Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bomb Iran, Let Them Get the Bomb, or ...(what)?

From, March 19, 2010, by KT McFarland:

President Obama needs to take strong and decisive action immediately to deal with the issue of Iran.

...whether it’s in 7 months or 17, we’re fast facing the point of letting Iran get the bomb, or bombing Iran.

If we, or Israel, bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, experts think it would – at best - set Iran’s nuclear weapons program back a few years. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen warns an attack could ignite a regional war in the Middle East – with Iran unleashing Hezbollah and Hamas attacks on Israel, reactivating Shiite militias in Iraq, and even mining the Strait of Hormuz. This would send the price of oil, and gasoline at American pumps, through the roof. And it would probably draw the U.S. Fifth Fleet into the fray to clear the mines.

On the other hand, if Iran gets the bomb, it would set off a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East, as moderate Sunni Arab states rush to build their own nuclear arsenals. Not only would this increase chances a nuclear weapon could be used, accidentally or intentionally, but also that nuclear materials could fall into the hands of terrorists. Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger believes the world will have a nuclear war within 20 years.

Is there a third way? Perhaps.
The U.S could advocate regime change in Iran by crippling the country's economy and encouraging Iranians to replace their leaders. Here are two things we could do to make that work:

- First, President Obama should impose crippling gasoline sanctions on Iran IMMEDIATELY – even if the U.S. has to go it alone. Although Iran exports gasoline, it doesn’t have the facilities to refine it, and must import nearly half of its gas. By targeting the companies that sell, ship or insure Iran’s gas imports, we could make things very difficult for Iran’s leaders very fast.

-Second, Obama should encourage regime change in Iran – not by sending American boots on the ground, but encouraging Iranian reformers on the streets – like President Reagan did with the Solidarity Labor movement in Poland in the 1980’s. Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world has gained him moral authority, it’s time for him to use it.

The chattering class is starting to say Iran’s nuclear program can’t be stopped, but might be contained. They argue that even if Iran gets nuclear weapons, they probably wouldn’t use them.

Try telling one that to Israel – you know the line that says even if the Holocaust-denying, Armageddon-threatening Iranian president has his finger on the button he won’t press it. The Israelis understand the odds, but it’s the stakes they don’t like.

The Obama administration’s allies have floated a trial balloon by declaring that we can deter Iran but extending a defense “umbrella” over the region. They argue that nuclear deterrence kept the peace between the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, so why wouldn’t it keep the peace with in a nuclear Middle East?

The problem with this argument is that it ignores the obvious – that deterrence, or mutually assured destruction (MAD) kept the peace between the U.S. and Soviet Union because each side knew if it launched a first strike, the other side would survive to launch a second strike.

But nuclear deterrence doesn’t solve Israel’s problem. It would be cold comfort to Israel if the U.S. promises to attack Iran after Iran nuked -- and vaporized -- Israel.

That’s why it is critical that President Obama take strong and decisive action immediately to find a third way – between letting Iran get the bomb and bombing Iran.

Palestine: time for a a paradigm shift from the political to the humanitarian

From Ynet News, 17 March 2010, by Martin Sherman:

It is time for the proponents of the two-state solution to admit that the Palestinians have failed the test of history in staking their claim for statehood.

A dispassionate evaluation of the events of the past two decades inexorably compels one towards an increasing evident conclusion: The Palestinians seem far more focused on annulling Jewish political independence than on attaining Palestinian political independence; far more committed to deconstruction of the Jewish state than to construction of a Palestinian one.

Accordingly, further pursuit of a Palestinian state is likely to prove both futile and detrimental. For as past precedents strongly suggest, it will advance neither peace nor prosperity, but only serve as a platform for further violence against Israel.

Thus, both political prudence and intellectual integrity inevitably militate towards the distinctly politically-incorrect conclusion that establishment of a Palestinian state must be removed from the international agenda as an objective that is either desirable or feasible – and certainly as an objective that can be reconciled with long-term survival of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

However, even if the Palestinians spurious political demands for statehood are removed from the discourse, this will not obviate the grim realities of the Palestinians humanitarian predicament. This is the issue that Israel and the international community should focus on.

This op-ed piece aims to sketch the outlines of the proposal, in the hopes that this will spark a wider, more detailed debate of its feasibility, economic costs, international acceptability and relative merits compared to other currently espoused alternatives.

To be comprehensive, this alternative paradigm would need to entail three constituent elements, all of an eminently libertarian nature. Two involve the elimination of discriminatory practices against the Palestinians as (a) refugees and (b) as residents in Arab countries. The third involves facilitating free choice for individual Palestinian breadwinners to determine their future and that of their families.

Time to shut down UNRWA
A brutally condensed tour-de-raison of the substantive elements of the proposal begins with refugee issue and the body responsible for dealing with it, UNRWA (UN Relief & Works Agency), a highly anomalous organization that perpetuates a culture of Palestinian dependency and the unrealistic narrative of "return."

All the refugees on the face of the globe are under the auspices of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) - except for the Palestinians. For them, a separate special institution exists - UNRWA. Yet if the universally accepted UNHCR criteria for refugees were applied to the Palestinian case, the number of "refugees" would shrink from close to 5 million to around 200,000!

These figures starkly illustrate that both the scale and the durability of the Palestinian refugee problem is fueled by the anomalous and distorted parameters of it definition. There is growing consensus that without the abolition of URWA and folding its operations into those of UNHCR, no way-out of the Palestinian-Israeli impasse is possible.

The issue of citizenship
Folding UNRWA into the framework of UNHCR would of course have significant ramifications for large Palestinian populations resident in the Arab countries, who would no longer receive the anomalous handouts paid to them. This leads to the second element of the proposal: the grave ethnic discrimination against the Palestinians resident in the Arab world, where Palestinians have severe restrictions imposed on their freedom of movement, employment opportunities, and property ownership. But most significantly, they are denied citizenship of the countries in which they have lived for decades.

The acquisition of citizenship of the countries of their long-standing residency is something overwhelming desired by the Palestinians - as numerous opinion surveys indicate. Accordingly, with the abolition of UNWRA and the accompanying changes in scope of the population eligible for refugee aid, a diplomatic drive must be mounted to pressure Arab governments to end their ethnic discrimination against the Palestinians; to desist from perpetuating their stateless status and allow them to acquire the citizenship of countries in which they have resided for decades.

Offering compensation
This brings us to the third and final element of the proposal: Allowing individual Palestinians under Israeli administration the exercise of free will in determining their destiny.

While the first two elements of the proposed solution are directed toward easing the plight of the Palestinians in the Arab world, this measure is aimed at those inside Israeli administered areas.

In essence it involves enabling individual Palestinians free choice as to how to chart their future and that of their families. The thrust of these efforts should focus on two major elements:

(a) Generous monetary compensation to effect the relocation and rehabilitation of the Palestinian residents in territories across the 1967 "Green Line", elsewhere in world, presumably predominantly - but not necessarily exclusively - in the Arab/Muslim countries.

(b) "Atomization" of the implementation by making the offer of compensation and relocation directly to the heads of families and not through any Palestinian organizational entity that may well have a vested interest in foiling the scheme.

Time for imaginative new initiatives
Although some may raise a skeptical eyebrow as to the acceptability of the proposal to the Palestinians and its economic feasibility, two points should be underscored.

Firstly, substantial statistical data exist indicating that such a measure would be enthusiastically embraced by a large portion of the Palestinian population. According to one poll only 15% would refuse any financial offer that allows them to seek a better life elsewhere, while over 70% would accept it. Indeed, given the choices of a life either under the rigors of Israeli control or worse, under the regressive regime that the Palestinians have hitherto provided, who could blame them?

As for that overall economic cost, it is easy to show that the cost of the proposed plan would be comparable than any alternative under discussion, involving the establishment of a new state, developing its infrastructures and presumably absorbing a large portion of the Palestinian diaspora within its constricted frontiers.

Finally, it should be remembered that for the prospective host nations, the scheme has distinct economic upside. Given the scale of the envisioned compensation, the Palestinian immigrants would not be arriving as destitute refugees, but, as relatively wealthy families in terms of average world GNP per capita. Their absorption would entail significant capital inflows into the host economies - typically around half a billion dollars for the absorption of every 2,000-3,000 family units.

The time has come for imaginative new initiatives to defuse one of the world's most volatile problems, one for which remedies hitherto attempted have proved sadly inappropriate. Accordingly, there seems ample reason to seriously address an alternative proposal, which at least, prima facia, will:

Defuse the Palestinian humanitarian predicament

Inject billions of dollars of funds into the economies of host nations
Ensure the continued survival of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people

Israel, the Palestinians and the international community can ill afford to dismiss it without a serious debate of its potential payoffs as well as its possible pitfalls.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Obama's de facto arms embargo on Israel

From the World Tribune, Thursday, March 18, 2010:

WASHINGTON — The United States has diverted a shipment of bunker-busters designated for Israel.

Officials said the U.S. military was ordered to divert a shipment of smart bunker-buster bombs from Israel to a military base in Diego Garcia. They said the shipment of 387 smart munitions had been slated to join pre-positioned U.S. military equipment in Israel Air Force bases.

"This was a political decision," an official said.

In 2008, the United States approved an Israeli request for bunker-busters capable of destroying underground facilities, including Iranian nuclear weapons sites. Officials said delivery of the weapons was held up by the administration of President Barack Obama.

Since taking office, Obama has refused to approve any major Israeli requests for U.S. weapons platforms or advanced systems. Officials said this included proposed Israeli procurement of AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, refueling systems, advanced munitions and data on a stealth variant of the F-15E.

"All signs indicate that this will continue in 2010," a congressional source familiar with the Israeli military requests said. "This is really an embargo, but nobody talks about it publicly."

Under the plan, the U.S. military was to have stored 195 BLU-110 and 192 BLU-117 munitions in unspecified air force bases in Israel. The U.S. military uses four Israeli bases for the storage of about $400 million worth of pre-positioned equipment meant for use by either Washington or Jerusalem in any regional war.

In January 2010, the administration agreed to an Israeli request to double the amount of U.S. military stockpiles to $800 million. Officials said the bunker-busters as well as Patriot missile interceptors were included in the agreement.

The decision to divert the BLU munitions was taken amid the crisis between Israel and the United States over planned construction of Jewish homes in Jerusalem. The administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has warned that Washington could reduce military aid to Israel because of its construction policy.

In 2007, after its war in Lebanon, Israel requested 2,000 BLU-109 live bombs from the United States. The 2,000-pound bomb, produced by Boeing and coupled with a laser guidance kit, was designed to penetrate concrete bunkers and other underground hardened sites.

Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, was quoted as saying that his country faced its biggest crisis with the United States since 1975. A pro-Israel lobbyist said Oren was referring to the current U.S. embargo, which echoed a decision taken 35 years ago by then-President Gerald Ford after Israel's refusal to withdraw from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. Oren has since denied the remark.

Rockets target farmers, civilians, and children because Palestinians want all Jews out

From JPost, 19 March 2010, by YAAKOV LAPPIN AND YAAKOV KATZ:

IAF aircraft struck six targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Thursday, in response to a Kassam attack that killed a foreign worker in Netiv Ha’asara earlier in the day. The army said it struck three smuggling tunnels on the Egyptian border, a weapons production facility and two tunnels intended for infiltration into Israel to carry out attacks.

Two Palestinians were reportedly wounded in the strikes.

Six targets hit, two reported wounded
(Photo by: AP)

The Kassam rocket slammed into a greenhouse in the small southern agricultural community of Moshav Netiv Ha’asara on Thursday, ripping through the roof, killing a Thai worker and leaving his coworkers, who came to his aid, traumatized.

...Yair Farjun, chairman of the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council, said the dead man had worked on the moshav for three years and eight months. “He drove a tractor. He was always smiling. He learned how to speak Hebrew,” Farjun told The Jerusalem Post.

“These attacks do not target the army, and are not part of a military confrontation. The Palestinians are targeting farmers who work their land, civilians, and children.

“A price tag must be set, so that the Hamas government, supported by Iran and Hizbullah, will not think they can fire on us at will and that we will wait for things to get really bad before responding. We are on the front line here,” Farjun said.

“The international community must wake up. We have left Gaza, so what do the Palestinians want now? They are not building up their own economy and society in Gaza. They have turned it into one big military camp, and a base for terrorism,” he said.

“All of these incidents are happening not because Israel is building in Jerusalem, or because a synagogue was opened in the Old City in Jerusalem, they are happening because the Palestinians want all Jews out of this land and seek the destruction of Israel,” Farjun said. “It’s time for the world to know the truth. Those who want to see reality should come here.”

...Speaking from the site of the attack on Thursday evening, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon (Israel Beiteinu) said, “This is one rocket out of 12,000 that the citizens of Israel have endured in recent years. The responsibility for this attack rests with Hamas.”

Ayalon said the attacks were a result of Hamas incitement to violence.

“While Israel continues to extend its hand in peace, the other side not only refuses to come to the negotiating table, but continues to incite recklessly against Israel,” he said. “Israel still seeks peace and calls for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions; however, the incitement must end.”

Referring to the UN-sponsored Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead, Ayalon said the document “provides legitimacy and a propulsion for terrorism and is immoral and unprofessional. With or without the report, Israel will continue to defend its citizens. I call on those who voted for the Goldstone Report to come and see the consequences.

...Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) warned that the rocket attack would lead to a strong reaction, and said that Hamas was ultimately responsible. “It is severe escalation,” Shalom said. “Israel will not return to the situation of before Operation Cast Lead. The response will be particularly fierce... I hope Hamas will learn a lesson.”

Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i (Labor) held a security assessment with officials from the IDF Home Front Command to discuss the level of protection in the area of greenhouses near the Gaza Strip. “Hamas is in control of Gaza and Israel will hold Hamas responsible for every rocket attack originating in Gaza,” Vilna’i said. “Israel is not interested in a military conflict but will not allow rocket fire against its civilians.”...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Update: Man killed by Qassam attack on Ashkelon

From Ynet News, 1 March 2010, 11:51 Israel time, by Shmulik Hadad:

A Qassam rocket fired from the northern Gaza Strip landed near hothouses in the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council. A foreign worker was seriously wounded as a result, and emergency medical teams are trying to resuscitate him.

Update from JPOST, 18/03/2010 12:02 Israel time:

Fatality apparently Thai worker in greenhouse near Netiv Ha’asara.

A man in his 30s was killed on Wednesday afternoon when a Kassam rocket fired by Gaza terrorists hit the Netiv Ha’asara area. The fatality was apparently a Thai worker in one of the greenhouses in the area.

He was evacuated to Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

On Wednesday, two Kassam rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip, landing not far from Sderot.

Following a relatively long period of calm, the Code Red alarm system sounded over Sderot once again, followed by an explosion.

Two people suffered from shock as a result of the blast, one of them a girl. They were treated by an MDA team and evacuated to a shock treatment center.

Lessons of success from societies' oppressed minorities

From The Age, March 9, 2010, by Tim Colebatch, economics editor:

...In Indonesia, ...maybe 3 per cent of the population, the Chinese were estimated to control 75 per cent of Indonesian business. Yet they were deprived of full citizenship, banned from speaking Chinese languages, practising Chinese religions or holding public office, had their schools closed and lived in fear for the future.

It was a situation familiar to many European Jews throughout history. They too were a small minority. They came to acquire extraordinary economic power, yet usually they had no civic rights. They were banned from public office and many occupations, and were vulnerable to the hostility of rulers or mobs driven by hate - culminating in Hitler orchestrating the murder of more than 80 per cent of all the Jews in central and eastern Europe.

But how did such a small minority in Europe - and now, in Australia and the United States - acquire such a central role in the economy, the arts and the professions? ...

...Jerry Muller, himself Jewish and a professor at the Catholic University of America in Washington, has published a book of four essays, Capitalism and the Jews, that sets out to explain why Jews have enjoyed such exceptional success in modern capitalist societies such as ours.

Most of the reasons, as he sees it, are the same reasons that the Chinese now dominate commerce in Indonesia and South-East Asia, or the Indians in Fiji, or the Greeks and Armenians in the old Turkish empire. But some are uniquely Jewish. and large, Jews usually lived in towns, whereas the vast majority of people around them were farmers. With notable exceptions, Jews made their living from commerce and trades, not agriculture. That is crucial to what followed.

Muller begins the story in the high Middle Ages, with the Catholic Church agonising over biblical injunctions against usury: then taken to mean money-lending in general, not the modern meaning of lending at excessive interest rates. The compromise adopted was that Christians should not take part in this evil - but since it was a necessary evil the Jews could do it.

So the role of providing finance - the future engine of capitalist development - was passed to the despised minority of traders and tradesmen. This, too, is crucial to the story.

Muller is too polite to say it, but his argument clearly implies that the rest of us are disadvantaged because we are descended from a long line of farmers who had their brains dulled by working the land as their parents had done before them. By contrast, Jewish children for centuries grew up in the towns learning to live by their wits, and mastering skills of commerce and finance.

A study of the German corporate elite of 100 years ago found that 32 to 40 per cent of them were Jewish. In Hungary, 54 per cent of commercial establishments were Jewish-owned. It was a similar story throughout Europe and, in a lesser degree, in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Muller sums up his argument in a nutshell: ''As the development of modern capitalism created new economic opportunities in Europe and its colonial offshoots, Jews were disproportionately successful in seizing them. That is because the Jews of Europe were well positioned by their premodern history. ''Their experience, and the cultural propensities it engendered, predisposed them towards commerce and finance, and towards the free professions.''

The most important cultural propensity was to education. In Prussia in the late 19th century, Muller recounts, Jewish children were 10 times more likely to go to university than other German children. ''By the early 20th century, in the … larger cities of central and eastern Europe, such as Vienna, Warsaw, Prague or Budapest, Jewish lawyers, engineers, pharmacists and architects at times comprised the majority of practitioners, in cities where Jews generally made up 5 to 10 per cent of the population.''

A second propensity was a willingness to invest in new ideas. A classic example is the film industry, which quickly became dominated by Jews.

And a third was the propensity for hard work.

These are the same traits that explain the success of the overseas Chinese in Indonesia, and of Chinese students in Australia. If there is a moral here, it is that most of the factors that created Jewish exceptionalism are not exclusive to Jews.

Even those of us whose forebears spent too much time driving ploughs in the rain through wet European soils can make it - if we study hard, take risks and work hard to make them come off.

2 Qassams lands near Sderot; girl suffers shock

From Ynet News, 18 March 2010, by Shmulik Hadad:

Rockets explode in open areas in Shaar Hanegev Regional Council; two people treated for shock

A Qassam rocket exploded Wednesday evening in an open area between the southern city of Sderot and a kibbutz belonging to the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council. Two people suffered from shock.

A second rocket, fired at around 1 am, hit an open area north of Sderot. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The Color Red rocket alert system was activated in Sderot before both explosions. Two people, including a child, were treated for shock by a Magen David Adom emergency crew.

Shaar Hanegev Regional Council head Alon Schuster told Ynet, "Unfortunately, on the one hand we have managed to create a balance of deterrence against Hamas, and on the other side their arsenal of weapons is growing. This is a problem which must be solved. The recent year has been relatively calm, residents have returned to this area, our demographic balance has grown and business owners have expanded their businesses. We hope to maintain this state of calm."

According to Sderot Mayor David Buskila, "The transit in a city like Sderot from routine to emergency is an immediate transit which we have become accustomed to, unfortunately. We have no expectations that the calm will be maintained completely. Two people have been treated for shock, but I believe there are quite a few people who are in a state of shock and panic in their homes."

The last rocket to hit Israel was fired from the Gaza Strip on Saturday evening. It landed in an open area in the Eshkol Regional Council, two days after an abandoned building in a local kibbutz was also hit by a Qassam.

The Israel Air Force attacked terror infrastructures in the Gaza Strip in response to each rocket fired at Israel.

Obama seeks to calm US-Israeli relations

From Associated Press, 18 March 2010, by Stephen Collinson (AFP):

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Wednesday denied a crisis was rocking US-Israeli relations, as one of the worst rows in years between the allies rumbled on over new homes for Jewish settlers.

Obama's first public comments on the showdown came as his administration awaited a response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Washington's sharp complaints over the episode.

The president was asked in an interview with Fox News if there was a "crisis" in US-Israeli relations after the announcement on 1,600 new settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem embarrassed Vice President Joe Biden during a visit to the Jewish state.

"No," Obama answered. "We and the Israeli people have a special bond that's not going to go away.... But friends are going to disagree sometimes ... there is a disagreement in terms of how we can move this peace process forward."

...he called on both Israelis and Palestinians to "take steps to make sure that we can rebuild trust."

In a bid to show even-handedness, after a year in which his efforts to kick-start peace talks have failed, Obama said that his administration had condemned violence sparked by Palestinians in East Jerusalem on Tuesday.

"What we need right now is both sides to recognize that it is in their interest to move this peace process forward."...

Arab world wants Obama to "deliver" Israel (for at no cost to them)

From Associated Press, 18 March 2010, by ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY (AP)*:

..."A lot of the Arab countries already in the last year saw that there wasn't much delivery from the U.S. on the Israeli side," [Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut] told The Associated Press. "So why engage, why compromise, from their point of view?"

...During a speech in Cairo in June, Obama called for a complete settlement freeze and the creation of an independent Palestinian state. But Arabs were disillusioned when his administration appeared to back down and accepted a partial 10-month freeze called by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late last year.

Badei Musa, 55, a Palestinian engineer who lives in Dubai, said he does not trust America's stated opposition to the settlements. "It's a joke," Musa said. "What's happening on the ground, that's what counts."

Jordanian political analyst Oreib Rentawi said Wednesday that Arabs do not believe there is true disagreement between the United States and its longtime ally, Israel. "Arabs consider what is taking place now as a summer cloud or a storm in a tea cup," Oreib Rentawi told the AP.

In Egypt, a column in the Al-Gomhuria newspaper expressed doubt that Israel would face any repercussions for its actions. "...(...Israel) knows well that they are outside the range of being punished by sanctions, economic or political boycott or even a threat to freeze aid," wrote Sameer Ragab.

Obama did get some vocal support from the Arab League. In Beirut, the group's secretary general, Amr Moussa, said Arabs should praise the U.S. president. "The man has in fact said the right things and tried hard," Moussa said.

...[however] U.S. allies Saudi Arabia and Gulf nations have rejected U.S. pressure to make diplomatic gestures to Israel to encourage it in the peace process, citing its hard line on settlements.

...The latest tumult over Israel is not the first time Obama's overtures in the Arab world have fallen flat. Last month, Syrian President Bashar Assad rejected U.S. calls to loosen his longtime alliance with Iran, even as Washington named the first U.S. ambassador to Damascus since 2005 and sent top diplomats to meet with Assad.

Maryam Abdul-Qadr, a 47-year-old Palestinian living in Dubai, said Arabs are still waiting for Obama to deliver on his promises. "Obama promised a lot of things, but within this one and a half years there is nothing happening," she said. "Only talking."

*AP Writers Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan, Hadeel al-Shalchi and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Strengthen Australia / Israel ties (don't flatter enemies while abusing friends)

From: The Australian March 18, 2010, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor:

THE Australia-Israel relationship, normally a byword for geostrategic stability and enduring human warmth, has had some stormy passages lately.

The use of Australian passports by the agents, presumably from Mossad, who assassinated a Hamas terrorist in Dubai led to unusually strong criticism of Israel from Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith. Australia changed its vote from oppose to abstain at the UN on a resolution requiring Israel and Hamas to investigate alleged war crimes as demanded in the widely discredited Goldstone report. This was a clear if unstated punishment of Israel for the passports breach.

Then there were needlessly energetic comments by Foreign Minister Smith condemning Israel over the recent announcement of 1600 new housing units to be built in East Jerusalem, on which more later.

This makes it all the more remarkable, and reassuring, that Smith yesterday hosted a bipartisan ceremony to accept a report - prepared by the Australia Israel Leadership Forum, founded by Melbourne businessman Albert Dadon - with recommendations for enhancing the Australia-Israel relationship.

The forum, in which I have participated, brings together a range of Israelis and Australians for annual strategic dialogue in the broadest sense. The Australian delegation in its two meetings has been led by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote a letter endorsing the work of the forum and saying he will consider its recommendations.

The report makes four important suggestions.

The first is that Australian military staff colleges should host Israeli officers. This is a brilliant idea. Our staff colleges routinely host Arab officers and this is all to the good. We deploy a lot of Australian forces in and around the Middle East and, as a result, we have developed effective working relations with a number of Arab militaries. But we are a strategic and political ally of Israel. The absence of Israelis from these courses is a serious gap and has a small but ongoing effect on our military culture.

Arab and Israeli officers routinely attend US staff colleges together. It's good for both of them. They have to put up with each other if they want the benefit of American military staff colleges. It helps dialogue all around and it gives expression to the true nature of the US-Israel relationship. There is absolutely no reason Australia should not do this.

I would add a recommendation the report leaves out. Australia should have an annual or biennial full strategic dialogue with Israel. We do have very high level intelligence exchanges but, given the depth of our investment in the Middle East, we should also exchange deep and wide strategic views. We could learn something, and perhaps we could teach something. Our military work in Afghanistan is overwhelmingly among civilian populations, just as is most of Israel's military involvement. Operationally, ethically, in every way we have things to talk about.

Recommendation No 2 is for a free trade agreement. This is also a brilliant idea. Australian trade with Israel is small, just about $1 billion a year. But Israel is a world leader in innovation and commercialisation. We could and should do much more together.

Third, Israel's experience with improving Bedouin health and Australia's struggle to do the same with Aboriginal health ought to be the basis for co-operation, comparison and mutual teaching.

Finally, the report recommends auditing and giving life to the plethora of bilateral agreements that have become moribund through the years.

This is a practical and very useful document.

Smith reiterated at its launch that despite recent controversies there has been no change in Australia's deep friendship with and commitment to Israel.

Smith did the right thing by accepting the report, committing the government to considering it seriously and reiterating Australia's support for Israel.

And Opposition Deputy Leader Julie Bishop supported him on behalf of the Coalition.

Overall, the Rudd government displays only marginally less solidarity with Israel than the Howard government did. It has changed a couple of Australian votes at the UN, but not many. No one seriously doubts that this is an attempt, almost certainly forlorn, to curry favour with the Arab League in our quixotic and pointless quest for a non-permanent UN Security Council seat. This worthless bid is distorting our foreign policy, but so far mainly at the margins.

Similar considerations probably animate Smith's overreaction to the 1600 Israeli apartments to be built, in three years, in East Jerusalem. This is in some eerie ways a minor imitation of the Obama administration's gross overreaction. Whereas the Rudd government is courting votes for a tawdry UN election, Barack Obama plainly sees the quest to redefine the US relationship with the Muslim world as central to his historic mission, and part of this involves dumping on the Israelis.

Thus the Palestinian Authority
  • for 12 months refused to negotiate with Israel; that was fine.
  • It then named a square after a female suicide bomber who killed 37 civilians, including 13 children. No hint of a US rebuke there.
But Israel announcing the apartments is apparently the end of Middle East peace as we know it.

Don't get me wrong. I think the Israeli government was extremely stupid to announce the apartments while US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting Israel. But Netanyahu's temporary freeze on building in the West Bank never included East Jerusalem. There are Jewish parts of East Jerusalem that every serious player knows will stay with Israel in any peace deal. They were staying with Israel under the Bill Clinton mandated offer to the Palestinians in 2000, and under the even more generous plan put by Ehud Olmert in 2008.

In other words, as usual, Israel got the public relations and political management wrong but the substance right.

The Obama administration
  • was notably unmoved by rape and murder as a political tactic in Iran;
  • is offering endless concessions to Syria, which treats Washington with studied contempt; and
  • will never criticise the Palestinian Authority.
It is developing a very bad tendency to constantly flatter its enemies in the fantastical hope of engaging and converting them, while abusing its friends, to show its even-handedness.

Canberra has no need to go down that same road.

This useful report helps it choose a better road instead.

From Remarks at the Launch of the Australia Israel Leadership Forum policy paper, by the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, MP, 17 March 2010:

Albert Dadon, thank you very much....I compliment you on the work that you have done so far as the Leadership Forum is concerned, but also so far as Australia and Israel relations are concerned....

....Albert, I'm very happy on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to receive your report. Obviously, we will give your report serious consideration, as I'm sure other Members of the Parliament will.

Can I make this point: the friendship between Australia and Israel is longstanding and it is enduring, and that will continue. Despite recent events, which have been the cause of public commentary between Australia and Israel, that friendship will endure.

And the strength of the commitment of all sides of Australian politics, of both sides of the Parliament, shared by Governments of both political persuasions for a considerable period of time, our support for Israel, our support for a two-state solution, our support for a long-term sustainable, enduring peace in the Middle East is ongoing and our strong commitment to that will not, in any way, waiver...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Obama failing to curry favour with rogues at Israel's expense

From Post, March 16, 2010, by Isi Leibler:

... the announcement of a new housing project in Jerusalem ...involved no breach of undertaking.

In fact, the Obama administration had previously publicly praised the Israeli government for making a "major concession" by imposing a settlement freeze which explicitly excluded Jerusalem.

The campaign [of the harshest condemnations levelled against Israel] was personally orchestrated by President Barack Obama. His Vice President Biden accused us of "endangering US lives in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan." Despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's abject apology, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused him of "insulting" the US. Obama's chief political adviser David Axelrod even claimed that the Israeli government was deliberately undermining peace talks.

These hostile outbursts must be viewed in the context of the fact that despite strong ongoing support for Israel by the American people, the US-Israel relationship has been on a downward spiral since the election of the new administration. Former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy attributes this to Obama's determination to rehabilitate Islam's global tarnished image.

Yet his strategy of "engaging" Islamic rogue states has been disastrous. The effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran by appeasing the Iranian tyrants backfired with the ayatollahs literally mocking the US. The response of Syrian President Bashar Assad to US groveling and the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus, was to host a summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah and ridicule the US demand that he curtail his relationship with Iran. President Obama did not consider this "insulting," prompting the editor of the Lebanese The Daily Star to say that "the Obama administration these days provokes little confidence in its allies and even less fear in its adversaries."
The Arab League refuses to modify its hard-line against Israel. It insists that Israel unconditionally accept the Saudi peace plan, a full retreat to the ‘67 borders and the implementation of the Arab right of return which would signal an end to Jewish sovereignty in the region.

THERE ARE now ominous signals that to obviate their failures, White House strategists are cynically distancing themselves from us in order to curry popularity by capitalizing on the anti-Israeli hatred which has engulfed the world.

Despite continuously incanting the mantra that it remains committed to the alliance with Israel, the White House is not behaving in an even-handed manner. Obama does not disguise his animosity and repeatedly humiliates our prime minister. The administration "condemns" us for building homes, not in densely Arab populated areas of Jerusalem but in Jewish suburbs like Gilo and most recently Ramat Shlomo which most of us regard as Israel no less than Tel Aviv.

Instead of condemning the brutal Palestinian murderer of an Israeli civilian in December, the US requested "clarification" after Israel apprehended the killers who the PA extolled as heroes. They failed to block a UN Security Council resolution criticizing Israeli police for protecting worshippers at the Temple Mount from Arabs hurling stones at them. They even condemned us for authorizing repairs on Jewish heritage sites over the Green Line.

In stark contrast, the US has not publicly reprimanded the PA on a single issue over the past twelve months. It is unconscionable that neither the White House nor the State Department conveyed a word of protest concerning the ongoing incitement and spate of ceremonies sanctifying the memory of the most degenerate suicide killers and mass murderers. Not even when our peace partners President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad personally partook in these ghoulish ceremonies. In fact, during Biden's visit, the PA announced that they would postpone a ceremony to name a public square in Ramallah to honor Dalal Mughrabi, the female monster responsible for the abominable 1978 massacre in which 37 Israelis including 13 children were butchered. Nevertheless the ceremony took place and the PA TV interviewed Mughrabi's sister who stated: "This is a day of glory and pride for the Palestinian people. We must unite, and our rifles must unite, against the enemy who steals our land." The US failed to register a protest.

NETANYAHU HAS extended more concessions than any other Israeli leader. His government immediately agreed to negotiations with the Palestinians. In contrast, Abbas told The Washington Post that being confident that the US would ensure that the Palestinians obtained whatever they sought, he saw no benefit in negotiating with the Israelis. This scenario is now being realized.

Netanyahu also overcame Likud resistance to a two-state solution and acceded to a temporary settlement freeze which no previous Israeli government was willing to consider. He authorized the release of prisoners and reduced checkpoints, even compromising the security of Israeli civilians.

Yet, far from acting as an honest broker, the US effectively endorsed most of the Palestinian positions and is poised to pressure Israel into making further unilateral concessions.

In a recent chilling document, reiterated by Biden in the course of his condemnation of construction in Jerusalem, the US assured the PA that the principal objective of the "indirect" negotiations was not peace, but the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and that parties who adopted negative positions would be dealt with "in order to overcome that obstacle."

Our relations with the US will now be further tested.

Obama is surely aware that recent statements by his administration will only embolden the Palestinians and Jihadists to be more extreme in their demands, making it inevitable that the talks will almost certainly fail. Some may infer that this is precisely his intention. We will then be blamed for the breakdown and the US, with the backing of the Quartet and others, will then seek to impose a solution upon us.

There are certain red lines which no government of Israel may cross. Netanyahu, on this occasion, must stand firm. The current crisis transcends political or ideological differences between Likud, Labor and Kadima. All mainstream parties should unite and convey to President Obama that Israel is a sovereign state and will not automatically bow to diktats of the US administration. They need to make the US administration and public understand that no government of Israel will agree to freeze construction in Jerusalem, the heart and soul of the Jewish people.

We may not be a superpower but the Obama administration will hesitate to pursue a path which rejects the consensus of the nation. A demonstration of unity against the unprecedented attacks on Israel's sovereignty by the Obama administration will also encourage the American people and Congress to publicly support and assist us to reaffirm the traditional alliance and bonds of friendship between our two nations.

It will hopefully also encourage the Obama administration to relate to us with at least the same level of courtesy and respect it extends to rogue states.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Behind Obama's Dangerous Overreaction on Israel

From the New York Daily News, 15 March 2010, by Anne Bayefsky (UN Watch):

The Obama administration's hysterical response to Israel's announcement that it will continue to build new homes for its expanding population in disputed territory ought to evoke one response: Methinks thou doth protest too much.

Given that the United States is supposed to be committed to the parties determining ultimate legal ownership of the land in final status negotiations, what is going on?

  • The Palestinian Authority is the only side refusing to sit across the table from its interlocutor without preconditions.
  • Recent reports indicate that Mamhoud Abbas and company are still inculcating the next generation of budding terrorists in the abc's of antisemitism, refusing to put Israel on the map in their authorized school books and fanning the flames of Islamic extremists at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - all of which is incitement and a gross violation of the Roadmap.
  • As for Hamas, the other Palestinian authority running Gaza, it is just openly dedicated to Israel's annihilation.
None of that is preventing the Obama administration from insisting that Israel negotiate with one half of the Palestinian split personality.

In fact, the words of Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, and top advisor David Axelrod in the last few days suggest, instead, that what really concerns the human rights gurus in the White House is preserving the option of apartheid Palestine. After all, the purpose of denying the ability of a Jew to build a house on land that theoretically may one day change hands, is to ensure that a Jew-free Palestinian state can come into existence unimpeded.

This strategy is not only repugnant, it is nonsensical. Making settlements the issue will only have the predictable effect of pushing the Palestinians further away from the negotiating table.

Reading between the lines, the true explanation of the hyperbole of describing the announcement of housing plans as "insulting" - to use Clinton's word - is something else entirely: Iran. Ironically, when Vice-President Biden went before the Israeli public on March 11 and told them "The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, period," only politeness prevented Israelis from laughing out loud. Nobody believed him. Everyone knows that the UN is not going to deliver a Security Council resolution imposing serious sanctions on Iran in time to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. Every time Obama officials claim they are working on sanctions, it just reinforces the conclusion that they have absolutely no intention of doing what is necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

That leaves Israel holding the bag. And Obama - along with European countries and Australia - do not want Israel to use force against Iran's nuclear facilities regardless of the mortal threat that they pose to Israel's population. The President's only way to prevent Israel from acting - without using more overt intimidation that would reveal his having put Israel's security way down on his list of priorities and risk a backlash in Congress - is to scare Israel fast with threatened isolation on a trumped-up affront like a bunch of new houses in the desert.
Exactly the same calculation occurred with the Dubai affair and Israel's alleged assassination of one murderous Hamas mastermind. If the Europeans and Australians could manufacture enough moral outrage about forged passports in the context of the demise of a genocidal killer and the Obama White House can keep the settlement issue on the front burner, Israel will find itself on the defensive - at exactly the moment it is thinking about going on the offensive.

  • Will members of Congress buy the President's nonsense about Israel being the stumbling block to peace between Israelis and Palestinians?
  • Will they place more importance on houses and living than incitement and dying?
  • Will Jews who voted overwhelmingly for Obama now perceive this President to be the most anti-Israel sitting U.S. commander-in-chief in Israel's history?
  • Will Israelis be sufficiently intimidated by the international blowback every time they make a move to defend themselves, or to exercise their right of self-determination, that they decide not to go it alone on Iran?
We don't yet know. What we do know is that the White House's misinformation campaign should not be the deciding factor. And we also know that for the Vice President of the United States to stand before Israelis, address the greatest immediate threat to their peace and security and misrepresent the President's willingness to do what it takes to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb - is what is really insulting.

European interests in the Middle East shouldn't be held hostage to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict

From The Wall Street Journal, 15 march 2010, by EMANUELE OTTOLENGHI*:

On the eve of her departure for the Middle East, Baroness Catherine Ashton, Europe's new foreign policy czar, reaffirmed the European Union's long-standing refusal to upgrade its relations with Israel unless Israel first makes sweeping concessions. Supposedly, such concessions would help to quickly achieve a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict...
...Europe's insistence on linking stronger economic and political ties with Israel to a peace settlement is a direct consequence of a European article of foreign policy faith: That the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the region's Gordian knot, and that Israel is largely to blame for the failure to reach a comprehensive solution.

Catherine Ashton, European foreign policy czar, playing nice with her friends in the Arab League
(Associated Press)

Brussels has been too eager to let its friends in the Arab League off the hook.
Predictably, Ms. Ashton's tour of the Middle East is focusing on advancing peace between Israelis and Palestinians—cajoling Israel to indulge the Palestinian Authority, and convincing Arab regimes to do their share. But this attitude reflects a shocking double standard in the way the EU conducts its relations with Israel and the Arab countries. It also fails to serve Europe's interests in the region.

By prioritizing the Palestinian-Israeli dispute over other regional goals, the EU is allowing its interests to be at the mercy of the Palestinians' intramural power contests and Israeli's coalition politics, not to mention Arab tyrants and the greater radical Islam movement.

With tunnel-vision for a Palestinian-Israeli solution, Europe is bowing to supposedly moderate Arab regimes that are recalcitrant about promoting democracy, strengthening civil society, fighting corruption, and improving governance. As they are no doubt telling Ms. Ashton during her first visit to the region, they are prepared to help in the quest for a negotiated Palestinian-Israel solution, but in exchange, Europe must forgo its demands for change inside their own societies. Perhaps that's why, in Ms. Ashton's speech in Cairo on Monday, she contented herself with pressing Hosni Mubarak's repressive autocracy to join efforts to "move from conflict management to conflict resolution" between Israelis and Palestinians. Meanwhile, she made no mention of the woes suffered by more than 80 million Egyptians, not once uttering the words "rights," "governance," or "democracy."

And so it goes: Authoritarian Arab regimes whose policies run contrary to European interests and values get off the hook, while Israel—a democracy and Europe's best economic partner in the area—stays in the doghouse.

Europe can't afford to delay addressing other pressing regional problems because of a stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement. Good governance and respect for human rights in the Maghreb or the Levant are not impeded by the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Indeed, respectable leadership at home is something the EU should require of its Arab interlocutors in exchange for economic aid, direct investment, and political partnerships. It is risible to use the absence of Palestinian statehood as a pretext to disregard most Arab countries' need for internal reforms, and to ignore their unfulfilled commitments with the EU Association Agreements.

Similarly, denying Israel an upgrade in relations makes little sense. Europe and Israel share values and interests: Israel is a representative democracy, it is an open society, it has a vibrant free press, and it is a robust economy with much to offer Europe thanks to its dynamic, innovative, high-tech-oriented business environment. Israel is an island of stability in a sea of confusion, and an oasis of freedom in the authoritarian desert the Middle East continues to be. Seeking a closer political and economic relationship with Israel thus makes perfect sense and should not be made hostage to a peace process that for almost 10 years now has shown few signs of progress anyway.

Ms. Ashton can rectify the situation by recognizing that regional challenges are quite distinct from the peace process. She could also assert their urgency for many Middle Eastern regimes, and stress that a lack of progress on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process should not become an excuse for dawdling with advancement on other tracks. The EU should rebalance its priorities in the Middle East, and rate developments in other fields at least as high as progress between Israel and Palestine.

Decoupling that conflict from other regional challenges does not mean relegating peacemaking to a secondary role; it means refusing to let vital European interests become hostage to it, and demanding that Arab regimes stop using the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a pretext for procrastination. It means recognizing that some regional challenges exist quite independently of Israel's existence, and the non-existence of a Palestinian state.

It also means the EU could free itself to upgrade ties with Israel, independent of its troubles with the Palestinians. Clearly, there is much to be gained in an ever-closer relation between Brussels and Jerusalem, and Israel's experience in such disparate fields as homeland security and renewable energy technologies makes closer cooperation particularly desirable from a European standpoint.

Finally, an upgraded political relationship would strengthen, not weaken, Europe's ability to influence Israeli thinking and acting, not least by redressing the current imbalance in Europe's attitude to the region. There is Europe's real chance to help, not hamper, progress for peace.

*Mr. Ottolenghi is a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and the author of "Under a Mushroom Cloud: Europe, Iran and the Bomb" (Profile Books, 2009).

The Palestinians' beef with Israel isn't territorial—it's existential.

From The Wall Street Journal, 15 March 2010, by BRET STEPHENS:

The Settlements Aren't the Problem last week's diplomatic eruption over the prospective construction of 1,600 housing units in municipal Jerusalem shows, the settlements are a constant irritant to the United States, one friend Israel can't afford to lose.

The Palestinians' beef with Israel isn't territorial—it's existential.
So it would be a splendid thing for Israel to tear down its settlements, put the settlers behind its pre-1967 borders and finally reach the peace deal with the Palestinians that has been so elusive for so long.

Except for one problem: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't territorial. It's existential.
Israelis are now broadly prepared to live with a Palestinian state along their borders. Palestinians are not yet willing to live with a Jewish state along theirs.

That should help explain why it is that in the past decade, two Israeli prime ministers—Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008—have put forward comprehensive peace offers to the Palestinians, and have twice been rebuffed. In both cases, the offers included the division of Jerusalem; in the latter case, it also included international jurisdiction over Jerusalem's holy places and concessions on the subject of Palestinian refugees. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also offered direct peace talks. The Palestinians have countered by withdrawing to "proximity talks" mediated by the U.S.

It also helps explain other aspects of Palestinian behavior. For Hamas, Tel Aviv is no less a "settlement" than the most makeshift Jewish outpost on the West Bank. The supposedly moderate Fatah party has joined that bandwagon, too: Last year, Mohammed Dahlan, one of Fatah's key leaders, said the party was "not bound" by the 1993 Oslo Accords through which the PLO recognized Israel.

Then there is the test case of Gaza. When Israel withdrew all of its settlements from the Strip in 2005, it was supposed to be an opportunity for Palestinians to demonstrate what they would do with a state if they got one. Instead, they quickly turned it into an Iranian-backed Hamas enclave that for nearly three years launched nonstop rocket and mortar barrages against Israeli civilians. Israel was ultimately able to contain that violence, but only at the price of a military campaign that was vehemently denounced by the very people who had urged Israel to withdraw in the first place.

... the sad fact is that the most important thing Israel's withdrawal from Gaza accomplished was to expose the fanatical irredentism that still lies at the heart of the Palestinian movement.

The withdrawal exposed other things too. For years, Israel's soi-disant friends, particularly in Europe, had piously insisted that they supported Israel's right to self-defense against attacks on Israel proper. But none of them lifted a finger to object to the rocket attacks from Gaza, while they were outspoken in denouncing Israel's "disproportionate" use of retaliatory force.

Similarly, Israel withdrew from Gaza with assurances from the Bush administration that the U.S. would not insist on a return to the 1967 borders in brokering any future deal with the Palestinians. But Hillary Clinton reneged on that commitment last year, and now the administration is going out of its way to provoke a diplomatic crisis with Israel over a construction project plainly in keeping with past U.S. undertakings.

In the past decade, Israelis have learned that neither Palestinians nor Europeans can be taken at their word. That's a lesson they may soon begin to draw about the U.S. as well. Which is a pity for many reasons—not least because it gives the settler movement every excuse it needs to keep rolling right along.

Obama cooks up a "crisis"

From CBS, 15 March 2010, by Dan Raviv:

... some believe that President Obama seems intent on making [diappointment over Israel's announcement of an expansion of a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem] even more bitter -- not less -- in what seems like an effort to change the government coalition in Jerusalem.

Trying to meddle in a foreign country's internal politics is like playing with fire, but in the cause of pushing for progress toward Israeli-Arab peace it looks to many as though Obama is brandishing a big box of matches and a large jerrycan of gasoline. Instead of calming suddenly choppy seas between Washington and Jerusalem, he is demanding that Israel instantly make some concessions that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may consider politically impossible.

The State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, today confirmed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Netnayahu for specific commitments - but Crowley refused to say what is being requested. This follows the annoying timing of Israel's government announcing an expansion of a Jewish neighborhood in the captured eastern half of Jerusalem -- just when Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel last week...

...As soon as tomorrow, Obama's Middle East mediator, former senator George Mitchell, is to launch a new round of talks - though not face-to-face - between Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader in the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas.

According to senior Israeli sources, the Obama administration is demanding that Israel take some steps that Netanyahu would find difficult if he is to keep key right-wing political parties in his coalition:

1.) Fully explain why the housing announcement was made while Biden was in Jerusalem, and take bureaucratic steps to ensure that top-level U.S. officials are not similarly taken by surprise in the future.

2.) Declare that talks with the Palestinians should quickly turn to the deepest issues: refugees, borders of a new Palestinian state, Jerusalem's status, how to share water, the fate of settlements, and future rights for refugees.

3.) Make a major gesture to Abbas, aimed at strengthening Yasser Arafat's highly challenged successor, such as the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

4.) Reverse the decision to approve 1,600 new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem.

Looking closely at that list - as Israeli officials are surely doing -- it seems that if Netanyahu is to preserve his coalition he could perhaps acceptably answer #1, dance around #2, surely go along with #3, but never agree to #4 because Israel annexed the parts of Jerusalem it captured in 1967 and insists that the whole city is the Jewish State's capital.

A religious Jewish party named Shas would bolt. New elections might be required.

Few tears would be shed in official Washington if Netanyahu is forced out. It does not seem that he has gotten along warmly with Obama, certainly nothing like George W. Bush's warm friendship with Ariel Sharon, and the extent to which they agree on how to confront Iran's nuclear program remains veiled in ambiguity.

Netanyahu might not fall from power, if he backs off on Jewish construction in East Jerusalem. Perhaps the Shas party and other right-wingers would leave the coalition, but a larger moderate party - Kadima - might join and preserve Netanyahu's majority in the Knesset (the parliament)...

...and from The Miami Herald, 15 March 2010, by SHEERA FRENKEL, McClatchy Newspapers:

...Ramat Shlomo has become the most contentious building project in Jerusalem, and it's at the center of what Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren calls the "most severe crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations" in decades.

...Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure from his largely conservative coalition to press on with the project, on Monday told his Likud Party that settlement building would continue on land that Israel won from its Arab neighbors in the 1967 Six-Day War.

"Construction will continue in Jerusalem as this has been the case over the past 42 years," Netanyahu said.

Israel Interior Minister Eli Yishai - whose ministry decided to announce the plan during Biden's visit - echoed Netanyahu, stating that "there is no construction freeze in Jerusalem, nor will there be one ...We're sorry the Americans found the timing offending, but there is no freeze in Jerusalem..." ...

...Republican members of Congress ..joined the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main pro-Israel lobbying organization, in condemning the administration's stance.

"To say that I am deeply concerned with the irresponsible comments that the White House, vice president and the secretary of state have made against Israel is an understatement," said House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia. He added that the crisis with Israel "jeopardizes America's national security."

Netanyahu is convening an inner forum of his cabinet to review a list of demands that Clinton made over the weekend, according to the Hebrew-language press.

Israeli officials refused to discuss the existence of such a list, but Hebrew-language papers said the U.S. expects Netanyahu to revoke the Ramat Shlomo decision and make significant gestures towards the Palestinians to restart peace talks.

The U.S. also is asking Israel to establish a committee to investigate whether the timing of the announcement was truly a mistake or meant to embarrass the US.

Meanwhile, residents in Ramat Shlomo are pressing the government to ignore the international criticism and break ground on the new units....

...and from The ABC (Australia), 16 March 2010, by North America correspondent Lisa Millar:

Netanyahu defies US over settlement
The US State Department is trying to play down the rift with Israel, describing the two countries as strategic allies despite a dispute over Jewish settlements.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the construction of 1,600 new homes will go ahead in east Jerusalem despite US condemnation.

...US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley [said] "Israel is a strategic ally of the United States and will continue to be so..."

Monday, March 15, 2010

EU diplomatic corps a dud under Ashton

From The Telegraph (UK), 15 Mar 2010, by Martin Banks, in Brussels:

[Catherine ] Ashton, ...Europe's foreign minister, was yesterday accused of political "weakness" as she was blamed for an impasse that will significantly delay the creation of a new EU diplomatic corps.

Catherine Ashton blamed for political 'weakness' delay to EU diplomatic corps

The service [called the External Action Service (EEAS)], under her leadership, was supposed to have been established by next month but sources say that infighting between the EU institutions means it will now be summer before it is ready.

...A key obstacle is who will be responsible for the appointment of heads of delegations and staff to the EU's 136 overseas missions ...European Commission... [or] Ashton...

A meeting last Thursday between Lady Ashton and Jose Manuel Barroso, the Commission president, failed to resolve outstanding issues surrounding the corps. The stand-off has triggered further verbal attacks on  ...Ashton, who was plucked from relatively obscurity to lead the EU, and has faced a stream of criticism since taking up her new post on 1 January.

As the High Representative, a job created by the Lisbon Treaty, she had a 20-strong staff, chauffeured car and earns more than Gordon Brown, with an annual salary of £325,000 and generous allowances.

However, with the Commission saying that it should continue to manage the delegations, the tug-of-war over key nominations is set to intensify over coming weeks.

Martin Callanan, a Tory MEP, said, "Barroso recently appointed a former aide to become EU ambassador in Washington without even consulting her. She [has] clearly become something of an easy pushover ...This is down to her weakness and lack of political skills that now threatens to delay the creation of this new service. She doesn't command respect and the penny is starting to drop in Europe that in Baroness Ashton it's gone a dud."

...Ashton has come under fire on several other fronts, including her failure to rush to Haiti after the devastating earthquake on 12 January. She was also slammed for failing to turn up in Mallorca last month for a meeting of EU defence ministers and NATO top brass.

Lady Ashton was last week sent a letter by David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary and one-time favourite to do her job, who voiced concern about infighting between EU institutions ...

The first step to peace is accepting Israel's right to exist

From The Sydney Morning Herald, March 15, 2010, by VIC ALHADEFF, chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies:

...Surveys by the Palestinian Policy and Survey Research Centre and Tel Aviv University Centre for Peace Research consistently show the vast majority of Israelis and a smaller majority of Palestinians back a two-state solution: the state of Israel living in peace alongside a state of Palestine.

Furthermore, there have been offers on the table which, if implemented, would have delivered a state of Palestine and met the bulk of the Palestinians' historic demands. Tragically, none has been accepted.

...Abbas, who represents Fatah, is arguably committed to peace; Hamas - as its charter attests - is unequivocally committed to Islam ''obliterating'' Israel, ''just as it obliterated others before it''. Therein lies the problem, not Israel's attitude towards freezing settlement construction.

One has only to glance at the historic offer which the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert put to Abbas in 2008. The pair met about 35 times between 2006 and the end of 2008 - more than any other Israeli and Arab leaders. On September 16 that year, Olmert presented Abbas with an unprecedented offer which included a map and permanent borders between Israel and Palestine.

According to the proposal, Israel would annex 6.3 per cent of the West Bank - areas that are home to 75 per cent of the Jewish population of the territories. Thousands of settlers and dozens of settlements would be evacuated. In return for the 6.3 per cent, Israel would transfer to the Palestinians an equivalent bloc - 327 square kilometres of mostly agricultural land, as well as a safe-passage corridor connecting the West Bank to Gaza.

Jerusalem would be shared so it would be the capital of Israel and Palestine; and the sites in Jerusalem which are holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews would be administered by the US, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine. Agreement on the core issue of Palestinian statehood would have provided a basis for resolving matters such as security, water and refugees.

... Abbas - like his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, when offered a similar deal by the then US president, Bill Clinton - did not even propose a counter-offer.

...The tragic irony is that offers were previously on the table that far exceeded what today's proximity talks even aim to achieve.

Which poses the question[s]:
  • why was Olmert's proposal rejected, like previous others that would have resulted in the creation of a viable state of Palestine?
  • If the Palestinian leadership could not seriously consider such an offer, is it realistic to believe it will accept any offer?
  • Is it able to achieve consensus between Fatah and Hamas - which operates on a radical-Islamist doctrine - so Palestine can live in peace alongside the Jewish state?
  • Or is the civil war between Fatah and Hamas so deep that the Palestinian leadership does not have the capacity to agree to a deal?
Accepting the creation of a state of Palestine through a negotiated deal with Israel means accepting the existence of the state of Israel. That is where the problem starts and ends.

Proof of Hamas war crimes

From JPost, 15 March 20101, by YAAKOV KATZ:

‘Hamas used kids as human shields, hospitals as launch pads'

...Hamas gunmen used Palestinian children as human shields, and established command centers and Kassam launch pads in and near more than 100 mosques and hospitals during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip last year, according to a new Israeli report being released on Monday that aims to counter criticism of the IDF.

The detailed 500-page report, obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post, was written by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (Malam), a small research group led by Col. (res.) Reuven Erlich, a former Military Intelligence officer who works closely with the army.

The IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) cooperated with the report’s authors and declassified hundreds of photographs, videos, prisoner interrogations and Hamas-drawn sketches ...

...One example of the material revealed in the Malam report is an-until-now classified sketch of the village of Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza discovered by IDF troops during the operation, that details the extensive deployment of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and snipers inside and adjacent to civilian homes.

The sketch was discovered in a home of a Hamas operative together with several IEDs and Kalashnikov rifles.

...The Malam report also provides an analysis of another sketch found during the offensive in the Atatra neighborhood in northern Gaza City that Erlich said proves Hamas’s culpability for the ensuing death and destruction. “By placing all of their weaponry next to homes, by operating out of homes, mosques and hospitals, by firing rockets next to schools and by using human shields, Hamas is the one responsible for the civilian deaths during the operation,” Erlich said.

The Goldstone Report states that its authors “found no evidence that Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack.” The Malam report, however, brings declassified videos that show how Hamas used civilians as human shields and deployed its weaponry and command centers inside civilian homes.

In one home, the IDF discovered a note, written in Arabic, that read: “We are your brothers, fighters in this holy war, and we used your home and some of your possessions. We are sorry.” This note, Malam’s report said, was a clear indication of how Hamas took over civilian homes to use to attack Israeli forces.

According to a previously undisclosed interrogation of a Hamas operative, one Hamas cell transported rockets on the back of a wagon in which children were also sitting. In other cases, the Hamas operative said, Hamas fighters disguised themselves as women carrying babies to ensure that they would not be hit by IDF troops.

The intelligence information is backed up by videos, including one declassified air force video from January 6, 2009, which shows a terrorist shooting at troops from the roof of a building. After spotting an Israeli aircraft, the terrorist goes to the building’s entrance and calls to nearby civilians to help him escape. A few moments later, a group of children arrive at the entrance to the home and the terrorist walks out.

Another video from January 13 shows a senior Hamas terrorist – spotted by an aircraft – walking by himself down a street. After spotting the aircraft, the senior terrorist runs over to an elderly woman walking nearby and continues walking next to her. Later, the IDF discovered that the “elderly woman” was really a Hamas operative in disguise.

Malam also takes Goldstone to task for his claim that “the mission found no evidence that members of Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat in civilian dress,” and as a result could “not find a violation of the obligation not to endanger the civilian population in this respect.”

In response, Malam interviewed a number of IDF officers who provided testimony that a vast majority of Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians, and Hamas videos that showed fighters – during the Israeli offensive – wearing civilian clothing while firing mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at IDF troops.

The Malam report has an entire section on Hamas’s use of mosques, revealing intelligence information that Hamas used almost 100 mosques inside Gaza to fight against the IDF. “Hamas systematically used mosques as part of its combat doctrine,” the report alleges, in contrast to Goldstone’s report, which claims that the mission was unable to make a determination about the issue. The Malam report brings countless videos and photographs of dozens of mosques that were used by Hamas to store weapons, functioned as command centers or whose grounds were used to fire rockets into Israel.

The report also details Hamas’s use of hospitals during the offensive, providing evidence that Hamas fired at IDF troops adjacent to and hid weaponry and senior operatives inside at least eight hospitals in the Gaza Strip.

The Malam report devotes an entire section to proving how Hamas’s police and internal security forces were involved in military/terrorist activities and were not, as Goldstone claimed, civilian entities whose only duty was enforcing law and order.

In contrast to the report the IDF is working on and plans to release in the coming months that focuses on IDF operations, Malam’s report is about Hamas, its combat tactics and the way it operates from within densely populated urban centers in Gaza, as well as the events that led up to Cast Lead in late December 2008 that Malam says were disregarded by Goldstone.

The report points to four basic flaws in the Goldstone Report:
  1. It does not deal with the nature of Hamas – its terrorist aspects and ideology;
  2. it minimizes the gravity of the terrorist attacks against Israel, focusing on rocket fire during the six months before Operation Cast Lead while devoting little space to the rocket and mortar fire that began in 2001;
  3. it does not deal with the Hamas military buildup in the Gaza Strip in the year preceding Cast Lead that threatened Israel, but at the same time did provide extensive historical coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and
  4. it ignored the role Iran and Syria play in Gaza by aiding Hamas and supplying it with explosives and weaponry.

Sustained Obama pressure for Israeli concessions over Ramat Shlomo construction announcement

From JPost, 14 March 2010, by by HERB KEINON & HILARY LEILA KRIEGER:

Moves would include canceling Ramat Shlomo project, freeing Palestinian prisoners.

The Obama administration refused to let go of the Ramat Shlomo construction controversy Sunday, with two top aides to US President Barack Obama slamming Israel amid a growing sense in Jerusalem that Washington was using the issue to squeeze diplomatic concessions from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

While the Prime Minister’s Office would not confirm the reports, it is widely believed that the US is now pressing Netanyahu to cancel the entire 1,600 housing-unit project in Ramat Shlomo.

In addition, Washington wants Israel to make a confidence building measure – such as releasing Palestinian prisoners – toward Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before US Mideast envoy George Mitchell arrives later this week to try to get proximity talks off the ground; and to agree that the proximity talks will deal with core issues of the negotiations, and not only technical matters as a way into direct talks, as Israel had demanded.

Two days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton scolded Netanyahu in a 45-minute phone conversation for the announcement, while US Vice President Joe Biden was in Israel, of plans to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, and later telling CNN that Israel had insulted Biden and the US, Obama’s top adviser David Axelrod expanded on the theme, telling ABC’s This Week the announcement was an “affront” and an “insult.”

...Asked twice whether the issue put US troops lives at risk, Axelrod  ...said, “I do believe that is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.”

...Netanyahu, for the fourth time, apologized for the [Ramat Shlomo construction announcement], saying that it was an innocent – though hurtful – mistake, but not done intentionally. He said that there was no need to say any more on the matter, and requested that his ministers also not elaborate on the issue.

“But it is of utmost importance to understand that Israel and the US have common interests, and we will act according to Israel’s vital interests,” he said.

One source inside the Prime Minister’s Office said he was unaware of any intention by Netanyahu either to roll back the Ramat Shlomo project, or declare a moratorium on construction in east Jerusalem, something the Palestinians have been demanding for months.

The source denied reports that before the Ramat Shlomo brouhaha erupted there were informal agreements between Mitchell and Netanyahu’s aides that once talks began Israel would make no announcements of new construction in east Jerusalem.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs [said] “I think what would be an even better start is coming to the table with constructive ideas for constructive and trustful dialogue about moving the peace process forward...” ...

...Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Oren was summoned to the State Department on Friday afternoon for a meeting with Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, where he heard the same message of American disapproval and outrage that Clinton delivered to Netanyahu the same day. ...he said, “There is confusion in terms of where the administration stands, especially since we were led to understand that after Biden’s visit things were under control. We were under the impression that we’d managed to ride the story and then on Friday we were surprised.”

Meanwhile, Egypt on Sunday evening called on the international community to continue pressuring Israel over the issue and to force Jerusalem to “stop its provocative moves,” Israel Radio reported...

Jerusalem's Hurva synagogue, destroyed by the Arab Legion in 1948, reopens

From JPost, 14/03/2010, by ABE SELIG*:

Festivities kicked off on Sunday with the welcoming of a Torah scroll into the renewed house of prayer [Photo by: Associated Press]

Police brace for violence as Fatah official urges Palestinians to "converge on Al-Aksa."

Jerusalem’s historic Hurva Synagogue, which was last destroyed by Jordan’s Arab Legion on May 25, 1948, and has been rebuilt after nearly a decade of construction, will be rededicated during a ceremony in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter on Monday evening.

While festivities kicked off on Sunday with the welcoming of a Torah scroll into the renewed house of prayer, Monday evening’s ceremony will be the official reopening of the Hurva, which was first built in 1701 and has been destroyed and rebuilt twice.

...Palestinian clerics have claimed that the rebuilding of the Hurva would pave the way for plans by right-wing Jews to lay a cornerstone for the construction of the third temple on the Temple Mount – a rumor, based on an 18th-century rabbinic tradition purportedly declared by the Vilna Gaon, which has been brushed off by right-wing activists themselves as having been given a “certain poetic license.”

The Muslim clerics’ claims have been bolstered by a request filed with Jerusalem police last week to lay such a cornerstone. The request was filed by the Temple Mount Faithful – a group that actively seeks to rebuild the third temple on the holy site.

While police rejected the request out of hand and have also canceled all tourist visits to the site, the clerics’ warnings continued to build steam on Sunday, as top Fatah official and holder of its Jerusalem portfolio, Khatem Abd el-Kader, called on Palestinians to “converge on Al-Aksa to save it” from “Israeli attempts to destroy the mosque and replace it with the temple.”

Khader called the renovation of the Hurva a “provocation” and warned Israel that it was “playing with fire.”

Israel Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen warned that incitement to violence by Palestinian elements could inflame an already tense situation in the capital.

Responding to the allegations that Al-Aksa Mosque was “in jeopardy,” Cohen held a special evaluation meeting with police brass on Sunday evening that was attended by Jerusalem Police chief Cmdr. Aharon Franco. “Extreme statements and incitement do not match the reality on the ground. I expect all sides at this time to be responsible and to tone down their statements,” Cohen said at the end of the meeting.

...More than 3,000 security personnel have been deployed in the Old City and throughout east Jerusalem since Friday, and police announced on Sunday that the this would continue through Tuesday, and that only Muslim men above the age of 50 and women of any age would be permitted into the Temple Mount compound – a common step taken to reduce the potential for violence.

Friday’s decision by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to impose a general closure on Judea and Samaria has also been extended until Tuesday...

*Yaakov Lapin, Herb Keinon, Khaled Abu Toameh and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

Endless Procrastination on Iran

From Commentary Magazine, Sunday, Mar 14, by Emanuele Ottolenghi:

At a weekend retreat in Finland, the foreign ministers of the EU met alongside the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu.  ...among the conclusions emerging from the gathering, there is the admission by the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, that there is little chance that new sanctions will be passed by the UN Security Council before June. Citing objections from China and Russia, Kouchner said: “We are … talking and talking, trying to get an agreement by negotiation and at the same time working on sanctions. I believe that yes, before June it will be possible, but I’m not so sure.”

Nor is there certainty about the alternative – which, according to the news report, would be unilateral sanctions by the EU and the U.S.

Clearly, there are obstacles on the road to unilateral sanctions – philosophically, many EU countries oppose unilateralism and wish to proceed only after the UN has given the green light. Then, there is the skepticism about sanctions that are not binding on some of Iran’s main trading partners because such measures would fail to bite.

In short, sanctions, even limited ones, are a long way away, and it does not offer any succor to know that EU ministers are “talking about it.”

The fact of the matter is, the last time sanctions were approved was in March 2008, when UN Security Council Resolution 1803 was approved. That was two years ago. Then there was a U.S. presidential election. Then there was a U.S. policy review. Then there were Iranian presidential elections that nobody wished to interfere with. Then there was a summer holiday that nobody wished to spoil. Then there was a U.S. effort to engage the Iranian regime that nobody wished to undermine. Then there was a failed nuclear deal that everyone thought was a win-win situation. Then there was an end-of-the-year deadline that came and went without any Plan B ready to roll out on Jan. 1. Then there was the talking to convince China and Russia (to say nothing of Turkey, which meanwhile became a member of the Security Council), and now there is more talking for Plan C in case Plan B fails. What will the next reason for delay be?

The bottom line is that these are excuses, pretexts, and little else.

There is abundant evidence of Iranian mischief. There is nothing new by now about Iran’s policy of stalling talks. Russian and Chinese interests remain unchanged. The available options for sanctions have been dissected, debated, weighed, assessed, and are known.

It therefore comes down to the following: do the U.S. and the EU wish to stop Iran’s nuclear quest? If so, are they prepared to pay the political price required to make, at least, an honest and worthy effort? Are they willing to face up to the reality that there is simply no international backing for the kind of policies needed to stop Iran now and to avoid conflict in the Persian Gulf later?

If the answer to these questions is yes, there is no need to wait for June. Otherwise, we know what a June deadline means – it means more stalling, more temporizing, more talking, and more procrastinating.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

US Vice President blames Israel for attacks on US troops

From The Sydney Morning Herald, March 12, 2010, by JASON KOUTSOUKIS:

...the announcement this week that 1600 apartments would be added to  ...Jerusalem ...enraged the visiting US Vice-President, Joe Biden, who has told the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that it was liable to ''set the Middle East on fire''.

Mr Biden blames Mr Netanyahu for the decision ...''This is starting to get dangerous for us ...What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.'' ...

...and from Dry Bones, 12 March 2010:

Has the US joined with Iran in playing for time?

From INSS Insight No. 166, March 8, 2010, by Ephraim Asculai:
For the sake of argument, let us assume that the US administration has already arrived at the tacit conclusion that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons is inevitable, in spite of all US and international efforts to prevent this.
  • What would the repercussions be if this conclusion became known?
  • How would the administration behave if its conclusions became known to the public?
  • How would it work to minimize the ensuing damages from this revelation, both internally and internationally?
If the conclusions are made public, the effects will not be far off from those that would follow a realization that Iran had achieved its aims. Without elaborating, the main damages would probably be in the following areas:
  • increasing threats to US allies in the Middle East states in general and to the Gulf states in particular;
  • threats and pressures on the oil market;
  • serious damage to the prestige and standing of the US; increasing stature to both Russia and China in the international arena;
  • increasing threat to Israel from both Syria and the Hizbollah; and
  • possible increase in world terrorist activities.
It is also possible that if not managed correctly, the acceptance of a nuclear Iran could cost President Obama his post and the Democrats the majority in Congress. Indeed, it is hard to see any long term benefits that the US would reap from such a situation. It is in the short term, however, that the US needs to make up its mind on how to act to calm the situation, since it could easily get out of hand.

For its part, if the US has come to see a nuclear Iran as inevitable, it would need to act prudently on several fronts to avoid any significant increase of tensions with Iran.
  • It would need to present a facade that it has not come to terms with a nuclear Iran;
  • thereafter, it would need to assure its allies both in the Gulf area and outside that it will not permit Iran to use its newly found power for furthering its ambitions.
  • It would also need to deter Israel from military actions against Iran's nuclear installations, since this could open a hornet's nest.
Overall, these can be condensed into one expression: playing for time. This, if the above hypothesis holds true, constitutes a meeting of interests of both the US and Iran.

It still would not solve anything, but postpone the crisis of exposure – when the new stance of the US administration is publicly acknowledged, or even generally perceived as such – which is a sort of an achievement by itself.

Playing for time is not so simple in this case, since Iran is rushing full steam ahead in its enrichment program, in its development of the explosive mechanism (if it is not already completed), and in its development of the delivery systems – the surface to surface medium-range missiles. At the moment the rate of enrichment is not very high, but a breakthrough in the development of newer models of gas centrifuge machines could change that very rapidly. With the exception of some states (led by Russia and China) there is wide agreement today that the Iranian project is aimed at the development of a full capacity potential for the production of nuclear weapons. It is immaterial whether the actual decision to complete this development has been taken, since the time difference between the decision and the actual completion of the task is relatively short.

So if the US has indeed accepted an inevitable reality of a nuclear Iran, how would the administration behave?
  • It would encourage delays, particularly in the adoption of sanctions resolutions at the UN Security Council.
  • It would accept weakened sanctions resolutions, since these would not lead to crises, and at the same time it would not pursue strong actions on the part of "like-minded" allies.
  • It would not come out with strong statements condemning Iran for developing nuclear weapons, and would take actions to assure allies in the Gulf states that they are protected from Iranian hostile actions.
  • It would try to convince strong Iranian allies (like Syria) that they would be better off not strengthening alliances with Iran but allying themselves with the West.
  • And it would take strong diplomatic efforts to assure that Israel would not attack Iran on its own.
Yet is this not exactly what is already happening? Any deadline or pseudo-deadline that has been set since Mr. Obama assumed the presidency has come and gone, without any excuse. First were the delays until after elections in Iran, and then the (fruitless) October talks, whereby even if the nuclear fuel deal had been accepted, it would have given the US an illusory breathing space of maximum up to a year. The close of 2009 saw the unfulfilled end of the year deadline for an agreement on the suspension of enrichment in Iran, and more recently Secretary Clinton said that the issue of sanctions might take many months to resolve.

Then came the news that the sanctions would not be as severe as previously thought, would not target the central bank of Iran, would target only the Revolutionary Guards, and would certainly not attempt to cause difficulties for the people of Iran, in spite of the fact that only these could bring about a change of regime. Indeed, the US did not actively support the budding uprising of the people following the rigged Iranian elections.

In addition, Newsweek reported that the new edition of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was supposed to correct the mistakes of the 2007 NIE would not be presented in the near future because of interagency bickering and differences of opinions, and even if approved, it was not certain that an unclassified version would be published. In this, the administration avoids the immediate necessity of taking strong action.

The US is increasing air defense capabilities of some Gulf states, which is another impressive sign of US acceptance of the inevitable, and the remarkable air lift of administration notables to Israel to persuade it not to attack Iran is certainly part of the larger picture.

Taking all the above into account, it would need a large effort on the part of the US to persuade others that the hypothesis that the US is ready to accept a nuclear Iran, even if not immediately, is wrong.

The US is today the only international power that could, if it wanted, prevent Iran from acquiring the potential to become a nuclear state. If, as suspected, it is not going to act in this way, the countries that could be affected will have to take a renewed look at the situation and assess their options for their future.