.
First, UNRWA should be dissolved.
Second, all services it provides should be transferred to other agencies within the UN, notably the UNHCR, which has a long and productive experience in this area.
Third, responsibility for normal social services should be turned over to the Palestinian Authority. Most UNRWA staff should be transferred to it. Donors should use the maximum amount of oversight to ensure this be done effectively.
People often wonder why violence and instability persists and why the Arab-Israeli conflict is so seemingly impossible to resolve. One important part of the answer is that UNRWA perpetuates the problem. All those seeking real progress toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians need to take a close look at this unacceptable situation. All those with responsibility for the management of these issues need to work for a change of course.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).
Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya Israel.
Asaf Romirowsky is the Manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum.

The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) CenterInterdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya P.O. Box 167 Herzliya, 46150 IsraelEmail: Phone: +972-9-960-2736 Fax: +972-9-956-8605

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


If I would choose one article in the Western media that I have read over many decades as the worst piece of anti-Israel propaganda of all, it might well be Karin Laub’s April 26, 2008 piece, “Palestinian plight is flip side of Israel's independence joy.”
Why? Because many articles have slandered Israel on various points or told falsehoods ranging from the disgusting to the humorous or been based on assumptions that were at odds with the truth. But in this case, the article encapsulates the way in which much of the world has turned from admiration to loathing of Israel, and the way in which Israel’s destruction—which in other contexts would be seen as genocidal—has been justified.
Sound exaggerated? No doubt, reading the above two paragraphs would shock the author who, I believe, had no conscious intention of perpetuating such a verbal atrocity. It is, once again, the unchallenged myths that are blithely assumed, that do so much damage.
Let me explain, first briefly and then at length. Israel is the only country in the world which is regularly slated for extermination and it is certainly the one most reviled. Without entering into a discussion of why such extraordinary double standards are maintained the core issue is that Israel is allegedly an illegitimate country because it is founded on the theft of other’s property and the suffering of other people.
This is the modern equivalent of the blood libel, which held that Jews murdered Christian children to use their blood for the Passover matzoh. But if that myth is too exotic for people remember that its “secular” equivalent was responsible for even more anti-Semitic persecution. That was the idea that any Jewish prosperity was based on the blood-sucking of Christian peasants or of society at large.
In this case, Israel is said to have murdered, ethnically cleansed and otherwise persecuted the Palestinians. Therefore, nothing it does can be good, no achievement of itself counts, and it has no right to self-defense. Obviously, such claims are often greatly diluted but nonetheless rest on this basis.
The Laub article is a systematic restatement of this thesis. To begin with, it is extraordinarily long for an AP article, 1,724 words. If this isn’t a record for an AP dispatch, it must be up near the top. Obviously, this is a message that the AP editors are especially eager to convey: that everything Israel has is at Palestinian expense.
That this is a lie can be explained on many levels but at least two must be presented here. First, why is this measure applied only to Israel, and certainly only to Israel on an existential basis? It is well-known, certainly, that Germany has taken responsibility for Nazi crimes, and also there are applications for reimbursement of Jewish property seized in eastern Europe during the Nazi period.
Yet most countries are founded on expropriation, often of Jewish property. For example, Oxford University, where recently debates were conducted calling for Israel’s destruction, was started on property stolen from Jews expelled in 1290. Far more recently, many Arab states received a huge infusion of capital from the expropriation of Jewish property after Israel’s creation. Does France’s or Britain’s or Belgium’s independence day require discussion of colonial depredations? We don’t read articles that Japan’s independence day is blighted by Chinese or Korean suffering, though the Japanese did engage in mass murder of those people. What about the fact that every country in the Western Hemisphere is based on the suffering of the indigenous natives? Or even in the case of Russia, given Czarist and Soviet behavior? In no case, however, is far worse behavior said to have poisoned any other country’s very existence.
But perhaps even more important is the question of where true responsibility for Palestinian suffering lies.
Here is how Laub’s article begins:
“JALAZOUN REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank - Mohammed Shaikha was 9 when the carefree rhythm of his village childhood, going to third grade, picking olives, playing hide-and-seek , was abruptly cut short. Uprooted during the 1948 war over Israel's creation, he's now a wrinkled old man. He has spent a lifetime in this cramped refugee camp, and Israel's 60th independence day, to be celebrated with fanfare on May 8, fills him with pain.
"For 60 years, Israel has been sitting on my heart. It kicked me out of my home, my nation, and deprived me of many things," he said. And each Israeli birthday makes it harder for 70-year-old Shaikha and his elderly gin rummy partners in the camp's coffee house to cling to dreams of going back to Beit Nabala, one village among hundreds leveled to make way for the influx of Jewish immigrants into the newborn Jewish state.”
Well, let us ask the following questions: How did Shaikha leave his “carefree” utopia of Palestine? Most likely because his parents decided to get out of the way while, they expected, the Jews were exterminated by Arab armies. He was in fact “kicked out” by an Arab decision to reject partition—in which case at worst he would be living as an Arab citizen of Israel and at best, depending on where he lived, be a citizen of Palestine celebrating its own sixtieth birthday.
Consider a worst-case alternative history:
Mohammaed Shaikha sat in his nice house and recalled how in 1948 his familyleft its village and moved a few miles into a village in the new state of Palestine. “It was rough for a while,” he said. “But with the compensation money we got for making peace and aid from Arab states I was able to build a very nice life for myself.”
In fact, it was the Palestinian and Arab leadership which—in contrast to every other refugee situation in modern history—insisted on keeping these people suffering and in refugee camps to use as political pawns. They, too, rejected every offer of peace and resettlement.
For example, if Yasir Arafat had negotiated a solution on the basis of the framework proposed at Camp David in 2000, Shaikha and the other refugees would have shared out over $20 billion in compensation and a Palestinian state might be celebrating its seventh birthday. The PLO refused—a policy pursued since 1993 by the Palestinian Authority—to move people out of refugee camps. They must be kept there as tools with which to blame Israel and also to continue the fires of hatred and violence burning.
A hint of the truth is inadvertently given in the article—though not explained—by a Palestinian ideologue:
“Anthropologist Sharif Kaananeh urges his fellow Palestinians to take the long view and learn from Jewish history: "If they waited 2,000 years to claim this country, we can wait 200 years."
During those 2,000 years, however, Jews whenever possible built up their own lives and acted peacefully and productively. In Kaananeh’s version, he is willing to keep Shaikha and his descendants in refugee camps for 200 years. And why not since the media will blame their suffering on Israel and provide it as a reason why Israel should disappear or make endless concessions or be denied full support despite the assault on itself.
By the way, this is what the author prettifies as “perseverance” as if it were something admirable. Don’t make a peaceful compromise; keep fighting and spilling blood unless or until you achieve total victory. In any other situation, this would be decried as a foolish, bloodthirsty, and fanatical world view.
If the Palestinians want to make this their strategy they certainly should not be allowed to blame this on Israel.
The true nakba (catastrophe) was not Israel’s creation but the Arab failure to create Palestine and their continuation of conflict to this day.
But only Israel is branded, in effect, as a war criminal nation. In this light, the hateful and vicious attacks on it make sense.
Yet why don’t we see the following headline: “Israeli plight a flip side of Palestinian celebration,” or substitute “Israeli plight is flip side of [insert name of any Arab state name or Iran]” or “Israeli [or Jewish] plight is flip side of [insert name of any European state]”?
This could be followed with interviews of displaced Jews (living in poverty since they never left post-World War Two refugee camps in Europe or the transit camps built in Israel to house Jewish refugees from the Arab world. Or interviews with Israelis who were maimed or whose families were murdered in wars or terrorist attacks?
For, indeed, Israeli misery is built on the support of terrorism and hatred by Arab states, the incitement to murder and appeals for genocide among Palestinian groups.
Even in direct Palestinian terms, the irony doesn’t stop. The same week as this article was written, it was reported (by Reuters) that while Arab states have promised $717.1 million in aid to the Palestinians, only $153.2 million, that is a bit more than 20 percent, was actually delivered. If Palestinians are not well-off perhaps this is what one must examine, or at least acknowledge.
How about this: “The 1948 war had largely separated Israelis and Palestinians, except for some 150,000 Palestinians who stayed put and became Israeli citizens.” No mention of the fact that those Israeli Palestinians have prospered.
And this: “The symbols of occupation, settlements, army bases, roadblocks, are visible across the West Bank.” No mention of the fact that Israel has withdrawn from large parts of the West Bank, in all the populated areas (except a section of Hebron) Palestinians have had self-government, with massive international aid for 14 years!
And this: “Palestinians under Yasser Arafat took to bombings and hijackings to make the world notice their existence….” So the sole purpose of terrorism was as a misguided public relations’ campaign so the world would take pity on Palestinian suffering, not an attempt to destroy Israel.
Or this, “Few refugees can realistically expect to go home again, because Israelis fear being swamped by a mass repatriation.” That makes the Palestinian predicament especially harsh, said Karen Abu Zayd, commissioner of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency which helps the Palestinian refugees.” While at least a motive is given for Israel’s refusal (though not that the problem here is not just a massive influx of Palestinians might overwhelm social services but that the “returnees” goal would be turning Israel into a Palestinian Arab nationalist or Islamist state through violence), no other alternative is presented, not even resettlement in an independent Palestine. That last point was, after all, the whole idea of the 1990s’ peace process. But the reporter collaborates with the Palestinian line: the only two choices are suffering or total victory, wiping out all other options.
I could literally write a book on the misstatements and misleading basis of this article. But it can be summarized as follows:
This is the Palestinian narrative adapted by a large sector of the American media, as well as academia: It is a zero-sum game in which either Israel must be eliminated or poor Palestinians suffer. That the continued conflict—and their own suffering--is due to Palestinian actions or that it could be resolved by the kind of compromises Israel has long been advocating (and Palestinians rejecting) and taking risks to bring about is not mentioned. Equally, the perspective that Palestinian radical leadership (by both Fatah and Hamas) and doctrine must be eliminated as the source of Israeli suffering is understated or ignored.
The real victim here is both Israelis and Palestinians. The real cause of the suffering is Arab state intransigence and the kind of Palestinian leadership, strategy, goals, ideology, and behavior that this and so many media stories extol.
Remember that the poisonous forest of hatred and violence grow from the acorns of articles like this.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA and other GLORIA Center publications or to order books, visit Professor Barry Rubin,Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Editor, Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal Editor, Turkish Studies

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Making Mischief

April 30, 2008

Whatever the Israelis offer, Syria won't give up its alliance with Iran, which allows it to punch above its weight in the region.
With attention in the Middle East focusing on the US congressional hearings regarding a possible Syrian nuclear programme, the Syrian newspaper al-Watan made a surprising announcement last Wednesday. According to the newspaper, Israel, via Turkish channels, had in the previous 24 hours expressed its willingness to exchange the entirety of the Golan Heights area for peace with Syria.
The same day, Syrian expatriate affairs minister Buthaina Shaaban confirmed the information in an interview with al-Jazeera. Israeli spokespeople neither confirmed nor denied the reports. Senior officials said only that both Israel and Syria understood the "price" of an agreement. Could the latest diplomatic feints herald a renewed peace process between Israel and Syria? Almost certainly not. Here's why.
The Turkish channel of communication is a reality. The Israeli and Syrian governments send regular messages to one another. And Israel's statement in response to Shaaban's remarks is indicative of the Olmert government's willingness in principle for compromise on the Golan.
But with regard to Israel's position - the international and domestic contexts need to be borne in mind. Internationally, the Israeli defence establishment is known to have been opposed to the US decision to make public aspects of the intelligence behind Israel's bombing of a suspected nuclear facility in eastern Syria on September 6 2007. Part of this opposition related to the issue of revealing of sources. But a large part derived from the Israeli desire to avoid placing the Syrian leadership in a humiliating position from which it would feel obligated to retaliate for the attack.
From the Israeli point of view, the attack itself was sufficient to convey the desired deterrent message to Syria. The regime of Bashar al-Assad is regarded by the Israeli defence establishment as a weak and brittle entity. Apart from a general desire to avoid open conflict, Israel also has no desire to place Assad's regime in jeopardy - since whatever would replace it in the event of its falling would almost certainly be worse. Israel has no desire to see the Assad family franchise to its north replaced by a hungry, newly-minted Sunni Islamist government. Hence, the sudden dangling of the possibility of talks may be seen as a face-saving device for Assad, provided partially by Israel.
Domestically, Israeli opposition to concessions to Syria remains widespread and reaches to the highest levels of the current government. This will continue to be the case for as long as Syria remains part of the Iran-led alliance in the region. Both the president, Shimon Peres, and deputy prime minister Shaul Mofaz have asserted in recent days that if giving up the Golan Heights to Syria means in essence ceding it to Iran, then no deal is possible.
This then leads to the key question. Could Israeli concessions to Syria prove a sufficient prize to lure Damascus away from its 25-year alliance with the mullahs in Tehran? Answering this requires taking a closer look at the Syrian regime's interests in the region.
Syria lacks the size of Egypt and the resources of Saudi Arabia. But it has been able to project power and influence in the region because of its willingness to support radicalism, act as a disruptive force and thus create a situation in which it cannot be ignored. Thus, Damascus backs a host of Palestinian groups opposed to a peaceful settlement of the conflict with Israel - including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, PFLP-GC and others. Syria offered significant support to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. And most importantly, Damascus maintains influence in Lebanon - following its ignominious departure in 2005 - via its relationship with the pro-Iranian Shia militia, Hizbullah.
The ability to foment chaos and project influence in Lebanon is key for the Assad regime. The expulsion from that country was a personal humiliation for the young president, and its loss is exacting an economic cost on Damascus. Furthermore, the regime seeks to prevent at all costs the commencement of the work of the tribunal into the killing of former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri. Its chosen method for doing this is the fomenting of instability in Lebanon and the instrument it chooses to use is Hizbullah.
The mainstream Arab states - most importantly Egypt and Saudi Arabia - are frightened by the growth of Iranian influence across the region. They are furious with Syria for its backing of non-Arab Iran. But only by backing the radical power in the region can Syria maintain its powerful role as mischief-maker. No Iran means no more fomenting radicalism, no more reaping the benefits of having to be bought off, no more pro-Iranian militias to help out in Lebanon, no return to Lebanon, and the nightmarish possibility of seeing major regime figures collared for the killing of Hariri. It is a near certainty that the regime will prefer to maintain all of these - with the additional mobilising charge of the "occupied Golan" into the bargain - rather than give it all up and become a minor, status quo power.
In other words, Syria is too deeply committed, on too many levels, to its alliance with Iran to consider abandoning it for the Golan and the Arab mainstream. Syria's conflict with Israel can't be separated out from Damascus's larger regional concerns. Hence, with all due respect to the Turkish mediators, we are faced here with another manifestation of that well-known Middle Eastern phenomenon: much ado about nothing.
Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya Israel.
Professor Barry Rubin,Director, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center,Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal Editor, Turkish Studies

The Chomsky Hoax

The Chomsky Hoax
Exposing the Dishonesty of Noam Chomsky