Sunday, May 31, 2009

"What will happen if Israel 'defeats' Obama?"

Akiva Eldar, in Haaretz, here
"You had to read it twice to believe it: "Criticism of the United States in Jerusalem." A senior Israeli official warns: "We are disappointed." The fly hovering about is complaining that the elephant is not obeying its orders. What chutzpah on the part of Barack Obama. He just entered the White House and already has something to say - about how many new houses we are building in Ofra, and about when we will dismantle the walls in the "illegal outposts," which are already beginning to disintegrate because of old age. 
Instead of dismantling settlements, he would do better to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program. Otherwise Jerusalem will reassess its special relationship with Washington, and will reconsider its commitment to ensuring the qualitative advantage of the United States. If this situation continues, we may even stop vetoing anti-American decisions in the United Nations Security Council. 
Let's assume that there is some point to the criticism of the U.S. president's determined insistence on petty details when it comes to Jewish construction in the territories. Let's agree that Obama in his naivete really has become preoccupied with inconsequential matters, such as a handful of pathetic outposts. Should the State of Israel risk a crisis with the most important power in the world because of what it considers "inconsequential matters"? Does Israel have a greater existential strategic asset than its relations with the U.S. and its neighbors' understanding that these intimate relations are unshakable? 
Is this the way to keep "all options open," including receiving American approval to fly over the skies of Iraq, on the way to attacking Iran's nuclear installations? And what will we do when the Iranians launch missiles at Tel Aviv? Will we send the new Abba Eban, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, to Washington to ask Obama to declare war on Tehran? At the same time, the settler from Nokdim can reprimand the president for refusing to take his "natural growth" into account. 
Does Israel really have an interest in winning the battle over the settlements? What will happen if we destroy the prestige of the strongest man in the world and portray him as an empty vessel, incapable of halting the settlement program of a U.S. protege? Will an Israeli "victory" strengthen the status of the U.S. in the international campaign against Iran? 
A partial answer to these questions can be found in the address last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before members of the Likud faction, regarding the necessity of evacuating the outposts. The right believes that the more they fatten this bastard goat, the more its removal will be considered to be what former prime minister Ariel Sharon called a "painful concession." 
However, even Netanyahu knows that Obama does not intend to participate in these goat games. The U.S. president is not a political amateur, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak implied when he said that dismantling the outposts would not stop the Iranian nuclear program. Obama will be visiting Riyadh and Cairo this week, in an attempt to revive the Madrid conference coalition, which president Bush, Sr. formed after the first Gulf War, in October 1991. Incidentally, then too, the Likud, led by Yitzhak Shamir, "leveled harsh criticism" against the U.S. administration and "expressed disappointment" at its refusal to recognize the natural growth of the settler population. We can assume that Obama has also heard the news that its number (without East Jerusalem) has grown since then, from fewer than 100,000 to almost 300,000. Enviable fertility indeed. 
The new-old Arab-Israeli-American coalition is Obama's answer to the Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah one. It is based on the peace initiative of the Arab League, which was adopted by the Organization of Islamic States, including Iran. An Israeli decision to adopt its principles - all the territories in return for a general peace - will remove the Shi'ite-Iranian minority from the Arab and Muslim consensus. As far as the latter are concerned, let Israel nurture the outposts, expand the settlements, clip the wings of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It will help pave a shortcut for Iran from Gaza to Ramallah. 
Israel itself, the Israel that does not understand the connection between the settlement of Yizhar and the reactor in Bushehr, claims that Hamastan is nothing more than a subsidiary of Iran. 
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will not shed a tear if Israel blows off Obama with his two-state solution. The sharper the conflict between the Jews and the Americans on "inconsequential matters," the greater the joy of Shushan/Iran."

Israel : "Iran is NOT a western Democracy"

Decidedly, the Izzies are becoming very comical nowadays, Haaretz, here
"...The goal, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official, is "to show the world that Iran is not a Western democracy" in the run-up to the country's presidential election on June 12. 
About a week ago, the head of the ministry's Task Force on Isolating Iran sent a classified telegram to all Israeli embassies and consulates, titled "Activities in the Run-up to Iran's Presidential Election." It detailed things Israeli representatives should do before, during and after the election....
 In a nutshell, the goal is to "blacken Iran's international reputation...."

(some humor) "Israel to US: Stop favoring Palestinians"

Haaretz, here
"We're disappointed," said one senior official. "All of the understandings reached during the [George W.] Bush administration are worth nothing." Another official said the U.S. administration is refusing every Israeli attempt to reach new agreements on settlement construction. "The United States is taking a line of granting concessions to the Palestinians that is not fair toward Israel," he said. The Israeli officials attributed the unyielding U.S. stance to the speech Obama will make in Cairo this Thursday..."

Halutz: Israel failed to kill Nasrallah

In the JPOst, here

".... In the Second Lebanon War there was an attempt to hit Hizbullah leader Hassan Nassralah, but it wasn't successful," .... Meanwhile in Lebanon, Hizbullah's leadership instructed all its operatives to raise their alert to "emergency level" for the duration of the IDF Home Front Command's week-long 'Turning Point 3' national drill, Lebanese media reported.

Hizbullah expressed fear over what they called "Israel's attempt to use the drill in order to attack targets in Lebanon or carry out special operations.".."

"Second Lebanese colonel arrested spying for Israel..."

"....The army officer was the second colonel arrested in less than a week in an espionage investigation that has produced charges against at least 21 suspects and several confessions, the authorities say. Israel has not commented on the arrests...."

Mitchell in Damascus "as early as this week"...

In FT, here

"Barack Obama is set to send his Middle East envoy to Syria in the most concrete sign yet of rapprochement between Washington and Damascus.

The expected trip by George Mitchell, the former Senator heading US efforts on the Arab-Israeli conflict, comes as the president himself prepares to visit the region. Mr Obama will arrive in Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday, then travel to Egypt, where he will deliver an eagerly awaited address to the Muslim world. He will subsequently visit Germany and France.....

By contrast, in a 2005 Cairo speech Condoleezza Rice, then secretary of state, urged Egypt to give “its citizens the freedom to choose” by meeting the “objective standards that define every free election”. While Ms Rice announced a break with the 60-year-old policy of pursuing stability in the Middle East, the White House says Mr Obama’s speech will show the US “returning to proven and effective policies and initiatives”.....

By travelling to Syria – he would be the highest-ranking administration official since 2005 to visit – Mr Mitchell would provide a further sign of the Obama administration’s interest in not just a Palestinian-Israeli agreement but also a comprehensive peace involving Syria and Lebanon.

His trip, which could come as early as this week, would also highlight the extent to which the Obama team is prepared to break with previous US policy. ....Mr Obama sent a small delegation to Damascus in March but it did not meet Bashar al-Assad, Syrian president. US officials told Syria a trip by Mr Mitchell would be the next step..."

Six killed when Abbas forces hit Hamas in W.Bank

Reuters, here 

"...The violence erupted when police encircled a house in the West Bank town of Qalqilya where a top Hamas field commander, Mohammad Samman, and his deputy Mohammad Yasin had taken refuge, witnesses and security officials said.

It was the bloodiest internal Palestinian clash in the occupied West Bank since the Western-backed Abbas launched a security drive and revived peace talks with Israel in 2007 after breaking with Hamas over its takeover of the Gaza Strip...

The raid was likely to widen a rift between Abbas's Fatah group and Hamas and complicate Egyptian reconciliation efforts.

The operation also could boost Abbas's credentials in Washington ..."

Mubarak: "Regional 'calm' more important than Iran's nukes..."

"The comments from presidential spokesman Suleiman Awwad indicate that Egypt fears Israel is attempting side step the issue of the peace process in favor of the issue of the Iranian threat.
His remarks come just ahead of US President Barack Obama's visit to the region and a high profile speech expected to address the faltering peace process.

 "With regard to attempts to say Iran is a common danger, President Mubarak's and Egypt's priority is on the Palestinian issue," he told reporters in Cairo. "This will remain the priority regardless of the numerous dangers and threats in the Middle East."...

 While Sunni Arab governments agree Shiite Iran is a potential threat they are reluctant to be seen as joining Israel against another Muslim nation. Arabs also fear that a focus on Iran will derail efforts to commit Obama to the two-state solution..."


New names, same games for Lebanon

".... Influence in Lebanon is both a means to an end, and an end in itself, they say, and proven culpability for the assassination of al-Hariri would seriously hinder this status quo. With each criminal action, goes the tale, Syria is attempting to jeopardise the work of the tribunal and blackmail Lebanon.  ....In a process which Syria had always condemned as being politicised from the start, it was ruled there would be no judging without sufficient evidence. While this should have momentarily brought the accusations to a full circle, there seems to be little wish to tone down the rhetoric....

Amid the crescendo of accusations about Syria and its allies, the biggest threat which never ceased to manifest itself remained Israel, whose savage July 2006 onslaught sent droves of Lebanese refugees across the Syrian border, where they were welcomed with open arms and homes. 


Not only did this war bring back a dose of reality about the bigger stakes, but it also put Lebanon's current majority in a difficult position against Hezbollah and effectively on Israel's side.

 The war was a turning point where real alliances could not remain in the background any longer....

 No matter how it is packaged, and even if it was explained as Hezbollah being responsible for provoking Israel by seizing its soldiers, the enormity of this situation was unprecedented. It laid the ground for the next big crisis which would hit Lebanon in May 2007,.....


In the days of Pax Syriana following the Taif agreement which ended the Lebanese civil war and established Syria as the de facto boss, most parties complied with the S-S dynamic ruling their lives - as long as Syria and Saudi Arabia agreed on the path to follow, Lebanon was relatively quiet. 


Today, while the major regional players are the same, they are betting on different horses.... Until there is a new census reflecting current demographics, most groups in the country are secure in the fact that they have a voice in government. It does matter, of course, who wins the most seats and who is charged with forming a government, and many observers wonder whether Hezbollah's time has come to become the majority. 

 Given the clumsy foreign interference.... there seem to be real questions on the latter's capacity or even desire to reach office.

 While Aoun would certainly welcome a presidential role eventually, Hezbollah would probably be happy to remain in opposition, especially since it has already proved its capacity to overturn decisions when needed. ....This situation would also serve Syria's interests for the time being.... Even without their own man in office in Lebanon, the Syrians know there is now little chance for any government to provoke it on the big issues and only need to wait for the other foreign powers to come to terms with this reality..."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

EXCLUSIVE: An Nahar has today's 'scoop'

From the lame drivel found in An Nahar today!
علق نائب في الاكثرية على كلام مرشح في جبيل "اننا نحكي لبناني" بالقول: هل نحن نحكي اجنبي؟ ولفته الى ان عبارة "زي" تعني بالصيداوي "مثل"، ونصح له بتعلم "اللبناني الأصيل".

Congress gives Obama green light to squeeze Israel

Aluf Benn, in Haaretz, here
"United States President Barack Obama lays out long-term visionary goals, such as Middle East peace, but he moves with political pragmatism in advancing them. This is as true of his domestic and economic objectives as it is of his complex approach to Israel. 
His statements are carefully tailored to the measure of Congress' support for Israel. Congressional representatives are committed to preserving Israel's security and dealing with Iran, but do not support strengthening the settlements. So Obama stresses his support for Israel's security, but is willing to confront Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the settlements.....
Obama demanded that the Palestinians stop their incitement against Israel and said he would not talk to Hamas until it recognizes Israel. Congress supports these positions strongly, but they have a price. On the eve of Obama's "reconciliation" speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, scheduled for this Thursday, he has one main demand from Israel - stop the settlements. That was his little gift to the Arab world. ...
Netanyahu sent a dovish member of his cabinet, Ehud Barak, to the U.S. to explain that there is no chance of the Israeli political system accepting the freeze. 
The Americans are insisting ........Netanyahu faces a difficult dilemma, whose outcome will also affect his coalition's fate. He does not have too many cards to play with, but realizes he must give the Americans something. In the coming weeks he will try to concoct a formula that will keep his coalition and party intact, and satisfy Obama as well."

US, in a conciliatory signal to Tehran,... seriously considering placing Jundullah on terrorism list...

Boston Globe, here

"......Jundullah, or Soldiers of God, has killed scores of Iranian soldiers and border guards since 2003 ....The Iranian government accuses the United States of funding the group, making its deadly attacks a key obstacle to rapprochement between the two countries. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly yesterday strongly condemned the killing of Iranian civilians and said that the US government does not fund Jundullah, whose fighters are disgruntled members of the Baluch ethnic minority.

"We do not sponsor any form of terrorism in Iran," Kelly said. "We continue to work with the international community to prevent any attacks against innocent civilians anywhere.".... US officials argue that the administration should swiftly place a terrorist label on Jundullah as a sign of Washington's good official estimated that the State Department is halfway through the designation process, while another said the process is underway but might never be completed. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue..........Last year, the State Department opted to keep another anti-Iranian group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, on its terrorist list, despite strong pressure from European allies to remove it......In February, the Treasury Department designated the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan, an anti-Iranian guerilla group based in the mountains of Iraq, as a terrorist organization, because it is controlled by another group that was already listed....

On Thursday, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque in the southeastern border city of Zahedan. Arabic news channel Al-Arabiya said a Jundullah spokesman called to claim responsibility. Yesterday, gunmen on motorbikes in the same city attacked a campaign headquarters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wounding three people....

The New Yorker magazine and ABC News have reported that the US government has been in contact with Jundullah and used such groups to keep tabs on Al Qaeda, which operates in the same territory in Pakistan. A key source for the ABC News story was later discredited, and US officials strenuously denied both reports...

"Iran has its own war on terror," said Michael Rubin, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington-based think tank. "Jundullah has become a consistent threat." 

How Netanyahu failed in Washington: The Iran Push Backfires


"....Given the buildup and the fact that this was a first meeting, all Netanyahu needed to achieve was a degree of personal trust, leaving whatever differences there were for later meetings. "I can definitely work with this guy" is what Netanyahu wanted Obama to tell his staff after the meeting. Based on reports from Washington, it is unclear whether this objective was accomplished. The reason is that by pushing too hard on Iran, Netanyahu may have set himself up for failure...... the meeting was all about "the linkage," which now may prove to be highly contentious down the road. The linkage, of course, is the one between efforts to disrupt Iran's nuclear efforts and to promote the Israeli-Palestinian political process.

Currently, Israel wants the two issues delinked and claims that they each merit a distinct policy formulation. But in the weeks preceding Netanyahu's visit to the White House, Israel presented a linkage of its own. Hamas-controlled Gaza is an Iranian forward outpost, both militarily and ideologically. Now there is an ominous possibility that Hamas will take over the West Bank too, helping to create another Iranian launchpad for further destabilization. Iran has a vested interest in preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Therefore, until Iran is curtailed and its nuclear program halted, no real progress can be made on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

President Obama reversed the linkage.... the Americans suggested, a regional coalition must be forged and be supported by Russia and the European Union. Such a coalition, composed of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states, needs to see a real commitment from Obama on the peace process. From Obama's perspective, this is what multilateralism is all about, and such alliances and balances are what political realism is all about. He does not see himself on some romantic or providential mission to achieve peace in the Middle East, but rather as a redefiner, promoter and enforcer of U.S. interests in the region.

Once Obama made the reverse linkage, Israel resorted to a delinking effort. In other words, if the idea was to convince Obama about the linkage, it backfired....

By making Iran the defining issue of our time and of his term as prime minister, Netanyahu also exposes a vulnerability. The shaping of a U.S.-led Iran policy could be used as a lever to extract from Israel policy concessions that Netanyahu is uncomfortable with. For example, the two-state solution. ....but that will require a better second meeting."

Change in the Air in Iran

Ignatius in the WaPo, here

"....An Iranian political expert who visited Washington several weeks ago flatly predicted a Mousavi victory and a new coalition government that would pull together the center-right and the center-left...... argues Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "I don't trust any of the polls," he warns, noting that they failed to predict Ahmadinejad's victory in 2005.

And here's another caution: All of the candidates for president, including Mousavi, support Iran's right to develop nuclear technology. That's not an ideological issue in the coming election but a shared point of national pride. And Iran's negotiating positions on the nuclear issue will be shaped more by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, than by the elected president.

Still, the fact that Mousavi is mounting a strong challenge illustrates the political ferment in Iran. Westerners often imagine that country as an Islamic boot camp with everyone marching in lock step, but there's a surprisingly open debate in the Iranian media. Mousavi's supporters have loudly criticized Ahmadinejad for Iran's rising unemployment and inflation and for its growing international isolation.....Mousavi said Ahmadinejad's fulminations are "disgracing" Iran. "The president . . . jeopardized the stature of the Iranian nation with thoughtless policies," Mousavi said, referring to his rival's anti-Israel diatribe at the United Nations...

Mousavi's reform message is bolstered by his revolutionary credentials. He was prime minister from 1981 to 1989, during the years of the Iraq-Iran war, and is remembered for his competent management of the Iranian economy in those difficult times. That pedigree allows Mousavi to bridge the conservative-liberal divide in Iran and pull support toward the center....

Backing Mousavi is the reformist former president Mohammad Khatami, ......"If nothing unexpected happens, the most likely scenario is a second round run-off between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, which Mousavi can win, if he announces a coalition government that includes other key figures such as Karroubi, Rezai and others," Iranian political analyst Bijan Khajehpour predicted during a visit to Washington several weeks ago.

Maybe the real point is that Iran is having a contested election at all. This isn't a nation of fanatics with suicide belts strapped to their waists. It's a real country, ..."

Israeli Embassy 'manages' Palestinian media affairs!

In Mondoweiss, here

"...Was there nobody in the Palestinian entourage aware that Abbas was meeting with two of the more notorious neo-Conservatives in the American media? Were Hiatt & Diehl a suitable channel for communicating with the American public (or even the inside-the-Beltway crowd)? Wouldn't it have made more sense to hook up with more sympathetic interlocuters?

While Hiatt has the reputation of not even letting his own newspaper's reporting get in the way of his pontificating, Diehl is a street fighter who clearly had his knives ready for the Palestinians. It was Diehl who relayed the interview in his op-ed column this morning. The reverberations hit the Israeli media before Washington even went to work.

According to Diehl, "Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait for Hamas to capitulate to his demand that any Palestinian unity government recognize Israel and swear off any violence. And he will wait for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula."

Clearly unhappy with Abbas' passive strategy, Diehl paints Abbas as unyielding, "Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations." To Diehl's annoyance, Abbas "won't even agree to help Obama's envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures." So what if Netanyahu can't bring himself to even mouth the words "two-state solution"? Diehl still expects Abbas to act as if a peace process is possible with Netanyahu at the helm.

To Diehl, Abbas' behavior is just another example of dysfunctional Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. "Both sides invariably begin by arguing they cannot act until the other side offers far-reaching concessions." In Diehl's world, Abbas' insistence that the Netanyahu government acknowledge its acceptance of two states is a call for a major concession, even though both of Netanyahu's predecessors, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, already accepted two states years ago. Diehl seems to believe it is only reasonable that Abbas and the Palestinians return to square one with Netanyahu, and re-negotiate once again for the right to their own state. At the same time the United States is insisting that Hamas recognize all previous agreements before the US will even meet with its representatives...

Aware that the Israelis will never give his people a fair deal without some pressure applied, Abbas' strategy has over time narrowed to doing whatever the American's tell him, while hoping at some point the US will broker a deal that the Palestinians can accept. ... The only alternative pressure on the Israelis comes from Hamas and its external supporters.,...

Showing clear-eyed realism Abbas and his team told Diehl that "Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze... According to Diehl, the Palestinians told him their plan is "to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office." They expect that will take a couple of years.

Diehl reiterates that the Palestinians should concede to Netanyahu's latest demand and recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which in Diehl's mind "would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees." ..

Diehl ends his piece with the line, "In the Obama administration, so far, it's easy being Palestinian." And he doesn't appear happy about that. Would he prefer that the West Bank suffer more like Gaza?

The Jerusalem Post immediately picked up on Diehl's op-ed in an article titled, 'Abbas wants US to push out Netanyahu.'  Expect to hear this refrain from Jerusalem for some time to come.'

Saudi & Kuwaiti ... money to the Taliban vexes US...

In the WSJ, here

"... Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said in a recent interview that the Taliban has three main sources of funding: drug revenue; payments from legitimate businesses that are secretly owned by the armed group or that pay it kickbacks; and donations from foreign charitable foundations and individuals.... Two senior U.S. officials said the Central Intelligence Agency has identified individuals and charities suspected of providing the bulk of the Taliban funding, but declined to name them, citing continuing operations to disrupt the money flows.

Senior U.S. officials said the Taliban received significant donations from Pakistan -- where sympathy for the group is widespread in the country's Pashtun community -- and Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. 

A senior Saudi official here said his government regularly arrested citizens suspected of funneling money to armed groups such as the Taliban but questioned the extent of the practice. The official said Saudi charities are barred from sending money outside the country. "If the Americans have actionable intelligence on Saudis who are supporting the Taliban, they should provide us the intelligence, and we will act on it," he said...."

"...Israel's ability to wage another war against Lebanon may have been compromised by the arrests of its spies..."

File photo of scene of devastation at Bint Jbeil in Lebanon.
BBC, here

"Experts say the arrests appear to add up to a major strategic blow to Israel. ..Lebanese newspapers have reported that more than 40 members of more than a dozen spy networks have been detained so far in a campaign that has gathered pace over the past six weeks, and shows no sign of stopping.

Israel has so far made no public comment on what could be one of its worst-ever intelligence setbacks..... Several alleged agents who knew they were on the wanted list fled across the border to Israel.

Lebanon has asked the United Nations forces in the south, Unifil, to get them back....

A retired general from the Internal Security Forces, Adib al-Alam, and his wife were among the earlier detentions.....

Newspapers reported another startling penetration among the most recent arrests - a highly-decorated, twice-wounded Lebanese army colonel from the Christian area of Akkar in northern Lebanon, who commanded the military's Special Forces school.

Another unusual suspect was Ziad al-Homsi, the deputy mayor of Saadnayel, a Sunni town in the eastern Beqaa valley. .....Mr al-Homsi was associated with the western-backed, anti-Syrian "14th of March" coalition that is fighting to retain its narrow majority in national elections on 7 June.

But the coalition did not take up his cause, and the arrests in general have not become an election issue, because they have been across the board - Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Palestinians are all among those detained, with no obvious political or sectarian bias.

Lebanese security forces displayed hi-tech communication and surveillance gadgets said to have been found concealed in the homes of some of the suspects.

Explaining the sudden spectacular rash of arrests, Lebanese officials have said that unspecified technological breakthroughs made it all possible.

That may be so. But many unanswered questions remain.

One of the basic principles in setting up espionage networks is that their cells should not be linked in any way, so that the discovery of one does not lead to the kind of wider collapse that seems now to be taking place.

Did the Israelis - who have said nothing to discredit the daily revelations in Beirut - break that fundamental rule?

"Certainly it seems to have been a systemic failure by Israel," said security expert Alastair Crooke, who focuses on Islamic movements.

"Maybe it was a chance find, maybe it was from one person that they interrogated leading to the uncovering of many others, but that in itself would be highly unusual."

Most likely, the arrests were the product of months, perhaps several years, of counter-intelligence work.

But by whom? Is it just coincidence that the various different arms of Lebanese security suddenly began making this series of surprise detentions? Or were they being primed by other intelligence services?

Hezbollah's own role remains obscure. Lebanese officials say it has not been involved in the campaign, and it has certainly taken a low and ostensibly passive profile during the revelations....

Before the 1979 revolution in Iran, Israel's Mossad was deeply involved in training and advising the Shah's dreaded secret police, Savak - a legacy of expertise inherited by Tehran's current Islamic rulers, who were instrumental in establishing Hezbollah in Lebanon and retain very close ties with the movement....

"The loss of these eyes and ears within Lebanon is undoubtedly a major strategic setback for Israel," said intelligence analyst Alastair Crooke.

"Networks of these sorts don't come off the shelf in a supermarket. You can lose them in ten minutes, but they can take 5, 10, 15 years to put in place. So the importance of this should not be underestimated."...

In any future confrontation with Hezbollah, the Israelis would want to rely heavily on vital human intelligence.The indications are that their capabilities in that respect may have been severely compromised."

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Obama's 'silence' on Egypt and Morocco's bold responses to Iranian subversion, heightened Arab concerns about the US approach..."

WINEP's David Schenker, here

"...... today, Washington and Cairo are on the verge of rapprochement. Improved ties come as Washington is seeking better coordination with its Arab allies in countering Iranian nuclear and regional ambitions, and as Cairo nears its first political transition since 1981....

The timing of the rapprochement reflects the convergence of interest on several issues of importance to both Cairo and Washington.

Iran. Tehran's progress toward a nuclear weapon and its provision of materiel and ideological support for moqawama, or resistance, across the region is of grave concern to Washington and its moderate Arab allies, specifically Egypt. Cairo has had problems with Tehran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, but tensions have spiked of late. During the Israeli military campaign in Gaza in January 2009 -- when Egypt refused to open its border with Gaza to relieve pressure on Hamas -- an organization associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps put a $1.5 million bounty on Mubarak's head, a threat posted on the Iranian government's Fars news agency website.

More recently, in April, Egypt announced the arrest in November 2008 of dozens of Iranian-backed Hizballah operatives in the Sinai. Cairo accused the operatives of channeling weapons to Hamas, targeting Israeli tourists, and planning operations against Suez Canal shipping.

While Washington and Cairo share an assessment of the Iranian threat, they differ on strategy. The administration has been silent on Egypt and Morocco's bold responses to Iranian subversion, heightening Arab concerns about the U.S. approach. Washington's Arab allies likely see this as a missed opportunity to rally support in Europe, China, and Russia for a tougher policy.

Hamas. Washington and Cairo share a common concern about the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas. The Obama administration has stated that it wants to revitalize Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, a goal undermined by Hamas's control of Gaza. Although a Palestinian national unity government might jump-start these negotiations, it could also set the stage for Hamas's electoral victory over the more-moderate Fatah next January.

For its part, Cairo views the Iranian-backed Hamas on its border as a significant threat, not only to the peace process but also to Egyptian stability. Cairo's concern is similar to Jordan's in that the violent ideology espoused by Hamas -- a Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) -- might spread to the Egyptian branch of the organization, which years ago foreswore violence. In the aftermath of the Hizballah arrests, Egyptian MB statements of sympathy for and identification with the Shiite terrorist organization have proven especially troubling to Cairo.

Egyptian succession. Mubarak is eighty-one and said to be in good health, but uncertainty about succession is a preoccupation in Egypt. Indeed, in March 2008, a Cairo court sentenced the editor of al-Dustour newspaper to six months in prison for "publishing false information and rumors" about Mubarak's health. Should the Egyptian president anoint his son, National Democratic Party (NDP) deputy secretary general Gamal Mubarak, as his successor, it could be problematic. Given current regional challenges, both the United States and Egypt have an interest in seeing a smooth and, if possible, transparent transition of power in Cairo....

By not adopting Bush's Freedom Agenda, the Obama administration has paved the way to a return to Washington's traditional relationship with Cairo. Given the need for an Egyptian leadership role in the Arab opposition to Iranian nuclear ambitions, at least in the short term, Washington's decision would seem to make sense..... should the trend of bad governance continue in Egypt, it would likely be accompanied by a corresponding increase in the popularity of Islamists...."

"...For many in the Mideast, only a promise that the US will strong-arm Israel on settlements will prove American seriousness ..."

WINEP, here

"On June 4, President Barack Obama will give a seminal speech in Egypt that will define not only his approach to the "Muslim world" but also his administration's aspirations for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict and bringing Iran in from the cold. Until now, he and his administration have been engaged in behind-the-scenes diplomacy designed to shape the environment for an integrated strategy toward the Middle East. Although the speech will give Americans and the international community the first real indication of what the president actually plans to do, raised expectations in the region and at home will be difficult to meet, and the risks from negative effects from what he will (and will not) say are real....

.....the administration has provided few public indications of its ultimate policy directions, with neither U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell nor the special advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia, Dennis Ross, giving public interviews on their respective agendas. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself, apart from congressional testimony, has not discussed these issues publicly or appeared on a single Sunday morning news program. Clearly, the president now believes his actions and rhetoric have simmered sufficiently to allow for a more dramatic unveiling of his policies toward the region.

What He Is Likely to Say

Given the timing, venue, and geopolitical importance of the speech, President Obama is likely to speak primarily about what he believes the "Muslim world" cares most deeply about: America's effort to bring peace to the region. He believes that if he can convince Muslims, specifically Arab Muslims, of his commitment to ending the Arab-Israeli conflict, he can successfully undercut the appeal of rejectionist powers like Iran and Syria and bolster the legitimacy of "moderate states" such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Speaking just days ahead of Lebanon's parliamentary elections and two weeks before Iran's presidential elections, he may also hope to influence voters to choose more moderate leaderships that will partner with the West in this endeavor.

This can be the only reason why the administration chose Egypt as the venue. Egypt was the first Arab state to make peace with Israel and has recently been standing up to Hizballah and working to forge a coalition of moderate states to resist Iranian assertiveness. By traveling to Egypt, the president hopes to demonstrate U.S. confidence and support for President Hosni Mubarak's new proactivity and pay tribute to Egypt's past greatness. And yet, .. Egypt remains a lethargic power where the vast majority of the population subsists on less than a dollar a day. Led by an octogenarian who has been in power since Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981, Egypt persists as an authoritarian regime lacking any truly democratic institutions, making this speech Obama's first delivered in a nondemocracy. This latter fact perhaps explains why White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs emphasized that the speech's scope was "bigger than where the speech was going to be given or who is the leadership of the country," during the press briefing announcing it.

This attempt at evasion, however, fails to fully address the downside of the choice of venue. There is no way for the president to travel to Egypt without providing implicit support for the Mubarak regime. Although it is true that Egypt's courts threw out Saad Eddin Ibrahim's conviction for treason and earlier released Ayman Nour from prison, these moves are widely perceived as gifts to the administration to sidestep criticism from members of Congress who are familiar with these two prominent Egyptian dissidents. In the meantime, the regime continues its ongoing crackdown on students, bloggers, journalists, and political activists of all stripes.....

Obama's Egypt speech represents a watershed moment both for the president and his approach toward the region. Believing as he does that sincere efforts at peacemaking remain key to reconciling America with the "Muslim world," he must now make a case for his intended actions. Unfortunately, experience indicates that whatever he proposes will fall short of expectations. For many in the region, only a promise that the United States will strong-arm Israel on settlements will prove American seriousness, and even then, skepticism will remain high. As one Jordanian columnist recently put it: "The sole bridge toward reconciliation is a Palestinian state."

Syria-U.S. Friendship Blossoms, Cautiously

CBS News, here
"Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (at left) on Thursday praised President Obama's ardor for dialogue and told two U.S. lawmakers his country is hoping for better relations with Washington. 
Sen. Ted Kaufman, D-Del., and Rep. Tim Walz D-Minn., arrived in Damascus Thursday in a first visit by a U.S. delegation since the U.S. voted to renew sanctions against this Mediterranean country earlier this month. 
"Assad and the U.S. delegates discussed bilateral relations between Syria and the United States and the need for working on removing the hurdles that block their advance in a way that would serve the strengthening of stability in the Middle East," a presidential statement said. 
"Talks also dealt with the signs of détente that the world witnessed lately and the necessity of investing this chance by all parties for maintaining peace and stability in the region and the world," it added... 
U.S. special envoy to the region George Mitchell is also expected in Damascus early in June for talks with Assad on Washington's vision for peace in the Middle East. ...
Assad, the statement said, applauded Mr. Obama's, "adoption of dialogue as a way for treating difficult issues," — a reference to years of sour relations with former President George W. Bush — and underscored the need for a "precise and rational vision" to solve the decades old Mideast crisis. .."

"L'amorce d'un tournant entre Israël et les Etats-Unis"

Le Monde interviews J Vaisse, here, via WPR
Dans un entretien au, jeudi 28 mai, Justin Vaisse, spécialiste des Etats-Unis, enseignant à Johns Hopkins University (SAIS) et chercheur à la Brookings Institution, évoque un tournant de grande ampleur dans les relations entre Israël et les Etats-Unis, dont la nature consiste à "changer les conditions mêmes dans lesquelles le dossier israélo-palestinien est négocié".

Lors de la rencontre entre Nétanyahou et Obama en mai les divergences entre les deux alliés étaient exposées publiquement. Peut-on parler d'un tournant dans les relations entre les Etats-Unis et Israël ? 

Justin Vaisse : Tout le monde, en Europe notamment, espère un "virage sur l'aile" de la politique américaine, sous la forme de soudaines pressions sur Israël ou d'une ouverture du dialogue avec le Hamas. Cette attente n'est pas réaliste, pour une raison simple. Les conditions d'une négociation se sont tellement dégradées, avec un gouvernement israélien qui ne veut pas entendre parler de négociations et un camp palestinien profondément divisé, qu'on voit mal pourquoi Barack Obama investirait son capital politique en pure perte dans les mêmes recettes que George Bush. S'il y a l'amorce d'un tournant, comme je le pense, c'est un tournant de grande ampleur, du genre de ceux que les passagers ne peuvent pas ressentir d'emblée.

Un tournant qui consiste à changer les conditions mêmes dans lesquelles le dossier israélo-palestinien est négocié, plutôt qu'à reprendre un dialogue bilatéral sur la solution à deux Etats. Puisque ce dialogue conduit à une impasse, et que les acteurs locaux sont incapables de faire la paix entre eux, il faut faire un détour régional qui consiste à la fois à revenir à la dimension"israélo-arabe" du dossier – en offrant à Israël la normalisation diplomatique via la ligue arabe sous leadership saoudien – et à tenter d'apaiser la tension avec l'Iran, qui sert de prétexte à Nétanyahou pour ne rien faire et soutient les groupes palestiniens anti-processus de paix. Des progrès sur ces deux fronts pourraient ensuite permettre, sur le moyen terme, des pressions beaucoup plus efficaces sur les deux camps, qui ne parviendront à rien tout seuls.

Jeudi 28 mai, le président Barack Obama reçoit Mahmoud Abbas, le président affaibli de l'Autorité palestinienne. Que va-t-il lui demander de concret en échange de son engagement à faire reculer Israël sur les colonies ?

Pour que l'approche régionale fonctionne, il faut que les régimes arabes soient en mesure de prendre des initiatives, ce qu'ils ne peuvent faire sans quelques gestes tangibles de la part d'Israël. D'où l'insistance sur l'arrêt des colonisations, et un langage très ferme de la Maison Blanche. Comme l'a répété Hillary Clinton hier, le président Obama "veut voir un arrêt de la colonisation – non pas seulement de certaines colonies ou des avant-postes – et pas d'exception pour la 'croissance naturelle' des colonies".

Quant à Mahmoud Abbas, le plus important est que celui-ci retrouve de la crédibilité, et ce n'est évidemment pas en multipliant les échanges avec Washington, ou en répondant à des"demandes" qu'il le fera. C'est plutôt en réaffirmant la position américaine sur les colonisations qu'Obama pourra aider Abbas.

Jusqu'où sont prêts à aller Américains et Israéliens dans leurs divergences ? Certains commentateurs américains parlent d'une première victoire de Nétanyahou après sa visite aux Etats-Unis.

Ce qui se joue entre Obama et Nétanyahou dépasse de très loin une seule rencontre, et tirer des conclusions du dialogue qu'ils ont eu le 18 mai est futile, car aucun des deux n'avait intérêt à un clash. Nétanyahou a joué son joker iranien, consistant à présenter la menace de Téhéran comme un précédent devant être réglé avant de pouvoir discuter de tout autre dossier, mais Obama, tout en faisant le minimum nécessaire sur ce plan, n'a pas laissé l'ordre du jour être détourné, et a posé des jalons pour sa stratégie de long terme – qui inclut le gel de la colonisation, mais aussi de garder des bonnes relations de travail avec Tel-Aviv.

Washington a amorcé un changement de stratégie vis-à-vis de Téhéran. Comment les Etats-Unis entendent-ils dissuader Israël de recourir aux armes si la diplomatie américaine échoue dans le dossier iranien ?

Je ne suis pas un expert militaire, mais je ne vois pas comment une frappe israélienne serait possible, sur le plan logistique, sans l'assentiment des Etats-Unis, compte tenu de leur maîtrise du ciel irakien et de l'impossibilité pour les bombardiers israéliens de passer ailleurs – tout autre scénario (un accord avec la Turquie ou un pays du Golfe) me semble très difficile à envisager.

De sorte que la question est politique, elle est de savoir si, à un moment donné, l'administration Obama estimera qu'elle ne peut pas se permettre de voir l'Iran franchir une étape décisive dans la course à la bombe, et qu'elle laissera volontairement passer une attaque israélienne. Les chances m'en paraissent très minces, même si une soudaine dégradation des conditions régionales pourrait changer la donne.

Le président Barack Obama devrait s'adresser au monde musulman, jeudi 4 juin au Caire. Quel message peut-il transmettre ? 

Ma position sur le sujet est hétérodoxe. J'ai défendu ici, avec Olivier Roy et quelques autres, l'idée qu'Obama ne devrait pas s'adresser au monde musulman, tout simplement parce que remplacer le "choc des civilisations" par le "dialogue des civilisations" aboutit (tout en inversant la polarité) à valider le schéma de Ben Laden et de tous ceux qui voient l'islam comme une entité cohérente en lutte contre un Occident cohérent. Cela revient, avec les meilleures intentions du monde, à accréditer l'idée qu'il existe en effet des civilisations joliment délimitées, en faisant fi de l'énorme diversité des identités musulmanes et des identités occidentales.

Qu'est-ce qu'un frère musulman vivant au Caire a en commun avec un paysan indonésien, un ingénieur laïque turc, un avocat français qui serait de confession musulmane ? On n'a vraiment pas besoin de voir le cliché sur l'identité musulmane qui dominerait prétendument toutes les autres se renforcer. Nous n'avons pas été entendus, mais je pense que l'administration Obama est, d'une certaine façon, consciente de ce dilemme. Et que le discours sera moins orienté vers le "dialogue des cultures" que vers les questions politiques et géopolitiques – même s'il ne faut pas attendre le fameux "virage" sur le dossier israélo-palestinien évoqué plus haut.

Je pense aussi qu'Obama ne va tomber dans le piège de faire des déclarations fleuries sur la démocratie, ce qui serait, de façon codée, une réaffirmation de la vision de Bush, une attitude de donneur de leçons, et un rétrécissement du monde musulman au monde arabe – alors qu'une majorité de musulmans vivent déjà en démocratie. Mais je ne suis pas dans le secret des dieux et je ne sais pas ce que ce discours contient !"