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December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Rubin Reports’

Middle East Crises of 2013 Already in Dress Rehearsal

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

If 2011 was the year of the Arab Spring, 2013 looks to be the year of the Arab Fall. The hopes of quick, easy democracy have already been eclipsed by the rise of radical Islamist groups, which are no less extreme for coming to power through elections. And so the coming months are likely to see more disillusion, violence, and the entrenchment of Islamist regimes.

Let’s start with the Gaza Strip. Hamas is determined to fight Israel in the belief that it can win total victory. Its five years in power have had no moderating effect and it doesn’t care how much of Gaza is destroyed, how much the people there suffer, or how many are killed. It puts a priority on jihad and hopes that international pressure will always stop Israel from continuing its retaliation too long, much less overthrowing the regime there.

Hamas may be moved by fearing that the regime might fall, the people might turn actively against it (but with Fatah not trying to overthrow Hamas a real internal threat is unlikely). But the key factor is how much help Hamas can expect from Egypt. Right now and in the current war, Egypt is still cautious. The regime hasn’t really entrenched itself in power, begun Islamizing the country, and consolidated control over the army. But in the coming months, as the regime needs to distract its peoples attention from failures and mobilize support the next war with Hamas might involve some higher level of Egyptian involvement. And that would really be a conflict to shake the Middle East.

Then there was the place where hope for democracy was greatest, Tunisia, where the dramatic events of 2011 began. The Muslim Brotherhood won with just over 40 percent of the votes—with the secularists split into four rival parties—and formed a government that was to oversee the transition and prepare a constitution.

Now, however, there is a violent Salafist movement which has clashed with secularists and is trying to impose its brand of Sharia on the society. There have been street battles, deaths, and attacks on police stations. A local secular party leader was murdered by Islamists; an Islamist stabbed a police chief and in response to that attacker’s arrest, hundreds of armed Salafists went into the streets threatening retaliation. Rioters torched the American school, attacked the U.S. embassy, and plotted to kidnap several members of Tunisia’s small Jewish community.

Islamic clerics are increasingly outspoken in their demands for a total transformation of the country. That doesn’t mean they will win but it does mean there will be a growing atmosphere of intimidation, violence, and extremism. Despite a lot of talk and some international conferences with lots of air travel and nice banquets, there has been no massive international aid effort for Tunisia. Tourism is plummeting.

The “moderate” Islamist Rachid al-Ghannouchi, gives speeches to loyalists explaining that it will take time to impose Sharia law. First, the Islamists have to get their people into controlling the government ministries and the army.

Everything that’s been happening in Tunisia has been taking place on a far larger scale in Egypt. We still haven’t seen a draft of the constitution but since it is being written by the Brotherhood and Salafists the limit on Islamist dictatorship will only be what they are willing to put into it as a sign of their patience and caution. The army was quickly taken over with the forced retirement of lots of officers and their replacement by opportunists willing to follow the Brotherhood’s orders.

During the coming months, we can expect to see more attacks on Christians, women rejecting Islamist restrictions, and secularists. Assaults on American institutions in these two countries are quite likely, even if there is not some new offensive video. What is especially disconcerting is the growing data on the formation of terrorist groups. In the Sinai peninsula, , there is already a low-level war going on as Salafists launch attacks on dissidents, police stations, and across the across the border into Israel.

One factor that has definitely not changed in Middle Eastern politics is how violence and killing—or the threat to do so—is not just a last resort, it’s the first resort.

For example, a Syrian opposition activist and a pro-Hizballah Lebanese journalist were being interviewed on Al-Arabiya television, the more moderate rival of al-Jazira. The activist, Ammar al-Qurabi, director-general of the National Organization of Human Rights in Syria, at one point remarked that Hizballah Secretary-General Nasrallah would end up being found hiding in a sewer like, he said, Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qadhafi. He might also have mentioned that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was captured while hiding in a hole. Both former dictators were executed.

The journalist, Ghassan Jawwad, angrily responded, “You will be killed” for saying that. The host tried to calm Jawwad in vain.

Qurabi later remarked, “This is their response to any attempt at dialogue,” he said. A Lebanese friend of mine once remarked that a Syrian official could never say anything without including a threat. And thus Qurabi added, “This was the basis for the revolution in Syria.” But it is also the basis for the death of tens of thousands in Syria and increased violence in Lebanon.

Three events that might not make it into 2013—they could take until 2014–but whose signs will be increasingly visible, are:

–The end of the Syrian civil war with the overthrow of the Bashar al-Asad regime and the coming to power of a rebel coalition dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists.

–An economic crisis in Egypt that will drive the Brotherhood regime—and simultaneously give it an excuse—toward greater extremism, a crackdown on dissidents, and a growing hysteria against the United States and Israel.

–Iran obtaining nuclear weapons or being attacked by Israel.

In Libya, though, things may move more quickly. There, in contrast to Egypt and Tunisia, there is no Islamist regime to appease the Salafists or keep them under control. The killing of four Americans in Benghazi seems like a prelude to a new Libyan civil war. Radical Islamists, with support from some of the armed militias that did or did not join the country’s army, try to overthrow what they see as a Western puppet regime despite its winning an election.

The bitter fruits of the Obama Administration’s pro-Islamist policy will be increasingly visible. The only question is whether the Obama Administration will still be around to respond ineffectively or even to keep helping the anti-American forces.

[For a graphic vision of what might be coming elsewhere see this amazing collection of Russian photos from Syrian civil war Photos 5-8: the killing by rebels of a guy in civilian clothes (pro-regime militiaman?) Most of the weapons are AK-47 and other Russian equipment with the exception of a futuristic-looking AUG, Austrian-made assault rifle.]

[And for a really good lecture on the realities of Egypt and of Obama policy there–including the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood and nuclear weapons–see the lecture by Raymond Stock here.]

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

The Hamas Suicide Strategy

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

One of the most important things to understand about how the Middle East works is what I’ll call the suicide strategy. It can be described as follows:

I will start a war that I cannot win in order to create a situation where the other side wrecks my infrastructure and kills my people. Then I will lose militarily but win the battle. How? By the following means:

–I’ll kill some people on the other side and do some damage to it. Since they are weaker and less brave than I am they will give up. The longer the war, the more likely they are to look for a way out even if that involves many concessions on their part. Using terrorism against their civilians reinforces this tactic.

–By suffering, and magnifying that suffering using a generally sympathetic Western media, I will make the other side feel sorry for me and oppose their own leaders who will be portrayed as bullying, bloodthirsty, and imperialistic.

–The specter of war, suffering, and especially civilian casualties, will drive the “international community” to press my adversaries to give in, stop fighting (even if I continue it on a lower level), let me survive, and even give me benefits.

That’s how you stage a losing war but end up the winner.

This strategy has often worked against a Western adversary or Israel. It won’t work against fellow Arabs or Iran because those forces couldn’t care less how much damage and how many civilian casualties they inflict. Their mass media are under a large element of state control and they are not responsive to public opinion.

Hamas is now using this approach in the current war against Israel, though less effectively than in previous circumstances. True, it is getting some in the West to blast Israel as using excessive force or force at all.

Certainly, it protects Hamas from being overthrown altogether, which is the only real solution to the problem. But as long as Israel doesn’t win too big the West is ready to tolerate the current level of fighting.

And that’s the signal for Hamas to double down. Israel wants a ceasefire; Hamas doesn’t. Even the New York Times will tell you that:

Hamas, badly outgunned on the battlefield, appeared to be trying to exploit its increased political clout with its ideological allies in Egypt’s new Islamist-led government. The group’s leaders, rejecting Israel’s call for an immediate end to the rocket attacks, have instead laid down sweeping demands that would put Hamas in a stronger position than when the conflict began: an end to Israel’s five-year-old embargo of the Gaza Strip, a pledge by Israel not to attack again and multinational guarantees that Israel would abide by its commitments.

In other words, Hamas is demanding that in future it can import whatever it wants and will have the right to attack Israel without retaliation. Note that the first demand isn’t even necessary for Hamas. After all, it can now get almost everything it wants through the Egyptian-Gaza border. So this list of items is just designed as an excuse to keep the fighting going.

Now it is not usual for the losing side in world history to want the war to end . But in the Middle East, and with the entry of political and diplomatic considerations, plus the factor of public relations, these rules have been changed. The world has taught Hamas—and not just Hamas–that the more aggressive you are, the more terrorism you use, the better you will do, up to a point, internationally and the more antagonism is stirred up against Israel.

Yet as I said above, this tactic is not working so well in this case. There are several reasons why this is so:
–In contrast to some past situations (1982 war in Lebanon) there is a very high level of support in Israel for the current operation and in contrast to others (2006 war in Lebanon) there’s a sense that the army is doing a good job. Incidentally, this war has nothing to do with Israel’s January 22 election and won’t have any major effect on it.

True, there is a higher level of civilian panic about rockets and missiles, quite understandable in the areas being hit; less so in other places. Yet that won’t bring any significant pressure for Israel to give up and declare defeat, especially as Hamas runs out of things to shoot at Israel’s civilians.

–There are now so many issues in the Middle East—more of them simultaneously than at any time in living memory–that they distract both international and regional attention from the Hamas-Israel war. The Arab-Israeli and even the Israel-Palestinian conflict can hardly be said with a straight face to be the core or major issue in the region.

–The “Arab Spring” may help Hamas a lot in the long run but not in the short run. Hamas tried the old PLO gimmick of starting a war with Israel as a way to force Arab regimes to do what you want. This didn’t always work for the PLO. Given Syria and Iraq being out of the conflict due to a priority on internal issues, the potential base for this strategy has been weakened.

Iran is far away, though it can send rocket and missile motors; Jordan doesn’t want trouble; and Lebanon, even though dominated by Hizballah, is now on the Shia side and on the verge of a new civil war of its own.
–Egypt, of course, is Hamas’s great hope. Yet the Hamas leaders should have listened to their counterparts in Cairo who do not want a confrontation right now. The Muslim Brotherhood has not consolidated its power. The status of parliament is unclear, the constitution has not yet been approved, and the army is not yet fully under the regime’s thumb. Of special importance is the Islamist regime’s effort to finalize around $10 billion in aid from the European Union, United States, and International Monetary Fund.

Thus, while Egypt’s new rulers love Hamas they don’t love it enough to do more than issue passionate statements. On the contrary, Egypt and perennial troublemaker Qatar want the fighting to end.

Hamas is free to ignore its allies and go on shooting rockets, missiles, and mortars at Israeli civilians. It can hope, with good reason, that the West will stop an Israeli ground operation. And Hamas can certainly expect to survive the war no matter how badly it loses and how much damage its policies inflict on Gaza’s people. Hoping that it will be even more popular—a gambit that has often worked in the past—may be too much of a stretch this time.

Yet the gains Hamas can make by trying to force Israel to bomb it are less than the Hamas leadership expects. Even many people in the West seem to be catching on to the masquerade of staging aggression and then pretending to be the victim. Some may comprehend that it is Hamas that is responsible for the suffering of Gaza’s people even if they aren’t prepared to do anything about it by bringing to an end a regime that seized power in a violent coup, wages a war without end, preaches genocide against its neighbor, forces all Christians to flee, represses dissent, turns women into chattel, and trains children to be suicide bombers. It is possible, though, that Western regimes will try to do something that will bring about an effective ceasefire for a few years.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

How to End the Israel-Hamas War

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

A lot of people have asked the purpose of Israel’s defensive war against Hamas. Some, including those supposedly expert on the region, have been mystified. They cannot seem to figure out what is going on or what the goal of this Israeli operation could be.

The answer is simple. Given the premise that Hamas is in a permanent state of war with Israel and will attack Israel whenever it can get away with it, Israel needs to do three things.

First, show Hamas that it cannot daily attack Israel and Israeli civilians without a cost.

Second, show Hamas that the cost is unsustainable and that it needs to keep the peace or suffer massive losses to its governmental, economic, and military infrastructure. This includes a personal cost to those who have taken the lead in attacking Israel and especially to those who have organized terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.

Third, remove from Hamas the means of making war by destroying its rockets, missiles, and other weaponry. Of course, they will rebuild but it is better to have an enemy that must start over again from near-zero than one that is adding thousands of weapons onto the thousands it already possesses, including the addition of more advanced arms and especially longer-range missiles.

Ending the current fighting in the Gaza Strip is also simple. There are two requirements: an international willingness to do it and an important decision from the new Egyptian government.

Ideally, the world would help overthrow the illegal Hamas regime that represses people in the Gaza Strip and repeatedly drags them into costly and losing wars with their stronger neighbor. But that’s not going to happen. So the next best-thing is a ceasefire that will last several years at least. While Hamas still has ties with Iran, and some factions are closer to Tehran, the Gaza regime’s real patron is Egypt. Both places are ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood.

We have been constantly told that the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt is really moderate. The Obama Administration helped put that government into power. Yes, it won elections but from January 2011 onward, Washington basically backed the Brotherhood in a number of ways. The U.S. government has constantly defended the Brotherhood as being moderate and criticized the Egyptian military when it tried to keep that group out of power.

So the Egypt government supposedly wants to focus on domestic affairs and doesn’t want to be dragged into war with Israel. It is being given huge amounts of goodies without any apparent conditions. This includes a staggering $6.4 billion in loans from the European Union; $4.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund, and $450 million from the United States, plus another $1 billion plus in U.S. military aid.

Perhaps Egypt can do something in exchange for all of this political support and money, including loans that will never be repaid. Let Cairo make clear to its Hamas clients that it wants a real ceasefire and does not accept Hamas periodically firing large numbers of rockets, missiles, and mortars, plus cross-border attacks, on Israel. Egypt wants quiet in order to deal with its tremendous problems of poverty, pending bankruptcy, and also the regime’s program to turn Egypt into an Islamist state.

I could add cynically—but accurately—that it also wants time to lower the status of women, install ever-larger amounts of Sharia law, and intimidate Christians into servitude. But these things apparently don’t really bother the West so they are going to happen any way without real leverage being applied.

Egypt can let all the food and goods anyone wants to enter the Gaza Strip across their mutual border. It can at the same time prevent the crossing of weapons, including motors for rockets and Iranian-made missiles. The Cairo government can help Hamas raise the living standards in the Gaza Strip as high as it wants without helping it destroy them by going to war. The truth is that the Egyptian government may issue statements to a credible Western media from time to time that it’s cracking down on the smuggling of arms into the Gaza Strip but that regime actually needs to do something real.

The same applies to permissiveness toward cross-border raids from Egyptian territory into Israel. Again, there have been lots of Western media items about how much Egypt is doing to stop such attacks or arrest those involved. The problem is that these efforts have been token ones mainly directed at ensuring the terrorists don’t attack the Egyptian military and don’t launch operations too often.

There has been a lot of talk in ruling circles in Egypt about revising the peace treaty with Israel. Well, Israel is open to negotiating an increase in the level of Egyptian military presence in the eastern Sinai as long as the additional soldiers are stopping smuggling into the Gaza Strip and the use of Egyptian territory to attack Israel instead of taking bribes and looking the other way, or even helping the terrorists.

One is free to look at such a solution in two ways. If you want, you can believe that Egypt really is ruled by moderates who put peace and prosperity over jihad in their priorities’ list or, alternatively, it is equally okay to think that the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt is quite radical but that its interests dictate restoring calm and avoiding war for several years to come even though they would prefer otherwise.

What makes the difference is Israeli credibility, willingness to defend itself, and ability to do so effectively.

It is now the job of the United States, whose president has spoken and acted as if the government in Egypt is his client, and all the vaunted leverage that the U.S. government says it has gained in the Arabic-speaking world through various actions over the last four years. America and Europe need to use the aid and backing they have given to Egypt as a way to get something in return.

Israel is refraining from a ground attack at the urging of Western countries, and especially the United States, if it eventually gets something in return.

So far, Hamas has been turning down the efforts by Egypt and Qatar to broker a ceasefire, making huge and ridiculous demands. Hamas is banking on the idea that the suffering of Gaza’s people–a suffering that it adds to and fictionalizes–will bring enough Western sympathy to force Israel to stop fighting without conditions. It is not in anyone else’s interests to let this happen.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Western Media Elites Just Don’t Get the Middle East

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Originally published by Rubin Reports.

The elite currently in power in the Western mass media is never going to comprehend the Middle East. There is a problem with bias, for sure, but the big problem is the impenetrable ignorance of the very people who are entrusted with explaining the region to others. They insist on imposing their own misconceptions on the situation while ignoring the evidence.

Consider Janine Zacharia. What a distinguished resume: Jerusalem bureau chief and Middle East Correspondent for the Washington Post (2009-2011); chief diplomatic correspondent for Bloomberg News (2005-2009) and before that five years working for the Jerusalem Post in Washington DC and another five years working for Reuters and other publications from Jerusalem. Right now she’s a visiting lecturer at Stanford University in communications.

Surely, such a person must understand the region’s issues and if anyone isn’t going to have an anti-Israel bias in the mass media it would be her. And she isn’t anti-Israel in a conscious, political sense. Indeed, she obviously views herself as being sympathetic. Rather, it is her assumptions that make her type of views inevitably anti-Israel and more broadly inevitably destructive of U.S. interests on other issues.

So here’s her article in Slate. The title is “Why Israel’s Gaza Campaign is Doomed.” Not, why this response is the best of a set of difficult options; not why the world should support Israel; not why Hamas should be removed from power with international support but why Israel is wrong and stupid to fight. “Doomed” is a pretty strong word.

The subhead—adapted from Zacharia’s text—is “Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to bomb Hamas militants will leave Israel more isolated, insecure, and alone.” Not the decision of Israel’s unanimous leadership including first and foremost its military and defense experts but that of a prime minister who now plays a role for the American media most closely approximated to that held by former President George W. Bush.

And by defending itself against an onslaught of rockets—120 in one week–Israel will be worse off even though by the way every Western country I’m aware of has supported Israel. Why will Israel be more isolated, insecure, and alone? Because the unspoken assumption of the Western media elite is that anyone who uses force, even in self-defense, ends up worse off.

It is quite reasonable to state that the campaign will not end the problem. Everyone in Israel and in Israel’s leadership and all the generals and Netanyahu know this very well. They also know that a country that does not defend itself and maintain its credibility and deterrence is going to end up doomed, isolated, insecure, and alone.

They also know that the best that can be expected given this situation is to force Hamas to deescalate for two or three years before the next round. One of the goals of the operation is to destroy the large military stockpiles–especially longer-range missiles–that Hamas has accumulated since 2009. Thus, Hamas will have to start all over again to smuggle in weapons. The next time they start a war it will be from a far weaker position than if they had not taken such losses.

Much of the Western elite no longer understands concepts which their predecessors took for granted during the last two centuries. You can go back even further than that to Joshua 7: 8-9 when Joshua prays after a military defeat:

“What can I say after Israel has turned tail before its enemies? When the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land hear of this, they will turn upon us and wipe out our very name from the earth.”

Zacharia, however, faithfully represents the current standpoint of the Western elite. Here is her prescription:

“Israel needs a far more sophisticated, diplomatic, long-term strategic policy for dealing with Gaza and all the threats around it—from Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and perhaps Egypt. A new Israeli approach may have to include a willingness to at least try talking to Hamas, which is fighting its own internal battle against even more radical, anti-Israel groups in the Gaza Strip. It may mean putting more pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, languishing in irrelevance in Ramallah, to make peace with Hamas so there can be negotiations with Israel and a permanent end to this rocket-war madness.”

Lessons for the World from a New Gaza War

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Update: A few sirens went off in Tel Aviv around 6:30 PM, November 15—not the whole system or the one outside my window but those a few blocks away—and didn’t stay on very long. Then there were two loud but short booms, the sound of anti-rocket missiles being fired. Rumors followed. This being the age of social media people insisted that something must have happened because somebody in California said so. Some people said with certainty that a rocket hit in this or that place, one claimed he saw the smoke from a building that had been struck. In the end, it was announced that a rocket from the Gaza Strip had been shot down far to the south. The atmosphere was reminiscent of 1991 when three dozen Iraqi rockets did hit Israel, one of them a few blocks from my home, and anti-missile batteries could be heard nightly firing at incoming missiles from Iraq.

Of course, there’s nothing funny about a war. Less than an hour’s drive to the south people are under fire. There are casualties on both sides, including civilians. This is a serious matter, made no less so by its relative familiarity. Yet there is a difference between the horrors of war and imagining away a conflict, an inescapable situation, because one wants to do so. Only by confronting the reality can there be the best possible response to a crisis. Wishful thinking or ignoring real conflicts makes things worse.

The new war between Hamas and Israel has a lot of important lessons for international diplomacy and U.S. policy today. It once again shows that a country, especially one faced by a hostile adversary who cannot be turned away by words or compromises, has limited choices. And in that case a government must do what it must do.

A key to the problem of Western comprehension of international realities is admirably summarized by a New York Times editorial on the subject:

“No country should have to endure the rocket attacks that Israel has endured from militants in Gaza, most recently over the past four days. The question is how to stop them permanently.”

Now the answer to that question is simple to understand if not easy to implement. The attacks can only be stopped if Hamas is removed from power and replaced, given contemporary circumstances, by the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA is certainly no prize but that’s a reasonable goal for what is often referred to as the international community.

Yes, Hamas won an election in 2007 but then it staged a violent coup, threw out the opposition, and has thus governed as an unelected dictatorship. It has no legal basis since Hamas never accepted the Oslo accords agreements. Hamas is also a terrorist group. And it daily voices not only its opposition to Israel’s existence but also advocates—and teaches the children of Gaza to carry out some day—the commission of genocide against all Jews.

So the answer to the Times’ question is a no-brainer, right? In fact, of course this response is not what the Times has in mind. Instead, the newspaper and like-minded people present the following list:

–Israel should negotiate with Hamas. Great idea but an impossible one because of a factor Western leaders, academics, and journalists often do not take seriously nowadays: ideology. Hamas means what it says, intends to continue the violence for years in the belief it can win total victory, and is indifferent to the sacrifice of its own people. So in this case negotiations are not an option.

–If there is a comprehensive Israel-Palestinian peace there would be no more war. Actually even if such an agreement were to be reached—which is impossible because the PA won’t make one—Hamas would step up attacks in an attempt to destroy the agreement.

The PA could not make a deal that would include the 40 percent of the Palestinians who live in Gaza. And Hamas would try to overthrow the PA in the West Bank and might even succeed. Then Hamas, perhaps with the Fatah people who allied with it, would have a fully sovereign state to use as a platform for an intended war of genocide against Israel.

Morsi Source of Hamas’ Renewed Confidence

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Responding to a major upsurge of Hamas cross-border attacks from the Gaza Strip, Israel has launched its biggest military offensive since the 2008-2009 Gaza war. Of the 768 rockets striking Israel since the beginning of the year, 120 came this week alone, one of them destroying a house in the town of Sderot. Forty-four Israeli civilians have been killed by such attacks in the last decade. During the recent rocket offensive, schools and other facilities were closed and around one million residents of southern Israel were instructed to stay home or go to air-raid shelters.

Although it has not yet officially been announced–but Hamas knows it very well–Israeli soldiers are on the ground in the Gaza Strip for the first time since January 2009.

The offensive, called Pillar of Defense, follows large numbers of rockets being fired by Hamas and its smaller allies over the last four days along with several cross-border raids, most notably the destruction of an Israeli jeep by an anti-tank rocket wounding four Israeli soldiers.

For the first time in four years, Israel carried out a targeted assassination, killing Ahmad Jabari, leader of Hamas’s military forces whose car exploded. Here’s a video of that event. Jabari has been involved in many terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians and also the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was freed in a prisoner exchange.

Israeli officials said other Hamas leaders involved in terrorism will also be targeted. The other top priority is to destroy up to 20 launching sites for Hamas’s Iranian-built longer-range missiles, with a 25 mile range, that can reach cities in southern Israel. Seventeen rockets were shot down by the Israeli Iron Dome system.

Up until the last moment, large amounts of civilian goods were allowed by Israel to enter Gaza, more than 26,000 tons in the last week alone and 336 truckloads of construction materials.

As I’ve written repeatedly over the last year, the installation of its ally, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, in power next door has given Hamas much more confidence. Hamas has also forged ties with Egyptian Salafist groups ready to stage attacks into Israel across the Egypt-Israel border. Unless the terrorists also target Egyptian installations, the Cairo government doesn’t do much about it.  Hamas openly came out as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and openly initiated attacks on Israel rather than merely permitting smaller groups–Islamic JIhad, Salafist groups, and al-Qaida affiliates–to do so.

The Egyptian regime tried but apparently failed to organize a ceasefire. The timing of a confrontation now is inconvenient for the new government which is seeking to consolidate power, including tightening its control over the military, taking over the official religious institutions, and producing a constitution. In future, though, it is more likely to back up Hamas either indirectly–letting money, weapons, terrorists, and Egyptian volunteer fighters- cross from Egypt into Gaza–or even through direct military intervention.

Neither side takes U.S. policy very seriously. The Egyptians and Hamas know that President Barack Obama will not take Israel’s side to the same extent as previous presidents while Israel knows it cannot depend on an energetic U.S. pressure on Egypt to tamp down on the terrorists.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Next Stop: Obama Puts his Trust in Negotiations with Iran

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Originally published by Rubin Reports.

The most important foreign policy effort President Barack Obama will be making over the next year is negotiating with Iran. The terms of the U.S. offer are clear: if Iran agrees not to build nuclear weapons, it will be allowed to enrich a certain amount of uranium, supposedly for purposes of generating nuclear energy (which Iran doesn’t need) and other benefits, supposedly under strict safeguards.

Will Iran accept such a deal? The Obama Administration and others argue as follow: Sanctions have taken a deep bite out of Iran’s economy and frightened the regime with the prospect of instability. Iranian leaders are concluding that nuclear weapons aren’t worth all of this trouble. They are interested in becoming wealthy not spreading revolution and this includes even the once-fanatical Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which is steadily gaining power in the country.

In a few months, June 2013, Iran will have elections to choose a new president to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Perhaps, goes the argument, they will pick someone more flexible and less provocative, a signal that they want to stand down from the current confrontation. Thus, a deal is really possible and it could be implemented.

I won’t dismiss this altogether. The truth is that despite extremist statements and radical tactics, the Iranian regime is by no means ideologically or theologically mad. The rulers want to stay in power and they have been far more cautious in practice than they have in rhetoric. Despite the claims that the Iranian regime just wants to get nuclear weapons to attack Israel as soon as possible, a serious analysis of this government’s history, its leaders and factions, indicates otherwise.

A key factor here is that Iran wants nuclear weapons for “defensive” purposes. By this I do not mean that a poor Tehran regime is afraid that it will be attacked for no reason at all and thus needs to protect itself. Not at all. It is Iran’s aggressive, subversive, and terrorist-sponsoring positions that jeopardize the regime. Like it or not, if the Tehran government got on with the business of repressing its own people without threatening its neighbors the world would be little concerned with its behavior. But it has refused to take that easy and profitable choice.

Rather, Iran wants nuclear weapons so it can continue both regime and behavior without having to worry about paying any price for the things it does. The situation has, however, changed in two respects. First, the “Arab Spring” has put an end to any serious hope by the regime of gaining leadership in the Middle East or in the Muslim world. Two years ago it was possible that Arabs would dance in the street and cheer Iran having a nuclear weapon as the great hope of radical Islam. Today, though, the Sunni Islamists are on the march and have no use for rival Shias, much less ethnic Persians.

They want to make their own revolutions, destroy Israel, expel the West, and seize control of the Middle East for Sunni Arabs and not under the leadership of Persian Shias. Iran’s sphere of influence has been whittled down to merely Lebanon, Iraq, and a rapidly failing Syrian regime. Under these conditions, getting nuclear weapons will not bring Iran any great strategic gain.

Second, sanctions have indeed been costly for Iran, though one could exaggerate the extent of this suffering. Additional internal problems have been brought on by the rulers own mismanagement and awesome levels of corruption. In other words, to stay in power and get even richer Iran’s leaders, along with disposing of Ahmadinejad, might seek a way out of their ten-year-long drive for nuclear weapons.

Thus, it is not impossible that Iran would take up the Obama Administration on the proposed deal either because the leaders now seek riches rather than revolution or because they intend to cheat or move far more gradually toward getting nuclear weapons or at least the capability to obtain them quickly if and when they decide to do so.

It is, however, equally or more possible that Iran would use the negotiations to wrest concessions from the West without giving anything in return and to stall for time as it steadily advances toward its nuclear goal. As this happens, Israeli concerns will be dismissed by the administration and the mass media. The kinder ones will say that Israel is being unnecessarily concerned; the more hostile that it is acting as a warmonger when everything can be settled through compromise.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/rubin-reports/next-stop-the-obama-administration-puts-its-trust-in-negotiations-with-iran/2012/11/13/

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