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August 29, 2014 / 3 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Libya’

The Useful Myth that Obama Now Likes Israel

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Reality, especially in 2012, is very hard to face. So many hopes dashed; so many bad things happening. So people can be forgiven for taking refuge in wishful thinking. Sometimes, not telling the truth has its value in public affairs, especially when you are looking at a president with four more years in office and no elections ahead of him.

Such is the story now gaining currency in some quarters that President Barack Obama has changed his view of Israel, now wants to get along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the two are closely cooperating. If you want to believe that idea it probably does no harm and makes you feel better. Maintaining this fiction may also encourage Obama supporters to think more kindly of Israel.

There is another factor here that should be mentioned. Many people overstated Obama’s active antagonism toward Israel as if he wanted to wipe it out or hurt it in any way possible. Obama dislikes Israel, disregards its strategic interests, and despises Netanyahu. That doesn’t mean, however, that he’s motivated to do much about it.

If, however, you are interested in the actual situation, I would ask this question: What evidence is there of any change at all of Obama’s policy toward Israel?

Beyond wishful thinking. Basically two things have happened.

–The U.S. government issued routine statements of support for Israel’s battle in Gaza while apparently urging it not go on too long and not include a ground attack. It didn’t go out of its way much on the issue, however, for example not rethinking the president’s love affair with the Turkish Islamist regime despite the fact that its prime minister froths at the mouth with hatred of Israel.

–The U.S. government opposed as it always has the UN’s upgrading the PA’s status. The American government realizes that such behavior is a torpedoing of the Oslo accords and peace process of which is was a guarantor. But at the same time:
(a) It certainly didn’t seem to put any real pressure on European allies who supposedly adore Obama and would be willing to listen to him to vote against the proposal; and (b) There are stories which are not completely confirmed but seem authentic that the White House urged European countries and Canada to give Israel a hard time over the new construction. American officials certainly didn’t assert the absurdity of a situation in which the Palestinian Authority can reject a two-state solution repeatedly and break all of its commitments but Israel is said to destroy peace because of approving some future apartment construction.

I am not suggesting that the Obama Administration wanted the General Assembly to give Palestine non-member state status, but Obama’s great support of Israel consisted mostly of not attacking Israel verbally and maintaining routine administration positions.

It is so hard to get people to step back and apply the same logic they would have used a few years ago! But open your mind for a moment and ask this question:

How is it possible when U.S. policy not only loses the backing of every single European ally on an issue but on an issue of importance to the president and in which they don’t have urgent interests involved? In any other case and with any other president, the mass media and debate would be setting off alarm bells about the tremendous defeat, speaking of incompetence and a terribly weak American position.

After all, America’s allies just threw out twenty-years of a diplomatic process sponsored by the United States.

What’s important about Obama being personally popular with Europeans when he can’t get them to go along with his goals? Ah, yes, he is in large part personally popular with Europeans because they know he’ll let them do what they want. The two biggest examples supposedly to the contrary in the Middle East—overthrowing Qadhafi in Libya and increasing sanctions on Iran—proved the exact opposite because these were issues where the key European states were demonstrably more hawkish than Obama. He followed them as much or more than their following him.

At present and concerning Israel, there are additional points that could be mentioned as showing the lack of Obama’s support, such as his opposing more sanctions on Iran and taking no action toward the Brotherhood’s increasing dictatorship in Egypt. There is not the slightest hint that the administration realizes that its pro-Islamist strategy was a huge mistake. At least these argue against a case for Obama changing course.

So where’s the change? I think the specter of a second-term Obama undeterred by a future election is so scary that the flattery is being stepped up. Well, ok, I won’t make any problems. I’ll go along with this and pretend all will be okay except in private conversations like this one in order to brief my readers accurately.

Most obviously, Obama is not pressuring Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians. As I pointed out two years ago—and as the president clearly stated in 2010, he had concluded that he wasn’t going to make Israel-Palestinian peace. It is the only international issue on which this administration seems to have learned anything.

But with all of the other pressing issues in the region plus the intransigence of the PA, which is still treated as a favored pet by Obama, plus the unwillingness of Arab governments to help him, why should Obama find time for the Israel-Palestinian issue? With all the other stuff going on, to argue that advancing toward a comprehensive peace agreement would solve all the other regional problems has become too ludicrous even for the current administration to have as its policy.

What is pro-Israel are events in the region and decisions taken by Israeli leaders. Israel just gave Hamas a beating, intensified despite the terrorist group’s bragging by the utter lack of regional (especially Egyptian) material help. A lot of Egyptians aren’t quietly accepting Islamist dictatorship; the Egyptian regime is still weak and needs stability to get foreign aid; Syria is still weakened by its civil war; Hizballah is in trouble because of its backing of the Syrian regime and facing increasing opposition within Lebanon; the Sunni Muslim Arabs don’t want Iranian influence (though Hamas is happy to take its weapons to shoot at Israel); and Hamas and the PA can never make up.

Yet a president who helps to empower Israel’s worst enemies—who also happens to be America’s worst enemies—cannot be said to be a friend except in the limited areas of continued nice words, especially at pro-Israel events; maintaining aid levels; and ongoing intelligence cooperation.

Perhaps the idea that Obama is now backing Israel is what American Jewish voters who supported him desperately need to believe and those who pursue that line will be richly rewarded.

Or perhaps if we pretend Obama is friendly to Israel now in his second term he and his colleagues will come to believe that themselves. Or perhaps they will reward us by not getting angry and trying to punish Israel. Okay, so let’s go along with this story for a while. But my job is to let you in on what’s really happening. Ssh!

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Two Years Later, Arab Spring’s Success Dubious

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012
It is now two years since the rude jolt that sent several Arab leaders hurtling to the hard ground of the reality that they themselves have had no small part in creating. Dozens of years of dictatorship, criminal neglect, political corruption, cronyism and nepotism, have turned the Arab world into a barrel of extremely explosive gun powder.  The Arab satellite media, especially Al Jazeera, the jihad channel of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been flooding the area with high octane gas fumes by broadcasting unrestrained propaganda against the Arab dictators – “the rulers of the 99 percent below zero” in their words – led by Mubarak, Asad, Qadhaffi and Saddam Hussein.
This channel served as the pyromaniac who carried the burning torch from one arena to another, from Tunisia to Egypt, from Libya to Yemen, from Bahrain to Syria as its spokesmen, headed by  the Emir of Qatar asked: “Who will be next?” The masses, addicted to this channel since the end of 1996, did what was expected of them by the people of the channel, chiefly the Emir of Qatar, Hamed bin Khalifa al-Thani, who built up tremendous power for himself by means of the  reckless satellite channel, which exerts control over the hungry, neglected, oppressed and wretched masses.
It is not within the scope of this article to give a detailed review of the last two years in each one of the states involved in the upheaval, but we shall mark the end point to which each of them arrived.
Tunisia – The Opening Shot
In December 2010, in the peripheral town of Sidi Bou Said, a young, unemployed man by the name of Muhammad bou Azizi immolated himself, and the flames ignited the fumes wafting around the Arab barrel of gun powder. The demonstrations caused president Zine al-Abadine bin Ali to flee the country, but not before he and his wife stole a ton and a half of gold from the central bank.
In elections held in 2011, the Islamic party, which had been banned until then, won first place. However, since it did not win a majority of seats in the parliament, it had to form a coalition with a secular party headed by Munsaf al-Marzouki, a liberal intellectual, who fought for years for human rights in Tunisia and lived in exile until 2011 because of his criticism of President bin Ali. The leader of the Islamic stream, Rashid al-Ghanoushi, offered  the secular al-Marzouki to serve as president of Tunisia, which made it easier for the secular sectors of society to accept the legitimacy of the new regime, even though the Islamic party was predominant.
From this point of view, the change in Tunisia is a source of inspiration, especially in light of the fact that it is the first experiment to create a democratic political system  after long years of the autocratic rule of presidents Bourugiba and bin Ali. The hopes of the citizens of Tunisia skyrocketed.
But the relative stability in the political arena did not bring about meaningful change in the life of the individual, especially in his economic situation. There are many reasons for this: the corrupt governmental system, large parts of which remain from the days of bin Ali and continued to conduct itself according to the practice of “a friend brings a friend”; the infrastructures are still in the same miserable state that they were in during bin Ali’s time; The investors do not rush to invest in initiatives in Tunisia that might create sources of livelihood; the economic crisis in Europe prevents significant growth  of production. The Tunisian citizen now understands that his political hopes, which were fulfilled well, did not translate into a significant improvement in his economic situation.
Another issue that did not undergo a meaningful change is the social stratification in Tunisia. The Tunisian population is polarized between the urban elite and the marginal layers that live in the agricultural suburbs and the desert, the greater part of whom live within a tribal framework. The city is much more open, secular and liberal than the periphery, which remain closed, religious and traditional.
The ethnic issue also has a negative influence on the sense of unity in Tunisia, because in addition to the Arabs who live there, there are also Berbers and Africans, who suffer from a negative image. This situation exists regardless of the regime and the change resulting from the removal of bin Ali has had no influence on the social stratification in Tunisia.
As a result of the economic difficulties, Tunisia has witnessed a series of protest demonstrations against the regime in recent months, mainly in the periphery. Things have even reached the point where President al-Mourzuki, who came last week to the town of Sidi Bou Said – the focal point from where the upheaval that eventually encompassed the Arab world began – in order to participate in a ceremony in memory of Muhammad Bou Azizi, was forced to retreat from the place because of the rocks that were rained down upon him, and because of the cries and curses that were hurled at him. He wanted democracy and got it right in his face, and the people wanted democracy but have now understood that it is not a money-printing machine.
There is not an optimistic forecast for Tunisia: the economic situation in the world in general and in Europe in particular is not expected to improve dramatically in the near future; the administration will not change its imbedded habits of corruption, and social stratification will continue to have a negative influence on opportunities for the country, especially for the youth who live in the social and economic periphery. The resentment that results from these flaws has a negative influence on political stability and the lack of stability may have a negative influence on investments and consequently on the economic situation as well.
For the Tunisian masses who support the Islamic movement it has become clear that the movement was no magic wand that can solve the country’s problems, and it is not clear if there is anything at all to the slogan “Islam is the Solution”, which was the watchword of the party.
Egypt – A Complicated Tangle
On the 25th of January, it will be two years since the beginning of the upheaval in Egypt. There are  are many significant accomplishments of the revolution: Mubarak, the corrupt dictator sits in the defendant’s cage, the heads of his government have been removed – some of them to prison – in disgrace, the Muslim Brotherhood has won the office of presidency and half of the seats of parliament, the military “has been put in its place” by an Islamic president, and even the president of the United States receives the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood as a fait accompli.
However, the situation in Egypt is complicated and complex on a number of levels:  the free youth of the revolution, the liberals, the secular, the educated and the unemployed, who with their bodies removed Mubarak and paid for the demonstrations against him in blood, have discovered that their revolution has been stolen from them. In their worst nightmares they did not foresee that the civil revolution would become an Islamic revolution. Women in casual shirts and jeans who demonstrated two years ago in Tahrir (“liberation”) Square did not expect that as a result of the revolution, representatives of the Salafist party, those who believe that “the best hijab for a woman is her house,” would occupy a quarter of the seats of parliament.
But the political disappointments – as great as they are – are much, much less disheartening than the economic ones. In Egypt too, most of the administration of the previous regime has remained in place, and it is filled with layers of hidden unemployment, excess employees, cumbersome bureaucracy, and nepotism. The chance that it will bring the country to a state of development and prosperity are no greater than in the days of Mubarak.
Tourism, which, in the days of Mubarak granted livelihood to millions of Egyptians, has disappeared and with it, this important source of livelihood for many Egyptians. These people today live far below the poverty line, which, in Egypt, is quite low to begin with. Foreign investors have refrained for the past two years from investing in Egypt, because the security situation is not stable and it is not clear to them if they will see any profit at all from their investment, which might go down the drain.
The lack of investments has a negative influence on the creation of new sources of employment for the masses of Egyptians who enter  the work force every year, to establish a family and to support it. The many unemployed university graduates who come up against the severe employment reality, cause an explosive social situation; the average age of  marriage is rising and has passed the 30 mark, establishing a family (“opening a home”) has become an impossible economic task for most of the youth and this is enough to launch them into the streets to let off the steam that has accumulated against the symbols of the regime, institutions of the state and police stations.
The constitution, which was recently approved, grants many authorities to the president at the expense of the other institutions, mainly the parliament, and it starts to smell like a dictatorship. Many – even among the religious sectors of society – ask if this is what the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power for.
The activity of parliament, which was elected about a year ago, was frozen by an edict of the court, and it doesn’t seem that the president is rushing to renew the activity of the parliament. He does not want to be called upon to answer embarrassing questions that might be addressed to him from parliament, which has authority  because it was chosen by democratic and fair elections. Morsi is not interested in a parliament that will pass budgetary laws that are not consistent with his opinion, and in general – the combination of a president with a clear cultural, social and political agenda and a parliament which is polarized within by various contradictory trends, is not a prescription for political stability, but rather for a dead end, with the two sides stuck in an embrace where each side sticks a knife into the other.
Two years after the upheaval in Egypt and this country seems like a rickety wagon with several formidable and powerful horses pulling it at full speed, but in different directions: the president, the constitutional committee, the members of parliament, the military, the government, which is always temporary, the secular street, the religious street, the Salafis and supporters of Mubarak.
The forecast for the future is not rosy, because the constitutional-governmental knot has a bad influence on the economy, which is collapsing in the first place, and the struggle for the cultural image of Egypt slips too many times into violence that causes more violence from the police and raises the ire of the public to levels reminiscent of the rage that accompanied the struggle against Mubarak.
In retrospect it could be that among the Muslim Brotherhood there are those who feel that it was a mistake on their part to try to drive the rickety Egyptian cart, because there is no chance to come to any positive goal, and they – despite inheriting a very difficult situation form Mubarak and Tantawi – will be identified with the failure.
Syria – The Next Massacre
For 21 months, since March of 2011, observers of the events have the sense that the collapse of Asad is near, and with his collapse the state will be broken up into homogeneous units: Kurds in the northeast of the country, Alawites in the west, Druze in the south, Bedouins in the East, Damascenes in the center and residents of Aleppo in the North. The idea that an autonomous Alawite unit might be established comes from information that the regime is streaming heavy weapons, ammunition and heavy equipment into the area of the mountains of Ansariyya in the West of the country, the traditional dwelling place of the Alawites, so that they will be able to defend themselves against the Muslims’ attack on the mountain and its inhabitants.
In recent days, information has begun to surface that units belonging to the Free Syrian Army are attacking the mountains of Ansariyya, and that tens of Alawite villages have been abandoned out of fear of Muslim knives that are filled with hatred for the Alawites and because of the Muslims’  strong desire to avenge upon them the deeds of slaughter that the regime has carried out against the citizens of Syria for the past two years, and also in previous periods, such as the period between 1976 and 1982, when the Muslim Brotherhood first arose, that ended in the slaughter of thousands of men, women and children in the city of Hama in February of 1982.
If this information is indeed correct and Asad’s opposition is indeed taking control of Ansariyya, this might be the physical end of the Alawaites and the end of their dream to control even themselves. The blood that will be spilled when the Muslims slaughter them will be much more than was spilled until today and it is not clear how much the world will feel compelled to help this group when push comes to shove and knives are at their throats.
What does this say about the future of Syria? It seems that Syria is sinking in a swamp of blood, fire and tears, as it is torn into pieces by hundreds of militias, some of which have cultural and religious orientation identical to that of bin Laden and al-Qaeda. This development might be very problematic for Israel because neighbors like these do not bode well and if heavy weapons or weapons of mass destruction fall into their hands, Israel might find itself  in the near future coping with threats that it is not used to.
Libya – Tribal Wars
In this country, stricken by tribalism, a coalition of tribes together with massive  NATO support succeeded to remove Qadhaffi, but since he was eliminated by his opposition more than a year ago, Libya has become an arena for battles between tribes over economic and governmental interests  and for territory and influence. Eastern tribal headquarters – Cyrenaica – are fighting against the tribes of the West – Tripolotania, and the southern tribes are enemies of all the others.
Libyan society is polarized also on an ethnic basis, around the Arab-Berber split that has economic and governmental implications as well. The prediction is that as long as Libya continues to be one state it will continue to be an arena for tribal struggles. Why? Because – that’s the natural situation between tribes, and especially those that live in the Sahara, who for hundreds of years and more, have developed strong and dangerous “atsabiyya” (tribal rivalry) , mainly towards “the other” (anyone who is different from him). The fact that weapons are widespread in the Libyan desert means that the violence inherent to the culture of the region, is turning the matter into something particularly deadly.
Qatar – Hypocrisy At its Worst
The upheaval in the Arab world is the result of a basically terrible situation created by the regimes, an atmosphere of enmity toward the regimes created by the Al Jazeera channel and the huge fire that Muhammad bou Azizi ignited. During the past two years, the principality of Qatar has been, and still is involved up to its neck in funding the chaos and sending various types of support to Libya and Syria, and the Al Jazeera channel, which is the operative agent, ignites the problem in Arab countries by calling for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression in these countries.
But Qatar itself cannot stand up to Al Jazeera’s standards when it comes to democracy: in the beginning of this December, the Qatari court sent a 36-year old poet by the name of Muhammad ben al-Dhiab  al-Ajami to prison for life, because while he praised the revolutions in the Arab world, he also criticized the Emir of Qatar. Al-Ajami went even further and called for revolution in Qatar, even though he knew that the punishment for this is death.
If the Emir of Qatar does not pardon al-Ajami, he will be inviting sharp criticism from anyone who has a mouth and a tongue in the Arab world, but he will pay no heed to the criticism and will continue to encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to take control of the rest of the countries of the Arab world, while shutting mouths in his own back yard.
A General Picture
Two years after the beginning of the upheaval in the Arab world, the  picture does not arouse too much optimism. The rulers of still more countries are standing on shaky ground, and the wave may reach them too.
Israel again appears as an island of stability and sanity in a roiling and stormy sea, where rickety boats are about to sink along with their inhabitants. May Allah save the Arab peoples.

Originally published at Middle East and Terrorism. Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav.

Who Will Rule Syria? A Detailed Assessment

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

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.)

The Real ‘Obstacle to Peace’

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

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.

Iran, Syria and Sanctions-Busting Fakery

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

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.

Lieberman Approves Rice Nomination, But Won’t Partake in Vote

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

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.

Panetta Stonewalls House Committee Chairman McKeon on Benghazi

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/j-e-dyer/panetta-stonewalls-house-committee-chairman-mckeon-on-benghazi/2012/10/22/

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