Sunday, March 28, 2010

Re-Packaging Illusion

Recently, Mahmoud Abbas, in a speech to the Arab League, (unreal as always, billionaires wearing desert robes) Abbas harangued Israel,  and called upon the U.S. to "force" Israel to stop building in the Capitol.

He also referred to the coup by Hamas in Gaza and whined about them as well.


March 28, 2010

The Obama administration's approach to the Middle East is characterized by an apparent desire to revive the sunny illusions of the 1990s peace process - in an era that is far more uncertain and dangerous. This is particularly noticeable in the Israeli-Palestinian arena, in which the United States, the dominant world power, sets the parameters of debate. As a result, international discussion of the conflict is now more detached from reality than at any time in the past 40 years.

There are two layers to the edifice of unreality in which mainstream debate on the Israeli-Palestinian issue is now taking place. The first and most obvious one concerns the Hamas enclave in Gaza. It is now over four years since the movement's victory in elections to the Palestine Legislative Council, and nearly three years since the Hamas coup in Gaza. It is therefore past time to acknowledge that a single, united Palestinian national movement no longer exists.

Since this is, apparently, a reality too terrible to be admitted, the U.S. and the Europeans have chosen, in public at least, to ignore it. The fiction that the West Bank Palestinian Authority speaks in the name of all Palestinians is politely maintained. Behind the scenes, however, the reality is widely acknowledged. The intended means for coping with it constitutes the second layer of illusion.

The inability of even mainstream Fatah-style Palestinian nationalism to accept partition as the final outcome of the conflict has prevented its resolution twice - in 2000 and 2008. This type of nationalism understands the conflict as one that pits a colonial project against a native, authentic nationalism.

From such a perspective, partition of the land means admitting defeat. But Palestinian nationalism does not feel defeated. It is characterized, rather, by a deep strategic optimism. From its point of view, it is therefore not imperative to immediately conclude the struggle - but it is forbidden to end it. Hence the endless reasons why the partition deal somehow can never be inked.

The solution to this obstacle, the West has now decided, is that a new Palestinian leadership, unburdened by this outlook, must be created and defended. The manifestation of this approach is the meteoric career of Salam Fayyad, who was first imposed upon Palestinian politics as finance minister in 2002 by then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and is today PA prime minister.

Fayyad is working closely with Western representatives to build up the institutions and the economic prosperity that are supposedly going to transform Palestinian political culture from the all-or-nothing logjam that has prevented conflict resolution until now, into something with which the world can do business.

The essential logic of this is the same wishful thinking that doomed the 1990s peace process: namely, the idea that institution-building and economic advancement will - and must - eventually have a transformative effect on political outlook. This idea, experience has shown, is fundamentally flawed.

Some liken Fayyad to Konrad Adenauer, the German chancellor who presided over the transformation of political culture and the emergence of democracy in his country after 1945. But Adenauer operated in an era in which the anti-modern, anti-Western element in German political culture had just experienced a final, crushing Gotterdammerung, and Germany was living under a massive and permanent occupation.

In the Palestinian territories, by contrast, the anti-Western and anti-modern element is flourishing, and has state backers in Iran and Syria. It would probably quickly consume Fayyad, were he to cease to be cradled in the arms of the West.

Like the pleasant, well-dressed leaders of the March 14 movement in Lebanon - who have now been devoured by Syria and Hezbollah - Fayyad and company are the product of Western wishful thinking. And like those of March 14, they will survive for precisely as long as the West is willing to underwrite them. And no longer.

This would be fine. The economic development Fayyad is promoting in the West Bank is wholly positive. The problem is that this fantasy version of Palestinian politics is now being seen as real in Brussels and Washington. There are those in the West who seem to have convinced themselves that their creation can walk by itself.

The pleasant figure of Fayyad allows outside observers to pretend that the underlying realities of Palestinian politics do not exist. From there, it is a short step to convincing oneself that the only reason there isn't peace in the Middle East is because Interior Minister Eli Yishai wants to build houses for ultra-Orthodox families in north-central Jerusalem.

In the case of the U.S. administration, it is not entirely clear if this view derives from genuine naivete, or a calculated rationale. There are those who suspect that President Obama will find a way to hold Israel responsible for the absence of peace, regardless of the truth of the situation, because of broader considerations that in his view require the distancing of Washington from Jerusalem.

Either way, it is difficult to discern what advantage the administration's approach will bring for Western interests and good governance in the region. The main impression to be gained is that the West and its allies are confused, disunited and fractious. A cause for celebration for their enemies, no doubt, but hardly an impression one would expect Washington to wish to promote.
 *Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Herzliya, Israel

Monday, March 22, 2010

The UN Gives an Award Named After a Murdered Man to One of His Murderer’s Best Friends

March 22, 2010
If  you want a good example of the ridiculous, shameful ironies in the terrible era we’re living in here it is. The UN-Habitat organization, part of the United Nations, has initiated a Rafik Hariri Memorial Award. The award is named after the former Lebanese prime minister who was assassinated by Syria in February 2005.
The first winner is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Of course, Erdogan is an Islamist who is an ally of Syria, the murderer of Hariri.
Why did Erdogan get the $200,000 award? According to the announcement, the reason is that he organized the first conference of mayors that led to the creation of a worldwide organization of mayors, thus creating another round of meetings so that the budgets of cities can be spent on plane fare and luxury hotels for mayors to travel around the world. How’s that for making the lives of urban people better?
Apparently, the fact that Erdogan is closely cooperating with the people who killed Hariri, after whom the award was named, did not strike the panel as ironic.
And of course Erdogan has also taken Turkey into alignment with Iran and Hizballah, the other forces which are trying to control Hariri’s country and against whom the late prime minister fought.
Meanwhile, the UN-sponsored investigation of Hariri’s murder has come to a dead halt and probably will never be pushed forward by that international organization.
By the way, the panel giving the award was headed by former UN Under Secretary General, Mervat Tallawy, an Egyptian who, I’m told, was known to express doubts as to whether Usama bin Ladin was really responsible for the September 11 attack on New York.
I think granting an award to the close friend of those who murdered the man it’s named after, a backer of those who he fought against, and who is aiding those seeking to take over his country definitely qualifies for being granted our own award for ironic and disgraceful behavior.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Campbell: U.S. Should Back Israel Strike On Iran

March 18th, 2010 at 9:03 am by DAVID FRUM | 28 Comments |

Tom Campbell, the front-running candidate for the GOP nomination to contest Barbara Boxer’s vulnerable Senate seat, has come under intense fire on national security issues.
Critics have seized upon stray remarks and acknowledged mistakes from an election cycle a decade ago to construct an image of Campbell entirely at variance with his own emphatically expressed views.
Campbell has responded to those criticisms directly, apologizing where warranted, correcting the record otherwise, at a press conference last week and on his website, here.
Now he’s taken another step: Today, Campbell will deliver a major address on national security issues to the World Affairs Council of San Francisco. FrumForum has obtained an advance copy of the speech. The speech endorses the war in Afghanistan, indefinite detention of illegal enemy combatants, support for Israel in the event Israel decides it must attack Iranian nuclear facilities, and an emphatic statement of commitment to Israel as a NATO-equivalent U.S. ally.
With the latest Field poll showing Barbara Boxer suddenly vulnerable, California Republicans would make a horrible mistake if they deprived themselves of their strongest candidate because of wild distortions of views that have now been restated clearly and emphatically.

The President has approved his own “surge” in Afghanistan, and he is right to do it. As a member of the US Senate, I will vote to ensure that the President and our forces in Afghanistan have all the resources they require to accomplish their mission.

We have a new category of individuals: enemy combatants. This category was not in our vocabulary when I was in Congress. Enemy combatants have allied themselves with Al Qaeda, or other similar groups who have made war on the United States. For them, the appropriate treatment is to be tried under military tribunals, with incarceration in Guantanamo, or, where appropriate, the death penalty carried out by military authority. The precedent for this comes from World War II, where we did not try Nazi saboteurs in civilian courts, nor hold them for deportation, but where we used military tribunals, culminating, in some cases, with the death penalty. For today’s enemy combatants, incarceration is entirely appropriate, pending the time when the organization with which they freely chose to affiliate themselves, no longer poses a threat to the United States. If that is a long time, so be it – that’s the course they chose. …
The harm from applying civilian court principles to the enemy combatants in the war on terror has already been seen. Out of fear of violating Constitutional principles developed in the civilian context, our country has already released many from Guantanamo; two of whom are now battle commanders in Afghanistan again fighting our troops. It is almost absurd that we allowed that result to occur.

The lasting elements of alliance are a common commitment to democratic principles and human rights. We have such shared commitments with the countries of NATO, with our Pacific Ocean allies like Australia and Japan, and with Israel. We are not free of faults, nor are they. Yet we recognize that Israel like these other allies is a functioning democracy that tolerates a wide breadth of opinion, not permitted in any of the nations arrayed against her. We call this out, we refuse to be intimidated into silence, or into compliance.
If a country or group of countries requires that America boycott another country as a condition of normal relations with them, we will refuse. On that basis, America has passed and rightly enforces the anti-boycott legislation, making it unlawful for American companies to comply with the demand of certain Arab states that companies boycott Israel if they wished to do business with them. In a similar vein, the United States’ response to the sometimes on sometimes off insistence by China that Taiwan not be permitted to participate in international organizations should not be tolerated. We recognize that basic human rights flourish in Taiwan that are still not permitted in China.

What’s uncertain is not whether Iran will obtain a nuclear weapon. It’s all too certain that Iran will obtain a nuclear weapon. No pragmatist can deny that.
The uncertainty, rather, is whether the US will stand with Israel if Israel takes the step with regard to Iran that it took with Syria in September of 2008, and Iraq in 1981, and strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability before it becomes operational. The Administration’s message is that the US wishes to restrain Israel from taking this step. I believe that is exactly the wrong message to send. Iran’s rulers need to hear a very different message. Iran’s rulers need to hear that if they do not stop their nuclear program, they are inviting an Israeli attack. They need to hear that the US will not try to restrain Israel. If Iran wants to avoid attack, Iran must stop building its weapons of annihilation. Uncertainty about what America will do if Israel acts should be removed, and removed now.

Under Panetta, a more aggressive CIA

In his 13 months in the job, CIA Director Leon Panetta has led a relentless assault on al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistan.
In his 13 months in the job, CIA Director Leon Panetta has led a relentless assault on al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistan. (Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 21, 2010
The plan was a standard one in the CIA's war against extremists in Pakistan: The agency was using a Predator drone to monitor a residential compound; a Taliban leader was expected to arrive shortly; a CIA missile would kill him.
On the morning of Aug. 5, CIA Director Leon Panetta was informed that Baitullah Mehsud was about to reach his father-in-law's home. Mehsud would be in the open, minimizing the risk that civilians would be injured or killed. Panetta authorized the strike, according to a senior intelligence official who described the sequence of events.
Some hours later, officials at CIA headquarters in Langley identified Mehsud on a feed from the Predator's camera. He was seen resting on the roof of the house, hooked up to a drip to palliate a kidney problem. He was not alone.
Panetta was pulled out of a White House meeting and told that Mehsud's wife was also on the rooftop, giving her husband a massage. Mehsud, implicated in suicide bombings and the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was a major target. Panetta told his officers to take the shot. Mehsud and his wife were killed.
Panetta, an earthy former congressman with exquisitely honed Washington smarts, was President Obama's surprise choice to head the CIA. During his 13 months in the job, Panetta has led a relentless assault on al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives in Pakistan, delivering on Obama's promise to target them more aggressively than his predecessor.
Apart from a brief stint as a military intelligence officer in the 1960s, little in Panetta's résumé appeared to merit his nomination to become the 19th director of the CIA, but his willingness to use force has won over skeptics inside the agency and on Capitol Hill. Said one former senior intelligence official: "I've never sensed him shirking from it."
The stepped-up drone strikes, Panetta's opposition to the release of information about CIA interrogation practices, and his resistance to greater oversight of the agency by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have prompted criticism that he is a thrall of the agency's old guard. In the meantime, the strikes have begun to draw greater scrutiny, with watchdog groups demanding to know more about how they are carried out and the legal reasoning behind the killings.
In an interview Wednesday at CIA headquarters, Panetta refused to directly address the matter of Predator strikes, in keeping with the agency's long-standing practice of shielding its actions in Pakistan from public view. But he said that U.S. counterterrorism policies in the country are legal and highly effective, and that he is acutely aware of the gravity of some of the decisions thrust upon him.
"Any time you make decisions on life and death, I don't take that lightly. That's a serious decision," he said. "And yet, I also feel very comfortable with making those decisions because I know I'm dealing with people who threaten the safety of this country and are prepared to attack us at any moment."
Mehsud's followers and their al-Qaeda allies vowed to avenge his death, and within months they put into motion a plan that culminated in a Dec. 30 suicide bombing that killed seven CIA officers and contractors at a base in eastern Afghanistan.
On the Monday after the bombing, the regular 8:30 a.m. meeting of senior staff members at CIA began with a minute of silence. Then the director spoke.
"We're in a war," Panetta said, according to one participant. "We cannot afford to be hesitant. . . . The fact is we're doing the right thing. My approach is going to be to work that much harder . . . that we beat these sons of bitches."

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

How Quick They Forget: A Short History of U.S. Policy and Israeli Construction in East Jerusalem

By Barry Rubin*

March 14, 2010

For more than four months the U.S. government has been celebrating Israel agreeing to stop construction on settlements in the West Bank while continuing building in east Jerusalem as a great step forward and Israeli concession deserving a reward. Suddenly, all of this is forgotten to say that Israel building in east Jerusalem is some kind of terrible deed which deserves punishment.

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return. Here is a short history of this round:

October 31, 2009: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lavishly praises Israel as making "unprecedented" concessions in stopping construction on West Bank settlements while it is still going to build in east Jerusalem.

November 1, 2009: The U.S. State Department cheers Israel's announcement that it will stop construction on West Bank settlements but not in east Jerusalem: "Today's announcement by the Government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

March 12, 2010: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton says that Israel building in east Jerusalem is an "insult" to the United States, jeopardizes the bilateral relationship, and damages the cause of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, even though the Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate for 14 months; made President Brack Obama look very foolish after destroying his publicly announced September plan to have negotiations in two months; and broke its promise not to sponsor the Goldstone report in the UN, no word of criticism has ever been offered by any administration official regarding the PA's continuous and very public sabotage of peace process efforts.

Can people please point out that there's a bit of a contradiction here?

Take Back America: Tax The Rich

Wake up, people.
There is no moral justification for a poor child to sleep in a cardboard box, hungry and cold, because he or she didn't have the luck to be born with millions of dollars, like Geo Bush and the rest of America's nobility.

Recently we have been looking into media reports on wealth in America, and like much from the media, they distort facts to promulgate their own situation.
for example, when they say that less than ten percent of wealth is inherited, they mean that if you are born wealthy, but not on the Fortune 400 list, then you were born poor!

The Boston-based United for a Fair Economy, shows that a majority of the Forbes 400 inherited their way onto the list, inherited already substantial and profitable companies, or received key start-up capital from a family member.
Why should those, such as Geo Bush, rape our country, and other's, with impunity, and not pay their fair share of taxes?
Today the United States has 170 billionaires by Forbes's count, up from 135 last year, and more than 36 million people living below the official poverty line--and millions more living in poverty above it. The latest poverty thresholds are $7,995 for a single person and $12,516 for a family of three. According to the Census Bureau, the top 5 percent of households (with income above $119,540) increased their share of the national income from 15.6 percent in 1981 to 21.4 percent last year; the bottom 80 percent lost ground to those above. The top 5 percent has an even larger share of national wealth, holding about 60 percent of all net worth, according to economist Edward Wolff.

42 percent were born on rich.. These include older dynasties like the Rockefellers and du Ponts, and newer family fortunes from companies like Walmart and Gap. The Waltons of Wal-Mart are ranked nine through thirteen on the Forbes 400, with a combined $32 billion.

Forbes thinks some of those born on home plate hit a home run. For example, it calls Philip Anschutz "self-made" even though he would have made the 400 cut just from the mineral wealth he inherited from his father.

We need to begin taxing the wealthy.
They have not "earned" anything.
No one "earns" billions of dollars.

There are numerous common sense reasons why we need to insit that the wealthy start to pay some of their share to take our country back from the corrupt situation it is in now.

Taxing the wealthy at higher rates doesn’t affect their life chances. They still have plenty of income and wealth to support their higher standard of living and to maintain and expand their companies.  In contrast, taxing the less wealthy, particularly the lower and working classes, at equal rates dramatically affects their life chances.

Prevents revolt on the part of poor and exploited.

Ensures workers can buy goods and services that are produced (without high consumption, businesses would fail and wealthy would lose income and wealth.
Labor costs below true value (surplus value)

Not an even playing field – wealth breads wealth.  They usually don’t earn it in the rags to riches sense.

Corporate subsidies are extreme and taxing the wealthy at higher rates is one way to offset these subsidies. Examples: roads, sewer systems, firefighting, water quality, air quality, education, incentives to relocate (Alabama and auto factories -- tax reductions), tax right offs, depreciations etc.

It is time that the people who built America, the workers and the blacks and the minorities began experiencing basic human rights, as guaranteed by the UN declaration of human rights, which was ratified by the United States.

(See Universal Declaration of Human Rights, )

Friday, March 12, 2010

EU Calls For Immediate Release Of Gilad Shalit

In an unprecedented move, the European Parliament on Thursday passed by majority vote a call for the immediate release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Members of parliament from across the political spectrum signed on to a letter to European Union foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton ahead of her visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories next week.

The letter demands that Shalit, who also holds French citizenship, be released and voices protest against the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.
Noam Shalit, the father of the abducted soldier, called the letter sharp and clear and said he hoped that it would encourage the Israeli government to work toward his son's release and the Hamas government to submit its response to Israel's offer at once.

The elder Shalit met Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, with European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and updated him on the stalled negotiations with Hamas on a potential prisoner exchange. Hamas has not responded to Israel's most recent proposal.

Shalit  urged for the EU resolution to call for the immediate release of his son and to demand that he be treated according to the Geneva Convention.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What Does Assad Want?

March 7, 2010

In Damascus last week, the full array of leaders of the so-called 'resistance bloc' came together in a series of meetings. Presidents Ahmedinejad of Iran and Assad of Syria were there, alongside a beaming Khaled Meshal of Hamas and Hizballah General-Secretary Hassan Nasrallah. There were some lesser lights too to make up the numbers - including the PFLP-GC's Ahmed Jibril, a fossil from the old alphabet soup of secular Palestinian groups.
The mood - replicated a few days later in Teheran - was one of jubilant defiance.
The reasons underlying Syria's membership of the 'resistance bloc' remain fiercely debated in western policy discussion. It has long been the view of a powerful element in Washington - strongly echoed by many in the Israeli defense establishment - that Syria constitutes the 'weakest link' in the Iranian-led bloc.
Adherents to this view see the Syrian regime as concerned solely with power and its retention. Given, they say, that Syria's ties to the Iran-led bloc are pragmatic rather than ideological, the policy trick to be performed is finding the right incentive to make Damascus re-calculate the costs and benefits of its position.
Once the appropriate incentive tips the balance, it is assumed, the regime in Damascus will coolly absent itself from the company of frothing ideologues on display in Damascus and Teheran last week, and will take up its position on the rival table - or at least at a point equidistant between them.
The specific incentive required to perform this trick varies depending on who you ask. In Israel, it is generally assumed that the recovery of the Golan Heights is the great prize. In this view, Syrian backing for Hizballah and for Palestinian terror groups is intended to keep up the pressure on Israel, in order to force it to concede the Golan.
In Washington, one may hear a number of other incentives discussed - the removal of the Syria Accountability Act, US aid and investment, and so on.
The logic of all these positions depends on the basic characterization of the Assad regime as ultimately motivated purely by Machiavellian power interests. This characterization remains received wisdom in Israeli and US policy circles to a far greater extent than the evidence for it warrants.
Western wooing of Syria has undeniably produced remarkably little in terms of changing the regime's behavior. In recent weeks, the Obama Administration increased the volume of its formerly cautious overtures to Damascus. Under Secretary of State William Burns visited Damascus. Burns attempted to raise the issue of Syrian support for insurgents in Iraq, and for Hizballah and Palestinian terror groups. Assad, according to reports, denied all knowledge of such support.
The recently announced US decision to return an ambassador to Damascus was followed by the resistance jamboree in Damascus - in which Assad openly mocked US hopes for a Syrian 'distancing' from Iran.
It has now been announced that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is considering a visit to Damascus. In the meantime, Syria is gaily crashing through the red lines on its military support for Hizballah. Sophisticated anti-aircraft equipment, such as the Russian-made Igla system is rumored to be following the advanced surface to surface missiles and anti-tank systems supplied to the Shia Islamist group.
Which brings us back to the core question of Syrian motivation. Clearly, the Syrians have a habit of swallowing incentives and giving nothing in return. But if the alignment with Iran is purely pragmatic, then why does it prove so difficult to offer Syria the right carrot to lure it away from Teheran?
There are two possible answers. The first and most obvious one is that Syria calculates, probably correctly, that since there will be no real price imposed on it for not changing its behavior, it can afford to maintain its current level of relations with Iran, while happily accepting any gestures from the west or Israel designed to induce it to change them.
But this explanation fails to account for the brazenness and fervor of Syria's current stance of defiance.
The statements of individuals close to the Syrian regime in recent months suggest that there is more to the current Syrian stance than simply playing all sides off against the middle. Rather, the Syrians believe that a profound re-structuring of the balance of power is under way in the Middle East - to the benefit of the Iran-led bloc.
This re-structuring is being made possible because of the supposed long-term weakening of the US in the region. This enables the aggressive, Islamist regime in Teheran to fill the vacuum. It also renders feasible policy options - such as direct confrontation with Israel - which in the 1990s seemed to have vanished forever.
The characterization of the young Syrian president and his regime as ultimately cool-headed and pragmatist is incorrect. The Damascus regime always held to a fiercely anti-Israeli and anti-American view of the region. In the 1990s, realities appeared to require a practical sidelining of this view. But the 1990s were over a while ago.
Regimes like that of the Assads (and even semi-farcical figures like old Jibril and his PFLP-GC) are not anomalies in the alliance based on Iranian ambition and regional Islamist fervor. Rather, they are natural partners, sharing a base-level understanding of the region, common enemies, and a common, brutal approach to asserting their interests. It is for this core reason that attempts to prise Bashar Assad away from his natural habitat will continue to prove fruitless.
 *Dr. Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Herzliya, Israel

Saturday, March 6, 2010

When It's Necessary and Desirable to Assassinate Terrorists

By Barry Rubin*
March 5, 2010

There has been a huge international controversy about the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a leading Hamas terrorist, in Dubai on January 19. I have no idea who did it but have some points to make on the subject.

1. Generally speaking, media coverage almost never (in Europe) or only minimally (in the United States) talks about what Mabhouh actually did to merit his end. The New York Times had the following paragraph at the 
very end of its story:

"Mr. Mabhouh had a role in the 1989 abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers, and was also involved in smuggling weapons into Gaza, Israel and Hamas have said. Israel officials say the weapons came from Iran."

It would seem that there would be more discussion of the deeds of such people so they are not portrayed, at least implicitly, as innocent victims. Readers could weigh the assassination against their crimes, which would otherwise go unhindered and unpunished. Mabhouh was probably in Dubai arranging more arms' shipments from Iran so that Hamas could go to war again, causing deaths on both sides. He was a real war criminal, in contrast to the bogus ones fabricated by the terrorist-sponsoring dictatorships which seem to have so much influence on the "human rights" agenda.

2. As long as Western states do nothing to help bring Hamas or Hizballah terrorists to justice, and since Israel has no way of getting these people before a court, it has no option other than the extra-judicial one. Remember that an Israeli cabinet minister is more likely to face prosecution in the United Kingdom nowadays than a terrorist who has murdered Israeli civilians.

Some European countries--France and Italy have admitted as much regarding past deals--have secret agreements with terrorist groups to allow them to operate freely as long as they don't do attacks within the country. Other terrorists--like the Palestinians who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship and murdered an American citizen or one of the Libyan masterminds of the Lockerbie plane bombing that killed scores of passengers, mainly Americans--have been released from prison without completing their terms.

This point of international culpability in letting certain terrorists escape or function isn't brought up, explained, or seriously discussed: What do you do if specific people are attacking you and there's no other option to stopping them? If the United States could assassinate Usama bin Ladin or other top al-Qaida terrorists whom it could not capture shouldn't it do so? Of course it should.

3. There is a cliché when talking about counter-terrorism to the effect that getting a specific individual doesn't matter as there is always someone to replace him. But in terrorism, as in other aspects of life, there are more effective and less effective individuals. Since Israel eliminated Hamas's master bombmaker-who not only made bombs but trained others--in 1995, less capable people replacing him in that line of work have managed to blow themselves up a lot.

The terrorist Imad Mugniya, who someone killed in Damascus, was a unique individual since he had personally worked with the Palestinians, Hizballah, Syria, and Iran. Given his energy, ability, and connections he was not really replaceable.

Mabhouh was in a similar position, the top Hamas arms' procurer who enjoyed the trust of the Iranians and who knew how to get lots of rockets and other equipment quickly and consistently.

These are not people who merely carried out a specific attack but those who make possible the staging of dozens of attacks.

Of course, terrorism doesn't go away-expecting that it will do so is a Western act of wishful thinking-but the point is to reduce the number and effectiveness of attacks, and thus the number of casualties.

There are other advantages to eliminating key terrorist operatives. Often it can spark factional conflicts which make terrorist groups spend more time on internal battles. It also sparks mistrust among terrorist partners. If Mugniya can be assassinated in the neighborhood of Damascus that is the most secure place in all of Syria, can Iran and Hizballah trust Syria? Where did the leak occur? Who is infiltrated by the enemy?

Indeed, though outsiders may understate this reality, there is more than a seed of suspicion planted. Perhaps Iran or Syria or Fatah or some other faction in Hizballah killed Mugniya? Perhaps Fatah or Iran or some other faction of Hamas killed Mabhouh.

By the way, although it doesn't seem to make the headlines so much, other countries including the United States (certainly in Somalia and Yemen) have taken out specific terrorists. Doing so more would be a good idea, if the cases are carefully selected and in the absence of any option to grab them from some state providing safe haven.

Proposition One: if you truly understand that the terrorist groups are going to try to kill you no matter what you do, it removes the fear of making them angry.

Proposition Two: If you know the world is going to criticize you no matter what you do, it removes the fear of making them angry.

That's Israel's situation. It is also the situation of a lot of other countries which admittedly face a lower level of risk but also don't realize the first proposition. At the same time, though, they have far fewer problems with the second.

But what's at issue here is not revenge for past attacks but the prevention of future ones, a very careful and well-informed thinking through of what actions would weaken terrorist adversaries and save the lives of the civilians they are aiming to kill. 

*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, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to

Friday, March 5, 2010

Mossad May Have Dispatched Vicious Killer

At IsraelAmerica we are grateful to whoever punished this ruthless criminal Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.
This is an abridged version of an article concerning Mossad from The Week

In keeping with its “policy of ambiguity” on intelligence matters, Israel has refused to confirm or deny any role in last month’s killing of Hamas criminal, murderer,and arms broker Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.
“There is no reason to think that it was the Israeli Mossad,” was the Israeli foreign minister’s carefully worded response. But intelligence experts say the meticulously planned assassination, which is thought to have involved up to 26 accomplices, bore the hallmarks of a Mossad hit—from the use of stolen foreign identities to the droll “Do not disturb” sign the assassins fixed to the dead man’s hotel room door.

What exactly does Mossad do?
Mossad (or “institute” in Hebrew) claims to be a typical intelligence service, like the CIA or the U.K.’s MI6. Its website describes duties such as “producing strategic, political, and operational intelligence” and preventing terrorist attacks. But from its earliest days, its covert actions have had an unusually dramatic, righteous quality—in keeping with the Jewish state’s emotional founding in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Mossad’s current director, Meir Dagan, has a photograph in his office of his grandfather about to be shot by a Nazi—reflecting the agency’s roots in a Zionist group that smuggled Jews into British Palestine in the 1930s. Since being founded in 1949, Mossad has relentlessly hunted down Israel’s enemies far beyond the state’s own borders.

Who has Mossad targeted?
Nazis, to start with, the most prominent being Adolf Eichmann. Tipped off that the architect of the Final Solution was living quietly in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in May 1960 a team of 11 Mossad agents, many of them Holocaust survivors, seized Eichmann, drugged him, and flew him to Israel, where he was tried and executed. Argentina protested that its sovereignty had been grossly violated, but Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was given a standing ovation when he announced Eichmann’s capture to the Knesset. Mossad also helped Israel battle its hostile neighbors. In 1966, it arranged the defection of an Iraqi pilot, complete with his Soviet-built MiG-21 jet. But it was in the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics, at which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists, that Mossad became known for its particular brand of vengeance.

What happened after Munich?
Prime Minister Golda Meir ordered Mossad to hunt down the terrorists and kill them, wherever they were. In a seven-year operation, code-named Wrath of God, 11 Palestinians were shot or blown up in Rome, Cyprus, Paris, Athens, and Beirut. Wrath of God established the skill, ruthlessness, and disregard for foreign governments for which Mossad has been known ever since. Over the years, Mossad has been suspected in dozens of killings and kidnappings. In 2008 alone, its assassination unit (see below) is thought to have decapitated a senior Hezbollah figure in Damascus, Syria, by planting a bomb in his car’s headrest, and executed a Syrian general, who was shot from a yacht while he was relaxing in the garden of his seaside villa.

Is murder Mossad’s main function?
Actually, some of Mossad’s greatest successes have been in saving lives. In July 1976, Mossad agents obtained aerial photos that enabled Israeli commandos to free 102 hostages from Uganda’s Entebbe Airport. And in 1992, Mossad went to the aid of Jews escaping the siege of Sarajevo. More recently, it is believed responsible for several acts aimed at disrupting Iran’s nuclear program, including the killing of a top Iranian scientist and suspicious fires at two labs.

What is its overall track record?
Mixed. Mossad has made some serious tactical and strategic errors. Critics say its intelligence was faulty prior to the surprise attack by Arab armies in 1973, and that it missed the warning signs of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and both Palestinian intifadas. Assassinations have also gone wrong. In 1973, a team of six agents shot dead a Moroccan waiter in Lillehammer, Norway, in front of his pregnant wife, after mistaking him for the leader of the Fatah offshoot Black September. Another diplomatic crisis followed an attempt in 1997 to murder Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Jordan. Two Mossad agents, using Canadian passports, were caught injecting a nerve toxin into Meshaal’s ear. They fled to the Israeli Embassy in Amman, and Israel was forced to admit its role and turn over an antidote.

How do Israelis view Mossad?
They’re of two minds. While many Israelis like Mossad’s take-no-prisoners methods, critics worry that even its successes can harm Israel’s image, by suggesting the country operates in defiance of international law. In fact, Mossad went largely quiet after the Meshaal poisoning, until 2002, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered that the agency be used more aggressively, with a “knife between its teeth.” But as Mossad’s profile has risen again, so have the misgivings. Writing recently in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, security expert Yossi Melman said that despite its reputation, “Mossad is not ‘Murder Inc.,’ like the Mafia,” and is supposed to focus on intelligence gathering. “Nevertheless,” he said, “these are the operations that give the organization its halo, its shining image. This is ultimately liable to blind its own ranks.”

The assassins and their helpers
Kidon, which means “bayonet” in Hebrew, is believed to be the organization’s elite killing and kidnapping unit—a “mini-Mossad within the Mossad.” According to Gordon Thomas, author of Gideon’s Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad, Kidon’s preferred methods of execution include electrocution, strangling with wire, planting precision bombs in cars and mobile phones, and poisoning, using toxins developed by Mossad scientists at their headquarters in a Tel Aviv suburb. Thomas says that the Kidon can afford to be relatively lightly staffed—it consists of just a few dozen men and women—because once in the field, its agents are backed up by thousands of sayanim, sympathetic civilians of foreign countries who are happy to do their part to help the Jewish state. “A sayan will rent a car or pass money to a kidon,” Thomas says, “with no questions asked.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Americans love Israel Even More Than You Think

March 3, 2010

International relations isn't a popularity contest. But public opinion polls can be useful in countering myths and examining the impact of policymaker, elite, and media campaigns on the masses.

Which brings us to 
Gallup's latest poll measuring how Americans feel about different countries. The more one examines the results, the more amazing they are. Americans two favorites are, not surprisingly, fellow English-speakers Canada and the United Kingdom. Then come-Americans are very forgiving-two former enemies, Germany and Japan.

And next on the list is Israel. Even the basic numbers-67 favorable, 25 percent unfavorable-are impressive. But that's only the beginning. Around 10 percent of Americans don't like anybody, and only one-fourth of those 25 percent nay-sayers on Israel, that is 6 percent, are really hostile.

In other words, the percentage of Americans who hate Israel is only 6 percent and the number who single out Israel for partly unfavorable views among other popular countries adds about 10 percent more.

And since 10 percent of Americans say they like Iran (85 percent don't), having only a bit more than that number really disliking Israel isn't very impressive.

After 20 years or so of intensive media criticism, hostility on campuses, double standards, and controversy that's nothing short of remarkable.

This conclusion is intensified further by considering the equivalent results for the Palestinian Authority (PA). Remember that one can like both Israel and the PA. Moreover, the PA receives constant good publicity in the media, campuses, and among policymakers as moderate and friendly to the United States. Yet only 20 percent are favorable to the PA and a whopping 70 percent are negative.

Even that understates the results. How popular is the PA? Well, it's at the same level as Yemen, and that's after a suicide bomber trained and indoctrinated there was captured trying to blow up a U.S. airliner near Detroit.

What about the idea that young people are steadily becoming more hostile to Israel? There is a difference but not a huge one. While 70 percent of those over 55 are favorable to Israel, that number only sinks to 63 percent for those between 18 and 34. Given the fact that Americans become more moderate and less eager to rebel against prevailing norms as they get older that gap seems even smaller.

The equivalent generational difference for those favoring the PA is 28 to 15, but again a favorable view of the PA does not mean an unfavorable view of Israel. For example, those who see the two as the only conceivable peace partners or consider the PA to be far preferable to Hamas would be favorable toward both.

By the way, support for the PA sank to only 11 percent when it appeared Hamas was going to seize control also showing how small hardcore support is for the Palestinians. Presumably that same 11 percent-many of them also among the pro-Iran crowd--is the hardcore hostile group to Israel.

The other astounding result is the size of the Republican-Democrat gap on Israel. While 80 percent of Republicans are favorable, only 53 percent of Democrats are. Democrats are twice as likely to like the PA. In comparison, 64 percent of Democrats like Egypt, a repressive dictatorship despite its moderate foreign policy, and 56 percent like Russia.

This might be somewhat misleading since we aren't told whether the other 47 percent of Democrats who weren't favorable to Israel had no opinion or were only mildly critical. Only 25 percent of Democrats were favorable to the PA so even there (again, remembering it quite possible to be favorable toward both) a wide gap exists in Israel's favor.

Another indicator is that Israel is the only country that Republicans-who presumably include more elements whose patriotism, xenophobia, nationalism, or isolationism make them generally less enthusiastic about other countries generally--like more than Democrats, suggesting that it is high support by the former rather than low backing by the latter which could account for the gap.

Two fascinating questions arise from this analysis: What does all this matter, since public opinion doesn't make foreign policy, and why is there such a gap between the most vocal elites and masses on Israel?

The answer to the first question is that it matters to members of Congress who are running for election in November and know that voters don't want to see them bash Israel or support a president in doing so. Indeed, as President Barack Obama's popularity has fallen and even the media has become more critical, Congress is reclaiming an independent role on foreign policymaking.

And of course the White House, too, is watching the polls. This is one of the most elections' conscious, always campaigning presidencies in history-and the standard there is very high-and clearly attacking Israel either isn't seen as beneficial for its ambitions. This isn't the only factor affecting its behavior but it is one of them.

As to the second issue, there are many factors but let me try to list them briefly. Those who are unhappy with the status quo-that is, the U.S.-Israel special relationship, are going to be noisier. Another is the concept of "Realism" which is, unfortunately, extraordinarily unrealistic, the idea that all governments think alike, defining interest the same way regardless of all other factors. To assume that type of government, political culture, distinctive history, and ideology plays no rule in Arab politics ensures you don't understand them. And so much of the Western elite assumes Israel is the only problem preventing Arab rulers and Islamist revolutionaries from loving the West.

Another issue is narrative, with much of the elite believing that the conflict is one of Palestinians and Syria desperately wanting peace but Israel saying no. In the American elite, there is also more of a yearning to be like Europe.

But American public opinion has more common sense to see through these myths. It understands that there are huge differences between democracies and dictatorship. It knows demagoguery and extremist ideology on sight and doesn't like them. Thus, matters are precisely the opposite of what much of the elite thinks: public opinion, not elite institutions, accurately predicts where policy on these issues will go in future. 

Will Obama Have an Iraq Crisis?

March 2, 2010

If-and I repeat, if--this story is true it is going to be a very big development that may, as they like to see in the television promos, change the Obama administration forever. According to Thomas Ricks, the former Washington Post military correspondent, General Raymond Odierno, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, is asking for an additional combat brigade to be put into Kirkuk and to stay beyond Obama's August 2010 withdrawal deadline for all combat forces.

Reportedly, Odierno is worried about Kurdish-Arab-Turkoman conflict in the city, which would be a reason why an Iraqi brigade of Arab soldiers might further inflame the situation. Such a request makes the administration very uncomfortable. We saw how it took three months to make a decision over military strategy in Afghanistan which resulted in a highly politicized strategy designed to please all.

Ricks concludes: "I expect that Obama actually is going to have to break his promises on Iraq and keep a fairly large force in Iraq," He knows better than I do about such things but I wonder if that's true. I'd expect that for political reasons-and especially just before the critical congressional elections in November-Obama's team will go for political profit rather than strategic safety.

By the way, this story clears up a mysterious detail that hints the U.S. military is thinking along these lines. The Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review Report for 2010 says: "The United States will...manage a responsible force drawdown in Iraq and support an orderly transition to a more normal diplomatic and civilian presence." The word "drawdown" means fewer troops, not complete withdrawal. This suggests the Defense Department wants to keep serious forces in Iraq.

Ricks mentions that he heard the story from three different sources, which not only attests to its likely accuracy but also implies that a number of people in the army feel this is something really important to push with the White House.

So the Obama administration might have an unpalatable choice coming up:

Keep the commitment of getting out all the combat forces, say "no" to the commnder on the scene, thus appearing to sacrifice the safety of troops and endanger an important place for political expediency and public relations' points.

Or break his promise, anger some of his constituency, and possibly create more electoral problems for his party.

This might not happen but until recently such a potential crisis wasn't even on the horizon. 

*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, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to

The Chomsky Hoax

The Chomsky Hoax
Exposing the Dishonesty of Noam Chomsky