Wednesday, June 30, 2010

CENTCOM thinks outside the box on Hamas & Hezbollah?

"b" (previously, of MoonOfAlabama) flagged this story for us at
FP/ here

While it is anathema to broach the subject of engaging militant groups like Hizballah* and Hamas in official Washington circles (to say nothing of Israel), that is exactly what a team of senior intelligence officers at U.S. Central Command -- CENTCOM -- has been doing. In a "Red Team" report issued on May 7 and entitled "Managing Hizballah and Hamas," senior CENTCOM intelligence officers question the current U.S. policy of isolating and marginalizing the two movements. Instead, the Red Team recommends a mix of strategies that would integrate the two organizations into their respective political mainstreams. While a Red Team exercise is deliberately designed to provide senior commanders with briefings and assumptions that challenge accepted strategies, the report is at once provocative, controversial -- and at odds with current U.S. policy.

Among its other findings, the five-page report calls for the integration of Hizballah into the Lebanese Armed Forces, and Hamas into the Palestinian security forces led by Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Red Team's conclusion, expressed in the final sentence of the executive summary, is perhaps its most controversial finding: "The U.S. role of assistance to an integrated Lebanese defense force that includes Hizballah; and the continued training of Palestinian security forces in a Palestinian entity that includes Hamas in its government, would be more effective than providing assistance to entities -- the government of Lebanon and Fatah -- that represent only a part of the Lebanese and Palestinian populace respectively" (emphasis in the original). The report goes on to note that while Hizballah and Hamas "embrace staunch anti-Israel rejectionist policies," the two groups are "pragmatic and opportunistic."

The report opens with a quote from former U.S. peace negotiator Aaron David Miller's book, The Much Too Promised Land, which notes that both Hizballah and Hamas "have emerged as serious political players respected on the streets, in Arab capitals, and throughout the region. Destroying them was never really an option. Ignoring them may not be either." The report's writers are quick to acknowledge that the two militant groups "are vastly different," and that treating them together is a mistake. Nevertheless, the CENTCOM team directly repudiates Israel's publicly stated view -- that the two movements are incapable of change and must be confronted with force. The report says that "failing to recognize their separate grievances and objectives will result in continued failure in moderating their behavior."

"There is a lot of thinking going on in the military and particularly among intelligence officers in Tampa [the site of CENTCOM headquarters] about these groups," acknowledged a senior CENTCOM officer familiar with the report. However, he denied that senior military leaders are actively lobbying Barack Obama's administration to forge an opening to the two organizations. "That's probably not in the cards just yet," he said.

In the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said that those on board the Mavi Marmara, the scene of the May 31 showdown between Israeli commandos and largely Turkish activists, had ties to "agents of international terror, international Islam, Hamas, al Qaeda and others." The same senior officer wasn't impressed. "Putting Hizballah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda in the same sentence, as if they are all the same, is just stupid," he said. "I don't know any intelligence officer at CENTCOM who buys that." Another mid-level SOCOM [Special Operations Command] officer echoed these views: "As the U.S. strategy in the war on terrorism evolves, military planners have come to realize that they are all motivated by different factors, and we need to address this if we are going to effectively prosecute a successful campaign in the Middle East."

The most interesting aspects of the report deal with Hizbollah. The Red Team downplays the argument that the Lebanese Shiite group acts as a proxy for Iran. The report includes a quote from Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, stating that if Lebanon and Iran's interests ever conflicted, his organization would favor Lebanese interests. "Hizballah's activities increasingly reflect the movement's needs and aspirations in Lebanon, as opposed to the interests of its Iranian backers," the report concludes. It also criticizes Israel's August 2006 war against Hizballah as counterproductive. "Instead of exploiting Hizballah's independent streak ... Israeli actions in Lebanon may have had the reverse effect of tightening its bonds with Iran," the authors note.

The report goes on to say that, while there are "many ways in which Lebanese Hizballah is not like the IRA," there are "parallels" between the Irish Republican Army's eventual participation in the Northern Ireland peace process and a potentially productive U.S. strategy for dealing with Hizballah. CENTCOM officers cite a meeting between the British ambassador to Lebanon and Hizballah leaders in 2009 as providing an appropriate model to begin the integration of the organization into the LAF. Such talks should "be pursued again with the same vigor that peace talks in Northern Ireland were pursued," the report recommends. "As the US took the lead with peace talks in Northern Ireland, the British could take the lead with unity talks between the LAF and Hizballah in Lebanon."

(more/ here)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

US & Israeli Officials: "...Preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability is impossible..."

MEPGS: Excerpts:
With Netanyahu's meeting with President Obama now slated for next week, key US officials are hoping for a continuation of the recent improvement in relations between the two countries. The meeting, postponed from last month because of the crisis resulting from the deadly Israeli takeover of the aid flotilla bound for Gaza, was designed to show that the Administration in general and President Obama in particular "had gotten past" the strained relations of earlier this year. Key Obama advisors are determined, in the words of one Administration official, "To find a way to fix US-Israel relations." Israel's Ambassador to the US, Michael Orens, underlined the problem when, in a meeting with Israeli journalists, he spoke of a "tectonic shift or rift" in US-Israeli relations. Many of Israel's supporters in the US attribute this to the significant change in views from the Bush to the Obama Administrations. Others say the real shift has occurred in Israel, where a strong right of center government reflects the near disappearance of a dovish point of view among the Israeli electorate. In any event, all agree that the Administration has become more adept at dealing with Israel. Even among those most critical of the way the Israeli military handled the Gaza bound flotilla, there is widespread agreement that the Administration wisely chose to fend off harsh international reaction, while at the same time using the incident as an opportunity to press Israel to significantly modify its land blockade of Gaza ["Although the final results are not yet in," noted one State Department insider] and produce a credible official investigation of the incident. "We wanted to make certain there would be no repetition of the Goldstone report," said one well-placed US official, a reference to what many consider an unbalanced critique of Israel's military campaign against Hamas in early 2009. But the real challenge for the Administration lies ahead in September. At that time, Israel's self-imposed partial settlement freeze is due to end after ten months as are the current "proximity talks" between Palestinians and Israelis being brokered by US Special Envoy George Mitchell. "While little of substance has been accomplished in the talks, at least by being indirect, they were protected from outside events," notes one State Department analyst. "Israel is now pressing for direct talks, an argument that the Palestinians will find hard to counter," adds this official. This official, as well as a number of other like-minded analysts, believe Netanyahu would grant an extension of the settlement freeze in exchange for direct talks. "I wouldn't want to be in Abu Mazen's shoes," says one US official, a reference to the President of the Palestinian Authority. When Netanyahu comes calling at the White House, it will likely not be the Palestinian issue that tops his agenda. Instead, these days, as has been the case for some time now, the Israeli leader, not to mention his security establishment and a large part of the Israeli population, has been preoccupied with the growing nuclear capability of Iran. US leadership at the UN Security Council in gaining another resolution aimed thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions, won some time as well as kudos from Israelis. While the resolution itself is relatively weak (and the fourth in a series stretching back several years), there was no shortage of congratulations when the Administration pushed ahead despite last minute obstacles ..... More important than the UN vote was that it opened the way for stronger sanctions to be implemented by the European Union and other so-called "like-minded" countries, including Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea. ......US officials argue that the objective is to steadily apply pressure until Iran reconsiders its current course. While they say it is too soon to assess the impact of the latest moves on Teheran, they believe that the Iranians were "caught off guard" when the Security Council went ahead despite the last minute deal they had concocted with Brazil and Turkey. "There is no question in my mind that they are nervous in Teheran," said one senior US official last week. Still, there are many veteran officials in the Administration (and not a few in Israel) who believe that preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapons capability is impossible. For some, the question now is planning how to contain a nuclear Iran. However, this is not the prevailing opinion in Washington or Jerusalem. The fears of the adverse effects of Iran going nuclear on non-proliferation efforts motivates a number of key US officials. While others take seriously the possibility that Israel, in the end, will act alone militarily. As one veteran analyst put it recently when asked if he was skeptical about Israel's ability to significantly set back Iran's nuclear program through the use of force, replied, "Feasibility isn't the question. The objective is. Would they use force to demonstrate their deterrent capability or as a political signal? In either case, the results would be the same as hitting nuclear installations: chaos in the region." One arena that could quickly feel the impact of Israeli military action is Iraq. Although the US continues to draw down its forces with every intention have having only 50,000 troops on the ground by August 31 [There are approximately 87,000 there today], the delicate power structure and considerable US civilian presence will remain targets of any instability in the region. As to the former, the Iraqis have, so far, made little headway in forming a new government. Still, US officials say a number of conclusions can already be drawn about the situation there. First, "Al Qaeda in Iraq" is a spent force. As one US official puts it, "They have been reduced to a mafia-like operation, robbing, stealing to keep themselves in business. This, in turn, has led to what one US official calls a "sustainable plateau in violence." What does worry Administration officials, however, is how long the Iraqis, particularly the Sunnis will tolerate a political stalemate. While they implicitly acknowledge the suzerainty of the Shia- though not one that could be characterized as "Shia autocracy" -- to use one veteran analyst's less than felicitous phrase. At a minimum, say US officials, the Sunnis need to be able to claim a quarter of the government ministries, including either Defense or Interior as well as heading another key Ministry such as Finance and the post of Deputy Prime Minister. "What we like about the Sunni shopping list is that it accurately reflects their place in Iraqi society," says one US official. "The outstanding question is whether Iraqi society is ready to act in such a responsible way."

Abdallah to Morin: "Iran & Israel should not exist"

Flagged by an FLC reader, this story by Malbrunot in the
Le monarque saoudien, qui rencontre ce mardi Barack Obama à la Maison Blanche, n’a pas mâché ses mots lors de la récente visite à Djeddah d’Hervé Morin, le ministre de la Défense. « Il y a deux pays au monde qui ne méritent pas d’exister : l’Iran et Israël », lui a déclaré le roi Abdallah, le 5 juin dernier.

Cette violente diatribe contre les deux ennemis désignés de l’Arabie nous a été confirmée par deux sources, diplomatique et militaire, françaises à Paris. On ignore quelle a été la réaction du ministre de la Défense, qui était entouré d’une poignée de diplomates et de hauts-gradés lors de l’audience avec le roi, point d’orgue d’une visite de deux jours en Arabie, un mois avant celle du souverain à Paris.

La charge d’Abdallah est intervenue quelques jours après l’assaut israélien contre la flottille humanitaire au cours duquel neuf Turcs ont été tués par les forces de sécurité de l’Etat hébreu. La bavure a suscité une vague de critiques dans le monde arabe et placé Israël sur la défensive au plan international. L’impunité dont jouit, selon lui, Israël exaspère le roi Abdallah, déçu que l’Etat hébreu n’ait jamais accepté son plan de paix global, présenté au nom des 22 pays arabes lors d’un sommet à Beyrouth en 2002.

Toute aussi profonde, sa colère contre l’Iran est alimentée par les craintes que suscitent en Arabie les ambitions nucléaires de Téhéran. Il faut y ajouter l’antagonisme traditionnel entre les deux pôles principaux de l’islam : Riyadh pour le monde sunnite et Téhéran pour les chiites.
Le pouvoir saoudien ne supporte pas l’entrisme iranien dans les affaires intérieures libanaise, irakienne, yéménite et même au sein du royaume wahabite, où l’Iran est soupçonné de «travailler » certaines franges radicales de la minorité chiite.

Ironie du calendrier : il y a quinze jours, le Times rapportait que l’Arabie saoudite avait donné son feu vert au survol de son territoire par des avions israéliens pour aller bombarder des sites nucléaires iraniens. Riyadh a catégoriquement démenti ces allégations.

Le roi Abdallah est attendu le 12 juillet à Paris pour l’inauguration de l’exposition au Louvre consacrée aux « Routes d’Arabie, archéologie et histoire du royaume d’Arabie saoudite ». Le monarque saoudien aura à cette occasion des entretiens politiques avec Nicolas Sarkozy. Claude Guéant, le secrétaire-général de l’Elysée, s’est rendu en mai en Arabie pour « pousser » certains dossiers commerciaux, notamment celui lié à la construction d’un TGV entre les villes saintes de La Mecque et Médine pour laquelle Alsthom est en lice.

Abdallah believes Obama is "naive" in not seeing the "untrustworthy Shiites" for what they are ...

A WINEP hand laments the US-Saudi drift, and suggests that on Iran, Riyadh wants Israel, the US, anybody to 'bomb Iran'...,... FP/ here

"..... We will have to wait for W's biography for his explanation of this gaucheness, which came to define his presidency. However, the prevailing assumption is that Abdullah, then the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia because of the ill health of King Fahd, had thrown Bush off balance by threatening to walk out of the summit before it started. Abdullah insisted on being able to take home a diplomatic prize -- anything to make his visit worthwhile. This demand wrong-footed Bush, who had thought the Saudis would still be -- and should have been -- on the defensive because of widespread accusations about their historical tolerance of the Islamic extremism that spawned the 9/11 attacks nearly eight months earlier. Bush grabbed Abdullah's arm as a way of saying: "Stay. Let's talk about it." The rest is history.

Obama and Abdullah already has met just two days before at the G-20 summit in Canada, but Abdullah is coming to Washington to talk one-on-one about Palestine and Iran. On the former issue, Abdullah thinks that Obama "gets it," as he has been tougher on the Israelis than Bush or Bill Clinton. On Iran, however, the Saudi king fears that his country's historically closest ally is naive, and dangerously so, for putting so much faith in diplomacy. The same emotional approach that causes Abdullah to anguish about the Palestinians also explains his distrust and antipathy toward the Iranians, whom he sees as typically untrustworthy Shiite challengers to Sunni, and therefore Saudi, custodianship of the holy places of Islam.

Despite the official blandishments, there are clear indications that under Abdullah, and especially since 2001, Saudi Arabia has put distance into its relationship with the United States. Abdullah is trying to gain more room to maneuver in the Sunni-Shiite rivalry and between extremists and moderates within Sunni Islam. To do so, he has to erode the notion that the House of Saud is a pawn of Uncle Sam.

A clear example of this distancing is the foundation of U.S.-Saudi ties: oil. Saudi Arabia, despite having the world's largest oil reserves, is no longer the largest global producer ........ With the years of ritual denunciations from both Bush and Obama regarding U.S. "dependence on foreign oil," Washington can hardly complain, but the net result is less U.S. influence in Saudi Arabia.

On Iran, there is a widening if not unbridgeable gap between the two countries. The kingdom's own signals of the policy differences between Riyadh and Washington might well include the June 12 London Times story, which reported that the kingdom would allow Israeli jets to fly over its territory to complete a bombing raid on Iran's nuclear facilities. Although officially denied by Saudi officials, the Times stood by its report. Its editor would not run such a story without being confident of the sources...."

Russian spies? Ok, great ... now let's get to the legions of ISRAELI spies in the US!

Let get to the law firm of Bryen, Smyth, Tenenbaum, Pollard, Nozette & co.

"Ten people have been arrested in the US and charged with spying for Russia.

They were allegedly part of an operation where agents posed as ordinary citizens, some living together as couples for years. They are accused of conspiracy to act as unlawful agents of a foreign government, a crime which carries up to five years in prison.

A Russian foreign ministry spokesman said the information about the alleged spies was contradictory..."

John Bolton & 'Narcissus' Aznar attend a 'terrorist's' rally in Paris

AP/ here
"The event was organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, whose leader, Maryam Rajavi, ...... The event Saturday in the suburb of Taverny drew former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and John Bolton, who served as Washington's ambassador to the UN...... The group is also lobbying the U.S. to stop classifying it as a terrorist organization...."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Yediot: In summit with Netanyahu, Obama will demand full lifting of Gaza blockade (?)

Quite a Kalabash .... Via
WarInContext, this translation of a YediotAharonoth story/ here
"... The lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip and permission for Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip freely through Israeli border crossings. These are the unequivocal demands that President Barack Obama is expected to make during his meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the White House in two weeks.

If anyone thought that lifting the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip would satisfy the Americans, it is now clear to them that is only the beginning. Reliable sources who have been apprised of the preparations that the White House is making for the meeting between Obama and Netanyahu revealed that the demands are much more significant. While Obama voiced his satisfaction with the relief measures that Israel announced, he believes that the situation in which more than a million and a half inhabitants of the Gaza Strip are living is intolerable. The American president is particularly angry that the inhabitants are not free to leave the Gaza Strip. He sees that as a kind of “collective punishment.” Political sources say that Netanyahu, who has chosen not to change the situation with the Gaza Strip, now finds himself under a great deal of international pressure and must act under pressure from the United States.

Obama also intends to examine the issue of extending the construction freeze with Netanyahu. It may be assumed that Netanyahu will make a continuation of the construction freeze conditional upon going over to direct talks with Abu Mazen.

But considering the firm demands to be made in the private meetings, White House officials are planning quite a warm reception for Netanyahu. Obama’s advisers are preparing quite a few “photo ops” in which the president and Netanyahu will be seen together in public. According to the plan, they will go out into the Rose Garden, which overlooks Obama’s office, where they will answer questions from the media.

Reliable sources say that one of the reasons for the special effort is requests from Jewish Democrats running in the interim Congressional elections this coming November, who are urging the White House to provide them with “friendly pictures” of Obama and Netanyahu. White House officials are even looking into the possibility that Obama will invite the Israeli prime minister to come with him to Camp David for talks that will go far into the night. The president’s advisers are examining the idea, the purpose of which, in essence, is to see first-hand which compromises Netanyahu is willing to strive for in a final status arrangement with the Palestinians and with Syria.

Sources in Washington explained that Obama expects to hear from Netanyahu “not only slogans about his willingness to enter negotiations with Abu Mazen and with Assad,” but to show clearly what he means when he talks about two states — Israel and Palestine — existing side by side. Another subject about which the American president expects an answer is Israel’s willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights as part of a peace treaty with Syria.

Perhaps the most sensitive issue that is going to be discussed in the talks between the two leaders is Obama’s view that the world must give up nuclear weapons. Since Netanyahu is very well aware that the opinions of American decision-makers on this matter have changed, he will try to receive guarantees that for now, there will be no change in American policy regarding Israel’s nuclear capability..."

"... On Iran, the Saudis are like the Americans in that they know what they want but do not know how to achieve it"

Thomas W. Lippman guest at the RFI/ here

"... It would have seemed peculiar if King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia traveled all the way to Toronto for the G-20 economic summit and did not stop in Washington on his way home. .......Still, it is hard to imagine that the White House session on Tuesday will produce any game-changing agreements because while the two countries generally share the same strategic objectives, each wants something that the other is unable or unwilling to deliver.

The Saudis want the United States to find some way short of war to halt Iran’s nuclear program, and they want Obama to deliver on his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine question. The United States wants Saudi Arabia to do more—much more—to support Iraq, but the Saudis have made clear their reluctance to do that until a government to their liking, preferably led by Iyad Allawi, is installed in Baghdad....

According to American officials, the most important subject on the agenda is the faltering effort to forge a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on the two-state solution. Obama has repeatedly stated a commitment to that objective—most recently after a meeting earlier this month with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas—and for a while after the Cairo speech the Saudis believed he would actually make something happen. They no longer believe, because in their view Obama backed down in the face of Israeli intransigence on his demand for a complete halt in settlement activity in the occupied territories.

They still prefer Obama to his predecessor, but their impatience and disillusionment were readily apparent in conversations with officials and analysts in Riyadh has month......

Obama’s relations with Abdullah got off to a rocky start in their Riyadh meeting a year ago when a poorly-briefed president asked the king for unilateral gestures of goodwill toward Israel, such as extending to Israeli aircraft the right to fly over Saudi air space. As was predictable, the king rebuffed the president ....... This time, according to U.S. officials, Obama is prepared to tell the king that he accepts the so-called Abdullah plan as a good faith offer that can be part of the negotiations with Israel. That is not an endorsement of the plan’s details, but it could be enough to persuade Abdullah to give the U.S. side what it will ask for: a public statement endorsing direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Given the Saudis’ cynicism about the “peace process,” that could be a useful symbolic gesture.

On Iran, the Saudis are like the Americans in that they know what they want but do not know how to achieve it. They want the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraq, stop supporting extremist groups and, most important, stop enriching uranium. They do not believe the latest round of economic sanctions will deter Iran, but they oppose military action by the United States—or, worse yet, Israel—to halt the nuclear program. ....... Saudi Arabia did not oppose the latest U.N. sanctions—Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal even went to Beijing to urge China to support them. But after a meeting in February with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prince Saud said that “sanctions are a long term solution, but we see the issue in the shorter term, maybe because we are closer to the threats than that. So we need immediate resolution rather than gradual resolution in this regard.”

He did not specify what “immediate resolution” he had in mind. Nor could he have done so because, according to Saudi officials I talked to in Riyadh last month, no one has devised any “immediate resolution” short of the war the Saudis don’t want...."

"..Petraeus’ high standing among the American public will allow the Administration to quiet US Afghan policy misgivings in the short term.."

SWOOP/ here
To take the temperature of the Obama Administration at the present time is to find two conflicting readings. On the one hand, Obama is likely to be able sign new legislation on financial reform into law before his declared deadline of the July 4th holiday. Additionally, Treasury officials have welcomed the Chinese decision to begin some revaluation of the Yuan – a decision they ascribe in part to US pressure. Obama has also held a successful meeting with President Medvedev of Russia and passed a new round of US sanctions against Iran.
On the debit side, the deepening concerns about the viability of US policy in Afghanistan, to which we have over the past weeks drawn attention, surfaced into the open with the forced resignation of General McChrystal. The continuing BP oil spill is also fraying public confidence in the Administration’s competence. Taking advantage of the successful passage of financial reform, Obama was able to adopt a confident tone at the G-20 summit in Toronto. US officials are focused on persuading their international partners to pursue pro-growth policies. In the words of one Treasury adviser to us: “if the Eurozone countries and the UK over-react to the recent sovereign debt crisis by cutting expenditure too far and too fast, we will all be losers.” This debate may intensify over the summer if, as some indicators notably on house prices indicate, the pace of US recovery stalls. There may be pressure from the US on the European Central Bank, as on China, to allow the Euro to rise in value.
On Afghanistan, Obama has won praise, even from political opponents, for his swift appointment of General Petraeus to take command. However, the episode has both highlighted the poor working relationships between the top US military and civilian officials in Kabul and stimulated further doubts about whether the existing counter-insurgency strategy can deliver the desired result of allowing a US drawdown in 2011. Petraeus’ high standing among the American public will, we assess, allow the Administration to quiet these misgivings in the short term. Nonetheless, Afghanistan looms as a major unsolved policy challenge for Obama. It constitutes a matter of considerable discontent among Obama’s core Democratic base.

Israeli defense consultant indicted for smuggling weapons to Somalia

Politico/ here

"... Chanoch Miller, an Israeli aeronautical engineer who previously served as an executive with Israel’s Radom Aviation, was indicted on June 17, 2010 on seven counts of conspiring to export defense equipment to an embargoed nation, Somalia, money laundering, providing false end user certificates, and related charges....

Beginning in April, according to the indictment, Miller conspired with his American co-defendant to find an air cargo service to fly hundreds of AK-47s from Bosnia to the Somaliland city of Banderal, using false end user certificates of Chad, in violation of U.S. arms export control laws. Somalia is under a UN arms embargo. But the transport services source they contacted turned out to be an informant for the U.S. Customs and Immigrations Enforcement (ICE) agency, the indictment describes. .....

Miller arranged through the same logistics agent to fly 700 AK-47s from Panama to Somaliland last month.

In February, Somaliland local press cited an Israeli foreign ministry official that Israel was considering recognizing Somaliland as an independent country, ..."

Michel Sleiman "...No achievements & no stand..."

'Bland-Sleiman & predecessor, feisty-nonconformist Lahoud'
Mideastwire's translation of Al Akhbar's piece/ here

“Today, President Michel Suleiman completes his 25th month in Baabda. Two years has passed (he was elected on May 25, 2008) with the president being unable to benefit from the moral momentum with which presidents kick off their terms… Today, at the end of the first two years of Suleiman’s term, some of the president’s consultants can speak for hours about the so-called “role of the president in reconciling the Syrian and French System,” and making a “rapprochement between the Syrian and American systems.” However, these same consultants will find nothing to say concerning the steps that the President launched in order to “involve the youth in finding solutions” as he had pledged in his oath. These consultants will use the smartest tricks that they learned in military school in order to change the subject if asked about the last (or the first) proposal offered by the president regarding the “acknowledgment of emigrants’ rights” as he had pledged in his oath.

“Away from this oath, the consultants will be incapable of pointing out a single national achievement (besides Amchit) that the president or the five ministers who represent him have accomplished (the fact that Interior Minister Ziad Baroud had organized the parliamentary and municipal elections on time is a duty of his rather than an achievement; and finding a solution to the traffic problem is the least of achievements). Wasn’t the joy of the people at Suleiman’s appointment to Baabda a large one? Maybe it was, but the president, unfortunately, did not even take it upon himself to try. Indeed, this policy of no achievements coupled with the strategy of no stand, is making the presidency lose its tone as well as transforming the [post] into one with no stature…”

Turkey bars Israeli military flight from Turkish airspace...

BBC/ here

"... Military flight bans are now being considered on a case-by-case basis, Turkish officials said. The banned flight was carrying Israeli officers to Poland to tour Auschwitz. The plane was denied permission to cross Turkish airspace and was therefore forced to fly an alternative route...."

Abdallah of Jordan is "furious".... at Israel?

"QUIETLY and with barely any public confrontation, Israel is creating a new enemy for itself: the Kingdom of Jordan. In the situation that we justifiably or unjustifiably find ourselves now — boycotted and isolated — we do not need to lose the only Arab state with which we have peace-like relations.

This is the story: Jordan is a poor country, lacking almost any natural resources, that spends billions of dollars each year to import 95 percent of its electricity. But in 2007, at least 65,000 tons of uranium ore was found in the Jordanian desert — the 11th-largest deposit of uranium in the world. Jordan is now taking international bids to build a 1,100-megawatt reactor, the first in a planned series of plants that would allow the country to produce a substantial part of the electricity it needs and, by 2030, to export power to its neighbors in the Middle East.

The Obama administration, however, is trying to dissuade Middle Eastern countries from producing their own atomic fuel; the fear is that any low-level uranium enrichment would inevitably lead to high-level enrichment of bomb-grade materials — and then to a regional arms race. As a result, American diplomats are trying to prevent Jordan from getting the necessary technology unless it agrees to purchase its nuclear fuel on the open markets rather than use its own uranium.

Jordan’s king, Abdullah II, is furious and, to make matters worse, he is convinced that the demands of the United States are the result of Israeli pressure. The last thing Israel needs today is a confrontation with Jordan on this subject..."

Lebanon's sectarian burden: No changes expected!

OxFan: Excerpts:

"..... Since the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005, Lebanon has seen heightened sectarian tensions and periodic violent scuffles, fed by a prolonged political standoff with sectarian overtones between the March 8 and March 14 coalitions. The fact that Lebanon came precariously close in 2008 to a relapse into sectarian violence similar to the 1975-1990 civil war has urged some groups to organise demonstrations, public meetings, exhibitions, media campaigns and various projects aimed at tempering sectarian divisions.
A reform movement has also gained pace within political parties, particularly among Shia leaders who may see an advantage in removing sectarian quotas, since they are the majority population group:
  • Barring the Shia Amal and Hizbollah parties, the milieu supporting a secular system in Lebanon has roots in leftist parties which formed the National Movement during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war.
  • It includes academics, human rights lawyers and civil society stalwarts -- some of whom, like Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, are today legislators.
  • They face a tough task on many levels, as sectarianism is ingrained in social norms, media, public institutions and -- most importantly -- in Lebanon's constitution.....
Entrenched sectarianism. Sectarian practices have become more entrenched since the end of the civil war in 1990:
  • The 1989 Taif Agreement that ended the war merely shelved some of the key political conflicts of the war, and Lebanon's Christians in particular felt excluded during the period of Syrian military presence in Lebanon. Continued political instability and unresolved conflicts between political and sectarian groups have fed the population's need for protection within their sects.
  • The civil war saw many areas and neighbourhoods of Lebanon turned into near-homogenous zones along sectarian lines. Despite plans to resettle the internally displaced from the war, urban space is still divided.
  • Lack of educational and electoral reforms has perpetuated institutional sectarianism.
  • A sectarian division of the media sector, which has grown exponentially since the 1990s, reifies sectarian affiliation and political dividing lines......
.... Proportional representation was a key recommendation of the 2006 Boutros Commission, appointed by the government, and is likely to be taken up and debated ahead of the 2013 parliamentary elections.
Shia secularists. Fundamental changes to the constitution depend on support from sectarian political leaders. Long-time parliament speaker, Nabih Berri, has recently declared himself a champion of the abolition of political sectarianism. In January, Berri called for a national committee to be established to focus on eradicating sectarianism. Similar gestures have been made by his Shia ally in the March 8 coalition, Hizbollah head Hassan Nasrallah.
Reactions have been mainly critical:
  • Many secularists point out that the initiative comes from leaders who take advantage of the sectarian system. Shia sectarian parties have at times attempted to co-opt Shia secularists through reference to secularism, and particularly, calls to change the electoral law.
  • Berri's remarks stoked deep-seated Christian fears that abolishing sectarianism would leave them underrepresented as a result of their dwindling numbers, whereas the Shia, thought to be the largest sect in Lebanon today, would dominate parliament.
  • The Maronite Church, a key player in Christian politics, is strongly opposed to the idea, with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir arguing on several occasions that sectarianism ought to be "removed from the souls before being removed from the texts".

.... Outlook. These groups represent a minority of largely well-educated, urban middle classes, and are likely to stay marginal for the time being. However, despite their limited ability to influence politics, they have become more visible in the last five years, and could play a notable role in shaping public debate.
The leftist parties have much greater political influence, but they are remnants of an older project to reform Lebanon which has seen little real success. The electoral law is likely to remain central to the political debate about sectarianism, and it is possible that the 2006 draft will eventually pass, with the help of these parties. However, this would require a much calmer and more stable regional and domestic political environment, and is not likely in the near future. Much like nuclear disarmament, the dismantling of sectarianism is regarded as a desirable prospect, but one which needs key security guarantees for the beneficiaries of the current system. Moreover, there is little chance that the system will change as long as the sectarian parties maintain their power bases in the population, and the wider population depends on their sectarian representatives financially. Such factors add weight to the argument that sectarianism must be dismantled from below, through a change in mentality, ahead of any major constitutional reforms -- and such a change cannot be expected in the short term."