Tag Archives: Syria

Will they or won’t they? Or when will they? Or will they say?

A friend asked me in passing a few weeks ago, “Well what do you think? A couple of months?” I told him, no, I didn’t think so, not in that short of time, anyway. Neither one of us had to ask the other what the subject was. It was about whether—or more exactly when—Israel would launch a military attack against Iran’s nuclear weapons infrastructure.

There has been a popular impression for quite a while that it has to happen, it will happen, and it could be any time now. I do not have an inside track, and I also tend to be wary of going with the flow. So lately I’ve been on the lookout for information that can fill in some of the missing pieces.

The first clearly presented article I saw as I began to watch for such things laid out several reasons why it was not about to happen just yet, written by Professor Barry Rubin at the beginning of last month. You can (and should) read it for yourself, but the effect it had on my understanding of the situation was that things are not as cut-and-dried as the media would like to think they are. Professor Rubin added some further comments on this just last week.

I’ve seen a few other places where similar observations were presented – that a simplistic view that’s it’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen soon – is just that, simplistic. I’ve been putting off this post, trying to get a more precise handle on this, with more names, dates, & figures, but it’s just too much of a moving target right now. So if my friend were to ask me the same question tomorrow, I’d have the same answer, but that’s just my two cents.

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BHOHeadCrop05March2012So I suppose you could say it was a safe for US President Obama to talk tough in his address to AIPAC on Sunday. Since nothing was going to happen any time soon, he had plenty of room (comparing himself to Teddy Roosevelt) to “carry a big stick.”

But—ah, well!—talk is all it was. Cheap talk, at that. And so transparently dishonest that I take comfort in being certain that the AIPAC delegates saw through it well enough. And that, by the same token, the gracious reception given the speech by Israel President Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu will be seen in the proper light. (As someone put it, “just doing their job.”)

I don’t mean to overwork Professor Rubin, but I’ll cite him again here as having written the clearest analysis of the speech that I’ve seen today. He titled his post, “Promise her anything but give her Arpege.” I think you get the idea.

As for all the support President Obama claims he has given Israel, take a look at this video from The Emergency Committee for Israel that puts things in a more accurate perspective:

Barack Obama ran for president as a pro-Israel candidate — but his record tells a different story

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In my last two posts I brought up the possibility that some of the more violent setbacks to Iran’s nuclear program may not be accidents or the work of Israeli agents (exclusively, anyway) either one, but clandestine efforts by loyal Iranians opposed to the Ahmadinejad regime.

I’ve seen some further comments along those lines, but one of the more interesting items was a piece in Haaretz saying WikiLeaks had released “intelligence” that Israeli special forces had indeed cooperated with Kurdish fighters inside Iran to destroy one or more nuke sites some time ago.

Lest we get our hopes up too high, we need to remember that just because we see it on the internet doesn’t make it so. Blogger Elder of Ziyon pointed out a few things in a post titled Tempest in a Wikipot that may help us to keep things in perspective.

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homs_CropBack in December I was also looking at the way the Syrian revolt against the Assad regime has become a dividing point between the various Muslim states and factions in the Middle East. So far Assad is still in, and things are not looking good for the rebels. It’s odd that the entire Arab world plus Turkey is lined up against the regime (including now even Al-Qaeda and Hamas) but nothing is moving. Russia and Iran are the only two entities that I’m aware are still behind Assad. It would appear especially that Hamas’ opposition is a radical move, given their position as merely a proxy for Iran. How can they get away with that? They’re cutting their own umbilical cord—or are they? The more I look at the Middle East, and Arab behavior in particular, the more I see that we make a mistake when we try to view things from our Western perspective of democratic principles and national republics.

I read an analysis by Daniel Greenfield this weekend which pointed out that Arab loyalties really are not to nation states nor even yet ideologies, but to the clan. At which point Syria becomes an excellent example of this: right now it’s the Alawite “splinter sect” in the persons of the Assad clan that’s desperately, brutally holding on to power. And if they fall, will we see a free, democratic Syria emerge? Not likely. We really should stop making such an asserted effort to fool ourselves.

LiebermanheadcropcloseAt least one person is taking away an important lesson from all this. Israel Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman points out that the failure of the international community (and of the UN in particular) to protect the victims of state violence in Syria clearly shows Israel’s wisdom in not trusting international promises of such protection as a basis for allowing a(nother) terrorist state hard on its borders.

Nuff said?

TTYL. Lineman.

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Could recent Iran explosions be an inside job?

In my last post I wondered aloud whether Israel might be behind several recent explosions that appear to have been directed at Iran’s weapons programs. It seemed a rather obvious possibility, barring more precise knowledge.

But then a few days ago someone called my attention to an analysis by columnist Caroline Glick which presents detailed information suggesting the attacks could be internal sabotage by the anti-regime “Green” movement. Now wouldn’t that be something!?

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UN_syrianprotest_RS Meanwhile, it’s hard to keep up with all the shifting alignments in that part of the world occasioned by events blithely referred to as “the Arab Spring.” The biggest sore spot right now appears to be Syria, and it’s not looking like dictator Bashar al-Assad is going to be there much longer. Europe is against him, the US is pretty sure it’s against him, and significantly the Arab League has also turned against him. Even the UN has finally decided the situation there is outright civil war. (Think Libya a few months ago.)

But don’t write him off just yet. Russia has recently given indications via diplomatic statements backed up by military moves that they intend to support the present regime, with muscle if necessary, and Iran (weren’t we just speaking of them?) continues to stick by its old buddy. Russia and Iran are major players, whether we like it or not.

But then there’s also Turkey. You’d think Turkey would look at a map & see it’s not in a good position to simultaneously take on most of its neighbors, but it’s just not that simple in this part of the world. Turkey has been jockeying for prime influence among the Arab states for quite a while now (the Turks knowing full well that they themselves are not Arab) and therefore is acting prudently in seizing an opportunity to squeeze out Iran. I don’t know what it thinks it will do with Russia if push comes to shove, but the two were never buddies in the first place.

Nasrallah_Surfaces_RS And don’t forget Hezbollah. Now there’s an interesting situation. Hezbollah owes its existence to Iran, and its continued well being to Syria, so it can neither afford to buck the trend nor relax in place. And for all its bluster, it still knows it’s the little guy. Simply put, it’s in the hot seat, and can’t do much but talk.

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Now south of the border, down Egypt way, we have another major concern. Last week’s elections have made it clearer than ever that what was not long ago one of the few more-or-less pro-Western states in the Middle East is now heading down hill fast into becoming another Islamist enclave. Kind of like Iran, but Sunni.

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western-asia-topographical_CR So let’s step back and look at the major pieces. In one corner, you have a sort of Russia-Syria-Iran axis (or sickle) going it alone against not only Europe and the US but also against the Arab states in general. But if Syria is taken out of the picture, you have just Russia and Iran. (Forget, for the time being, North Korea and China–I’m trying to keep this simple. And sadly, Lebanon just doesn’t have any say in the matter.) What do they want with each other? Plenty, no doubt, but that has to await another chapter.

You have Turkey all by itself, trying to pretend to be friends with whoever suits its purposes for the moment, but not actually knowing who that is.

You still have a reasonably stable region consisting of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States, who are also for the moment OK with having Turkey for a friend.

Iraq is too busy sorting itself out to have much influence right now, but don’t expect that to last forever.  Yemen is also presently trying to get its bearings, and once it does, it will likely fade back into the recesses of world consciousness.

Lastly (for the sake of this discussion) you have the emerging Islamist states of North Africa—what we’ve been calling Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and which still go by those names, if only because they themselves don’t yet know who they really are.

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So with all this going on, you’d think that nobody would want to bother with itty-bitty non-Arab, non-Muslim, non-Islamist Israel, wouldn’t you?

You’d think.

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The Wheels of Injustice Grind Slowly, or, Israel Still on The Rack

gaza-flotilla-greece_200X133 I haven’t posted for a while; I’ve just been watching while the world tightens the screws on Israel. Or at least tries to—since I last wrote, there have been two amusingly failed attempts to embarrass Israel, the flotilla which never quite got underway from Greece, and the similarly failed “flytilla” attempt.

Of course the big thing coming up is the specter of the United Nations vote next month to officially recognize a “Palestinian” state in the territories occupied by Jordan and by Egypt from 1948 to 1967, but now under Israeli administration. Never mind the lack of a viable governmental structure on the part of the Arabs occupying those areas, or the likelihood that the whole endeavor will blow up in their faces, there exists nonetheless a “bizarre alliance against Israel” (as Michael Curtis at American Thinker puts it)–American and European observers remain blindly focused on imaginedSyrian-Massacre_200X121 shortcomings of the only viable Middle East democracy, ignoring the obvious problems (to put it mildly) of Arab countries. (For example the ongoing slaughter of the Syrian people by their own regime.)

Israel’s ace in the hole, as it were, is a promised US veto in the UN Security Council, but there are also subtle reasons to doubt that promise.

For reasons which I have stated before, I still think it will come out all right in the end. But just how close we are to the end is a little hard to tell.

So won’t you watch with me?

lineman

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Filed under News snippets, World against Israel

“I’ll say something that everyone knows which is that is that no one knows.”

Ze'ev_Benyamin_Begin It has often been said—and I’ve said it also—that one of the reasons the US should support Israel is that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

Israeli MK and Minister Benny Begin asserts in a recent interview with Giyus.org that three other Mideast nations fit at least the functional definition of a democracy, and considering his remarks we get a different perspective of the current “Arab Spring” movements. Are the protests and revolts which have swept the region democratic in nature? Some of them, perhaps, but that may be of small comfort under the circumstances.

My thanks again to GIYUS for supplying these in depth reports from experts and leaders in the area. With their kind permission, here is the interview with Minister Begin:

Minister Begin to Giyus: Arab revolutions may lead to democracy but not peace

 

A few days ago I met Minister Benny Begin and interviewed him for Giyus.org. In light of the swift turn of events in the Middle East, Minister Begin was able to crystallize the main issues with cutting clarity.  From the history of Hamas’ road to power in Gaza, through a thought provoking analysis on the connection between democracy and peace in the Middle East, Minister Begin offered factual observations.   Our interview was held in English to avoid alterations during the translation. I’m sure you’ll find it as fascinating as I did.

Giyus.org: We are just coming out of another round of fighting with Hamas – where does this lead Israel? Are we heading for another large scale offensive with Hamas?

Minister Begin: I wouldn’t like to enter into details that have military or operational aspects, but I’d like to go into the roots of the issue. The root problem is that for the last 4 years we live next to a "Little Iran". How did this happen? To understand that we have to unfold the events backwards: Little Iran is there because Hamas is there, controlling Gaza. In June 2007, Hamas kicked out the PLO out of Gaza. When they did it, Hamas acted as the legitimate government within the Arab Palestinian camp, having won the elections in January 2006. So Mr. Haniyeh was at the time the legitimate prime minister. How come Hamas won the elections on January 2006? The reason is that Hamas participated in the elections. How come Hamas, a terrorist organization openly bent on the destruction of Israel, was allowed to participate in those elections? The simple reason, quite painful, is the following – the Israeli government at that time, at the first week of January 2006, agreed to allow Hamas to participate in those elections. How come the Israeli government agreed? The Israeli government agreed to the participation of Hamas in the elections, despite its basic will, to satisfy our friends in America. Under the banner of democratization, the Americans under the previous administration were pushing for the inclusion of Hamas in the so called democratic process within the Arab Palestinian camp in Gaza, Judea and Samaria. All that of course, has to do with another sad fact, which is that in 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, dismantled villages and forcefully evicted about 10,000 Jews from Gaza. Israel did that under the assumption that these actions will bring about improved security for citizens of Israel. I asked a group of Europeans and Americans in the last few weeks, if they remembered how many Americans or European installations were hurt by rockets launched from Little Iran? Well the simple answer is zero, none. The lesson of the story is that it’s easier to give Israel an advice from the safety of Paris, London, Rome or Washington, and leave us in Israel to deal with the consequences. Israel is left alone to deal with the rockets coming from Little Iran, from that Hamastan. It’s our citizens sitting in bomb shelters and the Israeli government is responsible and obliged to the protection of its citizens.

Giyus.org: Hamas tries to create a separation between its military arm and political arm – how do you view Hamas as an organization? Is this a real distinction in your eyes?

Minister Begin: Hamas is a terrorist group. Every organization has certain departments that are responsible for activities at different times, but the activities cannot be separated one from the other. Hamas has an integral structure. Part of it is stationed constantly in Damascus, where Hamas and Islamic Jihad find safe haven. While Syria is considered a legitimate part of the international community it protects terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. I don’t think there is any distinction between the military wing and political wing of Hamas. An attempt to make such a distinction is dangerous since it paves the way for international recognition of the organization through that separation – e.g. we’ll talk to the political wing and not the military wing. That applies to Hezbollah as there is no difference between the two organizations. Those who operate the mortars, who physically launch the rockets, cannot be separated from the political leadership. That’s the way it should be viewed and I do hope that European countries and of course the USA view it that way and keep up the restrictions on Hamas recognizing that Hamas is a terrorist organization openly bent on the destruction of Israel.  With the new developments in Egypt, Hamas feels its posture is bolstered by the legitimacy given to their sister movement, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Also noteworthy is the fact that a Hamas delegation was received by the new Foreign Minister in Egypt, before Abu Mazen was allowed to arrive in Cairo. It’s symbolic and important politically.

Giyus.org: The Iron Dome system successfully intercepted its first rockets last week? How will that impact Hamas’ strategy?

Minister Begin: The Iron Dome system is a great success and a great technological achievement which has first to do with the bold vision of the developers. It must not be considered total coincidence that no one tried it. People thought for many years that such an endeavor must fail because of the short time span between the launch of the rocket and its landing, we’re talking about seconds. But the engineers and the scientists in Rafael and the Defense Ministry were bold enough to stretch their imagination. You first have to resort to such imagination before getting to the drawing board. However, you must understand that the system has its limit and we cannot build our strategy on that umbrella that is not hermetic anyhow. How will that impact Hamas’ strategy? I would hesitate to guess. In the last round I didn’t see an immediate effect; maybe we’ll see it in the future. Iron Dome is very helpful but I would not totally count on it. One cannot win a conflict solely by defense. Even if Iron Dome would have been a device that allowed us hermetic closure, it will be fool hardy to sit with our hands on our hand and wait for the technologically system to intercept the rockets. The early warning alarm is still needed, Red Color alert is still needed, and people still need to run to shelters to its sound. There is a limit to the technological ability and a limit to our readiness to accept such situation, where women and children will have to rush to shelters under a barrage of Hamas Rockets even if they assume many of these rockets will be intercepted by Iron Dome. So this great achievement must also be viewed in perspective.

Giyus.org: 2011 has been a stormy year across the Middle East – How do these revolutions and changes impact Israel?

Minister Begin: I’ll say something that everyone knows which is that is that no one knows. No one knows where things are headed, people guess and estimate, research institutions guestimate, intelligence services have their own assessments, but no one really knows. The Egyptian leadership didn’t know a week before the revolution happened, and the same goes for the Tunisia leadership. It’s all in an embryonic stage and I, according to my scientific background, am trying to guess as little as I can. So what I usually do in situation like this is put some constraints on my imagination. The way I proposed to do that is through observation of 3 democracies in the Middle East, since Democracy is what we’re told these events lead to.

I start with Turkey, a long term democracy, even an improved version of democracy compared to Israel since they have a constitution.  So Turkey has a constitution, an independent judicial system, elections that take place on time and are to a large degree orderly and transparent, a parliament, coalition and opposition, coalition crises from time to time,.  So, it’s a fine democracy. Turkey is also a member of NATO. But now we have to take into account that in the year 2002, a new government was elected. The AKP party ascended to the throne and this Islamist government voluntarily elected to turn their ambitions east wards towards Iran under Ahmadinejad instead of Europe and the European democracies, despite the fact that Turkey is a NATO member. They have aligned themselves publicly with the new bloc comprising Iran, Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. They have been supportive of all these bodies. Let’s remember that AKP have their roots in the Muslim Brotherhood in Lebanon in the 20s of the last Century. These are the same roots; they are off shoots of the same plant. This will explain to you why the current Turkish government so readily supports Hamas. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which could not hold their conventions openly in Egypt under Mubarak, held them freely in Turkey for years. Finally, Turkey’s alignment with Ahmadinejad, whose ambitions to eradicate Israel are well known, is repulsive. That’s Turkey, a democracy – how far does it contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East today?

The second democracy is Lebanon – a long term democracy, constitution, elections, parliament, and a coalition crisis for the last 2 months. For some Europeans it would seem natural to have a coalition crisis and they assume it’s the same as in a European Parliamentarian democracy such as Holland or Belgium. But we know better than that – we know that Lebanon is not an independent democracy. It’s a Syrian protectorate which deploys two armies – the official Lebanese army, supplied at least partly by western democracies and Hezbollah army which has 50,000 rockets supplied by Iran and Syria, aimed solely southwards towards Israel. It is well know that Hezbollah’s army is much stronger than the official Lebanese army – they will have the upper hand in any clash. What kind of a democracy is this? Of course the recent coalition crisis was engineered by Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran. Just a few days ago it became known that even if a government will be formed under Najib Mikati, the Sunite, it will comprise of 2/3 of the March 8 coalition which is the Shiite Hezbollah camp that lost the elections only 2 years ago. So now the same Hezbollah camp might form a new government. That shows us again that the question is very important – to what extent does this Lebanese democracy contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East.

The third democracy is Iraq – it’s a new democracy installed by western democracies. Several months ago they had a second round of elections on time. They enjoy a constitution, parties, free elections and have experienced a coalition crisis in the last few months. Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will continue to act as prime minister in Iraq’s almost national unity government. That government includes ministers that belonged to the Sadrist Shiite terrorist group whose leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, resides in Iran most of the time. This very extreme organization perpetrated terrorism in Iraq a few years ago. The Sadrist party now threatens that if American soldiers will still be present in Iraq after the end of 2011, they will create a new coalition crisis. How come that after months of negotiations Iraq was finally able to establish a government?  The secret is simple – Iran and Syria agreed tacitly on a split of power in Iraq between them two. To use an American expression, the Iraqi government "drives under the influence" of Iran and Syria.

Now we sum it up – look at the map, it’s a new Muslim crescent. Five countries – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, comprise an Islamic radical block, with terrorism and instability emanating from two of them to the whole Middle East. That’s even before Iran has acquired nuclear weapons ability.

Middle east muslim cresent

The irony is that out of these 5 countries the majority are democracies. 3 out of 5 are democracies. Of course, the numbers are small so it’s not a great sample, but to me these observations, that are factual, there is no assessment there, afford constraints on the possible positive outcome of the revolutions in the Middle East.

Add to this the fact that in the last two months, all news that pertain to Israel having their source in Egypt, are negative ones. The New Egyptian Foreign Minister announced that Egypt would now seek friendship with Iran and Syria. Amr Moussa, the leading candidate for presidency in Egypt, made several negative statements in the last few days, alluding to the need to recheck and scrutinize the international commitment of Egypt, referring obliquely to the peace agreement with Israel. We understand that and Egyptians understand that. All that is combined with the Egyptian overture towards Hamas, and it doesn’t herald a new spring arriving from the Tahrir square in Cairo. If reality refutes the constraints I’ve put on my imagination I would be happy, but this is the reality as I see it today.

Giyus.org: The Palestinians are making moves towards recognition of a Palestinian state by international community as a way to force a Palestinian State on Israel. What’s the best course of action Israel should follow here?

Minister Begin: First let’s observe that this attempt and others like it, on part of the PLO leadership, are actually an expression of their policy of refraining from taking the only path that could lead to stability and peace between the two communities west of the Jordan River, the Arab and the Jewish communities. The only path is direct negotiations without pre-conditions set on the very beginning of the negotiations. Mr. Abbas has been piling pre-conditions that change with time but amount to the same – the PLO wouldn’t like to enter into these negotiations because they realize that if they really want to achieve peace west of the Jordan River, they would have to give in on something, which they haven’t done for decades.  Actually Abu-Mazen bragged about this a few months ago in one of the PLO meetings. In reaction to Al-Jazeera leaks he asserted that the PLO never changed an iota in their platform since the declaration of independence in Tunisia 30 years ago. Well he is correct; the PLO hasn’t changed an iota. So this unilateral track would not have any hope for a positive outcome. I do hope that the Europeans and Americans do impress it upon the PLO that such declaration by the UN’s General Assembly will be futile. You do not establish a new state by such declarations. I think that the PLO leadership knows it but they are still being encouraged by some countries and some political leaders. If they’ll resort to this it will be a very negative development which will lead nowhere. But I’m not sure it will happen anyhow. In the coming months the PLO may have a second thought which will be very healthy, even from their point of view. There is an important role in this respect for European, American leaders that should serve the purpose of bringing the PLO leaders down to earth, if I may use this expressions being a geologist.

Giyus.org: A recent survey claimed that 1/3 of the Palestinians support the massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar, do you think the Palestinians genuinely want peace?

Minister Begin: We should be careful with such polls. It is very difficult for me to attach such intentions to human beings, to our neighbors. I would assume that the greater majority of our Arab neighbours would like to see nothing but their children being well educated and seeking a better future. But I would separate between   ordinary people and their leadership. There should be no doubt in the mind of an objective person, taking into account the development of the last 10 years at least, that the PLO leadership is not interested in, unwilling to and maybe unable to come to terms with any Israeli government. For example, Mr. Olmert put on the table at the end of 2008 a concrete proposal that included very far reaching concessions. The proposal entailed the following – 98% of the total area of Samaria, Judea and Gaza would be handed over to the PLO; the balance of 2% would be swapped with territory inside the midget state of Israel proper; Jerusalem would be split into 2 capitals with a safe passage under PLO control that would connect Gaza to Judea and Samaria and Israel will relinquish its sovereignty over the Temple Mount and surrounding area  to be replaced by an administration of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, USA, PLO and Israel. In addition, in the momentous interview given by Abu Mazen to Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post on May 2009, he expressed his understanding that Mr. Olmert accepted in principle the right of return of Arab refugees into the state of Israel proper (Mr. Olmert denies) and accompanied that by a proposal that Israel would accept several thousands of them. In that interview Jackson Diehl asked Mr. Abbas, so why did you decline such an offer and the short, and I think correct, answer was:  "the gaps were wide".  Where is the gap? With Mr. Olmert’s proposal, how wide could it be? Of course it would always be a wide gap vis-à-vis or the ambitions. Since the ambition is to "eliminate the Zionist entity and liberate Palestine", extending from the Jordan to the sea, we cannot satisfy these ambitions. In case you are wondering why I say this, I’m quoting the Fatah’ platform, the moderate faction within the moderate PLO, the platform that was reaffirmed on August 2009 less than 10 KMs from this office, in Bethlehem. That platform would also explain how come the Palestinians so publicly and openly reject the notion that they would ever agree to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. According to their political philosophy, Judaism is not a nation but only a religion, and religions are not eligible to sovereignty anywhere. That’s their philosophy and it still directs them and ties it all together. This also affords an explanation to those who wonder how come with all the concessions put on the table by former Israeli governments in the year 2000 under PM Barak and in 2008 under PM Olmert, were of no avail and we didn’t reach an agreement. To sum it up,  no, this PLO  leadership is not really interested in peace with the nation state of the Jewish people which is the state of Israel.

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Not-so-simple Syria, and taking back Iran, one gas pump at a time.

My correspondent over at Giyus.org continues to provide beneath-the-surface insights on Middle Eastern matters. The latest two include another expert interview, and some aspects of life inside Iran that we don’t often hear about.

In the first item, a Tel Aviv university professor analyzes Syria’s recent history and current standing as a pivot point between Iran, Lebanon, and terrorist interests in the region. He also provides the first answer I’ve seen as to how the secular regime in Syria is able to stay (more or less) on the same page with the ultra-Islamists in Iran.

Here is a cross-post of the interview in its entirety:

220px-Syrian_soldier_aims_an_AK-47 Focus on Syria – using terror for political gains in the Middle East

In the complicated realm of the Middle East, Syria plays a central role. Giyus.org sat down with Professor Eyal Zisser, an expert on the modern history of Syria and Lebanon, to get a better understanding of Syria and the way it uses terror to advance its political goals in the region. Prof. Zisser is the head the department of Humanities Studies in Tel Aviv University; he is a frequent speaker and writer on this subject.

Giyus.org: What’s Syria role in the region and how is it impacted by the rising power of Iran?

Professor Zisser: Syria has a central role in the Middle East. First of all, it has a central geographic location practically at the heart of the region. Secondly, Syria borders Israel and plays a major part in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Its conflict with Israel allows Syria to maintain close relationship with Hamas and Hezbollah and help them out.

The Assad family has been in power since 1970. During this period Syria became a stable country, strong from the military and political perspective. Syria is involved in Lebanon and with the Palestinians, but most of the attention it gets from the Western world is due to its close ties with Iran.

This Syria-Iran alliance allows Iran to benefit from Syria’s central location and provides a gateway for Iran to Israel’s immediate vicinity. Syria, on the other hand, benefit from the rising power of Iran. By partnering with Iran, Syria seems stronger in the eyes of the West.

Giyus.org: Iran is ruled by a deeply religious Islamic regime, while Syria is completely secular – does that impact the relations between the states?

Professor Zisser: At the moment the political gains for both countries outweighs the religious differences. In the long term this is definitely an issue that can cause tension between Syria and Iran. However, since this alliance was forged 30 years ago, both countries have dealt with much greater threats to their existence so it is in their best interests to partner and over look the religious issue.

Giyus.org: What are some of the major threats facing Syria in recent years?

Professor Zisser: The list is very long. In the 80s Israel entered Lebanon in the first Lebanon war. This then created problems in Lebanon, the front yard of Syria. This last decade since September 11th attacks was marked by the war on Terror. Bush invaded Iraq and was considering an invasion to Syria as well.

In light of these threats Syria needs Iran as an ally to back her up. In the eyes of Syria, Israel and the US are a strategic threat, much more so than Iran.

Giyus.org:  What are the motivations behind Syria’s support of terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah?

Professor Zisser: Syria views terror as a tool to achieve its political goals. Syria does not have a strong army and is using its terror support to show its presence and make the West take it into account as a major player in the Middle East.

On top of that, by supporting terror organizations Syria is keeping radical Islamic terror at bay. Bashar al Assad said that radical Islam is a great threat for Syria since it is a secular regime. By supporting anti Israel terror organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria stays on the "right side" of Islamic terror organizations like Al Qaeda.

And of course, by supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria gains popularity in the Arab street as the main backer of the resistance forces against Israel.

Giyus.org:   Moving from supporting terror to peace – what’s Syria strategic stand with regards to the peace process with Israel?

Professor Zisser: Syria would like to see the peace talks move forward but is not willing to take any actions as condition for the talks. Syria refuses to stop supporting terror as a condition to resuming the peace talks. If and when there will be peace talks Syria might be willing to discuss its terror activities.

However, when we think of a possible peace agreement between Syria and Israel, it will be more like a friendly divorce agreement than a unity in a marriage. There is too much suspicion on both sides for this to be a warm close peaceful relation. But there can be a lasting peace where each country minds its own business.

Giyus.org: How does Syria view the efforts by the US and the European Union to bring it closer to the West?

Professor Zisser: There is actually a great disappointment in Syria from the Obama administration. Syria expected Obama to start talks and advance the relationship but this didn’t happen.  Despite the rhetoric about engaging Syria, there is still no US Ambassador in Damascus (the last US Ambassador left in 2005 after the assassination of PM Harriri in Lebanon).

The US on the other hand demands that Syria make some changes that demonstrate they are heading for peace. The US would like to see Syria sending Hamas’ leader Mashaal away from Damascus, or stop assisting anti American terror in Iraq. Syria refusal to take these steps makes it very hard for the US to make real advances.

As for the European Union, while they can offer some benefits, Syria does not view them as a strategic partner.

Since these advancements from the EU came with no conditions, it only convinces Syria that supporting terror organizations pays out. They believe that they can convince the world to accept them as they are, as long as they stick to their guns and continue supporting terror activities.

Giyus.org:  How does Syria view its relations with Lebanon?

Professor Zisser:  Lebanon is very important to Syria which views it as its own front yard.  While they were kicked out of Lebanon a few years ago, they are now gradually increasing their involvement again.

Lebanon is a highly fractured country and Syria is the only one that can keep the balance and help maintain stability. Since this is in everyone best interests and no one wants to see Lebanon torn apart in a civil war again, Syria has been allowed back in the game.

Syria is willing to meddle in the Lebanese swamp and is the only one that can keep Hezbollah in its place. Hezbollah’s weapon route from Iran goes through Syria. This gives Syria great leverage over Hezbollah since they can cut off their weapon supply at any time.

Giyus.org:  Will there be any impact to the expected UN tribunal announcement regarding Hezbollah’s involvement in the assassination of Harriri?

Professor Zisser:  No one has an interest to burst the Lebanese bubble. Not the US, or France, which were behind the tribunal in the first place, nor the regional Lebanese players which know their power limitation.

The main question is if Hezbollah is willing to accept an indictment. It’s clear that even if there is a report accusing Hezbollah of involvement in the assassination, nothing will be done about it. But at the moment Hezbollah is not willing to accept any report claiming the organization or its people were involved.

It is not clear how far Hezbollah will go with its reaction on this issue but I don’t feel it will escalate to a new civil war. It’s much easier to bury a report by the UN and ignore it than to start a civil war over it.

Giyus.org:   What was Syria role in previous internal Lebanese conflicts such as Hezbollah’s coup in 2008?

Professor Zisser:  Until 2008 there was a strong anti Syria camp in Lebanon which included the Druze and Sunni and was backed by France and Saudi Arabia. When Hezbollah took over key areas in Beirut in 2008, as a reaction to an anti Hezbollah resolution in the government, the anti Syria camp was left alone in the field against the Shiite Hezbollah army.

Knowing their own power limitations, the anti Syria camp realized they cannot stand up to Syria alone. So they turned around and decided that Syria must be engaged again since they are the only ones that can maintain balance in Lebanon. The Druze and the Sunnis camps have made their peace with Syria, basically paving the road for Syria’s involvement in internal Lebanese politics once again.

Giyus.org: Syria is also bordering Turkey – how would you describe the relations between these two countries?

Professor Zisser:  Syria and Turkey enjoy close relations these days. They have strong economic ties and Turkish PM Erdoğan is a close ally. This was not always the case. In the past Syria and Turkey were enemies and Syria supported the Kurds anti Turkey terror activities. Since Syria stopped supporting the Kurds, the relations with Turkey have greatly improved. The recent Islamization process which Turkey is going through has also brought the two countries closer.

Giyus.org: Can you describe the daily life of the people in Syria?

Professor Zisser:  Syria is a totalitarian regime which is becoming more aggressive over the years. The hopes that Bashar al Assad, as a young leader, would bring about change have faded.

In the Middle East, before you seek the right to speak your mind, you seek the right to walk safely in your street. Take a look at Iraq, at Lebanon, personal safety is not granted. The people in Syria know very well where they live and realizing the alternative is chaos, therefore they stick with their dictator regime to gain stability and safety. It’s a choice between two evils – a tyrant regime or chaos in the streets.

Giyus.org: What keeps Assad’s regime in power? Why doesn’t it collapse like the Soviet Union?

Professor Zisser:  There is no real opposition to the Assad regime. Most people are very passive and there are no demonstrations against the ruling party. Assad power base relies on this passiveness and the fact that it brings stability. Of course the security forces play an important role as well.

Assad’s anti Western and anti Israel rhetoric is also very popular in the Syrian street. This unites the people in Syria against Israel and the West further strengthening Assad’s control.

From an economic perspective things have been rather good so again no cause for people to make a change.

This is an ethnic family based regime, similar in concept to the regime of Castro in Cuba or North Korea.

Other than Israel, there are no democracies in the Middle East – it’s all dictatorships which last a long time. The only dictator that lost power is Saddam Hussien and if September 11th attacks didn’t happen Saddam would probably still rule over Iraq.

Assad keeps a tight ship, and Syria has been stable throughout the years. While so many changes have happened in Israel or the US, Syria has shown remarkable stability and this stability is at the base of their power.

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Another report from behind closed doors in Iran provides further insight on how internal pressures continue to be more strongly felt (and feared) by the regime than we may currently realize.

Here also in its entirety is IsraeliGirl’s message:

Green_Arch Staple prices rise in Iran and the regime cracks up on opposition

Things in Iran have been difficult enough. But as sanctions bite, the regime is now forced to raise prices on basic staples. As the regime is well aware, the most potent challenge to Iran’s ruling system may be as simple as a shopping list.

Iranians – both rich and poor – have long benefited from blanket subsidies on natural gas, electricity, petrol, water and many staple foods. As sanctions target Iran’s limited refining capabilities, Iran was recently forced to import refined fuel, despite owning one of the world’s biggest oil reserves. As a result most drivers expect a rise of 400% in gasoline prices creating immense pressure at petrol stations across the country.

In the food department, bread prices are up more than fivefold, cooking oil more than double, cuts of lamb about triple from last year.

Price supports have long buoyed Iranians, with average households receiving $4,000 worth of fuel and electricity payments a year. Taking these benefits away can shake up the regime’s stronghold significantly.

Although the government promised payout to low income families to soften the impact of higher prices, Ahmadinejad threatens that any problems will be the fault of criminals and “economic seditionists” – the government’s opponents at home and abroad who want to bring him down.

In anticipation of unrest and protests, the Iranian regime has cranked up the pressure on human rights activists, political activists, students and leaders of the Green Movement.

This week, the Iranian regime arrested a large number of students and journalists, blocked websites (including the website of former president Mohammad Khatami, one of the leaders of the Green Movement), attempted to prevent meetings between the heads of the Green Movement and increased security measures in the streets of Tehran and other cities in preparation for the planned government subsidy reforms.

Giyus.org have learned increased measures have been taken against lawyers, specifically those representing political and human rights activists, student activists, foreign nationals detained in Iran, and juveniles sentenced to death.

The sad case of Nasrin Sotoudeh is a good example – the human rights lawyer was arrested on Sep. 4th. Sotoudeh, who was the attorney for Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, represents human rights activists and juveniles facing the death penalty. Since her arrest, Sotoudeh has been held in solitary confinement and for some time has not been allowed family visits.

She faces charges of "acting against national security" and “congregation and collusion with intent to disrupt national security.”

The systematic actions of the Iranian regime against lawyers are in flagrant violation of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which state that lawyers should be allowed to practice “without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” and should be accorded freedom of speech.

So as the regime goes ahead with its economic plan the Iranian people will pay the price for the atrocities of the Ayatollahs or as Ahmadinejad recently warned:

“You have only one option: That’s recognizing the right and greatness of the Iranian nation,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a speech broadcast live on state television. “Should you choose this path, nations may forgive you … but if you want to continue the previous path of arrogance … these people (the Iranian nation) will pursue you until you end up in hell.”

Let’s hope the people in Iran will find the strength to take back their country.

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Syrian HQ at Ramallah in view?

the-exodus-1947-haifa-july-1947_RS A commonly obscured historical fact in the Middle East is that the territories occupied by Israel since 1967 are not Palestinian territories at all, but areas that were wrested at that time from the military control of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, those nations having occupied the areas in question since the 1948 War of Independence.

An article I noticed last night by a former chief of Israeli security not only reminded me of that, but got me thinking about the possibility (or even likelihood) of those areas being reoccupied by one or more of those same powers in the event of the creation of a “Palestinian” state. Or we could possibly even see an Iran puppet state installed in the center of the Jewish nation–an Iranian (or Syrian, or Jordanian, or Egyptian) puppet state armed with any number of long and short range missiles. All the current talk of a two-state solution assumes that any Palestinian state created would have a great deal more stability than its neighbor Lebanon or even the occupied territory of Gaza. (Occupied by Hamas, that is.)

Oh, but there would be guarantees of international oversight, so this would never be a problem! Guarantees that, so far in recent history, have proved quite useless. Witness the impotence of UNIFIL in southern Lebanon, for instance.

The article’s author, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Giora Eiland, wasn’t quite so blunt about it, but he does point out a few other matters that should grab our attention. Even if (big if) the area could be “demilitarized,” (at least on paper) the nature of the military threats posed have changed to where they’ve moved outside the range of activities that could reasonably be enforced under any demilitarization system currently in use. In the General’s words,

4LM_Final_day_of_the_war_sees_Katyusha_rockets_in_Haifa …the real threat comes not from tanks but from rockets, anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-tank missiles. The common denominator among all of these is the ease of smuggling and clandestine manufacture, as is taking place today in Gaza. No monitoring system that may be established will be able to prevent this.

General Eiland goes on to lay out further often-overlooked but major considerations, including tactical aspects as befits his expertise, but the upshot of it, from my inexpert perspective, is that things are not as we’re accustomed to perceiving them, and that our misperceptions could be very dangerous indeed.

Coffee, anyone?

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Love-hate triangle: Syria, Iran, & Lebanon

Is Lebanon about ready to collapse? Awaiting the outcome of the tribunal examining the 2005 assassination of then Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, some observers see a potential conflagration in that country if Hezbollah feels they’ve been put on the spot by being held responsible for the murder. Will Hezbollah use the occasion to assert complete control of the state? Will Syria take occasion to reassert the control it had largely relinquished the year of the assassination? Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is reported to have recently made aggressive statements to that effect. And what about Iran?

In case no one has noticed, I have used this blog more as a soap box than a platform for in-depth analysis, but sometimes that’s just not enough. I thank blogger IsraeliGirl for publishing an interview a couple of weeks ago with Lebanon expert Dr. Omri Nir of Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and Ben Gurion University. As you might surmise, the interview covers the landscape in considerably greater detail than I am able to here. If I would dare begin to summarize Dr. Nir, I might say something about Iran having created Hezbollah nearly thirty years ago to serve a relatively straightforward purpose (to export the Islamic revolution to Lebanon), but that since that time Hezbollah has morphed into a hybrid creature, partly its own, partly Iran’s, partly Lebanon’s and maybe partly Syria’s, but not really anybody’s. Armed and aimless, and all the more dangerous. And unpredictable.

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While we’re discussing Iran, we have to wonder how it can think it has the energy to run matters in Lebanon or anywhere else when it is having to batten down the hatches at home. The West is well aware of the pressures from within forced by the street revolts following the 2009 elections; we might not be so well acquainted with the troubles Iran faces from internal jihad. (Yes, Virginia, there are Islamists who do not feel that the Islamic Republic is Islamist enough. It’s never enough for these folks. There were also published reports recently of a “terrorist attack” at an important Iranian missle base. Evidence suggests that it was not a terrorist attack at all—that Iran’s claim is merely an attempt to deflect attention from what may be the real cause of the blasts, like, say, maybe an Israeli sabotage hit. We won’t go there.)

But it’s apparently worse than that. The latest reports indicate that Iran feels it necessary to take aggressive action against the threats posed by such horrible things as the university-level study of law, management and human rights, not to mention the arts, cinema, music and books. It’s that bad. Read the details in IsraeliGirl’s report on the subject. “If a regime change will happen in Iran it will come from within,” she says. Or, if I may say, by books not bombs. If Stuxnet doesn’t do it, maybe social studies will.

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Bushher_gets_loaded_maybe_RS All right, since I brought up Stuxnet – a report two days ago indicated Iran’s scientists have fixed the problem and have begun loading the Bushehr reactor. I’m still not so sure. I mean, if it really was Israeli cyber sabotage, I suspect it won’t be that easy to stop them. Then again, while all fingers were pointing at Israel, Israel was saying, “Who, me?” As I keep saying, we’ll see.

See you around,

lineman

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