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Posts For: July 29, 2012

Tisha B’Av and the Right of Self-Defense

Today is Tisha B’Av, the date in the Hebrew calendar on which a number of catastrophes have befallen the Jews. This is the date on which both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Since then, other anti-Semitic powers have taken delight in launching fresh atrocities on the day, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492 to massacres during the Holocaust. It is a solemn day of fasting and one on which Jewish tradition commands us to think about the mindless and sinful hatred within the community that has often brought down calamity on the Jewish people. Such reflection is important at a time when issues and rancor divide Jews and cause them to forget that the values that should unite them are far more important than the issues on which they differ. But it would be more than foolish not to give a thought today to the still potent external threats. Though Israel is beset by many problems, there is no greater menace to the continuance of Jewish life than that posed by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

Thus, it was heartening today to hear thatwhile visiting the Jewish state, Mitt Romney plans to endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran. Romney, who will speak tonight after the conclusion of the holiday, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, who rightly sounded a note of alarm about the failure of the sanctions belatedly enacted by the Obama administration on Iran. Though Washington has been boasting about their tough sanctions policy, today was an apt day for Netanyahu to point out their bravado was disconnected from reality.

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Today is Tisha B’Av, the date in the Hebrew calendar on which a number of catastrophes have befallen the Jews. This is the date on which both of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Since then, other anti-Semitic powers have taken delight in launching fresh atrocities on the day, including the expulsion from Spain in 1492 to massacres during the Holocaust. It is a solemn day of fasting and one on which Jewish tradition commands us to think about the mindless and sinful hatred within the community that has often brought down calamity on the Jewish people. Such reflection is important at a time when issues and rancor divide Jews and cause them to forget that the values that should unite them are far more important than the issues on which they differ. But it would be more than foolish not to give a thought today to the still potent external threats. Though Israel is beset by many problems, there is no greater menace to the continuance of Jewish life than that posed by Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

Thus, it was heartening today to hear thatwhile visiting the Jewish state, Mitt Romney plans to endorse Israel’s right to defend itself against Iran. Romney, who will speak tonight after the conclusion of the holiday, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today, who rightly sounded a note of alarm about the failure of the sanctions belatedly enacted by the Obama administration on Iran. Though Washington has been boasting about their tough sanctions policy, today was an apt day for Netanyahu to point out their bravado was disconnected from reality.

The Obama administration has sounded tough on Iran but has made it clear it does not wish Israel to strike on its own. Indeed, the president has seemed to be more concerned about preventing an Israeli strike than on stopping Iran. The only accomplishment of the dead-end negotiating process on which he has placed the country’s hopes for a resolution of the problem has been to make it difficult if not impossible for Israel to act.

The reason why Obama’s sanctions and diplomacy have failed is that the Iranians don’t take him seriously. The exemptions granted to the sanctions have maintained Iran’s oil trade and will keep the regime afloat. More to the point, the ayatollahs believe the president is not only unwilling to hold them accountable, but he will shield them from Israel. The only chance to persuade the Iranians to back down on their nuclear ambitions is to convince them they will pay a terrible price if they do not. Thus, Romney’s willingness to say that Israel has a right to try to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities and that the United States will stand by them if they do sends a significant message to Tehran.

It would be far better for Israel not to be forced to act on its own against Iran. But in the absence of a credible American policy on the nuclear issue, it is Netanyahu’s responsibility to think seriously about doing so if there is no other way out of the dilemma. He understands that the point of the State of Israel is that the Jews will no longer sit and wait while their enemies plot their destruction. If necessary, his government must act to avert or at least postpone the Iranian threat. And America’s leaders should be not only acting on their own to stop Iran but backing up Israel’s right of self-defense.

While this statement will be dismissed as Romney playing politics with foreign policy, it will do more than merely make Iran’s rulers anxious. It also has the potential to aid Obama’s diplomatic efforts. The ayatollahs must now realize that if Romney is elected all bets are off when it comes to their heretofore successful strategy of dealing with the West. For years, they have been able to talk and lie their way through the crisis because they understood the Obama administration was only interested in kicking the can down the road to avoid having to take action. But unless the Iranians are sure Obama will be re-elected, they have to consider the possibility that they must try and cut a deal now with Obama (and therefore boost his chances of winning) or be left to face a far less accommodating new president next year.

Given the ideological premise of their nuclear ambition, it is to be doubted that anything, even the threat of having to face Romney and Netanyahu in January, can convince Iran to back down. But as Jews remember their past today, let us hope that the rulers of Tehran, who have boasted of their desire to eliminate the State of Israel and seek the means to do so, will listen to what Romney said and draw the appropriate conclusion. On this day, it is important that those who are intent on creating new tragedies understand that this time, the Jews will strike first.

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Way Forward in Syria Is Not Via Iran

The new Johns Hopkins SAIS dean, Vali Nasr, is right to worry, in this New York Times op-ed, about the dangers lurking in a post-Assad Syria, which could turn out to experience a civil war like Lebanon or Iraq did–only with scant hope of outside forces (the Syrian army in Lebanon, the U.S. Army in Iraq)  intervening to end the carnage. But he is advocating the height of unrealism when he argues that to prevent the worst, “the United States and its allies must enlist the cooperation of Mr. Assad’s allies — Russia and, especially, Iran — to find a power-sharing arrangement for a post-Assad Syria that all sides can support, however difficult that may be to achieve.”

Iran is the No. 1 backer of the Assad regime. As a Shi’ite state it is closely linked with Assad’s Alawite clan, an offshoot of Shia Islam. But Alawites are only 12 percent or so of the Syrian population. There is scant chance the overwhelmingly Sunni population will stand for the Alawites and their Iranian backers maintaining a significant share of power in a post-Assad state. Nor is this in America’s interest–the biggest upside of the fall of Assad, from our perspective, is that it will deny Iran a foothold in the Levant and hopefully lead to a decrease in support for Hezbollah. The chances of Russia–another backer of the ancient regime–maintaining a significant role in a post-Assad Syria are even more remote.

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The new Johns Hopkins SAIS dean, Vali Nasr, is right to worry, in this New York Times op-ed, about the dangers lurking in a post-Assad Syria, which could turn out to experience a civil war like Lebanon or Iraq did–only with scant hope of outside forces (the Syrian army in Lebanon, the U.S. Army in Iraq)  intervening to end the carnage. But he is advocating the height of unrealism when he argues that to prevent the worst, “the United States and its allies must enlist the cooperation of Mr. Assad’s allies — Russia and, especially, Iran — to find a power-sharing arrangement for a post-Assad Syria that all sides can support, however difficult that may be to achieve.”

Iran is the No. 1 backer of the Assad regime. As a Shi’ite state it is closely linked with Assad’s Alawite clan, an offshoot of Shia Islam. But Alawites are only 12 percent or so of the Syrian population. There is scant chance the overwhelmingly Sunni population will stand for the Alawites and their Iranian backers maintaining a significant share of power in a post-Assad state. Nor is this in America’s interest–the biggest upside of the fall of Assad, from our perspective, is that it will deny Iran a foothold in the Levant and hopefully lead to a decrease in support for Hezbollah. The chances of Russia–another backer of the ancient regime–maintaining a significant role in a post-Assad Syria are even more remote.

Nasr’s suggestion is reminiscent of the popular Washington delusion about Iraq, circa 2006, that its problems could somehow be solved by a “regional contact group” that would rope in interested parties from Iran to Saudi Arabia. This overlooked the fact that (a) countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia had diametrically opposed interests in Iraq; and (b) outside players could not really control a volatile state anyway–that required boots on the ground. Both objections are just as valid in Syria as they were in Iraq.

The way forward in Syria does not lie in trying to perpetuate Iran’s malign influence, which is likely to be employed to keep the civil war going by providing backing for Assad’s security forces. The best bet at this point is to work, along with relatively moderate regional allies such as Turkey, the UAE, the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, and Jordan, to bolster the more moderate rebel factions and to try to help them build up security and governance capacity so that they can take over once Assad is gone. This could be aided by setting up safe zones along the border with Turkey and Jordan which the rebels could administer in, one hopes, an inclusive fashion that will send a signal to Alawites, Christians, Kurds and other minorities that their interests will be safeguarded in a post-Assad Syria. Sending international peacekeepers to aid the transition once Assad is gone is also a good idea but unlikely to occur.

Trying to cut a deal with Iran, by contrast, is a bad idea and one with little likelihood of success. If we were to try it, the most likely consequence would be to alienate the U.S. from anti-Assad groups and limit our influence in post-Assad Syria.

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London Olympics Had Time for Some Terror Victims But Not Israelis

In the weeks and months prior to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the organizers and the International Olympics Committee were adamant in insisting that there was no time during the event for a single moment of silence for the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre. The 40th anniversary of the terrorist violence that disrupted the sports extravaganza went unmarked during the worldwide television show except for the courageous decision of American broadcaster Bob Costas, who silenced his microphone for five seconds in honor of the Munich victims. But as it turned out, those who produced the opening ceremonies were not opposed to commemorating the victims of terrorist violence, just to remembering Israeli victims. The official program included a nearly six-minute long choreographed commemoration of the July 7, 2005 London bombings.

The excuse for this is that the terrorist assault on London by four Islamist bombers took place 24 hours after the announcement that London would be the host of the 2012 Olympics and is thus associated in the minds of the British with the Games. Fair enough. Those attacks that took the lives of 52 people deserve to be remembered, as do those of other terrorist attacks by Islamists around the globe. But the juxtaposition of the tribute to those victims with the absolute refusal of the organizers to devote a moment to the memory of an event that is far more closely tied to the Olympics was both shocking and indecent. While there were those who speculated that prejudice against Jews and Israelis was at the heart of the IOC’s decision prior to Friday, the surprising inclusion of the 7/7 attacks as a major element in the ceremony confirms that this was the case. The only possible conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Olympic movement considers Jewish blood shed by terrorists at an Olympics to be somehow less significant than that of other victims.

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In the weeks and months prior to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the organizers and the International Olympics Committee were adamant in insisting that there was no time during the event for a single moment of silence for the victims of the 1972 Munich massacre. The 40th anniversary of the terrorist violence that disrupted the sports extravaganza went unmarked during the worldwide television show except for the courageous decision of American broadcaster Bob Costas, who silenced his microphone for five seconds in honor of the Munich victims. But as it turned out, those who produced the opening ceremonies were not opposed to commemorating the victims of terrorist violence, just to remembering Israeli victims. The official program included a nearly six-minute long choreographed commemoration of the July 7, 2005 London bombings.

The excuse for this is that the terrorist assault on London by four Islamist bombers took place 24 hours after the announcement that London would be the host of the 2012 Olympics and is thus associated in the minds of the British with the Games. Fair enough. Those attacks that took the lives of 52 people deserve to be remembered, as do those of other terrorist attacks by Islamists around the globe. But the juxtaposition of the tribute to those victims with the absolute refusal of the organizers to devote a moment to the memory of an event that is far more closely tied to the Olympics was both shocking and indecent. While there were those who speculated that prejudice against Jews and Israelis was at the heart of the IOC’s decision prior to Friday, the surprising inclusion of the 7/7 attacks as a major element in the ceremony confirms that this was the case. The only possible conclusion to be drawn from this is that the Olympic movement considers Jewish blood shed by terrorists at an Olympics to be somehow less significant than that of other victims.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that the main controversy about the opening ceremonies in the world press is not the omission of Munich but the fact that NBC, which broadcasts the Olympics in the United States, chose to cut away from the ceremony (as it does customarily throughout an entertainment spectacle that lasted several hours) during the 7/7 bombing tribute to show something else. In fairness to the organizers, we’re not sure that an interview with swimmer Michael Phelps was worth the time. But the exclusion of Munich from the official program renders NBC’s curious editing a minor issue. Those who have expressed outrage at NBC’s decision while being apathetic about or in agreement with the exclusion of any memory of Munich are hypocrites.

When Ankie Spitzer, the widow of one of the Munich victims and a driving force behind the effort to ask for a moment of silence at the Olympics, met this week with IOC head Jacques Rogge, she asked him if the reason he could not give up one moment from his precious TV show was that those who died 40 years ago were Israelis. He did not answer. But we now know that was the case. The minutes given to the London bombing gives the lie to the excuse given by the group that a commemoration of Munich would have been a political intrusion and therefore inappropriate for a joyous Olympics ceremony. For the Olympic Committee, like the United Nations and the rest of an international community, there are always different rules for Jews. And chief of those rules is that Jewish blood is cheap.

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McCain’s Stance on Cybersecurity Is Wrong

There are few politicians–heck, few Americans, period–for whom I have greater respect than John McCain. Not only do I have endless admiration for his character, I find his policy judgment, especially in the national security area, to be close to faultless. Which may be just another way of saying I seldom disagree with him. But I find myself in disagreement with his stance on cybersecurity–as does one of his closest Senate colleagues, Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman is co-sponsoring legislation that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to set minimal cybersecurity standards for air traffic control systems, dams, power plants and other such facilities that are absolutely essential to the safe functioning of the American economy. This is a major issue at a time when, as Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, has just warned cyberattacks aimed at U.S. infrastructure increased seventeenfold from 2009 to 2012. General Alexander further said that “on a scale of 1 to 10, American preparedness for a large-scale cyber-attack is ‘around a 3.’ ”

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There are few politicians–heck, few Americans, period–for whom I have greater respect than John McCain. Not only do I have endless admiration for his character, I find his policy judgment, especially in the national security area, to be close to faultless. Which may be just another way of saying I seldom disagree with him. But I find myself in disagreement with his stance on cybersecurity–as does one of his closest Senate colleagues, Joe Lieberman.

Lieberman is co-sponsoring legislation that would allow the Department of Homeland Security to set minimal cybersecurity standards for air traffic control systems, dams, power plants and other such facilities that are absolutely essential to the safe functioning of the American economy. This is a major issue at a time when, as Gen. Keith Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, has just warned cyberattacks aimed at U.S. infrastructure increased seventeenfold from 2009 to 2012. General Alexander further said that “on a scale of 1 to 10, American preparedness for a large-scale cyber-attack is ‘around a 3.’ ”

The only way to raise our level of preparedness is to give the federal government more authority to protect civilian infrastructure. As things stand, Alexander’s NSA can mount offensive cyberoperations against other countries but can only protect Defense Department networks in this country. The Department of Homeland Security is supposed to protect the civilian networks on which we all depend–and whose disruption via cyberattack could cripple our economy. But DHS does not have the resources or authorities to get the job done. Understandable concerns about privacy have made it impossible to fix this situation on Capitol Hill. Lieberman’s legislation is a start toward fixing this major vulnerability but, thanks to objections from Sen. McCain and the Chamber of Commerce, the bill has been watered down so the cybersecurity standards will now be optional. Optional standards make sense when it comes to governing the size of sodas–not when it comes to protecting critical infrastructure.

While the federal government has undoubtedly extended its reach into all kinds of areas where it does not belong, national defense remains its core responsibility–and in the 21st century that must mean defense from cyberthreats as well as physical ones. Until Congress moves to fix our vulnerabilities, we will remain wide open to attack by China, Russia, and other countries in the forefront of developing offensive cyberwarfare capabilities.

One only need look at the damage that the Stuxnet virus–cooked up by the U.S. and Israel–did to the Iranian nuclear program; now imagine the Iranians returning the favor with a virus that incapacitates major parts of the American electric grid. That is a nightmare scenario that we must worry about, and Congress’s failure to act will only encourage the world’s cyberpredators to continue developing and deploying ever-more fiendish computer weapons against us.

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