Thursday, February 07, 2013

The EU must now proscribe Hezbollah

From The Times (UK), 6 Feb 2013:
Hezbollah murdered Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. The EU must now proscribe it.
On July 18 last year, at a holiday airport in the European Union, a man with a hidden bomb climbed aboard a bus full of tourists and blew himself up. Five holidaymakers were killed as well as the driver. It is fair to assume that whoever organised this attack saw it as a success, but would have been made even happier had the death toll been greater.
The airport was Burgas in Bulgaria; the tourists were Israelis. And, according to a report issued by the Bulgarian Government yesterday, the attack was carried out by members of the “military wing” of the Lebanese extremist party Hezbollah, using false Australian and Canadian passports.
There is in the West something of a debate on how to understand Hezbollah. While the Israelis and the Americans are in no doubt that it is, in its entirety, an organisation that sponsors terrorism and violence both in Lebanon and abroad, others — notably in the European Union — take what they believe is a more nuanced view. Hezbollah, with its base in the Shia Muslim communities in Lebanon, is part of the current Government and runs a significant slice of Beirut and the Bekaa Valley. It retains the affections of its supporters in part by having replaced the State in the provision of public services and the maintenance of social order. It also keeps and trains an armed militia that represents a constant and potent threat to the Lebanese state’s own army and police force.
The temptation to depict Hezbollah as a kind of armed charity — the AK-toting linchpin of Lebanon’s own Big Society — is partly based on the problem that it is hard to imagine a stable Lebanon being created without its agreement. So countries such as France have held out against the EU declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organisation and proscribing contact with it. They believe that it is better for Lebanon and for the region if somehow Hezbollah can be involved in discussions that may, over time, lead to a softening of its hardline anti-Israeli stance.
Alas, a terrorist organisation is what Hezbollah is and has always been. Nearly 20 years ago it and its Iranian allies were involved in the worst anti-Jewish atrocities in recent history when first the Israeli Embassy and then a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires were bombed. Hezbollah has declared itself to be irreconcilable to the existence of the state of Israel and committed to attacks on Israelis anywhere in the world. Locally it has acted as a proxy for both the Syrian and Iranian regimes, receiving money and weapons from both in return for favours, such as its complicity in the assassination of the anti-Syrian former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005.
Hezbollah continues to violate every international law. Today it doubtless plans new attacks of the Burgas variety — in which British citizens could easily be the next to die — while intervening in the Syrian civil war on the side of the tyrant Assad.
There will always be an argument for leaving open channels of communication to organisations such as this. But in the wake of the Bulgarian report revealing who was responsible for murdering the Israeli visitors to Bulgaria, there can surely be no more hesitation by the European Union in declaring Hezbollah to be a murderous gang to whom the message must be clear: you can make peace or you can make war, but you cannot do both.


Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Not so popular, but a survivor...

From the Indian Express, 4 Feb 2013, by Martin Sherman*:
The Israeli election... results surprised virtually everyone. All the pundits had predicted a resounding victory for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and a significant strengthening of the Israeli hawkish rightwing. But a last-minute vote by a large segment for the new Yesh Atid (There is a Future) centre-left party — headed by former TV anchor Yair Lapid and focused on the alleged grievances of Israel’s middle class — completely confounded forecasts.
Thus, for the second time in a row, Netanyahu almost snatched defeat from the jaws of certain victory — as was the case in 2009, when he nearly lost to the Kadima party, despite its being plagued by unprecedented charges of corruption and a disastrous performance record. Just as four years ago, Netanyahu conducted a similarly atrocious election campaign, which stripped him of much of his political strength in parliament, and of much of his personal prestige within his party.
However, despite Netanyahu’s bungling of campaigns, he has shown commendable competence in office. Indeed, he has proved to be a far better PM than an election campaigner. His achievements, in both economics and security, have been impressive by any standard — although he has received little credit for them from a viscerally hostile press.
On first taking office in 1996, his government reined in the huge deficit left by the Rabin-Peres government and steered the country clear of the economic catastrophe that afflicted many Asian economies. Moreover, he managed to bring down Palestinian terror attacks to almost imperceptible levels, after they had soared to unprecedented heights in the wake of the ill-conceived Oslo Accords.
In his second term (2009-2013), Netanyahu can point to impressive achievements as well. Perhaps paradoxically, even perversely, it was precisely the government’s success that precipitated the poor performance in the polls. On the security front — excluding the week-long “Operation Pillar of Defence” last November — Israel is enjoying the longest period of calm for decades. This has relegated security concerns to the back of the public’s mind and allowed more “mundane” socio-economic issues to dominate its agenda.
The Netanyahu government also stewarded the Israeli economy remarkably well through the dire global crisis that affected much of the industrialised world. was on his watch that unemployment, perhaps the most pernicious of all social ills, was kept at, arguably, the lowest levels in the developed world. Moreover, his government had also made significant strides in enhancing competitiveness in markets and lowering prices.
On the international stage, Netanyahu has few, if any, equals. He has made Israel’s case in international forums with unmatched brilliance. I was in Washington in May 2011, when he confronted Barack Obama on the issue of the 1967 borders and delivered his rousing Congressional address. I can thus testify to the huge wave of public support he generated there. Yet, back at home, he was vilified for allegedly undermining US-Israeli relations by the mainstream media, which display an attitude of unmitigated — and unjustified — bias against him.
As mentioned, the prolonged respite from terror relegated security concerns to insignificance in the elections, giving predominance to socio-economic ones. Accordingly, largely untouched by the world economic crisis, Israelis, accustomed to increasing consumption levels, are refusing to tailor their expectations to their means. Consequently, “keeping up with the Joneses” is becoming increasingly onerous, with social pressures pushing many to live beyond their economic ability.
It was this growing resentment, coming not so much from the deprived “have nots” but from the dissatisfied “want mores”, that generated much of the anti-Netanyahu sentiment.
A cursory glance at the results seems to indicate Lapid fared best mainly in well-to-do areas and poorly in those that allegedly suffered from Netanyahu’s economic policies.
Looking ahead, Netanyahu will be forced to face daunting challenges at home and abroad. The most immediate will be the endeavour to fashion a durable coalition out of a melange of potential partners with widely divergent political DNA — ultra-religious versus ultra-secular on domestic issues, concessionary doves versus hardline hawks on foreign policy and security, pro-settlers versus anti-settlers on territorial questions. If he succeeds in this herculean task, he will then have to navigate his prickly relationship with an inherently adversarial second-term Obama, and even more adversarial officials newly appointed in his administration.
Then there is a myriad of dangers in Israel’s regional environs that will call on Netanyahu to contend with the repercussions of the “Arab Spring”, address the deteriorating situation in Sinai and a possible breach of the peace treaty with Egypt by its Islamist regime, cope with menacing developments in Syria and the spectre of an al-Qaeda-affiliated post-Assad regime, confront the increasing intransigence of Palestinians and the fading prospects of a two-state settlement, gear for possible regime change in Jordan and the ascent of Muslim extremists to power. And then of course there is the Iranian nuclear programme.
The Israeli PM’s task is perhaps one of the most challenging that exists. Discharging it effectively will doubtless involve measures that will meet with more than a little displeasure in the international community.
But as the well-known Rabbi Shmuely Boateck, asked — rhetorically — in his recent Jerusalem Post column:
What is preferable: a popular Israel riddled with dead Jews or an unpopular Israel filled with living ones?

Syria displaces 250,000 Palestinian refugees: who cares?

Syria conflict displaces 250,000 Palestinian refugees: UN

The 22-month conflict in Syria has displaced half of the country's 500,000 Palestinian refugees, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Friday.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said 20,000 of the estimated 250,000 Palestinians displaced by the conflict had fled to neighbouring Lebanon and almost 3,500 to Jordan.
At least 400,000 Palestinian refugees have been left in need of humanitarian aid, it said, adding that 13 people were killed in violence in and around Damascus over the past week.
Eight members of UNRWA itself have been arrested or have disappeared.
"While all civilians in Syria are bearing the brunt of the violence, the present situation of Palestinians in Syria is exceptional," UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi said in a statement last week.
"They are becoming two-time refugees," Grandi said.
Syria's conflict, which began as a peaceful uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011 and quickly turned into a full-scale civil war, has killed more than 60,000 people, according to UN figures.
UNRWA says it needs $91 million to deal with the resulting humanitarian crisis.

EU Failure to blacklist Hezbollah undermines security


London conference discusses EU failure to list Hezbollah as terrorist organization as "undermining security goals."

LONDON – The Iranian regime’s genocidal threats toward Israel and the European Union’s failure to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization shaped many of the panel discussions at a one-day conference in London last week on “Iran and the international community.”
It is a “very bad thing that Hezbollah can operate in Europe regarding fund-raising and logistics,” US Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, a former coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department in the first Obama administration, said. Hezbollah’s legal status in the EU “undermines security goals,” he said.
“If you want to put a dent in Hezbollah activities, it would be a positive thing” to outlaw the Lebanese group, and an EU terror “designation would be a blow to Hezbollah’s legitimacy,” Benjamin said.
The London-based Henry Jackson Society and the Washington- based Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tanks hosted a series of panel discussions with a who’s who of global experts on Iranian sanctions, human rights in the Islamic Republic, and the use of military force to stop Iran’s illicit nuclear program.
Mark Dubowitz, an authority on economic sanctions, said there is a “stark reality that Iranian nuclear physics is beating Western economic pressure.”
He urged rigorous enforcement of existing sanctions and a trade embargo that would “bring Iran’s economy to collapse.”
The goal, said Dubowitz, who is executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is to break the political will of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, to compel him to end his drive to weaponize his nuclear program.
Dr. Alan Mendoza, the executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, described Tehran’s rush to obtain nuclear weapons capability as the “most pressing issue of our time.”
Dr. Michael Broer, a senior nonproliferation and nuclear arms control expert at Germany’s Defense Ministry, said a nuclear-armed Iran would “set up a cascade of nuclear proliferation” in the Middle East region. A nuclear Tehran “allows Iran to pursue its aggressive policies toward its neighbors,” he warned.
Rafael Bardaji, a former special adviser to former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, cited an example of Iran’s lethal anti-Semitism: A 2001 meeting between the then-Spanish prime minister and the supreme leader of Iran.
Bardaji, who attended the meeting with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said when Khamenei was asked what his role within the Islamic Republic is, he responded: “To set Israel on fire.”
Bardaji raised the anti-Israel ideology of Khamenei at the panel discussion on how to tackle the Iranian threat in 2013 and the policy prescriptions available.
Iran’s rhetoric about dissolving the Jewish state “is in their nature,” Bardaji said.
“As we think through the likelihood of arriving at a good negotiated solution with Iran, and the possibility of persuading and pressuring the supreme leader to abandon his nuclear weapons program, it is worth keeping this rare encounter with him by a Western democratic leader very much in mind,” commented Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the US-based Council of Foreign Relations, on his blog about Bardaji’s account of Khamenei.
Abrams spoke at the London event and noted skepticism in certain sections of the US policy- making establishment about the seriousness of the EU to tackle the Iranian threat. He cited the example of Hezbollah.
“If they [European countries] can’t even designate Hezbollah, how serious can they be taken,” he said.
During the panel discussion on “What if Sanctions Fail? Military Action vs. Containment,” John Hannah, a senior Foundation for Defense of Democracies fellow and a former national security adviser to US vice president Dick Cheney, said the international community is “getting close to the end of diplomacy” but there is still time to “let coercive diplomacy play out.”
He stressed a paradoxical situation where there is the need for “the credibility of a military threat” to avoid war. Hannah said, however, that in the event that sanctions and diplomacy fail to persuade Iran, it is important to have the option of US military action, preferably coupled with a coalition of governments, to knock out Iran’s nuclear weapons sites.
Richard Perle, a fellow with the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, said an “interesting possibility” is to make sanctions so onerous that the Iranian people change the regime. He raised the policy prescription of “sanctions associated with regime change.”
Perle said the number of military targets that would be needed to destroy in Iran is not enormous and cast doubt on whether the Iranian population would “rally around the government” in the event of a strike on nuclear facilities, largely because the population is unhappy with the clerical leadership.
*Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Israeli airstrike on Syrian Military

From Israel National News, 30 Jan 2013:
Syria: IAF Struck Military Research Center Near Damascus
Syrian TV says "research base" at Jamraya was hit and damaged. Denies that an arms convoy was stuck.
Syria accused Israel of staging an air raid on a military research center on Wednesday.
The Syrian army accused Israel of launching a dawn strike targeting a military research centre in Jamraya, near Damascus, in a statement carried by state news agency SANA and quoted by AFP.
"Israeli fighter jets violated our airspace at dawn today and carried out a direct strike on a scientific research center in charge of raising our level of resistance and self-defense," the general command said.
The warplanes entered Syria's airspace via Mount Hermon, Jabal el-Sheikh in Arabic, at low altitude and under the radar, the army said, adding that two site workers were killed.
"They... carried out an act of aggression, bombarding the site, causing large-scale material damage and destroying the building," state television quoted the military as saying.
The army denied reports Israeli forces had launched a strike overnight on a weapons convoy from Syria near the border with Lebanon.
The United States declined to comment on the reported strike by Israel, whose military intelligence chief Aviv Kochavi is currently in Washington for talks with top US general Martin Dempsey.
"I'd refer you to the government of Israel for questions about deliberations or actions that they may or may not have taken," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Earlier reports said that Israel had struck a convoy carrying Russian-made antiaircraft missiles. It is not clear at this point which report is the more accurate one, and what actually happened last night.