Thursday, November 17, 2011

Israel Warns Hamas Over Gaza Rocketing

David Essing

Israel Warns That More Rocketing From Gaza May Trigger Major IDF Counter-Attack...

Hamas Terrorists in the Gaza Strip
Israel's patience is wearing thin after repeated rocket attacks from Gaza have paralyzed much of southern Israel and forced over one million Israeli civilians into their bomb shelters for days on end. This was the message from IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz in a closed door briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Later the IDF spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, told reporters that only 'an intiated and planned IDF operation' could put a stop to the Palestinian rocketing of Israeli civilians...

...Since taking office over two years ago, the Netanyahu government has adopted a 'zero tolerance' policy to the rocketing by launching, within twenty- four hours, pin-point air strikes at terrorist targets. Although this at times sparked flareups, it has not stemmed the Palestinian provocations. On the contrary, it has become apparent the Palestinians are ready to live with this tit-for-tat state of affairs, in order to harass the Jewish state.

Israel is no longer prepared to accept such a situation that enables the Palestinians, whenever they see sit, to terrorize most of the Israeli population in the south.

'Repeated rounds of Palestinian rocketing from Gaza point to need for significant IDF operation'
After IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz briefed the Knesset committee, his spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordedchai, elaborated to reporters that Israel was close to launching an operation to halt the rocketing. He said:
'The recent rounds of Palestinian escalation and the damage inflicted on Israeli lives and the daily life of our civilians in the south, point to the need for the IDF to a significant offensive operation'. 
This military appraisal emanates for cabinet deliberations after the latest rocketing salvoes in October.

...Vice Premier Silvan Shalom [said that] the Israeli government was 'very close' to giving the green light for such an operation. Shalom also left no doubt that Israel was no longer ready to tolerate the sporadic rocketing of her civilians and would, if necessary, launch a major counter- strike against Gaza.

Benny Gantz
...Gen. Gantz inserted another factor into the terrorist buildup. After the fall of the Gadaffi regime the assessment was that Libyan army weapons have been smuggled into Gaza. Not only Hamas, but all the terror organizations were continuing their buildup, so much so that Hamas was concerned about the growing strength of its rival, Islamic Jihad.
On the other hand, there there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. A senior IDF intelligence office reported that in recent months some ten-thousand trucks have transported supplies from Israel into Gaza...

Syria and the Arab League: Moral Censure and Identity Politics

From INSS Insight No. 294, November 16, 2011, by Mark Heller:
On November 12, 2011, the League of Arab States suspended the membership of one of its founding partners, the Syrian Arab Republic. This is not a totally unprecedented measure, but it is nevertheless highly significant, not because the League itself is a unified and effective international actor but rather because it may well be a harbinger of future actions by many of its constituent governments.

The League’s decision has had an immediate impact in a symbolic sense, by undermining the self-confidence of the Syrian regime while bolstering the morale of the opposition. Moreover, the effect may become material if Arab governments empower the League to follow up on hints of sanctions against the Syrian regime and more tangible support for the opposition. Leaders of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, have already been invited to League headquarters in Cairo for further discussions, and King Abdullah of Jordan has publicly called for Syrian President Bashar al-Asad to step aside.

Given the League’s generally anodyne posture on inter-Arab relations, the explanation for these actions almost certainly goes beyond moral revulsion at Asad’s brutality in trying to repress the domestic uprising against his regime. is clear that Asad’s security forces have already killed at least 3,500 protesters, wounded, abused, or imprisoned thousands of others, and impelled many others to seek refuge across the Turkish, Lebanese, or Jordanian borders. 

In an environment of growing criticism, Arab League representatives pushed for a peace plan involving the withdrawal of troops from urban areas, the release of prisoners, and a pardon for opposition leaders. The Syrian government formally accepted this plan but then refused to implement it. That was inevitably seen as intransigence, and almost a year into the Arab spring, Arab governments are perforce more attentive to public sentiments about how governments should or should not behave. In other words, Asad is undoubtedly paying a price for what he does.

But the price is compounded by who he is – a member of the Alawite sect associated with Shiism and a leader who, following in the footsteps of his father, has kept his Syrian Arab Republic aligned with Shiite Iran (and against most Sunni Arabs) for more than three decades. This seems an even more powerful explanatory factor than repugnance at Asad’s behavior.

After all, other Arab leaders have responded to domestic insurgencies with similar or greater brutality, yet the commanders of the military regime during the civil war in Algeria, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen all escaped the sanctions now being visited on Asad. 

In fact, there are only two notable exceptions to the League’s customary refusal to censure Arab governments. One was Egypt, which was temporarily expelled from the League in 1979, not because its government was excessively repressive but because it broke Arab ranks and made peace with Israel. The other was Libya in 2011, but almost certainly only because its leader had personally insulted, alienated, and physically threatened so many other leaders in the Arab world. Moreover, Egypt was soon readmitted following the outbreak of Iran-Iraq War, when its active help was needed to stem the threat of Iranian expansion. 

That provides a major clue to the subtext of recent Arab diplomatic maneuvering: the need to counter Iran’s hegemonial ambitions, sometimes pursued through local Shiites seen to be acting as agents of Iranian influence.

The persuasiveness of that clue is reinforced by the identity of the leading forces behind the recent initiative aimed at Asad: Qatar and Saudi Arabia, two Gulf states in close proximity to Iran. There is some irony in this. After all, neither Qatar nor Saudi Arabia is itself a paragon of democratic values. Both had supported the suppression of the revolt against the Sunni monarchy in Shiite-majority Bahrain – the Saudis through direct military intervention – not in order to ensure respect for human rights but rather to check Iran, which was suspected of providing support to the protesters in Bahrain or at least of standing to benefit from their success. Additional evidence in favor of the sectarian explanation for the targeting of Asad may be gleaned from the identity of those who voted against Syria’s suspension – Yemen and Lebanon, along with Syria itself – or merely abstained – Iraq. Given the state of affairs in Yemen, the Yemenis may have simply been concerned about a worrisome precedent (although the decision to allow Saleh to return to San’a following prolonged medical treatment in Saudi Arabia suggests that such a concern is probably overblown). But both Lebanon and Iraq are fragmented states with powerful Shiite communities and Shiite-dominated or Shiite-constrained governments subject to significant Iranian influence.

All of this suggests that while Asad’s actions may well be out of step with the spirit of the times in the Arab world, the singular character of the Arab League’s actions against him may well be inspired by a factor that is never officially acknowledged but constantly hovers in the background. 

Sectarianism is the dirty laundry of Arab politics. Almost a year after the repression of the upheaval in Bahrain, eight years after the outbreak of internecine conflict in Iraq, and more than thirty-five years after the onset of the Lebanese civil war, it is still normally downplayed or denied, and when manifestations of its existence prove impossible to ignore, the tendency is still to blame it on the machinations of malevolent outsiders: Iran, the United States, or Israel (which has been accused of inciting the latest round of Islamist-inspired attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt). 

A new era of pluralism and openness may yet emerge in the Arab world, but the old era of identity politics has not yet passed.

Israel "is acting to stop" Iran's nuclear armament

From a DEBKAfile Special Report November 16, 2011:
Binyamin Netanyahu duels with Tehran

A short statement was read out to the Knesset cabinet member Michael Eitan Wednesday afternoon...
"Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu informed the full Knesset plenum that all options are on the table when it comes to Iran's nuclear program. The prime minister and the authorized bodies are acting to stop the nuclear armament of Iran. The efforts are ongoing and we will do everything possible to enlist states in the international community, "he continued "because the Iranian threat is a danger not only to the State of Israel but to world peace."

The Knesset was due to devote a special session to the question of an attack on Iran.

... this is the first statement of this nature the prime minister has ever delivered to Israel's parliament. It was phrased notably in the present tense. "The authorized bodies" are thought to refer to the Israeli Defense Forces and its intelligence community.

Also worth noting is that Netanyahu sent a minister to read out his message. He himself absent from this key debate and so was the defense minister. For the first time too, there was no reference to sanctions which have figured hitherto in all Israeli official statements on the Iranian nuclear controversy.

The implication is that an operation against a nuclear Iran may be in the works. If so, a response from Tehran is to be expected shortly.

...[Supreme commander of Iran's armed forces Gen. Hassan] Firouz-Abadi said the massive explosion which killed Iran's missile chief Saturday "had nothing to do with Israel or America." It took place during "research on weapons that could strike Israel," adding that the blast had delayed by only two weeks the development of an undisclosed military "product."

The two statements together aroused lively speculation in the tense climate left by the latest nuclear watchdog agency's evidence of Iran's work on a nuclear weapon. Linking them might suggest that the Israeli prime minister had decided to refute the Iranian general's claim. By stating that "efforts are ongoing" to stop Iran's nuclear armament, he may have been implying that  the explosion at the Guards base Saturday was indeed a covert Israeli operation in line with those efforts.

“Eventually, we’ll have to take over Gaza again....”

From the Jerusalem Post , 4 November, 2011, by Naomi Ragen:How did we get here? What is it going to take for this government to act in a responsible way which shows it is running a sovereign state?

Rockets launched from Gaza are falling again. Nothing new. What I love is the way the press reports this stuff: “The quiet was disturbed,” writes Ynet. ...Enough with the phony Egyptian-brokered “cease-fires” that last only as long as it takes to reload. Enough with the warnings, the finger shaking, the attempts to hit back without hurting anyone so that it won’t “escalate.”

I’d call a dead Israeli and a missile in the backyard of a school an escalation.

What is it going to take for this government to act in a responsible way which shows it is running a sovereign state, not negotiating with the Czar’s police to prevent another pogrom?

And enough with phony labels: Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Authority, etc. They all want the same thing. They are all responsible.

I’m sick of it.

...All during the intifada the geniuses running the government and the journalists at Haaretz, CNN and the BBC had an explanation for every bus bombing, every massacre at a wedding or bar mitzva. was better not to respond, or, to use the new catchphrase, “to exercise restraint.”

...And how, in heaven’s name, did we get here?

We could start with bringing Arafat in from Tunis...But let’s take it from the disengagement....

This is what they sold us: By unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, destroying productive Jewish settlements that served as a buffer zone between terrorists and the center of the country, throwing 10,000 people out into the streets, American pressure would stop, Palestinians would be shown for what they were and the peace process would be put in “formaldehyde.”

...According to the IDF website: “Since Israel’s 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the Hamas terrorist organization has turned Gaza into a central hub of terror activity.”

...Hamas minister Fathi Hamad also admitted last week to Lebanese daily As-Safir that it was Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip that had enabled Hamas to hide kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit for so long, forcing the Israeli government to its knees and facilitating the release of hundreds of the worst terrorist scum in Israel’s jails.

With Saudi Prince Khaled bin Talal generously adding to the amount offered by Muslim cleric Dr. Awad al-Qarni for the kidnap of yet another Israeli soldier, bringing the sum to a round million dollars, we are glad to hear Schalit’s jail cell will still be available....

...Shimon Peres told Lily Galili in Haaretz on July 5, 2008: “I did not imagine that we would leave Gaza and they would fire Kassams from there; I did not imagine that Hamas would show so strongly in the elections.” ...this week he said: “Why are they shooting?”

This past Sunday, a trip was organized to visit the Gush Katif expellees. I signed up, curious as to how these brave, much mistreated and maligned heroes were doing after six years. At 10 p.m. the night before, I got a phone call. Home Front Command had canceled the trip. Apparently, it was too dangerous for us to visit where the Gush Katif families are now living, sans bomb shelters with only IDF-supplied sewer pipes to run to when a siren goes off. You read that right. Sewer pipes.

Anita Tucker, who was supposed to have been our tour guide, met with me in Jerusalem instead. A former Gush Katif lettuce farmer from Netzer Hazani, Anita is a bundle of energy and optimism despite the tragedy that turned her home and business into rubble. The whole community of Netzer Hazani is rebuilding in Yesodot, near Kibbutz Hulda. But she admits it’s been difficult.

“It’s hard to educate your children and grandchildren to be proud citizens when they have to shelter in a sewer pipe,” she says. But anger is not part of her vocabulary. “It’s not constructive,” she says.
As for the current troubles with Gaza, she shrugs.

“Eventually, we’ll have no choice but to take it over again. It’s like rot. It has to be removed before it spreads and destroys the entire country.”

Egypt’s Constitutional Crisis: The Military versus the Islamists

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 155, November 16, 2011, by Prof. Hillel Frisch*:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Controversy has arisen over who will shape Egypt's constitution – the Islamists or the military-backed secularists. While the former seemingly holds the majority public vote, the latter holds the fire power, thus evening out the political battlefield. But if the chasm between these two opposing camps continues to widen, as may occur due to the recent controversy, civil war could erupt.

A controversial document proposing a new set of constitutional principles in Egypt has caused great fear over the country's political future. If this government-orchestrated doctrine becomes binding before the coming elections, it may lead to major civil strife. Technically, the issue revolves around a document. In essence, Egypt's soul and identity is at stake.

Those who support the adoption of these binding principles – which would have to be adopted as part of any future Egyptian constitution – want Egypt to become a “civic” state, one with civil liberties and irrevocable free election cycles. Opponents, however, claim that the new constitution should be drafted only after the elections, with the commensurate input of the political parties that are voted into government, and should not have to incorporate any of these principles.

This is why the two major political camps in Egypt today line up as they do. 

On one side of the divide, opposing the new principles, are the Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, Freedom and Justice, the even more militant al-Nour, and the Building and Development party. The latter is the political wing of the al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the former terrorist movement that made peace with the Mubarak regime after it was suppressed. Altogether, these three parties could easily win an absolute majority of votes in the coming elections.

On the other side of the divide stands the military’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the present government it nominated, and most, though not all, of the “secular” parties. While the majority of young Egyptians fit somewhere into this camp, at least one of the more radical youth parties is actually taking the same stand as the Islamists as they share a mutual objective of preventing the military from continuing to rule Egypt.  

Even if the political divide isn’t exactly fifty-fifty, the chasm between the two camps frightfully resembles the kind of division that might pave the way for civil war. This division hardly reflects public opinion on the matter of the new constitution. Rather, argue the Islamists, the drafting of a new constitution or of a binding document of general principles that would guide the drafters of the constitution after the elections was already decided in a March 2011 referendum.

In that referendum, Egyptians were given the choice of drafting a completely new constitution prior to the elections or making do with minor amendments to the existing constitution, which was last modified in 1980, a year before Anwar Sadat's assassination. The Islamists supported only minor amendments with the secular parties almost overwhelmingly supporting a complete revamp. The reason the Islamists only sought minor changes was clear. The 1980 constitution had been modified to placate the Islamists then by rendering religious law (shari‘a) “the” source, as opposed to “a” source, of Egyptian law. They hardly wanted to see it go.  

The referendum outcome was decisively aligned with the position of the Islamists: 77 percent of voters favored minor amendments while only 23 percent backed the “secular” stance – a complete constitution overhaul.

Though these two camps are hardly equal in the electoral sense, they may still be equal in political power. The Islamists have the numbers, but the secular camp, embarrassing as it may be for the liberals among them, has more fire power and guns, at least for the time being due to their alliance with the SCAF.

The SCAF knows that the issue of binding constitutional principles is of critical importance. That is why it has zigzagged between diametrically opposing stances. In March, it supported the Islamists’ position, but now it has moved to placate the opposing minority and to assure its own interests. The draft of new principles written by the government has named the armed forces the guardian of the Egyptian state and its budget immune from parliamentary oversight. The Islamic parties have vowed to overturn such a document.

Will the conflict degenerate into civil war?

Debates over constitutions and constitutional principles have frequently found their resolution in assemblies or constitutional courts but they have also often been decided violently in street fights and even on battlefields.

Egypt may be able to avert such disaster on the basis of three factors. First, although former Presidents Sadat and Mubarak are vilified in present-day Egyptian discourse, and despite their authoritarian legacy, they did maintain a dialogue of sorts with the Muslim Brotherhood. Arrests were certainly part of this "dialogue," yet these leaders did not engage in killings or blood baths as were common under the Syrian, Iraqi and Libyan regimes. The Muslim Brotherhood, at least as a religious and social movement (as opposed to a political party), was always allowed to operate in the open. Most of the Islamists responded in kind by refraining from terror activities. There is, then, a history of mutual restraint.

Second, the Muslim Brotherhood is well aware of Egypt’s economic predicament. Unlike Islamic Iran, which reaps $70 dollars annually from oil and gas that it can sell under almost all political conditions, Egypt is an ecologically fragile state of 80 million people living on 50,000 square kilometers, characterized by an economy with great international exposure. Its economic prospects, therefore, are highly dependent on maintaining good political and economic relations with the US and EU and on the maintenance of regional stability. These factors are critical to its tourism industry, which makes up 12 percent of its GDP. They are similarly vital in preserving revenues from the Suez Canal, expanding industrial exports, and securing international aid. The willingness of the West to deal with the future regime will be highly dependent on the Egyptian military's autonomy and power in the future regime. Thus, the Islamists might baulk at an open confrontation.

A third factor in subduing tensions between the military and the Islamists is ironically the genuine religiosity that characterizes the Egyptian army, including its high command. The Egyptian army, in this sense, cannot serve as a target for the Islamists in Egypt in the same way that the secular Turkish army has been targeted by the Islamist AKP-led government in Ankara.  

Mutual restraint and painful compromise will be necessary to avert civil strife in the most important and populous state in the Arab world. Given Egypt’s strategic importance, we should be following the issue with considerable concern.

*Hillel Frisch is an associate professor in political studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies. His book, Israel’s Security and its Arab Citizens, has just been published by Cambridge University Press.

 and from The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 2011, by Marina Ottaway:


Egypt faces three major and related political challenges to a successful democratic transition:
  • the role the military is playing and will continue to play; 
  • the presence of powerful Islamic forces, not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but also the Salafi groups and al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya; and...
  • the growing reluctance of some self-proclaimed democrats to put the future of the country in the hands of a democratic process. 
The way these challenges are handled in the coming months will determine whether Egypt moves toward democracy or sinks into a new authoritarianism. 

Unless Islamists and liberals manage to find a modus vivendi in the coming months [which is highly unlikely - SL], the outcome will be a new authoritarianism, with an alliance between the military and so-called liberals as a more likely outcome than a takeover by radical Islamists.

Follow this link for an Egyptian election guide.

The Military
Judging simply on the official pronouncements of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been acting as a sort of collective presidency in Egypt since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, the military does not constitute an obstacle to a democratic transition....

...But there is also evidence that contradicts the official narrative. First, there is no way to determine whether the SCAF speaks for itself or for the entire military. There is no information from open sources about what may be happening within the military below the top ranks represented in the SCAF, and there are reasons to believe that classified sources are equally uninformative.

As a result, nobody knows for sure whether there are groups in the military with different political ambitions. ...The sudden appearance in late October of a “campaign” to elect Field Marshall Tantawi as president leaves little doubt that at least some elements in the military want power to remain in the hands of the military.

Second, while the SCAF does not want to replace a civilian government, it has no intention of subordinating itself to one; instead, it wants to remain free of civilian oversight, particularly where its budget and its economic interests are concerned. There is a great deal of speculation concerning how much of the Egyptian economy the military truly controls, with estimates ranging from 5 to 40 percent. But it is known that the economic assets of the military include industrial enterprises, construction companies, Red Sea resorts, and, probably most importantly, vast tracts of land, in addition to the more traditional industrial enterprises that have long been in military hands.
Third, it is becoming evident that the military is no longer in a hurry to relinquish power and that it is interested in influencing the outcome of elections before it does so. ...until presidential elections take place, the military will continue to rule because Egypt has a presidential system in which the prime minister and cabinet are responsible to the president, not to parliament, and the SCAF is acting in lieu of a president...
... on November 1 the government  released a controversial draft of supra-constitutional principles and other documents that include a secrecy clause protecting the military budget from parliamentary oversight, give the military the right to refer the new constitution to the Supreme Constitutional Court if it is thought to violate any of the constitutional declarations issued by the military, and stipulate that the military can replace the constitutional commission if it does not produce a constitution in the allotted six months. A new announcement on November 3, furthermore, declared that the military would directly appoint eighty of the one-hundred members of the constitutional commission, leaving the elected parliament to only appoint twenty.
Finally, there are signs that the military looks favorably on the return to politics of the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). It has so far resisted pressure to ban former NDP members from running for office. Furthermore, the military has also rejected the demand of most political parties that all parliamentary seats be filled by proportional representation, insisting instead that one third (down from one half) be reserved for individual candidates. This is believed to favor former NDP members, many of whom had built strong clientelistic networks.
... there are reasons to worry about the role of the military and how it will affect the possibility of a democratic transition.

The Islamists
... The Muslim Brotherhood has formed a separate political party, the Freedom and Justice Party. Al-Wasat, an old splinter group of the Muslim Brotherhood that had tried unsuccessfully to register as a party for over 15 years, also received approval. Some younger members of the Muslim Brotherhood have started showing their independence, first participating in the uprising even as their elders were holding back, joining forces with other youth groups, and finally forming the Egyptian Current Party (al-Tayyar al-Masry) as well as the smaller al-Reyada.

More surprising, Salafis, long considered to be mostly apolitical or silent backers of the old regime as long as they were left alone, have entered the political fray forming an array of political parties, of which an-Nour, al-Asala, and al-Fadila are the best known but not the only ones. And al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, a movement that burst on the Egyptian political scene with the assassination of Sadat in 1981, but whose leaders then repented after much doctrinal re-examination encouraged by long imprisonment, entered the legal political arena by launching its own Building and Development Party. Finally, Sufis also created at least two political parties: the Egyptian Sufi Liberation Party (al-Tahrir al-Masry al-Sufi) and the Voice of Freedom Party (Sawt al-Hurriya).
... the new parties are unlikely to have anything approaching the capacity for organization of the Freedom and Justice Party, which can draw on the Muslim Brotherhood’s structures. The Brotherhood has a proven track record of efficient organization ...there is no doubt that the FJP enjoys advantages that recently formed Islamist parties lack.

But the Freedom and Justice Party has not been able to corral all Islamist parties into its Democratic Alliance, despite considerable effort. On the contrary, it has alienated them to the point that most of them have joined a separate Islamic Alliance competing against the Brotherhood. The split appears to be due to political rivalries rather than ideological differences—the new parties wanted to have much larger representation on the joint electoral lists than the Freedom and Justice Party was willing to give them.  

The Illiberal Democrats
Illiberal democrats are Egyptians who advocate democracy ...but in the end are ...worried that democracy will bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power ... Most democracy advocates do not fall into this category, of course, but since committed democrats are not an obstacle to democracy, they need not be discussed here.

Democratic transitions are difficult processes and entail a great deal of uncertainty. There is never any guarantee that democratic processes, particularly free elections, will produce a democratic outcome in the form of a parliamentary majority committed to democratic principles and governance.
...Those who wanted the constitution to be written by a non-elected body were self-professed democracy advocates fearful that an elected body would not produce a constitution embodying the principles they supported and were thus ready to sacrifice the idea of popular participation ...
... the measures advocated by those who do not want an elected body to write the constitution have become increasingly undemocratic, although they are proposed in the name of democracy. One is the imposition of a set of “supraconstitutional” principles that the constitutional commission must abide by, and that can never be amended... that elections should be postponed and that the SCAF should transfer power to a powerful prime minister of liberal persuasion for an indefinite period of time and under the patronage of the military...

...The fear of secular-oriented individuals about the possibility that Islamists might try to put their imprint on the constitution is understandable, just as the fear of communism in Western Europe after World War I was understandable....In Egypt, the Mubarak regime owed its longevity in part to the acquiescence of people who professed a desire for democracy but in the end preferred the relative security of the status quo to the uncertainty of change.
The military, Islamist parties, and illiberal democrats are all obstacles to a democratic outcome of the Egyptian transition...

The willingness of illiberal democrats to choose a prolonged period of military control ...could lead to the reemergence of a regime similar to the ousted Mubarak one...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The two-faced New Israel Fund

... Jewish philanthropists ...continue donating to Israel's largest NGO, the New Israel Fund ...despite repeated documented exposures demonstrating that this body is sponsoring anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian and post-Zionist organizations, committed to undermining the Jewish state and promoting the narrative of the Palestinians as victims and Israelis as oppressors.
Many of the donors are liberal Jews genuinely committed to Israel who blindly accept at face value statements from fund officials who obfuscate the truth.

Recently, yet another damning bombshell discrediting this organization was revealed by WikiLeaks. A confidential cable quoted a conversation between officials at the Tel Aviv U.S. embassy and NIF associate director Hedva Radanovitz, who until last year controlled the fund’s distribution of grants to 350 other organizations, to the tune of $18 million per year. She told embassy personnel that she believed that “in 100 years, Israel would be majority Arab and that the disappearance of the Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic.”
Radanovitz was in fact, rationalizing why the fund has and continues to provide millions of dollars to groups supporting the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. 
In response to media coverage of these bizarre remarks, the fund’s CEO, Daniel Sokatch, said Radanovitz was at the time “not optimistic about Israeli support for human rights and democracy” and that her views would not be supported by his organization. He also stressed that she is now no longer employed by it. However, Sokatch and other fund leaders failed to explain why most other senior NIF officers share an ideological view of Israel as a Jewish state which most Israelis would bitterly oppose. 
However, when communicating to the public, fund spokesmen stress that while being “a big tent organization” they unquestionably support Israel as a democratic Jewish state and promote freedom, justice and equality for all citizens. They purport to be opposed to anti-Israeli “lawfare” and BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions). They continuously dismiss critics as being “extreme right-wing” and accuse them of McCarthyism.
Since its inception in 1979, the fund has dispersed more than $200 million to more than 800 Israeli organizations. The majority of the recipients are indeed worthy institutions engaged in social welfare and developmental projects that all Israelis would endorse. 
When NIF spokesmen address the public, they relate exclusively to the bona fide social organizations they fund. They fail to disclose that they are also providing vast funds to organizations which by no stretch of the imagination would qualify for inclusion in that category. 
Even after their recent adamant assurance to the public and donors that organizations opposed to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state would no longer be sponsored, last year they still directed over a quarter of their funding ($4.3 million) to groups engaged in delegitimization and other forms of anti-Israeli activity.
Here are a few examples of NIF allotments last year to organizations for political advocacy which are deeply engaged in anti-Israeli campaigns. 
Nearly $500,000 was provided to Adalah, a group which contributed to and campaigned for the Goldstone report,urged foreign governments to “re-evaluate their relationship with Israel,” described Israel as “a colonial enterprise promoting apartheid,” called for implementing the Palestinian right of return to Israel, provided affidavits to Spanish courts to charge Israeli officials with war crimes, and defended Hezbollah spy Amir Makhoul as a “human rights defender.”
It would surely be difficult to visualize any Zionist or remotely pro-Israeli body providing funds to an organization committed to such objectives.
Mada al-Carmel, another recipient of NIF funds, engages in anti-Israeli agitation and openly repudiates the legitimacy of the Jewish state. 
The fund also continued to fund the Coalition Women for Peace, a leader of which expressly promoted global “boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.” This coalition also organizes events for “Israel Apartheid Week.” 
In 2010, the NIF tripled the funding for Breaking the Silence, another organization which paved the way for the Goldstone report by making unsubstantiated claims of war crimes by the IDF. During the Goldstone committee inquiry, Breaking the Silence, in conjunction with B’tselem and other NIF-funded NGOs, accused Israel of war crimes and provided “evidence” to the Goldstone Commission to substantiate their biased and defamatory report. 
The sordidness of these virulently anti-Israeli NIF-funded NGOs is heightened by the fact that many are primarily funded by foreign foundations, in particular by European governments, which promote campaigns against Israel and engage in bolstering far-Left Israel fringe groups. Tens of millions of euros are allegedly provided to such groups by overseas governments, demonstrating that they are certainly not indigenous to Israeli society. One could not visualize any European state tolerating such interference in its domestic affairs by foreign countries or organizations seeking to subvert the democratically elected government under the cloak of promoting human rights. 
Indeed, without the perseverance and determined investigative analysis of Professor Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, the public would be totally unaware that such vast sums are provided to anti-Israeli organizations. Steinberg has also been instrumental in promoting Knesset legislation which now requires NGOs to be transparent and disclose their sources of foreign funding, based on the model of the U.S. Foreign Agent Registration ACT. This requirement will enable Israelis to appreciate the extent of foreign initiatives designed to fund anti-government “political activity.”
The NIF is a public charity and should thus be obliged to introduce greater transparency and implement accountability with checks and balances. Although we are told that Radanovitz is no longer employed by the fund, we know nothing about her replacement, and whether the numerous organizations still promoting the dismemberment of Israel as a Jewish state last year have been excluded from 2011 grants. The fund should be obliged to publish this information immediately.
Clearly, in these difficult times there is a need for drastic change in the personnel managing this organization and for an end to the secrecy under which they operate, to ensure that funds raised for the welfare of Israel are not diverted to organizations committed to undermining the Jewish state.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Iran Signals Its Readiness for a Final Confrontation

From JCPA, Vol. 11, No. 20 14 November 2011, by Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael Segall*:
  • Since the publication of the November 2011 IAEA report, which explicitly spotlights Iran's plans to build nuclear weapons, senior figures of the Iranian regime and the state-run media have begun to use threatening, defiant, and sometimes contemptuous language toward Israel and the United States.
  • From Iran's standpoint, an ongoing, head-on confrontation with the U.S. and Israel would serve its purposes in the region and build its image as a key actor that stands firm against the West and provides an alternative agenda to reshape the Middle East. Hence, compromise has almost ceased to be an option for Iran.
  • The current round of the conflict between Iran and the United States and Israel over Iran's (military) nuclear program should be seen in a much wider context, one that centers on shaping a new landscape in the Middle East. Iran views itself as "the next big thing" in the region and behaves accordingly-at the moment with no significant challenge or response from the United States and the West.
  • If in the past Iran held clandestine contacts with Islamic movements, mainly from North African Arab states, on Sudanese soil (such as Ennadha, which has now won the Tunisian elections), it can now openly boost its influence in countries where the "U.S.-supported dictators" have fallen.
  • Iran no longer fears openly acknowledging that it has built capabilities for reacting to an attack-including the Palestinian organizations in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon-and depicts them as part of its defensive strategy and response in case of a confrontation with Israel and the United States.
  • At home, the growing strength of the Revolutionary Guards enables them to increasingly influence foreign policy and mainly to export the revolution in ways not seen in the past. The top commanders of its elite Quds Force are emerging from the shadows and will have a key role in the future struggle against the U.S. and its remaining allies in the region, particularly Israel. Iran, as its president said, is preparing for the "final confrontation."
*IDF Lt.-Col. (ret.) Michael (Mickey) Segall, an expert on strategic issues with a focus on Iran, terrorism, and the Middle East, is a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Explosions and assasinations at Iran nuke base

From NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, Monday, November 14 2011, by Helen Kennedy:
... Sunday, there was more evidence of an efficient and brutal covert operation that continues to degrade Iran’s military capabilities.
Iranian officials revealed that one of the 17 men killed in a huge explosion at a munitions depot was a key Revolutionary Guard commander who headed Iran’s missile program. And the IRNA state news agency reported that scientists had discovered a new computer virus in their systems, a more sophisticated version of the Stuxnet worm deployed last year to foul up Iran’s centrifuges.

Iran said the army base explosion was an accident and the new Duqu virus was contained. But Israeli newspapers and some U.S. experts said it appeared to be more from an ongoing secret operation by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat.

The covert campaign encompasses a series of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists since 2007 and a similar explosion at another Iranian missile base two years ago both widely attributed to the Mossad.
“May there be more like it,” was all Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said when Army Radio asked about the new blast.

There was a third mysterious event: The son of a top Iranian hard-liner was found dead — a seeming suicide — in a Dubai hotel on Sunday. His father called it “suspicious” and linked to the base explosion, without elaborating....

Mid-East war fears after Iranian base blasts, Syria's Arab League suspension

From a DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis November 13, 2011:

The potential for a regional flare-up shot up Friday and Saturday, Nov-11-12, with the blasts at two Iranian arms bases which killed at least 32 Revolutionary Guards men including Iran's top missile expert, and the Arab League Foreign Ministers' decision to suspend Syria's membership over Bashar Assad's brutal military crackdown on civilians.

As windows shattered in Tehran, the streets were awash with rumors that Iran was under attack, or that the regime had staged a failed nuclear test. Foreign businessmen were said to be fleeing the country.

In Kuwait, lawmakers demanded an urgent debate on the potential fallout from an attack on Iran three days after British ministers were briefed on a possible US-backed Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear sites in the last week of December or early next year. Hopes faded for effective international sanctions in the wake of nuclear watchdog evidence of Iran's nuclear capabilities, even as US President Obama tackled Russian and Chinese leaders at .

Hours after the base explosions in Iran, the Arab League decided to suspend the membership of its ally Syria and impose political and economic sanctions on the Assad regime. Members were advised to withdraw their ambassadors form the Syrian capital until their Nov. 2 peace plan was implemented. The AL decision was praised by US President Barack Obama and backed by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

This penalty hurts Bashar Assad more than would a threatened Turkish invasion and seizure of a buffer enclave to serve the Syrian opposition. It conveys the Arab world's rejection of the legitimacy of Bashar Assad's regime. The Syrian ruler has got away with defying the UN Security Council, NATO and even Washington. He will find it much harder to survive being cast out of the fold by his Arab brethren who are punishing him for the contempt he showed for the peace deal they initiated and he signed by having his troops kill another 250 civilians in ten days.

Indeed the Qatari foreign minister Hamad bin Jassim, reading out of the decision, warned Assad that further non-compliance would result in "more steps to protect the citizens of Syria" by the Arab League – a broad hint at military intervention to aid the beleaguered opposition as Assad tried ineffectually to brand the Arab bloc American puppets.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan are already arming Syrian opposition groups and Turkey is hosting their command and training facilities. The scenario is beginning to resemble the Libyan format. There too, Qatari, Jordanian and Turkish military elements took part in the NATO operation to overthrow Muammar Qaddafi. And Bashar Assad may be nearing the end of his tether.

No one any longer credits his word after his repeated promises in the nine-month uprising against him to pull his troops out of city centers, release prisoners and enact reforms, while only piling on the savagery. His army is turning against him. Even before the Arab League struck home, the tens of trained fighters going over to the opposition in the early months of the conflict were swelling in the last two weeks to hundreds, taking their arms with them. The ruling Assad clan and military command have reached a crossroads in the pact they concluded in March to extinguish the uprising regardless of the cost in blood.

That pact may now prove unsustainable confronting its parties with three broad options:
1.  The army's top commanders may decide they can no longer get away with the slaughter committed in the name of the regime and the time has come to get rid of Bashar Assad. A coup d'etat would be one way.
2.  Assad may get in first with a preemptive coup of his own to install in Damascus a military junta composed of trusted loyalists which he and his family will manipulate behind the scenes. This move would ease some of the Arab and Western pressure on him to step down.
3.  He could make good on his threat to start a Middle East conflagration along with Iran and Hizballah. Most of the action would be aimed against Israel forcing the Arab League to go along with Syria and restore its status.

The war rumors sweeping Tehran after the explosions at the Revolutionary Guards bases and the hard choices confronting the discredited Assad regime have generated a highly perilous climate in the region. All its capitals are on edge for trouble. This time, the usual conspiracy allegations from Tehran and Damascus won't wash.

No U.S. President should leave his successor with a nuclear Iran

From The Wall Street Journal, 14 Nov 2011:

The International Atomic Energy Agency this week released its most detailed assessment to date about Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons ...It lays to rest the fantasies that an Iranian bomb is many years off, or that the intelligence is riddled with holes and doubts, or that the regime's intentions can't be guessed by their activities.

So much, then, for the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which asserted "with high confidence" that Iran had abandoned its nuclear-weapons work in 2003 and ended any chance that the Bush Administration would take action against Iran. So much, too, for the Obama Administration's attempts to move Iran away from its nuclear course, first with diplomatic offers and then with sanctions and covert operations.

The serious choice now before the Administration is between military strikes and more of the same. As the IAEA report makes painfully clear, more of the same means a nuclear Iran, possibly within a year.

It's time, then, to consider carefully what that choice means for the United States. In the run-up to the war in Iraq, we wrote that "the law of unintended consequences hasn't been repealed," and that "no war ever goes precisely as planned." That was obviously true of a boots-on-the-ground invasion, but it would also be true of an aerial campaign to demolish or substantially degrade Iran's nuclear facilities.

Planes could be shot down and airmen taken prisoner. Iran could close the Straits of Hormuz, sending energy prices upward. It could conduct a campaign of terror throughout the world, or attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, or fire missiles against U.S. military installations in the region, or spark a war with Israel or another insurgency in Iraq. These are among the contingencies that military planners would have to anticipate, though Iranian leaders would also have to think twice before responding to a strike with attacks that could mean further escalation.

Yet these risks need to be weighed against the consequences of a nuclear Iran. This is a regime that took 52 American diplomats hostage and dared the Carter Administration to do something about it. It used its surrogates in Beirut to kill 258 American diplomats and Marines in 1983. The FBI believes it was behind the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen. It supplied IEDs to anti-American militias in Iraq, killing hundreds of U.S. soldiers. And only last month, the Obama Administration accused Iran of seeking to blow up the Saudi ambassador in a Washington, D.C., restaurant.

These acts were perpetrated by Tehran without a nuclear umbrella. What would Iran's behavior look like if it had one?

Advocates of a "containment" strategy toward a nuclear Iran argue that its behavior would differ little from what it is today. By this logic, the U.S. and its allies would warn Iran that it would face nuclear annihilation if it crossed certain red lines, such as passing a bomb to terrorists, and Iran wouldn't dare breach them.

But those red lines would be hard to credit once the U.S. squandered its credibility by allowing Iran to go nuclear after spending a decade warning that such an outcome was "unacceptable." Would the U.S. really risk nuclear war with a fanatical regime for the sake of, say, Bahrain, or even Israel? We doubt it, and so would every power in the region.

One certain result would thus be a nuclear proliferation spiral in the Middle East, in which Saudi Arabia, Turkey and probably Egypt would acquire nuclear arsenals of their own. That would be an odd outcome for an Administration that has made nuclear arms control a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

Then again, not every country in the region would have the will or wherewithal to stand up to Iran. Some could no doubt be bullied or induced to cooperate with it, especially as the U.S. presence in the region diminishes after withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. Those Iranian neighbors could fall into its orbit, thereby extending Tehran's strategic reach from Kabul to Beirut.

Containment advocates also assert that Iran would never use its nuclear weapons, since it would invite devastating reprisals. But the power of nuclear weapons lies in the fact of their possession even if they are never used. Iran could use ambiguous threats or work through proxies to both provoke and deter its adversaries in the region, including the U.S. Iran's prestige would also be immensely bolstered, both at home and abroad, by developing nuclear weapons in the teeth of international opposition.

It is perilous, in any case, to assume that Iran is a "normal" regime that wouldn't dare use nuclear weapons. Iran's regime was born in revolutionary religious fervor and routinely vows to annihilate Israel and its "Great Satan" protector, the U.S. Iran is also a regime shaped by a messianic cult of martyrdom, one that sent thousands of children to clear mine fields during the Iran-Iraq war. Sometimes such governments mean what they say even if the rest of the world won't believe it. The Nazis did.

In the case of the assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador, one plausible explanation is that the strike was ordered by a faction within the regime trying to undermine its internal rivals. What does that say about the unity of command needed to secure a nuclear arsenal?

Another argument for containment is that the Iranian regime is destined to collapse and so we can afford to wait it out. But tyrannical regimes with a fanatical will to power have a way of holding on against the odds: Look at the Kim dynasty in North Korea. Nuclear weapons would not save the mullahs from an internal uprising in the Libyan mold, though it's worth noting that Gadhafi would still be in power had he not abandoned his nuclear programs. It's also worth wondering what a regime faced with such an uprising would do with its nuclear weapons if it believed it was on the verge of collapse.

All of this adds up to far more dangerous world—in which Iran becomes a regional hegemon, Israel faces a threat to its very existence, the Middle East embarks on a nuclear arms race, America's freedom of action is curtailed, and the dangers of a nuclear exchange rise to levels above what they were even during the early Cold War.

The question for the world, and especially for the Obama Administration, is whether those dire consequences are worse than the risks of a pre-emptive strike. We think we know what the Israelis will decide, especially if they conclude that President Obama stays on his current course.

Opponents of a pre-emptive strike say it would do no more than delay Iran's programs by a few years. But something similar was said after Israel's strike on Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981, without which the U.S. could never have stood up to Saddam after his invasion of Kuwait. In life as in politics, nothing is forever. But a strike that sets Iran's nuclear programs back by several years at least offers the opportunity for Iran's democratic forces to topple the regime without risking a wider conflagration.

No U.S. President could undertake a strike on Iran except as a last resort, and Mr. Obama can fairly say that he has given every resort short of war an honest try. At the same time, no U.S. President should leave his successor with the catastrophe that would be a nuclear Iran. 

A nuclear Iran on Mr. Obama's watch would be fatal to more than his legacy.