Friday, August 13, 2010

Looking at likely future developments on U.S.-Israel and Israel-Palestinian issues, including negotiations.

Barry Rubin

What will be the next developments regarding U.S.-Israel relations and the Israel-Palestinian “peace process,” and Israeli politics. It’s possible to make some good predictions, or at least to present the most likely scenarios. On September 26, Israel’s one-year freeze on building inside West Bank settlements will end. Last October, the original commitment was extended to any construction in Jerusalem outside the pre-1967 ceasefire lines. The Palestinian Authority (PA) now demands this freeze be extended as a precondition for it entering direct talks with Israel. The PA also insists that Israel accept the 1967 borders as defining the boundary between itself and a Palestinian state and an international force to patrol them.

The PA's goal is to use the bait of direct talks to get the United States to accept these and other preconditions and force them on Israel or, just as good, to blame Israel for not giving in and creating a rift in U.S.-Israel relations. Israel does not have a similar option since whatever happens this U.S. government won't publicly criticize the PA.

Even if Israel were to meet these conditions, it is not entirely clear that the PA would then talk directly, and either way it would still not have made any compromises of its own on issues vital to Israel. This is, then, the old Palestinian leadership's game of demanding Israeli concessions, yielding nothing even if it won them, and then insisting that what Israel has given up is now the irreversible basis for future talks during which even more unilateral Israeli concessions are demanded.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is thus presented with an unpalatable option. It is definitely not going to agree in advance to accept the 1967 borders as the final frontier before negotiations commence. This is beyond what the Israeli government offered at the 2000 Camp David talks and in the Clinton plan of that year, when it proposed what are historically known as “minor border modifications” and later spoke of “territorial swaps.”

Israel is certainly not going to make such a major concession when the issues that it wants resolved—resettlement of Palestinian refugees in the state of Palestine, an end to the conflict, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state (in exchange for recognition of Palestine as an Arab state), the status of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall of the Temple, and security arrangements—have not even been discussed.

This situation also presents a challenge for U.S. policy. The Obama Administration cannot support all of the PA’s preconditions and succeed. Yet if it doesn’t meet them all, the PA can just keep refusing to talk. And despite the “pressure” Obama is reportedly putting on, given his worldview and strategy, he is unlikely to do anything no matter how the PA behaves. Of course, the PA leadership understands this and, at any rate, is more afraid of its own people and Hamas calling it a traitor than of Obama’s phone calls to Abbas.

This sets up the ridiculous situation--but one common in the era of self-blaming and appeasement-oriented Western diplomacy--in which powerful Western states must beg far weaker and dependent Third World counterparts (or even groups like Hamas or Hizballah) to give them concessions and favors.

After all, supposedly the Palestinians are suffering under an occupation (which mostly ended in 1994-1996) and yearning for a state. Shouldn't they be eager for a deal, ready to compromise with the United States and make concessions to Israel in order to get their independence? Instead, the bizarre misreading of the situation seems to put the PA, which is now reduced to half the territory (without the Gaza Strip) it claims to rule, in the drivers' seat.

In Lebanon, Hizballah pushes around a UN force mandated by the world community. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas celebrates its reduction of the embargo by firing rockets at Israel while much of the world criticizes Israel and pleads with Hamas to accept concessions and money.

And so in this topsy-turvey situation it is mostly Netanyahu who will face difficult choices. If he reinstitutes a freeze—despite the fact that there has been absolutely no progress during the one-year of his unilateral concession—there could be serious domestic political repercussions. One or more parties might well walk out of the coalition, forcing him to find substitutes, though he could survive politically far easier than foreign observers think.

Nevertheless, this situation is at odds with Netanyahu’s longer-term plan. He has been hoping to continue in office into 2011, call elections at some point, win, and take another term as prime minister. If he's in office until 2015 there is plenty of time to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.

This seems to be a realistic scenario. There's no other viable candidate. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is widely disliked in his own Labour Party; Tzippi Livni has been a failure as opposition leader and her Kadima party has no alternative policy to offer.

Within his own Likud party, Netanyahu has been able to manage rebellious right-wingers. And the prime minister is popular among a public that understandably sees no other route, is skeptical of more unilateral concessions, and has no illusions about the PA's willingness or ability to make peace. Terrorism is down and the economy is doing remarkably well, whatever its shortcomings, compared to other countries.

So the problem for Netanyahu is: can he find some formula that will please the United States without causing an internal political battle? An example is to have a freeze without formally announcing it or promising to sustain it a given length of time. In doing so, he knows that this will not result in peace but merely will avoid having Israel shoulder the blame if the PA still refuses to talk.

The PA will, of course, look for any possible way to blame Israel while it happily does everything possible to avoid direct talks. Indeed, it prefers a strategy of blaming Israel plus not negotiating over a strategy of making peace and obtaining a state. If there are talks it will make big demands knowing that the negotiations will break down. Then it will wait for the world to hand it a state on a silver platter. It is willing to wait decades. And that's probably what will happen.

It is possible that U.S. and European policymakers understand this reality, but for reasons of their own want to pretend that peace is possible in short order. What they really want is direct talks as fast as possible so they can claim something is happening.

Supposedly, this makes the Arab world like them, shows them to be great statesmen, and lets them get on with other issues like Iraq, Iranian nuclear, and Afghanistan.

The Obama Administration is desperate to claim some diplomatic success before the November congressional elections. It will probably not bash Israel before that date. If it has direct talks or has thrown up its hands at frustration with the PA by then, good U.S.-Israel bilateral relations may well continue well into 2011.

For possible scenarios consult the list below:

Here's the situation: There may be a three-way meeting at which the PA will try to convince the US: You can have wonderful direct talks if you only make Israel give us everything we want. Don't you want a great diplomatic success before the November elections?

Option 1: US agrees, presses Israel for some unilateral concessions. Netanyahu offers something.or even meets US requests.

A. US accepts Netanyahu compromise (maybe gives something to Israel), PA says No. No direct talks. US blames PA but says nothing publicly. Mahmoud Abbas tells cheering Palestinian crowd: We were steadfast!

B. US accepts Netanyahu compromise (maybe gives something to Israel), PA says No. No direct talks. US blames Israel. Hopes perhaps government falls and Kadima comes into power or coalition ready to make bigger concessions (don't bet on that happening.) Avoids open rift in U.S.-Israel relations until early 2011. Mahmoud Abbas tells cheering Palestinian crowd: We were steadfast!

C. PA accepts Israeli concessions and asks for US promises and assurances. Gets more. Goes to talks. Sabotages talks. During talks, President Obama points to ongoing negotiations as proof of his diplomatic success. U.S.-Israel relations remain good. PA happy with gains which it will use as a basis in the next round. Mahmoud Abbas tells cheering Palestinian crowd: We were steadfast!

Option 2: US asks Israel to give the PA everything it wants. Netanyahu offers part.

A. US accepts Netanyahu compromise (maybe gives something to Israel), PA says No. No direct talks. US blames PA but says nothing publicly. Mahmoud Abbas tells cheering Palestinian crowd: We were steadfast!

B. US angry that Netanyahu doesn't give everything for nothing. US blames Israel but avoids open rift in U.S.-Israel relations until early 2011. Mahmoud Abbas tells cheering Palestinian crowd: We were steadfast!

C. PA takes what is offered then demands even more before going to talks. US angry at PA but says nothing publicly. Mahmoud Abbas tells cheering Palestinian crowd: We were steadfast!

D. PA accepts Israeli concessions and asks for US promises and assurances. Gets more. Goes to talks. Sabotages talks. PA happy with gains which it will use as a basis in the next round. Mahmoud Abbas tells cheering Palestinian crowd: We were steadfast!

Option 3: Many meetings, speeches, leaders flying around the world. Plans. Absolutely nothing happens. U.S.-Israel relations remain good. Mahmoud Abbas tells cheering Palestinian crowd: We were steadfast!

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports, at

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Nothing Short of Enraging"

Arlene Kushner

I've picked up several different versions of this story, some more infuriating than others. But the accurate version is quite enraging enough on its own.

Kuwaiti-born Feisal Abdul Rauf is today an American citizen. He is imam of Masjid al-Farah, a New York City mosque and founder and CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement. Perhaps most significantly, he founded the Cordoba Initiative in 2003 and is behind the current plans to erect Cordoba House at Ground Zero. In fact, he wants to be the imam there. While he claims to be working for Western-Muslim understanding, his views on terrorism generally and 9/11 most specifically are deeply unsettling at best.

A few years ago he called for the US President to give an "American Culpa" speech to the Muslim world, because there is "an endless supply of angry young Muslim rebels prepared to die for their cause and there [is] no sign of the attacks ending unless there [is] a fundamental change in the world." (Can't say if he directly influenced Obama, but it sure sounds like it.)

As to 9/11, he claimed that "United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened." (As has been noted: 9/11 "happened.")


Additionally, according to the NY Post:

"Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a key figure in Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization, according to its Website.

"Perdana is the single biggest donor ($366,000) so far to the Free Gaza Movement, a key organizer of the six-ship flotilla that tried to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip..."
And that flotilla was connected to the IHH, a Turkish group with terrorist links.

All of this is relevant now because Abdul Rauf is about to take an international trip at the behest of the US State Department. He will be traveling to such Muslim Arab countries as Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar to "foster greater understanding" of Islam and Muslim communities in the US. So says State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Understand, please, this will be government funded, with your money (if you are American) and mine (yes, I still pay US taxes) covering the cost.

Is your blood boiling yet?


This is most clearly a White-House inspired venture. Part of the president's nauseatingly inappropriate outreach to the Muslim world.

As JINSA -- which summarized the situation with great effectiveness -- wrote:

"We know a lot of rabbis, some ministers and a few priests. We would be appalled to have the government of the United States, which by law favors no religion, sending a rabbi to Israel - or the former Soviet Union or France or Argentina, where there are communities of Jews - to talk about how Jews live in the United States. Having a priest travel to the Vatican, Honduras, Ireland or the Philippines to describe the lives of American Catholics would be outrageous. Likewise, ministers to Sweden.

"What business is it of the American government to send a Muslim to Muslim-majority countries to talk about Islam? How offensive is it to think that the American government is using American tax dollars to fly a non-government person around the world to promote the activities and lifestyle of a particular religion."


Some of the stories I encountered said that Abdul Rauf was being sent abroad to fund raise for the mosque at Ground Zero. Technically, however this is not the case.

Said Crowley, when asked about this: "That would not be something he could do as part of our program."

Responded JINSA: "We're so relieved. And we're so sure he will do only as the American government desires."

JINSA goes on to quote Debra Burlingame, a 9/11 family member, who told The NY Post:

"We know he has a fund-raising association with Saudi Arabia [which has underwritten programs by the American Society for Muslim Advancement]. He's going to the well, and how can they say they do or don't know what he's doing?" (emphasis added)


A government sanctioned charade is what it is. My guess, actually, would be that his involvement with the proposed mosque at Ground Zero was a factor in Abdul Rauf's selection for this task. He'll be able to tell everyone over in Saudi Arabia how accepting New Yorkers are. (I'll have more on that below.)


The question now is what will each of you do about this, besides have your blood pressure checked. This information needs to be put out broadly -- share it, post it, write letters to the editor about it, speak on radio talk shows about it.

And then, let your elected officials know how enraged you are. Demand that this be stopped forthwith!

For your Congresspersons:

For your Senators:

For the president:

Fax: 202-456-2461 White House Comment line: 202-456-1111

e-mail form via:

She's not elected, and probably will pay no heed, but contact Sec. of State Clinton as well:

Public Communication Division (accepts opinions from the public):

Phone: 202-647-6575 Fax: 202-647-1579


As always: numbers count. Please be polite and succinct, but firm. State your demands clearly.


Now, as to New Yorkers and the Ground Zero mosque:

The JPost carries columns by one Ray Hanania, an Arab American who is a stand-up comedian as well as a journalist. I rarely actually agree with him, but he's reasonable. Today's column was interesting. He laments the fact that Arabs and

Muslims do not come to the defense of Jewish people as the Jewish community has spoken on behalf of Muslims. Very nice.

His example of an instance in which Jews have come forward for Muslims is Jewish defense of the Muslim right to build a mosque at Ground Zero. He specifically refers to New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, "whose eyes welled up with emotion while he declared that Muslims have every right to build a mosque just as Christians and Jews could build a church or synagogue nearby."

Quoting Bloomberg, "Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors mourned with us as New Yorkers and Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies' hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave in to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists -- and we should not stand for that."

I think my eyes are about to well up with emotion as I read this -- that this man could be so obtusely politically correct and get it so wrong.

Let us not forget that it was neither Christians nor Jews who perpetrated the horror of 9/11, and that Muslims routinely place mosques on sites of historical significance as signs of victory and dominance. That is why there is a mosque today on the Temple Mount. I cannot help but wonder how Bloomberg KNOWS that New York Muslims (as a community) mourned that event. My Muslim neighbors here in eastern Jerusalem danced in the streets in celebration on 9/11; that rather traumatized me. And how does he know they (as a community) identify as Americans, even if they have citizenship, when we have the words of someone like the American born Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the perpetrator of the Fort Hood terrorist attack, who lamented the impossibility of being a good Muslim and an American at the same time.

Naiveté can be sad or even charming, but in an elected official it is frightening.


I am not prescient. I simply know my customers and have developed an eye for the MO of Barack Obama. Remember, yesterday, I said that the holds placed on US military assistance to Lebanon may be only temporary, in spite of the appropriate instincts of the Congresspersons involved. Wait, I wrote, the government may yet say that continuing this assistance -- in the face of threats by certain members of the Lebanese parliament to go to Iran instead -- is in America's interest.

And guess what? Our friend Crowley, speaking for the State Department, has now said that assistance to the Lebanese Armed Forces is "in our national interest and contributes to stability in the region."

Does it really? Giving arms and training to a force that is allied with Hezbollah is a good thing?

Crowley had this answer: "Hezbollah is a fact within Lebanese society and much of our effort in supporting the Lebanese military is in fact the very professionalization that we think helps mitigate that risk."

Huh? What he's trying to say is that making the Lebanese army stronger helps protect it from the influence of Hezbollah.

And I say, more frightening naiveté. It seems to be endemic.

We need to watch this closely.


At least the IDF is reconsidering its attitude towards the Lebanese army. Says the JPost:

"The IDF has traditionally viewed the Lebanese army as a relatively neutral force that lacked the hostile intent of Hezbollah. But last week's unprovoked attack on Israeli soldiers...and the Lebanese Army's failure to take action against the officer who ordered the attack, has dramatically altered the IDF's perception of Lebanon's army."

Congresswoman Lowey and her subcommittee are said to be waiting on a Lebanese response before deciding whether the hold should be lifted. I wonder if the refusal of the LAF to discipline the officer who promoted the attack on the IDF will be taken into consideration.


One other brief review. Remember how just a few days ago Netanyahu said that he was going to cooperate with the UN inquiry panel on the flotilla incident because it would help smooth our relationship with Turkey. At the time I pondered how he could possibly say this.

We are currently in the midst of our own inquiry by the Turkel Commission, which is separate from the IDF inquiry that was completed recently. (This is obviously such a major incident in the world that it requires all these investigating bodies.) Prime Minister Netanyahu testified before the Turkel Commission. This particular testimony is an internal Israeli affair, understand, but one that made considerable press.

What our prime minister said on Monday was that Turkey did nothing to stop the flotilla, in spite of contacts between Israel and Turkey at "the highest levels."

And already the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmed Davutoglu, has declared that:

"Nobody can place the responsibility of killing civilians in international waters on the other party...First of all [Israel] should bear that responsibility.

"Turkey bears no responsibility in this case and is determined to protect the rights of its own citizens."

Sitting on a UN panel with these guys is going to make things a lot better, I'm sure.


see my website

Lebanon to US: 'Keep Your Money, and Israel Too'

Chana Ya'ar Lebanon to US: 'Keep Your Money'

Lebanon has told the United States to keep its money if America insists that it cannot be used on weapons with which to fight Israel.

Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr told reporters at a Beirut news conference on Wednesday that those who want to help the Lebanese Army but place conditions on how their funds or weapons are used, should “keep the money.” Murr's comments followed a U.S. Congressional decision to freeze a previously approved $100 million aid package to Lebanon.

The decision was made only 24 hours before an attack on an IDF unit conducting routine border maintenance last week by Lebanese Army soldiers. Snipers shot and killed an IDF officer and wounded a second.

The ambush took place while the Israeli troops were trimming brush on the Israeli side of the northern border in order to maximize the visibility of a Lebanese village. The incident occurred after the IDF had notified the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) of its plans, which in turn notified the Lebanese Army.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman said he decided August 2 to suspend Lebanon's military funding in light of the increased involvement by the Hizbullah terrorist organization in Lebanese Army affairs, concerned that the money would be spent on weapons with which to attack the U.S. ally.

Berman added in a statement after the attack, “The incident on the Israel-Lebanon border only one day after my hold was placed simply reinforces the critical need for the United States to conduct an in-depth policy review of its relationship with the Lebanese military.”

In response, Murr told journalists at a Beirut news conference, “Whoever sets as a condition that the aid should not be used to protect Lebanon's land, people and borders from the [Zionist] enemy can keep their money.

“Let them keep their money or give it to Israel. We will confront [Israel] with our own capabilities.”

A second Lebanese official had preceded Murr earlier in the week by calling on the Beirut government to turn to Russia, China, Syria and Iran for future support.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

US revises Israel travel warning after complaint

New State Department warning says 'Americans in southern Israel 'should be aware of the risks,' but does not mention Eilat

Associated Press
Israel News

The US State Department has revised its travel warning for Israel after the Israeli government complained it unfairly singled out an Israeli resort. The department on Tuesday replaced a warning issued just five days ago with a new version that eliminates references to the Red Sea resort of Eilat, where it had advised visiting Americans to learn the location of bomb shelters due to a recent rocket attack.

The new warning says only that Americans in southern Israel "should be aware of the risks and should follow the advice of the Government of Israel's office of Homefront Command." It does not mention Eilat.

Israel's Tourism Ministry complained Monday the previous warning unfairly singled out Eilat for precautionary advice but not Aqaba, which is next door in Jordan. Last week, both cities were hit by rockets that killed one person in Aqaba.

"This advisory gives a prize to terror and undermines regional stability and the sense of security that Israel gives to everyone who enters the country," the ministry said. "Differentiating Israel from its neighbor that actually suffered loss of life is improper and lacks balance."

At the time, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley dismissed the Israeli complaint. He said travel advisories are "based on our best judgment of the assessment of risk wherever American citizens are traveling. So I would say that it's not our judgment that the risk is identical between the two locations."

"Where's It All Going?"

Arlene Kushner

Wish I could say I knew, in this lunatic world. There are, for me, only two givens: There is not going to be a "two state solution" and we are here to stay.


US envoy George Mitchell was here again, to no particular avail from his perspective. In spite of a three-hour meeting and his best efforts, he was unable to convince PA leaders to come on board for direct talks. To put it boldly, my friends, Abbas is running scared. I don't mean simply worried about his political viability (though there is that). I suggest that he is frightened for his life. It is this essential fear that gives him the backbone to continue to say no to the Obama administration.

Yesterday, according to Khaled Abu Toameh and Herb Keinon, writing in the JPost, "representatives of dozens of Palestinian factions and organizations...warned Abbas against succumbing to pressure to open direct talks unconditionally." Trust me, they can be quite "persuasive." And these representatives included members of Abba's own Fatah party, so he doesn't even have a solid home base supporting him. Abbas is not crazy.

What these groups want is exactly what Abbas has been demanding: They want the negotiations decided before there are negotiations. They want us to agree to the borders of the projected Palestinian state before Abbas will sit down with us. Well...Netanyahu is not crazy either.


The question is how long this will go on, before Obama throws in the towel and admits he cannot promote "peace" here at this time. Or, at the very least, allow the effort he's expending to that end now to just slowly dissipate, without admitting anything.

Then there is the question as to whether he would ever be honest enough to say that Palestinian Arab intransigence got in the way. This is undoubtedly a rhetorical question.

Mitchell, on talking about his intention to return again soon, spoke, according to Reuters, about "difficulties and obstacles" the sides are facing. "The sides"? There is always a moral-equivalency scenario waiting to be trotted out.


As to why there will not be a "two-state solution," you've heard from me several times. But here I share Minister Bennie Begin on the same issue:

Says Begin: "The Palestinians are after a ‘two-stage solution’ and not a two-state solution." First stage is pushing us back to pre-'67 lines, and the second is our destruction.

He reminds us that Article 19 in Chapter One of the Fatah charter states: "Armed struggle is a strategy, not a tactic. The armed revolution of the Arab Palestinian people is a crucial element in the battle for liberation and for the elimination of the Zionist presence. This struggle will not stop until the Zionist entity is eliminated and Palestine is liberated."

Thus has the PLO refused to give consent to an article in a final agreement that would state "that this agreement puts an end to the conflict and concludes all claims by the parties." And thus does the PLO deny the historic connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.

Begin's historical tracking of prior negotiations is instructive:


The newly constituted UN panel charged with investigating the flotilla incident -- consisting of former prime minister of New Zealand, Geoffrey Palmer; outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe; Israeli representative Joseph Ciechanover; and Turkish representative Özdem Sanberk -- will be holding it first meeting tonight at the UN in NY.

Unless there is a fifth participant from the UN itself, unmentioned, this may be a fairly balanced panel.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told the press that the panel was "not designed to determine individual criminal responsibility, but to examine and identify the facts, circumstances and the context of the incident, as well as to recommend ways of avoiding future incidents."

We'll see.

Unfortunately, Ban has denied that an agreement was struck with Israel stipulating that military commanders would not be questioned. Netanyahu has countered by saying that "Israel would not participate in any panel which wants to question IDF soldiers."


The good news for today is that Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee has acted (at least for the moment) to freeze $100 million in US military aid to Lebanon for 2010; the funds had been approved but were not yet dispersed. This action was prompted by the recent sniping attack on IDF officers by the Lebanese army, which Lowey calls an "outrageous incident."

"This incident was tragic and was entirely avoidable," she said. "US assistance is intended to enhance our safety and that of our allies."

The subcommittee is said to now be watching the Lebanese response.


Interestingly, Howard Berman (D-CA), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had put a hold on this disbursement before Lowey did -- before the sniping incident even occurred, actually.

Berman has concerns about Hezbollah influence on the Lebanese armed forces (LAF). "Until we can...assure that the LAF is a responsible actor, I cannot in good conscience allow the United States to continue sending weapons to Lebanon." His office is now investigating such matters as how diligently the LAF keeps track of weapons received from the US and how well it works with UNIFIL.


Both of these Congresspersons are to be saluted for proper action here.

But it is not all a done deal, as ultimately the investigations may be deemed to have secured satisfactory information and the assistance may be reinstated.

It's hard to imagine that an investigation that is diligent and on the up-and-up with regard to Hezbollah involvement with the Lebanese military could lead to reinstatement of assistance. Just two days ago, member of the Lebanese parliament Mohammed Raad, declared: “All calculations from now on will be built upon the notion that the Lebanese Army is ready to engage in confrontation, backed by the embrace of the Lebanese people and the support of the Resistance [Hezbollah].” That sounds pretty clear to me.

But matters are never that simple, and I can imagine a situation in which the Obama administration would claim that lending this assistance to the Lebanese was in the best interests of the US.

Nawwaf Moussawi, a senior Hezbollah leader and also a member of the Lebanese parliament today advised the Lebanese government to tell the US to keep its money and to seek military assistance from places such as Iran instead. Cynic that I am, I can see the Obama administration jumping at the bait and pushing for the reinstatement of the assistance under the badly mistaken impression that this would help ensure US influence in Lebanon. (That is his MO, is it not?)


In closing, I share this, taken from MEMRI, without comment:

"A senior commander in the Iraqi military told the Qatari daily Al-'Arab that, in the last two months, the US has deployed over 7,000 troops along the Iraq-Iran border, as well as radars and batteries of anti-ballistic missiles. According to the source, this has convinced the Iraqi leaders that the US intends to launch an airstrike against Iran from Iraqi territory, and that the US will not withdraw before this strike takes place."


see my website

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Military Implications of the Israel-Lebanon Border Incident

Jeffrey White
August 9, 2010

The August 3 border clash between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has important military implications, demonstrating the readiness of the IDF to respond to any border incident and revealing the potential for the LAF and the Lebanese state to become directly and substantially involved in a future conflict between Israel and Hizballah. Moreover, the incident has occurred in the context of serious preparations by Hizballah and Israel for war. While it has become conventional wisdom that none of the players wants war, the relative quiet of the past four years seems increasingly fragile. The Players
The military picture in southern Lebanon is complicated and becoming increasingly so. Four major players have a role in the border situation: Iranian-supported Hizballah, Israel, the LAF, and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The result is a scene of complex dynamics both within southern Lebanon itself and between Israel and the players in Lebanon.

Hizballah, without question, is the dominant military power in southern Lebanon. Its robust force structure there, including units and significant numbers of fighters and weapons, dwarfs the capabilities of the LAF and UNIFIL. For internal Lebanese political reasons and in response to concerns about potential Israeli military action, Hizballah normally chooses not to exert or display its capabilities. Hizballah forces occupy positions in villages and in what the IDF calls "nature reserves" (areas of rugged and fortified terrain). Some of these positions are located very close to the Israeli border.

For the Israeli military, Lebanon is the responsibility of the IDF's Northern Command. Under normal conditions, Israel maintains a territorial division (the 91st) with two composite brigades (the 300th and the 769th) on the border. This division comprises a mix of active and reserve units, and is routinely reinforced by artillery, tank, infantry, and engineer formations. The August 3 incident occurred in the 769th Brigade's sector.

For its part, the LAF has three infantry-type brigades in the south facing Israel and reportedly plans to deploy a fourth. Israel believes that some of the LAF elements in the south, including the 11th Brigade, which was involved in the incident, are under the influence of Hizballah.

UNIFIL, meanwhile, has between twelve and thirteen thousand soldiers deployed south of the Litani River and in the southern Beqa Valley. According to its website, UNIFIL's important missions is as follows: "Assist the Lebanese Armed Forces in taking steps towards the establishment between the Blue Line and the Litani River of an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL deployed in this area." UNIFIL has had serious trouble executing this mandate, in part because of harassment by the local population apparently aimed at restricting its activities and in part because of its inability to search Lebanese homes for banned weapons. UNIFIL does not have the capability to prevent Hizballah from using armed force.

Military Activity on the Border
The Israel-Lebanon border has been relatively quiet since the 2006 war, although a steady level of military activity has persisted on both sides and occasional incidents have occurred. According to IDF data, in 2009 alone, five incidents took place involving the firing of rockets at Israel, along with eleven other unidentified incidents of "terrorist activity." The IDF has also reported a rise in the number of cases in which LAF personnel aimed weapons at IDF patrols.

Since the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the main contest for ascendancy along the border has involved the IDF and Hizballah, and the two groups are watching each other's activities closely; the IDF and LAF are doing the same. For Hizballah, the goal is to extend its control of the south right down to the border. To this end, it conducts surveillance of IDF activity from positions on the border and is believed to use locals for intelligence-gathering tasks as well. In addition, Israeli press reports have indicated Hizballah may be tunneling under the border in preparation for attacks. Should Hizballah achieve relative freedom of action along the border, it would be better placed to launch operations inside Israel, as well as to defend against any Israeli incursions.

In its contest with Hizballah, the IDF seeks to control and secure the area along the border, including its own ability to maintain unimpeded observation inside Lebanon. Prior to the 2006 war, Israel had lost full control of its border, with Hizballah forces operating with relative freedom along it and occasionally penetrating it for reconnaissance and operations.

The IDF conducts several types of activities along the border aimed at restricting Hizballah's military freedom of action. These include clearing obstacles to observation, as on August 3; patrols by elements of the 91st Division; assertion of a presence in the "enclaves" between the blue line international border and the Israeli security fence; establishing ambushes; and conducting aerial observation and reconnaissance. These actions are intended to keep Hizballah at a distance and to restrict its ability to operate close to the border.

The LAF's engagement of IDF elements on August 3 supported, intentionally or not, Hizballah's efforts. The IDF had been acting to remove obstacles to its ability to see into Lebanon as well as objects that could provide cover for potential Hizballah operations, and to secure its side of the border. The LAF action interfered directly with these steps.

Military Implications
The IDF was prepared to respond to the LAF incident with significant force, including with tanks, artillery, and attack helicopters. Israeli troops on the scene reacted quickly, indicating a high level of readiness for a hostile event. Yet while the IDF responded with strength, it also exercised control, limiting its efforts to the area of the clash and the LAF elements directly involved, including the LAF battalion headquarters in the area. All the same, the incident showed unmistakably that the IDF has no real hesitation about striking Lebanese government forces, if provoked.

The decision by local LAF elements to engage the IDF, suggests certain LAF units in the south will actively oppose any future Israeli operations in Lebanon. In response to the clash, higher LAF headquarters tried to get the situation under control, with LAF forces reportedly evacuating posts in some areas, indicating concern about heavier IDF action. Nevertheless, the LAF command has endorsed the action of its troops as defense of sovereign Lebanese territory and is hailing its dead from the incidents as heroes. In the tripartite meeting held at Naqura, Lebanon, on August 4 (with UNIFIL, the LAF, and the IDF) to address the incident, the LAF representative reportedly stated that the army would resist any violation of Lebanon's sovereignty. Even if this posture is merely rhetoric, such praise and statements may encourage local commanders to act as they see fit.

In the aftermath of the August 3 skirmish, relations will remain tense between the IDF and the LAF, especially along the border. From the IDF perspective, the LAF action was an ambush, with the evidence being that its two casualties were some two hundred meters from the IDF brush-cutting activity and were hit by sniper fire. The IDF had already been concerned about LAF "provocations" along the border, and it will be ready to respond with substantial force in the event of further incidents. Such a dynamic raises the risk of additional and more intense clashes.

Moreover, rising IDF suspicions about the LAF-Hizballah relationship date from before the incident. Those suspicions will not be allayed now. Although Hizballah's involvement has not been proven, the incident served Hizballah's purposes. In addition, the organization's media representatives were present, and the IDF, at least, believes that the Lebanese brigade involved is connected to Hizballah.

As in other cases in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL's severe operational limitations were exposed by the clash. UNIFIL played some role in calming the situation, but the deescalation resulted more from decisions made in Israel and by the LAF. UNIFIL had no real means of either preventing the incident or keeping it in check once it began, other than appealing to the parties involved.

Hizballah is attempting to take advantage of the incident to tighten its relationship with the LAF. The organization's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, was quick to signal in his speech on the same day Hizballah's commitment to defending Lebanon and its willingness to assist the LAF. Such a statement should not be dismissed as simple rhetoric. Rather, it is another indication that Hizballah intends to enlist the LAF to fight by its side in the event of another conflict with Israel.

The August 3 incident will have residual effects. Beyond poisoning relations between the IDF and LAF, it has added to what was already seen as an increasingly dangerous situation. Israel's rapid and strong reaction indicates that its forces are poised to act quickly in the event of a border incident. Hizballah's military buildup and the proximity of its forces to the border create opportunities for incidents to occur, either by accident or design. A more aggressive posture by the LAF in the border area only adds to this potential.

War talk is in the air, as it was this past spring. This time, however, it goes beyond discussion of the Hizballah-Israel military balance to recognition of a deteriorating political and military climate. The relative stability that followed the previous war has become increasingly precarious.

Jeffrey White is a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, specializing in Arab-Israeli military and security affairs.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Arab World Loses Hope for Change Under Obama

Gil Ronen
A7 News

Arabs' belief that U.S. President Barack Obama could deliver on promises for a “new beginning” have been dashed, an annual survey of public opinion in Middle Eastern countries shows. The survey of Arab public opinion conducted by Shibley Telhami shows that positive views of President Obama have plummeted from 45 percent in 2009 to 20 percent today, with the negative views of him skyrocketing from 23 percent to 62 percent.

While Obama has been claiming that his “outstretched hand” approach will win the U.S. new friends in the Mideast, the poll suggests otherwise. Only 12 percent expressed favorable views of the United States, even lower than the 15 percent that the Bush administration got in its final year.

According to Middle East analyst Marc Lynch, writing in Foreign Policy Magazine, Arabs have “grown frustrated at Obama's perceived failure to deliver on the promise of the 'new beginning' outlined in Cairo and had begun to lose hope in his ability to meaningfully change American policies towards the region.”

This year’s poll surveyed close to 4,000 people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates.

Only 16 percent declare that they are hopeful about administration policies, compared to 51 percent last year. Sixty-three percent declare themselves discouraged, up from 15 percent. On the other hand, there has been a significant drop in those with "very unfavorable" views of the United States – from 64% in 2008 to 47% today.

“The survey's findings suggest overwhelmingly that it is the administration's failures on the Israeli-Palestinian front which drove the collapse in Arab attitudes towards Obama,” Lynch explained.

“Sixty-one percent of the respondents say that this is the area in which they are most disappointed. Only one percent say they are pleased with his policy.”

An impressive 86% of Arabs say they are prepared for peace with Israel. Just 12% – down from 25% last year – say that Arab countries should continue to fight Israel even if there is a two-state peace agreement.

However, 77% now say that Iran has the right to its nuclear program and just 20% say that it should be pressured to stop its nuclear program, compared to 40% last year. Fifty seven percent say that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, the effects on the Mideast would be positive. Twenty one percent say the effects would be negative.

Half-baked mosque


Last Updated: 10:33 AM, August 8, 2010

Not so fast.

The developers of the controversial mosque proposed near Ground Zero own only half the site where they want to construct the $100 million building, The Post has learned.

One of the two buildings on Park Place is owned by Con Edison, even though Soho Properties told officials and the public that it owns the entire parcel. And any potential sale by Con Ed faces a review by the state Public Service Commission.

“We never heard anything about Con Ed whatsoever,” said a stunned Julie Menin, the chairwoman of Community Board 1, which passed a May resolution supporting the mosque. Daisy Khan, one of the mosque’s organizers, told The Post last week that both buildings on Park Place are needed to house the worship and cultural center. But she claimed ignorance about the Con Ed ownership of 49-51 Park Place and referred questions to Soho Properties, which bought the building at 45-47 Park Place in 2009.

Rep. Peter King, who opposes the mosque, said the developers seemed to be “operating under false pretenses.”

“I wonder what else they are hiding,” said King (R-LI). “If we can’t have the full truth on this, what can we believe?”

Sharif El-Gamal, the head of Soho Properties, first came forward in 2006 seeking to buy the empty building at 45-47 Park Place, said Melvin Pomerantz, whose family owned the property.

Pomerantz said El-Gamal eventually raised $4.8 million cash for 45-47 Park Place. El- Gamal paid an extra $700,000 to take over the lease with Con Ed for the building next door. The lease expires in 2071.

The two buildings were connected years ago — common walls were taken down — and housed a Burlington Coat Factory store.

Con Ed said El-Gamal told the utility in February that he wanted to exercise the purchase option in his $33,000- a-year lease for the former substation.

The utility is now doing an appraisal to determine the property value, and it would be up to El-Gamal to decide whether to accept the price, the utility said. The price is estimated at $10 million to $20 million.

“We are following our legal obligations under the lease. We will not allow other considerations to enter into this transaction,” Con Ed said.

The sale proposal will go to the Public Service Commission, where it could possibly face a vote by a five-member board controlled by Gov. Paterson.

El-Gamal told The Post his long-term lease was equivalent to ownership and that it even allowed him to demolish the building. Still, he said, he was determined to buy the property. “The cost is not an issue,” he said.

The building at 45-45 Park Place had been on the market for years with a sale price that at one point was $18 million. It was owned by Stephen Pomerantz, who died in 2006. His widow, Kukiko Mitani, said she was in debt and desperate to unload the property even at a bargain price of $4.8 million to El- Gamal.

She said she thought El-Gamal wanted to build condos, not a mosque — but he should build whatever he wants.

The Web site for the mosque and community-center project, now called Park 51, says it will be financed “with a mix of equity, financing and contributions.”

But just $200 in donations has come in so far, according to Ameena Meer, head of Muslims for Peace, the nonprofit accepting the contributions.

49-51 Park Place, owned by Con Edison, is being appraised for a possible sale to Soho Properties, the developer behind the controversial mosque. Sharif El-Gamal, the principal of Soho Properties, paid $700,000 to take over the 99-year lease in 2009.

Soho Properties spent $4.8 million to buy 45-47 Park Place in 2009. The building, which used to house a Burlington Coat Factory, had been on the market for years with a sale price that once reached $18 million.

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

Shimon Peres versus the Brits

My letter to the Jerusalem Post following the Karsh article (Aug.3) appeared today, Aug. 8,2010.
Dear Editor,

The Karsh article regarding the history of the British in the Middle East offers a much needed education. Successive Israeli governments have long neglected to state the facts about Jewish rights to a viable state and how the British derailed the approved Mandate plan in an attempt to curry favor with the Arabs. What irony that at a time that England was suffering devastation resulting from nightly aerial bombing forays by the Germans, the British government favored the anti-Jewish demand of the Muslim religious leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who was a friend and supporter of Hitler and his 'final solution' for the Jews!

We should also remember that not only did the British fail in their Mandate mission to facilitate the creation of a Jewish state but they also abstained during the critical UN vote in 1947 that led to Israel's rebirth as a nation in 1948. One other noteworthy fact is that until that year , Jews who lived in these territories were also known as 'Palestinians'. Whereas for a long time the Arabs in the same area did not use that ancient identification they later adopted it for political expediency. That is why those who are unaware of the regional history may have the impression that Israel was created on Arab land; not so.

Chana Givon

All-Women Ship Heads for Gaza and Waits for Clash with IDF

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
A7 News

A “women-only” ship, complete with a nun and a heavily pregnant mother, has cleared political and technical obstacles and is set to sail for Gaza, presenting Israel with a new challenge. The ship is supposed to leave Tripoli by Sunday night, its co-coordinator, Hizbullah-backer Samar al-Hajj, told the London Guardian. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told Israel National News, “There are no limits on goods going to Gaza, and any ships trying to bring so-called aid to Gaza will be regarded as provocations.”

The sight of women—supposedly unarmed—facing Israeli naval commandos trying to stop it from breaking the sea embargo on Hamas-controlled Gaza faces Israel with a new public relations challenge. The women have dramatized possible violence by preparing to travel equipped with blood test equipment “in case we come under attack from Israel and you need a blood transfusion," al-Hajj said.

She added, "We will not even bring cooking knives” in order to prevent accusations that they are armed.

Pro-Arab activists have been preparing the Mariam ship for more than a month, but Lebanese and Cypriot authorities had refused to clear the boat and a sister ship for sailing. It must dock in Cyprus to prevent a claim by Israel that it will intercept the ship because it is sailing towards Israel from the declared enemy state of Lebanon.

Israel has succeeded in turning away several attempts to challenge the embargo without violent confrontations—until Turkish terror activists clashed with its navy commandos on May 31. Israel suffered public relations damage following the deaths of nine Turkish members of the IHH organization.

Subsequent documented evidence that IHH is a charity front for terrorists, along with videos of the terror-trained activists assaulting the commandos, has reversed much of the damage. Israel has agreed to participate in a United Nations probe of the violence besides conducting its own investigation under the Turkel Commission.

The sailing of the Mariam has been carefully geared for public consumption. Besides the nun and a pregnant woman, the crew includes Christians and Muslims, and the ship has been named after the Virgin Mary.

Israel has warned that allowing ships, even those with aid, to reach the Gaza coast would set a precedent that would allow Hamas to freely import advanced weapons.

Hamas recently has complained that much of the aid on the six-ship flotilla May 31 included useless medical equipment and outdated medicines. The Mavi Marmara ship, whose activists clashed with Navy commandos, was later found to be sailing without any humanitarian aid.