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March 2, 2015 / 11 Adar , 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

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.

Israeli Strike in Syria Killed Iranian General and Commander

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Hezbollah is threatening to take deadly revenge on Israel for Sunday’s strike on terrorists in Syria, but more significant is that Iran has admitted that one of its generals and (five or) six soldiers were killed in addition to Hezbollah’s casualties.

Lebanese sources identified the Iranian field commander as Abu Ali Tabtabai.

Also reported killed was Iranian General Mohammad Aji Alladadi, who was there as an advisor to the Syrian government.

Mohammad Issa “Abu Issa” who was a senior commander of Hezbollah’s Syrian and Iraq network.

Jihad Mughniyeh who was Hezbollah’s point man on the Golan Heights, setting up the terror infrastructure there.

Also presumed killed are Ali Hassan, Hussein Hassan and Majdi al0Musawi.

The IDF is on high alert for a Hezbollah attack and communities on the Golan Heights and the Upper Galilee are on a virtual war-footing.

Unlike previous attacks in Syria on missiles and other weapons destined for Hezbollah, Sunday’s raid struck Hezbollah terrorists on the ground, hitting three vehicles traveling in the Golan Heights.

As usual, Hezbollah responded with threats, especially since Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah last week warned that he will order an attack on Israel at some time or another.

Hezbollah has denied that its fighters are on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, but the aerial bombing on Sunday erased that lie. It said one of the dead was a leading commander, Mohammed Amed Issa, and it admitted that an Iranian also was killed.

The established  presence of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Israel’s border will make it even harder for President Barack Obama to take a dovish position on the Iranian nuclear threat without Congress, as well as Israel, doing everything possible to stop an appeasement policy. J. E. Dyer wrote in The Jewish Press here on Sunday:

Syria is now uniquely important to Iran’s nuclear aspirations because of the internal turmoil.  There is no meaningful mechanism for enforcing “national” Syrian accountability to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.  This is an ideal situation for Iran, and is only enhanced by the fact that the Syrian nuclear program has been on the alternate path to a plutonium bomb, as opposed to Iran’s well-advanced path to a uranium bomb.

A nuclear weapon aimed at Israel is Hezbollah and Iran’s ultimate revenge.

Meanwhile, no one is discounting Hezbollah threats, but it will not have an easy time to attack Israel, especially now that it is clear that Iran is operating across the Golan Heights border.

Hezbollah has enough rockets to cripple Israel, but the price of an attack could be suicidal for the terrorist army as well as Lebanon.

It will be a lot easier and less risky if Hezbollah takes revenge by attacking Jews outside Israel.

It remains to be seen if the death of Alberto Nisman, the state prosecutor in the Hezbollah-directed bombing of the Argentine Jewish Center bombing, was a suicide, as originally suggested, or was murder.

Was it a coincidence that he was shot dead hours after Israel killed six Hezbollah commanders?

An Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program in What was Formerly ‘Syria’

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

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

Note: This analysis takes on renewed significance in light of the Iranians’ announcement this week that they intend to build two new nuclear reactors, and the Obama administration’s insistence that such a clear expansion of the Iranian nuclear program does not constitute a violation of the Joint Plan of Action to “freeze” the program while its ultimate status is being negotiated.  The facts on the ground are busy changing under our feet, with almost no notice by the Western media.

It was evident a year and a half ago that there would be no restoration of Syria, as we know it, under the Assad regime.

That reality is something the mind of a global public hasn’t really caught up to yet.  But it is reality – Syria, as delineated after World War I, has fallen apart – and it should color our perception of a report from 9 January that remnants of Assad’s nuclear program are still alive and well.

We should not overestimate what’s going on with those remnants, which don’t have anyone close to a nuclear breakout.  The remnants are real – Western intelligence agencies think so – but the evidence of where they have been relocated is indirect, and mostly non-specific.  Assuming they are there, the best estimate would be that they are in approximately the same state they were four years ago: elements of a program not much degraded, perhaps, but not much advanced, if at all, from its earlier condition.

What matters more, however, is that if the analysis of experts is correct, the physical “stuff” in question was moved from one major battle site in Syria to another one, in 2012 and 2013, and ended up in a region on the border with Lebanon now controlled by Hezbollah and Iran.

In other words, the stuff was present in at least one and possibly two areas being fought over by Assad’s forces and rebel forces.   Natural-uranium stock and uranium fuel rods, for example, could have fallen into the hands of foreign jihadis, and/or the Al-Qaeda-backed Al-Nusra Front.

Now those materials, and probably others (including processing equipment), are thought to be stored in an area seized by Hezbollah in 2013, under the direction of the Iranian Qods Force.

This should alarm us.  While Assad controlled Syria, his nuclear aspirations were a big but boundable problem.  Now that he no longer controls Syria, what has happened to the elements of his nuclear program is likely to have non-boundable implications.  At the very least, it has the potential to empower Iran, Hezbollah, or both, with materials held in locations whose political control and accountability will be uncertain – from an official international standpoint – for the foreseeable future.

It’s a nightmare:  the very real potential for the most dangerous kind of nuclear proliferation.

The nuclear problem

Readers will remember that in September 2007, Israel attacked a nuclear reactor being constructed, with the help of North Korea, at al-Kibar in northeastern Syria.  No follow-on construction resumed at the reactor shell itself, although it was quickly covered with tarps and temporary structures after the strike, to frustrate foreign intelligence collection.

The type of reactor being put up was assessed to be a gas-graphite reactor like the one in Yongbyon, North Korea, which would produce enough plutonium as a byproduct for one to two plutonium bombs per year.

The gas-graphite reactor is different from Iran’s at Bushehr (a “light-water” reactor cooled by pressurized water), which would not be a significant source of plutonium.  Iran’s main path to nuclear weapons has been the separate one of uranium enrichment, with a uranium bomb as the end-product.  The enrichment path involves direct enrichment of uranium to weapons-grade purity, using centrifuge cascades as the principal method (although Iran is also thought to be working with laser enrichment).  No reactor is involved in the production of material for the weapons per se.

That said, Iran does have a heavy-water plutonium-producing reactor under construction at Arak, and is thus pursuing both paths to weaponization.

All of this matters, because it affects two things: the footprint of Assad’s nuclear program – what physical clues we have to look for – and the utility of his program to revolutionary Iran’s aspirations.

In Syria, we are not looking for centrifuge facilities like the vast enrichment complex at Natanz in Iran, or the smaller facility at Fordo, near Qom.  We will be looking instead for plants where yellowcake is converted to a usable form (in this case, uranium tetrafluoride, or UF4) and is metalized into fuel rods for the reactor.  We will also be looking for a facility at which plutonium can be separated out – harvested, essentially – from the spent fuel rods after they are removed from the reactor.  In North Korea, this process occurs at the “Radiochemical Laboratory” at Yongbyon, a six-story industrial building.

Reporting from February 2011 – the very outset of the Arab Spring – identified a probable uranium conversion plant at a Syrian military base, Marj as-Sultan, just east of Damascus.  The site had come under IAEA suspicion as early as 2008.  Specific types of major equipment present there were named in a 2011 report from Suddeutsche Zeitung, cited extensively in analysis by experts at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

Syria-nuke-map-1

In January 2013, an article at Financial Times (subscription required; see link in ISIS’s link in this report) indicated that “unusual activity” had been taking place at the suspect area of Marj as-Sultan, where the equipment, along with 50 tonnes of uranium and possibly more than 8,000 fuel rods, were thought, based on earlier intelligence, to be stored.

The unusual activity at the suspect site was probably a consequence of the fighting in the area between regime and rebel forces, which occurred at the same time: in the autumn of 2012.  More on that in the next segment.  The point here is that there is good reason to believe that some of the remnants of Assad’s nuclear program – at a minimum uranium stock, fuel rods, and conversion equipment – were still at the Marj as-Sultan site sometime in 2012.

This brings us to the report by Der Spiegel last week, which indicated that a site in Qusayr, Syria, on the border with Lebanon between Damascus and Homs, has been identified as a nuclear-related site.  Spiegel cites government intelligence sources who have studied activity at the site since 2009, when work on it began.  The site appears to be an underground facility for which the excavation was carefully disguised:

According to intelligence agency analysis, construction of the facility began back in 2009. The work, their findings suggest, was disguised from the very beginning, with excavated sand being disposed of at various sites, apparently to make it more difficult for observers from above to tell how deeply they were digging. Furthermore, the entrances to the facility were guarded by the military…

The most recent satellite images show six structures: a guard house and five sheds, three of which conceal entrances to the facility below. The site also has special access to the power grid, connected to the nearby city of Blosah. A particularly suspicious detail is the deep well which connects the facility with Zaita Lake, four kilometers away. Such a connection is unnecessary for a conventional weapons cache, but it is essential for a nuclear facility.

Syria-nuke-Qusayr

Beyond the observed developments at the site, Spiegel quotes a source as offering communications intelligence confirmation:

But the clearest proof that it is a nuclear facility comes from radio traffic recently intercepted by a network of spies. A voice identified as belonging to a high-ranking Hezbollah functionary can be heard referring to the “atomic factory” and mentions Qusayr. The Hezbollah man is clearly familiar with the site. And he frequently provides telephone updates to a particularly important man: Ibrahim Othman, the head of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission.

There is, moreover, an intriguing possibility suggested by the disappearance of the North Korean scientist, Chou Ji Bu, who has been most closely associated with the Syrian nuclear program.  The possibility is that Chou has been in Syria since sometime in 2007Spiegel again:

Chou was long thought to have disappeared. Some thought that he had fallen victim to a purge back home. Now, though, Western intelligence experts believe that he went underground in Damascus.

In sum: prior to the Arab Spring, Syria had accumulated important elements of a program to build a working reactor like the one at Yongbyon and produce material for plutonium bombs.  Although Israel destroyed the reactor itself while it was under construction, several elements of the program remained intact in Syrian hands.  It is not clear what progress, if any, has been made with them in the nearly four years since the Arab Spring began, but there is credible evidence not only that the nuclear program continues, but that the previously-accumulated elements of it are still in Syria.

The question, however, is who is really in charge of them at this point.

The political control problem

That a Hezbollah operative is making reports on the “atomic factory” to the godfather of Assad’s nuclear program – Ibrahim Othman – is hardly meaningless.  It means at least that Iran still works through Assad in Syria, for important purposes.  There is still a convention of gestures between the two governments.  Othman himself, as we should expect, retains a unique significance.

But given everything else about this situation, including the location of a suspect site at Qusayr, and the history of the site at Marj as-Sultan in the civil war, we would be wrong to think of the nuclear program in Syria as still being Assad’s nuclear program, to do with as he wants.  Like the territory of Syria itself, the true ownership of the nuclear program is now a question more of who has local control – and who will set boundaries for Assad, since he is unable to reconsolidate “Syria” in his own power.

First, we must stipulate that the activity at the Qusayr site, which began in 2009, was directed originally by the Assad regime.  Revolutionary Iran has always had an interest in Assad’s nuclear program, and some degree of influence over it, but in 2009, Assad was still making his own decisions.

Fast-forward, however, to the critical period in 2012 and 2013 when the nuclear program was imperiled by local fighting in the civil war.  The regime’s air base at Marj as-Sultan was endangered by fighting in the larger Eastern Ghouta area in 2012, and rebel forces made significant headway there throughout the year.  In late November 2012, they overran the air base as part of their campaign in Eastern Ghouta.  Later reporting revealed that Assad’s forces had evacuated the operable military equipment from the base before it was overrun; that information, and the imagery observation of unusual activity at the suspect nuclear site, support the assessment that the nuclear-program material was also removed.

The Telegraph’s characterization (link above) was the common one at the time: the rebels, making gains in Eastern Ghouta, just outside Damascus, were “tightening the noose” on Assad.  The period from late 2012 to mid-2013 was actually a critical inflection point in the fortunes of the Syrian civil war.  Assad was on the ropes, losing strategic ground in the north as well as around Damascus.

Syria-nuke-map-2

A big part of what changed the momentum in his favor was a decision in the early spring of 2013 to shift regime forces from the Qusayr area, where they were in a standoff with the Al-Nusra Front, and bring them to Eastern Ghouta and Daraya, east and south of Damascus.  This shift enabled the turning tide that saw regime gains later in 2013, a campaign that included the battle in Eastern Ghouta in which Assad is alleged to have used chemical weapons.

Syria-nuke-map-3Syria-nuke-map-4

Qusayr would not be left to fall, of course.  Situated at the north end of the Beqaa Valley, Qusayr commands the approach from Lebanon to Homs, and must be held in order to keep the entire province secure, and prevent Homs from being cut off from Damascus.

But this feature of the campaign is where the sand shifted under Assad’s feet, so to speak.  He couldn’t regain momentum in Damascus and also establish control of Qusayr.

Iran and Hezbollah, executing an Iranian plan, stepped in to do the fighting and defeat the rebels at Qusayr.

The Hezbollah campaign at Qusayr in the spring of 2013 marked a significant break in Hezbollah’s level of political and military involvement in the Syrian civil war, which had hitherto been minimal – a fact quickly noted by analysts.  There was no question who had seized control of Qusayr when the battle was won: Hezbollah was in charge, not the forces of the Assad regime.  In fact, when the defeated rebels sought safe passage out of the city, their flight was negotiated by Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a long-time associate of Hezbollah in the ever-shifting politics of Beirut.

Some of the impact on Lebanon of the disposition of Qusayr, and Hezbollah’s control of the city, is hinted at by this brief report from April 2014, which notes the arrest by the Lebanese army of a “military council leader” from Qusayr.  The report suggests he was engaged in arms trafficking; he would have been a Hezbollah operative.  Hezbollah has been an encroaching force in Lebanon for decades, controlling parts of the country and resisted in others.  With Assad’s status on the other side of the border increasingly subject to an Iranian veto, Hezbollah is on the cusp of holding a worrisome new strategic advantage.

A new picture emerges

It is no accident that the site of a nuclear facility in Syria has ended up under the control of Hezbollah and Iran.  It’s a question for another time what the Assad regime’s original purpose was in locating it in Qusayr, but we do know that in 2013, the commander of the Iranian paramilitary Qods force, Qassem Soleimani, is reported to have fully orchestrated the Hezbollah takeover in Qusayr:

According to Will Fulton, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute, Hezbollah fighters encircled Qusayr, cutting off the roads, then moved in. Dozens of them were killed, as were at least eight Iranian officers. On June 5th, the town fell. “The whole operation was orchestrated by Suleimani,” [said former CIA officer John] Maguire, who is still active in the region. “It was a great victory for him.”

There has been extensive recognition of Iran’s involvement in Syria; see here, here, and here, for example.  Much of that discussion has already understood that the battle of Qusayr was both a turning point in the civil war and a key feature of the Iranian strategy.  But the emerging information about the nuclear site at Qusayr sheds a new light on the strategic import of the Iranian involvement, and on the critical inflection point in Assad’s fortunes in late 2012 and early 2013.

Qusayr’s geographic features are an important reason for Hezbollah to have wanted to make an investment there.  But the existence of a nuclear site would have intensified Iran’s interest, explaining the focus Tehran put on orchestrating a victory there – a victory by Hezbollah, and not by Assad’s forces.  The before-and-after implied in that sentence speaks volumes.

Put that development in the context of growing recognition that there is no “Syria” anymore – see, for example, the treatments here and here – and a new picture begins to emerge of what Iran is really doing in what used to be Syria.

Take that picture, moreover, and add to it data points from the last few days.  After the Spiegel piece came out, members of the Free Syrian Army in the Qusayr area reported on 12 January that Iranian officers were there supervising the suspect facility, and that Hezbollah was mounting an “unprecedented” security presence for it.

[FSA official] Al-Bitar said the Friday report [in] Der Spiegel has been discussed at length in command meetings of rebel factions in the Kalamoon area.

He went on to say that “what can be confirmed is that what’s going on there is happening under direct Iranian supervision and the Syrian regime is only a cover-up for this.”

On 13 January, Adam Kredo reported at Washington Free Beacon that Iran acknowledges building missile manufacturing plants in Syria.

IRGC Aerospace Commander Haji Zadeh touted Iran’s capabilities and bragged that Iran has gone from importing most of its military hardware to producing it domestically, as well as for regional partners such as Assad.

“A country such as Syria which used to sell us arms, was later on to buy our missiles,” Zadeh was quoted as saying earlier this week by the Young Journalists Club. “Right now the missile manufacturing firms in Syria are built by Iran.”

Iran’s involvement in weapons manufacturing in Syria was already well known.  But the statement by Zadeh is a reminder of the scope of what Iran does in Syria – and the potential created by that array of activities for hemispheric power projection, through terror and intimidation.

The beauty of the territory of “Syria” for Iran is not only that it is in political turmoil.  It’s also that Syria is a wedge into the West, with a coastline on the Mediterranean: on the “other side” of both Israel and the Suez Canal from Iran’s regional encroachments on the Red Sea.  Under today’s chaotic conditions, Iran has an “interior” line of communication between her territory and Syria.  She can move men and material in and out of Syria via that LOC for many purposes, without being interdicted.  Eventually, Iran can foresee consolidating her position on the Syrian Mediterranean coast, and using it for purposes that can’t be accomplished without that unfettered access to points west.

Opportunity for Iran

All that said, however, Syria is now uniquely important to Iran’s nuclear aspirations because of the internal turmoil.  There is no meaningful mechanism for enforcing “national” Syrian accountability to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.  This is an ideal situation for Iran, and is only enhanced by the fact that the Syrian nuclear program has been on the alternate path to a plutonium bomb, as opposed to Iran’s well-advanced path to a uranium bomb.

Syria-nuke-map-5

Omri Ceren, an analyst with The Israel Project, made the following point in correspondence with me this week:

Between Hezbollah and the IRGC, Syria hasn’t existed as Syria for a long time. Even without the IRGC and Hezbollah physically there – which they are – a Syrian nuclear plant is an Iranian nuclear plant. The Iranians are building redundancy into their program. They’re just putting some of their facilities across what used to be the Syrian border. It’s the equivalent of building a new plant inside northern Iran, except it’s a little farther out in their frontier.

It’s actually better than building a new plant inside Iran.  It’s taking the work already done in Syria under Iran’s wing, and, by keeping it geographically distinct, putting a whole segment of the Iran-supervised effort outside any reasonable prospect of international inspection or accountability.

The State Department made it clear on Monday that the Obama administration has no intention of pursuing this as an issue with Iran.  Under questioning from reporters, Marie Harf was adamant about that (emphasis added):

QUESTION: On the Spiegel story, you said you’re seeking – who are you seeking more – I mean, you know – you should know this area better than anybody –

HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: — certainly better than a German, although highly respected, news magazine

HARF: I would agree with you that we probably have information they don’t.

QUESTION: So who are you seeking information from or are you —

HARF: Seeking internally or from our partners to see what more we can – if we can cooperate this, but again, not sure we can.

QUESTION: Is that – well, you couldn’t corroborate it because of intelligence reasons or because the story’s false and you want to leave it out there?

HARF: We don’t know yet. We just saw the reports and we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: Will you discuss this issue with the Iranians in the upcoming talks?

HARF: No. The upcoming talks are about the Iranian nuclear program.

QUESTION: Yeah, but if they are helping the –

HARF: Yes, but we don’t discuss other issues with them at those talks, as you all know.

QUESTION: But if they are –

HARF: Let’s move on to North Korea and let’s —

QUESTION: But if they are helping the Assad regime to build a nuclear facility –

HARF: I just said we’re not going to. I’m not sure what you don’t understand about that. We’re moving on to North Korea.

Not only will we not address this with Iran: we have only long-term and ineffectual plans to address the turmoil in Syria.  Our plan to train and equip an opposition force capable of fighting either the ISIS jihadi group or the Assad regime hasn’t even started yet.  It is, in any case, a plan with a long lead-time – at least a year – which the Obama administration does not intend to accomplish through its longstanding association with the Free Syrian Army.  (See here as well.)  Just this week, the commander of Special Operations Forces in CENTCOM met with Syrian opposition leaders to begin laying out a strategic vision.

The plan, moreover, doesn’t envision pacifying or unifying Syria, or taking territory from Assad or ISIS.  It’s a wholly defensive plan, which will apparently result only in setting up defended enclaves in a Syria left divided and unsettled.

In other words, nothing we plan to do will make the slightest headway against the very real problem of Syria as an unsupervised storage shed and back-room manufactory, for Iran or for whoever can manage to get hold of its contents.  Some of those contents are still from the Assad regime’s nuclear program.  It’s by no means impossible for ISIS to get hold of them; we don’t know where everything from the old program is.

If they are under the active supervision of Iran today, and are incorporated in a strategic plan of the mullahs’ devising, it is suicidal to be complacent about where they may end up, or how they may be used.

HarperCollins Bows to Gulf States and Eliminates Israel in Textbooks

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

The giant HarperCollins publishing firm has wiped Israel off the maps in its English-language atlases it sells in the Middle East — because showing its existence would be “unacceptable.”

The maps clearly show Syria, although it is questionable if that country really exists anymore, and Jordan reaching to the Mediterranean Sea, where Israel apparently has disappeared.

HarperCollins explained that  “local preferences” of the Gulf State countries took precedence over including Israel on the map, something their Arab customers found “unacceptable.”

The original textbooks, showing that Israel indeed exists, were discovered by customs officials in an unnamed Gulf country. They allowed the books in the country only after the maps were corrected by hand.

Saudi Arabia suggested in 2002 that the Arab League would “normalize” relations with Israel if it simply would take measures to prepare for the demographic elimination of a Jewish State of Israel by accepting a few million foreign Arabs after surrendering all of the land from which seven Arab countries tried to annihilate the country in 1967.

Of course, doing so would make relieve the Arab countries of having to recognize because the country would be unrecognizable, except under a new name, such as the Palestinian Authority.

The Arab countries never recognized Israel even in 1948, when they tried to destroy Israel before it was day old. Egypt and Jordan since have signed peace treaties, but no other Arab state has dared to follow suit.

It is known that Arab countries uses millions of products made in Israel, from generic medicine made by Teva Pharmaceuticals to computer chips made by Intel’s operations in the country, and even ZIM containers.

Perhaps every single product from Israel should be stamped with an Israeli map and the word “Israel” and we will see if the customs officials will deny their entry.

In the Short Run, Biden Might Well Keep his Promise that Iran Won’t Get Nukes

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

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

It’s not just the promise, of course.  It’s the Bidenesque way he makes it:

Monday, Biden had to remind Israeli leaders that the U.S. is not seeking a negotiation with Iran at Israel’s expense.

“I have heard so much malarkey about our position on Iran,” Biden said. “We will not let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon, period. I would not put my 42-year reputation on the line if I were not certain when I say it. We mean it.”

Daniel Greenfield casts a doubt or two on that 42-year reputation, and that’s fair enough.  We would be fools to take seriously such assurances from Joe Biden.

But there are reasons why Iran may well delay that moment of focused provocation when the radical Islamic regime proves itself nuclear armed.  If the Iranians don’t have the means to offer that proof yet, they are very close to it – so close that it is now their choice how fast to move, and in what way.

Where we are

Iran now lacks only the public demonstration of uranium enrichment to a weapons-grade level (above 95%), and a detectable warhead detonation.  To talk of a “breakout” capacity – a bomb-in-waiting – as something we are still looking for is now misleading.  Using such terms suggests that there is something more we need to see from Iran, before we officially set the breakout watch.

But the reality is that there is nothing we have yet to see that we can reliably expect to see.  We’ve reached the point at which it is prudent to assume the breakout watch has already started – and imprudent not to.

Fifteen years ago, Iran did not have a reliable uranium enrichment process; did not have an industrial-scale infrastructure for enrichment; did not have a stockpile of enriched uranium; did not have her own uranium production capacity; did not have a detonator mechanism for a uranium warhead; did not have a missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead; and did not have anything close to an intercontinental missile capability.

As little as six years ago, moreover, the United States had more than enough ready combat power, between our Air Force and Navy, to quickly strike a meaningful blow against an Iranian nuclear infrastructure that was still comparatively rudimentary and geographically concentrated.

Both of those conditions have changed significantly.  Iran now does have all the things she lacked in 1999: enough low-enriched uranium for at least 7-8 warheads; a proven enrichment process, including enrichment to higher purity (19.75%); an industrial-scale infrastructure, with geographic dispersion; an indigenous uranium production capacity (see here and here); a tested detonator mechanism for a nuclear warhead; at least one medium-range ballistic missile series that could deliver a nuclear warhead; and a satellite/rocket program advanced enough to support ICBM testing in as little as 1-3 years.  Iran has acquired almost all of these things since UN sanctions were implemented in 2007, and under the regime of IAEA inspections.

Reminder: Nothing has interrupted the trend of Iran’s uranium enrichment. Red column shows low-enriched UF6 stockpiled (versus total cumulative enrichment in blue), once Iran began enriching some stock to 20% in Jan 2012. Although Iran has “downblended” her 20%-enriched stock, the rate of increase in the total stockpile of 5% LEU has been robust: 17% from 11/13 to 11/14. (Data source: IAEA)

Reminder: Nothing has interrupted the trend of Iran’s uranium enrichment. Red column shows low-enriched UF6 stockpiled (versus total cumulative enrichment in blue), once Iran began enriching some stock to 20% in Jan 2012. Although Iran has “downblended” her 20%-enriched stock, the rate of increase in the total stockpile of 5% LEU has been robust: 17% from 11/13 to 11/14. (Data source: IAEA)

American military power, in the meantime, has declined to such an extent that mounting a quick, comprehensive strike on the Iranian infrastructure is no longer feasible.  We couldn’t do it quickly.  Not only could we not do it quickly; we couldn’t do it without first restoring the readiness of military units we no longer keep at their highest readiness level.  It would take months to prepare for a comprehensive strike campaign – and would require the prior allocation of special funding from Congress.

Where Iran once wanted to be

Iran’s vision for the future has been shaped, as everyone’s has, by the consequences of the Arab Spring.  It has also been shaped by the withdrawal of American power under Obama.

Four or five years ago, Iran took as a given the U.S. posture in the larger Middle East.  That posture included a key strategic presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan; close partnerships with almost all the Gulf Cooperation Council nations; special relationships, including military cooperation, with both Egypt and Israel; and unchallenged supremacy on the regional seas.

Iran’s basic objective was to peel America’s partners away through the pressure of proxy insurgencies (and other underhanded tactics), and thus squeeze us out of the region.  The first-order purpose of having the bomb was to immunize Iran against retaliation in that process, as the USSR had immunized itself with a nuclear “deterrent” force when it worked through proxy conflicts in the Cold War.

Iran also set her sights on chokepoints in the regional waterways, from the Strait of Hormuz through the Red Sea and all the way to Morocco and the Strait of Gibraltar.  No one was close to having a navy that could challenge the U.S. Navy, but even great navies are vulnerable in chokepoints.

At a kind of eschatological-strategic level, meanwhile, just as the Arab Spring was unfolding in early 2011, Iranian TV was running a mullah-approved “documentary” that outlined a scheme of military preparation for the arrival of the “twelfth imam.”  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad figured as a great military commander from Shia prophecy in this fantastical oeuvre, which depicted a dénouement in the armed conquest of Jerusalem.  (“Rescuing” Jerusalem had already figured for years in Iranian policy rhetoric, as well as in the concept of some major military exercises.)

Where Iran now wants to be

In the years since Obama took office, much has changed.  One thing hasn’t, and that’s Iran’s interest in gaining leverage at critical chokepoints in the regional seaways.  But some of the focused urgency has been bled out of the pressure campaign against America’s regional partners, in part because of the Arab Spring, and in part because Barack Obama has been doing an excellent job of peeling them away from us himself.

The momentum of Iran’s efforts has shifted to a new, more geographically focused vector, one that as recently as 2011 appeared to be unthinkable.  Where once Iran was confined to putting general pressure on various American partners in the region, and perhaps maneuvering to leapfrog nearby territory in which we seemed established – Iraq, Jordan, Israel – Iran can now realistically contemplate making an “internal” line of communication (LOC) through that territory.  She might accomplish that by proxy first, and then, eventually, exploit the LOC directly.

In fact, with much of the territory in question now disputed between ISIS and a weak Iraqi government, Iran has all the more reason for being there, with advisors and military equipment.

The bonus?  The U.S., weakened and compromised as our power is, has signed up to do at least some of the fighting against ISIS.  If Iran plays her cards right, American forces will open her strategic LOC through the heart of the Middle East for her.

Lieberman and Indyk Bash Bennett for Bashing Kerry

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Martin Indyk, another failed American messiah for the Palestinian Authority, and none other than hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman unwittingly were on the same soapbox Saturday to bash Jewish Home Minister Naftali Bennett for bashing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s incredible comments linking ISIS recruitment with the failure of the “peace process.”

Lieberman’s criticism of Bennett clearly reflects the dependence of the Netanyahu administration on the United States to cast a veto against any vote in the United Nations Security Council in favor of admitting the Palestinian Authority as a full member in the General Assembly.

For the record, Kerry’s spokeswoman Marie Harf claimed that Kerry never made such a suggestion although her convoluted explanation essentially said the same thing in other terms.

But Bennett stole the limelight with his remarks Friday that were very undiplomatic and politically incorrect, if not correct from the standpoint of truth, that Kerry was “encouraging global terror.

“It turns out that even when a British Muslim decapitates a British Christian, there will always be someone to blame the Jew,” Bennett said. “There is no justifying terror, only fighting it. To say that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is strengthening the Islamic State is encouraging global terror.”

Kerry stated at a reception for Muslims Wednesday, as reported here, “As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions … there wasn’t a leader I met with in the region who didn’t raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt – and I see a lot of heads nodding – they had to respond to.

“And people need to understand the connection of that… It has something to do with humiliation and denial and absence of dignity.”

We will leave it to the reader to figure out how Harf could claim that there was no linkage.

Israel’s Communications Minister Gilad Erdan was just as caustic as Bennett and said, “Kerry is breaking records for a lack of understanding of what is going on in our region.”

Indyk, who has joined a long list of American “experts” at the State Dept’s ever-expanding foreign policy graveyard, tweeted, “There they go again: Israeli rightist ministers attack Kerry for wanting Israeli-Palestinian peace to help fight IS.”

He supposedly was defending Kerry but his tweet actually spelled out in capital letters that the cause and effect is obvious: Israeli-Palestinian peace will help the United States fight the Islamic State.

Lieberman’s defense of Kerry was not so idiotic.

The foreign minister, who is on top of the list of those panning Kerry’s Peace Talks Follies, can fairly be presumed to have applauded in his heart every word Bennett and Erdan said, but his position as foreign minister took precedence. He clearly is worried about the reaction from Washington, which already has been reeled by several remarks this year by Israeli officials that Kerry is “messianic” and doesn’t have a clue about the Middle East.

That is absolutely untrue. Kerry knows the Middle East is located somewhere between the Atlantic Ocean and the China. He also knows that the King David Hotel is located in Jerusalem, the part that is not “occupied.”

“Let’s state some facts,” Lieberman said. “When our ammunition supplies ran out during Operation Protective Edge, it was the United States that sent us more. It was the Americans who gave us money which enabled us to develop Iron Dome. It was the US who voted with us in the UN Human Rights Council. The United States is the only country that saves us a good deal of grief in the Security Council with its veto.”

Attacking ISIS, Obama Will Only Repeat The Disasters Of His Predecessor

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

This article first appeared in Jewish Business News.

Far from being a fan of ISIS, who represent the very worst in Islamic culture, I nevertheless believe President Obama should leave them alone and not attempt to remove them from the face of the earth, as he has promised a few days ago.

ISIS serves a very important purpose, it is actually a source of stability in the region, and as such should be left to its own devices. Yes, the West must protect its assets in the region, and, yes, care must be taken to bolster innocent bystanders like the Kurds and the kingdom of Jordan against the onslaught of the Islamic ninjas. Other than that, to paraphrase a popular sentiment: don’t just do something, stand there.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Back in the 7th century, as the Roman Empire was losing its oomph in the Middle East, the Arab hordes, led by Muhammad, rushed out of the Arabian peninsula and grabbed all that nice, free property, never to let go of most of it again. This is precisely what ISIS, the new Muslim hordes in the very same region, have been doing.

Thirteen years ago, Barbara Bush’s less gifted son decided to remove the only man in the region who was able, using cruelty, paranoia and a voracious appetite for power, to stop the Iranian Shiite empire from expanding and gaining a hegemony in the region. That wondrous man was Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and when he fell, he left a vacuum that was quickly filled by Iran and its Shiite allies inside Iraq.

In essence, the United States spent trillions of dollars and countless lives, American and Arab, to give Iran the primacy it so desired in that part of the world. Yes, that was some idiotic move.

And as President Obama decided to cut America’s losses and pull out of the region en mass, he forced the Sunnis to get up and make a move before it was too late. So they did. Taking advantage of the vacuum left by Obama’s America, ISIS has been running through the region like knife through hot butter. And that’s a very good thing.

Because ISIS, despite their obvious religious fanaticism, are realists. They want money and land, which they’ve taken’ and they want a reliable and well equipped army, which they’ve also taken, from America’s Iraqi clients.

But they’ve been staying out of areas where they know they’d get a bloody nose. While attacking women and children wherever they could, ISIS soldiers have kept away from serious confrontations with the IDF and the Jordanian Legion. They’re not interested in fighting for the sake of fighting alone, they’re looking for rewards. So, like I said, that’s a good thing.

The big service ISIS is doing the West right now is checking Iranian power, just as the Sunni rebels inside Syria are keeping the Iranian agent Hezbollah in check, and just as the PLO is keeping Hamas in check, at least to some degree.

It’s a volatile region, where violent, crazed men will always make life terrible for their weaker, more productive, less sociopath neighbors. But now the crazies are balancing one another, like a circle of snakes, each keeping the tail of the next snake in its clenched jaws.

Israel and the West could do worse, by helping any of these brutes. Let them keep each other busy for decades, and let’s wish all of them much success in their bloody endeavors.

Oh, and if you’re a journalist looking to interview these guys – use Skype, for heaven’s sake.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/attacking-isis-obama-will-only-repeat-the-disasters-of-his-predecessor/2014/09/23/

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