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November 29, 2015 / 17 Kislev, 5776
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Islamism’

Terrorists Assassinate Egypt’s Attorney General

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Egypt’s Attorney General Hisham Barakat, 64, was assassinated Monday in a deadly car bombing in Cairo, the most senior official to die in a terrorist attack since the election of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. No one has taken responsibility for the attack thus far.

At least nine other victims were also killed. The explosion came from a bomb in a parked car triggered remotely as Barakat’s convoy left his home.

Former President Mohamed Morsi, was sentenced to death last month by an Egyptian court after his conviction on charges relating to a prison breakout in 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood-backed former president was ousted from his position two years ago.

The group was outlawed prior to the Arab Spring and subsequently once more when it refused to end violent nationwide demonstrations by radical Islamists following Morsi’s ouster from office. The Muslim Brotherhood has also become increasingly enraged at subsequent convictions of its members in connection with the violence and subsequent long prison terms imposed by Egyptian judges.

The relationship between that organization — which was also gave rise to the Hamas terrorist organization based in Gaza — and the rapidly developing Egyptian branch of Da’esh (ISIS), is no longer clear.

Last month Egyptian Da’esh urged its followers to attack the judges who have been handing down decisions against members of the Muslim Brotherhood. That directive may have been behind the assassination of Egypt’s top prosecutor.

Last week, attacks by different branches of Da’esh (ISIS) carried out savage attacks in France, Kuwait, Tunisia, and Syria in what the group’s supporters celebrated as “Black Friday.”

In Grenoble, France, the owner of an American firm was beheaded and two other people were wounded. In Sousse, Tunisia, at least 37 people were murdered; 25 were slaughtered in a terror attack at a Kuwaiti mosque in Kuwait City. In Kobani, Syria, the lives of at least 200 innocents were taken.

France Prosecuting 15 Suspected Jihadis for Targeting Jews

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

The government of France began its prosecution of 15 suspected terrorists on Monday for planning to carry out jihad (Islamic holy war) attacks against Jews in Paris. France ratcheted up its response to radical Islamic threats and rising anti-Semitism after an exceptionally bloody week of terror this January.

The radical Islamic group to which the accused operatives belong is called Forsane Alizza, or “Knights of Pride.” It was dismantled shortly after the 2012 week-long murder spree in Toulouse by Al Qaeda-linked terrorist Mohamed Merah, who attacked a Jewish day school. Merah murdered a rabbi and three children, as well as several soldiers.

The leader of the group, Mohamed Achamlane, one of those whose trial began this week, was arrested in the western city of Nantes. He and the others are charged with intent to carry out terrorist acts. However, two of the 15 were not present in the courtroom; one was a minor to be tried in juvenile court.

The group’s Internet site “called for an Islamic caliphate in France, the application of Shari’a (ed: Islamic law) and incited Muslims to unite to prepare for civil war,” said Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins at the time of their arrest. Forsane Alizza members received religious indoctrination and physical training in parks and forests around Paris, Molins charged, “in order to take part in a jihad.”

Multiple kosher groceries and the offices of French satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo were listed in a Forsane Alizza computer file named “targets.” Several were, in fact, attacked this past January in a united Al Qaeda-ISIS operation that left 20 people dead, including the three terrorists in the cell.

However, in a letter from his jail cell Achamlane denied having anything to do with the attacks, according to court documents.

Exposé: Former MIT Muslim Professor Raised Money for Al Qaeda [video]

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

A MIT professor who formerly was the on-campus Muslim preacher raised money for Al Qaeda and recruited for jihad, according to an exposé from the Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT).

Laher’s career goes back to the 1990s, when he helped recruit for jihad in Chechen and led fund-raising for Al Qaeda while he was a MIT chaplain. Today, he preaches at the Islamic Society of Boston, an extremist mosque founded by MIT students near their campus. It is the same mosque where Boston Marathon bombers Chechen refugees Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev worshipped.

APT research director Ilya Feoktistov and president Charles Jacobs wrote in their mini-documentary:

“Suheil Laher …became president of a Muslim charity based in Boston called Care International, which was founded by Osama Bin Laden’s mentor Abdullah Azzam and was…essence, a fundraising vehicle for mujahideen….

“Laher, then, was quite an important figure in Al Qaeda’s leadership here. His perch at MIT meant that he had easy access to the best American Muslim minds – and their world-class technical skills….

“He pioneered the Jihadist use of the new Internet medium to fundraise and recruit for Al Qaeda causes online. Laher’s personal website prominently featured Abdullah Azzam’s notorious call to Jihad, a tract called “Join the Caravan:

‘Beloved brother! Draw your sword, climb onto the back of your horse, and wipe the blemish off your ummah. If you do not take the responsibility, who then will?’

“Laher’s website contained a large collection of his writings and of sermons he gave in the Boston area. These sermons are replete with calls for Jihad, such as this passage:

When the Muslim lands are being attacked, and the Muslims are being raped and killed, the only solution prescribed by Allah is jihad. Jihad is for all times. […] Jihad does not stop. Those of us who have not yet managed to go and physically help our brothers and sisters should support […] our mujahidin brethren with prayer, with money, with clothes, by taking care of their families, and at some point in person. Otherwise, we must face the wrath of Allah.

One of Laher’s followers on MIT was a biology student named Aafia Siddiqui, who later became known as “Lady Al Qaeda.” She now is serving an 86-year prison sentence for attempting to kill FBI agents who arrested her when she was carrying two pounds of cyanide and plans for mass casualty attacks on New York using chemical and biological weapons.

Laher left his post as Muslim chaplain at MIT last year but continues to preach at Boston mosques.

Feoktistov and Jacobs wrote, “There is no evidence to indicate that Laher influenced the Tsarnaevs directly. Nevertheless, the legacy of radicalism at the Tsarnaevs’ mosque is very much tied to MIT and the Jihadist ideology that Laher preached as its Muslim chaplain.”

16 Year-Old: ‘Taliban Leaders Abused Then Sent Me to Suicide-Bomb Attack’

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

The Afghanistan news agency Khaama Press released an extremely disturbing article on Sunday, April 26, citing the Afghanistan intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security (NDS).

A 16 year old boy who was on the way to carry out a suicide bombing but was arrested en route, told the NDS that Taliban commanders gang-raped him before sending him out for the attack.

The NDS issued a statement that the gang rape victim was going to carry out a suicide attack on a police district headquarters in Kabul, but he was arrested before reaching his target.

The would be suicide bomber, referred to as “Bilal” in the NDS statement, narrated his story for a video released by the NDS. Bilal names the Taliban commanders whom he claimed victimized him. He said that another suicide bomber also raped him.

After the rapes, Bilal was told that he had to carry out a suicide attack to wash off his sins.

According to the NDS, rape cases are not unusual within the ranks of the Taliban network.

Bibi, Iran’s Nukes, and Military Force in a Changed Middle East

Friday, January 30th, 2015

{Originally posted on author’s website, Liberty Unyielding}

Over at The Atlantic, there’s a comprehensive worldview being built on the question of whether there’s a “military solution” to the Iran nuclear problem, and how Benjamin Netanyahu has Israel positioned vis-à-vis the problem in general.

Jeffrey Goldberg thinks Netanyahu has Israel positioned very poorly indeed.

James Fallows’ conclusion, agreeing with Goldberg on the worldview, is encapsulated in a quote from a war-game director and retired Air Force officer in 2004:

“After all this effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers,” our main war-game designer, retired Air Force colonel Sam Gardiner, said at the end of our 2004 exercise. “You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. And you have to make diplomacy work.” That was true then, and truer now.

I don’t doubt at all the sincere belief Fallows has in this conclusion.  But if you unpack the work that led to it 2004, you find that it was based on a fatally flawed premise. (More on that in a moment.)

Moreover, the situation of 2004 no longer obtains.  That means that the calculations of two major players must now be different.  One is Israel; the other is the United States.  The calculations I refer to include not merely the consequences of each party’s actions, and whether the parties’ capabilities are sufficient for the necessary task.  They also include what the threat has become, and the fact that it is graver now than in 2004.

Don’t make assumptions about what I mean by that.  It may not be what you think.

Why the 2004 conclusion about “military force” is flawed

I’ll begin by explaining my point that the premise of the 2004 war game sponsored by The Atlantic was flawed.  There are several criticisms that can be levied, but this is the one that matters most.  (And I don’t mean to impugn the care and diligence that went into the war game.  You’ll see, however, why I found it fatally flawed at the time – before I was an active blogger – and still do.)

To illustrate what I’m talking about, I’ll quote a key passage from the 2004 war-game summary.  Several players were assembled to act out the roles of the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, and James Fallows narrates the events of the game:

The President wanted to understand the options he actually had for a military approach to Iran. The general and his staff had prepared plans for three escalating levels of involvement: a punitive raid against key Revolutionary Guard units, to retaliate for Iranian actions elsewhere, most likely in Iraq; a pre-emptive air strike on possible nuclear facilities; and a “regime change” operation, involving the forcible removal of the mullahs’ government in Tehran. Either of the first two could be done on its own, but the third would require the first two as preparatory steps. In the real world the second option—a pre-emptive air strike against Iranian nuclear sites—is the one most often discussed. Gardiner said that in his briefing as war-game leader he would present versions of all three plans based as closely as possible on current military thinking. He would then ask the principals to recommend not that an attack be launched but that the President authorize the preparatory steps to make all three possible.

The fatal flaw here is posing the problem set by the president as one of creating options for a “military approach” to Iran.  That’s why the options end up being, respectively, useless, vague, and appalling.

Asking what a “military approach to Iran” would look like is asking the wrong question.  The first question – the right question – is always what the objective is.  If you read through the war-game summary, I believe you’ll agree with me that no strategic objective was ever set for the players.  The three options outlined above imply three different objectives.  If I were the president, and those three options were presented to me, I would ask what could have possessed my staff to forward options one and three.

Fallows relates that the Principals Committee players spent most of their time thinking of reasons why option three was bad.  Of course they did.  But why they were even discussing it is the real question.

They spent very little time on option two, according to Fallows, which is the only option that would have fit the objective as most Americans understood it: to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons by inflicting destruction on her nuclear program.  This is his account of the time they gave to it:

The participants touched only briefly on the Osirak-style strike [i.e., option two] during the war game, but afterward most of them expressed doubt about its feasibility.

This is by no means the only reason to dispute the conclusion the war-gamers came to.  But it’s the most important one.  They were not asked to respond to a specific objective with options for accomplishing it.  In particular, they weren’t told to focus on the objective that was relevant and widely understood to be the potential purpose of military operations – and they didn’t focus on it!

They were asked, in the absence of a specific objective, to discuss some random options for using military force.  That tells us nothing about the efficacy of military force.  It tells us that the planning process asked the wrong question.*

Fast-forward to 2015

In 2015, we are no longer in the situation of 2004.  Three important conditions have changed since then.  The importance of these conditions can’t be overstated, in fact, because they change both what’s possible, and what matters.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote the following on Tuesday (emphases below are added by James Fallows):

Whatever the case, the only other way for Netanyahu to stop Iran would be to convince the president of the United States, the leader of the nation that is Israel’s closest ally and most crucial benefactor, to confront Iran decisively. An Israeli strike could theoretically set back Iran’s nuclear program, but only the U.S. has the military capabilities to set back the program in anything approaching a semi-permanent way.

Fallows disagrees with him, invoking the 2004 war game to assert that “military force,” per se, just can’t get the job done:

Israel doesn’t have the military capacity to “stop” Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and neither does the United States, at least not in circumstances short of total war.

The key problem with working off of either of these premises, Goldberg’s or Fallows’, is that their framing is stuck in 2004.  Here are the three conditions that have changed since then:

(1)  The U.S. no longer has the conventional military capability to “set back Iran’s nuclear program in something approaching a semi-permanent way.”  This is a relative condition, and it’s because of the loss of readiness in our armed forces, independent of any other reason.

(2)  Iran’s nuclear program is considerably advanced from 2004, and setting it back has a different definition now.  This doesn’t mean it’s infeasible, but it does mean that no one now has the capability to use a conventional strike campaign to set Iran’s program back to where it was ca. 2004 or earlier.  A setback can only be to some much more advanced point in Iran’s progress.

(3)  Iran’s geopolitical posture in the Middle East has changed materially since 2004.  The regime’s intentions have never changed, but the facts on the ground about what territory Iran can use to menace her neighbors – as well as U.S. interests – have changed dramatically.

I’ll discuss each of these factors in turn.

Decline in U.S. military capabilities

Here is the thing to keep in mind about U.S. capabilities.  In 2004, it was correct to say that the capabilities we had were sufficient to contemplate destroying every Iranian facility related to the nuclear weapons program, using conventional means.  Not only did we have the weaponry; the weapon systems were in a readiness state high enough to be deployed and used.

There was a political question, certainly, about how hard we wanted to hit Iran.  There were a number of factors to consider, and valid reasons why it was not done.  But it was feasible to do it, with the arsenal we had readily available.

In 2015, we could no longer conduct that same attack: the attack that was necessary in 2004, against a smaller and less advanced nuclear program.  We don’t have the same assets available now, because our strike-fighters, in the Air Force and Navy, are unable to maintain the same level of force-wide readiness they could in 2004.  When they’re not deployed or within 3-5 months of deploying, our strike fleet aircrew and aircraft now fall to the lowest level of readiness, and can’t be “worked up” on a short timeline.

There are no extra ready squadrons to call on today, and fewer are routinely present in the CENTCOM area of responsibility than in 2004.  The same is true of aircraft carriers and Tomahawk missile shooters.  (Read more about how we got to this point here, here, here, here, and here.)

If the president wanted to assemble a force to attack Iran, the force would be smaller than what he would have had in 2004, and any “build-up” would involve pulling assets off the front line in other theaters: Europe, where NATO is trying to deter Russia with an enhanced military presence, or the Far East, where we are trying to deter North Korea and China.

Alternatively, the president could ask Congress for the funding to increase force readiness so that there would be more of the strike fleet available at a given time.  Implementing that approach would take at least six months to see the first effects: e.g., one or two squadrons at improved readiness.  The issue isn’t just things like pilot qualifications; it’s things like non-deployed aircraft being cannibalized for parts, and the whole fleet being backed up with deferred maintenance.

We continue to keep our global strategic bombers – B-2s and B-52s – at a generally higher level of readiness, and could use them to attack Iran with conventional ordnance.  Their operations would be constrained, however, by the limitations of strike-fighter readiness and specialty aircraft (e.g., the Navy F/A-18 “Growlers” that provide electronic warfare support).  The bombers need escorts, as they need in-flight refueling; having enough ready bombers isn’t the same thing as having enough ready capability.

Moreover, the U.S. could expect to have limited access to airfields in the Persian Gulf region.  It became clear as early as 2010 that Gulf nations would seek to restrain U.S. operations against Iran from their bases, and today, we should expect the Gulf emirates to be very picky about what they allow.  They won’t buy into tentative, non-decisive military operations that leave Iran able to retaliate against them.  If they fear that we aren’t going to act decisively enough, it’s likely that all three of our major hosts – Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait – would deny us the use of their bases for an operation against Iran.

That limiting condition would take out the Air Force as a source of strike-fighters, and make it much harder to operate tankers, reconnaissance aircraft, and AWACS.

Add in factors like the uncertain future of the Tomahawk missile (the Obama administration proposed to end production in 2014), and what we have today is a much more limited set of options than we had in 2004.  Although we still have a capability to attack Iran’s nuclear-related facilities, we can’t mount the kind of crippling attack we could have in 2004.  What we could achieve now is limited to a smaller effect.

Put it this way: in 2004, the five-day attack described in option two of the Atlantic war game was less than what was needed to impose that “semi-permanent setback” referred to by Jeffrey Goldberg.  But we could have mounted that option two attack with negligible inconvenience to ourselves.  It was well within our capabilities.  We also had the means, by deploying more force, to bring off the larger attack required to administer the “semi-permanent setback.”

In 2015, something like the five-day attack is the very most we could bring off.  It was less than what was needed to achieve a semi-permanent setback to Iran’s program in 2004 – and today, it is far less.

Advances in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs

Iran has made significant advances in her nuclear and missile programs since 2004, demonstrating the ability to enrich uranium to near-weapons-grade purity; demonstrating the ability to enrich uranium on an industrial scale; acquiring enough enriched-uranium stock for 7-8 warheads; and demonstrating the ability to boost a payload into orbit, and therefore, inevitably, a ballistic missile to ICBM ranges.  Iran had none of these capabilities in 2004, and in fact was not even close to having them.

(It is worth noting that the January 2015 appearance in Iran of a launch platform capable of supporting an ICBM has occurred right on schedule, in terms of when analysts in the last decade thought it would.  As of 2015, we have seen most of the developments that were predicted in the Iranian nuclear program in the 2005 NIE – see here as well – and the missile-system developments predicted in that NIE and an East-West Institute analysis published in 2009.)

ICBM-capable launcher observed near Tehran in Jan 2015. (Israel Ch. 2)

ICBM-capable launcher observed near Tehran in Jan 2015. (Israel Ch. 2)

The Iranians have also installed missile silos for their medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) – hardening them against attack – and, according to British intelligence, successfully launched a solid-fuel mobile MRBM to a range of 2,000 km (1,200 statute miles) in 2011.  The latter feats mean Iran has a no-notice, shoot-and-scoot MRBM capability that can reach well into Europe.

These various advances, and other related ones, have two significant implications.  One is that the “bottleneck” of Iran’s nuclear weapons program – the part of it we would get the highest payoff from attacking – has shifted.

There are other, related implications, such as the right way to attack elements of the program.  It wouldn’t be enough today to simply blast away at the Natanz uranium enrichment complex, for example; we would have to follow through afterward and actively prevent Iran from rebuilding a uranium enrichment capability, which the Iranians now have more than ample expertise to do.  In 2004, it would have been a tremendous setback to them to lose Natanz.  They still couldn’t absorb such a loss easily, but their recovery now would be a matter of time and money, not rebuilding from scratch.

At any rate, the bottleneck, or critical node, in their program shifted some time ago, from uranium enrichment, which Iran has mastered, to weaponization of a warhead: that is, fitting a functioning warhead to a delivery system (presumably a ballistic missile, at least to begin with.  Cruise missiles would come later).  Although we have a reasonable idea of which sites to hit to attack that “weaponization” bottleneck, it is the most shadowy aspect of the Iranian nuclear program.  Our confidence in what to hit is slightly lower than it is for the uranium chain or the missile design and production chain.

The other key implication about Iran’s advances is, of course, that the threat has increased.  It is greater today, and it’s more imminent.  We can less afford to do nothing about it than we could in 2004.

And what that means is that even if we can only do less now than we would prefer, the urgency of doing it has increased.

Iran’s geopolitical posture and the resulting threat

That is one facet of the situation faced by Israel.  It’s also a situation faced by the United States, now that Iran is ten years closer to having an ICBM capability, and at the very least could soon be able to hold every partner we have in the Middle East hostage with nuclear-armed MRBMs.

For Israel, however, it isn’t possible to separate the security implications of the nuclear-missile problem from the geopolitical problem.  Both work together to change Israel’s security conditions – which is what Iran intends.

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote his piece Tuesday as if nothing has changed for Israel, other than that there are now face-to-face negotiations between the U.S. and Iran.  But since January 2011, Israel’s security situation has changed significantly, and Iran is one of the biggest factors in that.

Graphic used by retired Gen. Jack Keane to brief Congress 27 Jan on 4-fold increase in radical Islamic threat since 2010. (Graphic: Institute for the Study of War; CSPAN video)

Graphic used by retired Gen. Jack Keane to brief Congress 27 Jan on 4-fold increase in radical Islamic threat since 2010. (Graphic: Institute for the Study of War; CSPAN video)

It’s particularly meaningful to frame the issue by starting from the fact that Israel’s capability against the Iranian nuclear program has always been more limited than America’s.  (Stay with me; this does relate to the Iranian geopolitical posture.)  It’s possible for America to recover the ability to pressure and intimidate Iran into a level of compliance, along the lines of the strategy outlined in my footnote below.  It will never be possible for Israel to do that.

If Israel is going to act, it will have to be with an actual attack.  And that means that what Iran has to do is make it as hard as possible for Israel to bring off such an attack.  That is a driving facet of the geopolitical problem Iran sets for herself.  Iran has larger designs on the region; her plans against Israel “nest” into them.  But the focus on Israel is unmistakable, and one of the key reasons is that hemming Israel in with threats will dilute Israel’s capability to mount an attack against Iran’s high-value facilities.

As little as five years ago, Iran’s options for servicing this requirement were quite limited.  Hamas and Hezbollah could launch rockets and dig tunnels from Gaza and southern Lebanon.  Hezbollah had successfully used an Iranian-supplied anti-ship missile in 2006, but there was little likelihood of such an attack being brought off again.

Iran, however, had begun sending warships to the Horn of Africa for antipiracy operations as early as December 2008, and with the onset of the Arab Spring, her military profile across the region metastasized.  The presence of Iranian warships has become routine in the Red Sea, and in 2011, Iran sent warships through the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 revolution.  Iran has announced deploying submarines to the Red Sea as well.  Every new weapon the Iranian navy tests or drills with in the Persian Gulf – including cruise missiles and high-speed torpedoes – it intends to use in its forward patrol areas, which now include the waters of the Red Sea, and potentially the Eastern Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Iran now has Special Forces deployed in Iraq, as well as wherever the Assad regime is in (nominal) control of territory in Syria.  There is intriguing evidence that the Iranians have taken over a nuclear-related facility in western Syria: in fact, that they arranged for Hezbollah to “liberate” it from Sunni jihadists because it’s a nuclear facility, and is being used for Iran’s purposes.

Iran’s aggressively expanding posture across the region. (Google map; author annotation.)

Iran’s aggressively expanding posture across the region. (Google map; author annotation.)

And earlier this month, the Iranians sent a very high-level military delegation to perform reconnaissance in the Golan Heights – just one of the recent pieces of evidence that Iran wants to open a new front for Israel to have to defend.  The Iranians want to preoccupy Israel’s military, and increase her insecurity overall by forcing Israel to counterattack into Syria, thus creating the ongoing danger of escalating an already unstable situation.
(Google map; author annotation. Inset: Wikimedia Commons, author annotation)

(Google map; author annotation. Inset: Wikimedia Commons, author annotation)

It’s important to understand that Iran’s campaign serves multiple purposes, because its implications for Israel are therefore bigger.  Israel isn’t just concerned now about Iran’s nuclear program.  Netanyahu has to be concerned about what Iran, with or without nuclear arms, will do with her expanding territorial leverage in the region.  Iran gaining a foothold in Yemen with the Houthi coup there is the latest disturbing development, one that could give the Iranians a base from which to deploy midget submarines into the Red Sea, for example, or base military aircraft, or position missile launchers to complicate Israel’s missile defense picture.  Yemen could certainly become a waypoint for the flow of illicit arms from Iran to a variety of recipients.  Where once Israeli intelligence could focus on ports in Sudan, it now may have the entire western coast of Yemen to contend with.

The brewing crisis in the Golan may by itself be enough to present Israel with a matrix of game-changing decision points in the next 12 months.  There’s a limit to how much harassment Israel can afford to live with and retain viability as a free and secure nation, making a good life possible for her people.  The confrontation with Iran is growing in more than one dimension, and Israel can’t treat the Iranian nuclear program as a theoretical, specialized threat, separate from the overall menace Iran presents to her.

At right, IRGC General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, one of two IRGC general officers and six Iranians conducting reconnaissance in the Golan Heights on 18 Jan 2015, when their convoy was struck by (presumably) the IDF. Allahdadi is seen here hanging with former President Khatami in 2009. (Image: Iranian TV via Twitter)

At right, IRGC General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, one of two IRGC general officers and six Iranians conducting reconnaissance in the Golan Heights on 18 Jan 2015, when their convoy was struck by (presumably) the IDF. Allahdadi is seen here hanging with former President Khatami in 2009. (Image: Iranian TV via Twitter)


It’s not 2004 anymore

The profile of Iran’s activities makes it abundantly clear that none of what she does is “about” Israel making concessions on West Bank settlements, or otherwise falling in with proposals made by the Obama administration for a final status agreement.  Iran is all over the region – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Sudan – taking advantage of the opportunities created by the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

Jeffrey Goldberg suggests that Israel should strengthen Obama’s negotiating position by making more concessions to the Palestinian Arabs.  But in 2015, nothing in the region’s main dynamic is even about that anymore.  The main dynamic is the feeding frenzy for the territory of Syria and Iraq.  The various actors are shaping up to be Iran, ISIS, the Kurds, and some combination of others who still retain a legacy set of “status quo” objectives (including, e.g., the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Turkey).

Not one of those actors can be deterred or influenced by artificially forced developments in the now-defunct Oslo process.  But at least two of the actors – Iran and ISIS – will exploit Israel however they have to, to gain advantage for themselves.  That’s what Iran is doing with her foray into the Golan, which gives “top cover” to her nuclear program, but also has the real potential to become as much of an existential threat to Israel as an Iranian bomb.

Israel can’t afford to ignore the fact that the whole unfolding strategy interlocks.  In essence, Iran has already begun a new phase in her long-running campaign against Israel, and the Obama administration is asking Israel to behave toward the negotiations with Iran as if that hasn’t happened: as if it’s still 2004, and everyone still has the same situation and the same options.

An emerging trigger point

Israel doesn’t.  It’s not 2004 anymore.  There was a time, as little as a year ago, when the triggers for Israel to have to attack boiled down mainly to these two: either Iran was about to cross the “red line” Bibi briefed to the UN in 2012, or the Iranians were about to deploy a modern anti-air missile system that would make it too difficult for Israel to pull the attack off, once it was in place.

But we’re past that point now.  Developments in the nuclear program, or inside Iran, aren’t Israel’s only concern.  The Israelis may well have to execute a preemptive strategy that baffles and blunts Iran’s whole package of activities in the Israeli security perimeter.  Attacking the Iranian nuclear program – facilities in Iran – will probably form some element of that, but it won’t be enough.

And the trigger matrix has changed.  The intolerable juncture for Israel is likely to be connected with Iran’s emerging campaign in the Golan.  Neither the prompts for military action, nor its purpose and targets, will be bounded by the old outlines of the “Iranian nuclear” problem.  The problem is bigger now: simultaneously more threatening and immediate, and more diffuse.  A strike campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities, with F-15s, is no longer the main mental picture we should have.

Like the Oslo-legacy negotiations, the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran have little relevance to the security conditions Israel faces today.  One of the most important things the U.S. could do to reset the clock is now out of reach: that is, pacify and effectively settle the situation in Syria and Iraq, where Iran, like ISIS, is gaining strength and position from conflict.  The Obama administration doesn’t seem aware that the situation has changed, and with it the motives and concerns of everyone in the region.  Netanyahu has to deal, nevertheless, with a reality that’s changing under our feet with each passing day.

Center, with scarf: Iranian Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with local Iraqi military leaders in Iraq in 2014. A U.S. defense official said in 2013 that Soleimani was “running the whole Syrian war by himself.” (Quoted by Dexter Filkins in “Shadow Commander,” The New Yorker, 30 Sep 2103. Image via Twitter)

Center, with scarf: Iranian Qods Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with local Iraqi military leaders in Iraq in 2014. A U.S. defense official said in 2013 that Soleimani was “running the whole Syrian war by himself.” (Quoted by Dexter Filkins in “Shadow Commander,” The New Yorker, 30 Sep 2103. Image via Twitter)

* I’m fully aware, incidentally, that policy is sometimes made in just this way.  But that doesn’t mean that we can accurately judge whether military force would be effective by approaching our evaluation through an inherently flawed policy-making process.

An objective and a strategy

For what it’s worth, this is what I would have asked the NSC and principals to look at back in 2004.  The strategic objective would have been to rope Iran into a heavily and genuinely supervised mode with her nuclear program, understanding that political change in Iran might be encouraged that way (alongside other methods), through frustrating the regime and weakening its reputation, but would ultimately have to come in other ways from the Iranian people.  Outreach to reformers in Iran would have been the highest American priority overall.

The objective of using military force would have been to set Iran’s nuclear program back significantly – by at least 24 months – and inflict some level of additional damage as a deterrent, against both immediate retaliation and future activities.

I would have wanted a process of escalating pressure on Iran with a concurrent military build-up in the Gulf region, designed to force Iran to open up all the facilities identified by the IAEA and Western intelligence as suspect.  If Iran didn’t comply in good faith by a deadline, the strikes would start.  The strike threat would have been implied, not spelled out.  The deadline would have been a short one (30-45 days), only long enough to accommodate the build-up, but not so long that Iran could change all her program arrangements to evade attack.

The scope of military strikes for which the build-up was designed would have included the significant “bottleneck,” or critical node, of Iran’s program at the time – the uranium enrichment complex at Natanz – as well as the suspicious special-use facilities in the Parchin area southeast of Tehran.

There would have been some other targets in the nuclear and missile programs, but those two installations would have been the top priorities.  Equally important targets would have been the IRGC assets most useful for projecting power outside Iran’s borders, including ballistic missiles, coastal cruise missiles, and submarines, as well as the IRGC’s paramilitary organization.  Attacking the air defense network and national command and control nodes would have been necessary to hold air superiority for U.S. forces while they were operating in Iranian air space.

Ideally, the preparations for this, and the escalating pressure on Iran (very possibly including intense economic pressure), would have gotten Iran to make some meaningful concessions at the time.  We need not oversell what we could have wrested from Iran without an attack, but odds were better than even that we could have gotten meaningful concessions: concessions that justified the effort, even if they weren’t everything we wanted.  Rinsing and repeating would almost certainly have been necessary.

My own preference would be for an extended process in which we could force Iran’s program more into the open, and keep pushing Iran back, without having to strike.  Instead of letting Iran play for time, we should be playing for time: time for Iranian reformers, who poked their heads up in 2009, and who are still there to be worked with.

Obama’s Policies Bring the Golan to a Boil

Sunday, January 25th, 2015
The attack in the Golan this week, on a convoy of

Hezbollah operatives and Iranian military officials, is a sign that things are going to get worse in the volatile area that encompasses southern Lebanon, Syria, northern Jordan, and northern Israel.  (See also here and here.)

Among those killed were high-ranking Iranian officials connected with Hezbollah’s use of Iranian-supplied ballistic missiles, and with Iranian Special Forces units that focus on raids and small-unit tactics.  In the words of a retired Israeli general (see first link, and below), this was a very high-level convoy, clearly preparing for serious incursions against northern Israel.

Meanwhile, we’ve reached the point in the post-Arab Spring Middle East at which many of the spin-off developments – perhaps most of them – are a consequence of the policies followed by the Obama administration.  Although there have been long-term policy failures, it’s a specific, proximate policy failure that opened the door to the current result in the Golan Heights.

Because of the strategic importance of the terrain, Iran and Hezbollah have been building infrastructure there for some time.  But their interest in the Golan skyrocketed in December.

A door opened by the Obama administration

The reason: ISIS gained a foothold there when the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade of the Free Syrian Army “defected” from the de facto alliance with the U.S.-Arab coalition against Assad, and declared its allegiance to ISIS.  The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade had been one of the most active rebel factions holding territory directly adjacent to the “area of separation” between Syria and Israel administered (in theory) by the UN.  In particular, it has held the southern line of confrontation with Syrian regime forces, in the transit corridor leading to the Quneitra border crossing.

That defection didn’t happen in a vacuum.  It happened because in early December, the Obama administration disclosed (through the back door), after more than two years of cooperation with the FSA, that it would not be working with them to build a defense force in Syria.

Situation in the Golan and southwestern Syria. (Map source: Wikimedia Commons; author annotation)

Situation in the Golan and southwestern Syria. (Map source: Wikimedia Commons; author annotation)

The point here is not that Obama should have stayed with the wrong allies.  The point is that passivity, lack of leadership, and ally-hopping have consequences.  Part of picking allies is shaping who they are and what expectations they have.  It starts with having common and enduring goals with those allies, which keep both sides committed.  These things matter to a responsible power, at any rate.  The Obama administration has consistently failed to exhibit signs of being one.

The failure has had a game-changing result in the Golan.  Now ISIS is there, with an entrenched infrastructure handed to it by FSA factions, and Iran can’t afford to ignore that.  Iran isn’t going to let ISIS build up a stronghold of its own on the Syrian border with Israel.

But don’t imagine that that means Iran and ISIS will be having at it.  Think Persian.  Certainly, the Iranians and Hezbollah want to be able to operate in the Golan, and attack Israel from it.  But Iran and Hezbollah don’t want to invite retaliation from Israel on southern Lebanon, where it’s important to them to protect their own stronghold.  Iran would like to get Israel shooting into Syria.

Israel has so far managed to keep that necessity limited.  Until very recently, the impression of the situation in the Golan has been that it is relatively stable: worrisome, but not unstable to the point of being an exploitable opportunity for one or more bad guys.  Iran would like to change that, in part because preoccupying the Israelis with self-defense is the key to limiting Israel’s strategic reach against Iran.  The objects of that reach include, but are not limited to, the nuclear and missile programs inside Iran.

Daniel Pipes is Blocked by the British Library

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Editor’s note: The British Library has sent out the following tweet, in response to this article:
BL Press Office
@JewishPress @DanielPipes these sites were blocked in error by our wifi filter and were unblocked yesterday – apologies for the mistake.

Prominent counter-jihadis like Geert Wilders, Michael Savage, and Robert Spencer have the distinction of being banned from entry into the United Kingdom – and, now, Her Majesty’s Government, in its wisdom, has also banned two websites connected to me. It’s not quite the same, admittedly, and I am working to get this ban removed, but I also wear it as a perverse badge of honor given that government’s shameful record vis-à-vis Islamism.

Say you’re in the British Library, the national depository library and a government institution, roughly equivalent to the Library of Congress in the United States or the Bibliothèque nationale in France. Say you want to read what David Brog writes about declining Evangelical support for Israel in the latest Middle East Quarterly. You type in MEForum.org and get the following result:

Notice that pops up if you enter "MEForum.org" in the British Library catalogue system.

Notice that pops up if you enter “MEForum.org” in the British Library catalogue system.

Or perhaps you wish to learn why I  distinguish between Islam and Islamism, or why I worry about Islamist aggression in Britain, so you type in DanielPipes.org only to find this:

Notice that pops up if you enter DanielPipes.org in the British Library catalogue system.

Notice that pops up if you enter DanielPipes.org in the British Library catalogue system.

The distinction between the two sites particularly charms me. The British Library categorizes MEForum.org as “Religion, Intolerance” and DanielPipes.org as “Religion, Adult Sites, Intolerance, Blogs.” (It’s probably titles like “Arabian Sex Tourism” that won me the X-rating.) Oddly, both sites are blocked for the same reason: “Intolerance.”

Should you, however, be in the British Library and wish to develop hatred toward Jews, no problem! Here are some antisemitic sites, all accessed in the past few days:

• Exposing the Holocaust Hoax Archive: the name tells it all • Gilad Atzmon: the personal website of a toxically antisemitic Jew • Jew Knowledge: contains learned inquiries into Jewish control of Hollywood, Jewish connections to 9/11, and the like • Muslim Public Affairs Committee, UK: an antisemitic jihadi group • The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion: the “warrant for genocide” is available in multiple versions Then, if you need firing up to go murder people on jihad, the British Library makes rich pickings available to you:

• Al Muntada: runs some of the worst hate preachers in Europe and stands accused in Nigeria of funding Boko Haram • Anjem Choudary: possibly the most extreme of British Islamists, he praised the perpetrators of the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks • FiSyria: promotes the Sunni jihad against the Assad regime in Syria • Friends of Al-Aqsa: a pro-Hamas British group • Hizb ut-Tahrir: an international movement seeking to replace existing countries with a global caliphate • Islamic Education and Research Academy: a Qatari-funded Salafi group that includes a number of openly pro-terror. Its trustees openly incite hatred against Jews, women, et al. • Muslimah’s Renaissanceanti-Semitic, anti-Shia group • Al-Qassam: the military wing of Hamas, widely categorized as a terrorist organization • Palestinian Forum of Britain: a Hamas front • Palestine Return Centre: another Hamas front • Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine: deemed a terrorist group by both the European Union and the U.S. government. And then, perhaps the worst of all:

• Tawhed: al-Qaeda’s Arabic-language ideological website which promotes writings by Osama Bin Laden and Ayman az-Zawahiri There could be a technical explanation for this bizarre situation. The British Library issued a press release in December 2013, “Web filtering on the British Library’s WiFi service,” explaining that

in our public areas where there are regular visits by school children, we filter certain online content, such as pornography and gambling websites. We have recently introduced a new WiFi service. It’s early days in the implementation of this service and we are aware that the new filter has been blocking certain sites erroneously. We are actively working to resolve this issue. Might this be the problem? I have written the library and requested that it unblock the sites. Now, let’s see if the censorship was “erroneous” or intentional.

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