Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lame, dreary speech by Obama, "leader" of the free world

From:The Australian, 14 February 2013, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor:
BARACK Obama gave a stunningly lame and drearily orthodox State of the Union speech yesterday...
...The speech had three outstanding features.
The first, like the President's inaugural address, is the absolute thinness of the foreign policy agenda.
How can a speech run for an hour and talk at length about Myanmar, and with some consequence about Egypt and Syria, but not mention China?
This is because the speech very determinedly refused to confront any of the key issues facing America.
In Asia, the one initiative, more or less, is to make a level playing field of Asian markets and to achieve this by the trade pact known as the Trans Pacific Partnership. But the TPP is pie in the sky, excludes many of the key economies and is going nowhere.
But wait, an equally content-free agreement is now going to be struck with Europe.
On national security, the overwhelming commitment was simply to get out of Afghanistan as fast as possible, with another 34,000 US troops to withdraw over the next 12 months.
Obama has experienced success in Afghanistan essentially by defining US objectives ever downwards.
In a remarkably slippery definition, this has been reduced to "defeating the core of al-Qa'ida".
Nothing about building a free Afghanistan, and apparently even the straightforward "defeating al-Qa'ida" is implausible, given the flowering of countless of the terror group's franchises in North Africa and the Persian Gulf. If you define success narrowly enough, I suppose you can achieve it.
Obama confirmed the US has abandoned counter-insurgency and now has a narrow counter-terrorism objective, which means helping friendly governments and killing terrorists with drones. That is actually a pretty sensible combination.
The second notable element of the speech was its failure to offer anything new or substantial on the fiscal crisis. Obama understandably claimed credit for developments he had nothing to do with, such as the production from new gas reserves and the revival of US manufacturing. He also, in a completely amorphous way, wants more done on climate change and boasts US emissions have declined, but this is almost entirely because of the development of the gas industry and other factors over which US government climate-change policy has had no influence.
Obama wildly overstated alleged deficit reductions already negotiated and actually retreated on the previous ambition to reduce deficit and debt. Now he only wants to stabilise them.
And finally, like a good Democrat in the middle of a fiscal crisis he pledged a raft of new programs with absolutely no idea of how to pay for them. Universal preschool education for all kids, raising the minimum wage, new schools, roads and bridges, and not "one dime" extra on the budget deficit. If it sounds implausible, that's because it is.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Bulgaria implicates Hezbollah in the Burgas bombing – The European Dilemma

By Ely Karmon*, February 2013:
The Bulgarian government had the political courage to declare officially that Hezbollah was involved in the July 18, 2012 terrorist bombing of Israeli tourists at Burgas airport.
Will the European Union finally reconsider designating Hezbollah as a terrorist organizationas Israel, and the United States, have urged?
There are two main issues that influence the European countries’ decision: the apprehension that Hezbollah could retaliate on their territory and the evaluation that its designation as a terrorist organization “could destabilize” Lebanon.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign policy, responded with caution: “The implications of the investigation need to be assessed seriously as they relate to a terrorist attack on EU soil, which resulted in the killing and injury of innocent civilians.”[1]
The EU's counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove, who should be the professional advisor on this issue, declared several days before the Bulgarian announcement that Hezbollah might not be blacklisted“even if it did bomb Jewish tourists in Bulgaria” because “the situation is not so simple,” there is need to have“strong evidence that it was the military wing of Hezbollah which was responsible for the bombing” and there is the need to ask if “Is this the right thing to do?” He probably already knew the facts, since at that time the Bulgarian Interior Minister TsvetanTsvetanov updated EU ministers with the latest newsin a meeting in Dublin. De Kerchove gave also the answer: “given the situation in Lebanon, which is a highly fragile, highly fragmented country, is blacklisting it going to help you achieve what you want?... it's also a political assessment of the context and the timing," he said.[2]
It was reported that several countries, including France and Germany, have been wary of taking that step. According to the New York Times, the Europeansestimate that Hezbollah does not pose a terrorist threat on the Continent and “a sort of modus vivendi exists where Hezbollah keeps a low profile for its fund-raising and other activities and Europeans do not crack down on it.”[3]
France and Germany, based on their historical records, know very well that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and mainly fear the Hezbollah retaliation on their territory.
In 1983, Hezbollahsent two suicide bombers to attack American and French troops in Beirut killing58 French paratroopers, the single French worst military loss since the end of the Algerian War in 1962.
In parallel to the kidnappings of French diplomats and journalists in Lebanon, from December 1985 through September 1986, Hezbollah carried 15 bombing attacks in Paris,in the service of the Iranians,killing 13 people and injuring 250. In November 1989, Spanish police arrested Hezbollah operatives who were attempting to smuggle explosives from Lebanon into Valencia, intended for attacks in France.
In the negotiations concerning the end of thewave of Hezbollah/Iranian attacks in France, Iran’s main demands included the release of a number of Iranians detained in France on charges of terrorism; the renegotiation of a $1Billion loan from Iran to France, frozen when French assets were seized by Iran during the 1979 revolution; and the cancellation of French weapons sales to Iraq. France surrendered on all fronts and all the terrorists were freed. In 1990, five Iranians led by the LebaneseAnisNaccache, convicted ten years earlier of trying to kill former Iranian Prime Minister ChapurBakhtiar, were pardoned. In August 1991, in spite of its promise to stop terrorism on French soil, Tehran organized the successful assassination - in Paris - of the same ChapurBakhtiar.
Iran was responsible for the assassination of four Kurdish opponents in Berlin,Germany in autumn 1992. The German court which convicted the assassins in the “Mykonos Affair” (after the name of the Berlin restaurant where the attack took place) ruled that the murders were authorized by top spiritual and political figures in Tehran, who chose Berlin as the venue of the attack because of “good relations” with the Federal Republic of Germany, which gave reason to believe that terrorism “would not be followed by any serious reactions by the German state.”
Several Lebanese Hezbollah members were amongst the assassination squad. Abbas Rhayel,a veteran member of Hezbollah, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Youssef Amin and Mohamed Atris were convicted of being accessories to murder and Abu Jafar was the driver of the get-away car.
In January 1987, Hezbollah terrorist Muhammad Ali Hamadi,who carried out the hijacking of TWA flight 847 in June 1985 in Beirut, was arrested upon his arrival in Frankfurt airport carrying liquid explosives in his luggage. Hezbollah kidnapped and threatened to kill two German citizens in Beirut if Hamadi were extradited to the U.S. Hamadi was tried in Germany in 1989 and sentenced to life in prison but was freed after serving 19 years. On January 28, 1987, his older brother, Abbas Ali Hamadi, also a Hezbollah terrorist, was arrested in Frankfurt airport after arriving from Lebanon. Liquid explosives were found near his home in Saarland, Germany.He was convicted for assisting in the abduction of the two German citizens in Beirut and illegal possession of explosives to 13 years in prison but was released after serving only 5 years.
According to a 2011 report issued by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Germany, some 950 people have been identified as being associated with Hezbollahbut assessments of the danger it presented varied greatly in time.
Cyprus witnessed a similar plot as Bulgaria, fortunately foiled 11 days earlier as a result of a tip from Israeli intelligence. AHezbollah operative was arrested there on July 7, 2012carrying a Swedish passport. The suspect, who admitted he was a Hezbollah operative, had photographs of Israeli targets in his possession, including information on tour buses carrying Israeli tourists and Israeli flights to and from the island, like the ones in Burgas.
Cyprus also has a history of Hezbollah terrorist activities.   On May 11, 1988, Hezbollah operative Omar Hawillo was arrested following a failed attempt to use a remote control device to detonate a car bomb driven by another Hezbollah operative in front of Israel’s Nicosia embassy. In 1997, Hezbollah was discovered collecting intelligence information on the U.S. embassy in Nicosia.
Whilepresiding the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2012 Cyprus could not advance the designation of Hezbollah as terrorist organization because of lack of consensusamong country members. It is not clear if Cypriot authorities informed officially the EU that the terrorist arrested on its territory was member of Hezbollah.
In January 2012 Thailand authorities arrested a Swedish citizen of Lebanese decent linked to Hezbollah who led to the discovery of four tones of explosive precursor in Bangkok in preparation for a future attack.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who knew very well that Hezbollah members with Swedish citizenship were involved in terrorism, in Europe and South East Asia, tweeted that "we need to reflect seriously on consequences of Bulgarian probe naming Hezbollah as behind terrorist attack." He later twitted again: “Talked with @nmladenov on Burgas investigation. Strong support for his efforts. Fight against terror key. Stability of Lebanon as well.”[4]
Indeed, one European “powerful” argument for refraining in declaring Hezbollah a terrorist entity is that its political and social influence in Lebanon and its participation in the present Lebanese government are critical for the stability of that sectarian divided country.
On this issue, France, the former colonial power in Lebanon, leading force in UNIFIL in Southern Lebanon,and main international sponsor of Lebanese interests is considered to be a major impediment to any changes. “The French, to the extent that it’s possible, try to avoid political destabilization and radicalization in Lebanon,” underscored French pundit Fran├žois Heisbourg. “It’s not as if France didn’t know that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization,” he added.[5]
"Calling it terrorist would limit France's ties with Beirut and put French targets and personnel in Lebanon at risk of retaliation," stated Claude Moniquet, a former French intelligence official. "The Bulgarian report doesn't alter this realpolitik,” he said. [6]
Let’s look how strong is the argument about Hezbollah’s “positive” role in the stability of Lebanon.
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated on 14 February 2005 by a huge car bomb attack in Beirut. In July 2011 the United Nations Special Tribunal indicted four senior Hezbollah members for the murder.Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah called the four terrorists "brothers with an honorable past" and threatened that he would "cut off the hand" of anyone who will try to extradite them.
On July, 12, 2006 Hezbollah ambushed an Israeli border patrol, killing 10 soldiers, two of whose bodies were held for ransom, triggering what was called The Second Lebanon War.Israel stroke against Hezbollah’s strongholds in South Lebanon and its headquarters in Beirut,from where Hezbollah fired thousands of rocketshiding behind Lebanese civilians; hundreds of Lebanese and 43 Israeli civilians were killed.
Security Council Resolution 1701imposed a cease-fire and provided for an international force to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming and redeploying south of the Litani River, but U.N. peacekeepers didn’t fulfill their mandate and Hezbollah has today some 50,000 rockets - four times the number it possessed in 2006, threatening again the lives of tens of thousands of civilians on the two sides of the border.
According to former Swedish intelligence analyst Magnus Norell the perception of strength and success in battle providedHezbollah with much broader reach and regional influence. The growing belief of Islamists that Israel can be defeated on the battlefield and forced to make political and territorial concessions had a devastating impact on peace initiatives by the Obama administration and will continue to frustrate attempts at a negotiated solution.[7]
In May 2008 Hezbollah seized most of western Beirut in several days of fighting between opposition and government supporters, described by the Western-backed Sinioragoverning coalition as a "bloody coup"aimed at restoring the influence of Syria and Iran. The fighting was sparked by a government move to shut down Hezbollah's autonomoustelecoms network and security checks at Beirut international airport.[8]More than 100 people died, and brought the country to the brink of civil war,the worst sectarian violence since the end of the civil war in 1991.
Hezbollah forced the government to back down over a key issue - whether the organization ought to be permitted to maintain a separate militia and military structure. Under United Nations Security Council resolution 1559, passed in 2004, all such militias were supposed to be disbanded.Hezbollah leader Nasrallah threatened: “The hand that touches the weapons of the resistance will be cut off.”'[9]
Finally, Hezbollah has an important role in supporting the military assault of the Assad regime in Syria against the fighting opposition and the civilian population.
By the end of 2012 it was reported an increase in Hezbollah’s involvement alongside the Syrian military, a potentially sharp escalation in the regional impact of this conflict. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) announced that it had killed Ali Hussein Nassif, a senior Hezbollah military commander, near the city of Qusayr in the framework of a larger FSA offensive against Hezbollah. Hezbollah officials simply stated that Nassif had died “performing his jihadi duties”. Several weeks later, the FSA claimed it had killed an additional 60 Hezbollah fighters and captured 13. According to one report, an agreement between the Syrian Defense Ministry and Hezbollah calls for the latter to provide over 2,000 “elite” fighters to Syria in the event of a foreign invasion. The report also claimed that Nasrallah offered Assad “the full use” of Hezbollah’s military capabilities in the event that “urgent assistance” was needed.  Hezbollah, along with the Iranian Quds Force, was also alleged to be training a 60,000-person Syrian military division modeled after the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to protect the Alawite-majority Latakia Governorate of Syria.  A defected member of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Branch has asserted that Hezbollah has 1,500 fighters supporting the Syrian military inside the country.[10]
In a previous article this author has evaluated that the worst-case scenario of the civil war in Syria would be the formation of an Alawite statelet where the backbone of the Syrian army would retreat with most of its heavy weaponsand the chemical weapons it possesses, an insurance card against a bloody offensive by the Sunni opposition on its last stronghold.In such a scenario, an Alawite regime could count on the deterrent presence of a significant Iranian expeditionary force.[11]
Michael Young, known observer of the Lebanese arena, warned already in July 2011 that the “retreat to an Alawite fortress” could have frightening repercussions in Lebanon and Iraq as Hezbollah could cooperate with the Lebanese Christians in a “scheme of disconnection from Lebanon” favorable to an Alawite statelet, to contrast the perceived Sunni threat.[12]
"If the evidence proves to be true that Hezbollah is indeed responsible for this despicable attack [in Burgas], then consequences will have to follow," Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in Berlin. He didn't specify what those consequences could be.[13]
Philipp Missfelder, a leading member of Germany’s Christian Democrats and the party’s foreign-policy spokesman in Parliamentsaid that attitudes toward Hezbollah were gradually shifting. “It’s clear that they are steered from Iran and they are destabilizing the region,” “The group that thinks Hezbollah is a stabilizing factor is getting smaller.”[14]
Changing the EU Hezbollah designation would require a unanimous vote by the bloc's 27 member states.
Julien Barnes-Dacey, an expert on the Middle East at the European Council on Foreign Relations, predicted the EU compromise on the British track, “whereby they differ between the political and military wings…[b]ecause of the reluctance on the part of European states to fully isolate and sanction Hezbollah.”However, this “will leave a mark and it [Hezbollah] will isolate them politically."[15]
Let’s hope that the Europeans, headed by France and Germany because of their political weight, will have the courage to designate the Hezbollah for what it is, a political/religious Islamist movement which does not back off in using terrorism whenever its local, regional and international interests, or those of its patrons Iran and Syria, are in jeopardy.
If European states capitulateto the blackmail and the veiled threats from the organization, like they did in the 1980s and 1990s, they could become again direct targets, if for instance the Iranians are too hard-pressed by European sanctions, Assad is enraged by their support to the Syrian opposition, or some Hezbollah terrorist is arrested in Europe.
The time is ripe to put real pressure on Hezbollah and make it understand that the rules of the game have changed.
*Dr. Ely Karmon is Senior Research Scholar at The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and Senior Fellow at The Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzlyia, Israel

[1]Nicholas Kulish, Eric Schmitt and Matthew Brunwasser, “Bulgaria Implicates Hezbollah in July Attack on Israelis,” The New York Times, February 5, 2013.
[2]“EU''s anti-terror chief says Hizbollah unlikely to be included in blacklist,” Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), January 28, 2013.
[3]Nicholas Kulish and Matthew Brunwasser, “Europeans Await Report on Bus Blast in Bulgaria,” The New York Times, February 4, 2013.
[5]Kulish and Brunwasser, Europeans Await Report on Bus Blast in Bulgaria.
[6]James Kirchick, “Bulgaria Attack: EU Leaders Mull Firmer Stance against Hezbollah,” Spiegel Online, February 7, 2013.
[7]Magnus Norell, A Victory for Islamism? The Second Lebanon War and Its Repercussions, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy Policy Focus 98, November 2009.
[8]“Hezbollah takes over west Beirut,” BBC News, May 9, 2008.
[9] Daniel Williams, “Hezbollah Leaves West Beirut After Beating Government Challenge,” Bloomberg, May 11, 2008.
[10]Nicholas A. Heras, “What is Hezbollah’s Role in the Syrian Crisis?” Terrorism Monitor, Vol. 10, Issue 20, The Jamestown Foundation, November 2, 2012.
[11]Ely Karmon, “The geopolitical poker game that will define the new Mideast,” Haaretz, October29, 2012.
[12]  Michael Young, “Syria’s partition could crack Lebanon,” Beirut The Daily Star, July 01, 2011.
[13]Kirchick, Bulgaria Attack: EU Leaders Mull Firmer Stance against Hezbollah.
[14]Kulish and Brunwasser, Europeans Await Report on Bus Blast in Bulgaria.
[15]Kirchick, Bulgaria Attack: EU Leaders Mull Firmer Stance against Hezbollah.