Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ali Khamenei

Deadlines, Red Lines, Whatever

As I’ve said before, Barack Obama’s not a closer. He’s a prolonger. So, instead of a deal on Iranian nukes, the administration is pushing to extend the deadline for negotiations with Tehran by seven months. What never ends, never ends badly.

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As I’ve said before, Barack Obama’s not a closer. He’s a prolonger. So, instead of a deal on Iranian nukes, the administration is pushing to extend the deadline for negotiations with Tehran by seven months. What never ends, never ends badly.

Why no deal? In the Wall Street Journal, Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman report: “The major stumbling blocks to an agreement remain the future capacity of Iran to produce nuclear fuel and the pace at which Western sanctions will be removed, according to U.S., European and Iranian officials.”

Not really. If you buy into this whole thing as a genuine potential breakthrough in American-Iran relations, then, sure, those are the problems. But if you’re skeptical of a country that prays for your death while negotiations are underway, the snag is the Iranian regime itself, a regime that exists to get a nuclear bomb and challenge the West.

To the extent that Obama’s Iran outreach has got us talking seriously about the technicalities of “future capacity” and the pace of sanctions removal, this non-deal has already achieved something dangerous and depressing: it’s redefined a suicidal exterminationist theocracy as a stubborn but persuadable power. But there’s no evidence of persuasion. According to reports, the U.S. was willing to let Iran slide on (a) revealing its past illicit weapons work, (b) thoroughly dismantling enrichment facilities, and (c) permanently abiding by the conditions proposed. It was a deal like Bill Cosby’s Ph.D. is a Ph.D. And still, the mullahs said no.

The sad part, then, is that we’re lucky there was no deal. Better farce than tragedy. We’d be luckier still if we had an administration that took our enemies at their word. For now, however, we hang our hopes on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Not that he’ll come around, but that his fanaticism will continue to blind him to our weakness.

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Obama’s Dangerous Race for an Iran Deal

With only two weeks to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration has been conducting what can only be considered a full-court press aimed at producing a deal before November 24. This is in marked contrast to the relaxed attitude toward the previous deadline for the talks that passed in June and was extended to the fall. It also seems to contradict the behavior of Washington’s European negotiating partners who seemed to be reconciling themselves to yet another extension in the familiar pattern of stalling that has always characterized Iran’s conduct of the negotiations. But though the latest talks in Oman ended without agreement, the flurry of diplomatic action raises the question of whether President Obama believes he needs to get a deal done now before Republicans take control of the Senate in January.

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With only two weeks to go before the deadline for the end of the current round of nuclear talks with Iran, the Obama administration has been conducting what can only be considered a full-court press aimed at producing a deal before November 24. This is in marked contrast to the relaxed attitude toward the previous deadline for the talks that passed in June and was extended to the fall. It also seems to contradict the behavior of Washington’s European negotiating partners who seemed to be reconciling themselves to yet another extension in the familiar pattern of stalling that has always characterized Iran’s conduct of the negotiations. But though the latest talks in Oman ended without agreement, the flurry of diplomatic action raises the question of whether President Obama believes he needs to get a deal done now before Republicans take control of the Senate in January.

The end of the talks in Oman without an accord is likely not a sign that the deadline won’t be met. The Iranians are past masters of the art of wearing down their Western interlocutors. A year ago, the Iranians’ tough tactics resulted in Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to sign onto a deal that tacitly endorsed the Islamist regime’s “right” to enrich uranium and keep their nuclear infrastructure. Now they are similarly hammering Kerry in sessions where he continues to demand that Tehran accept what President Obama referred to yesterday as “verifiable lock-tight assurances that they can’t develop a nuclear weapon.” But since Iran has no intention of giving such assurances, they believe Kerry will, as he has before, decide that Western demands are just too difficult to achieve and accept far less in order to produce a deal.

But while the deadlines were originally sold to the U.S. public as evidence that the administration was serious about stopping Iran, the potential for a cutoff in the talks seems to be affecting Obama and Kerry far more than it is the Iranians. With sanctions already having been loosened and Europeans clamoring for an end to all restrictions on doing business with the regime, Tehran seems unmoved by the prospect of an end to the negotiations. By contrast, the administration seems genuinely fearful that November 24 will pass without diplomatic success.

Selling the U.S. public and Congress on yet another extension would be embarrassing but, given Obama’s success in squelching past criticisms of his Iran policy, would not be that much of a stretch. So long as he could pretend that the Iranians were negotiating in good faith, skeptics could be put down as warmongers who oppose diplomacy. But instead of slouching toward another round of seemingly endless negotiations, the Obama foreign-policy team is acting as if the deadline matters this time.

It is theoretically possible that this means the president intends to treat an Iranian refusal to sign as the signal for ratcheting up pressure on Tehran. Tightening rather than loosening of sanctions might recover some of the ground the president has lost in the last year. But few in Washington or anywhere else think this is likely. Years of on-and-off secret talks with the Iranians, including the recent revelations of the president’s correspondence with Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, show that Obama’s goal centers more on détente with the regime, not halting its nuclear project.

That leads to the inevitable conclusion that the motivation for the diplomatic frenzy is not so much fear of having to get tough with Iran as it is fear that a Republican-controlled Congress will prevent the implementation of another weak deal. There’s little doubt that without outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid to help the president stall advocates of tougher sanctions, Congress will pass a new bill that will hold the administration and Tehran accountable. A deal that allows Iran to become a threshold nuclear power—something that seems almost certain given the administration’s habit of accepting Tehran’s no’s as final and then moving on to the next concession—will set off a major battle in the Senate even if Obama does try to evade the constitutional requirement of submitting it to the Senate for a vote.

But the president’s fear of having to present such a dubious deal to the public seems to be inspiring him to present a weaker, not a tougher position to Iran. The Iranians know this and are standing their ground in the expectation that rather than walking away from the table, Obama will accept another bad deal in order to get it all done before McConnell is running the Senate.

But rather than treating this as a partisan matter, both Republicans and Democrats in the Congress should be alarmed at the prospect of the president holding a fire sale of vital American interests merely to avoid having to carry on his appeasement of Iran while being held accountable by a GOP-run Senate. No matter what terms the president presents to the public, there seems little chance that any of them can be enforced in the absence of more United Nations inspections of Iranian facilities, which are still being denied by the ayatollahs or an end to ongoing cheating on the interim agreement. Nor should either party be comforted by the idea that the president will be relying on the trustworthiness of his pen pal Khamenei at the same time the latter is tweeting out a steady barrage of anti-Semitic and genocidal threats toward Israel.

If there is anything more dangerous than a deliberate campaign of engagement with Iran, it is the current race to a deal that can’t be verified and won’t put an end to the regime’s nuclear ambitions. This should be a signal for responsible members of both parties that it is time to pass the tougher sanctions that Obama successfully defeated last winter.

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The Supreme Leader’s Nuclear Veto

It is no secret to anyone who puts reality above wishful thinking that, in Iran, the supreme leader wields the ultimate authority. The president may have won an election—one in which only about one percent of candidates were allowed to run—but the president’s power at best is but a fraction of that of the supreme leader, whose legitimacy comes from being the self-declared deputy of the messiah on earth. Simply put, in Iran, the president is about style, the supreme leader is about substance.

One of the problems with the ongoing nuclear negotiations is that, contrary to what was suggested by the State Department and much of the U.S. media, the supreme leader never blessed nuclear deal-making. Nor, contrary to President Obama’s claims, has he ever issued a nuclear fatwa—at least one he bothered to write down for inspection. So, for all the progress Obama and Kerry claim to be making, it’s not clear they are negotiating with anyone empowered to make a decision.

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It is no secret to anyone who puts reality above wishful thinking that, in Iran, the supreme leader wields the ultimate authority. The president may have won an election—one in which only about one percent of candidates were allowed to run—but the president’s power at best is but a fraction of that of the supreme leader, whose legitimacy comes from being the self-declared deputy of the messiah on earth. Simply put, in Iran, the president is about style, the supreme leader is about substance.

One of the problems with the ongoing nuclear negotiations is that, contrary to what was suggested by the State Department and much of the U.S. media, the supreme leader never blessed nuclear deal-making. Nor, contrary to President Obama’s claims, has he ever issued a nuclear fatwa—at least one he bothered to write down for inspection. So, for all the progress Obama and Kerry claim to be making, it’s not clear they are negotiating with anyone empowered to make a decision.

Hence, it comes as no surprise that senior Iranian parliamentary Alaeddin Borujerdi has announced that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will look at the deal to see whether to oblige. “The last step is a gathering to be held with the Supreme Leader. The framework of the talks will be finalized there and the negotiating team will lead talks according to that framework,” he said.

Now, that’s common sense for anyone who knows Iran. But there’s a pattern among rogue regimes in which negotiators reach agreements, rogue leaders refuse to oblige by the agreements their negotiators supposedly produced, and then the regimes pocket the concessions that were meant to be final, transforming them into the starting point for new talks. Yasir Arafat did that, Saddam Hussein did that, and successive North Korean leaders have done that. That President Obama and John Kerry appear to be allowing themselves to get so played suggests that they have neither studied nor learned from past episodes of American negotiation with rogue regimes.

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Decoding Khamenei’s “Heroic Flexibility”

Much of the Obama administration’s optimism with regard to its belief that Iran is sincere in its desire to reach a nuclear accord is based on the twin pillars that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei supposedly opposes nuclear weapons and backs President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic initiative. Alas, in both cases, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s hope appears to be based upon wishful thinking if not outright falsehood.

Khamenei’s nuclear fatwa appears not to exist. While Iranian officials will cite it from time to time, it is not published among Khamenei’s collections of fatwas, and citations of it are inconsistent as to its date of issue, its text, and its message.

The notion that Khamenei’s call for “heroic flexibility” equates with either endorsement of a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear question also misreads Khamenei. As translated over at American Enterprise Institute’s “Iran Tracker,” Khamenei shows that what he meant by that term and the conclusions drawn by Obama and Kerry are two very separate things:

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Much of the Obama administration’s optimism with regard to its belief that Iran is sincere in its desire to reach a nuclear accord is based on the twin pillars that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei supposedly opposes nuclear weapons and backs President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic initiative. Alas, in both cases, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry’s hope appears to be based upon wishful thinking if not outright falsehood.

Khamenei’s nuclear fatwa appears not to exist. While Iranian officials will cite it from time to time, it is not published among Khamenei’s collections of fatwas, and citations of it are inconsistent as to its date of issue, its text, and its message.

The notion that Khamenei’s call for “heroic flexibility” equates with either endorsement of a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear question also misreads Khamenei. As translated over at American Enterprise Institute’s “Iran Tracker,” Khamenei shows that what he meant by that term and the conclusions drawn by Obama and Kerry are two very separate things:

“Some interpreted ‘heroic flexibility’ as letting go of the system’s principles and ideals. Some enemies on this basis claimed the retreat of the Islamic system from principles while these claims are contrary to reality and are an incorrect understanding… Heroic flexibility means an artful maneuver and utilizing various methods to achieve the various goals and ideals of the Islamic system.”

Kayhan, a newspaper whose editor Khamenei appoints and which serves as his voice piece, already belittled the confidence-building upon which Kerry and lead negotiator Wendy Sherman base their diplomacy.

Kerry may believe that a preliminary agreement with Iran will provide breathing space to reach a far broader and more permanent nuclear deal. A doctor who ignores most of a patient’s symptoms in order to give him a clean bill of health will eventually find himself sued for malpractice. Likewise, a professor who seeks to prove his thesis by ignoring all evidence which might contradict it should eventually find himself or herself pilloried before a tenure board. Yet, it seems, when diplomats do the equivalent, they believe they and the country whose security for which they fight will be immune from the consequences of their actions.

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Iran’s False Charm Already Paying Off

Iran’s charm offensive is already paying diplomatic dividends, but its supreme leader is signaling that he is already starting to pull the plug on the supposed opening for nuclear diplomacy. Iran’s foreign minister told a pro-regime newspaper today that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was none too pleased with Western favorite Hassan Rouhani for the new president’s phone call with President Obama as well as his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry last month in New York. Khamenei, who is the real ruler of Iran, apparently thinks Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Rouhani exceeded their authority in the chats even though neither conceded much to American leaders who appeared desperate to seize the chance to reopen talks with the Islamist regime.

The exact meaning of Khamenei’s signal to the so-called moderates may be debated. But it repeats a familiar pattern in which Iran tricks the West into wasting time on diplomacy only to make it clear later that no deal is in the offing. Yet despite this, Western nations still appear to be doubling down on their willingness to believe in Rouhani’s supposed promise of moderation. Britain appears to be renewing diplomatic ties with Iran two years after severing relations in the wake of an attack on their Tehran embassy. And the United Nations has astonishingly named the nuclear scofflaw as special rapporteur of the United Nations General Assembly’s Committee on Disarmament and International Security.

Added to the prospect of the Obama administration’s eager desire to give engagement with Iran another try leading to more months of negotiations, these developments show just how much Rouhani has already achieved with a charm offensive that Khamenei is unlikely to bear fruit with actual progress on the nuclear issue.

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Iran’s charm offensive is already paying diplomatic dividends, but its supreme leader is signaling that he is already starting to pull the plug on the supposed opening for nuclear diplomacy. Iran’s foreign minister told a pro-regime newspaper today that Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was none too pleased with Western favorite Hassan Rouhani for the new president’s phone call with President Obama as well as his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry last month in New York. Khamenei, who is the real ruler of Iran, apparently thinks Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Rouhani exceeded their authority in the chats even though neither conceded much to American leaders who appeared desperate to seize the chance to reopen talks with the Islamist regime.

The exact meaning of Khamenei’s signal to the so-called moderates may be debated. But it repeats a familiar pattern in which Iran tricks the West into wasting time on diplomacy only to make it clear later that no deal is in the offing. Yet despite this, Western nations still appear to be doubling down on their willingness to believe in Rouhani’s supposed promise of moderation. Britain appears to be renewing diplomatic ties with Iran two years after severing relations in the wake of an attack on their Tehran embassy. And the United Nations has astonishingly named the nuclear scofflaw as special rapporteur of the United Nations General Assembly’s Committee on Disarmament and International Security.

Added to the prospect of the Obama administration’s eager desire to give engagement with Iran another try leading to more months of negotiations, these developments show just how much Rouhani has already achieved with a charm offensive that Khamenei is unlikely to bear fruit with actual progress on the nuclear issue.

Khamenei’s signal that he isn’t going to let Rouhani go too far may seem to be counter-intuitive given all the talk of a new spirit in Iran has already accomplished. But it makes sense when you consider that Rouhani’s own positions on the key nuclear issue are little different from those of Khamenei despite the attempts of Westerners to convince themselves otherwise. As Jeffrey Goldberg wrote yesterday in Bloomberg, Rouhani “is proud of the work he did to advance his country’s nuclear program — and also of his efforts to stymie Western attempts to stop that work.”

Goldberg noted Rouhani’s past role in tricking the West on nuclear negotiations that he bragged about earlier this year. But the deceptive nature of Rouhani’s moderation that was on display at the U.N. still has not penetrated the consciousness of the Obama administration or its Western allies even though these facts are not exactly a secret. Yet few appear to be listening to such warnings or those of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who again said today that any deal with Iran must ensure the end of Iran’s uranium enrichment as well its plutonium program.

Western negotiators have been offering Iran deals which will enable them to keep their nuclear program for years, but Tehran has always preferred to preserve its ability to build a weapon rather than to accept and thus end economic sanctions. The Rouhani charm offensive sets up the West for a repeat of this farce even as Khamenei is making it clear that he will never give up the regime’s nuclear ambitions.

The bottom line is that while the West negotiates with itself in order to strengthen Iranian “moderates” against the supposed “hardliners,” the regime buys itself more time to get closer to its nuclear goal. Though Khamenei and Rouhani may appear to be at cross-purposes, they are working together to advance their common nuclear agenda. The only question is how long it will take President Obama to catch on.

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Iran’s Septuagenarians

Analysts continue to obsess about next month’s presidential elections in Iran. The latest source of speculation is that the Guardian Council, an unelected body charged with vetting presidential candidates (and disqualifying, in practice, more than 95 percent of them) might give the hook, on account of advanced age, to 78-year-old former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who last week declared his intention to run again for the office. If he were elected, that would mean Rafsanjani would turn 79 within weeks of assuming the presidency and would be nearly 83 by the time his term ended. That the Guardian Council would disqualify on the basis of age is, of course, a bit rich given that Ahmad Jannati, the Council’s chairman, is himself 86.

Ali Khamenei—Iran’s Supreme Leader—is also getting up in age, as he prepares to celebrate his 74th birthday. Influential cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi is now 79; radical former premier turned self-declared reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi is 71; and perennial candidate Mehdi Karroubi is 75. Former Foreign Minister and current candidate Ali Velayati is a relative spry 67. There is a new crop of candidates—former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalali is just a wee lad of 47, and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqir Qalibaf is just four years Jalali’s senior.

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Analysts continue to obsess about next month’s presidential elections in Iran. The latest source of speculation is that the Guardian Council, an unelected body charged with vetting presidential candidates (and disqualifying, in practice, more than 95 percent of them) might give the hook, on account of advanced age, to 78-year-old former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who last week declared his intention to run again for the office. If he were elected, that would mean Rafsanjani would turn 79 within weeks of assuming the presidency and would be nearly 83 by the time his term ended. That the Guardian Council would disqualify on the basis of age is, of course, a bit rich given that Ahmad Jannati, the Council’s chairman, is himself 86.

Ali Khamenei—Iran’s Supreme Leader—is also getting up in age, as he prepares to celebrate his 74th birthday. Influential cleric Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi is now 79; radical former premier turned self-declared reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi is 71; and perennial candidate Mehdi Karroubi is 75. Former Foreign Minister and current candidate Ali Velayati is a relative spry 67. There is a new crop of candidates—former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalali is just a wee lad of 47, and Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqir Qalibaf is just four years Jalali’s senior.

The attention on Rafsanjani’s age should raise larger questions, however, about the looming succession once Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei meets his maker. Iran’s supreme leaders have a bad habit of leading a long life but, as Ayatollah Khomeini proved in 1989, they do eventually die. In theory, the 86-member Assembly of Experts chooses the new supreme leader, but precedent suggests they are more of a rubber-stamp body and that Iran’s notables will seek a consensus candidate even before any name is submitted to the Assembly of Experts.

Many of the leading candidates for this spot, however, are getting onward in age, and many of the younger possibilities remain too polarizing. The entrenchment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in politics means that there could likely be no candidate who does not meet first with their approval. Another possibility—and one which harkens back to the first decade of the Islamic Republic—is for the supreme leader’s position to be taken up by a committee rather than an individual. This, in turn, might create more problems than it solves as Iran’s factional disputes might permeate and paralyze its highest institution.

Of course, for the United States, paralysis at the top of the Islamic Republic might not be such a bad thing, nor would it be for the Iranian people if its inherent instability hastens the Islamic Republic’s collapse. Perhaps there is something to be said for Iran’s septuagenarian revolution after all.

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Khamenei’s Ever-Changing Nuclear Fatwa

Much ink has been spilled over the alleged nuclear fatwa which Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued forbidding the use of nuclear weapons. If the Deputy of the Messiah on Earth says trust me, many American and European officials appear to believe, it must be so. After all, what could be more a sign of one’s own multiculturalism and sophistication than giving credence to such a declaration? Over at Al-Monitor, a publication whose editor Andrew Parasiliti was once a staffer for current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, an Iranian author gives great credence to the fatwa:

The fatwa against nuclear weapons is not a contingent upon time and circumstances. It is based on the principle that killing innocent people is religiously forbidden…. The fatwa is an Iranian initiative and it is much easier for the United States and EU to respect the fatwa and ask Iran to accept more commitments and transparency as far as its nuclear program is concerned.

The piece is valuable for presenting an official Iranian line, even if Parasiliti’s team for whatever reason identifies the Institute for Political and International Studies simply as a think-tank when it is actually the Foreign Ministry’s academic wing.

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Much ink has been spilled over the alleged nuclear fatwa which Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has issued forbidding the use of nuclear weapons. If the Deputy of the Messiah on Earth says trust me, many American and European officials appear to believe, it must be so. After all, what could be more a sign of one’s own multiculturalism and sophistication than giving credence to such a declaration? Over at Al-Monitor, a publication whose editor Andrew Parasiliti was once a staffer for current Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, an Iranian author gives great credence to the fatwa:

The fatwa against nuclear weapons is not a contingent upon time and circumstances. It is based on the principle that killing innocent people is religiously forbidden…. The fatwa is an Iranian initiative and it is much easier for the United States and EU to respect the fatwa and ask Iran to accept more commitments and transparency as far as its nuclear program is concerned.

The piece is valuable for presenting an official Iranian line, even if Parasiliti’s team for whatever reason identifies the Institute for Political and International Studies simply as a think-tank when it is actually the Foreign Ministry’s academic wing.

Here at COMMENTARY, Emanuele Ottolenghi, a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, addressed the faultiness of the fatwa last year. The key take-away is that while Ali Khamenei—like many Shi’ite religious figures—maintains a website that lists all of his fatwas, the nuclear fatwa is not among them. How convenient.

Over at “Arms Control and Regional Security for the Middle East,” Ariane Tabatabai has gone further and has shown how when Iranian officials cite the alleged fatwa, they constantly change its meaning and contents:

According to the Iranian 2005 Communication to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the wording of the fatwa was as follows: ‘the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam.’ Yet, in Ayatollah Ali Khamenei message, which was read at the opening of the International Conference on Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation in 2010, the Supreme Leader’s explicit prohibition has merely encompassed the ‘use’ of these weapons. Recent statements, by the Ayatollah himself, merely highlight a ban of the use, with philosophical and ethical discussion about the production and stockpiling of these weapons, rather than a concrete prohibition. The possession is not mentioned in his statements, leaving a grey area in what is the key issue in Iran’s nuclear debate.

Word from Almaty, where the United States is once again engaged in a “process” with Iran, is that the negotiations are not going well. That is no surprise. The Iranians have made clear that they chose Kazakhstan as the locale to honor Almaty for refusing to abide by many sanctions. Let us hope that the Obama administration will cease the nonsense of paying any heed to the fatwa and demand real signs of Iranian sincerity. These should be measured only in terms of Iranian adherence to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Safeguards Agreement, and subsequent IAEA and UN Security Council Resolutions. Anything else is merely a distraction.

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Why New Iran Talks Are Doomed to Fail

Iran and the West are participating in a new round of talks this week in Kazakhstan over Iran’s nuclear program. The odds of a breakthrough? Close to zero, for reasons that Iranian-American scholar Hussein Banai ably explains in this Los Angeles Times op-ed. He writes of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that

he is increasingly paranoid about the implications of a “grand bargain” with the United States for his privileged position as the chief interpreter of the ideals of the Islamic Republic.

Simply put, normalization of relations between Iran and the United States would deprive Khamenei and the deeply invested cohort of radical ideologues around him of a powerful justification for their arbitrary rule.

Continued enmity with the United States has time and again proved to be a convenient excuse for silencing the reformist opposition (as in the case of the 2009 Iranian presidential election, which has simply become known as “the sedition”) and managing the increasingly fragmented conservative establishment.

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Iran and the West are participating in a new round of talks this week in Kazakhstan over Iran’s nuclear program. The odds of a breakthrough? Close to zero, for reasons that Iranian-American scholar Hussein Banai ably explains in this Los Angeles Times op-ed. He writes of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that

he is increasingly paranoid about the implications of a “grand bargain” with the United States for his privileged position as the chief interpreter of the ideals of the Islamic Republic.

Simply put, normalization of relations between Iran and the United States would deprive Khamenei and the deeply invested cohort of radical ideologues around him of a powerful justification for their arbitrary rule.

Continued enmity with the United States has time and again proved to be a convenient excuse for silencing the reformist opposition (as in the case of the 2009 Iranian presidential election, which has simply become known as “the sedition”) and managing the increasingly fragmented conservative establishment.

There it is in a nutshell: The current Iranian regime can’t afford to bargain away its nuclear program because it fears that if it does so it will not last long. Whereas if Iran does acquire a nuclear weapon, Khamenei expects that this will act as a guarantor of his survival–much in the way that North Korea’s rulers, Iran’s partner in missile and (probably) nuclear research, have managed to cling to power in no small part because of their possession of WMD. For Khamenei, this is quite literally an existential, life or death issue.

Under such circumstances, it is the height of naiveté to expect that more talks will produce any meaningful result beyond buying Iran more time to put more centrifuges online.

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The Khamenei Fatwa Is a Ruse

Speaking to reporters about Iran’s nuclear program before the weekend talks in Istanbul, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We’re looking for concrete results,” and continued, “They assert that their program is purely peaceful. They point to a fatwa that the supreme leader has issued against the pursuit of nuclear weapons. We want them to demonstrate clearly in the actions they propose that they have truly abandoned any nuclear weapons ambition.”

Secretary Clinton must take this argument seriously, because she has been looking into the fatwa very closely. According to the Daily Telegraph,

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei’s fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalized,” Clinton said.

EU diplomats also took notice of Iranian emphasis on the fatwa:

“One of the diplomats, who demanded anonymity because he was sharing information from a closed session, said the Iranians appeared to be moving toward that goal, engaging in discussion about the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. He said the Iranian team had mentioned supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fatwa, or prohibition, of nuclear weapons for Iran, in the course of the plenary discussions.”

As Jonathan Tobin discussed yesterday, a delegation of 12 Iranian nuclear scientists attended the North Korea’s failed missile test at the same time that the chief nuclear negotiator in Istanbul was proclaiming Iran’s religious commitment to non-proliferation. So what were they doing there? Verifying how compatible is their leader’s fatwa with a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead?

Secretary Clinton and all other parties involved should judge the Iranians by their actions. They speak for themselves. The fatwa is a ruse – one that clearly just won Tehran another five weeks of quiet.

 

Speaking to reporters about Iran’s nuclear program before the weekend talks in Istanbul, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “We’re looking for concrete results,” and continued, “They assert that their program is purely peaceful. They point to a fatwa that the supreme leader has issued against the pursuit of nuclear weapons. We want them to demonstrate clearly in the actions they propose that they have truly abandoned any nuclear weapons ambition.”

Secretary Clinton must take this argument seriously, because she has been looking into the fatwa very closely. According to the Daily Telegraph,

Clinton revealed that she has been studying Khamenei’s fatwa, saying that she has discussed it with religious scholars, other experts and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “If it is indeed a statement of principle, of values, then it is a starting point for being operationalized,” Clinton said.

EU diplomats also took notice of Iranian emphasis on the fatwa:

“One of the diplomats, who demanded anonymity because he was sharing information from a closed session, said the Iranians appeared to be moving toward that goal, engaging in discussion about the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. He said the Iranian team had mentioned supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fatwa, or prohibition, of nuclear weapons for Iran, in the course of the plenary discussions.”

As Jonathan Tobin discussed yesterday, a delegation of 12 Iranian nuclear scientists attended the North Korea’s failed missile test at the same time that the chief nuclear negotiator in Istanbul was proclaiming Iran’s religious commitment to non-proliferation. So what were they doing there? Verifying how compatible is their leader’s fatwa with a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead?

Secretary Clinton and all other parties involved should judge the Iranians by their actions. They speak for themselves. The fatwa is a ruse – one that clearly just won Tehran another five weeks of quiet.

 

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Iran’s North Korea Connection

The news that a delegation of Iranian nuclear scientists was in North Korea this past weekend to witness the communist regime’s failed missile launch should surprise no one. An anonymous source told South Korea’s Yonhap State News agency that a dozen Iranians were there to “observe the missile launch and receive test data from North Korea.”

Cooperation between the two rogue states is not exactly a secret. Still, it was interesting that the Iranians would send a delegation of scientists to the event. Though the North Korean’s missile flop, which was an entirely appropriate way to commemorate the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung (the founder of the North Korean regime and the grandfather of its current leader), may not have yielded much in the way of useful data, Pyongyang’s successful defiance of the West provides the model for what the Iranians hope will be the outcome of their own diplomatic nuclear tangle.

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The news that a delegation of Iranian nuclear scientists was in North Korea this past weekend to witness the communist regime’s failed missile launch should surprise no one. An anonymous source told South Korea’s Yonhap State News agency that a dozen Iranians were there to “observe the missile launch and receive test data from North Korea.”

Cooperation between the two rogue states is not exactly a secret. Still, it was interesting that the Iranians would send a delegation of scientists to the event. Though the North Korean’s missile flop, which was an entirely appropriate way to commemorate the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung (the founder of the North Korean regime and the grandfather of its current leader), may not have yielded much in the way of useful data, Pyongyang’s successful defiance of the West provides the model for what the Iranians hope will be the outcome of their own diplomatic nuclear tangle.

For all of the optimism emanating from Washington about America’s ability to use sanctions to pressure Iran to accept a diplomatic solution to the standoff over the nuclear program, far too little attention is being paid to the fact that there is already a template for the ayatollahs to succeed in realizing their ambitions. The North Koreans successfully flouted a series of agreements signed with the West to prevent them from joining the nuclear club. Both the Clinton and the Bush administrations were suckered into talks that merely dragged out the process until the clock ran out and the isolated North Korean regime was able to successfully test a nuclear device.

It is true that Iran is far bigger and more integrated into the global economy. But like the North Korean dictatorship, the Islamist leaders in Tehran believe they can suppress any dissent that might be stirred up by a successful program of sanctions. The point here isn’t that the two remaining members of George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” are conspiring but that one has already shown the other how to win.

The problem isn’t that the North Koreans will teach the Iranians how to build a bomb. They already know what to do and are going about the enrichment of uranium. Far more important is the lesson the North Koreans can show them about how to swindle the West. So long as President Obama is more focused on ensuring that Israel doesn’t pre-empt Iran’s nukes and seeking peace and quiet until he is safely re-elected, the ayatollahs understand the advantage is theirs. Though the president insists he won’t be played by Iran, the North Korean connection illustrates how easily it can be done.

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What Vietnam Should Teach Us About Iran

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

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Iran Threatens War in the Mediterranean

Yesterday, Ali Shirazi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its naval forces “are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.” Never mind the cynical use of the words “freedom” and “peace” from a repressive regime that steals votes and cracks heads. Breaking a blockade by force is a declaration of war and could, in this case, easily and instantly spark a region-wide conflagration.

More likely than not, Iran is just posturing. Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been waging a relentless campaign to win over Arab public opinion with apocalyptic anti-Zionism and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. And last week it was upstaged by Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when howling denunciations of Israel almost everywhere in the world followed the now-infamous battle aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel. Even the president of the United States says Israel’s blockade of Gaza is no longer sustainable, though at least he says it calmly. Not Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but Turkey has been the toast of the Middle East’s radicals for a week now.

The Turks have been slowly turning away from their alliance with the West since 2003. Erdogan, more recently, has not only been reorienting his country toward the Sunni Muslim world of which it’s a part; he’s also adopting the causes of the Resistance Bloc, led by Iran’s Shia theocracy and the atheist non-Muslim Alawite clan, which rules Syria. He’s been trying for years now to join Tehran and Jerusalem in setting the regional agenda, and he finally and unambiguously succeeded last Monday.

Iran is supposed to lead the “resistance,” however, and I suspect its leaders are trying to seize the region’s attention again. They feel insecure behind all that bombast. As Persians and, especially, Shias, they’re looked upon with suspicion and loathing, despite their hardest of hard lines against Israel. The Turks aren’t Arabs either, and some resentment remains from the imperial Ottoman days; but they’re Sunnis, at least, like most in the Middle East.

So while Erdogan’s Turkey may look in some ways like a de facto Iranian ally from the American and Israeli perspectives, from the point of view of Tehran it’s a convenient, useful, triangulating competitor. Syria’s Bashar Assad is content to be Iran’s junior partner, but Istanbul was once the capital of a powerful Sunni empire that, not long ago, held sway over much of the Mediterranean. As a member of NATO (for now, anyway), it can’t be entirely trusted and won’t likely ever take orders from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei.

Iran needs its mojo back — now — and huffing and puffing and bluffing about the blockade is one way to get it. Still, it would only surprise me a little if Tehran thinks it has a green light from most of the world to proceed. Israel is more isolated than it has been in decades, and this wouldn’t be the first time one of its enemies miscalculated and did something stupid. Now would be a good time for the Obama administration to say, firmly and in no uncertain terms, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Yesterday, Ali Shirazi of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps said its naval forces “are fully prepared to escort the peace and freedom convoys to Gaza with all their powers and capabilities.” Never mind the cynical use of the words “freedom” and “peace” from a repressive regime that steals votes and cracks heads. Breaking a blockade by force is a declaration of war and could, in this case, easily and instantly spark a region-wide conflagration.

More likely than not, Iran is just posturing. Ever since Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government has been waging a relentless campaign to win over Arab public opinion with apocalyptic anti-Zionism and support for anti-Israeli terrorist organizations. And last week it was upstaged by Turkey and its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when howling denunciations of Israel almost everywhere in the world followed the now-infamous battle aboard the Turkish Mavi Marmara vessel. Even the president of the United States says Israel’s blockade of Gaza is no longer sustainable, though at least he says it calmly. Not Iran, Syria, Hamas, or Hezbollah, but Turkey has been the toast of the Middle East’s radicals for a week now.

The Turks have been slowly turning away from their alliance with the West since 2003. Erdogan, more recently, has not only been reorienting his country toward the Sunni Muslim world of which it’s a part; he’s also adopting the causes of the Resistance Bloc, led by Iran’s Shia theocracy and the atheist non-Muslim Alawite clan, which rules Syria. He’s been trying for years now to join Tehran and Jerusalem in setting the regional agenda, and he finally and unambiguously succeeded last Monday.

Iran is supposed to lead the “resistance,” however, and I suspect its leaders are trying to seize the region’s attention again. They feel insecure behind all that bombast. As Persians and, especially, Shias, they’re looked upon with suspicion and loathing, despite their hardest of hard lines against Israel. The Turks aren’t Arabs either, and some resentment remains from the imperial Ottoman days; but they’re Sunnis, at least, like most in the Middle East.

So while Erdogan’s Turkey may look in some ways like a de facto Iranian ally from the American and Israeli perspectives, from the point of view of Tehran it’s a convenient, useful, triangulating competitor. Syria’s Bashar Assad is content to be Iran’s junior partner, but Istanbul was once the capital of a powerful Sunni empire that, not long ago, held sway over much of the Mediterranean. As a member of NATO (for now, anyway), it can’t be entirely trusted and won’t likely ever take orders from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei.

Iran needs its mojo back — now — and huffing and puffing and bluffing about the blockade is one way to get it. Still, it would only surprise me a little if Tehran thinks it has a green light from most of the world to proceed. Israel is more isolated than it has been in decades, and this wouldn’t be the first time one of its enemies miscalculated and did something stupid. Now would be a good time for the Obama administration to say, firmly and in no uncertain terms, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

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Flotsam and Jetsam

When you want clarity on the flotilla, watch Liz Cheney.

When you want moral sanity on Helen Thomas, follow Sarah Palin on Twitter: “Helen Thomas press pals condone racist rant? Heaven forbid ‘esteemed’ press corps represent society’s enlightened elite; Rest of us choose truth.” (When will liberal Jews admit they were conned by candidate Obama’s professed attachment to Israel? When they admit Palin is among the most pro-Israel political figures. Yeah, never.)

When you are prepared to scream and throw things, read Peter Beinart’s call for an end to “American dominance.” It does seem to prove the point that Beinart’s new anti-Israel bent is more about liberalism than about Israel. (A reader e-mails me: “To what does he owe his standard of living and his security?” Err … America’s superpower status? Yup.)

When reporters refer to the flotilla as “humanitarian,” you realize they are ignorant of or intentionally ignoring mounting evidence: “Accumulating evidence in the IDF’s investigation of the Gaza flotilla incident is pointing to the fact a separate group of Islamist radicals whose sole intention was to initiate a violent conflict was aboard the Mavi Marmara, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. He said that a group of street-fighters ‘boarded the ship at a separate port, did their own provisioning, and were not subject to the same security check of their luggage as all the other passengers.’ The prime minister’s remarks followed IDF reports that a group of about 50 men — of the 700 on board — had been identified as being well-trained, and a ringleader who recruited them from the northwestern Turkey city of Bursa. The group was split up into smaller squads that were distributed throughout the deck and communicated with one another with handheld communication devices. The men wore bulletproof vests and gas masks and laid an ambush for the Shayetet 13 soldiers as they rappelled onto the ship’s deck from a helicopter. The members of this violent group were not carrying identity cards or passports. Instead, each of them had an envelope in his pocket with about $10,000 in cash.”

When Obama ignores Iranian aggression and fails to come up with a reasonable plan to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, you will get more of this: “Iran would be willing to send its Revolutionary Guard members to accompany further aid ships to Gaza, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday in an interview cited by Reuters.” You see, it’s not about Gaza or humanitarians – this is about Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and Obama’s failure to do anything about it.

When Chuck Schumer calls for an investigation of the flotilla’s terrorist ties to al-Qaeda, that’s further proof that Obama is increasingly isolated in his noxious stance toward Israel. When he asks the State Department — who was willing to go along with the UN resolution – to do the investigation, you wonder if he’s serious. How about letting Israel do the investigation? You know, like America does when there is a controversial national-security incident.

When an investigation needs to be done, there really isn’t anyone better able to do it than Israel, which has already identified five flotilla passengers with prior involvement in terrorist activities. How long (if ever) would it have taken Hillary to figure that out?

When you want clarity on the flotilla, watch Liz Cheney.

When you want moral sanity on Helen Thomas, follow Sarah Palin on Twitter: “Helen Thomas press pals condone racist rant? Heaven forbid ‘esteemed’ press corps represent society’s enlightened elite; Rest of us choose truth.” (When will liberal Jews admit they were conned by candidate Obama’s professed attachment to Israel? When they admit Palin is among the most pro-Israel political figures. Yeah, never.)

When you are prepared to scream and throw things, read Peter Beinart’s call for an end to “American dominance.” It does seem to prove the point that Beinart’s new anti-Israel bent is more about liberalism than about Israel. (A reader e-mails me: “To what does he owe his standard of living and his security?” Err … America’s superpower status? Yup.)

When reporters refer to the flotilla as “humanitarian,” you realize they are ignorant of or intentionally ignoring mounting evidence: “Accumulating evidence in the IDF’s investigation of the Gaza flotilla incident is pointing to the fact a separate group of Islamist radicals whose sole intention was to initiate a violent conflict was aboard the Mavi Marmara, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the opening of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. He said that a group of street-fighters ‘boarded the ship at a separate port, did their own provisioning, and were not subject to the same security check of their luggage as all the other passengers.’ The prime minister’s remarks followed IDF reports that a group of about 50 men — of the 700 on board — had been identified as being well-trained, and a ringleader who recruited them from the northwestern Turkey city of Bursa. The group was split up into smaller squads that were distributed throughout the deck and communicated with one another with handheld communication devices. The men wore bulletproof vests and gas masks and laid an ambush for the Shayetet 13 soldiers as they rappelled onto the ship’s deck from a helicopter. The members of this violent group were not carrying identity cards or passports. Instead, each of them had an envelope in his pocket with about $10,000 in cash.”

When Obama ignores Iranian aggression and fails to come up with a reasonable plan to halt the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, you will get more of this: “Iran would be willing to send its Revolutionary Guard members to accompany further aid ships to Gaza, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday in an interview cited by Reuters.” You see, it’s not about Gaza or humanitarians – this is about Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East and Obama’s failure to do anything about it.

When Chuck Schumer calls for an investigation of the flotilla’s terrorist ties to al-Qaeda, that’s further proof that Obama is increasingly isolated in his noxious stance toward Israel. When he asks the State Department — who was willing to go along with the UN resolution – to do the investigation, you wonder if he’s serious. How about letting Israel do the investigation? You know, like America does when there is a controversial national-security incident.

When an investigation needs to be done, there really isn’t anyone better able to do it than Israel, which has already identified five flotilla passengers with prior involvement in terrorist activities. How long (if ever) would it have taken Hillary to figure that out?

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RE: U.S. Chooses International Consensus over Israel

As Jen mentioned, the United Nations passed a resolution on Friday demanding a nuclear-free Middle East and singling out Israel as the intransigent party instead of Iran. The Obama administration supports the decision, which makes about as much sense as disarming the Iraqi police right now in the name of a violence-free Baghdad. College sophomores might think these are brilliant ideas, but mature adults shouldn’t, especially not mature adults who make policy for a living and must account for the consequences.

The Israelis have had nuclear weapons longer than I’ve been alive. Never once have they even admitted to having them, let alone used them. While several Arab states say they’ll build or buy nuclear weapons to counter a Persian bomb, no Arab state has ever scrambled for nuclear weapons of its own to counter the Zionist bomb. Even they, as hysterical as they sometimes can be, know perfectly well that Israel does not threaten to nuke anybody and never intends to nuke anybody.

Marty Peretz at the New Republic is contemptuous. “Ostensibly,” he wrote, “this would de-nuclearize the Middle East. A pig’s ass, it would. Tehran wants a bomb, no matter what. And, then, the big Arab states will join the race. To be sure, Saudi Arabia will not make it. It will buy it. There’s more money in the country than brains. There will be a big bomb race in the region… and not because of Israel.”

I am just old enough to remember the Cold War during the years before perestroika and glasnost, when the possibility of nuclear war was real, and it kept me up at night during my childhood. I was worried sick about the potential imminent end of the world. It made an impression that still hasn’t left me and might not ever.

Like President Obama — and unlike Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei — I wish nuclear weapons didn’t exist and that nobody had them. I also wish humans weren’t violent, that war could be dispensed with as some day cancer may be, that police officers did not need to carry guns and sometimes shoot people to keep my neighborhood safe, and that even grown-up countries like the U.S. and Israel did not need an arsenal of the world’s worst weapons to keep the world’s worst people in check, but these wishes are no more realistic than terraforming the sun.

The president acts sometimes like he’s running the country from his dorm room, and it looks increasingly likely that he will not stop until something explodes.

As Jen mentioned, the United Nations passed a resolution on Friday demanding a nuclear-free Middle East and singling out Israel as the intransigent party instead of Iran. The Obama administration supports the decision, which makes about as much sense as disarming the Iraqi police right now in the name of a violence-free Baghdad. College sophomores might think these are brilliant ideas, but mature adults shouldn’t, especially not mature adults who make policy for a living and must account for the consequences.

The Israelis have had nuclear weapons longer than I’ve been alive. Never once have they even admitted to having them, let alone used them. While several Arab states say they’ll build or buy nuclear weapons to counter a Persian bomb, no Arab state has ever scrambled for nuclear weapons of its own to counter the Zionist bomb. Even they, as hysterical as they sometimes can be, know perfectly well that Israel does not threaten to nuke anybody and never intends to nuke anybody.

Marty Peretz at the New Republic is contemptuous. “Ostensibly,” he wrote, “this would de-nuclearize the Middle East. A pig’s ass, it would. Tehran wants a bomb, no matter what. And, then, the big Arab states will join the race. To be sure, Saudi Arabia will not make it. It will buy it. There’s more money in the country than brains. There will be a big bomb race in the region… and not because of Israel.”

I am just old enough to remember the Cold War during the years before perestroika and glasnost, when the possibility of nuclear war was real, and it kept me up at night during my childhood. I was worried sick about the potential imminent end of the world. It made an impression that still hasn’t left me and might not ever.

Like President Obama — and unlike Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei — I wish nuclear weapons didn’t exist and that nobody had them. I also wish humans weren’t violent, that war could be dispensed with as some day cancer may be, that police officers did not need to carry guns and sometimes shoot people to keep my neighborhood safe, and that even grown-up countries like the U.S. and Israel did not need an arsenal of the world’s worst weapons to keep the world’s worst people in check, but these wishes are no more realistic than terraforming the sun.

The president acts sometimes like he’s running the country from his dorm room, and it looks increasingly likely that he will not stop until something explodes.

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The Solution Is in Damascus and Tehran

Adam Brodsky at the New York Post says that if Israel wants to kneecap Iran, it should take out Hezbollah in Lebanon. That would indeed go a long way toward rolling back Tehran’s imperial ambitions in the Middle East. Hezbollah moonlights as a Syrian proxy militia, but it is first and foremost Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s army in Lebanon, effectively the Mediterranean branch of the Pasdaran.

It’s also the most resilient and capable terrorist army in the world and, for that very reason, difficult to root out conventionally. The Israel Defense Forces fought Hezbollah to a standstill between 1982 and 2000 and failed to destroy it during the Second Lebanon War in July and August of 2006. Hezbollah emerged stronger than ever after the 18-year counterinsurgency in 2000 and emerged stronger still from the 2006 war. After neutralizing the Lebanese government during another short war in the spring of 2008, it is now, like Israel itself, an undefeated heavyweight of the Levant.

Effective counterinsurgency of the type General David Petraeus waged in Iraq is impossible for Israel in Lebanon for three reasons. First, it takes a long time, years when applied correctly, and time is something Israel just doesn’t have. Second, the American counterinsurgency effort in Iraq would have failed if the insurgents hadn’t murdered and terrorized so many Iraqis while fighting Americans — something Hezbollah is most unlikely to do in the Shia regions of Lebanon where it is embedded. Third, anti-Israel sentiment is too broad and too deep in Lebanon for the IDF to recruit sufficient local assistance — especially after the abrupt collapse of its allies in the South Lebanon Army following the withdrawal in 2000.

Prior to getting bogged down in Lebanon in the early 1980s, the Israelis racked up one lightning fast military victory over their enemies after another. That was before hostile Middle Eastern governments learned they stood no chance of prevailing in conventional warfare and before they opted for asymmetric terrorist warfare instead. Hit-and-run guerrilla tactics work for them, sort of, so it’s in the interest of those who haven’t yet made peace with Israel, or at least acceded to some kind of modus vivendi, to keep at it.

It is therefore not in Jerusalem’s interests to let them. Israel has a perfect record against standing state armies in the Middle East foolish enough to pick fights they can’t win. So why agree to fight some of the very same states asymmetrically in wars with ambiguous endings?

The Israelis should consider returning to what they do best, if and when they have to fight again. If they want to beat their enemies rather than fight to bloody and destructive standstills, they’ll wage the kind of war they’re good at and shatter one or both of the governments that field third-party proxies against them.

Adam Brodsky at the New York Post says that if Israel wants to kneecap Iran, it should take out Hezbollah in Lebanon. That would indeed go a long way toward rolling back Tehran’s imperial ambitions in the Middle East. Hezbollah moonlights as a Syrian proxy militia, but it is first and foremost Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s army in Lebanon, effectively the Mediterranean branch of the Pasdaran.

It’s also the most resilient and capable terrorist army in the world and, for that very reason, difficult to root out conventionally. The Israel Defense Forces fought Hezbollah to a standstill between 1982 and 2000 and failed to destroy it during the Second Lebanon War in July and August of 2006. Hezbollah emerged stronger than ever after the 18-year counterinsurgency in 2000 and emerged stronger still from the 2006 war. After neutralizing the Lebanese government during another short war in the spring of 2008, it is now, like Israel itself, an undefeated heavyweight of the Levant.

Effective counterinsurgency of the type General David Petraeus waged in Iraq is impossible for Israel in Lebanon for three reasons. First, it takes a long time, years when applied correctly, and time is something Israel just doesn’t have. Second, the American counterinsurgency effort in Iraq would have failed if the insurgents hadn’t murdered and terrorized so many Iraqis while fighting Americans — something Hezbollah is most unlikely to do in the Shia regions of Lebanon where it is embedded. Third, anti-Israel sentiment is too broad and too deep in Lebanon for the IDF to recruit sufficient local assistance — especially after the abrupt collapse of its allies in the South Lebanon Army following the withdrawal in 2000.

Prior to getting bogged down in Lebanon in the early 1980s, the Israelis racked up one lightning fast military victory over their enemies after another. That was before hostile Middle Eastern governments learned they stood no chance of prevailing in conventional warfare and before they opted for asymmetric terrorist warfare instead. Hit-and-run guerrilla tactics work for them, sort of, so it’s in the interest of those who haven’t yet made peace with Israel, or at least acceded to some kind of modus vivendi, to keep at it.

It is therefore not in Jerusalem’s interests to let them. Israel has a perfect record against standing state armies in the Middle East foolish enough to pick fights they can’t win. So why agree to fight some of the very same states asymmetrically in wars with ambiguous endings?

The Israelis should consider returning to what they do best, if and when they have to fight again. If they want to beat their enemies rather than fight to bloody and destructive standstills, they’ll wage the kind of war they’re good at and shatter one or both of the governments that field third-party proxies against them.

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The Great Hezbollah Snipe Hunt

John Brennan, deputy national security adviser for homeland security, has come up with a new way to waste the foreign-policy establishment’s time  — locate the so-called “moderate elements” within Hezbollah and somehow promote them.

“There is [sic] certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what [sic] they’re doing,” he said. “And what we need to do is to [sic] find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements.”

There are no moderates within Hezbollah, at least not any who stand a chance of changing Hezbollah’s behavior. Sure, the terrorist militia has sent a handful of its members to parliament, as Brennan says, and once in a while they sound more reasonable than its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, but these people are employees. They don’t make policy.

If you want to catch a glimpse of Hezbollah’s org chart, just rent a car in Beirut and drive south. You’ll see billboards and posters all over the place in the areas Hezbollah controls. Some show the portraits of “martyrs” killed in battle with Israel. Others show the mug shots of Hezbollah’s leadership, most prominently Nasrallah and his deceased military commander, truck bomber, and airplane hijacker Imad Mugniyeh. Alongside the pictures of Hezbollah’s leaders, you’ll also see Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the two “supreme guides” of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran.

It’s obvious, if you know who and what you’re looking at, that Hezbollah is still subservient to Khamenei. His face is almost as ubiquitous as that of Nasrallah and the deceased faqih Khomeini himself. Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state doesn’t even look like it’s in Lebanon. It looks like, and effectively is, an Iranian satellite. Iran’s heads of state appear everywhere down there, while Lebanon’s heads of state are personae non grata.

I’ve met those you might call moderate supporters of Hezbollah, Lebanese citizens who believe Hezbollah is there to defend Lebanon from Israel rather than to attack — which is not at all what anyone at the top thinks. Even if second-tier leaders were less belligerent, it wouldn’t matter. The organization takes its order from Tehran. Hezbollah won’t change until its masters change in Iran, and the U.S. is no more able to “build up” any imagined moderates within its ranks than it is able to replace Khamenei’s hated dictatorship with the Green Revolution.

John Brennan, deputy national security adviser for homeland security, has come up with a new way to waste the foreign-policy establishment’s time  — locate the so-called “moderate elements” within Hezbollah and somehow promote them.

“There is [sic] certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what [sic] they’re doing,” he said. “And what we need to do is to [sic] find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements.”

There are no moderates within Hezbollah, at least not any who stand a chance of changing Hezbollah’s behavior. Sure, the terrorist militia has sent a handful of its members to parliament, as Brennan says, and once in a while they sound more reasonable than its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, but these people are employees. They don’t make policy.

If you want to catch a glimpse of Hezbollah’s org chart, just rent a car in Beirut and drive south. You’ll see billboards and posters all over the place in the areas Hezbollah controls. Some show the portraits of “martyrs” killed in battle with Israel. Others show the mug shots of Hezbollah’s leadership, most prominently Nasrallah and his deceased military commander, truck bomber, and airplane hijacker Imad Mugniyeh. Alongside the pictures of Hezbollah’s leaders, you’ll also see Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the two “supreme guides” of the Islamic Republic regime in Iran.

It’s obvious, if you know who and what you’re looking at, that Hezbollah is still subservient to Khamenei. His face is almost as ubiquitous as that of Nasrallah and the deceased faqih Khomeini himself. Hezbollah’s state-within-a-state doesn’t even look like it’s in Lebanon. It looks like, and effectively is, an Iranian satellite. Iran’s heads of state appear everywhere down there, while Lebanon’s heads of state are personae non grata.

I’ve met those you might call moderate supporters of Hezbollah, Lebanese citizens who believe Hezbollah is there to defend Lebanon from Israel rather than to attack — which is not at all what anyone at the top thinks. Even if second-tier leaders were less belligerent, it wouldn’t matter. The organization takes its order from Tehran. Hezbollah won’t change until its masters change in Iran, and the U.S. is no more able to “build up” any imagined moderates within its ranks than it is able to replace Khamenei’s hated dictatorship with the Green Revolution.

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Less Engagement on the Middle East, Please

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

It was George W. Bush’s supposed “cowboy diplomacy” — high-handed, unilateral, and dismissive of valued allies — that incurred the ire of the left. (Never mind that we had warm relations with Europe, Israel, India, and other democracies.) Yet it is Obama who is unrivaled when it comes to shunning allies. If consensus with allies was really the order of the day in the Obama era, we would not have pulled the rug out from our Eastern European allies, repeatedly snubbed the Brits, irritated the French, bullied the Hondurans, and assaulted the Israelis. Jackson Diehl observes:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has been defined so far by his attempts to “engage” with adversaries or rivals of the United States, such as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran and Dmitry Medvedev of Russia. The results have been mixed. But now the president’s focus is visibly shifting. In the next 18 months, Obama’s record abroad will be made or broken by his ability to do business with two nominal U.S. allies: Hamid Karzai and Binyamin Netanyahu.

The Obami of late have tried to repair the frayed relationship with Karzai but have shown no indication that they desire a more hospitable relationship with Bibi. Diehl speculates that perhaps it was “hubris from health care that brought on this burst of presidential imperialism” that precipitated the public war of words with both Karzai and Bibi. But there is, I think, a fundamental  difference between the assault on each leader and the clean-up-the-mess gambit that has followed.

With Karzai, it appears that the Obami reacted out of pique and with the nastiness that surfaces whenever — be it a foreign leader, a cable-news network, or a Supreme Court justice — they are confronted with insufficiently obsequious rivals. But with regard to Karzai, the verbal fisticuffs did not imply a change of policy. The Obami are not pulling up stakes, at least not yet, in Afghanistan and seem committed, at least for the balance of Obama’s 18-month time frame, to achieving success.

Bibi is a different story. Here the deliberate and sustained assault (from the fit over Jerusalem housing to the threats of an imposed peace plan and an abstention in the UN Security  Council) suggests that more than personal ire or irritation is at play. Here Obama plainly intends — he’s told us as much — a change in American policy. The charm offensive is meant to quiet domestic Jewish opinion, not to repair or moderate its stance toward the Jewish state.

Diehl argues that a personal failing on Obama’s part is at the root of these conflicts. (“Public bullying won’t do it. Assurances of U.S. support and stroking by special envoys go only so far. What’s missing is personal chemistry and confidence, the construction of a bond between leaders that can persuade a U.S. ally to take a risk; in other words, presidential ‘engagement.’ Isn’t that what Obama promised?”) But with regard to Israel, there is something far more fundamental at issue. Despite the PR offensive, Obama’s goal is not to re-establish a more robust relationship with the Jewish state; it is merely to mask the animus that bubbled to the surface over the past two months. It is not through neglect that relations with Israel have been strained — it is by design. We therefore should not expect that increased presidential attention will result in an improved U.S.-Israel relationship. Frankly, the more Obama focuses on Israel, the more damage to the relationship is likely to occur. At this point, benign neglect would be a welcome development.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Ouch: Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and handpicked Senate appointee dumps him.

Yikes (for Democrats): “Republican Congressman Mark Kirk has earned a modest pick-up in support, while his Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, appears stalled in the first Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the state following the government’s seizure of the failed Broadway Bank, the institution owned by Giannoulias’ family. Kirk now attracts 46% support in Illinois’ race for the U.S. Senate, up from 41% in early April.”

More yikes (for Democrats): “A new poll has businessman Tim Burns (R) leading former Murtha aide Mark Critz (D) 46-40. Republicans appear to have a real opportunity to take over the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.), as another poll shows their candidate in the lead.”

Still: “Iran will never agree to exchange its low-level enriched uranium for nuclear fuel rods enriched abroad, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday.”

Bunk — is the claim that GM has paid back its taxpayer bailout, says Rep. Paul Ryan: “These claims struck me as odd and misleading. The federal government still owns over 60% of this auto company. This so-called repayment is actually a transfer of $6.7 billion from one taxpayer-funded bailout account to another.”

Fine: “Jewish groups are calling on U.N. member representatives to walk out in protest when Iran’s president speaks next week at the United Nations. Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s plans to address the U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference on May 3 makes a mockery of the proceedings, Jewish groups said.” But why don’t they call for the administration to leave the Human Rights Council or the Commission on the Status of Women?

Uh-oh: “The nation’s gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, grew at an annual rate of 3.2% after climbing 5.6% in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday. That’s not nearly fast enough to bring down stubbornly high unemployment. In addition, threats ranging from turmoil in Europe to the difficulty smaller businesses face in borrowing money are clouding the prospects for continued recovery.”

Yup: “Crist still does not grasp that the country wants a check on Obama, not an enabler in Republican or independent skin. The backlash over spending, soaring debt, government take-over of major industries, and Obamacare calls for a new breed of GOP leaders who are unafraid to stand in the gap and stop the Obama agenda. Crist’s failure to understand that is what sunk his candidacy in the GOP and will likely do so in the general election.”

Ouch: Charlie Crist’s campaign manager and handpicked Senate appointee dumps him.

Yikes (for Democrats): “Republican Congressman Mark Kirk has earned a modest pick-up in support, while his Democratic opponent, Alexi Giannoulias, appears stalled in the first Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in the state following the government’s seizure of the failed Broadway Bank, the institution owned by Giannoulias’ family. Kirk now attracts 46% support in Illinois’ race for the U.S. Senate, up from 41% in early April.”

More yikes (for Democrats): “A new poll has businessman Tim Burns (R) leading former Murtha aide Mark Critz (D) 46-40. Republicans appear to have a real opportunity to take over the seat of the late Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.), as another poll shows their candidate in the lead.”

Still: “Iran will never agree to exchange its low-level enriched uranium for nuclear fuel rods enriched abroad, a top adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday.”

Bunk — is the claim that GM has paid back its taxpayer bailout, says Rep. Paul Ryan: “These claims struck me as odd and misleading. The federal government still owns over 60% of this auto company. This so-called repayment is actually a transfer of $6.7 billion from one taxpayer-funded bailout account to another.”

Fine: “Jewish groups are calling on U.N. member representatives to walk out in protest when Iran’s president speaks next week at the United Nations. Mahmoud Ahmadenijad’s plans to address the U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference on May 3 makes a mockery of the proceedings, Jewish groups said.” But why don’t they call for the administration to leave the Human Rights Council or the Commission on the Status of Women?

Uh-oh: “The nation’s gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced, grew at an annual rate of 3.2% after climbing 5.6% in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday. That’s not nearly fast enough to bring down stubbornly high unemployment. In addition, threats ranging from turmoil in Europe to the difficulty smaller businesses face in borrowing money are clouding the prospects for continued recovery.”

Yup: “Crist still does not grasp that the country wants a check on Obama, not an enabler in Republican or independent skin. The backlash over spending, soaring debt, government take-over of major industries, and Obamacare calls for a new breed of GOP leaders who are unafraid to stand in the gap and stop the Obama agenda. Crist’s failure to understand that is what sunk his candidacy in the GOP and will likely do so in the general election.”

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Let Them Meet Steel

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

As Noah pointed out yesterday, Syria is now being credibly accused of shipping Scud missiles with a range of more than 430 miles to Hezbollah, placing Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Dimona nuclear power plant inside the kill zone. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been forced under duress to visit Damascus and make amends with his father’s assassins, as has Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, effectively terminating whatever independence Lebanon scratched out for itself in 2005. At the same time, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously taunts the president of the United States, whom he clearly perceives as a pushover. “American officials bigger than you,” he said of President Obama’s attempts to talk him out of developing nuclear weapons, “more bullying than you, couldn’t do a damn thing, let alone you.”

Yet the Obama administration still seems to think engagement with Syria and the suggestion of possible sanctions against Iran may keep the Middle East from boiling over.

President George W. Bush lost a lot of credibility when the civil war and insurgency in Iraq made a hash of his policy there. It was eventually obvious to just about everyone that something different needed to happen, and fast. Replacing the top brass in the field with General David Petraeus and his like-minded war critics just barely saved Iraq and American interests from total disaster. The president himself never fully recovered.

If Obama’s squishy policies are misguided, as I think they are, it’s less obvious. The Middle East isn’t on fire as it was circa 2005. But it should be apparent that, at some point, all the pressure that’s building up will have to go somewhere. When and how is anyone’s guess, but there’s little chance it’s just going to dissipate or be slowly released during peace talks.

The Iranian-led resistance bloc is becoming better armed and more belligerent by the month. And the next round of conflict could tear up as many as six regions at the same time if everyone pulls out the stops. A missile war sparked between Hezbollah and Israel, for instance, could easily spread to Gaza, Syria, Iran, and even Iraq.

Even if it’s only half as bad as all that, we should still brace ourselves for more mayhem and bloodshed than we saw during the recent wars in Gaza and Lebanon. Israelis may show a lot less restraint if skyscrapers in Tel Aviv are exploding. Iran might even fire off some of its own if the leadership thinks Israel lacks the resources or strength to fight on too many fronts. The United States could be drawn in kicking and screaming, but resistance-bloc leaders have every reason to believe it won’t happen, that the U.S. is more likely to zip flex cuffs on Jerusalem.

I’m speculating, of course. The future is forever unknowable, and none of this is inevitable. An unexpected event — such as the overthrow of Ali Khamenei in Tehran — could change everything. A real-world conflict would take on a life of its own anyway that no one could predict or control.

What is clear, however, is that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah are hurtling ever closer to the brink. They’re acting as though they’re figuratively following Vladimir Lenin’s advice: “Probe with a bayonet. If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

I doubt most residents of South Lebanon believe in their bones that they won the war against Israel in 2006. I’ve been down there several times since. Entire neighborhoods were utterly pulverized. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, though, has touted his own “divine victory” so many times he may have convinced himself. Even if he knows he lost the last round, he has dug in with a much more formidable arsenal for the next one. As scholar Jonathan Spyer wrote not long ago, Hezbollah is “in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded.”

It is also utterly unhinged ideologically. Let’s not forget what Christopher Hitchens saw at a rally last year in the suburbs south of Beirut commemorating its slain commander Imad Mugniyeh. “A huge poster of a nuclear mushroom cloud surmounts the scene,” he wrote, “with the inscription OH ZIONISTS, IF YOU WANT THIS TYPE OF WAR THEN SO BE IT!”

The Israelis may well decide they’d rather fight a bad war now than a worse one later. Their enemies can afford to lose wars because Israel isn’t out to destroy their countries. No Israeli believes Syria or Iran shouldn’t exist. Israel, meanwhile, can barely afford to lose small wars. And the resistance bloc is boldly threatening and preparing for one of the most ambitious and destructive wars yet.

There’s only so much President Obama can do about this, but he’s lucky, even so, in a small way. The Middle East isn’t burning right now as it was during the Bush years. He can change course without having to pay a butcher’s bill first if he starts thinking seriously about deterrence as well as engagement. Let the resistance bloc see glints of steel once in a while instead of just mush — and not only for the sake of the people who live there. Our own national interests are at stake, and so is his political hide. Iran’s leaders would savor few things more than a second Democratic president’s scalp.

Read Less

Flotsam and Jetsam

Trouble back home: “Sue Lowden has established herself as the far-ahead GOP front-runner in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race and the Republican most likely to beat Sen. Harry Reid, even with a Tea Party candidate on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, according to a new poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. … As for Reid, the poll shows the Democratic incumbent’s popularity dipping to a new all-time low with 56 percent of registered Nevada voters saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the senator, while about four in 10 people say they would vote for him on Election Day – not enough to win.”

Trouble for the Democrats’ tax-hike plans: “When thinking about all the services provided by federal, state and local governments, 75% of voters nationwide say the average American should pay no more than 20% of their income in taxes. However, the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that most voters (55%) believe the average American actually pays 30% or more of their income in taxes. Sixty-six percent (66%) believe that America is overtaxed. Only 25% disagree.”

Trouble for Obama and Democrats who will rely on the president’s popularity this November: he’s reached an all-time low in RealClearPolitics’s poll average, at 46.1 percent approval.

Trouble in Iran (and a reminder that delay in use of military force against the mullahs comes with a price): “Ahmad Vahidi said the new Mersad, or Ambush, air defense system would be able to hit modern aircraft at low and medium altitudes. According to a photo released by Iran’s Defense Ministry, the Mersad will launch Iran’s Shahin missiles, a local version of the 1970s-era US-manufactured Hawk missile. The Hawk missile has a range 24 kilometers with a 119-pound warhead and was sold the Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran has been looking to upgrade its air defenses, especially as Israel has refused to rule out an airstrike over concerns that Teheran is developing nuclear weapons — a charge it denies.”

Trouble for those who vouched for or believed the CBO’s scoring on ObamaCare: “White House Budget Director Peter Orszag is arguing that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) underestimates the savings from President Barack Obama’s healthcare bill. CBO, the independent agency Orszag ran before he joined the Obama administration, said the legislation will reduce deficits $143 billion in its first decade and by even more — roughly 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product — in its second decade. That would probably amount to more than $1 trillion in savings, but Orszag considers that a lowball estimate.” Hmm. Funny how this didn’t come up before.

Trouble for those who argued with a straight face for “engagement” with Iran: “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday accused President Barack Obama of making nuclear threats against the Islamic Republic.” But they don’t ever admit error, do they?

Trouble for the “Close Guantanamo!” crowd: “So how’s President Obama’s detainee policy coming along? Slowly. A senior administration official would only say that discussions with Congress — that is, Democrats and Sen. Lindsey Graham — are ‘ongoing’ about a legal framework. But frustration at the lack of public backstop from the White House is pervasive among senior officials at the Departments of Justice, State and Defense, all of whom want the Guantanamo Bay detention camp closed and the prisoners properly dealt with.” Perhaps the White House has finally run out of enthusiasm for an unworkable and politically toxic campaign stunt.

Trouble for Jews: “Anti-Semitic incidents around the world more than doubled in 2009 over the previous year, posting their worst year since monitoring began two decades ago, according to a new survey. The total number of anti-Semitic incidents was 1,129 in 2009, compared to 559 in 2008, according to a report released Sunday by the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University. The record number of incidents — cases that show clear anti-Semitic content and intention — included 566 incidents of vandalism of Jewish property, which constituted 49 percent of all incidents. Hundreds of incidents against Jewish people and property did not meet the criteria, according to the institute. Incidents also go unreported. In Europe, Britain and France led with the number of incidents, according to the report.”

Trouble back home: “Sue Lowden has established herself as the far-ahead GOP front-runner in Nevada’s U.S. Senate race and the Republican most likely to beat Sen. Harry Reid, even with a Tea Party candidate on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, according to a new poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. … As for Reid, the poll shows the Democratic incumbent’s popularity dipping to a new all-time low with 56 percent of registered Nevada voters saying they have an unfavorable opinion of the senator, while about four in 10 people say they would vote for him on Election Day – not enough to win.”

Trouble for the Democrats’ tax-hike plans: “When thinking about all the services provided by federal, state and local governments, 75% of voters nationwide say the average American should pay no more than 20% of their income in taxes. However, the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that most voters (55%) believe the average American actually pays 30% or more of their income in taxes. Sixty-six percent (66%) believe that America is overtaxed. Only 25% disagree.”

Trouble for Obama and Democrats who will rely on the president’s popularity this November: he’s reached an all-time low in RealClearPolitics’s poll average, at 46.1 percent approval.

Trouble in Iran (and a reminder that delay in use of military force against the mullahs comes with a price): “Ahmad Vahidi said the new Mersad, or Ambush, air defense system would be able to hit modern aircraft at low and medium altitudes. According to a photo released by Iran’s Defense Ministry, the Mersad will launch Iran’s Shahin missiles, a local version of the 1970s-era US-manufactured Hawk missile. The Hawk missile has a range 24 kilometers with a 119-pound warhead and was sold the Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution. Iran has been looking to upgrade its air defenses, especially as Israel has refused to rule out an airstrike over concerns that Teheran is developing nuclear weapons — a charge it denies.”

Trouble for those who vouched for or believed the CBO’s scoring on ObamaCare: “White House Budget Director Peter Orszag is arguing that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) underestimates the savings from President Barack Obama’s healthcare bill. CBO, the independent agency Orszag ran before he joined the Obama administration, said the legislation will reduce deficits $143 billion in its first decade and by even more — roughly 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent of gross domestic product — in its second decade. That would probably amount to more than $1 trillion in savings, but Orszag considers that a lowball estimate.” Hmm. Funny how this didn’t come up before.

Trouble for those who argued with a straight face for “engagement” with Iran: “Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday accused President Barack Obama of making nuclear threats against the Islamic Republic.” But they don’t ever admit error, do they?

Trouble for the “Close Guantanamo!” crowd: “So how’s President Obama’s detainee policy coming along? Slowly. A senior administration official would only say that discussions with Congress — that is, Democrats and Sen. Lindsey Graham — are ‘ongoing’ about a legal framework. But frustration at the lack of public backstop from the White House is pervasive among senior officials at the Departments of Justice, State and Defense, all of whom want the Guantanamo Bay detention camp closed and the prisoners properly dealt with.” Perhaps the White House has finally run out of enthusiasm for an unworkable and politically toxic campaign stunt.

Trouble for Jews: “Anti-Semitic incidents around the world more than doubled in 2009 over the previous year, posting their worst year since monitoring began two decades ago, according to a new survey. The total number of anti-Semitic incidents was 1,129 in 2009, compared to 559 in 2008, according to a report released Sunday by the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University. The record number of incidents — cases that show clear anti-Semitic content and intention — included 566 incidents of vandalism of Jewish property, which constituted 49 percent of all incidents. Hundreds of incidents against Jewish people and property did not meet the criteria, according to the institute. Incidents also go unreported. In Europe, Britain and France led with the number of incidents, according to the report.”

Read Less




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