Archive for January, 2008

Unintended Consequences in Gaza

January 27, 2008

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(Rush Hour at the Gaza/Rafah border)

The situation in Gaza is very worrisome. There is no doubt the siege of Gaza has produced significant unintended consequences that may change the entire equation. There are too many other good analyses on this for me to bother getting into it. See those in Ha’aretz for example. That said, there’s an article in the Christian Science Monitor arguing that one of these unintended consequences may work in Israel’s favor insofar as it would allow Israel to further divorce itself from Gaza, completing the work it begun in the 2005 “disengagement.” I personally doubt anything good will come of this, nor do I think Egypt would go for it because they’re worried about the domestic consequences that a strengthened Hamas will have on their own Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood. They also want no part of what they see as Israel’s problem alone. If the situation at the Gaza/Rafah border is not contained immediately it may spiral out of control to the point of threatening the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord — a truly disastrous outcome.

(Christian Science Monitor) — When Palestinians toppled a metal wall separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt Wednesday, many expected Israeli officials to howl over Egypt allowing Hamas “terrorists” to rearm. After all, a cornerstone of the current peace process was supposed to be isolating Gaza. But the Israeli response has been surprisingly muted. In fact, some Israeli officials see some advantage in the breach. Israel, which occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967, has since then clamored, intermittently and often privately, for Egypt to assume greater responsibility for the impoverished coastal strip, or even for Cairo to take control of Gaza. By breaking down the wall and sending Egypt a tidal wave of people pressed to stock up on everyday necessities, Hamas militants – who have been planning the break for weeks, according to local media reports – may have inadvertently brought Israel closer to this goal...” Click for full article

‘Israeli-Turkish relations tense as Erdogan says Qassams don’t kill’

January 24, 2008

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(Haaretz) — Relations between Israel and Turkey have become very tense in the last two days, after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that no Israelis have been killed by Qassam missiles, while every Israel Defense Forces attack in the Gaza Strip kills dozens of Palestinians. Senior Foreign Ministry officials Wednesday issued a protest to Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, Namik Tan, and requested clarifications of Erdogan’s remarks… Click for full article

‘Bush pushes US-Turkey nuclear cooperation’

January 23, 2008

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Between French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s massive effort to spread civilian nuclear programs to countries across the Middle East, and the efforts of Bush, soon the entire region will be nuclearized. To date, Sarkozy has offered nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Libya, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. In addition, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan and Yemen have recently expressed nuclear ambitions of their own. It appears The United States is trying to compete with France in the region before it misses the opportunity for a slice of these multibillion-dollar deals. Of course there’s more than money at stake here. Stephane Lhomme, spokesman for Exit Nuclear Network, a French-based umbrella group of anti-nuclear associations is quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “The main concern is not that an Islamic country ends up with the atomic bomb; the main risk is the possibility of making dirty bombs with nuclear material.” Since many in the administration have resigned themselves to the fact that Iran will eventually develop the bomb, pushing civilian nuclear programs for US allies in the region like Turkey (and their parallel desire to acquire them) may also be part of long term containment efforts “for a rainy day”, should Iran test a nuclear weapon at some future date. Are you not excited?

(AFP) — President George W. Bush has green-lighted a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Turkey, saying that private-sector proliferation worries have been addressed, the White House said Wednesday. Bush on Tuesday sent the US Congress a July 2000 agreement, signed by then-US president Bill Clinton, that would clear the way for transfers of nuclear know-how to Turkey’s planned civilian atomic sector, it said“… Click for full article

‘Hizb ut-Tahrir moves to fill void left by Hamas in the West Bank’

January 22, 2008

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(Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters mobilize in Ramallah)

Don’t you love the quality of Palestinian political opposition? This group Hizb ut-Tahrir, a watered down version of the Muslim Brotherhood that is gaining rapid popularity in the West Bank, still believes Pan-Islamic unity and a revival of the Islamic Caliphate is the answer to the Arab and Islamic world’s ills. Among their grievances are democracy, the principle of a two-state solution alongside Israel and the 1924 dissolution of the caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey.

(Christian Science Monitor) — A new fundamentalist player is emerging in Palestinian politics. The group sounds like Hamas – or even Al Qaeda – but doesn’t support suicide bombings or secret militias. In recent months, it has shown it can put tens of thousands of supporters into the streets. Founded in Jerusalem by a Palestinian-Jordanian judge more than 50 years ago – and once considered a quiet if quirky religious group with a utopian vision of returning to a time when the Muslim world was united – Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation) is now filling a hole left by Hamas in the West Bank… Ehud Ya’ari, one of the foremost Israeli commentators on Palestinian and Middle Eastern affairs… notes that since the group officially eschews violence, preferring instead to wait for some “coup de grace” in the form of a divinely ordained moment of international jihad, Israeli and Palestinian security services have not viewed them as a major threat. But, he quips, “they are not a vegetarian movement. Click for full article

FT: ‘Iraqi Christians opt for Lebanon’

January 21, 2008

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(Christians in the Northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, an increasingly infrequent sight)

Interesting article from the Financial Times about Iraqi Christian refugees resettling in Lebanon in relatively large numbers. Despite Lebanon’s terrible track record of refugee treatment, the dwindling Iraqi Christian population is attracted to Lebanon for it’s reputation as a partly-Christian ruled country in an otherwise Muslim dominated region, and because job opportunities are much easier to come across in Lebanon than in neighboring Syria. The number of Christian refugees flowing into Lebanon doesn’t appear large enough to upset the country’s delicate sectarian balance. Although the proportion of Iraqi Christians to the total Iraqi population was never large, it appears that if anything, more of a lasting mark will be left on Iraq, the source of the refugees, where in spite of a recent upturn in the number of returning refugees, few Iraqi Christians plan ever to return.

(Financial Times) — The UNHCR has registered some 10,000 of the estimated 50,000 Iraqis in Lebanon but the government does not recognise their refugee status. Lebanese officials say Iraqis are treated no differently than other illegal immigrants who evade the country’s tough entry conditions. Lebanon’s fractured sectarian landscape and the presence of some 350,000 Palestinian refugees makes the country reluctant to absorb more foreigners. As with the Iraqis, the legal status of the Palestinians in Lebanon is among the worst in the region. Fearing that their presence will upset the sectarian balance, Lebanon has denied Palestinians work opportunities and a chance to integrate for decades. In spite of the intimidating atmosphere, Iraq’s Christian community has been heading for Lebanon in relatively large numbers. Lebanon’s reputation as a partly Christian-ruled country in a Muslim-dominated region has been part of the lure… Click for full article.

With Victories Like These…

January 21, 2008

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(General Patraeus/MSNBC Images)

Who needs defeat? In this article Boston University professor of history and international relations Andrew J. Bacevich argues forcefully that while many see the Iraqi surge as a success, it has only proven itself to be a tactical success. In the larger scope of things, the surge is totally meaningless, even counter-productive if we’re ever to rid ourselves of the war. Read for yourself:

Surge to Nowhere
By Andrew J. Bacevich

(Washington Post) — Don’t buy the hawks’ hype. The war may be off the front pages, but Iraq is broken beyond repair, and we still own it.

As the fifth anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom nears, the fabulists are again trying to weave their own version of the war. The latest myth is that the “surge” is working.

In President Bush’s pithy formulation, the United States is now “kicking ass” in Iraq. The gallant Gen. David Petraeus, having been given the right tools, has performed miracles, redeeming a situation that once appeared hopeless. Sen. John McCain has gone so far as to declare that “we are winning in Iraq.” While few others express themselves quite so categorically, McCain’s remark captures the essence of the emerging story line: Events have (yet again) reached a turning point. There, at the far end of the tunnel, light flickers. Despite the hand-wringing of the defeatists and naysayers, victory beckons.

From the hallowed halls of the American Enterprise Institute waft facile assurances that all will come out well. AEI’s Reuel Marc Gerecht assures us that the moment to acknowledge “democracy’s success in Iraq” has arrived. To his colleague Michael Ledeen, the explanation for the turnaround couldn’t be clearer: “We were the stronger horse, and the Iraqis recognized it.” In an essay entitled “Mission Accomplished” that is being touted by the AEI crowd, Bartle Bull, the foreign editor of the British magazine Prospect, instructs us that “Iraq’s biggest questions have been resolved.” Violence there “has ceased being political.” As a result, whatever mayhem still lingers is “no longer nearly as important as it was.” Meanwhile, Frederick W. Kagan, an AEI resident scholar and the arch-advocate of the surge, announces that the “credibility of the prophets of doom” has reached “a low ebb.”

Presumably Kagan and his comrades would have us believe that recent events vindicate the prophets who in 2002-03 were promoting preventive war as a key instrument of U.S. policy. By shifting the conversation to tactics, they seek to divert attention from flagrant failures of basic strategy. Yet what exactly has the surge wrought? In substantive terms, the answer is: not much.

As the violence in Baghdad and Anbar province abates, the political and economic dysfunction enveloping Iraq has become all the more apparent. The recent agreement to rehabilitate some former Baathists notwithstand ing, signs of lasting Sunni-Shiite reconciliation are scant. The United States has acquired a ramshackle, ungovernable and unresponsive dependency that is incapable of securing its own borders or managing its own affairs. More than three years after then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice handed President Bush a note announcing that “Iraq is sovereign,” that sovereignty remains a fiction.

A nation-building project launched in the confident expectation that the United States would repeat in Iraq the successes it had achieved in Germany and Japan after 1945 instead compares unfavorably with the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina. Even today, Iraqi electrical generation meets barely half the daily national requirements. Baghdad households now receive power an average of 12 hours each day — six hours fewer than when Saddam Hussein ruled. Oil production still has not returned to pre-invasion levels. Reports of widespread fraud, waste and sheer ineptitude in the administration of U.S. aid have become so commonplace that they barely last a news cycle. (Recall, for example, the 110,000 AK-47s, 80,000 pistols, 135,000 items of body armor and 115,000 helmets intended for Iraqi security forces that, according to the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon cannot account for.) U.S. officials repeatedly complain, to little avail, about the paralyzing squabbling inside the Iraqi parliament and the rampant corruption within Iraqi ministries. If a primary function of government is to provide services, then the government of Iraq can hardly be said to exist.

Moreover, recent evidence suggests that the United States is tacitly abandoning its efforts to create a truly functional government in Baghdad. By offering arms and bribes to Sunni insurgents — an initiative that has been far more important to the temporary reduction in the level of violence than the influx of additional American troops — U.S. forces have affirmed the fundamental irrelevance of the political apparatus bunkered inside the Green Zone.

Rather than fostering political reconciliation, accommodating Sunni tribal leaders ratifies the ethnic cleansing that resulted from the civil war touched off by the February 2006 bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, a Shiite shrine. That conflict has shredded the fragile connective tissue linking the various elements of Iraqi society; the deals being cut with insurgent factions serve only to ratify that dismal outcome. First Sgt. Richard Meiers of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division got it exactly right: “We’re paying them not to blow us up. It looks good right now, but what happens when the money stops?”

In short, the surge has done nothing to overturn former secretary of state Colin Powell’s now-famous “Pottery Barn” rule: Iraq is irretrievably broken, and we own it. To say that any amount of “kicking ass” will make Iraq whole once again is pure fantasy. The U.S. dilemma remains unchanged: continue to pour lives and money into Iraq with no end in sight, or cut our losses and deal with the consequences of failure.

In only one respect has the surge achieved undeniable success: It has ensured that U.S. troops won’t be coming home anytime soon. This was one of the main points of the exercise in the first place. As AEI military analyst Thomas Donnelly has acknowledged with admirable candor, “part of the purpose of the surge was to redefine the Washington narrative,” thereby deflecting calls for a complete withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. Hawks who had pooh-poohed the risks of invasion now portrayed the risks of withdrawal as too awful to contemplate. But a prerequisite to perpetuating the war — and leaving it to the next president — was to get Iraq off the front pages and out of the nightly news. At least in this context, the surge qualifies as a masterstroke. From his new perch as a New York Times columnist, William Kristol has worried that feckless politicians just might “snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.” Not to worry: The “victory” gained in recent months all but guarantees that the United States will remain caught in the jaws of Iraq for the foreseeable future.

Such success comes at a cost. U.S. casualties in Iraq have recently declined. Yet since Petraeus famously testified before Congress last September, Iraqi insurgents have still managed to kill more than 100 Americans. Meanwhile, to fund the war, the Pentagon is burning through somewhere between $2 billion and $3 billion per week. Given that further changes in U.S. policy are unlikely between now and the time that the next administration can take office and get its bearings, the lavish expenditure of American lives and treasure is almost certain to continue indefinitely.

But how exactly do these sacrifices serve the national interest? What has the loss of nearly 4,000 U.S. troops and the commitment of about $1 trillion — with more to come — actually gained the United States?

Bush had once counted on the U.S. invasion of Iraq to pay massive dividends. Iraq was central to his administration’s game plan for eliminating jihadist terrorism. It would demonstrate how U.S. power and beneficence could transform the Muslim world. Just months after the fall of Baghdad, the president declared, “The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.” Democracy’s triumph in Baghdad, he announced, “will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran — that freedom can be the future of every nation.” In short, the administration saw Baghdad not as a final destination but as a way station en route to even greater successes.

In reality, the war’s effects are precisely the inverse of those that Bush and his lieutenants expected. Baghdad has become a strategic cul-de-sac. Only the truly blinkered will imagine at this late date that Iraq has shown the United States to be the “stronger horse.” In fact, the war has revealed the very real limits of U.S. power. And for good measure, it has boosted anti-Americanism to record levels, recruited untold numbers of new jihadists, enhanced the standing of adversaries such as Iran and diverted resources and attention from Afghanistan, a theater of war far more directly relevant to the threat posed by al-Qaeda. Instead of draining the jihadist swamp, the Iraq war is continuously replenishing it.

Look beyond the spin, the wishful thinking, the intellectual bullying and the myth-making. The real legacy of the surge is that it will enable Bush to bequeath the Iraq war to his successor — no doubt cause for celebration at AEI, although perhaps less so for the families of U.S. troops. Yet the stubborn insistence that the war must continue also ensures that Bush’s successor will, upon taking office, discover that the post-9/11 United States is strategically adrift. Washington no longer has a coherent approach to dealing with Islamic radicalism. Certainly, the next president will not find in Iraq a useful template to be applied in Iran or Syria or Pakistan.

According to the war’s most fervent proponents, Bush’s critics have become so “invested in defeat” that they cannot see the progress being made on the ground. Yet something similar might be said of those who remain so passionately invested in a futile war’s perpetuation. They are unable to see that, surge or no surge, the Iraq war remains an egregious strategic blunder that persistence will only compound.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His new book, “The Limits of Power,” will be published later this year.

Escalations in Gaza

January 15, 2008

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(Hardline Hamas Leader Mahmoud Zahar displays a piece of fabric covered in the blood of his son, who was killed by Israeli forces Tuesday. Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

Columnist Rami Khouri warned more than a week ago that Bush’s visit to the Middle East may intensify the cycle of violence, and he is partially vindicated by today’s bloodshed in Gaza. But partially is as far as I’m willing to go — Bush didn’t cause the problem in Gaza and it will be there long after he leaves office. The role his regional visit played in today’s outbreak of violence is debatable, however it’s interesting that American wars in the Middle East are blamed on Israeli influence over the US Congress, and Israeli wars or escalations are blamed on Bush. Apparently neither country can act on its own initiative. Predictably, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal and Mahmoud Zahar (who lost his son in today’s attack) pointed the finger at Bush for the escalation in violence with no mention of the role played by daily Qassam fire at Israeli towns in the western Negev. In an interview with AFP from Damascus, the exiled Mashaal stated, “This crime is the ugly fruit of Bush’s visit to the region. He has incited the Zionists and has exerted pressure on the Palestinian side to become more hardline against Palestinian dialogue.” But some analysts argue that Israeli escalations, rather than being urged and conducted in cohorts with the desires of the Bush administration, are actually being carried out in order to thwart Bush’s Middle East peace initiative, lest it lead to the formation of a Palestinian state. For the sake of his legacy Bush would like to see this succeed before he leaves office. As early as yesterday there was talk of a right wing rebellion from coalition parties within the Olmert government over talks on “core issues,” (update: Avigdor Liberman’s far right wing party, Yisrael Beiteinu, has left the coalition) and the Israelis were reportedly very unhappy with the U.S. decision to go through with the sale of JDAM bomb kits (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) to Saudi Arabia even though these satellite guided smart bombs are said not to be as smart as the ones Israel is getting. The United States needs its Sunni Arab allies to counter Iranian influence in the region, but bolstering these allies is causing an uncomfortable rift with Israel.

Olmert faces right-wing rebellion

January 15, 2008

There may be no need for a right wing rebellion against the Olmert-led coalition government after of today’s escalations in Gaza. Talks over “core issues” may collapse just fine on their own.

Ehud Olmert’s governing Israeli coalition was facing a period of turbulence as it opened formal negotiations yesterday with the Palestinian leadership on the “core issues” at the heart of the Middle East conflict. With Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the most right-wing party in Mr Olmert’s government already threatening to walk out, Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud, urged both him and the religious party Shas to do so “to stop this process”… Click for full article

India, Israel to focus on joint R&D in defense, share Intelligence

January 2, 2008

 

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New Delhi (PTI): In the backdrop of increased al-Qaida activity in the region, India and Israel have decided to share intelligence on regular basis as part of efforts to fight terrorism jointly... Israel has emerged as India’s second largest weapon supplier with arms sales almost touching five billion US dollars in 2007… Click for full article.

(and also see this article)

There may be a few hiccups, political or otherwise, along the way but India and Israel will now ‘further intensify’ their already robust defence ties, which saw New Delhi do military business worth over a whopping $7 billion with Tel Aviv since the 1999 Kargil conflict. From man-portable miniature UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and advanced radars to missile systems and electronic warfare suites, the two nations have decided to focus on more and more joint R&D projects rather than just continue with a mere buyer-seller kind of relationship, said sources… Click for full article

‘Israel taking Bin Laden’s threats seriously’

January 2, 2008

(AFP) — Israel is taking seriously a threat issued by the head of the Al-Qaeda network Osama Bin Laden in which he vowed the “liberation of Palestine,” a government spokesman said on Monday. “We take seriously the threats of Al-Qaeda just as we take seriously threats by all terrorist organisations,” Mark Regev told AFP. “We have observed Al-Qaeda activities near Israel, notably in Lebanon, Jordan and in the Sinai” peninsula of neighbouring Egypt, he said… Click for full article

It’s not entirely clear when Bin Laden is pandering to the Palestinian cause and when he is serious, though Israel should remain concerned about this threat. Bin Laden began to champion the Palestinian cause in some of his speeches especially after 9/11 when passions were on fire in the Middle East and beyond, but offered no real support to them — not with his money weapons or fighters. Only propagandists like the authors of the Israel Lobby Report Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer took Bin Laden’s previous statements on the Palestinians at face value because it nicely suited their thesis, which argued that United States’ support for Israel has been detrimental to American security (more so than, for example, arguing that the United States’ foreign policy has been detrimental to itself). Of course an honest look at the conflict between Bin Laden and the Unites States makes clear that Bin Laden’s real grievance was and is that the Saudi government allowed the United States to station its troops and air bases inside the Saudi Kingdom (in what he saw as holy Muslim land) after the first Gulf war. Bin Laden’s international Jihadist campaign was also inspired by a world view in favor of reinstating the Islamic Caliphate. His grievances against Israel may not have even ranked as secondary or tertiary in significance. With a wherewithal like Bin Laden’s, he could have made his enmity towards Israel felt there, had this truly been his cause over the years, and had he backed Palestinian militant groups with his full thrust. I have offered my critique on this before. But there may be something more to Bin Laden’s latest threats against Israel because they are unusually direct. Generally speaking, analysts regard Bin Laden’s threats as credible, and look to his speeches for signs of a change in policy.

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Lebanese army soldiers patrolling the destroyed Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli, Lebanon. AP [File]

Also there were reports last week that the militant group Fatah al-Islam — which you may remember as the group holed up in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli, Lebanon over the summer, where they waged a drawn out battle in Lebanon and against the Lebanese army — had escaped with its remaining members and moved to Gaza recently. But this report is based solely on statements by Ahmed Abdel Rahman, a top aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, without further evidence, so we don’t really know. One has to be naturally skeptical of the source as it may reflect Fatah — Hamas factionalism and Fatah efforts to scare the international community about Hamas’ conduct in order to further isolate the group. Abdel Rahman blames Hamas’ violent takoever of the Gaza Strip last June for creating chaotic conditions there — not without merit — and for welcoming Fatah al-Islam into the territory. Yet I find it difficult to believe, that even while Hamas and Fatah al-Islam are fellow Sunni radical organizations, that any Palestinian group would embrace Fatah al-Islam with open arms after the group’s conduct last summer resulted in the utter destruction of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, and many Palestinians lost their homes and livelihoods because of it. Or do they solely blame the Lebanese army for that destruction? It is hard to tell — for example, during the first few days of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, many Lebanese were furious at Hezbollah for instigating a war with Israel, though once Israel began the bombing campaign they quickly rallied around Hezbollah as heroes and re-directed their ire at Israel. Even if the reports of Fatah al-Islam’s re-emergence in the Gaza Strip were true, the threat from Fatah al-Islam is not as serious as the threat from al-Qaeda (if the the Lebanese armed forces could crush their uprising this summer, the IDF can, to be sure). Fatah al-Islam is a singular organization inspired by al Qaeda but finite in size and capability, while al-Qaeda has become a much more dangerous and decentralized movement (and an ‘ism’) with widespread appeal. These may be signs of a much larger menace coming from Gaza in the future.