Friday, September 05, 2014

The world in flames

From the Sunday Times, 31 August 2014, by Henry Kissinger:

As jihadist lawlessness blazes from central Africa to the Middle East, the alliance between the US and Saudi Arabia is a last reminder of an order in which national interest trumped ideology. Henry Kissinger explores what the West must do to put out the fires

Henry Kissinger Published: 31 August 2014
    Syria presents the West with a grave dilemma over whom to back. Although the Assad regime has attacked its own citizens with airstrikes on cities including Aleppo, lending support to opposition forces might ultimately prove even more dangerous Photograph: Khaled Khatib
    In the spring of 1947 Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian watchmaker, schoolteacher and widely read self-taught religious activist, addressed a critique of Egyptian institutions to King Farouk. It offered an Islamic alternative to the secular state.
    In studiedly polite yet sweeping language al-Banna outlined the principles and aspirations of the Egyptian Society of Muslim Brothers (known colloquially as the Muslim Brotherhood), the organisation he had founded in 1928 to combat what he saw as the degrading effects of foreign influence and secular ways of life.
    The West, al-Banna asserted, “which was brilliant by virtue of its scientific perfection for a long time . . . is now bankrupt and in decline. Its foundations are crumbling and its institutions and guiding principles are falling apart.” Though he did not use the terms, al-Banna was arguing that what is known as the “Westphalian” world order had lost both its legitimacy and its power.
    No truly global “world order” has ever existed. What passes for order in our time was devised nearly 400 years ago at a peace conference in the German region of Westphalia after a century of conflict across central Europe. It relied on a system of independent states refraining from interference in one another’s domestic affairs and checking one another’s ambitions through an equilibrium of power.
    The Westphalian system spread round the world as the framework for a state-based international order spanning multiple civilisations and regions, because as the European nations expanded they carried its blueprint with them. Al-Banna was announcing that the opportunity to create a new world order based on Islam had arrived.
    If a society were to dedicate itself to a “complete and all-encompassing” course of restoring the original principles of Islam and building the social order that the Koran prescribed, the “Islamic nation in its entirety” — that is, all Muslims globally — “will support us”. “Arab unity” and eventually “Islamic unity” would result.
    A true Muslim’s loyalty, al-Banna argued, was to multiple, overlapping spheres under a unified Islamic system whose purview would eventually take in “the entire world”.
    Towards non-Muslims, as long as they did not oppose the movement and paid it adequate respect, the early Muslim Brotherhood counselled “protection, moderation and deep-rooted equity”.
    Assassinated in 1949, al-Banna was not vouchsafed time to explain in detail how to reconcile the revolutionary ambition of his project of world transformation with the principles of tolerance and cross-civilisational amity that he espoused.
    The record of many Islamist thinkers and movements since then has resolved these ambiguities in favour of a fundamental rejection of religious pluralism and secular international order.

    In 1964 the religious scholar and Muslim Brotherhood ideologist Sayyid Qutb articulated a declaration of war against the existing world order that became a foundational text of modern Islamism.
    In Qutb’s view Islam was a universal system offering the only true form of freedom: freedom from governance by other men, manmade doctrines or “low associations based on race and colour, language and country, regional and national interests” (that is, all other modern forms of governance and loyalty and some of the building blocks of the Westphalian order).
    Islam’s modern mission, in Qutb’s view, was to overthrow them all and replace them with what he took to be a literal, eventually global implementation of the Koran. As with all utopian projects, extreme measures would be required to implement it. While most of his contemporaries recoiled from the violent methods he advocated, a core of committed followers began to form.
    To a globalised, largely secular world judging itself to have transcended the ideological clashes of “history”, the views of Qutb and his followers appeared so extreme as to merit no serious attention. Yet for Islamic fundamentalists these views represent truths overriding the rules and norms of international order.
    They have been the rallying cry of radicals and jihadists in the Middle East and beyond for decades — echoed by al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Taliban, Iran’s clerical regime, Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation, active in the West and openly advocating the re-establishment of the caliphate in a world dominated by Islam), Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Syria’s extremist militia Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (Isis), which launched a big military assault this year.
    Purity, not stability, is the guiding principle of this conception of world order. In the purist version of Islamism the state cannot be the point of departure for an international system, because states are secular and hence illegitimate; at best they may achieve a kind of provisional status en route to a religious entity on a larger scale. Non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs cannot serve as a governing principle, because national loyalties represent deviations from the true faith and because jihadists have a duty to transform the world of unbelievers.
    For a fleeting moment the Arab Spring that began in late 2010 raised hopes that the region’s contending forces of autocracy and jihad had been made irrelevant by a new wave of reform.
    The Arab Spring started as a new generation’s uprising for liberal democracy. It was soon shouldered aside, disrupted or crushed. Exhilaration turned into paralysis. The existing political forces, embedded in the military and in religion in the countryside, proved stronger and better organised than the middle-class element demonstrating for democratic principles in Tahrir Square.
    As a military regime has again been established in Cairo, it reopens one more time for the United States the as-yet-unsolved debate between security interests and the importance of promoting humane and legitimate governance.
    The Syrian revolution at its beginning appeared to be a replay of the Egyptian one. The US pressed for a “political solution” through the United Nations, predicated on removing President Bashar al-Assad from power and establishing a coalition government. Consternation resulted when other veto-wielding members of the security council declined to endorse either this step or military measures, and when the armed opposition that ultimately appeared inside Syria had few elements that could be described as democratic, much less moderate.
    By then the conflict had gone beyond the issue of Assad. The principal Syrian and regional players saw the war as not about democracy but about prevailing. They were interested in democracy only if it installed their own group; none favoured a system that did not guarantee control for its own party.
    A war conducted solely to enforce human-rights norms and without concern for the geostrategic or georeligious outcome was inconceivable to the overwhelming majority of the contestants. The conflict, as they perceived it, was not between a dictator and the forces of democracy but between Syria’s contending sects and their regional backers. The war, in this view, would decide which of Syria’s major sects would succeed in dominating the others and controlling what remained of the Syrian state.
    Regional powers poured arms, money and logistical support into Syria on behalf of their preferred sectarian candidates: Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states for the Sunni groups; Iran supporting Assad via Hezbollah. As the combat approached a stalemate, it turned to increasingly radical groups and tactics, fighting a war of encompassing brutality, oblivious on all sides to human rights.
    The contest, meanwhile, had begun to redraw the political configuration of Syria, and perhaps of the region. The Syrian Kurds created an autonomous unit along the Turkish border that may in time merge with the Kurdish autonomous unit in Iraq. The Druze and Christian communities, fearing a repeat of the conduct of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt towards its minorities, have been reluctant to embrace regime change in Syria or have seceded into autonomous communities. The jihadist Isis set out to build a caliphate in territory seized from Syria and western Iraq, where Damascus and Baghdad proved no longer able to impose their writ.
    The main parties thought themselves in a battle for survival or, in the case of some jihadist forces, a conflict presaging the apocalypse. When the US declined to tip the balance, they judged that it either had an ulterior motive that it was skilfully concealing — perhaps an ultimate deal with Iran — or was not attuned to the imperatives of the Middle East balance of power.
    As America called on the world to honour aspirations to democracy and enforce the international legal ban on chemical weapons, other great powers such as Russia and China resisted by invoking the principle of non-interference.
    They had viewed the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Bahrain and Syria principally through the lens of their own regional stability and the attitudes of their own restive Muslim populations. Aware that the most skilled and dedicated Sunni fighters were avowed jihadists, they were wary of an outright victory by Assad’s opponents.
    With an international consensus lacking and the Syrian opposition fractured, an uprising begun on behalf of democratic values degenerated into one of the major humanitarian disasters of the young 21st century and into an imploding regional order.
    A working regional or international security system might have averted, or at least contained, the catastrophe. But the perceptions of national interest proved to be too different and the costs of stabilisation too daunting.
    Massive outside intervention at an early stage might have squelched the contending forces, but a long-term, substantial military presence would have been required to maintain order. In the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this was not feasible for the US, at least not alone.
    An Iraqi political consensus might have halted the conflict at the Syrian border, but the sectarian impulses of the Baghdad government and its regional affiliates were in the way. Alternatively, the international community could have imposed an arms embargo on Syria and the jihadist militias. That was made impossible by the incompatible aims of the permanent members of the security council.
    If order cannot be achieved by consensus or imposed by force, it will be wrought, at disastrous and dehumanising cost, from the experience of chaos.
    With some historical irony, among the western democracies’ most important allies through all of these upheavals has been a country whose internal practices diverge almost completely from theirs — the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
    Saudi Arabia has been a partner, at times quietly but decisively behind the scenes, in most of the major regional security endeavours since the Second World War, when it aligned itself with the allies.
    This has been an association demonstrating the special character of the Westphalian state system, which has permitted such distinct societies to co-operate on shared aims through formal mechanisms, generally to their significant mutual benefit. Conversely, its strains have touched on some of the main challenges of the search for a modern world order.
    Saudi Arabia is a traditional Arab-Islamic realm: both a tribal monarchy and an Islamic theocracy.
    No state in the Middle East has been more torn by the Islamist upheaval and the rise of revolutionary Iran. It is divided between its formal allegiance to the Westphalian concepts that underpin its security and international recognition as a legitimate sovereign state, the religious purism that informs its history and the appeals of radical Islamism that impair its domestic cohesion.
    The attempt to find security within both the Westphalian and the Islamist order worked for a time. Yet the great strategic error of the Saudi dynasty was to suppose, from roughly the 1960s until 2003, that it could support and even manipulate radical Islamism abroad without threatening its own position at home.
    The outbreak of a serious, sustained al-Qaeda insurgency in the kingdom in 2003 revealed the fatal flaw in this strategy, which the dynasty jettisoned in favour of an effective counterinsurgency campaign. With the surge of jihadist currents in Iraq and Syria, the acumen displayed in this campaign may again be tested.
    An upheaval in Saudi Arabia would have profound repercussions for the world economy, the future of the Muslim world and world peace. As revolutions elsewhere in the Arab world have shown, the US cannot assume that a democratic opposition is waiting in the wings to govern Saudi Arabia by principles more congenial to western sensibilities. America must distil a common understanding with a country that is the ultimate prize coveted by both the Sunni and the Shi’ite version of jihad and whose efforts, however circuitous, will be essential in fostering a constructive regional evolution.
    Syria and Iraq — once beacons of nationalism for Arab countries — may prove unable to reconstitute themselves as unified sovereign states. As their warring factions seek support from affiliates across the region and beyond, their strife jeopardises the coherence of all neighbouring countries.
    The conflict in Syria and Iraq and the surrounding areas has thus become the symbol of an ominous new trend: the disintegration of statehood into tribal and sectarian units, some of them cutting across existing borders, in violent conflict with one another and manipulated by competing outside factions, observing no common rules other than the law of superior force.
    After revolution or regime change, without the establishment of a new authority accepted as legitimate by a decisive majority of the population, a multiplicity of disparate factions will continue to engage in open conflicts with perceived rivals for power. Portions of the state may drift into anarchy or permanent rebellion, or merge with parts of another disintegrating state. The existing central government may prove unwilling or unable to re-establish authority over border regions or non-state entities such as Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, Isis and the Taliban. This has happened in Iraq, Libya and, to a dangerous extent, Pakistan.
    Some states as presently constituted may not be governable in full except through methods of rule or social cohesion that Americans reject as illegitimate. These limitations can be overcome, in some cases, through evolution towards a more liberal domestic system.
    Yet where factions within a state adhere to different concepts of world order or consider themselves to be in an existential struggle for survival, American demands to call off the fight and assemble a democratic coalition government tend either to paralyse the incumbent government (as in the Shah’s Iran) or to fall on deaf ears. The Egyptian government led by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is now heeding the lessons of its predecessor’s overthrow by tacking away from a historic American alliance in favour of greater freedom of manoeuvre.
    In such conditions America has to make the decision on the basis of what achieves the best combination of security and morality, recognising that both will be imperfect.
    In Iraq the dissolution of Saddam Hussein’s brutal Sunni-dominated dictatorship generated pressure less for democracy than for revenge, which the various factions sought through the consolidation of their disparate forms of religion into autonomous units in effect at war with one another.
    In Libya, a vast country thinly populated and riven by sectarian divisions and feuding tribal groups — with no common history except Italian colonialism — the overthrow of the murderous dictator Colonel Muammar Gadaffi has had the practical effect of removing any semblance of national governance.
    Tribes and regions have armed themselves to secure self-rule or domination via autonomous militias. A provisional government in Tripoli has gained international recognition but cannot exercise practical authority beyond city limits, if even that. Extremist groups have proliferated, propelling jihad into neighbouring states armed with weapons from Gadaffi’s arsenals.
    When states are not governed in their entirety, the international or regional order also begins to disintegrate. Blank spaces denoting lawlessness come to dominate parts of the map. The collapse of a state may turn its territory into a base for terrorism, arms supply or sectarian agitation against neighbours.
    Zones of non-governance or jihad now stretch across the Muslim world, affecting Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali, Sudan and Somalia. When one also takes into account the agonies of central Africa — where a generations-long Congolese civil war has drawn in all neighbouring states, and conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan threaten to metastasise similarly — a significant portion of the world’s territory and population is on the verge of falling out of the international state system altogether.
    As this void looms, the Middle East is caught in a confrontation akin to — but broader than — Europe’s 17th-century wars of religion. Domestic and international conflicts reinforce each other. Political, sectarian, tribal, territorial, ideological and traditional national- interest disputes merge. Religion is “weaponised” in the service of geopolitical objectives; civilians are marked for extermination based on their sectarian affiliation.
    Where states are able to preserve their authority, they consider their authority without limits, justified by the necessities of survival; where states disintegrate, they become fields for the contests of surrounding powers in which authority too often is achieved through total disregard for human wellbeing and dignity.
    The conflict now unfolding is both religious and geopolitical. A Sunni bloc consisting of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states and to some extent Egypt and Turkey confronts a bloc led by Shi’ite Iran, which backs Assad’s portion of Syria, Baghdad and a range of Iraqi Shi’ite groups and the militias of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
    The Sunni bloc supports uprisings in Syria against Assad and in Iraq against Baghdad; Iran aims for regional dominance by employing non-state actors tied to Tehran ideologically to undermine the domestic legitimacy of its regional rivals. Participants in the contests search for outside support, particularly from Russia and the US, in turn shaping relations between them.
    Russia’s goals are largely strategic: at a minimum to prevent Syrian and Iraqi jihadist groups from spreading into its Muslim territories and, on the larger, global scale, to enhance its position vis-à-vis the US.
    America’s quandary is that it condemns Assad on moral grounds — correctly — but the largest contingent of his opponents are al-Qaeda and more extreme groups, which the US needs to oppose strategically.
    Neither Russia nor America has been able to decide whether to co-operate or to manoeuvre against the other — though events in Ukraine may resolve this ambivalence in the direction of Cold War attitudes.
    Iraq is contested between multiple camps — this time Iran, the West and a variety of revanchist Sunni factions — as it has been many times in its history, with the same script played by different actors.
    After America’s bitter experiences, and under conditions so inhospitable to pluralism, it is tempting to let these upheavals run their course and concentrate on dealing with the successor states. But several of the potential successors have declared America and the Westphalian world order their principal enemies.
    In an era of suicide terrorism and proliferating weapons of mass destruction, the drift towards pan-regional sectarian confrontations must be deemed a threat to world stability warranting co-operative effort by all responsible powers, expressed in some acceptable definition of at least regional order.
    If order cannot be established, vast areas risk being opened to anarchy and to forms of extremism that will spread organically into other regions. From this stark pattern the world awaits the distillation of a new regional order by America and other countries in a position to take a global view.
    © Henry A Kissinger 2014
    Extracted from World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History, to be published by Allen Lane on September 9...

    How did a few thousand fighters on pickup trucks manage to frighten the world?

    From Times of Israel, 4 Sept 2014, by Avi Issacharoff:

    While Western media highlights the Islamic State’s gains, the jihadists would be hard-pressed if faced with a conventional army

    A convoy of vehicles and fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq's Anbar Province, January 2014 (illustrative photo: AP)
    A convoy of vehicles and fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq's Anbar Province, January 2014 (illustrative photo: AP)

    If it wasn't so disturbing, it probably could have been entertaining.

    An army in 4×4 Toyota pickup trucks, managing to terrorize not only Middle Eastern Shiites, but also Western and Israeli media. If an outsider read the newspaper and internet headlines over the past few months, he would think that the Islamic State, or its counterpart/rival in Syria, the al-Nusra Front, were planning a mass invasion of tens of thousands of jihadis into Israel, and from there into Europe and the United States.

    Everyone can calm down. IS and al-Nusra are not military forces that can present an actual threat to a functioning conventional army. The IDF, or the Jordanian army for that matter, are not expecting any difficulty dealing with these rising Islamist forces on the battlefield. The big problem with these two groups is that they can cause significant damage through terror attacks. And as is always the case with terrorism, the focus is the fear it engenders among the public.

    Both groups, but especially IS, chalked up impressive victories on the media battlefield and on the PR front. With their trove of videos and photographs, speeches and frightening scenes like mass killings and beheadings, IS managed to instill fear in everyone who isn’t a radical Sunni.

    The campaign in the Iraqi city of Mosul shows how significant its deterrence has become. The organization understood that in order to conquer a city, the attacker doesn’t need an advantage in manpower or weaponry. It’s enough for the adversary to be sure that his fate is sure death in order to instill mass panic. From the moment IS forces approached Mosul, most of the residents and defenders left within 24 hours, before the first jihadist even began fighting.

    By this week it was obvious that IS’s military achievements had been stopped. True, its leader al-Baghdadi announced the establishment of Wilayat al-Furat (an Islamic State province), shattering the familiar borders of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. But the group is barely advancing, and in some places, especially in Iraq, its fighters have been forced to retreat.

    There is no miracle or military secret here. The airstrikes carried out by the US military against IS did their work. The group cannot withstand these types of attacks, certainly not with the arsenal it has now. The Toyotas, the “army’s” main means of transportation, can’t do a thing against any type of helicopter attack.

    So why hasn’t anything been done until now? You would need to ask US President Barack Obama that question, as he continues to try to find a strategy against IS and build an international coalition — as though he is dealing with a conflict with Russia.

    And all the while, Israeli and American media continue to escalate the panic. This week, for example, a “senior US intelligence official” said that IS presents a clear threat to the West.

    It’s almost unbelievable. They used to say in the IDF that “the man in the tank will win,” justifying the preference for armor over infantry. Now we hear that, from a US source no less, “the man in the Toyota” will defeat the West.

    The rivalry

    Plenty has been written in recent months about the rivalry between Al-Nusra and IS. The two were born from the same ideological womb. It was merely a fight over credit for their victories that led to the bitter rivalry, including suicide bombings against each other, between the two commanders, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from IS and Abu Muhammad al-Julani from Al-Nusra.
    IS’s penetration into Syria, and its brutal actions against its rival there, led to Al-Nusra escaping west and south to focus its activities on Dara’a and the Syrian Golan Heights area, while IS focused on eastern and northern Syria.

    The exact number of fighters is not clear. Some estimates put the numbers of fighters in each organization at 7,000-8,000. That does not include the massive tribes who affiliated themselves with the organizations in Syria and Iraq, like the Jubar tribe on the Iraq-Jordan border. If we include the tribes, and the former soldiers from Saddam’s military aiding IS, the number in Iraq reaches close to 15,000. IS and Al-Nusra are aided by a significant number of foreigners (Europeans, Middle Easterners, and more). The dominant element was and is the locals — Iraqis and Syrians. Recently, however, we find in al-Nusra, too, plenty of foreigners, mostly Jordanians, who are fighting on the Golan front against the Syrian Army. Foreigners now make up a third of the fighters.

    The two organizations operate as semi-militaries — not a conventional army with uniforms, but there is a hierarchy, central command, basic communication systems, and differentiated missions. The capture of Quneitra, for example, required the al-Nusra emir in Dara’a (equivalent to a brigade or division commander for the Dara’a district) to not only assign missions to his men, but also to cooperate with more moderate opposition groups. In total, a few hundred al-Nusra fighters operate on Israel’s border, of which a few dozen participated in the capture of old Quneitra. About 3,000 operatives are deployed in the Dara’a district as a whole.

    The numbers for IS are a little different. The organization enjoys the booty captured from the Iraqi Army, like armored vehicles and anti-aircraft missiles, include the SA-6 missiles that led to the decision by American and UAE air carriers to halt all flights over Iraq. Al-Baghdadi’s fighters can tap into the expertise of ex-Saddam soldiers, who are teaching them how to operate some tanks, wheeled BTR armored personnel carriers, and tracked BMP APCs. And still, the most iconic piece of equipment in the hands of the two groups is the Toyota pickup with the heavy machine gun, the Russian “Dushka.” These machine guns can be used as a primitive anti-tank weapon, and can taken down for use as anti-personnel weapons. The organizations mount them on their Toyotas, and charge around Dara’a (in the case of al-Nusra) or the deserts of Iraq (in the case of IS).

    The threat on other fronts

    Senior officers in Jordan’s military intelligence have plenty to worry about these days. They are the ones dealing with the threats at home (Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations, protests in Ma’an, a million Syrian refugees, etc.) and abroad (al-Qaeda and Jubhat al-Nusra to the north and IS to the east). The jihadist groups in Iraq and Syria have not shown signs of any intention to operate in Jordan, certainly not as they have in Iraq or Syria. That is, there will not be an invasion or an attempt to take over, since there they will run smack into air and ground forces far superior to their fleet of armed Toyotas.

    The danger for the Hashemite Kingdom is not the toppling of the regime, but unrest, terror attacks, car bombs, suicide attacks, and the like. The newspaper a-Sharq al-Awsat reported Thursday that Jordanian security forces arrested 71 radical activists belonging to Islamist organizations, including IS and al-Nusra, throughout the kingdom.

    It must be said that the relatively small Jordanian Army is spread thin along the Iraqi and Syrian borders, huge frontiers stretching hundreds of kilometers, and the mission of defending them is not simple. In the meantime, Jordan enjoys close American support, including half an F-16 squadron and Patriot missiles, and additional equipment and advisers. In addition, Israel helps significantly in the intelligence realm.

    On the Palestinian front, there is currently no need for alarm regarding these groups. For now, there is no IS presence in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or the Gaza Strip. Yes, occasionally some Facebook hotshot posts a picture of someone running around with an IS flag, and one can even buy IS flags and shirts in the Old City of Jerusalem, but that’s all it is. In the West Bank, the Salafist Hizb ut-Tahrir movement is present, but it has no connection to IS and doesn’t identify with it. There are also members of Salafiya Jihadiya, like those killed in Hebron almost a year ago, but their numbers are vanishingly small.

    Besides the Syrian regime and Iraq, Jubhat al-Nusra and IS are a profound danger to Hezbollah. The Shiite organization has been fighting in recent weeks on the Qalamoun Ridge, which it had already captured from al-Nusra and its affiliates. That area, like the Beqaa, is critical for Hezbollah’s control of the routes between Syria and Lebanon. If it doesn’t control the border, Hezbollah’s ability to smuggle in weaponry from Assad’s storage facilities in Syria to basements and bunkers in Lebanon will be harmed.

    Let’s not be fooled. It is estimated that even during the recent battles, Hezbollah has taken advantage of the chaos in order to smuggle into Lebanon rockets and sensitive military equipment originating in Syria or Russia.

    In this vein, it’s impossible to ignore the drone that was shot down this week over the Golan Heights. Was Hezbollah behind the launch? Israel is having trouble determining that for sure. There are at least four groups that could be behind a drone launch, and one of them is Hezbollah. But Bashar Assad also understands and knows that if he allows Hezbollah to fire drones from the Syrian Golan into Israel, he is risking a serious Israeli reaction, and that is the last thing he needs while he is fighting for his survival.

    Thursday, September 04, 2014

    The West must WAKE UP and stare down Tsar Putin

    From: The Times September 04, 2014, by Roger Boyes, diplomatic editor:

    Estonia's President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and US President Barack Obama inspect a military honour guard prior to meetings in Tallinn, Estonia, yesterday. Source: AFP

    STORM clouds are gathering over Newport and not just those usually associated with the Welsh weather. The NATO summit there tonight will see leaders struggling to find a clear Western response to multiple hot spots, from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of subterfuge to the decapitating jihadists of Iraq. 

    But unless they address the vacuum of power in the West, they may as well have stayed at home.

    US President Barack Obama knows the summit is, in effect, an indictment of his own lack of leadership. Yet the crisis is more about how US allies have become consumers of security rather than producers....

    We in the West view our commitment to defence as less important to society’s progress than welfare spending and property prices. That has to change. 

    The best that can emerge from this over-freighted summit will be agreement on a new 4000-strong rapid response force ready to fly to the assistance of nervous NATO members. That won’t deter Putin, who weeks ago put the elite Pskov airborne division into Ukraine. The summit has to demonstrate NATO’s readiness to die for Tallinn or Bialystok.

    We can start by making plain that we believe in the eastern enlargement of the alliance. Uncertainty about this has encouraged Putin. The question of whether signing up post-communist states was an act of strategic ­genius or a historic mistake lingers insidiously on. Moving eastwards, say Putin apologists, was a NATO provocation and makes us partially responsible for the Ukrainian emergency.

    The Newport summiteers have to bury this nonsense.

    If we made a mistake it was to assume that Putin, on coming to power in 2000, genuinely wanted Russia to become part of the international system. We declared Russia to be a strategic partner and expected the former KGB officer to become a new Peter the Great, opening up his country. That didn’t happen: rather than exchange letters with Voltaire, Tsar Vladimir proceeded to cheat on arms-control treaties, smash Chechnya and poison dissidents in London.

    We should have realised our supposed strategic partner was a subversive rival by 2008 at the latest, when he invaded Georgia. Since then the Russian defence budget has gone up by 50 per cent while NATO defence spending has dropped by 20 per cent. Some 75 per cent of NATO spending comes from America. That sends a clear message to Putin: Europeans are not up for a fight. The last big Russian military exercise involved 150,000 men. The last big NATO outing, in the Baltics, involved 6500; a teddy bears’ picnic in khaki.

    Russia, by invading Ukraine and snatching Crimea, has vio­lated just about every inter­national treaty designed to keep the peace in Europe. That allows us to breach one understanding that we struck with Moscow in 1997 — to steer clear of permanently stationing troops on NATO’s eastern border. The alliance has to construct a forward defence, positioning 10,000 men in Poland. If the NATO summit is to have a lasting effect, it must demonstrate that Russia cannot intimidate those who would like to become our economic partners. Ukraine, though not a NATO member, needs our help in securing its borders.

    Alarmists will warn against upsetting the Russian bear. However, since Russia asserts that its tanks are not inside Ukraine, it can hardly object if Kiev’s troops use our weapons to fire at them. At present we are arming only one side of the conflict — Russia — with British arms components and French warships. NATO must end this absurdity.

    Putin’s behaviour will only change with the help of tougher economic sanctions and the EU. Since Russia has turned gas exports into a political weapon, cutting it out of energy revenues from EU member states would be the most effective sanction of all and demonstrate that Gazprom has become the civilian wing of Putin’s expansionist army.

    America rightly resents that Europe is not paying its way in NATO; only Britain, Greece and Estonia are currently meeting the defence spending target of 2 per cent of GDP. A more self-assured US President would lay it on the line: only those who come close to the target should expect the protection of Article Five, the NATO commitment to collectively support any member that comes under attack.

    Military spending is not about robbing the poor to pay for costly guns that never get used. It is an existential issue.It is about showing autocrats and insurgents that we are ready and willing to fight for what we believe in.

    Tuesday, September 02, 2014

    Don't Lecture Israel about "State Land"

    From JCPA, 1 Sept 2014:

    There is considerable confusion about the recent action of Israel’s civil administration declaring 988 acres of [Judea and Samaria] as state land. 
    In general, West Bank territory may be divided into three legal categories: state land, private land, and land whose status is to be determined. The territory in question had the status of territory whose status is to be determined. Before the declaration of the land as state land, an investigation had to be undertaken by Israel’s civil administration that took several years in order to ascertain its exact status.
    Those who oppose the recent declaration have 45 days to appeal the Israeli decision. When Palestinians have brought proof of ownership of contested territory to Israeli courts, including Israel’s Supreme Court, the courts have at times issued decisions calling on the Israeli government to restore the property in question to its Palestinian claimant, even if that requires dismantling the private homes of Israeli citizens. The determination of territory as state land as opposed to private land is a necessary action which helps avert errors in the future when these areas are developed.
    But looking at the decision of Israel’s civil administration in a wider diplomatic context, it should be remembered that the Oslo II Interim Agreement, signed by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat at the White House in 1995 (and witnessed by the EU), established a division of the West Bank into three areas: 
    • Area A, where the Palestinians had full control, 
    • Area B where there was mixed Israeli and Palestinian security control but full Palestinian civil control, and 
    • Area C, where Israel had full military and civilian control. Israeli responsibilities in Area C included the power of zoning and planning. 
    The territory which Israel declared as state land is within Area C.
    It should be stressed that the architects of the Oslo Agreements understood, as a result, that Palestinians would develop areas under their jurisdiction while Israel would develop areas it controlled as well. That is why there was no settlement freeze in the original Oslo Agreements...
    ...the territory in question, at present, is part of a settlement bloc, south of Jerusalem, known as Gush Etzion, which was settled by Jews prior to 1948, but lost by Israel when it came under attack by Arab forces. 
    During past negotiating rounds it became clear to Israelis and Palestinians alike that at the end of the day when a territorial compromise is reached, Israel will retain the settlement blocs (UN Security Council Resolution 242, drafted after the Six-Day War, never envisioned a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines in any case).
    The determination that Israel will retain the settlement blocs is reflected in U.S. diplomatic communications like the 2004 letter by President Bush to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the statements made by President Obama in 2011 about demographic changes on the ground and changes in the 1967 lines. The least controversial of these settlement blocs in past negotiations is, in fact, Gush Etzion.
    Finally, there is the question of legality which has been a point of disagreement for many years. The question of legality comes from Article 49 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits moving the inhabitants in any occupied territory out of the occupied territory. The final section of the article also prohibits the transfer of the occupying power’s population into an occupied territory. 
    The view of Israeli jurists, and important U.S. jurists as well (like Eugene Rostow, the former dean of Yale Law School), is that this section relates to the forcible movement of an occupier’s population into an occupied territory. This language was incorporated after World War II as a reaction to Nazi German policies of forcibly transferring German Jews to Occupied Poland for extermination. 
    It is no wonder that the Israeli Supreme Court never ruled that settlements are illegal, despite the announcements of a number of foreign ministries around the world.
    Gush Etzion
    Gush Etzion

    Monday, September 01, 2014

    Austria has emerged as a central hub for jihadists

    From Gatestone, 26 Aug 2014, by Soeren Kern:

    Sunday, August 31, 2014

    DON'T PANIC: Let Time do its work...

    For the first time, Israel's country default spread (2.48%) – which reflects the risk premium on government bonds - is similar to that of the US (2.38%).
    The trend of Israel's economy from 1948 until today has reaffirmed that time has been working for – and not against – Israel.  Moreover, the ongoing war, terrorism, international pressure and boycotts, which have challenged Israel since its establishment in 1948, have been exposed – in retrospect - as bumps and hurdles on the road to unprecedented economic growth.

    The sustained, impressive growth of Israel's economy throughout the last thirty years– in defiance of endemic geopolitical and military adversity - is documented in an August,2014 study by Dr. Adam Reuter, the CEO of Financial Immunities Consulting and the Chairman of Reuter-Maydan Investment House. 

    For example, 
    • Israel's GDP catapulted from $30bn in 1984 to $300bn in 2014; 
    • per capita GDP surged from $7,000 to $38,000; 
    • public debt to GDP ratio shrunk from 280% to 66%; 
    • the external public debt to GDP ratio contracted from 55% to 10%; 
    • the budget deficit to GDP ratio decreased from 17% to 3%; 
    • the defense budget reduced from 20% to 6%; 
    • annual inflation collapsed from 450% to 1%; 
    • the foreign exchange reserves swelled from $3bn to $89bn; 
    • export rose from $10bn to $90bn; 
    • high tech exports expanded from $1bn to $28bn; 
    • research and development expenditures to GDP ratio grew from 1.3% to 4.2%; 
    • the population of Israel grew from 4.1 million to 8.2 million; etc.. 
    The growth from 1948 is even more impressive: a 2000% growth, from a $1.5bn, to a $300bn, GDP.

    Assessing the impact of the Gaza War on Israel's economy against the backdrop of the three previous wars – 2006 against Lebanon's Hezbollah and 2009 and 2012 against Gaza's Hamas – demonstrates an exceptional capability to bounce back rapidly, except for the gradual recovery of tourism, which accounts for 2% of Israel's gross domestic product (GDP).  The pattern of crisis-to-recovery has always featured an abrupt and short-lived crisis followed by a speedy – not a prolonged – recovery (a "V" and not a "U" shaped graph).

    For example, according to the Bank of Israel, the 2006 war against Hezbollah triggered an immediate drop of GDP from more than 6% to a negative growth of 1.5%, followed by a swift recovery to almost 10% growth in the following quarter (prior to the global economic meltdown). The effects of the 2009 and 2012 wars were significantly more moderate, but recovery was as rapid.

    The 2014 Gaza War is estimated to lower Israel's 2014 GDP by 0.5%.  Based on recent precedents, it will have insignificant influence on foreign investors, most of who seek the knowhow–intensive Israeli high tech companies, which are minimally vulnerable to rocket and missile fire. Moreover, the expanded global interest in Israeli-developed and manufactured, battle-tested defense systems (e.g., the "Iron Dome," "Trophy," "Aqua Shield," "Point Shield," etc.) - which demonstrated their unique capabilities during the Gaza War - is expected to bolster a quick recovery and the continued growth of Israel's economy. 

    In 2014, Israel is the world's top exporter of drones, the world's co-leader (along with the US) in the development, manufacturing and launching of small and medium size satellites, the sixth largest exporter of military systems, the 2nd largest cyber exporter - $3bn in 2013, 5% of total exports and three times larger than Britain's, as well as an emerging natural gas power.

    The February, 2014 International Monetary Fund (IMF) Israel Country Report stated: 
    "Israel has been exposed to a series of shocks, including the global crisis and heightened geopolitical tensions in the Middle East. Nevertheless, GDP growth has averaged 4% over the past 5 years, compared with 0.7% on average for OECD countries. Per capita GDP grows more rapidly than in other OECD countries."  
    The three leading credit rating companies, Standard & Poor's, Moody's and Fitch reaffirmed Israel's high credit rating, emphasizing its fiscal responsibility, economic dynamism and resilience, while lowering the credit rating of many developed economies. 

    According to the OECD annual 2013 report, Israel is the 4th most attractive country for foreign direct investment (FDI) per GDP – 4%, compared to 1.6% in the top 16 economies.  

    Warren Buffett attests to that distinction: 
    "Israel is the leading, largest and most promising investment hub outside the United States.”  
    In addition, leading US venture capital funds established Israel-dedicated funds, and over 250 leading US high tech companies established research and development centers in Israel, leveraging Israel's brainpower, which has become a chief pipeline of cutting edge technologies; thus, expanding US employment, research and development and exports. Intel's recent decision to invest $6bn in upgrading one of its six Israeli facilities represents the confidence of the global high tech community in Israel's long term viability.

    In contrast to those who wish to boycott Israel, 2013-14 have highlighted Israel's expanding trade and investment global network, especially with the surging economies of China, India and South Korea.

    Is time working for or against Israel? The economic indicators from 1948 until today confirm that Israel has experienced splendid economic integration, and unprecedented economic growth, in defiance of ongoing war, terrorism, boycotts and international pressure.