Posts Tagged ‘Libya’
Originally published at Rubin Reports.
For all practical purposes, President Barack Obama has now recognized the Syrian opposition group as the government of Syria. Specifically, he called them the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.” The European Union did the same a few days earlier. While this has move little immediate, practical effect, it is enormously interesting for understanding this issue. And it is also yet another signal that the civil war in Syria is moving into the end-game.
First, the implications include the following:
–Thank goodness that only happened after the U.S. government switched its allegiance from the Syrian National Council (SNC). That group, basically created by U.S. initiative (implemented by the Islamist Turkish government) was about 100 percent controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. The new group which Obama recognized, the Syrian Opposition Council, is “only” about 40 percent controlled by the Brotherhood. That means there is at least hope of a non-Islamist regime in Syria (see below). [See note at end of article for an example of how U.S. policy gave behind-the-scenes support to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.]
–Let’s take a moment to remember that despite all the talk about the problems of backing dictatorships, the Obama Administration did back the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria. It then easily changed sides to back the opposition. In Egypt, too, Obama switched sides to support the opposition.
There are two lessons here. First, you can support a dictatorship and then back the opposition if a big challenge happens to take place. Second, what’s most important for U.S. interests is not whether the Americans want to befriend an opposition but whether the opposition once in power wants to befriend the Americans. If they are Islamists, abandon hope of that happening.
–Ironically, of course, the group recognized as being the true representatives of the Syrian people was largely created due to U.S. and Western patronage and power. While the new Council did arise from discussions among Syrians, of course, this decision shows that as in the nineteenth century the West—Obama Progressives as much as Victorian era imperialist–still tries to control who gets into power in Third World countries. Power politics is still the name of the game; the question is whether that game is well-played.
In the American presidential campaign, Mitt Romney made the little-noted assertion that the United States should put the emphasis on ensuring that moderates win in Syria. That notion is totally alien to the Obama Administration.
–The Syrian Opposition Council does not really represent Syrians, not only because those within the country haven’t voted but also because this is an external organization with little or no influence inside the country. It also doesn’t have the guns. What it will have is control over Western economic aid in future but this Council cannot be expected to be the basis for a post-civil war government.
–In sharp contrast to Libya, we know a lot about the Syrian opposition groups and their leading personalities. The problem, however, is to determine the relative military strength of each group. No doubt, the CIA has a project to analyze the situation in every province and city. I wish we could see their data but since we can’t we have to try to figure out the balance of forces.
This situation is made even more complex because so many groups exist and ideology is cut across by the existence of five different ethnic-religious sectors: Sunni Arab Muslims (about 60 percent), Christians and Alawites (about 12-14 percent each); Kurds and Druze.
Will Alawites end up being cut out entirely because that group formed the basis for the Assad regime? Probably.
Will Christians end up being cut out almost entirely because that group backed the Assad regime due to fear of the Islamists who now will probably try to cut them out? Probably.
Will there be massacres of Alawites and Christians by a victorious opposition, accompanied by tens or even hundreds of thousands of cross-border refugees? Very possibly, yes.
Will the Kurds gain autonomy for their home region in the northeast, an autonomy they are ready to defend using armed militias? Very possibly yes. (Incidentally, it is fascinating to consider how the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria have succeeded on the ground with the opposite strategy from that of the Palestinians. The Kurds have focused on practical measures and on getting a really functioning Kurdish entity; the Palestinians have put the priority on symbolism and total victory.)
Iran is building nuclear weapons, Syria is slaughtering its citizens, Libya is being taken over by al-Qaeda, Egypt is threatened with another Pharaoh, Turkey is working toward rebuilding the Ottoman Empire, and Christians are being massacred in Egypt, Nigeria and Mali (among other countries). But last Thursday, the European Commission summoned the Israeli Ambassador to the European Union (EU) over Israel’s plan to build 3,000 new homes in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem.
The Israeli plans were a response to the United Nations’ decision on 29 November to grant the Palestinian Authority the status of a UN non-member observer state, in direct violation of the UN’s own Resolutions 242, 338, and 1850 — an overruling the UN Charter specifically forbids.
The Palestinian move was also in direct violation of its bilateral September 28, 1995, Oslo II agreements, in which the both the Palestinians and the Israelis, in Article 31, consented that “nether side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the Permanent Status negotiations.”
Why should any country sign an agreement if it will just be invalidated a few years later?
Canada, in response to the Palestinian Authority’s illegal behavior, immediately recalled its diplomats assigned to the West Bank; however, the same illegal behavior was lavishly rewarded shortly thereafter by several European countries who summoned Israel’s ambassadors — a precedent that can only be understood to signal that, as so often at the UN, illegal behavior — as in oil for food, or sex for food — will be rewarded — or at least not reprimanded — in the future.
Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, emphasized that it is very exceptional for the Commission, the executive body of the EU, to summon an ambassador.
The Israeli ambassador met Ashton’s deputy Pierre Vimont, who expressed the EU’s concern about the Israeli building plans. The EU wants the project annulled: it is said to be “an obstacle to peace.” Not the PLO or Hamas Charters, which call for Israel’s destruction, or the hundreds of rockets fired into at Israel over the last month, or Iran’s continual and illegal — under both the UN’s own Charter and the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide — calls for genocide in “wiping Israel…”
No, no, no these are not threats to peace worth mentioning or bothering about. The Czech Republic was the only one of the 27 EU member states to join the US, Canada, Israel, Panama and four Micronesian island states in voting against the UN resolution to upgrade the status of the PA within the UN. Twelve EU members, including Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and all the EU states from Eastern Europe, were among the 41 UN members who abstained. The remaining fourteen EU members, consisting of the entire Latin and Mediterranean bloc and the Scandinavians, were among the 138 nations that voted in favor of the Palestinian Authority.
There is also some good news, however. In Italy, one of the countries which backed the recognition of the PA as a UN non-member observer state, one hundred members of the Italian Parliament protested the decision of the government to do so. The parliamentarians belong to the PdL party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which withdrew its support of the Italian government last week. In Belgium, another country which supported the enhanced status of the PA within the UN, the decision led to a rift within the governing center-right MR party. Half the MR senators oppose the government’s pro-Palestinian line.
Nevertheless, it is striking to see that within the EU there is but one country courageous enough to stand with Israel: the Czech Republic. Most EU members backed the Palestinian claims. The governments that took a neutral position by abstaining can only be found in the countries that suffered under Communist dictatorship, in Germany (previously, partly under Communist rule), Britain and the Netherlands.
The Scandinavians and the Irish traditionally pursue leftist international policies which are by definition critical of Israel; the Mediterranean rim together with Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria, have since the 1970s and 80s conducted a foreign policy that aims to appease North Africa and the Arab world.
The dependency on Arab oil and the fact that millions of immigrants from North Africa have settled within the borders of these EU states explain this appeasement policy.
Apart from the European Commission, several EU governments bilaterally expressed their dissatisfaction with the Israeli building plans. As 14 of the 27 EU members took a pro-Palestinian position in the UN while thirteen did not, it is unlikely that the EU will impose trade sanctions over the construction plans. A vocal critical stance will, however, be taken, also by the twelve EU members that abstained in the UN.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her dissatisfaction in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The United Kingdom followed the French, Spanish, Danish and Swedish example of summoning the Israeli ambassador over the housing projects. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that, although there did not appear to be any “enthusiasm” in the EU for a move to impose economic sanctions on Israel, “if there is no reversal [of the Israeli decision] we will want to consider what further steps European countries should take.”
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told the Dutch media that the Netherlands will raise pressure on Israel to stop its building projects. It is unlikely that Timmermans will follow the example of his predecessor Uri Rosenthal, who last year vetoed a critical EU report on the Israeli settlements. The Dutch ambassador to Tel Aviv urged the Israeli government to stop the building project.
Meanwhile, the civil servants of the European Commission are pursuing their anti-Israeli policies. The Commission recently sponsored a workshop to investigate how to label goods made in the Israeli “settlements” and prevent them from being sold in Europe. Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN high commissioner for Human Rights, and Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland and Nobel peace prize winner, are patrons of a movement to boycott such Israeli products. EU officials want the products labeled so that they can be differentiated from other Israeli products. As the EU does not recognize that Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem are part of Israel, products from these areas would be subject to EU import duties.
Last August, the European Commission issued a ruling ordering EU customs authorities to check the origin of Israeli products in order to exclude “settlement goods from preferential treatment.” The Commission made a list of so-called “non-eligible locations” – Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria – which are to be targeted. “Operators are advised to consult the list before lodging a customs declaration for releasing goods for free circulation,” the EU document states. The communities on the EU blacklist are non-eligible for duty-free status under the EU-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
The EU blacklist is a violation of international free trade; it is also reminiscent of the 1933 Nazi boycott of Jewish products.
Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.
Inevitably, Iran and Syria are gaming international maritime communications. Both nations are under sanctions. Both appear to be faking registry in Tanzania. And Iran is transmitting false signals to hide the operations of Syrian cargo ships.
The fakery by the two countries’ merchant fleets has Tanzania in common –apparently as a victim – but it also has Libya. Twenty years of peace dividends for the West, combined with the Arab Spring of 2011, have changed the security picture on Africa’s perimeter, and the direction in some segments of it is backward, to an age of little surveillance and expanding lawlessness. Libya’s coast is one such segment. Even if the surveillance forces of NATO are watching in the central Mediterranean, it’s not clear that the focus is there to ensure useful intelligence collection, or that there’s an organized will to do much about tankers or cargo vessels that head, on the sly, into and out of Libya.
And so, this fall, Iranian ships have been transmitting fake signals that make it appear as if they are operating in both the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, to cover the tracks of Syrian ships going back and forth between Syria and Libya. In a tracking system, this looks like an error of some kind. The ship in the Mediterranean is actually the Syrian ship, but in global tracking systems, there is no record of the Syrian ship making the voyage.
Meanwhile, actual Iranian tankers are shutting off their automated reporting systems as they approach Libya, and leaving them off until they have departed Libyan ports. Peripheral evidence of this has been noted by journalists like Claudia Rosett (I wrote about it here), but the analysis reported by Reuters on 7 December provides the first specific confirmation that Iranian ships are shutting their Automated Information Systems (AIS) off to avoid being tracked into and out of Libyan ports.
The likelihood that arms have been shipped from Libya to Syria by this method is high enough to be considered a certainty – and, of course, the arms would have gone to Bashar al-Assad. He is Iran’s protégé, and Iranian solicitude for Syrian shipping is devoted to bolstering his chances. The irony here is obvious, as there have also been plenty of reports of arms shipments from Libya to the Syrian rebels, some of which may have been facilitated by the US mission in Benghazi. The possibility that arms for Libya also got packed off to Assad himself cannot be discounted.
Beyond the arms route to Syria, however, the behavior of the Iranian ships is worth highlighting. As discussed in October, several Iranian ships have made a habit for some months now of lingering off Libya’s coast. (My own searches on ship-tracking websites show that they have been there since at least April 2012, and probably longer.) The ships’ tracks don’t show visits to Libyan ports, but as the Reuters report indicates, the ships are making such visits. They simply aren’t letting the visits be recorded via their AIS.
Given the arms-intensive nature of the cargo flow through Benghazi, in particular, we should keep in mind that there’s more than one way to deliver arms – and more than one customer to deliver them to. Coastal freighters, yachts, and other small ships do cargo business at sea with larger ships the world over. Egypt, Libya, and Algeria have long coastlines and poorly funded maritime security forces. A ship could prowl one of their coasts for a long time, loading and offloading small cargo at sea.
This kind of primitive, under-the-radar method might not be the most effective way to arm Assad, but Iran has other clients, and Hezbollah is the one that would most obviously benefit from operating this way. When the Israelis get wind of a big shipment to Lebanon, they interdict it. But, operating with a very low profile, Hezbollah could get cargo piecemeal into Beirut.
The Mediterranean is not constantly patrolled by NATO anymore. Even if it were, the will to lock it down may not be there. Sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq gave the world a good example of how these things go when the Western nations don’t perceive an immediate threat to themselves. Sanctions are put in place, and there is some effort made to enforce them, but little is done about the ingenious methods of sanctions evasion that promptly spring up.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he would not object to the nomination of Susan Rice, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, as secretary of state.
Lieberman’s apparent endorsement of Rice on Tuesday is largely symbolic; he is retiring as senator and likely will not be serving by the time Hillary Rodham Clinton, the current secretary of state, steps down, a move anticipated early next year.
However, Lieberman’s statement this week after meeting with Rice that she was telling “the whole truth” about why she initially depicted the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya as a spontaneous eruption and not as a planned terrorist attack undercuts criticism of Rice as unreliable by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
Lieberman has throughout much of his career joined with McCain and Graham as a foreign policy hawk; his dissent, now that he is free from such alliances, could be used by Democrats to depict GOP attacks on Rice as political and not substantive.
The Benghazi attack is believed to have been the work of Al Qaida-affiliated terrorists, intelligence Rice says was not made available to her in the days after the attack, when she was the Obama administration’s point person in explaining U.S. reaction.
Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed in the attack.
President Obama has not said he would nominate Rice to the post, but also has said he would not be deterred from doing so by McCain and Graham.
The news keeps getting worse. The Washington Free Beacon reports today that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has “blocked” four senior military officers from answering questions on the Benghazi attack posed by Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC).
McKeon asked the officers to provide answers to questions about security threats by the close of business Friday…
McKeon asked each of the four officers in separate letters whether prior to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi anyone under their command had notified the State Department or other agencies about growing dangers in Libya.
He also wants to know if there were any requests to increase security in Libya for U.S. personnel. … [T]he letters to the four officers asked whether any military officers under their command had recommended “deployment of additional U.S. military forces to Libya due to the threat environment.
Other questions focused on determining if the officers were aware that officers under their command recommended increasing security in Libya prior to the deadly attack.
To your knowledge, has the Department of State or any other federal agency requested additional U.S. military forces to augment security for U.S. personnel in Libya?” McKeon asked.
Said a HASC aide:
It is nearly unprecedented that the office of the secretary of defense would prohibit a member of the uniformed military from answering direct questions posed by the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Indeed. But what, if anything, about the Benghazi incident does have a precedent – outside of the other actions of the Obama administration, such as Fast & Furious? We have reached the point at which the cynical behavior of this administration can’t be reinterpreted or spun. There is no honest purpose for refusing to answer these questions from the House. If the Obama executive is running an actual investigation, we’re at day 39 now after the 9/11/12 attack, and it’s past time to have answers. There is no excuse for the administration’s behavior.
Why would Panetta and the White House use the stonewalling tactic with the House? Presumably because the Democrat-held Senate has given them until after the election to answer its questions. The calculating character of this reprieve from the Senate is obvious.
Many readers probably saw Bret Baier’s Fox News special Friday night on the Benghazi attack and its aftermath (video linked here). For those who missed Lt. Col. Andrew Wood in the recent Congressional hearing – Wood, deployed through the National Guard, led a special security team for the US missions in Libya, until the team was withdrawn earlier this year by a State Department functionary (video of his testimony here) – Baier’s interview with him brings out clearly that State decided to cut the already-inadequate security force in Libya. Wood advocated keeping his team in place, but State decided against it – even though the Defense Department was actually paying for it.
So McKeon’s questions to the Department of Defense are right on point, and the American people are owed the answers. There is a certain pragmatism at work on both sides of the aisle right now; Democrats want to get through the election, and Republicans are likely to take a more perfunctory approach to the Benghazi issue if Mitt Romney wins on the 6th. The public appetite for details – at least, any details we still don’t know this point – will probably wane once the people know the Obama administration is on the way out.
The gingerly treatment of the Obama administration by the MSM on this matter is a timely reminder that the MSM are not peopled with objective journalists. If a Republican administration were backing and filling after the Benghazi fiasco, it would find no rest anywhere. The attacks on it would be relentless. We may say, “And rightly so!” – but the MSM seem incapable of calibration here: either they are in a frenetic feeding frenzy, hammering their own narratives as they “cover” the activities of a Republican administration, or they are declining to cover stories that obviously matter about a Democratic administration. Too seldom anymore do we see from them the middle ground of sober, fair-minded, carefully assembled reporting.
But the most important take-away from the Benghazi fiasco is the nakedly cynical, self-serving behavior of the Obama administration. Four Americans were killed, in a terrorist attack on a facility that should have been protected better, but – because of decisions made by Obama’s appointees – was not. Instead of manning up to what happened and providing the answers that are owed to the people, the administration first built a specious narrative about why the attack was launched, as if that was what mattered, and then spent weeks claiming that it was too early to answer questions on almost any aspect of the topic.
Now the administration has directed senior military officers not to answer questions from Congress. There is no conceivable reason for this, other than to stymie progress on the House’s inquiry.
Originally published at the Optimistic Conservative.
Candy Crowley, the moderator of the presidential debate at Hofstra University on October 16, interfered in this U.S. presidential race in a way no one ever has before and – let’s hope – no one ever will again. Crowley loudly validated President Barack Obama’s version of reality – and contradicted Governor Mitt Romney’s recollection of actual reality – regarding what the president said in the Rose Garden about what happened in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2011.
During the debate President Obama said he called the murder of four Americans an act of terrorism. Romney said he didn’t. Crowley said he did. And Crowley told them they had to move along.
And then the debate did, in fact, move on. And the one opportunity during this debate that voters had to understand what Obama knew, when did he know it, and what did he call it, was lost.
So what did the President say to the American people about the tragedy in Benghazi when he spoke to them from the Rose Garden on September 12?
Obama referred to the violence that killed our compatriots as “an attack.” He said it three times, “an attack,” and then he referred elliptically – but unmistakably - to a movie that “denigrated” the religion of Islam, as the cause of that attack. Four paragraphs into his address, the President said,
Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.
The words “terrorist acts” were not mentioned until much later, until after the president talked about what happened on “9/11,” the first tragic September 11 in our nation’s history: “Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks.”
Not until the tenth paragraph of a 13 paragraph address did the President say anything about terror. That was when he said, “no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”
So, the president repeatedly described what happened to Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Dougherty and Tyrone S. Woods as “an attack,” and he clearly and publicly connected the cause of that attack with a movie, The Innocence of Muslims, that enraged some Muslims because they believed it denigrated Islam.
And while the President may have referred to the the murder of Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, as “an act of terror,” his use of the word “terror” was not used to mean terrorism as we have come to understand that term: as “senseless violence intended to lead to death because of a difference in world view.” Instead, the President used the term terror, when he finally did, in his address in the Rose Garden on that day because the violence occurred not during a war, and because it was directed against non-combatants.
Is it fair to make that distinction?
That might depend on what you think the meaning of the word “is” is.
Here is the transcript from Obama’s now famous Rose Garden speech:
Remarks by the President on the Deaths of U.S. Embassy Staff in Libya
10:43 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Every day, all across the world, American diplomats and civilians work tirelessly to advance the interests and values of our nation. Often, they are away from their families. Sometimes, they brave great danger.
Yesterday, four of these extraordinary Americans were killed in an attack on our diplomatic post in Benghazi. Among those killed was our Ambassador, Chris Stevens, as well as Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith. We are still notifying the families of the others who were killed. And today, the American people stand united in holding the families of the four Americans in our thoughts and in our prayers.
The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack. We’re working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats. I’ve also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.
Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.
Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so, and this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya. Libyan security personnel fought back against the attackers alongside Americans. Libyans helped some of our diplomats find safety, and they carried Ambassador Stevens’s body to the hospital, where we tragically learned that he had died.
It’s especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi because it is a city that he helped to save. At the height of the Libyan revolution, Chris led our diplomatic post in Benghazi. With characteristic skill, courage, and resolve, he built partnerships with Libyan revolutionaries, and helped them as they planned to build a new Libya. When the Qaddafi regime came to an end, Chris was there to serve as our ambassador to the new Libya, and he worked tirelessly to support this young democracy, and I think both Secretary Clinton and I relied deeply on his knowledge of the situation on the ground there. He was a role model to all who worked with him and to the young diplomats who aspire to walk in his footsteps.
Along with his colleagues, Chris died in a country that is still striving to emerge from the recent experience of war. Today, the loss of these four Americans is fresh, but our memories of them linger on. I have no doubt that their legacy will live on through the work that they did far from our shores and in the hearts of those who love them back home.
Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks. We mourned with the families who were lost on that day. I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.
As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.
No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
But we also know that the lives these Americans led stand in stark contrast to those of their attackers. These four Americans stood up for freedom and human dignity. They should give every American great pride in the country that they served, and the hope that our flag represents to people around the globe who also yearn to live in freedom and with dignity.
We grieve with their families, but let us carry on their memory, and let us continue their work of seeking a stronger America and a better world for all of our children.
Thank you. May God bless the memory of those we lost and may God bless the United States of America.
END 10:48 A.M. EDT