Saturday, August 20, 2016

The price of powerlessness

From The Washington Post,

This week Russian bombers flew out of Iranian air bases to attack rebel positions in Syria. The State Department pretended not to be surprised. It should be. It should be alarmed. Iran’s intensely nationalistic revolutionary regime had never permitted foreign forces to operate from its soil. Until now.

A Russian bomber operating in Syria from an airbase in Iran
(from a Russian Defence Ministry video)

The reordering of the Middle East is proceeding apace. Where for 40 years the U.S.-Egypt alliance anchored the region, a Russia-Iran condominium is now dictating events. That’s what you get after eight years of U.S. retrenchment and withdrawal. That’s what results from the nuclear deal with Iran, the evacuation of Iraq and utter U.S. immobility on Syria.


The nuclear deal was supposed to begin a rapprochement between Washington and Tehran. Instead, it has solidified a strategic-military alliance between Moscow and Tehran. With the lifting of sanctions and the normalizing of Iran’s international relations, Russia rushed in with major deals, including the shipment of S-300 ground-to-air missiles. Russian use of Iranian bases now marks a new level of cooperation and joint power projection.

These bombing runs cross Iraqi airspace. Before President Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq, that could not have happened. The resulting vacuum has not only created a corridor for Russian bombing, it has gradually allowed a hard-won post-Saddam Iraq to slip into Iran’s orbit. According to a Baghdad-based U.S. military spokesman, there are 100,000 Shiite militia fighters operating inside Iraq, 80 percent of them Iranian-backed.
When Russia dramatically intervened last year, establishing air bases and launching a savage bombing campaign, Obama did nothing. Indeed, he smugly predicted that Vladimir Putin had entered a quagmire. Some quagmire. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is not only saved. It encircled Aleppo and has seized the upper hand in the civil war. Meanwhile, our hapless secretary of state is running around trying to sue for peace, offering to share intelligence and legitimize Russian intervention if only Putin will promise to conquer gently.

Consider what Putin has achieved. Dealt a very weak hand — a rump Russian state, shorn of empire and saddled with a backward economy and a rusting military — he has restored Russia to great-power status. Reduced to irrelevance in the 1990s, it is now a force to be reckoned with.

In Europe, Putin has unilaterally redrawn the map. His annexation of Crimea will not be reversed. The Europeans are eager to throw off the few sanctions they grudgingly imposed on Russia. And the rape of eastern Ukraine continues.

Ten thousand have already died and now Putin is threatening even more open warfare. Under the absurd pretext of Ukrainian terrorism in Crimea (reminiscent of Hitler’s claim that he invaded Poland in response to a Polish border incursion), Putin has threatened retaliation, massed troops in eight locations on the Ukrainian border, ordered Black Sea naval exercises and moved advanced anti-aircraft batteries into Crimea, giving Moscow control over much of Ukrainian airspace.

And why shouldn’t he? He’s pushing on an open door. Obama still refuses to send Ukraine even defensive weapons. The administration’s response to these provocations? Urging “both sides” to exercise restraint. Both sides, mind you.

And in a gratuitous flaunting of its newly expanded reach, Russia will be conducting joint naval exercises with China in the South China Sea, in obvious support of Beijing’s territorial claims and illegal military bases.

Yet the president shows little concern. He is too smart not to understand geopolitics; he simply doesn’t care. In part because his priorities are domestic. In part because he thinks we lack clean hands and thus the moral standing to continue to play international arbiter.

And in part because he’s convinced that in the long run it doesn’t matter. Fluctuations in great power relations are inherently ephemeral. For a man who sees a moral arc in the universe bending inexorably toward justice, calculations of raw realpolitik are 20th-century thinking — primitive, obsolete, the obsession of small minds.

Obama made all this perfectly clear in speeches at the U.N., in Cairo and here at home in his very first year in office. Two terms later, we see the result. Ukraine dismembered. Eastern Europe on edge. Syria a charnel house. Iran subsuming Iraq. Russia and Iran on the march across the entire northern Middle East.

At the heart of this disorder is a simple asymmetry. It is in worldview. The major revisionist powers — China, Russia and Iran — know what they want: power, territory, tribute. And they’re going after it. Barack Obama takes Ecclesiastes’ view that these are vanities, nothing but vanities.

In the kingdom of heaven, no doubt. Here on earth, however — Aleppo to Donetsk, Estonia to the Spratly Islands — it matters greatly.

Where Palestinian Aid Really Goes

From Commentary Magazine, 11 August 2016, by Jonathan Tobin:

In the last week, two scandals involving aid to the Palestinians have emerged.
The initial reaction from both the UN and World Vision was a combination of denial and shock at the notion that anyone would think these cases are typical.

What people who give to causes that purport to help poor Palestinians should understand is that this kind of malfeasance is not a matter of individuals going off the rails but a function of the political culture in which they live.

Stealing money intended for humanitarian use is endemic not only by those employed by outside agencies but also by the ruling factions. Hamas-run Gaza is very much like the Palestinian Authority kleptocracy that runs the West Bank. Both are pits of corruption.

What’s curious is that this knowledge hasn’t seemed to penetrate into the consciousness of the international philanthropic world. Though other peoples have suffered more and are given less, the Palestinians have been the focus of more attention than any other humanitarian cause. The United Nations has one refugee agency to deal with just the Palestinians—the UN Relief and Works Agency—and another to help with everyone else around the world. UNRWA has done far more to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem than to solve it. Moreover, the Palestinians are also the recipients of vast amounts of charitable aid from other sources including governments and numerous philanthropic agencies.

Why does Palestinian corruption get a pass? Because their status as alleged victims of the Jews seems to give them priority over every other group in the world.

How can we be all that shocked when individuals divert money and material intended to alleviate the plight of ordinary Palestinians to terrorism when that is precisely what both Hamas and Fatah do on a regular basis and on a much larger scale?

That is especially true for Mahmoud Abbas’s faction, whose leaders have grown wealthy while the world continues to picture Palestinians as indigent. A group that pays pensions to imprisoned terrorists and to the survivors of those who died while trying to kill Jews (and boasts on Facebook that it has killed 11,000 Israelis) ought not to be in any position to cry poverty, but that is exactly what it does.

The supposedly more puritanical Islamists of Hamas are guilty of many of the same offenses. Few homes have been rebuilt there since the 2014 war but somehow the Hamas tunnel network—which serves as a point of attack for terror raids into Israel and strongholds to shelter Palestinian armaments, fighters, and leaders while the population has no bomb shelters—has been reconstituted and strengthened.

The UN and World Vision and all those who contribute to other Palestinian charities should spare us their expressions of shock or denials about these scandals. While the Palestinians have genuine needs, anyone who gives money to them should do so in the knowledge that they are just as likely to be financing a terrorist’s pension, a terror tunnel, or a Hamas bunker than they are to feed a child or build a home.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Israel, Pakistan, UAE Join US Air Force Military Exercises

From, 16 Aug 2016:

Israel, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates started participating in joint aerial military exercises with the US Air Force in Nevada on Monday.
Israel Air Force planes. Photo: Israel Defense Forces.
Israel Air Force jets.
Photo: Israel Defense Forces

While Pakistan and the UAE are both US allies, Israel does not have formal relations with either Muslim country. Nevertheless, clandestine contacts between Israel, Pakistan and the UAE  — as well as other Sunni Muslim countries — have surfaced in recent years, due to a shared concern over Iran.
During a Red Flag drill, described by Israeli officials as a unique, high-quality exercise, pilots at the Nellis Air Force base are being divided into teams to simulate dog fights and other advanced aerial-combat situations.

The Israel Air Force trains regularly at home and abroad to maintain operational readiness. The Red Flag exercise will continue until Aug. 26.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

World Vision Aid to Terrorism

11 August 2016
This past week two humanitarian workers in Gaza were indicted, for allegedly diverting aid to Hamas.

According to the charges, the manager of the NGO World Vision’s Gaza operations, Mohammed El-Halabi, funneled 60% of the organization’s Gaza budget to Hamas. Waheed Borsh, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) employee since 2003, has been indicted with providing material assistance to Hamas and using his position to aid the terrorist group. Save the Children was also mentioned in the context of these allegations.
The Israeli indictment and media reported that the World Vision funds were used in the construction of Hamas tunnels, military installations, and other terrorist activities.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, President of NGO Monitor noted, “To avoid enabling murderous Hamas attacks, and compounding the suffering of people in Gaza, aid groups need to apply surveillance and intelligence technologies, particularly regarding employees and their activities.”
NGO Monitor identified World Vision as susceptible to aid diversion in its 2015 book, Filling in the Blanks, concluding that there is “little doubt as to World Vision’s willingness to negotiate and coordinate with armed groups. This raises questions as to whether the group would prevent components of its aid from being misappropriated by terrorist organizations, if it felt that taking a stand would jeopardize the organization’s ability to continue its operations in a given area.”
The failure to properly prevent the siphoning of funds stems in part from a lack of will on the part of humanitarian organizations. Many international NGOs reject attempts to incorporate security concerns into funding guidelines, decrying them as politically motivated. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has argued that legislation designed to prevent hijacking of aid by terrorist organizations should not apply to humanitarian groups, and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has stated that “counter-terrorism measures remain the primary obstacle to humanitarian action within Gaza.”
Humanitarian NGOs operate in conflict zones around the world, risking the diversion of aid by terrorist groups. The recent decision by USAID to suspend its humanitarian assistance to Syria due to this issue, as well as the multiple UN reports on commandeering of aid by terrorist organizations in Somalia, underscore this point.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg adds that, “World Vision’s failures in Gaza highlight the problems of a multi-billion dollar NGO industry that remains largely unregulated and unexamined. While World Vision is currently the focus of attention following the arrest of El-Halabi and the scale of the allegations, this should be a cautionary moment for many other international aid organizations that have similar operations in Gaza, such as Oxfam, Care, Christian Aid, and UNRWA – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.”
As NGO Monitor has warned repeatedly, humanitarian efforts in warzones are inherently susceptible to extortion and theft by violent actors, including terrorist organizations. In particular, Hamas has a history of raiding aid warehouses and convoys as well as developing tax schemes designed to skim money off of international largesse. UN Gaza aid mechanisms similarly suffer from corruption, compromising the integrity of imported materials. Any consideration of humanitarian projects in Gaza must, therefore, include vigorous, concrete, and effective policies that address the risk of aid diversion, both on the part of the implementing organization and on the part of the funder.