Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The World Can Live Without Iranian Oil

From WSJ, 4 Nov 2018, by Rick Perry:

The U.S. energy boom will help the global supply meet demand.

An offshore oil platform near Lavan Island, Iran, Jan. 5, 2017.
An offshore oil platform near Lavan Island, Iran, Jan. 5, 2017. 

When President Trump ended U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear deal, he promised tough sanctions on the Iranian regime. On Monday our administration will deliver exactly that, reimposing sanctions on more than 700 people and entities in Iran’s energy, shipping and financial sectors.

The president has made clear that the U.S. supports the Iranian people’s aspirations for freedom and prosperity. He firmly opposes Tehran’s efforts to dash those aspirations—and to menace the world by developing ballistic missiles, launching cyberattacks, and funding terrorist proxies to destabilize the Middle East and beyond.

The new sanctions will deliver an unmistakable message to Tehran: Change your ways or suffer the consequences.

The Obama administration’s deal with Iran failed to curb Tehran’s egregious misconduct and ensure the safety of the American people. As the Trump administration exerts maximum pressure on the regime to reach a new deal, Iran’s energy sector is a natural target for sanctions. Iranian leaders use oil money to line their own pockets and fund destructive foreign adventurism rather than address their people’s needs.

The new sanctions will hit Iran’s energy sector hard. But thanks to anticipatory actions taken by the world’s leading producers, including the U.S., to make up the difference, there should be minimal effect on global energy markets.

Iran’s oil exports began to plummet months ago as the seriousness of U.S. policy became apparent. From 2.7 million barrels a day in June, Iran’s oil and condensate exports fell to less than two million barrels a day in September.

In response, major oil suppliers such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iraq have increased production. So has the U.S., which became the world’s No. 1 oil producer in August. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects global oil supply to meet demand in 2019 even without Iranian oil.

The U.S. has powered its energy renaissance with a cascade of innovation. America now produces more energy than anyone would have thought possible a few years ago. Between August 2017 and August 2018, U.S. crude oil production increased by 2.1 million barrels a day, the largest year-on-year increase in U.S. history.

And it only gets better: Crude-oil exports are expected nearly to double by 2020. When infrastructure projects in West Texas’ Permian Basin come online late next year, production will expand further. New cross-border pipelines will help Mexico and Canada increase their supply as well.

The U.S. is rising to world energy leadership at precisely the moment its abundance is most needed. America’s new energy bounty gives us leverage to hold Iran accountable as never before. While entities that flout our sanctions will face the full weight of U.S. economic power, those jurisdictions on a clear path to zero Iranian imports may be granted temporary exemptions to allow time to comply fully.

Empowered by its new energy arsenal that can free the world from reliance on Iranian oil, the U.S. will apply relentless pressure on Tehran until its leaders alter their destructive behavior and return to the negotiating table. Until then, the Iranian regime must remain isolated from the global economy. The international community eagerly awaits the participation of an Iran prepared to abide by basic norms of international conduct.

Iran hit by computer virus more violent than Stuxnet

Tehran strategic networks attacked, Hadashot TV says, hours after Israel revealed it tipped off Denmark about Iran murder plot, and days after Rouhani’s phone was found bugged

Iranian infrastructure and strategic networks have come under attack in the last few days by a computer virus similar to Stuxnet but “more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated...” ....

The report came hours after Israel said its Mossad intelligence agency had thwarted an Iranian murder plot in Denmark, and two days after Iran acknowledged that President Hassan Rouhani’s mobile phone had been bugged. 

It also follows a string of Israeli intelligence coups against Iran, including the extraction from Tehran in January by the Mossad of the contents of a vast archive documenting Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and the detailing by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN in September of other alleged Iranian nuclear and missile assets inside Iran, in Syria and in Lebanon.

“Remember Stuxnet, the virus that penetrated the computers of the Iranian nuclear industry?” the report on Israel’s Hadashot news asked. Iran “has admitted in the past few days that it is again facing a similar attack, from a more violent, more advanced and more sophisticated virus than before, that has hit infrastructure and strategic networks.”

The Iranians, the TV report went on, are “not admitting, of course, how much damage has been caused.”

On Sunday, Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s civil defense agency, said ...
“Recently we discovered a new generation of Stuxnet which consisted of several parts … and was trying to enter our systems...”
...Earlier Wednesday, Israeli officials said the Mossad provided its Danish counterpart with information concerning an alleged plot by Tehran to assassinate three Iranian opposition figures living in the Scandinavian country. According to the officials, the Mossad gave Denmark information about a plot to kill three Iranians suspected of belonging to the anti-regime Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz.

The intelligence reportedly provided by the Mossad prompted the arrest of a Norwegian national of Iranian origin earlier this month. Denmark on Tuesday recalled its ambassador to Iran over the incident.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Farmers and Fighters: The Making of the Land

From Tablet, October 2018, by Douglas Feith:

The arrival at the 1920 Cairo Conference of Sir Herbert Samuel, H.B.M. high commissioner, etc. Col. Lawrence, Emir Abdullah, Air Marshal Sir Geoffrey Salmond and Sir Wyndham Deedes

...For the 400 years before World War I, Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire, so it was owned by the Turks, not by the Arabs, let alone by the Arabs of Palestine. 

Palestine is an old but imprecise geographical term. It remained imprecise because there was never a country called Palestine. Even when—long ago— it was under Arab rule, Palestine was never ruled by its own Arab inhabitants.

So it’s not accurate to say that Palestine was a country, nor to say it was Arab land. Neither the Jews nor the British stole it from the Arabs. The original Zionists came to Palestine without the backing of any imperialist or colonialist power. They bought the land on which they settled. And before Britain invaded Palestine in World War I, the Ottoman Turks had joined Germany and attacked Allied forces.

Was it an injustice for Britain to issue the Balfour Declaration in favor of a Jewish national home in Palestine? The question is of more than historical interest for it relates to the current controversy about Israel’s nation-state law, which was adopted this past July. Among other controversial things, that law said,
“The fulfillment of the right of national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
Consider the Balfour Declaration’s context. When the British war cabinet approved it on Oct. 31, 1917, the world was more than three years into the Great War, the catastrophe now known as World War I, which ultimately destroyed four major empires. Britain was fighting for its life and, because the war was going badly, the government of British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith had fallen at the end of 1916 and David Lloyd George had come to power.

Lloyd George was singularly attuned to the importance of propaganda. He was the first British prime minister in history who had grown up poor. His childhood home didn’t have running water. His political rise testified to the democratization of politics and the power of public opinion.

Within 48 hours after he became prime minister, his cabinet resolved to review British propaganda worldwide. He hoped to win more popular support for the Allies in Greece, Italy, Russia, America and elsewhere. Among British propaganda’s many target audiences was world Jewry. Not unreasonably, the Jews generally were seen as pro-Zionist, with useful influence especially in revolutionary Russia and in Woodrow Wilson’s America.

By embracing Zionism, the British government wanted to give Jews a particular interest in Allied victory. In his memoirs, Lloyd George explained that the Balfour Declaration was “part of our propagandist strategy,” its timing “determined by considerations of war policy.”

In other words, colonialism didn’t bring Britain to Palestine. Britain didn’t seize Palestine from an unoffending native population. It conquered the land not from the Arabs, but from Turkey, which (as noted) had joined Britain’s enemies in the war. The Arabs in Palestine fought for Turkey against Britain. The land was enemy territory.   

Supporting Zionism appealed to Lloyd George, Balfour and other officials not just on strategic grounds, but also for moral reasons. They sympathized with the Jewish national cause. Zionism was an answer to the historical Jewish question, a way to remedy some of the harm shamefully done to the Jewish people over history. And it would give Jews an opportunity to normalize their place in the world, by building up a national center and a refuge, a country in their ancient homeland where they could become the majority and enjoy self-determination as a people

When those officials were young men, George Eliot, in her influential 1876 novel Daniel Deronda, foresaw the creation of a movement to create a “new Jewish polity.” The Jews then, she wrote, in the voice of a Jewish character, “shall have an organic centre” and “the outraged Jew shall have a defense in the court of nations, as the outraged Englishman or American. And the world will gain as Israel gains.” That character continued, “[L]et there be another great migration, another choosing of Israel to be a nationality whose members may still stretch to the ends of the earth, even as the sons of England and Germany, whom enterprise carries afar, but who still have a national hearth and a tribunal of national opinion. . . .  Who says that the history and literature of our race are dead? Are they not as living as the history and literature of Greece and Rome, which have inspired revolutions . . .? These were an inheritance dug from the tomb. Ours is an inheritance that has never ceased to quiver in millions of human frames.” Lloyd George, Balfour, Winston Churchill and other British leaders in the Great War era echoed the lyrical pro-Jewish sympathy of Eliot’s best-selling novel.

The Balfour Declaration, like Israel’s recent Jewish nation-state law, distinguished between a people’s national rights and the civil and religious rights of individuals. After endorsing “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” the Balfour Declaration said, “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

Critics have argued that it wronged Palestine’s Arabs to deny them a national home in Palestine and it was arrogant to think that they’d be content with civil and religious rights within a Jewish-majority state. But there are other ways of seeing the matter. How did the British decision makers view it at the time?

They didn’t consider Palestine in isolation. It was a small part of a vast region that British forces were conquering from the Turks. Though most Arabs had fought for the Turks, the Allies would put the Arab people on the path to independence and national self-determination throughout that vast region. But the tiny Holy Land had a unique status. It was territory in which Christians and Jews worldwide had profound interests. 

That the Arabs composed a single people was a basic principle of the Arab nationalist movement. In February 1919, for example, the first Palestinian Congress took pains to explain why Palestine was not a country. Its resolutions said that Palestine had never been divided from Syria. It declared that Palestinians and Syrians were one people connected “by national, religious, linguistic, natural, economic and geographical bonds.” Palestine’s Arabs were not viewed–neither by British officials nor by their own leaders—as a separate nation. (This changed later, of course, but that was later.)

The idea that a small segment of the Arab people – the Palestinian Arabs – would someday live in a Jewish-majority country was not thought of as a unique problem. There were similar issues in Europe. After World War I, new nations were created or revived: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Hungary, for example. Inevitably, some people would have to live as a minority in neighboring states. Seven hundred thousand Hungarians would become a minority in Czechoslovakia, almost 400,000 in Yugoslavia and 1.4 million in Romania. Where they were a minority, they would have individual rights, but not collective rights. That is, ethnic Hungarians would not have national rights of self-determination in Romania, but only in Hungary.

The principle applicable to European minorities applied also to the Arabs of Palestine. In any given country, only one people can be the majority, so only one can enjoy national self-determination there. The Arab people would eventually rule themselves in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Arabia. They were going to end up in control of virtually all the land they claimed for themselves. They naturally wanted to be the majority everywhere. But then, the Jews could be the majority nowhere. The victorious Allies did not consider that just. 

If Zionism succeeded, Palestine’s Arabs would eventually live as a minority in a democratic Jewish-majority country. This was an imposition, but as British leaders saw it, a relatively minor one for the Arab people as a whole. In 1922, Arthur Balfour addressed the criticism that Britain had been “unjust to the Arab race.” “Of all the charges made against this country,” he said, that “seems to me the strangest.” It was, he recalled, “through the expenditure largely of British blood, by the exercise of British skill and valour, by the conduct of British generals, by troops brought from all parts of the British Empire . . . that the freeing of the Arab race from Turkish rule has been effected.” He went on, “That we . . . who have just established a King in Mesopotamia, who had before that established an Arab King in the Hejaz, and who have done more than has been done for centuries past to put the Arab race in the position to which they have attained—that we should be charged with being their enemies, with having taken a mean advantage of the course of international negotiations, seems to me not only most unjust to the policy of this country, but almost fantastic in its extravagance.”

In the British war cabinet debates about Zionism, one of the main opponents of the Balfour Declaration was the brilliant conservative aristocrat Lord Curzon. He described Palestine as a “poor land,” small and arid, abounding in “malaria, fever, opthalmia and other ailments,” and ruined by “centuries of neglect and misrule.” He said it would be unable for many years to support a substantial increase in its population, which was around 700,000. He saw the Jews as particularly unsuited to Palestine’s requirements. The land’s challenges, he said, called for the agricultural skills of a people “inured to agriculture.” He added archly that the Jews are “to a large extent trained in other industries and professions.”

...The Jews would not be able to defend themselves, he implied, so they would indefinitely be a burden on the British. “A long vista of anxiety, vicissitude and expense lies before those who desire to rebuild the [Jewish] national home,” he predicted.

... according to Curzon, Zionism was doomed because the Jews couldn’t farm and couldn’t fight. He set out his analysis in a memorandum that was eloquent, reasonable and hard to contradict. But it was wrong. The degree to which the Jews disproved Curzon’s skepticism is, I think, astonishing. They learned how to farm and how to fight.

In fact, their military skills have driven their enemies to concentrate on political battlefields. Hence the ideological war now being waged against Israel–at the United Nations, on university campuses, in newspapers and elsewhere. The campaign to delegitimate Israel has been scoring successes. The efforts to counter that campaign have often proven inept. That too I find astonishing.

In the arena of argumentation, the Jews are practiced, having continuously honed their debating skills since Abraham questioned God about Sodom. They should be formidable in explaining why Israel is not colonialist and refuting other calumnies. Yet they’re often beaten into retreat by anti-Zionist polemicists. There’s no excuse for it.

Supporters of Zionism should learn their history and reacquaint themselves with the reasons that Zionism became a movement. They should study afresh the case for the Jewish state in the Jewish homeland. If Jews could learn to farm and fight, they can remember how to read a history book.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Replacing UNRWA in Jerusalem

From Times of Israel, 24 Oct 2018:

Nir Barkat walks the streets of Shuafat, meets city sanitation workers who enter Palestinian neighborhood for the first time, as part of plan to replace UNRWA in capital

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, center right, arrives for a tour in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shuafat. October 22, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, center right, arrives for a tour in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shuafat. October 22, 2014. 
(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat visited Shuafat in East Jerusalem on Tuesday as part of his drive to push the United Nation’s Palestinian refugee organization out of the capital and replace its operations with municipal services.

Barkat met with city sanitation workers who entered the Palestinian neighborhood for the first time ever to carry out trash removal and other cleaning services.

...According to the city, workers found hundreds of tons of untended garbage and construction waste. They will start entering the camp daily to gradually take over what the city called UNRWA’s “inadequate services.”

The municipality will also start to provide “far superior” education, health, and other services to the area, to replace UNRWA, it said in a statement.

While Shuafat is within the Jerusalem city limits, municipal workers, police, and others have never entered ...[the area] which is situated beyond the West Bank security barrier, leading to charges of official neglect. Barkat, who has been mayor since 2008, has blamed the shortfall in services on UNRWA, which has recently had its funding slashed by the US, amid accusations that it serves as a political tool against Israel.

“The era of UNRWA in Jerusalem is over,” Barkat said during his visit. “The time has come to stop the refugee lie in Jerusalem. There are no refugees in our city, only residents. They must receive their services from the municipality like any other resident.

“We are implementing the first phase of the UNRWA evacuation plan by taking responsibility for the cleanliness of the camp, and in the near future, together with the government, we will also provide education, welfare, and health services there until full sovereignty is achieved,” he added. “The United States does not want UNRWA, Israel does not want UNRWA, and the residents do not want UNRWA.”
Earlier this month, Barkat detailed his proposal, according to which the seven UNRWA-run schools — with a total of 1,800 students — that operate without a license from the Education Ministry will be closed at the end of the current academic year, and the pupils absorbed into existing municipal schools.

The municipality will also issue closure orders for UNRWA’s medical centers, which operate without approval from the Health Ministry, and construct a new public health center in their place, Barkat said.

Existing UNRWA-run welfare programs operating within Shuafat and nearby Kufr Aqeb will continue, but will be transferred to the governance municipality welfare and employment services, according to Barkat’s plan.

The Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. 
(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

...The United States was the biggest contributor to the agency’s budget in 2017, donating $350 million. The US State Department said recently it would no longer fund UNRWA because it was “irredeemably flawed.”

In its announcement of the cuts to UNRWA, the US State Department castigated the agency for what it called “failed practices,” and indicated that it rejected the criteria by which UNRWA defines Palestinian refugees, conferring refugee status not only on original refugees, but on their millions of descendants.

UNRWA has provided aid to millions of Palestinians since it was established nearly 70 years ago, just after Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

UNRWA recognizes over 5 million Palestinians as refugees, even though there are only several tens of thousands of original Palestinian refugees still alive. Palestinian leaders demand a “right of return” to today’s Israel for all these millions — a demand Israel sees as a bid to destroy Israel as a majority-Jewish state. Because UNRWA, uniquely, confers refugee status on descendants of the original refugees, Israel charges UNRWA with perpetuating that demand for a “return” of millions. Under the UN’s global criteria, it is estimated that there would be only some half a million recognized Palestinian refugees.

The money that disappeared

Historian Kobby Barda has found a lost chapter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: After World War II, the U.S. gave Israel and Arab nations $1.5 billion to solve the Middle East refugee problem. But only Israel lived up to its end of the deal.

Palestinian refugees leaving the Galilee, November 1948 |  Photo: AP

Kobby Barda couldn't believe what he was seeing. While researching the establishment of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee under the auspices of the Ruderman Program for American Jewish Studies at the University of Haifa, Barda found his way to the personal archive of one Isaiah Leo "Si" Kenen, a Canadian-born lawyer, journalist and philanthropist who was one of the founders of the pro-Israel lobby.

Researcher Kobby Barda: The American aid deal rebalances the historical narrative
Photo: Tal Givoni

Among the many documents that record in detail Kenen's work in the first years of Israel's existence as a state, Barda discovered a lost chapter in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the start of the 1950s, in addition to pouring money into the Marshall Plan to rehabilitate Europe after World War II, the U.S. decided to provide money to Arab states and Israel so they could find a solution to the refugee problem created by the 1948 War of Independence.

The American aid earmarked to solve the issue of Middle East refugees was supposed to have been split evenly between Israel and the Arab states, with each side receiving $50 million to build infrastructure to absorb refugees. The money to take in the Arab refugees was handed over to the U.N. agency founded to address the issue of Palestinian refugees, and the Americans gave Arab countries another $53 million for "technical cooperation." In effect, the Arab side received double the money given to Israel, even though Israel took in more refugees, including ones from Arab nations – Jews who had been displaced by the regional upheavals. The amount Congress allocated to provide for Middle East refugees – Jewish and Arab – at the request of then-President Harry Truman was equal to $1.5 billion today.

"When I saw the documents, I was in complete shock," Barda says.

"The U.S. undertook to fund a solution to the refugee problem in the Middle East. A message Harry S. Truman sent Congress explicitly says that this is where the matter ends. It was a commitment the president made in a letter to convince Congress to vote for the aid bill. In other words, an important chapter in the history of the conflict has been lost, simply swept away by history. The people who worked on it aren't alive anymore, and there's no one who will put it back on the table. Now, when the Trump Administration is coming up with new ideas to solve the conflict and address the refugee issue, the information takes on new relevance.

"In hindsight, the Americans have already paid to have the Palestinian refugees accommodated, but they are still defined as refugees and still living in refugee camps. Israel, on the other hand, has taken in [Jewish] refugees from Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, given them citizenship, and ended the matter. In Jordan, where most of the Palestinian refugees wound up and which signed the aid deal with the U.S. – unlike Syria, which refused – there are still Palestinian refugee camps. This is the asymmetry that has been created in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it's very important to the historical narrative and to any future attempt to reach an agreement," Barda explains.
...In May 1952, Truman sent a message to Congress explaining the importance of passing a law for international aid and laying out his vision for the Middle East. Truman said that Israel and the Arab countries needed a regional approach to basic problems of economic development, which he called "vital" to easing existing tensions that were mainly the result of a satisfactory solution to the refugee problem.

Truman said that the aid he was proposing for Arab nations would allow them to produce more food and develop their water infrastructures, whereas the aid to Israel would help the young state sustain its economy in a crucial time of national development. Moreover, the president argued, aiding Arab refugees from Israel would serve three purposes: It would help their new home countries; strengthen the countries where they settled; and help Israel and the Arab countries by eliminating the refugee problem, which he said presented a "serious threat" to peace in the region.

Barda sees this as an enormous miss for Israeli foreign policy and public diplomacy.
"This information completely changes the perspective on the matter of [the Palestinians'] right of return. There are two nascent sides, both of whom a rich uncle agreed to pay so they could solve their problems about the refugees once and for all, just like what happened in the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey after World War I, and in the spirit of the action taken to rehome the German refugees in central and eastern Europe, who after World War II were returned to Germany, partly through the Marshall Plan. Both sides received hefty sums of money and were told: take compensation and let's move on," Barda says.
"Israel took in refugees from Arab countries and didn't perpetuate their status by giving them any different status [here]. Arab counties didn't do that – even though it was clear that the Americans had given them the money so they could feed the refugees, develop agriculture, provide housing and employment for them – in addition to the aid that was transferred directly to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.
"If today [U.S. President] Donald Trump really wants to make a move toward creating a mechanism of compensation for the refugees, particularly with Jordan, where most of them live, he can take into account that any additional compensation will in effect be superfluous. This story could be a very powerful card to play, as Jordan and other countries have already received money to take in refugees," Barda says...
An exclusive agency for the Palestinians
Only a few days before the law passed, Deputy Secretary of State George McGhee addressed the Senate and told legislators that the regional economic plan included three parts: direct aid to Arab countries, direct aid to Israel, and helping the U.N. coordinate the matter of refugees from Arab countries.

Barda says that this is exactly the idea Kenen was pushing for in the first place.

"UNRWA was established in 1949, started operating in 1950, and in 1960 declared that its work was done. But then, under pressure from Arab countries, it was decided to extend its mandate. It's a unique organization because there is a high commission in the U.N. that deals with refugees from all over the world, and a special authority established to handle only the Palestinian issue. On the other hand, no one established any agency for Jewish refugees in Israel.
"The American aid plan rebalances the historical narrative. The U.S. undertook to pay both sides to put an end to the refugee issue. Israel also played a part in the equation. There was drama the entire time it took to get the aid approved, which was the first U.S. foreign aid to Israel. They were always trying to cut down the amount. This story doesn't exist in history books. In contemporary journalism, it is mentioned offhand. Kenen's archive opened my eyes and let me see the full picture and understand what happened and why it provides us with a lot of armor,"
Barda says.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

U.S. Told Palestinians “The Double Game is Over”

From TheTower, 13 Sept 2018:

...“the double game is over.”

Image result for devious abbas

... the PA’s leadership has, during the past four years, “abandoned” any pretense of negotiating peace with Israel, as required by the Oslo Accords. Instead... “they’ve attempted to attack Israel through third parties, through international organizations, like the UN, and like the European Union.”

By closing the PLO offices in Washington, the Trump administration was “pushing back,” and telling the PA that “the double game is over.” ...U.S. was telling the PA, “You cannot pretend to be involved in a peace process when you have not sat down at a table and negotiated for the last four years, all the while using international forums to bash Israel and to sponsor and support terrorism against Israelis.”

... the PA’s “pay to slay” program, where the families of jailed terrorists are given lifetime stipends. ... incentivizes terror, as it pays greater rewards to terrorists who are convicted  of murder.

An organization that pays rewards to terrorists... “is not an organization that is committed to peace,” rather it “is an organization that sponsors terror.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas has consistently rebuffed demands from President Donald Trump to stop funding terror, and insisted that he will continue paying those who kill Israelis.

“For years the Palestinians have had it both ways,” ...“They’ve been treated with international diplomatic status on the one hand, by the West, for participating in this peace process, while actually engaging in terror and not sincerely negotiating.”

The PA... has rejected the Trump administration’s peace plan, sight unseen, showing that “they are not serious about negotiating for peace.” The administration, in turn, has made it clear to the PA that if it supports terror and refuses negotiations, “there will be consequences.”...

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

New Israel Fund tries to block deportation of terrorist’s family

From World Israel News,  October 2, 2018:
“It is delusional that the governments of Europe and the New Israel Fund provide legal protection to lowly terrorists,” said the parents of terror victim Shir Hajaj.

New Israel Fund behind effort to block deportation of terrorist’s family
Herzl Hajaj, father of terror victim 
(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

HaMoked Center for the Defence of the Individual, a New Israel Fund-supported legal group, is assisting relatives of terrorist Fadi al-Qanbar, who murdered four Israeli soldiers in a truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem in January 2017.

The Jerusalem appeals court on Tuesday ruled that al-Kanaber’s relatives, who are not Israeli citizens, be deported. The family is also considered a security threat as some have ties to ISIS, according to state information.

...The Hajaj family submitted a request to be added as respondents to the appeal alongside the government. They are being assisted by Im Tirtzu, a pro-Israel NGO based in Jerusalem.

...First Lieutenant Shir Hajaj, 22, [is] one of the four victims murdered by al-Qanbar during an officer training course at the Haas Promenade in the Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem. 

Also killed were 

  • Lt. Yael Yekutiel, 20, from Givatayim; 
  • Shira Tzur, 20, from Haifa, and 
  • Erez Orbach, 20, from Alon Shvut.

Rethink 'The Israeli Solution'

From Arutz Sheva, 13 Sept 2018, by Martin Sherman:

...Events of the past weeks have highlighted the incipient disloyalty—or at least the evident passive lack of loyalty—of significant sectors of the Israeli-Arab population to Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and a clear rejection of the fundamental precepts on which the State of Israel was founded.

It also cast grave doubts on the feasibility—and advisability—of most of the currently touted “Right” -wing proposals for the extension of Israeli sovereignty over Judea-Samaria.

A catalog of repudiation of Jewish sovereignty
Following the racist cacophony of the Israeli-Arabs in the wake of the legislation of the Nationality Bill in July, denying the Jewish people the right to a sovereign nation-state (despite the constitutional assurance of civil equality for non-Jewish minorities), a series of several other disturbing events took place.
  • In the coastal Arab village of Jisr-al-Zarka, about 40 km south of Haifa, two incidents of assault on state symbols by local residents took place. The one involved shots being fired in early August on the police station in the village, recently established as part of a wider initiative to bolster enforcement of law and order in the largely lawless Arab sector. The other entailed an attempt, on August 15, by two other residents to remove the Israeli flag flying over the station.
  • Two days later, Ahmed Muhammad Mahameed, a resident of another Israeli-Arab town, Umm-al-Fahm, attempted to stab an Israeli policeman in Jerusalem, and was shot dead.
  • Despite the family’s undertaking to hold a small, unobtrusive burial, the funeral swiftly developed into a mass demonstration, with crowds brandishing Palestinian flags and loudly chanting anti-Israel slogans.

Significantly, this public display of anti-Israeli sentiment was strongly reminiscent of the events that took place in Umm-al Fahm, just over a year ago, at the funerals of three residents of the town who were killed after they gunned down two Israeli police officers on the Temple Mount.

  • Then, just a few days ago, it was reported that Arab Knesset members of the Joint List were colluding with members of the Palestinian delegation at the UN to initiate measures of censure against Israel.

Sustained support for the enemy
Clearly then, after over seven decades of living under Israeli sovereignty, after benefiting hugely from the civil equality afforded them (despite repeated instances of expressed affiliation with Israel’s most vehement foes), Israeli Arabs still find it difficult to accept—never mind, identify with—foundational fundamentals on which Israel was established—as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Despite having experienced the societal and economic advantages those fundamentals have brought them—particularly compared to the penury and violence in the surrounding states, founded on very different ones—they continue to demonstrate that they cannot abide the notion of Jewish sovereignty over the land.

In the 2015 elections, well over 80% of the Arab electorate voted for the overtly anti-Zionist Joint List, a motley amalgam of political factions... whose only common ideological bond -- its very raison d’etre—is the rejection of the Jewish character of Israel.
Thus, in the 2015 elections, well over 80% of the Arab electorate voted for the overtly anti-Zionist Joint List, a motley amalgam of political factions, ranging from radical communists to Muslim fundamentalists, whose only common ideological bond –indeed its very raison d’etre—is the rejection of the Jewish character of Israel.

Indeed, its elected officials, arguably among those who have benefited most from the socio-political order, have been the most vehement in their overt support for Israel’s most virulent enemies.
Thus, Azmi Bishara, founder of the Balad party, currently part of the Joint List, gave a speech in Umm al-Fahm in 2001—as a Knesset member—deploring Israel's victory in the Six-Day War.

Praising Hezbollah
Later the same year, he visited Syria, giving a speech mourning the death of Syria's President, Hafez al-Assad, and expressing solidarity with Syria's and Hezbollah's fight against Israel. (Significantly in light of the current debate of the role of the judiciary in the political process, the Israeli Supreme Court refused to remove Bishara’s parliamentary immunity to allow his prosecution for aiding an enemy state and terror organization.)

Shortly after the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Bihsara arrived again in Syria and together with other members of his Balad party (including Jamal Zahalka , currently head of Balad) visited Lebanon, where they met the Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. The Israeli Knesset members expressed their support for Hezbollah, praising the terror organization’s military action against Israel, informing the Lebanese PM that it had "lifted the spirit of the Arab people[sic]”.

It was thus not totally unexpected to hear that in 2007, Bishara had fled the country under suspicion of aiding Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War, later resigning his seat in the Knesset.

Then, of course, there is Haneen Zouabi, who chose to participate in the infamous flotilla initiated by the terrorist-affiliated jihadist Turkish organization, IHH on the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, endeavoring to break the security cordon imposed on Gaza. Zouabi, another Balad member, and currently an  MK of the Joint List, is on recordproclaiming that the very concept of a Jewish state was "inherently racist" and expressing support for Iran’s nuclear program, which she endorsed as necessary to balance Israel’s military power, which she identified as the major regional danger.

Smuggling cellphones to terrorists
Another Joint List MK, Basel Ghattas, was caught, in late 2016, smuggling cell phones and SIM cards to convicted terrorists in an Israeli prison under cover of his parliamentary immunity. Ghattas resigned his Knesset seat and is currently serving a prison sentence for aiding a terrorist organization and a string of other offences.

Just months ago, Jamal Zahalka , who succeed Bishara as head of Balad, (today also a Joint List MK), declared that he “would rather die than sing the Israeli national anthem”—i.e. rather die than sing the anthem of the country in whose parliament he serves. As for the national flag he declared: “It’s a lot worse than a rag”.

Last but not least, there is Ahmad Tibi, who before being elected as an MK, served as a political advisor to the arch-terrorist, Yasser Arafat. Tibi, today also a Joint List MK, is a declared anti-Zionist who opposes Israel's character as a Jewish state, claiming that its self-definition as Jewish is racist. He rejects, across the board, elements that reflect the Jewish nature of Israel—including the Law of Return, the flag, and the national anthem. Tibi, as an Israeli legislator, opposes the recruitment of Arab citizens of Israel into the IDF while supporting the Palestinian right of return, calling it a prerequisite for reconciliation.
An incandescent “red light”
The reason that I catalogue these instances is to underscore the political sentiments of the Israeli-Arabs as a collective, reflected in the parties and the individuals they vote for. After decades of life as fully enfranchised citizens under Israeli sovereignty, they—and certainly their elected representatives—resist and resent the Jewish nature of the state, in which they live and which has bestowed on them such far-reaching societal benefits—notwithstanding their clear sentiments of affiliation with Israel’s implacable foes.

The fact that incipient enmity exists—indeed, persists--despite the relative social and material advantages the Israeli-Arabs enjoy relative to those of their kinfolk across Israel’s borders, should serve as an incandescent red light to well-meaning proponents of extending Israeli sovereignty over Judea-Samaria together with the Arab population resident there.
One of the best known proposals—arguably, the best known—is that of the prominent columnist, Caroline Glick, which she elaborates on in her 2014 book, The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.

To briefly summarize the gist of her proposal, in her own words, Glick writes: The mechanics of the policy are fairly straightforward. Israel will apply its laws to Judea and Samaria and govern the areas as normal parts of Israel…Contingent on security concerns…Palestinians will have the right to travel and live anywhere they wish within Israeli territory…Palestinians will have the same legal and civil rights as the rest of the residents and citizens of Israel… Those that receive Israeli citizenship in accordance with Israel’s Citizenship Law will also be allowed to vote in national elections for the Knesset.

Unfounded optimism vs. bitter experience
Glick bases her proposal on “alternative” demographic assessments that the Muslim population in Judea-Samaria is grossly inflated. But even granting that this is correct, her proposal involves doubling the current number of Muslims in Israel’s permanent population. Moreover, as Glick acknowledges herself, this additional population has for generations, been “fed…a steady diet of jihadist and Nazi-style anti-Semitism” by means of the “Palestinian school system and media and appointed imams in mosques”.

 Glick appears to be alive to the problematic potential this entails, writing: … suddenly reducing the Jewish majority from 75 percent to 66 percent will undoubtedly have unforeseeable consequences on Israeli politics.” However, I fear that the consequences may well be entirely foreseeable and equally detrimental.

Optimistically, she predicts: “an Israeli assertion of central authority over the areas will likely have a significant moderating impact. Once the population feels there is a central governing authority in place, that sense of order will likely neutralize a significant amount of opposition momentum spurred by anti-Israel animus.”

This of course stands in stark contrast to the evidence of recent weeks among Israeli-Arabs, which offers persuasive proof that despite decades of assertion of central authority” this has done little, if anything, “to neutralize …anti-Israel animus”. Indeed, one can only wonder with grave concern just how such anti-Israel animus might be spurred by doubling the Muslim population, fed for generations with “a steady diet of jihadist and Nazi-style anti-Semitism”.

The irrelevance of initial Jewish majority
After all, even if the optimistic demographic assessments are correct, her prescription will still entail a Muslim minority of 35-40%. This, in itself, will have far reaching implications both for budget allocations and the socio-economic fabric of the country.

Clearly, with a recalcitrant minority of this size, including many of whom (as Glick herself acknowledges) have been taught for decades to hate Jews and who vehemently reject the Jewish character of the state, its symbols, calendar and conduct of public life, it will be impossible to forge a coherent and cohesive society. Rather, the result is likely to be pervasive inter-ethnic strife, even violence, and the Lebanonization of Israeli society.
Moreover, as I have pointed out elsewhere, the addition of the Arab residents of Judea-Samaria to Israel’s permanent population will compel a massive diversion of resources to reduce, in some measure, the yawning gaps in the socio-economic conditions that exist between the Muslim population beyond the pre-1967 lines and the rest of the Israel. This will inevitably siphon off funds currently utilized for enhancing infrastructure, welfare, education and so on, dramatically lowering the standard and quality of life for the existing citizenry.
The combination of deteriorating economic conditions and increasing interethnic friction will give rise to a detrimental demographic dynamic—making Israel an increasingly less attractive destination for Jews abroad and a decreasingly appealing place of residence for the Jewish population in Israel. The almost certain result will be diminished Aliyah (Jewish immigration) and accelerated Yeridah (Jewish emigration), eroding the Jewish numerical majority and imperiling the Zionist electoral majority—especially in the light of the recent behavior of Left wing factions in the wake of the “Nationality Bill”.

Evacuation-Compensation for Arabs as sole Zionist-compliant policy
Accordingly, the prescription advanced by Glick in calling for a “A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East”entailing extension of Israeli sovereignty over Judea-Samaria—including the Arab population—will jeopardize the Zionist enterprise no less—arguably more so—than the two-state paradigm, which she rightly repudiates with great force and eloquence.
As the year draws to a close I would urge her to rethink the positions she has hitherto adopted and consider charting a different course.

So, while I completely concur with her that Israeli sovereignty must be extended from the “River to the Sea,” I call on her to endorse a vigorous program of incentivized emigration (a.k.a. Evacuation – Compensation) for the Arab residents in Judea-Samaria as the only non-“kinetic” policy prescription that can adequately address Israel’s geographic imperative and its demographic one—if it is to endure as the nation state of the Jewish people.
After all, the principle of “Evacuation – Compensation” is often advanced for the removal of Jewish residents in Judea-Samaria—to facilitate the establishment of yet another homophobic, misogynistic Muslim-majority tyranny (a.k.a. a Palestinian state).

So why not rather advance the same principle for the evacuation-compensation of the Arab residents of Judea-Samaria–-to prevent the establishment of such a homophobic, misogynistic tyranny…?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn and the Socialism of Fools

From WSJ, Sept. 10, 2018, by Walter Russell Mead:

At the root of his bigotry is a Marxist hatred of capitalist U.S. ‘imperialism.’

Jeremy Corbyn, Sept. 10.
Jeremy Corbyn, Sept. 10. 

That Jeremy Corbyn, who hopes someday to occupy the office previously held by Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli and William Pitt, is an anti-Semite seems no longer in question. No anti-Israeli terrorist entity is too drenched in Jewish blood for him to cheer on. Hamas, Hezbollah, the mullahs of Iran—their sins against freedom of speech, against freedom of assembly, and against women and gays may be crimson, but if they hate the Jewish state enough, Labour has a leader who will wash them as white as snow.

But not all anti-Semites are alike. Different forms of anti-Semitism can have very different consequences. What kind does Jeremy Corbyn profess, and how does it relate to the rest of his worldview?

Mr. Corbyn and his colleagues in the hard-left Labour elite are, above all, modern. They don’t hate the Jews for killing Christ as medieval Christians did. They don’t think the Jews use the blood of gentile children to make matzoh. Whatever some of the less enlightened members of Mr. Corbyn’s base among the British Muslim community may think, the secular Labour elite doesn’t blame the Jews for rejecting Muhammed.

Nor is their hatred racial. Mr. Corbyn’s worldview is blinkered and sadly skewed, but he is neither wicked nor delusional enough to imagine that the Jewish “race” is competing with the “Aryan” Anglo-Saxons to dominate the world.

It is Zionism that drives Mr. Corbyn’s anti-Jewish passion. He is not anti-Israel because some or even many of Israel’s policies are wrong. He is existentially anti-Zionist. He does not believe that the Jewish people are a nation. From this point of view, the notorious U.N. Resolution 3379 of 1975 got it exactly right: Zionism is racism, and the Jewish state is racist to the core.

What elevates the Jewish state from an irritation to an obsession in the Corbynite world is Israel’s relationship with the U.S. The U.S. is the center of international capitalism. Destroying American capitalism and the imperialist system it imposes on the world is the overarching goal of the Marxist zealotry that drives Mr. Corbyn’s worldview and justifies his sympathy for otherwise dubious regimes. The Iranian mullahs may hang homosexuals and stone the occasional adulteress, but in the all-important struggle against American imperialism and its Zionist sidekick, they are a natural and necessary part of the Resistance.

It’s a short step for hard-left Labour from hating Israel to finding “Zionist” conspiracies on every side. Marxism typically rejects liberal democracy as a sham. Rich and powerful capitalists make all the big decisions: They control the political parties, they control the press, and they use the facade of democratic politics to amuse, befuddle and ultimately control the masses. From this standpoint, conspiracy thinking isn’t a sign of ignorance or emotionalism; to the contrary, perceiving the hidden plots of our true rulers is a necessary and vital step in seeing through the myth of liberal democracy.

The hard-line Marxist and the classic anti-Semite agree that the world is really run by a cabal of greedy men behind closed doors. But where the Marxist sees capitalist string-pullers, some of whom may happen to be Jewish, the anti-Semite sees only Jews. This is the meaning behind the famous statement, once popular on the European left, that anti-Semitism is the “socialism of fools”: the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are too narrow and miss the real point.

But for Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour colleagues, the perceived special relationship between American imperialism and Zionism collapses the distinction between the socialism of fools and the “real” thing. The urban legend that “the Jews” control America’s Middle Eastern policy and that Jewish power forces the U.S. to march in lockstep with right-wing Israeli governments is also an organizing principle of the Corbynite worldview. The supposed control exerted by Zionist Jewish billionaires over American politics makes the fight against imperialism also a fight against a powerful Jewish conspiracy.

Those ideas, as any serious student of American politics or of the American Jewish community knows, are nonsensical. In every presidential election of the 21st century, American Jews have given significantly more money and votes to Democratic than to Republican candidates. If the American Jewish community controlled American politics, President Trump would still be hosting a television show and there would be no U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

Yet myths are no less powerful because they are false. Mr. Corbyn’s outlook will lead any government he forms into deep trouble and frustration, but that in itself won’t keep him out of Downing Street. Liberalism today may face its deepest crisis in the country that gave the liberal tradition to the world.

Shutting Down the PLO

From WSJ, Sept. 10, 2018, by The Editorial Board:

The U.S. stops indulging Palestinian hostility to Israel.

The Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. 

The Trump Administration is blowing the whistle on the Palestine Liberation Organization, and it would be hard to identify a more overdue reality check in U.S. foreign policy.

The Administration announced Monday that it is closing the PLO’s Washington office, citing lack of progress on peace negotiations. The PLO began as a terrorist organization but was allowed to open an office in Washington in 1994 after the Oslo accords produced hope for a new era of reconciliation between the PLO and Israel.

That hope has never been fulfilled, notably since the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat began the second intifada after walking away from the historic and generous Israeli peace offer brokered by Bill Clinton in 2000. Long-term indulgence of the PLO’s recalcitrance has had the effect of allowing a toxic and reflexive anti-Israel sentiment to build in international institutions, not least among academics and students on U.S. campuses.

The Trump Administration has tried to revive the Israeli-Palestinian talks, but it has also shown less tolerance for Palestinian resistance. Last November Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas used his speech at the United Nations to call for the investigation and prosecution of Israeli officials by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Trump Administration said then that the PLO’s Washington office was at risk of closure.

Mr. Abbas’s call for an investigation of Israel by the ICC was consciously provocative, and the PLO’s Washington office would have known that. The U.S. Congress said in 2015—before Donald Trump became President—that the Secretary of State was required to certify that the PLO wasn’t trying to use the ICC against Israel.

In a speech Monday to the Federalist Society, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton made clear the U.S. will push back hard against any ICC investigation involving members of the U.S. military or the country’s allies.
“The United States... will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court. We will not cooperate with the ICC.”
Meanwhile, late last month the U.S. announced it is permanently cutting funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, a primary source of Palestinian financial support for decades. The numbers are significant. The U.S. decision will cut off more than $300 million from UNRWA’s $1.24 billion budget. By now the U.N. agency is essentially a shadow government in the Palestinian-held territories. In Gaza alone, there are 274 UNRWA schools with a student population of 280,000.

The point of all this isn’t to be vindictive but to show Mr. Abbas and the PLO that they can't continue to underwrite anti-Semitic textbooks and anti-Israel terrorism without consequences. If the Palestinians want to be treated with the respect of a peace partner, they have to first show a desire for peace.

U.S. Military Looks Toward Greece Amid Strains With Turkey

From WSJ, Sept. 11, 2018, by Nancy A. Youssef:

Talks proceed on expanded operations, including using more air and naval bases

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greets the staff of Navy Adm. Evangelos Apostolakis, chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, at the Ministry of Defense in Athens on Sept. 4.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greets the staff of Navy Adm. Evangelos Apostolakis, chief of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff, at the Ministry of Defense in Athens on Sept. 4. 

ATHENS—The U.S. military is in talks to expand its operations in Greece, including using more air and naval bases here, signaling a potential move toward the eastern Mediterranean amid growing tensions with Turkey, officials said.

There are both geopolitical and geographical factors that make Greece an appealing site for the U.S. military, the officials said. Politically, U.S.-Greek relations are at an apex and both nations have concerns about their North Atlantic Treaty Organization partner, Turkey, U.S. officials said. Geographically, Greece has ideal weather for year-round flight training, and is home to both Greek and NATO bases.

Perhaps most importantly for the U.S., both the current Greek government as well as its leading opposition are receptive, U.S. officials said during a visit in recent days. Officials said they see an opportunity for increased use of Greek facilities and for staging more troops here on a temporary basis.

“The geography of Greece and the opportunities here are pretty significant,” Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him, citing Greece’s proximity to U.S. operations in Syria and North Africa.

The U.S. has begun expanding its use of Greek bases. This spring, unarmed MQ-9 Reaper drones began operating out of Greece’s Larisa Air Force Base.

... the 2016 attempted coup by opponents of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-300 missile system and U.S. support in Syria of Kurdish fighters, a group whose members Turkey considers terrorists, have all contributed to tensions between the two countries, heightening Greece’s appeal.

Since 2015, the Turks have added restrictions to the kind of operations the U.S. can conduct out of Incirlik. In response, the U.S. has shifted its resources to places like Qatar to conduct operations in Syria.

For years, the U.S. military has used the naval base at Greece’s Souda Bay, on the coast of Crete, the only port in the region that has the water capacity for aircraft carriers to dock. In May, the carrier USS Harry S. Truman conducted a four-day port visit in Souda Bay. The following month, President Trump’s plane stopped into Souda Bay to refuel en route to the talks in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

But Souda Bay now is at capacity, one U.S. official said, leading to demand for other options.

For Greece, more U.S. port visits and training exercises would mitigate the security threat from Libya and Turkey, the latter about which Greece is “deeply worried,” the U.S. official said. On Sunday, Greek officials said they arrested two Turkish military personnel for illegally trying to cross the border, and later released them, an incident that prompted statements by the armies of both countries.

Greece is “looking around this neighborhood and recognizing the same instability…that we have,” the official said.

Greek diplomatic officials didn’t directly address the military cooperation talks, but noted the country is strategically situated and already meets the NATO defense spending target of 2% of its gross domestic product.

At an event in the city of Thessaloniki this month, Greek Minister of Defense Panos Kammenos praised U.S.-Greek relations through the decades. “We will move together to the future,” he said. “Military agreements expand and this will help Greece in being a strategic partner throughout the Mediterranean.”

The region also is the focus of other big powers. China has expanded its footprint in the eastern Mediterranean and Russia uses Syria as a key staging area for its operations in the region. Greece also has a longstanding relationship with Russia.

Regardless, Greece is “a pretty good bet,” the U.S. official said.

Stronger US Resolve in the Middle East

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 942, September 7, 2018, by Prof. Hillel Frisch:

US Special Operations Forces in Iraq
-photo via Wikimedia Commons

...The latest example of Donald Trump’s single-minded purpose in the Middle East is his decision to continue to maintain a small but highly selective US military presence of some 2,000 troops in Iraq.

The official justification for this decision is the need to continue the fight against the remnants of ISIS across the northern reaches of Iraq. No one should be fooled by this as the threat that ISIS and its predecessors posed to the US was neutralized long ago by an effective homeland security agency.

... the real reason why the US is staying put in Iraq is to prevent it from becoming an Iranian client state, as Lebanon has become and as Syria might soon become. 

The investment of 2,000 troops, most of whom serve as advisors and trainers of the Federal Army of Iraq, is worth its price in gold in achieving this objective compared to the 100,000 American troops who were on the ground before the massive withdrawal in 2010...

The rivalry for control over Iraq between the US and its allies and Iran is not only military (with the US supporting the strengthening of the Federal army and the Iranians attempting to sap its strength by enhancing the power of the militias) but political as well.

In the recent elections, the US was clearly rooting for the success of Abadi’s “Victory” coalition while the Iranians even more bluntly backed the “Conquest” coalition, headed by the leader of the largest Shiite militia, a former exile in Tehran and an Iranian stalwart.

The official results will only intensify the underlying rivalry between the two external powers. Abadi’s coalition did less well than the Iranian-led coalition. Fortunately, Abadi has a slightly better chance of wooing the third-largest coalition of parties whose support is essential to forming the new government.

Unfortunately for the US, this third bloc is headed by a mercurial former Shiite militia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, who as leader of the al-Mahdi army in the first years of the American invasion fought bitter battles against US forces. Campaigning on an anti-Iranian ticket, he recently backtracked to attack Abadi for making a statement that Iraq will abide by the Americans’ renewed sanction regime on Iran, a move that shows he is playing hard to get to increase the price of his coalition’s loyalty.

The good news for the US and the coalition of Arab Sunni-led states anxious to contain Iran is that the Arab Shiites of Iraq wish to preserve their independence from Iran and fear their close foreign neighbor more than the distant US.

Rational economic interests go a long way towards explaining why this is the case. Iraq produces more oil than Iran, 4.3 million barrels per day compared to 3.2 million for Iran (though with smaller known reserves and significantly less gas). Why would the 40 million Iraqis, hard pressed from long and bitter internecine fighting, want to share their wealth with 80 million Iranians?

Yet, more spiritual considerations (not entirely divorced from mundane material concerns) also indicate an Iraqi Shiite identity jealous of its independence from Iran and its clerical leadership. A search in Google Trends of Ali Sistani, the Shiite leader in Iraq, reveals almost total lack of interest in this personality in Iran, yet great popularity in Iraq, Bahrain, and Lebanon. Ayatollah Khomeini and his ideological principle of vilayat-e-faqih – the idea that all legislation and actions of the Islamic regime must be vetted by the Supreme Spiritual Leader – are highly popular in Iran but have little currency in Iraq.

This underlying quest for independence from Iranian tutelage justifies President Trump’s wager that 2,000 troops might be worth maintaining to prevent the new fall of Baghdad. The least it could do is stave off the Iranians sufficiently for Iraq’s government and citizens to decide for themselves what the nature of their relationship with Iran will be.

From WSJ, Sept. 7, 2018, by Sune Engel Rasmussen in Beirut and Michael R. Gordon in Washington

Iran is signaling that it will buck U.S. efforts to roll back its military presence in the Middle East, moving to cement foreign alliances and continuing to project power abroad despite sanctions that have helped put intense pressure on its economy.

Tehran signed a long-term security pact with Syria in August, and has kept up the flow of arms and financial support to proxy forces around the region, according to U.S. officials and a person close to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia...

Members of Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary units in Baghdad in June.
Members of Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary units in Baghdad in June. 

Iran’s defiant stance comes as its currency plummets and foreign investors pull out, largely due to rising tension between Washington and Tehran. In May, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal, which administration officials indicated was part of a broader effort to curtail Iran’s activities in the Middle East, and said he was reimposing sanctions.

“In my judgment, what Iran is doing today is simply a continuation of what they have been doing for a long time, which is to harden themselves, build what alliances they can and prepare for the day” when conflict with the U.S. might erupt, Lt. Gen. Michael Nagata of the National Counterterrorism Center said at a conference Wednesday hosted by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank.

U.S. officials acknowledge Iran hasn’t stepped back from its assertive posture and say Iranian shipments of missiles and some advanced arms around the region have even accelerated. But they also note that the toughest sanctions are yet to come.

Iran has long sought to spread military power and political clout beyond its borders. 

  • It is a major backer of the Assad regime in Syria, which is gearing up for what could be a decisive battle in its more than seven-year war with rebels. 
  • Iran has also long supported Shiite militias in Iraq, and 
  • has been accused in recent years of supplying arms to Houthi rebels in Yemen fighting a coalition led by Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia...
  • Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia is central to Tehran’s strategy, and it has spearheaded Iran’s intervention in Syria on behalf of the Syrian regime. Iran has maintained its financing for the militia’s war effort, according to the person close to the group...

Iran’s economy, however, is under growing stress. The value of the rial has fallen almost 70% this year, from 45,000 to the dollar in January to 140,000 on Wednesday, a historic low. The Iranian parliament’s research center forecasts the economy to shrink between 3.8% and 5.5% in the coming Iranian fiscal year, which starts next March.

A Houthi fighter secured a June rally in San’a, Yemen.
A Houthi fighter secured a June rally in San’a, Yemen. 

...Iranian analysts also say that many of Tehran’s foreign operations are also inexpensive, allowing it to pick its fights and prod its enemies.

...While Tehran has rebuffed the Trump administration’s demands that it withdraw from Syria, it has pulled its forces out of the southwestern areas near the Israeli border at the behest of Russia, which sought to accommodate Israeli concerns.

Yet such moves are an example of Iranian “strategic patience,” not a withdrawal... “Iran might have decided to slow down. But it’s a passing phase.”

From WSJ, Sept. 9, 2018, by Michael R. Gordon:

In the spring, President Trump ...vowed to quickly wrap up the fight against Islamic State and bring the troops out “very soon.”

...Now, with a climactic battle looming for Syria’s plan with Russia and Iran to retake rebel-held Idlib province, Mr. Trump is making a course correction—in tune with national-security officials determined to push back against longstanding adversaries.

The administration is keeping 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, imposing sanctions on businessmen close to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and plunging more deeply into diplomacy.

President Trump, shown addressing a rally in Billings, Mont. on Thursday, is making adjustments to U.S. policy in Syria.
President Trump, shown addressing a rally in Billings, Mont. on Thursday, is making adjustments to U.S. policy in Syria. 

The principal objectives are to roll back Iran’s role in Syria and ensure that Islamic State can’t make a comeback, U.S. officials say.

Ousting Mr. Assad, who has succeeded in strengthening his hold on power over two U.S. administrations, is no longer a U.S. priority, senior officials acknowledge. But U.S. officials are still trying to foster a more inclusive political arrangement inside Syria while breathing new life into the nearly moribund international negotiations over the country’s future.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met in Tehran on Friday, with the Turkish president, to discuss the future of Syria’s Idlib province.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani met in Tehran on Friday, with the Turkish president, to discuss the future of Syria’s Idlib province. 

...The Trump administration’s evolving strategy has three main components.

On the military front, the administration’s new emphasis on delivering Islamic State an “enduring defeat” will extend the deployment of U.S. troops at least into next year, U.S. officials said.

The legal mandate for keeping U.S. troops in Syria is still linked to support of Kurdish and Arab fighters who are trying to finish off Islamic State. But the move has implications for the diplomatic wrangling over the country’s future as extending the U.S. mission against Islamic State will also prolong the presence of U.S. forces and their Syrian allies in oil-rich areas of eastern Syria that the Assad regime is eager to control...

On the diplomatic front, the Trump administration has sought to reassure nervous allies that the U.S. intends to be active in the deliberations over Syria’s future, isn’t rushing to disengage militarily and is prepared to impose costs if the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies proceed with the Idlib offensive.

That message was delivered this month on a trip to Israel, Jordan and Turkey by James Jeffrey, the former U.S. ambassador who has been named as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s new special envoy for Syria, and Joel Rayburn, who moved to the State Department from the White House National Security Council.

The administration hasn’t said publicly what actions it might take if the Idlib offensive goes ahead, even without the use of chemical weapons. But it sent a signal on Thursday of what might be in store by imposing sanctions on several Syrians and Lebanese citizens who have supported Mr. Assad, including Muhammad al-Qatirij, whom the Treasury Department said is facilitating fuel shipments to the Assad regime from Islamic State-controlled territory.

There have been other signals as well: On Friday, the U.S. Central Command announced the start of a live-fire exercise involving more than 100 Marines in southern Syria near the al Tanf base, which is occupied by a small U.S. force. Iran and Russia have demanded the Americans vacate the base, near the border with Jordan and Iraq.

Finally, Mr. Trump’s forays into public diplomacy have changed, at least for now. Instead of trumpeting the imminent departure of U.S. troops this month, he urged Mr. Assad not to “recklessly attack” Idlib...

For now, Mr. Trump appears to be persuaded that withdrawing from Syria quickly could play into his adversaries’ hands. Maintaining the president’s backing for his new Syria strategy may be its proponents’ biggest test.