Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Fall of Kirkuk: Made in Iran

From The American Interest, October 2017, by JONATHAN SPYER:

Tehran’s strategizing pays off again, as several of its clients strike a deal that undermines Kurdish hopes of independence.

Iraqi forces took Kirkuk city from the Kurds this week with hardly a shot fired. ...It is a remarkable setback for the Kurds, who just a few weeks ago held an independence referendum. The loss of Kirkuk especially, given the city’s vast oil resources, lessens the likelihood that an independent state will emerge from the Kurdish Regional Government area in northern Iraq.

Now the Iraqi forces are rolling into other areas conquered by the Kurdish Regional Government in the course of the war against ISIS... Kurdish forces are withdrawing ... Yezidi civilians ...are again uncertain of their fates as they wait for the arrival of Iraqi forces.

The capture of Kirkuk recalls other swift and decisive assertions of control that the Middle East has witnessed in recent years. Perhaps the closest parallel might be the Hezbollah takeover of west Beirut in May-June 2008. Then, too, a pro-Western element (the March 14 movement) sought to assert its sovereignty and independent decision-making capabilities. It had many friends in the West who overestimated its strength and capacity to resist pressure. And in the Lebanese case as well, a sudden, forceful move by an Iranian client swiftly (and, it seems, permanently) reset the balance of power, demonstrating to the pro-Western element that it was subordinate and that further resistance would be fruitless.

There is, of course, a further reason to note the similarity between Kirkuk in October 2017 and Beirut in 2008. Namely that in both cases, the faction that drove its point home through the judicious use of political maneuvering and the sudden application of force was a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

In Lebanon, the client was Hezbollah...
In Iraq, the equivalent force is the PMU (Popular Mobilization Units) or Hashd al-Shaabi. ...

The PMU’s forces now consist of about120,000 fighters in total. And while dozens of militias are associated with it, a handful of larger formations form its central pillars. The three most important groups are all pro-Iranian and directly connected to the Revolutionary Guards. These are

  • Ktaeb Hizballah, headed by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis; 
  • Asaib Ahl al-Haq, headed by Qais al-Khazali; and 
  • the Badr Organization, commanded by Hadi al-Ameri. 
All three of these leaders are closely linked to Qods Force Commander General Qassem Suleimani. They are, as one region-based diplomat put it, “Iran’s proconsuls” in Iraq.

Al-Ameri, al-Muhandis, and Suleimani himself were all present in Kirkuk on October 15 and16, laying the groundwork for the takeover of the city. Badr and Ahl al-Haq fighters also played a prominent role in the incursion into the city.

However, they were not the only Iran-linked element in Kirkuk. The Kurdish retreat appears to have been the product of a deal between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish party that dominates in Kirkuk, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. According to eyewitness reports, the PUK’s peshmerga forces abandoned their positions, rendering a coherent defense of the city impossible.

The PUK-Iran relationship dates back 25 years, to the days when both were engaged against the Saddam Hussein regime in Baghdad. Due to this alliance, the PUK only reluctantly supported the Kurdish independence referendum of September 25. Indeed, the fractured nature of Kurdish politics, the absence of a single, united military force, and the differing international alliances and orientations of the two main parties in the KRG—namely the Kurdish Democratic Party of President Masoud Barzani and the PUK—have long constituted a central vulnerability of the Kurdish system in northern Iraq. We appear to have witnessed a masterful exploitation of this vulnerability, a sudden and decisive turning of the screw.

Details have emerged in the Kurdish media of a supposed agreement reached between Bafel Talabani, eldest son of former PUK leader and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and Hadi al-Ameri of the PMU. (Some sources claim that it was al-Muhandis, not al-Ameri, who represented the PMU.) The deal would establish a new authority in the Halabja-Sulaymaniyah-Kirkuk area, to be jointly administered by the Iraqi government and the “Kurds” (or rather, the PUK) for an undefined period. The federal government would manage the oil wells of Kirkuk and other strategic locations in the city, while also overseeing the public-sector payroll.

The establishment of such a client or puppet authority would put paid to any hopes for Kurdish self-determination in the near future. The deal was intended to split Iraqi Kurdish politics in two, and make impossible any further moves toward secession. The latter cause is vehemently opposed by Iran, which wants to control Iraq from Baghdad and maintain its unfettered access to the Levant and the Mediterranean Sea.

This deal was only feasible because of smart investments that Iran made in the politics of both Iraqi Shi‘a Arabs and Iraqi Kurds during previous decades, plus the judicious mixing of political and military force, an art in which the Iranians excel. Indeed, Iran’s influence in Iraq, both political and military, goes beyond the PMU and the PUK. The Federal Police, another of the forces involved in the march on Kirkuk, is controlled by the Interior Ministry. The Interior Minister, meanwhile, is one Qasim al-Araji—a representative of the Badr Organization, Hadi-Al Ameri’s group, which sits in the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.  And of course, Abadi’s own party, Dawa, is a Shi‘a Islamist outfit with strong ties to Iran.

So the long-developed, mostly unseen influence that Iran exerts on both Iraqi and Kurdish political and military life is powerful indeed. All we are seeing this week is its abrupt activation.

As Andrew Bernard noted in a TAI article earlier this week, President Trump’s response on the clashes was to assert that the United States was “not taking sides, but we don’t like the fact that they’re clashing.” This is in effect to accede to the Iranian ascendancy in Iran, given the discrepancy in power between the sides and the deep Iranian and IRGC involvement with Baghdad. Such a stance does not, to put it mildly, tally with the President’s condemnation in his speech this past week of Iran’s “continuing aggression in the Middle East.” It remains to be seen if anything of real consequence in policy terms will emerge from the President’s stated views.  For the moment, at least, the gap between word and deed seems glaring.

Meanwhile, the advance of the Shi‘a militias and their Iraqi allies is continuing. The demoralized KRG has abandoned positions further west. In Sinjar, Khanaqin, Makhmur, Gwer and other sites on the Ninawah Plain, the Iraqis are pushing forward. The intention appears to be to take back the entirety of the Plain, where the peshmerga of the ruling KDP, not the PUK, were dominant. Yet they too have so far retreated without resistance. It is not clear at present how far the PMU and the Iraqis intend to go, or at what point the peshmerga will make a stand.

It is a black day for the Kurds, from every point of view. The fall of Kirkuk confirms the extent to which Iraq today is an Iranian-controlled satrapy. And it vividly demonstrates the currently unrivaled efficacy of the Iranian methods of revolutionary and political warfare, as practiced by IRGC throughout the Arab world.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Russia emerging as new player in Middle East balance of power

From Asia Times, 16 October 2017, by David P. Goldman:

Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on October 12, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Maxim Shemetov
Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on October 12, 2017. 
Photo: Reuters / Maxim Shemetov

Moscow's sale of a better defense system to the Saudis than to its "ally" Iran is consistent with the pattern of its attempts to influence outcomes in the region...

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia's King Salman attend a welcoming ceremony ahead of their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow on October 5, 2017. Photo: Sputnik via Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia's King Salman attend a welcoming ceremony ahead of their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow on October 5, 2017. 
Photo: Sputnik via Reuters

Not only the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but also Russia’s Cold War adversary Turkey will buy the far more advanced S-400, a “game-changer,” as former Pentagon official Stephen Bryen described it in an October 13 analysis for Asia Times. The S-400 is highly effective against the sort of cruise and ballistic missiles that Iran will be able to field during the next several years.

...On Ocotber 12, Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bodanov offered to mediate between Iran and the Saudi Arabia, but talk is cheap. Installation of top-of-the-line weapons systems is not. The United States belatedly offered the Saudis its THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system, probably as a rushed response to the Russian offer. In Dr. Bryen’s analysis, the S-400 is simply a better system, and gives the Saudis an important edge in any prospective conflict with Iran.

Factoring Israeli security concerns
Another Russian attempt to influence the balance of power is evident in Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s October 15 visit to Jerusalem, the first since Shoigu took office in 2012. The ceasefire plans now in place in Syria allow Iranian forces to range within 5 kilometers of the Golan Heights, the great escarpment overlooking northern Israel that Israeli took in the 1967 War.

With the help of Russian air power, Iranian Revolutionary Guards units supported by Hezbollah, as well as Pakistani and Afghan Shi’ite mercenaries, have become the dominant power in Syria, changing the regional power balance to Israel’s disadvantage. Israel reportedly demanded a buffer zone for Iranian forces of at least 60 kilometers from its border last summer, and Russia refused. Washington also signed on to the Syrian ceasefire, leaving Israel the odd man out.

Israel is now threatening to attack preemptively. Elliott Abrams, an official in the administration of George W. Bush, wrote last week:
“Israel has struck sites in Syria one hundred times in the last five years, bombing when it saw an Iranian effort to move high-tech materiel to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Last month Israel bombed the so-called Scientific Studies and Researchers Center in Masyaf, a city in central Syria, a military site where chemical weapons and precision bombs were said to be produced. Now, there are reports (such as this column by the top Israeli military analyst, Alex Fishman, in the newspaper Yediot Achronot) that Iran is planning to build a military airfield near Damascus, where the IRGC (Revolutionary Guards) could build up their presence and operate. And that Iran and the Assad regime are negotiating over giving Iran its own naval pier in the port of Tartus. And that Iran may actually deploy a division of soldiers in Syria.”

FILE PHOTO - Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks during the International Institute for Counter Terrorism's 17th annual conference in Herzliya, Israel September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/Files
Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. 
Photo: Reuters / Amir Cohen

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned last week: 
“If once we spoke about the Lebanese front — there is no longer such a front. There is the northern front. In any development there may be, it will be one front, Syria and Lebanon together, Hezbollah, the Assad regime and all the Assad regime supporters.”
The Israeli government has warned Lebanon that any attacks on Israel by Hezbollah — which reportedly has an arsenal of more than 100,000 ballistic missiles —would elicit a devastating counterattack against Lebanon’s infrastructure. Israeli preemptive action against a Hezbollah missile shower would occasion enormous collateral damage, because the missiles are mainly emplaced in civilian areas.

Israeli media observe that high-level consultations between Russia and Israel have been frequent, but almost always conducted on Russian soil – for example, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s August meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi. The Russian defense minister’s trip to Israel is a nod to Israeli security concerns.

Russia intervened in Syria primarily because the country’s civil war had turned into a Petri dish for jihadists from the Russian Caucasus to Southeast Asia. America’s longstanding support for Sunni jihadists had the unintended consequence of strengthening al-Qaeda and its offshoot Islamic State, as Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn famously warned. And the Sunni jihad threatened to spread to Russia’s own Muslim population, which is overwhelmingly Sunni. Backing the Shi’ites was the Kremlin’s obvious course of action. Moscow has achieved its objectives in Syria: the Assad regime is stabilized, the Sunni jihad is dwindling and Russia’s other perquisites in Syria, for example its naval port facility at Tartus, are secure. Evidently Russia now wants to take some risk off the table on the other side.

Diplomatic revolution of sorts
The fact that Russia wants to manage the balance of power, to be sure, does not mean that it will succeed in doing so. Iran is not a Russian puppet but an aspiring pocket empire with a will of its own and an apocalyptic sense of its own future. Russian air cover allowed Iran a bridgehead to the Mediterranean through Syria that it could not have imagined five years ago, and Iran will be reluctant to lose the opportunity to establish a Shi’ite corridor from Persia through Lebanon.

Moscow may not be in a position to forestall an Israeli-Iranian war...

The Americans, like the British before them, did poorly at balance-of-power politics in the Middle East, and there is nothing to indicate that the Russians will do any better. 

Nonetheless, the shift in Russia’s position from regional spoiler to would-be balancer of conflicting interests constitutes a diplomatic revolution of sorts. 

...We may be watching the first manifestations of a post-American Middle East.

How about THIS two-state solution?

From Ynet News, 5 April 2017, by Moshe Dann:

Promoting Jordan as the Arab Palestinian state is consistent with international law and would resolve the problem of national self-determination both for Arabs living in Judea and Samaria and for those in Israel.

The problem with “the two-state solution” —creating a sovereign independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan River—is that a Palestinian state already exists east of the Jordan River; it’s called Jordan. Its population is predominantly “Palestinian” and it is located in the eastern part of what was once called “Palestine.” Demographically and geographically, therefore, Jordan is a Palestinian state.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah. A two-state solution—Israel and Jordan—is in the national interests of both countries
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah.

The Oslo Accords, however, removed the “Jordanian option” from the range of possible alternatives. Instead, Yasser Arafat, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were installed as the rulers of what was intended to be another Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. The “peace plan” failed not only because of Palestinian terrorism, but also because of the opposition to Israel’s existence. Moreover, the PA—which includes Hamas and other Arab terrorist organizations—and the PLO never intended it to work. Their goal is to destroy Israel.

Although Arafat signed the Oslo Accords on behalf of the PLO, and the PLO was obligated to remove the clauses in the Palestinian National Covenant which call for the destruction of Israel, it never did. Although an ad hoc form of the PLO's Palestinian National Council (PNC) met in April 1996 and approved amending the Covenant in principle, it did not change the Covenant; it merely gave a PNC committee authority to do so or to draw up a completely new charter. Nor did they specify which particular articles would be changed or how that would be done. By leaving the Covenant intact, the PLO sends a clear message that it has not renounced violence nor accepted Israel's right to exist.

Moreover, since the PA did not sign the Oslo Accords, it is not bound by them. It is accountable, if at all, only to the PLO, which Mahmoud Abbas heads as well.

Rather than understand why the Oslo accords and what became known as “the two-state-solution” failed, and reconsider alternatives, its architects, planners and supporters cling to their fantasies. Coaxing and bribing Palestinians to make a deal always fails because that would mean ending the conflict and accepting Israel—a betrayal of what Palestinianism is all about.

Establishing a second Palestinian state, or third if one includes Hamastan in the Gaza Strip, would lead to destabilization and increase the chances for violence between competing entities, gangs and militias which could spill over into Israel. Jordan might seek to expel its “Palestinian” citizens to the new state, and a power struggle would ensue over which state represents the Palestinians, and what constitutes the territorial basis for “Palestinian national identity.” With Islamist forces waiting to take advantage of any power vacuum, the area would plunge into a Somalia-like chaos.

'Their goal is to destroy Israel' (Photo: Reuters)
'Their goal is to destroy Israel' (Photo: Reuters)

Rather than abandon the idea of achieving Palestinian self-determination by establishing another failed state, the problem can be resolved by changing one word: “The” to “a.” Recognizing that Jordan fulfills the definition of a Palestinian state would defuse the toxic demand for another Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank of Jordan”).

A "two state solution" approach accepts the idea of "two states for two peoples" based on the reality of an already existing sovereign state on territory designated as "Palestinian," where the majority of its inhabitants are "Palestinian." Arabs in Israel and PA-controlled areas who consider themselves "Palestinian" and seek national self-determination can affiliate with a Palestinian-Jordanian state, and move there if they wish. Those who prefer to stay in Israel will be allowed to do so with full civil but not national rights—as is now the case.

Promoting Jordan as the Arab Palestinian state is consistent with international law and the British Mandate which created Jordan in 1922 as part of a “two-state solution.” It would resolve the problem of national self-determination both for Arabs living in Judea and Samaria and for those in Israel.

This plan does not require anyone to move or border changes. Jordan recognized the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers, the Dead Sea and Arava as the international boundary in its peace treaty with Israel. The PA can continue to function as a political entity on condition that all incitement and terrorist activity cease.

Recognizing Jordan as a Palestinian state while maintaining its status as a monarchy reflects the national identity of a majority of its population. Highly popular Queen Rania is considered a Palestinian (via her parents). Palestinians are a growing segment of Jordan’s political life and its parliament. Jordan is viable with a relatively stable economic and political structure. It has vast areas of unused land but lacks people and water.

In order for Jordan to absorb large numbers of people and flourish, it needs water which would allow it to extend its population centers eastwards. Utilizing abundant water sources in Turkey, eastern Jordan could become an oasis, providing agricultural products, enabling business and industrial centers, and creating regional stability and economic development.

The possibility that Jordan could become an economic trade center was recently given gravity when Israel’s minister of transportation proposed a rail link between Haifa and Jordan that would link European markets with Jordan and from there to the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia. The recently rebuilt rail line between Haifa and Beit Shean is the beginning of this plan.

Non-Israeli Arabs who wish to remain under Israeli sovereignty as permanent residents could apply for Israeli citizenship; or they could choose to remain as citizens in PA administrated areas; or they could continue as Jordanian citizens living in Israel. The choice should be theirs.

Arabs living in UNRWA-administered towns in Lebanon and Syria should be given the opportunity to become citizens in their host countries; they should be absorbed into the countries where they exist or allowed to emigrate. International aid programs should be operated only by countries.

Let there be no misunderstanding: I oppose Palestinianism and a Palestinian state anywhere, because its only purpose—according to the PLO and Hamas Charters—is the eradication of Israel. Preaching hatred and fomenting terrorism in their schools and their media, it glorifies jihadism and promotes “martyrdom.” Why support that?

I do not suggest or intend in any way the overthrow of the current Jordanian government. Jordan is a strategic partner and hopefully will continue to be. The Jordanians, however, have a responsibility towards Arab Palestinians and should not expect Israel to bear the burden of providing them with a national homeland.

A two-state solution—Israel and Jordan—is in the national interests of both countries. It will bring peace and prosperity and ensure the security and stability of the region. A Jordanian-Israeli confederation will replace failure and despair with opportunity and hope; it will inspire creativity and cooperation—the only raison d’etre of nation-states.

"Students for Justice in Palestine" - UNMASKED

From JPost, 12 October 2017, by Dan Diker:

Studies by Brandeis University and the AMCHA initiative have revealed a direct correlation between BDS activities and a marked rise in antisemitic acts on campuses with large Jewish populations.

A pro-Palestinian rally in New York City
A pro-Palestinian rally in New York City . (photo credit:REUTERS)

What do Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) have in common? 

These terrorist groups have all been lionized and glorified by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the campus arm of the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Many on university campuses misunderstand SJP.

The group describes itself as a grassroots student organization that supports “Palestinian freedom and equality” in advocating for Palestinian statehood. This is a false and misleading characterization.

SJP is more accurately an international network of some 200 student chapters that actively seek the dismantlement of the Jewish state. They have launched often violent antisemitic assaults against Jewish and Israel-friendly students and have demonstrably expressed support for Palestinian terrorists and Islamic jihadist groups.

The organization’s chapters have defied official university warnings and sanctions and have transformed leading campuses in the United States and Europe into fortresses of fear, intimidation and retribution. Exposing and thwarting Students for Justice in Palestine is essential to restoring universities as a safe environment for the peaceful and respectful exchange of ideas.

SJP’s proprietary notion of “justice” simply means ridding the world of the Jewish state. Its exclusive use of the term “Palestine” signals its rejection of Israel.

The group’s expressions of support for Palestinian terrorists is no secret.

The SJP chapter at the University of Chicago plastered posters conveying solidarity with convicted Palestinian teen terrorist Ahmed Manasara, who went on a stabbing spree before his capture and treatment in an Israeli hospital. SJP supporters, taking the lead from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, initially protested Manasara’s “murder” by Israel.

Temple University SJP protested the 2017 deportation from the US of convicted PFLP terrorist Rasmea Odeh, whose 1969 Jerusalem supermarket bombing murdered two students. University of Chicago’s SJP erected a memorial to Palestinian terrorists such as Fadi Aloun, who wrote “martyrdom or victory” on his Facebook page before stabbing a 15-year-old in Jerusalem in 2015.

NYC Students for Palestine uploaded on social media an address by convicted PFLP terrorist Leila Khaled, who was quoted as telling her SJP hosts that “Zionist is terrorism.”

Khaled’s incitement is typical of the SJP, which regularly parrots Fatah and Hamas’s declaration that “resistance is not terrorism.” The widely known chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which calls for the elimination of Israel, has become an SJP standard.

A 2017 SJP demonstration in Times Square in New York City featured oversized banners declaring Palestinian “resistance until victory” – an expression of support for Palestinian terrorism until Israel is terminated as a Jewish state.

While Facebook and Twitter accounts of SJP chapters have shown its leaders wearing Hezbollah shirts with the Iranian regime’s terrorist proxy’s logo, SJP’s roots to terrorist groups actually run deeper. Students for Justice in Palestine is an outgrowth of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), whose leaders were associated with Palestinian terrorist groups such as Hamas and more indirectly with Palestinian Jihad, as revealed in congressional testimony by former US Treasury financing analyst Johnathan Schanzer in 2016.

AMP comprises several organizations that were implicated by the US government for financing the Islamic terrorist group Hamas between 2001 and 2011.

SJP co-founder and Palestinian ex-pat Prof. Hatem Bazian also chairs the terrorism-supporting AMP.

Bazian has cited Hamas’s mother organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Muslim World Leaguealigned Muslim Student Association which he headed at the University of California at Berkeley as his inspirations for founding SJP. The organization’s UC Berkley chapter has been referred to as a “Hamas front on campus.”

SJP’s support for Palestinian and Islamist terrorism has characterized its extremist behavior on scores of US campuses, including Princeton, Stanford, Georgetown, NYU, and the University of Pennsylvania. Students, particularly Jewish and Israel-friendly ones, have reported acts of physical violence, threats and intimidation by SJP members.

Research studies by Brandeis University and the AMCHA initiative have revealed a direct correlation between BDS activities and a marked rise in antisemitic acts on campuses with large Jewish populations. The research also revealed a correlation between the presence of SJP and a rise in campus antisemitism.

According to AMCHA, in the first nine months of 2017 there were more than 100 incidents of swastikas being daubed on campus property as well as other expressions favoring Jewish genocide. In one egregious example from 2014, SJP of Florida International University co-sponsored a rally in which protesters chanted “Khaybar, Khaybar, Oh Jew, Muhammad’s army will return” – a reference to the massacre of Jews in northern Saudi Arabia by the invading Muslims in 628 CE.

Jewish students have also reported being terrorized physically, being assaulted and spat upon by SJP members at Stanford, Loyola and Cornell universities.

It appears that SJP and its supporters are proud of its record of antisemitism. Northeastern University’s SJP faculty adviser, Prof. M. Shaid Alam – who has written that 9/11 was an Islamist insurgency against foreign occupation of Muslim lands – reportedly told SJP members to be proud to be called antisemites and to wear the title “as a badge of honor.”

SJP’s support for terrorist groups, its promotion and identification with terrorists and its alarmingly antisemitic behavior appears to be modeled after terrorism- supporting states like the Islamic Republic of Iran and jihadist groups such as Hamas, the PFLP, and Islamic Jihad. These groups demonize Israel and use antisemitic imagery and rhetoric as ideological and psychological pretexts for launching terrorist attacks against the Jewish state. While SJP is not formally a terrorist organization, its expressions of support, ideological sympathies and financial and other affiliations with radical, extremist and terrorist groups is worrying and must end.

The SJP problem is proliferating, with chapters on some 120 campuses, most of them active. The secretive and decentralized operations of its factions makes it difficult to monitor. SJP claims active chapters on some 190 campuses across the US.

SJP poses a direct challenge to university administrations across the United states and Europe, but also to alumni, major donors, and trustees. If universities are to retain their academic integrity and realize their promise to be a safe environment for the peaceful and respectful exchange of ideas, SJP can no longer be countenanced.

University regulations and the US Constitution were established to protect free speech. It is precisely that freedom that Students for Justice in Palestine has hijacked and holds hostage in service of imposing a hate-filled, antisemitic and often violent, extremist campus agenda that publicly and proudly seeks the elimination of the Jewish state while silencing, coercing, and threatening those who disagree.

Germans Know Antisemitism When They See It

From Algemeiner, 10 October, by Mitchell Bard:

A pro-BDS demonstration. Photo: FOA / Facebook.

One of the outrageous aspects of campus politics — and, to a lesser extent, off-campus politics — is the effort by Israel’s detractors to tell Jews what constitutes antisemitism. This is remarkable, especially when you consider how women or gays or African Americans would react to people telling them that they don’t have the right to define sexism, homophobia or racism.

Equally shameful is the response of university officials and civil libertarians — who would never defend other forms of bigotry, but bend over backwards to suggest antisemitic attacks on Israel, and BDS advocacy, are acceptable forms of expression, or protected by academic freedom.

Germans do not have the same blinders. They know what antisemitism is, and what can follow from allowing it to go unchecked. It is, therefore, not surprising that opposition to BDS is so strong in Germany.

In February, for example, politicians from the Christian Democratic Union Party call BDS antisemitic. In August, Munich adopted anti-BDS legislation, and Frankfurt banned BDS activity. A month later, Berlin’s mayor vowed to block the use of city venues and funds by groups or event organizers that support BDS. Just this week, the Green Party in the southern German state of Bavaria passed a resolution rejecting BDS because it is “anti-Semitic, hostile to Israel, reactionary and anti-enlightenment.”

Students in Germany, unlike their peers in America, also have a clear understanding of BDS, which led Leipzig University to adopt an anti-BDS bill. For Germans, the boycott of Israel is distressingly familiar. As the student parliament at Goethe University in Frankfurt observed in this succinct and searing indictment of the movement:

The call by the BDS campaign to boycott products from the parts designated “occupied territories” of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Golan Heights stands clearly in the tradition of the national socialist Jewish boycott and the slogan “Don’t buy from Jews!”

That’s right — Germans are calling BDS advocates Nazis. They’re saying that celebrities, professors, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and other BDS proponents are like the stormtroopers that vandalized Jewish businesses and enforced a boycott against them — for the sole reason that they were owned by Jews.

True as the comparison may be, Jews could never get away with it. This is one instance, however, where Roger Waters and the rest of his ilk cannot blame the Jews for trying to silence them. Informed, intelligent, non-Jewish German students have called you out for what you are: antisemites.

The German students get it, but too many Americans do not. One explanation is political correctness. Students, particularly self-described progressives, do not like labels — except racist, sexist, homophobe, Islamophobe, etc. Many gullibly accept that Palestinian suffering is all the fault of the Jews, and can be ameliorated by punishing Israel. Students, professors and officials also swallow the sophistry of Israel’s detractors when these inheritors of Nazi ideology deny that their views are antisemitic.

American students are also famously ignorant of history. They have little or no knowledge of the Middle East, so it is easy for them to be bamboozled by emotional pleas and distorted, if not entirely fictional, narratives about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Germans, like most European students, are more knowledgeable about the world beyond their campus. They may not have any greater expertise on Middle East issues, but they do have a historical perspective.

Germans obviously have a unique reason to be cognizant of the dangers of promoting Jew-hatred. For most American students, the Holocaust is as relevant to their lives as the Peloponnesian War. For Germans, it may be part of their family history.

Germans also see the alarming rise in Europe of far-right political parties that espouse antisemitism. Americans, however, pay little or no attention to trends abroad, and are mostly unaware of the lunatic fringe in the United States, except when they crawl out from under their rocks, as they did in Charlottesville. On campus, however, the extremists promoting BDS are allowed to run loose, spewing anti-Israel venom and promoting an agenda that seeks the destruction of the homeland of the Jews.

The good news is that BDS is a marginal movement in the United States that has failed miserably. Like any purveyors of sleaze, however, they pollute the environment. They should not be allowed to turn the campuses into ideological toxic waste dumps.

American Jewish students need to take a cue from their German peers and stop being afraid to call the BDS advocates what they are — antisemites. It is also incumbent upon universities to treat them with the same derision and intolerance as they do other bigots.

The Iranian Threat to Israel

From FP, 28 September 2017, by Jonathan Spyer:

Israel Is Going to War in Syria to Fight Iran

Israeli officials believe that Iran is winning its bid for dominance in the Middle East, and they are mobilizing to counter the regional realignment that threatens to follow. 

The focus of Israel’s military and diplomatic campaign is Syria. Israeli jets have struck Hezbollah and Syrian regime facilities and convoys dozens of times during Syria’s civil war, with the goal of preventing the transfer of weapons systems from Iran to Hezbollah. 

In an apparent broadening of the scope of this air campaign, on Sept. 7 Israeli jets struck a Syrian weapons facility near Masyaf responsible for the production of chemical weapons and the storing of surface-to-surface missiles.

The strike came after a round of diplomacy in which Israeli officials concluded that their concerns regarding the developing situation in Syria were not being addressed with sufficient seriousness in either the United States or Russia.

A senior delegation led by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen visited Washington in late August, reportedly to express Israel’s dissatisfaction with the emerging U.S.-Russian understanding on Syria. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi to raise similar concerns with Moscow.

In both cases, the Israelis were disappointed with the response. Their overriding concern in Syria is the free reign that all the major players there seem willing to afford Iran and its various proxies in the country. And as long as nobody else addresses that concern in satisfactory, Israel is determined to continue addressing it on its own.

Iranian forces now maintain a presence close to or adjoining the Israeli-controlled portion of the Golan Heights and the Quneitra Crossing that separates it from the Syrian-controlled portion of the territory. Israel has throughout the Syrian war noted a desire on the part of the Iranians and their Hezbollah clients to establish this area as a second line of active confrontation against the Jewish state, in addition to south Lebanon.

“Syria,” of course, hardly exists today. The regime is in the hands of its Iranian and Russian masters, and half of the country remains outside its control. But the Iran-led bloc and its clearly stated intention to eventually destroy Israel certainly do exist, and the de facto buffer against them may be disappearing. Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah recently declared “victory” in the Syrian war, adding that what remained was “scattered battles.

With the prospect of pro-Iranian forces reaching Bukamal on the Syrian-Iraqi border, this opens up the possibility of the much-reported Iranian “land corridor” stretching uninterrupted from Iran itself to a few kilometers from the Israeli-controlled Golan.

Earlier this month, Israel shot down an Iranian drone over the Golan Heights. It was the latest evidence of Iran’s activities on the border. Syrian opposition reports have noted an Iranian presence in Tal Al-Sha’ar area, Tal Al-Ahmar, and Division 90 headquarters, all in the vicinity of the border. Pro-Iran forces, meanwhile, are open in their ambitions. Hezbollah al-Nujaba, an Iraqi Shiite force supported by Iran, has formed a “Golan Liberation” unit and declared itself “ready to take action to liberate the Golan.” Senior figures from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basij have been photographed in areas close to the border.

Israel has so far thwarted these ambitions in two ways. First, it has launched attacks to frustrate and interdict attempts to build a paramilitary infrastructure in the area. Most famously, the killing of Jihad Mughniyeh, son of Hezbollah military chief Imad Mughniyeh, in a targeted strike at Mazraat Amal in the Quneitra area in January 2015 was part of this effort. Five other Hezbollah members and a general of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Mohammad Allahdadi, were also killed in the strike.

Second, Israel has developed pragmatic working relations with the local rebel groups who at the moment still control the greater part of the border, such as the Fursan al-Joulan group. This cooperation focuses on treating wounded fighters and civilians, and providing humanitarian aid and financial assistance. There has also probably been assistance in the field of intelligence, though no evidence has yet emerged of direct provision of weapons or direct engagement of Israeli forces on the rebels’ behalf.

On July 9, a ceasefire agreement directly brokered by the United States and Russia for southwest Syria was announced. It posits the establishment of a de-escalation zone in Syria’s southwest, in the area of the Quneitra and Daraa provinces. The details of the de-escalation zone are still being negotiated. But Israel has been deeply concerned that it could seriously complicate the de facto Israeli safeguards in place against Iranian infiltration of the border. If the fighting ends, physical resistance to encroachment will become more complicated and sponsorship of rebels potentially no longer relevant. As of now, Russian attempts to assure Israel that the terms of the ceasefire adequately address its concerns in this regard have evidently failed to persuade. The latest media reports on the negotiations for the zone suggest that the United States has reached an agreement with Moscow that pro-Iranian militias will be kept 25 miles from the border.

But the issue goes beyond arrangements at the southwestern edge of Syria. Israel is concerned by Iran’s overarching regional ambitions. Recent comments by Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, that a future war with Israel might involve additional pro-Iranian militia forces to the Lebanese groups have been well noted in Jerusalem. Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz recently told a security conference in Herzliya, as reported by Reuters, that in a future war between Israel and Hezbollah the latter may be able to make use of an Iranian naval port, bases for Iran’s air and ground forces, and “tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen being brought in from various countries.”

A recent report in the London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi described Iranian plans to thin out the Sunni Arab population between Damascus and the border with Lebanon, expelling Sunni residents and replacing them with pro-government Shiites from elsewhere in the country or outside it. Israeli strategic culture tends to emphasize addressing immediate threats, but these potential demographic developments are also being watched closely in Jerusalem.

This all forms a larger picture in which Israel sees a major shift underway in the regional balance of power, to the benefit of the Iran-led regional bloc.

Anyone who has received briefings from senior Israeli security officials in recent years has become familiar with a conception of the region as divided into four broad blocs: 

  1. Iran and its (mainly Shiite) allies; 
  2. a loose group of countries opposed to Iran that includes the Arab autocracies of the Gulf (excluding Qatar), along with Egypt, Jordan, and Israel itself; 
  3. an alliance of conservative Sunni Islamist forces, such as Turkey, Qatar, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Sunni Arab rebels in Syria; and 
  4. finally the regional networks of Sunni Salafi jihadism, most notably the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

There are problems with this picture, and it contains simplifications. Most notably, the line between the conservative Sunni Islamists and the Salafis has always been blurred. There is an additional blurred line, in which authoritarian rulers such as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have some sympathy for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Nevertheless, the picture was a serviceable one, adhering to many of the clear realities of the Middle East over the last decade and a half.

But the tectonic plates of this picture are now shifting, most notably to the clear detriment of the two camps associated with Sunni political Islam. 

The period of Arab unrest in 2010, during which Islamist and Salafi forces seemed briefly ascendant, is now a spent force — its beneficiaries in retreat and in some cases eclipsed by Sunni autocrats and pro-Iranian forces. Hamas is seeking to rebuild its relations with Iran. Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi languishes in jail. Islamists in Tunisia are a minority element in the government, and Qatar is under attack from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because of its stances in recent years. And the Syrian Sunni Arab rebels, once the great cause of this group, are now stranded — fighting for survival and without hope of victory against the Assad regime. The Salafis, too, are in eclipse, at least as political contenders.

Looked at from Israel, this process is a mixed bag. Sunni Islamists are hostile to Israel, of course, and for the most part, their failure to assemble a lasting power bloc is welcomed in Jerusalem. Senior Israeli security officials describe, for example, Sisi’s 2013 coup deposing the Muslim Brotherhood as a species of “miracle.” In Syria, however, the insurgent efforts of the Sunni Islamists had at least the benefit of distracting the attentions of the more formidable enemy — the Iran-led regional bloc. For five years, Israel was largely able to sit by while Sunni and Shiite political Islam were in a death’s embrace just north and east of the border. Russian and Iranian intervention, however, appears to have tipped the balance against the Sunni rebels, threatening to bring the long chapter of active civil war in Syria to a close.

From an Israeli point of view, we are back to the pre-2010 Middle East, when Israel and pro-western Sunni powers understood they were in a direct face-off with the Iranians and their allies. But in 2017, there is the additional complicating factor of a direct Russian physical presence in the Levant, in alliance or at least in cooperation with Israel’s enemies.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which remains exclusively focused on the war against the Islamic State, has done little to assuage Israeli concerns. Trump and those around him, of course, share the Israeli assessment regarding the challenge of Iranian regional ambitions. The impression, however, is that the administration may well not be sufficiently focused or concerned to actually take measures necessary to halt the Iranian advance — both military and political — in Syria, Iraq, or Lebanon.

Where does this leave Israel?

First, Israel’s diplomatic avenues to the international power brokers in Syria remain open. 

  • When it comes to Washington, Israel’s task is to locate or induce a more coherent American strategy to counter advance of the Iranians in the Levant. 
  • Its goal when it comes to Moscow is to ensure sufficient leeway from Putin, who has no ideological animus against Israel and no special sympathy for Tehran, so that Israel can take the measures it deems necessary to halt or deter the Iranians and their proxies.

Second, Israel will continue to rely on its military defenses, which remain without peer in the region. And as shown in Masyaf, they can be employed to halt and deter provocative actions by the Iran-led bloc where necessary. 

Nevertheless, as seen from Jerusalem, the shifting regional tectonic plates are producing a new situation in which the Iran-led alliance is once again directly facing Israel, consequently raising the possibility of direct confrontation. Masyaf was not the first shot in the fight between Israel and its proxies in the Levant — and it is unlikely to be the last.