Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hezbollah

EU Effort to Blacklist Hezbollah Fails

Here’s an interesting headline’s role reversal:

“The EU lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization”–plausible but false.

“The Gulf Security Council designates Hezbollah as a terrorist organization”–implausible but true.

Europe’s failure to list Hezbollah as a terror organization is a byproduct of its inability to change its world view on the Middle East even after the harsh reality check of the last two years.

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Here’s an interesting headline’s role reversal:

“The EU lists Hezbollah as a terrorist organization”–plausible but false.

“The Gulf Security Council designates Hezbollah as a terrorist organization”–implausible but true.

Europe’s failure to list Hezbollah as a terror organization is a byproduct of its inability to change its world view on the Middle East even after the harsh reality check of the last two years.

As if to embarrass the EU more, there’s also Egypt’s President Mohammad Morsi, from the Muslim Brotherhood, who after breaking diplomatic relations with Syria last week stated that “Hezbollah must leave Syria; there is no place for Hezbollah in Syria.”

The Arab world’s more decisive action may not have been determined by either moral clarity or a principled stance–not, at least, in the way we would understand those terms to be. Still, the Sunni powers can tell friend from foe; know the price of losing; and are prepare to put their money where their mouth is.

Europe can’t even do that.

Is it any wonder that, foreign aid aside, the EU matters little in the Middle East?

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Yes, Assad Can Be Defeated

The Obama administration is stubbornly consistent on Syria: It is for inaction under any and all circumstances. Only the excuses for inaction change.

Until recently the official line from Washington was that Bashar Assad’s downfall was “only a matter of time,” and therefore the U.S. did not have to do much to nudge him out of power. Now, following Assad’s victory in Quasayr, and his expanding offensive to retake more territory from the rebels, many administration officials have concluded that “Assad is gaining momentum in the country’s civil war with aid from Hezbollah and is unlikely to fall in the foreseeable future.” This realization is triggering a debate in the administration about whether to send arms to the rebels or take other measures to influence the outcome on the ground.

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The Obama administration is stubbornly consistent on Syria: It is for inaction under any and all circumstances. Only the excuses for inaction change.

Until recently the official line from Washington was that Bashar Assad’s downfall was “only a matter of time,” and therefore the U.S. did not have to do much to nudge him out of power. Now, following Assad’s victory in Quasayr, and his expanding offensive to retake more territory from the rebels, many administration officials have concluded that “Assad is gaining momentum in the country’s civil war with aid from Hezbollah and is unlikely to fall in the foreseeable future.” This realization is triggering a debate in the administration about whether to send arms to the rebels or take other measures to influence the outcome on the ground.

We’ve seen these debates before, and there is no reason to think they will have a different outcome than in the past. Now, instead of assuming that there is nothing we need do to bring Assad down, many in the administration will no doubt assume there is nothing that we can do. Odds are we will continue to drift along in a fog of indecision even as Iran and Hezbollah continue their massive, and so far successful, intervention on Assad’s side.

Personally, I never believed that Assad’s downfall was assured in the past and I don’t believe his continuation in power is assured now. If the U.S. and our allies–Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France, Jordan, and others–were to step up aid to the rebels, providing everything from air cover to arms, the balance of power would tip against Assad again.

The argument against doing this–besides a general war-weariness and non-interventionism which has taken root in this administration–is that we would be aiding the kinds of extremists who execute a teenager for a casual mention of the Prophet. But of course a big part of the reason why extremists have taken a leading role in the rebellion is that the U.S. has done so little to help the more moderate factions. I still believe it is not too late to tip the balance of power not only between Assad and the rebels but also between rebel factions, empowering the more mainstream groups and draining power from the Al Nusrah Front and its ilk.

The intervention of Hezbollah into the conflict has only added more compelling reasons for action. As Lee Smith has noted in the Weekly Standard, the U.S. has a lot of scores to settle with Hezbollah stretching all the way back to its murderous bombings of our embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in the 1980s. This is a perfect opportunity to settle accounts and in the process weaken this Iranian proxy movement. Syrian rebels are fighting hard against Hezbollah and inflicted serious losses on Hezbollah fighters in Quasayr. They will inflict more losses in the future if only we would provide them the means to do so.

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Hezbollah’s European Appeasers

Last summer, Hezbollah terrorists escalated their war on Israel by staging a terror attack in Europe. Along with a Bulgarian bus driver, five Israeli tourists were killed and 32 were injured when a bomb exploded on their bus in Burgas, a Black Sea resort. The conspirators were quickly revealed to be two Hezbollah members, and one unidentified person—almost certainly another Hezbollah operative or perhaps an accomplice—that apparently died while placing the explosive in the bus’s luggage rack. Europol, Bulgarian, Israeli and American intelligence all agreed that the Lebanon-based Islamist group that acts on Iran’s orders was not only responsible for the atrocity but also preparing to branch out across the globe instead of concentrating on terrorizing Lebanese or Israelis in the Middle East.

The event helped crystallize the shift by which European governments began to realize how dangerous their past neutrality toward Hezbollah had been. This led to a push led by Britain to add Hezbollah to the European Union’s list of terror groups, a measure that should have happened many years ago but which was put off by a desire by many EU countries not to be seen aligning themselves with Israel or opposing an Islamist group that fought the Jewish state. But that emerging consensus on Hezbollah is facing stiff resistance from those Europeans who are still uncomfortable about confronting the Iranian ally. That unfortunate trend will be strengthened today by the news that the new Bulgarian government, which is led by the country’s former Communist party, is now claiming they are no longer certain that Hezbollah was responsible for the Burgas attack.

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Last summer, Hezbollah terrorists escalated their war on Israel by staging a terror attack in Europe. Along with a Bulgarian bus driver, five Israeli tourists were killed and 32 were injured when a bomb exploded on their bus in Burgas, a Black Sea resort. The conspirators were quickly revealed to be two Hezbollah members, and one unidentified person—almost certainly another Hezbollah operative or perhaps an accomplice—that apparently died while placing the explosive in the bus’s luggage rack. Europol, Bulgarian, Israeli and American intelligence all agreed that the Lebanon-based Islamist group that acts on Iran’s orders was not only responsible for the atrocity but also preparing to branch out across the globe instead of concentrating on terrorizing Lebanese or Israelis in the Middle East.

The event helped crystallize the shift by which European governments began to realize how dangerous their past neutrality toward Hezbollah had been. This led to a push led by Britain to add Hezbollah to the European Union’s list of terror groups, a measure that should have happened many years ago but which was put off by a desire by many EU countries not to be seen aligning themselves with Israel or opposing an Islamist group that fought the Jewish state. But that emerging consensus on Hezbollah is facing stiff resistance from those Europeans who are still uncomfortable about confronting the Iranian ally. That unfortunate trend will be strengthened today by the news that the new Bulgarian government, which is led by the country’s former Communist party, is now claiming they are no longer certain that Hezbollah was responsible for the Burgas attack.

It should be noted that the Bulgarian switch is not the result of the emergence of new evidence about the attack or even a change of heart by Hezbollah, whose terrorist cadres are now fighting in Syria to try and save the faltering Bashar Assad regime, another Iranian ally. There is no more doubt today that Burgas was the work of Hezbollah than there was in the days after the attack when the identities of the terrorists were revealed. It is simply the result of a political party coming to power that is hostile to the United States and friendlier to Russia and therefore determined to undermine any effort to forge a united European response to Middle East-based Islamist terror.

It is to be hoped that Britain, aided by the diplomatic efforts of France and Germany, will ultimately prevail in the European Commission and Hezbollah will be listed as a terror group by the EU. But the Bulgarian announcement is a discouraging reminder of the fact that international unity on terrorism is illusory. The willingness of some Europeans, whether acting out of sympathy for the Islamists or antipathy for Israel and the Untied States, to treat Hezbollah terrorists as somehow belonging to a different, less awful category of criminal than those who might primarily target other Westerners is a victory for the Islamists as well as a crucial defeat for the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

After years of trying to appease Russia, the administration has discovered that all of the talk of rebooting relations from both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry achieved nothing. Moscow is actively seeking to thwart the West on the question of the survival of the Assad regime and also willing to have its friends elsewhere in Europe stick up for Hezbollah.

The effort to appease Hezbollah is not only a sign of Russian influence but also a signal to Iran that many in Europe are untroubled by its terrorist campaign against Israel. That alone is worrisome. But, as history teaches us, the costs of appeasement are far-reaching. Those who are untroubled by Hezbollah’s murders of Jews in Bulgaria or Cyprus may soon find that the vipers they seek to ignore will one day bite them too.

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Iran Has No Territorial Ambitions? Tell It to Lebanon and Syria

As I noted yesterday, many world leaders seem to be stuck in a time warp, in which any new information that contradicts paradigms conceived decades ago is simply filtered out. But in their defense, the same is often true of two of the main sources they rely on for information: think tanks and the media.

A salient example is a study recently published the Rand Corporation, one of America’s most prestigious think tanks and a frequent consultant to U.S. governments. In it, author Alireza Nader concludes that containing a nuclear Iran is feasible, because Iran’s nukes wouldn’t threaten either America or its Middle Eastern allies; Tehran wants them mainly for defensive purposes. “Iran does not have territorial ambitions and does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations,” Nader asserted.

That might have been a tenable theory 25 years ago, when Iran was still licking its wounds from an eight-year war with Iraq that the latter started. Since then, however, Iran has effectively taken over Lebanon and is now seeking to do the same with Syria. And it isn’t using peaceful suasion, but force of arms.

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As I noted yesterday, many world leaders seem to be stuck in a time warp, in which any new information that contradicts paradigms conceived decades ago is simply filtered out. But in their defense, the same is often true of two of the main sources they rely on for information: think tanks and the media.

A salient example is a study recently published the Rand Corporation, one of America’s most prestigious think tanks and a frequent consultant to U.S. governments. In it, author Alireza Nader concludes that containing a nuclear Iran is feasible, because Iran’s nukes wouldn’t threaten either America or its Middle Eastern allies; Tehran wants them mainly for defensive purposes. “Iran does not have territorial ambitions and does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations,” Nader asserted.

That might have been a tenable theory 25 years ago, when Iran was still licking its wounds from an eight-year war with Iraq that the latter started. Since then, however, Iran has effectively taken over Lebanon and is now seeking to do the same with Syria. And it isn’t using peaceful suasion, but force of arms.

The takeover of Lebanon was completed in 2008, when Iran’s wholly-owned Lebanese subsidiary, Hezbollah, staged an armed occupation of Beirut to reverse two government decisions (the government had planned to dismantle Hezbollah’s independent telecommunications network and dismiss an airport security official who facilitated Iranian arms shipments to the organization). Hezbollah removed its troops only after the government signed a power-sharing deal that effectively gave the organization a veto over all government decisions.

Now, Iran is trying to annex Syria. As Lee Smith noted in the Weekly Standard, not only is it arming and training President Bashar Assad’s forces, both regular and irregular, but it has also sent Hezbollah, Iranian-backed Iraqi militias and units of its own Revolutionary Guards Corps to join his fight against the Sunni rebels. Add in the billions of dollars it has given Assad to prop up his regime, and it’s clear that if he survives, Syria will be another wholly-owned Iranian subsidiary.

Nor does Iran hide that this is its goal. As one senior Iranian cleric helpfully explained in February, “Syria is the 35th province [of Iran] and a strategic province for us. If the enemy attacks us and wants to take either Syria or Khuzestan [in western Iran], the priority for us is to keep Syria….If we keep Syria, we can get Khuzestan back too, but if we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.”

Yet Rand’s analyst simply ignored all these developments, blithely asserting that Iran “does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations” even as it has already effected an armed conquest of Lebanon and is pouring in troops in an effort to do the same in Syria.

The Rand paper is a particularly egregious example of an all-too-common phenomenon. Media reports, for instance, still frequently assert that Hezbollah’s main mission is fighting Israel, making its role in the Syrian civil war a surprising departure. Fifteen years ago, that was a reasonable theory. Yet by now, it should be obvious that Hezbollah’s main mission is furthering its Iranian master’s interests–which often means fighting Israel, but currently means fighting Syrian Sunnis. Seen from that perspective, Hezbollah’s role in Syria isn’t the least surprising.

Scholars and journalists are supposed to help leaders understand world events. But by clinging to outdated paradigms, they often end up obfuscating events instead. 

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France’s Outrageous Double Standard on Hezbollah and Terrorism

For anyone who still thinks Europe’s widespread anti-Israel sentiment is purely a reaction to Israel’s policies, completely untainted by anti-Semitism, consider the unblushing announcement made by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today: France, he said, is now ready to consider listing Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization, because “the fact that it has fought extremely hard against the Syrian population” has caused Paris to reverse its longstanding opposition to the move. 

Naturally, I’m delighted that France has finally seen the light about Hezbollah. But France had no problem with the organization during all the years it was conducting cross-border attacks on the Israeli population. Lest anyone forget, these attacks continued even after Israel’s UN-certified withdrawal from every last inch of Lebanese territory in 2000; it was one such cross-border raid that sparked the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006. In other words, France has just declared that cross-border incursions to kill Jews in Israel are perfectly fine, but cross-border incursions to kill Muslims in Syria are beyond the pale. If that isn’t an anti-Semitic double standard, I don’t know what is.

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For anyone who still thinks Europe’s widespread anti-Israel sentiment is purely a reaction to Israel’s policies, completely untainted by anti-Semitism, consider the unblushing announcement made by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today: France, he said, is now ready to consider listing Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist organization, because “the fact that it has fought extremely hard against the Syrian population” has caused Paris to reverse its longstanding opposition to the move. 

Naturally, I’m delighted that France has finally seen the light about Hezbollah. But France had no problem with the organization during all the years it was conducting cross-border attacks on the Israeli population. Lest anyone forget, these attacks continued even after Israel’s UN-certified withdrawal from every last inch of Lebanese territory in 2000; it was one such cross-border raid that sparked the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006. In other words, France has just declared that cross-border incursions to kill Jews in Israel are perfectly fine, but cross-border incursions to kill Muslims in Syria are beyond the pale. If that isn’t an anti-Semitic double standard, I don’t know what is.

Indeed, until now, France has consistently billed Hezbollah as a legitimate political force that contributes to stability in the Levant. That was always nonsensical: Starting a war with your southern neighbor that devastates large swathes of your own country, as Hezbollah did in 2006, is not exactly stabilizing behavior. But apparently, in France’s view, fighting Israel does contribute to Middle East stability: It’s only because Hezbollah is now fighting Syrians instead that Paris suddenly sees the organization as a destabilizing force.

If other European countries think the same thing, they had the decency not to say it aloud. Germany, for instance, said it has reversed its longstanding opposition to blacklisting Hezbollah due to evidence that the organization was behind last summer’s terror attack in Bulgaria, which killed five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian, and had been collecting information in Cyprus in preparation for additional terror attacks against Israelis and Jews on European soil. I’m no fan of the German approach, which essentially says terrorism is fine as long as you keep it out of Europe, but there’s nothing anti-Semitic about it; it’s perfectly normal for Europeans to care more about attacks on European soil than they do about attacks in the Middle East.

France, in contrast, has just said it cares deeply about attacks in the Middle East–but only if they’re directed against (non-Israeli) Muslims. You want to kill Jews in the Middle East? Go right ahead, says France: We’ll even help you do it, by keeping you off the EU’s list of terrorist organizations and thereby ensuring that you can fund-raise freely on our territory. Just don’t make the mistake of turning your arms on Muslims instead.

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A Terror Blacklist in Name Only?

On Monday I wrote about the argument over whether it is in the interests of the West, and specifically America, for the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union. The question really centers on the issue of integration; that is, whether Britain is more likely to successfully advocate for the Anglosphere from within the EU or whether it is more likely to be integrated into the EU’s value system, which is at odds with America’s.

Although recent stories suggested the latter, there are occasional indications of the former–one of which came yesterday from the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported that Britain is formally requesting that the EU add Hezbollah’s military wing to its terror blacklist. That effort received another boost today, as the Jerusalem Post reports that Germany is backing Britain’s request, making it all but certain that Hezbollah’s military wing will be blacklisted:

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On Monday I wrote about the argument over whether it is in the interests of the West, and specifically America, for the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union. The question really centers on the issue of integration; that is, whether Britain is more likely to successfully advocate for the Anglosphere from within the EU or whether it is more likely to be integrated into the EU’s value system, which is at odds with America’s.

Although recent stories suggested the latter, there are occasional indications of the former–one of which came yesterday from the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported that Britain is formally requesting that the EU add Hezbollah’s military wing to its terror blacklist. That effort received another boost today, as the Jerusalem Post reports that Germany is backing Britain’s request, making it all but certain that Hezbollah’s military wing will be blacklisted:

“In the light of discussions we have had with our partners following the terrorist attack in Burgas, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle supports listing at least the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in the EU,” the officials said.

“The German position is based on an increasingly clearer picture of the facts and on the progress achieved by Cypriot authorities in analyzing terrorist activities,” they continued. “Minister Westerwelle hopes that the necessary consultations within the EU can be concluded rapidly.”

That report focuses the change of heart on the terrorist attack carried out last summer in Bulgaria on a bus of Israeli tourists. Initial signs pointed to Iran and Hezbollah, which are partners in global terror, and that was confirmed by the subsequent investigation which determined Hezbollah’s culpability.

The mention of Cypriot authorities is a reference to the recent revelations of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus that showed the pervasive presence of the terror group in Europe. But even after the Bulgaria attack and the Cyprus case, there seemed to be hesitation to take any steps against Hezbollah. I noted in February a sickening quote from a German magazine editor who said officials were afraid that if they took action against Hezbollah the group might target non-Jews.

Additionally, the Journal article notes the concern of some EU officials that since Hezbollah is a powerful political presence in Lebanon, blacklisting them “could undermine a fragile peace in Lebanon.” That’s unlikely, but it at least gets closer geographically to the answer, which the EU Observer points to:

Its support for the Syrian regime has further blackened its name.

Up to 6,000 Hezbollah fighters are said to be in Damascus, where they guard the Sayyidah Zaynab mosque, and in the Syrian towns of Homs and Qusayr near the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Hezbollah is currently serving as a ruthless standing army for Bashar al-Assad in his murderous quest to hang on to power in Syria. As I noted earlier Monday, that in itself will destabilize Lebanon–or, more accurately, stabilize Lebanon more firmly under Hezbollah/Syrian/Iranian control. Hezbollah’s role in the Syrian civil war has thus removed one EU excuse not to blacklist the group and added a very good reason to outlaw them.

The Journal reports that the next step will be an EU-wide closed-door meeting in early June. Britain is pairing this move with one intended to make it easier to aid the Syrian rebels. Blacklisting Hezbollah’s military wing would be a step in the right direction, though as the New York Times reports, it would almost surely be a vastly weaker step–and more difficult to enforce–than an outright ban:

Still, many experts question the strategy of simply taking aim at Hezbollah’s military wing, arguing that it is impossible to separate the part of the organization that engages in politics and social services from the group’s large armed militia. Moreover, if only the so-called military wing is blacklisted, the group might still be able raise money in Europe under the banner of politics.

The Times then quotes a foreign affairs expert casting doubt on the efficacy of just listing the military wing. The separation between the military and political wings exists on paper, but it’s unclear if it goes much farther. If it doesn’t, then the blacklist would also only exist on paper. And the consequences of not effectively confronting Hezbollah’s activities have unfortunately been made all too clear in Europe, the Middle East, and around the world.

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U.S. Must Exploit Hezbollah’s Vulnerability

At the beginning of the Syrian civil war, many of Bashar Assad’s longtime allies were wary of openly supporting a discredited dictator who was slaughtering his own people. Hamas, which had long maintained a headquarters in Damascus, quietly sulked out of town. Hezbollah, which is tied by an umbilical cord of supplies to Damascus, kept its distance too. But with the Assad regime showing signs of hanging on after more than two years of combat, Hezbollah, and its patrons in Iran, have been more open in their support for the regime. Hundreds of Hezbollah fighters are now fighting alongside Syrian troops in the critical battle for the town of Qusayr near the major city of Homs. Dozens of “martyrs” are coming home to Lebanon in body bags.

By thus raising the stakes in Syria, Hezbollah is leaving itself open to serious blowback. Its credibility in Lebanon has always depended on its posture as an anti-Israel force; its prestige soared when it chased the IDF out of southern Lebanon in 2000 and when it stood up to Israeli attacks in 2006. But now in Syria, Hezbollah fighters are battling not the “accursed” Jews but fellow Muslims who are determined to rid their country of an unelected and unpopular leader.

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At the beginning of the Syrian civil war, many of Bashar Assad’s longtime allies were wary of openly supporting a discredited dictator who was slaughtering his own people. Hamas, which had long maintained a headquarters in Damascus, quietly sulked out of town. Hezbollah, which is tied by an umbilical cord of supplies to Damascus, kept its distance too. But with the Assad regime showing signs of hanging on after more than two years of combat, Hezbollah, and its patrons in Iran, have been more open in their support for the regime. Hundreds of Hezbollah fighters are now fighting alongside Syrian troops in the critical battle for the town of Qusayr near the major city of Homs. Dozens of “martyrs” are coming home to Lebanon in body bags.

By thus raising the stakes in Syria, Hezbollah is leaving itself open to serious blowback. Its credibility in Lebanon has always depended on its posture as an anti-Israel force; its prestige soared when it chased the IDF out of southern Lebanon in 2000 and when it stood up to Israeli attacks in 2006. But now in Syria, Hezbollah fighters are battling not the “accursed” Jews but fellow Muslims who are determined to rid their country of an unelected and unpopular leader.

Hezbollah is thus suffering a loss of credibility and prestige, especially among the Sunni majority in the Arab world which sympathizes with the largely Sunni Syrian insurgency battling against a minority Alawite regime. Hezbollah is seen not as a pan-Arab army but as a sectarian, pro-Shiite force. That is a vulnerability that the U.S. and its allies should exploit to try to loosen Hezbollah’s death grip on Lebanese politics.

In this regard it would help enormously if Hezbollah were not successful in its efforts to keep the Assad regime in power. A failed intervention in Syria would do tremendous damage to its standing in Lebanon, while a successful intervention would allow it to maintain its grip on power by safeguarding the arms pipeline flowing from Tehran via Damascus.

That makes it all the more imperative that the U.S. do more to ensure that Hezbollah loses in Syria–not only by providing arms to vetted rebel factions but also by employing our airpower to ground Assad’s air force and thus removing a crucial regime advantage. Time is slipping away as Assad recovers on the battlefield. If we don’t act now, the Tehran-Damascus-Bekaa axis (the Bekaa Valley is the birthplace of Hezbollah) could emerge stronger than ever.

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Assad’s Fall Is Far from Inevitable

The Obama administration’s stand-on-the-sidelines policy in Syria has been premised on the assumption that it was only a matter of time before Bashar Assad’s downfall–his “days are numbered,” administration officials have been saying for the past two years. Not so fast. This dispatch from Washington Post reporter Liz Sly in Beirut suggests that the battle is actually swinging in Assad’s direction, thanks in large part to the extensive aid he is receiving from Iran and Hezbollah.

Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters are actively engaged in hostilities–not only fighting themselves but also helping the Assad regime to organize and train a new militia force made up primarily of Alawites that is far more loyal to the regime than the Sunni-dominated ranks of the regular army. The National Defense Force, as this militia is known, is using guerrilla-style tactics against the rebels, fighting them block by block.

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The Obama administration’s stand-on-the-sidelines policy in Syria has been premised on the assumption that it was only a matter of time before Bashar Assad’s downfall–his “days are numbered,” administration officials have been saying for the past two years. Not so fast. This dispatch from Washington Post reporter Liz Sly in Beirut suggests that the battle is actually swinging in Assad’s direction, thanks in large part to the extensive aid he is receiving from Iran and Hezbollah.

Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters are actively engaged in hostilities–not only fighting themselves but also helping the Assad regime to organize and train a new militia force made up primarily of Alawites that is far more loyal to the regime than the Sunni-dominated ranks of the regular army. The National Defense Force, as this militia is known, is using guerrilla-style tactics against the rebels, fighting them block by block.

“Meanwhile,” Sly writes, “the regime can still call on its conventional superiority to project its power into areas where the rebels hold sway on the ground, including air strikes, ballistic missiles and artillery. And unlike the rebel force, which has received only sporadic supplies of relatively low-caliber weaponry from its reluctant Western and Arab allies, Assad’s military can count on steady supplies of arms and ammunition from Iran and Russia.” Those arms supplies soon could include the provision of sophisticated air-defense systems from Russia.

One might add, based on the evidence of recent weeks, that the Assad regime can also employ its chemical stockpile without fear of retribution from the West. For all these reasons, Assad’s fighters have put the rebels on the defensive and are starting to push them back.

It is time to think the unthinkable: What would happen if Assad were to succeed in suppressing the rebellion? While a rebel victory would be problematic from America’s standpoint, because of the increasing role of jihadist radicals in the rebel ranks, a victory for the regime would be catastrophic. It would leave in place a government that was even more beholden to Hezbollah and Iran than was the case previously. It would, in short, solidify Iran’s beachhead in the middle of the Levant and it would deal a serious blow to the interests of the United States, Israel, and moderate Arab regimes, which have been supporting the rebels.

It is not too late to avert this dire outcome, but that will require Obama to rethink his policy of inaction.

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Is It Too Late to Save Syria?

President Obama was confronted with the anxieties of the Middle East yesterday when the first question he received at his press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu was about Syria. “Morally,” began the question ominously, “how is it possible that for the last two years, tens of thousands of innocent civilians are being massacred and no one, the world, the United States, you are doing anything to stop it immediately. On a practical level, you have said today and also in the past, that the use of chemical weapons would be the crossing of a red line. It seems like this line was crossed yesterday. What specifically do you intend to do about it?”

Obama began his answer by noting that there is no proof or consensus on whether chemical weapons have, in fact, been used. Then he pushed back on the accusation he’s done nothing: “It is incorrect to say that we have done nothing. We have helped to mobilize the isolation of the Assad regime internationally. We have supported and recognized the opposition. We have had hundreds of millions of dollars in support for humanitarian aid.”

That wasn’t much of a response, because the question was what is being done to “stop it immediately,” and nothing the West is doing would seem to qualify. And in fact the reporter’s question was representative of the current mood here in the States as well, in which calls for Obama to intervene in Syria are growing as quickly as the wisdom of such intervention seems to be fading.

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President Obama was confronted with the anxieties of the Middle East yesterday when the first question he received at his press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu was about Syria. “Morally,” began the question ominously, “how is it possible that for the last two years, tens of thousands of innocent civilians are being massacred and no one, the world, the United States, you are doing anything to stop it immediately. On a practical level, you have said today and also in the past, that the use of chemical weapons would be the crossing of a red line. It seems like this line was crossed yesterday. What specifically do you intend to do about it?”

Obama began his answer by noting that there is no proof or consensus on whether chemical weapons have, in fact, been used. Then he pushed back on the accusation he’s done nothing: “It is incorrect to say that we have done nothing. We have helped to mobilize the isolation of the Assad regime internationally. We have supported and recognized the opposition. We have had hundreds of millions of dollars in support for humanitarian aid.”

That wasn’t much of a response, because the question was what is being done to “stop it immediately,” and nothing the West is doing would seem to qualify. And in fact the reporter’s question was representative of the current mood here in the States as well, in which calls for Obama to intervene in Syria are growing as quickly as the wisdom of such intervention seems to be fading.

At the outset of this conflict, there was a vacuum. That vacuum presented the United States with an opportunity to shape who would step into the breach, and how. The Obama administration made the mistake of standing aside and letting countries like Qatar distribute money and weapons to the rebels. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in the emergence of Islamist groups like the al-Nusra Front leading the way. That was followed by the head of Israel’s military intelligence claiming that Iran has set up a local army–modeled, presumably, after Hezbollah–in Syria of 50,000 men with plans to expand it to 100,000. Iran’s proxy control, if established, would essentially enable it to control forces on yet another of Israel’s borders and would give it hegemony stretching straight through to the Mediterranean. As Walter Russell Mead noted, this would also embolden Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons by convincing the mullahs that Obama doesn’t mean what he says and isn’t willing to back up his threats with force. After that came the news that al-Nusra and other Islamist rebel groups have established a “Sharia Authority” to enforce Sharia law in rebel-held areas, beating sinners with lead pipes.

Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and John McCain co-authored an open letter to President Obama today urging him to consider establishing a no-fly zone and a safe haven inside Syria, as well as increase help to the rebels. Mead made his own recommendation:

The President needs to act. None of the choices are particularly good at this point, and his political adversaries should cut him some slack here. Any US effort will not be a surgically effective operation that helps only the good people. There will be consequences to intervention in Syria and we won’t like all of them. Sending in US troops would be an enormous mistake; arming selected rebel groups is a much better choice.

Mead acknowledges that feeding American weapons to the rebels will very likely result in some of those weapons being used to commit atrocities. But, he adds, “defeating Iran’s bid for continued influence and control in a strategically vital country is a prize big enough at this point in Middle Eastern history to justify running some risks and accepting some costs.”

But the Iranian force being set up, according to Israeli intelligence, isn’t part of the Syrian army–it’s a parallel army. That means it’s there not to prevent Assad’s fall—though Iran would surely like to do that—but to presume Assad’s fall and plan accordingly. It would be, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, a powerful independent actor. Will arming less troublesome, and noticeably weaker, rebel factions shift the balance of power? The case of Lebanon, in which there was an existing army and experienced political class that were both aided by the U.S. and still proved unable to resist Syrian/Iranian hegemony and Hezbollah’s empowerment, does not provide cause for optimism.

There will be no American invasion of Syria. And there certainly will be no NATO-led occupation force to do in Syria what the allies did in Iraq. It’s possible that those who want to step up arms and assistance to the rebels are right, and that it will tip the scales. But it’s at least as possible that it will lead to the further strengthening of bad actors. It’s clear that there have been consequences to the wait-and-see approach. It’s less clear if they can be reversed.

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The European Union’s Misplaced Priorities

In December, I wrote that despite all the misunderstanding and misinformation in the press about Israel’s construction plans for the area around Jerusalem, specifically the E-1 corridor, there was one very illuminating aspect to the controversy. The reaction by Western European leaders and diplomats to the Israeli government’s restatement of the official policy of every Israeli government–right, left, and center–exposed a fault line in EU-Israel relations. The Israeli consensus crosses the EU’s “red line,” and therefore the two are unlikely to find common ground in the peace process.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise to read in the Times of Israel that a new EU report recommends the European Union more actively boycott and sanction Israeli products and companies on the other side of the Green Line. Europe’s growing hostility to Israel and its vast ignorance of Mideast geopolitics are frustrating all by themselves, but a thorough report in the Washington Post today on Hezbollah’s operations in Europe put the EU’s manifest lack of seriousness in stark relief. First, the Times of Israel reports:

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In December, I wrote that despite all the misunderstanding and misinformation in the press about Israel’s construction plans for the area around Jerusalem, specifically the E-1 corridor, there was one very illuminating aspect to the controversy. The reaction by Western European leaders and diplomats to the Israeli government’s restatement of the official policy of every Israeli government–right, left, and center–exposed a fault line in EU-Israel relations. The Israeli consensus crosses the EU’s “red line,” and therefore the two are unlikely to find common ground in the peace process.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise to read in the Times of Israel that a new EU report recommends the European Union more actively boycott and sanction Israeli products and companies on the other side of the Green Line. Europe’s growing hostility to Israel and its vast ignorance of Mideast geopolitics are frustrating all by themselves, but a thorough report in the Washington Post today on Hezbollah’s operations in Europe put the EU’s manifest lack of seriousness in stark relief. First, the Times of Israel reports:

In a new report sent to Brussels and foreign ministries in 27 member states, the consuls general representing the EU in the Palestinian territories call on the EU to “prevent, discourage and raise awareness about problematic implications of financial transactions including foreign direct investments, from within the EU in support of settlement activities, infrastructure and services,” Haaretz reported Wednesday.

The EU’s office in Israel declined to directly comment on the leaked document, but diplomats representing EU member states told The Times of Israel on Wednesday that while the report’s language seemed strong, suggesting a call for active EU divestment from the settlements, it signified no actual change in the union’s policy. The 2012 Heads of Mission report, which will be discussed by policymakers in Brussels but is nonbinding, merely calls for stricter implementation of already existing EU legislation, according to a European diplomat.

Contrast the vigilance EU diplomats recommend be employed against Israeli companies with the EU’s continued, exasperating, and fundamentally indefensible reluctance to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The issue was brought to light again this month as Hezbollah was connected by authorities to last year’s terrorist attack in Bulgaria. Hezbollah has long been among the world’s most resilient and dangerous terrorist organizations, and declaring it as such–as the U.S. and Israel have–would greatly advance security efforts on the continent and would enable increased diligence in tracking and preventing Hezbollah’s funding and communications.

As Joby Warrick writes in the Post, the case of a Hezbollah operative in Cyprus has enabled officials and the public to widen the scope of the terrorist group’s surveillance operations in Europe. And officials are well aware of the implications:

Now, seven months after that attack, new details emerging in Yaakoub’s case are providing chilling insights into what investigators describe as a far broader effort by the Lebanon-based militant group to lay the groundwork for killing Israeli citizens and perhaps others in multiple countries.

Some details have come from Yaakoub himself, who made his first public appearance last week during his trial in Cyprus. But a much fuller account comes from legal documents summarizing the Swedish man’s statements to police during weeks of questioning last summer and obtained by The Washington Post.

The evidence echoes discoveries by investigators in Bulgaria and prosecutors in Thailand, India, Azerbaijan, Kenya and other countries hit by a wave of attempted assassinations and bombings linked to Hezbollah or its chief sponsor, Iran. U.S. officials characterize the plots as part of a shadow war directed by Iran in part to retaliate for Western efforts to derail Iran’s nuclear program. Evidence uncovered by investigators portrays a professional, well-funded effort by Hezbollah to recruit, train and position European-based operatives for what U.S. analysts describe as preparations for future terrorist operations.

It’s important to put the revelations about Hezbollah–which, we can imagine, are not revelations to EU law enforcement and intelligence officials–in the larger context of Hezbollah’s patron, Iran. As Warrick notes, American officials are getting impatient with their European counterparts’ unwillingness to take necessary action against Hezbollah because time is of the essence. The U.S. is working to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear capability, and one element of that has been the stepped-up shadow war between Iran and the West.

In the world of asymmetric warfare, eliminating terrorist safe havens is crucial–as we attempted to do in Afghanistan. But it’s even more important to do so in Europe, both because it’s easier to target Americans and Jews–Iran’s favorite victims–in Europe, where both are far more numerous than in, say, Central Asia or North Africa, and because giving them a safe haven in the West makes it easier to target other Western states. Thus, the EU’s incredibly dangerous actions don’t exist in a vacuum. It’s time for European leaders to stop pretending otherwise.

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Hagel’s Host on Hezbollah and Hamas

Alana Goodman’s report that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel suggested Israel controlled the State Department in a question and answer session following a speech at Rutgers University is now the subject of considerable attention.

Hagel’s host–Hooshang Amirahmadi–should not simply be a background personality in the story, however. Amirahmadi, the founder and president of the American Iranian Council,  is a well-known figure in Iranian circles. Soon after Hagel’s talk, Amirahmadi told Asr-i Iran (with a translation provided by Ali Alfoneh), “The problem of terrorism is a true myth. Iran has not been involved with any terrorist organization. Neither Hezbollah, nor Hamas are terrorist organizations….”

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Alana Goodman’s report that Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel suggested Israel controlled the State Department in a question and answer session following a speech at Rutgers University is now the subject of considerable attention.

Hagel’s host–Hooshang Amirahmadi–should not simply be a background personality in the story, however. Amirahmadi, the founder and president of the American Iranian Council,  is a well-known figure in Iranian circles. Soon after Hagel’s talk, Amirahmadi told Asr-i Iran (with a translation provided by Ali Alfoneh), “The problem of terrorism is a true myth. Iran has not been involved with any terrorist organization. Neither Hezbollah, nor Hamas are terrorist organizations….”

Hagel certainly has an odd sense of the company he keeps. Let us hope that U.S. national security will trump party loyalty after the Senate’s recess.

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Brennan Vulnerable on More Than Drones

The consensus in the last month among political observers is that while Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense faced serious challenges that would ultimately fall short of stopping him, there was never a chance that the president’s choice to run the CIA would be turned down by the Senate. With so much fire concentrated on Hagel, it was assumed that White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan would skate to an easy victory even if tough questions were posed at his confirmation hearing. The day of that hearing has finally arrived, and though it is doubtful that he will be rejected, it looks as though he will face an even rougher time than expected when on the Senate hot seat.

Much of that has to do with the recent revelations about the administration’s guidelines about conducting drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets. Liberal Democrats like Ron Wyden and a libertarian Republican like Rand Paul will rake him over the coals about this controversial, though justified policy. Other Republicans will take him to task for the disaster at Benghazi and try again to probe into the questions of who in the White House knew what and when did they know it about the incident, as well as who changed the talking points which led to administration figures like Susan Rice putting out false information about the murders having resulted from a film protest rather than a terror attack.

Those will be the headlines of today’s hearings, and though they are topics that deserve scrutiny there are other questions that need to be asked about Brennan’s views that may be of even greater importance in determining his fitness to lead the country’s intelligence operations. Brennan’s positions on engagement with Iran, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood need to be given as much attention as that given to the drones and Benghazi.

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The consensus in the last month among political observers is that while Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be secretary of defense faced serious challenges that would ultimately fall short of stopping him, there was never a chance that the president’s choice to run the CIA would be turned down by the Senate. With so much fire concentrated on Hagel, it was assumed that White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan would skate to an easy victory even if tough questions were posed at his confirmation hearing. The day of that hearing has finally arrived, and though it is doubtful that he will be rejected, it looks as though he will face an even rougher time than expected when on the Senate hot seat.

Much of that has to do with the recent revelations about the administration’s guidelines about conducting drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets. Liberal Democrats like Ron Wyden and a libertarian Republican like Rand Paul will rake him over the coals about this controversial, though justified policy. Other Republicans will take him to task for the disaster at Benghazi and try again to probe into the questions of who in the White House knew what and when did they know it about the incident, as well as who changed the talking points which led to administration figures like Susan Rice putting out false information about the murders having resulted from a film protest rather than a terror attack.

Those will be the headlines of today’s hearings, and though they are topics that deserve scrutiny there are other questions that need to be asked about Brennan’s views that may be of even greater importance in determining his fitness to lead the country’s intelligence operations. Brennan’s positions on engagement with Iran, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood need to be given as much attention as that given to the drones and Benghazi.

As terrorism investigator Steve Emerson notes, Brennan wrote an academic paper in 2008 that championed engagement with Iran. The paper was the blueprint in some ways for much of the Obama administration’s foolish attempt to sweet talk the Iranians and was based on the fallacy that moderates within the Islamist regime could overcome the hardliners with enough encouragement. That was a misreading of the situation in Tehran that had already been debunked by events by the time it was written but which was more fully exposed during the years of the Obama presidency, as time after time Iran used the diplomatic process to manipulate the West into giving them more time to achieve their nuclear goal. Going forward the key question is how willing is the administration to go back down that dead end road and let the Iranians prevaricate long enough to get their bomb?

The same question must be posed about Brennan’s position about Hezbollah. Brennan has used the same sort of language about moderates within that terrorist organization that he used to justify the feckless engagement policy with Iran. Indeed, Brennan has even called for Americans to “cease public Iran bashing” and to “tolerate, and even … encourage, greater assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon’s political system.” Brennan has spoken as if the group was evolving away from terrorism even though the evidence for this is slight and the group is still operated by people who have killed many Americans and runs under orders from Iran. The recent murderous terror attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria carried out by Hezbollah demonstrates how wrong Brennan has been on this subject.

Brennan also appears to be part of the consensus within the administration that backed the U.S. embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt this year. Brennan has been at the head of an effort to do outreach with American supporters of the Brotherhood. He has also repeatedly sought to confuse the issue about support for jihadist goals by Muslims. His semantic arguments have been aimed at convincing Americans to view Islamist terrorism as somehow being motivated more by economics than religion. That is such a fundamental misunderstanding of America’s enemies as well as the history of the conflict and of the Arab and Muslim worlds that it is hard to see how a person who holds such views can be trusted to run the country’s intelligence operations.

John Brennan’s mindset about his supposed field of expertise—terrorism—appears to be stuck in a political vise that refuses to look clearly at the motivations of Islamists or at their goals. It is this kind of thinking that has led the administration to continually seek to appease Iran and Hezbollah and to empower the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The repercussions of these blunders are currently unfolding in the Middle East as Islamists tighten their grip on Egypt, revive a bloody terror campaign in North Africa and get closer to a nuclear weapon in Iran.

What is needed at the CIA is someone who will question the complacency about Islamism that predominated at the White House while Brennan ran its counter-terrorism shop. We can only guess at what new intelligence fiascos will occur on his watch at Langley. At the very least, the Senate should not let this nomination go forward without a thorough public examination of just how wrongheaded many of Brennan’s views have been. 

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Hezbollah’s Culpability in Bulgaria and Europe’s Moral Standing

During the early years of the post-9/11 war on terror, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made one of the most famous statements about Hezbollah in the terrorist group’s bloody history when he said: “Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe Al Qaeda is actually the B-team.” Al-Qaeda’s operatives learned much from Hezbollah; as Thomas Joscelyn pointed out in Iran’s Proxy War Against America:

It was during bin Laden’s time in Sudan that he first met Imad Mugniyah, Iran’s and Hezbollah’s master terrorist. Since the early 1980s, Mugniyah has been implicated in most, if not all, of Iran’s major anti-American terrorist operations. His “accomplishments” include the infamous 1983 U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut and a series of devastating follow-on attacks, which drove the U.S. out of Lebanon. During the early 1990s, bin Laden sought and received Mugniyah’s assistance in transforming al-Qaeda’s capabilities. With Mugniyah’s help, al-Qaeda acquired Hezbollah’s most lethal tactics, including the use of suicide bombers.

The attacks raised the profile and name recognition of Hezbollah once again because of the increased focus on international terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the group was overshadowed by the 9/11 culprits, most of all bin Laden. Since terrorist groups hate to be ignored (they rely on notoriety and information wars), Hezbollah reasserts itself from time to time. It appeared that that was exactly what happened when on July 18 a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria exploded, killing six plus the bomber. Now, after the investigation, we appear to have confirmation:

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During the early years of the post-9/11 war on terror, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage made one of the most famous statements about Hezbollah in the terrorist group’s bloody history when he said: “Hezbollah may be the A-team of terrorists and maybe Al Qaeda is actually the B-team.” Al-Qaeda’s operatives learned much from Hezbollah; as Thomas Joscelyn pointed out in Iran’s Proxy War Against America:

It was during bin Laden’s time in Sudan that he first met Imad Mugniyah, Iran’s and Hezbollah’s master terrorist. Since the early 1980s, Mugniyah has been implicated in most, if not all, of Iran’s major anti-American terrorist operations. His “accomplishments” include the infamous 1983 U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut and a series of devastating follow-on attacks, which drove the U.S. out of Lebanon. During the early 1990s, bin Laden sought and received Mugniyah’s assistance in transforming al-Qaeda’s capabilities. With Mugniyah’s help, al-Qaeda acquired Hezbollah’s most lethal tactics, including the use of suicide bombers.

The attacks raised the profile and name recognition of Hezbollah once again because of the increased focus on international terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the group was overshadowed by the 9/11 culprits, most of all bin Laden. Since terrorist groups hate to be ignored (they rely on notoriety and information wars), Hezbollah reasserts itself from time to time. It appeared that that was exactly what happened when on July 18 a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria exploded, killing six plus the bomber. Now, after the investigation, we appear to have confirmation:

Though investigators did not release names, they identified two of the plotters as a man with an Australian passport, believed to be the bombmaker, and a man with a Canadian passport, both of whom lived in Lebanon.

“We have followed their entire activities in Australia and Canada, so we have information about financing and their membership in Hezbollah,” Mr. Tsvetanov said at a news conference.

Condemnation from the U.S. and Bulgarian authorities was swift and forceful. The reaction of European leaders was less so. The U.S. has been trying to get the European Union to officially designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization–because they plainly are a terrorist organization, and because the EU is out of excuses not to take that step. The obsession with dialogue with one and all, and the EU’s substantially more nuanced view of good and evil than that of the U.S. or Israel, reached comical proportions with its refusal to take appropriate action toward Hezbollah.

Blacklisting the group and increasing attempts to freeze it out financially would make it more difficult for Hezbollah to operate so easily on European territory. Security analysts hope this will be a turning point in the EU’s approach to the group. “It’s time for Europeans to recognize that they can’t look the other way when a terrorist organization is using their territory with impunity for fund-raising and logistics,” Daniel Benjamin, a counterterrorism official in the Obama administration until recently, told the New York Times.

It’s also time for secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel to recognize that as well. Though Hagel has clumsily recanted his past controversial statements so as to appear genuinely confused about what he actually believes at his confirmation hearings, Hezbollah was one area of disagreement between Hagel’s critics and the former senator, whose position on the terrorist group was closer to that of the EU. Hagel refused to sign a letter encouraging the EU to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, pushed engagement with terrorist groups more broadly, and expressed noxious moral equivalence between Israel and Hezbollah during the war the two fought in the summer of 2006.

Attacks like the one in Bulgaria underline the folly of such an attitude. As an earlier analysis in the Times noted, much of Europe follows the lead of France and Germany, which have not designated Hezbollah a terrorist organization. And the concerns they have in doing so are nothing less than chilling:

“There’s the overall fear if we’re too noisy about this, Hezbollah might strike again, and it might not be Israeli tourists this time,” said Sylke Tempel, editor in chief of the German foreign affairs magazine Internationale Politik.

As Eugene Kontorovich points out at the Volokh Conspiracy, this amounts to a fear that if Europe is mean to the terrorists, those terrorists might kill non-Jews, which would be apparently where they draw the line.

Terrorism and anti-Semitism are both global problems that put in danger Jews and non-Jews alike, and undermine the stability and security of the free world. It’s as simple as that. For Europeans to draw the line between killing Jews and killing non-Jews is quite obviously repellant. Europe now must make a decision that will tell us much about the future of the European project. That we even got to this point in the first place doesn’t inspire much confidence in the EU’s fading moral compass.

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Iran Isolated? Don’t Ask Argentina

Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.

Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.

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Many in the United States assume that the international sanctions being enforced against Iran and the threats from American leaders about Tehran’s nuclear program have isolated that Islamist regime. But the reality of Iran’s diplomatic situation gives the lie to the blithe confidence about the West’s ability to make the ayatollahs give up their nuclear ambition. The fact that the Non-Aligned Movement held its conference in Tehran last fall with 120 United Nations member states in attendance–including the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt–should have been enough proof that isolation is a figment of the State Department’s imagination. But the decision of Argentina to create a joint “Truth Commission” with Iran to investigate the 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center building in Buenos Aires makes it official. Not only are Iran’s relations with most of the world thriving, but the Islamist Republic is also getting an official pass from another American ally for an act of international terror.

Iran was long believed to be behind the atrocity that took the lives of 85 people and injured 300, but in 2006 Argentine prosecutors formally charged both the Iranian government and Hezbollah for the crime. But the case was never pursued and now the government of Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has apparently gone beyond ignoring the past to taking an active step toward covering it up. This is not merely an insult to Jews and to Israel, whose Argentine embassy was also bombed by the same culprits a year before, but to the notion that Iran is without friends. Though some in Israel are hoping that the United States will relieve them of the need to take action on their own against the Iranian nuclear threat, this episode shows that the Obama administration’s belief that the solution to the problem lies in diplomacy may be hopelessly naïve.

The idea of a joint commission to investigate the crime supposedly is an effort to solve the mystery behind the explosion. But as the Argentines have already proven, there is no mystery. Iran is the culprit and giving it the right to name half of the jurists who will make up the investigating body assures them of the ability to block any honest finding.

But the main point here is not so much the notion that Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries will not be held accountable for mass murder. That was already a given. It is the brazen nature of Argentina’s decision to allow the Iranians to evade justice that really stings. It also ought to serve as one more wake-up call for the White House and State Department about Iran’s ability to continue to act on the international stage despite being branded as a terror sponsor. Under the circumstances, does anyone doubt that Iran believes the talk coming out of Washington about preventing them from going nuclear is mere bluster that they can ignore with impunity?

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Brennan’s Quest for a Moderate Hezbollah

President Obama’s choices of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan to lead respectively the State Department, Pentagon, and Central Intelligence Agency confirm that Obama wishes to position his legacy somewhat to the left even of Jimmy Carter. There has been a lot of attention to Chuck Hagel’s record over the last couple of weeks, but John Brennan has benefited from flying under the radar, if only because of the controversy surrounding Hagel.

It’s worth recalling, however, Brennan’s comments in 2010 upon returning from a visit to Lebanon. From a Reuters report at the time:

The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit. “Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, citing its evolution from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia to an organization that now has members within the parliament and the cabinet. “There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,” Brennan said.

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President Obama’s choices of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan to lead respectively the State Department, Pentagon, and Central Intelligence Agency confirm that Obama wishes to position his legacy somewhat to the left even of Jimmy Carter. There has been a lot of attention to Chuck Hagel’s record over the last couple of weeks, but John Brennan has benefited from flying under the radar, if only because of the controversy surrounding Hagel.

It’s worth recalling, however, Brennan’s comments in 2010 upon returning from a visit to Lebanon. From a Reuters report at the time:

The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit. “Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, citing its evolution from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia to an organization that now has members within the parliament and the cabinet. “There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,” Brennan said.

I have added the emphasis regarding Brennan’s suggestion that U.S. policy should be to build up “moderate” Hezbollah elements rather than seek that group’s destruction. The question should be especially important now, because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fall could starve Hezbollah of the oxygen it needs; never has Hezbollah’s future been so tenuous.

While back in 2010, I took a tongue-in-cheek approach to figuring out what a Hezbollah moderate might be, the questions senators should ask first would be whether a second term Obama administration will outstretch its hands not only to adversarial regimes, but also to terrorist groups, and second, what Brennan’s instincts would mean for a CIA under his leadership.

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Ambassadors Like Hagel; Do Generals?

Over at the Atlantic, James Fallows publishes a statement signed by 9 former ambassadors saying they have worked with former Senator Chuck Hagel, and he “has been opposed to those who would undermine or threaten Israel’s security.” Frankly, Fallows and others pushing for Hagel seek to caricature all opposition to him as motivated by his positions on Israel. That may be the case for some but, as with Chas Freeman—who was equally atrocious on China—it has far more to do with his broader foreign policy vision and gut instincts. Let’s look at the ambassadors endorsing Hagel:

Edward Djerejian: Djerejian has spent his retirement promoting rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad, and an end to the Syrian dictator’s isolation in Syria. His insertions regarding unrelated Israel issues in the Iraq Study Group report were, at best, bizarre.

Thomas Pickering: Pickering is an adviser to the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic and seeks to bring American foreign policy into greater conformity with Iran’s positions on controversial issues. They recently lost a defamation case against a journalist which called them out on their lobbying activities. Pickering was the group’s adviser when they sought to subpoena a decade’s worth of emails from me, anything that mentioned “Iran.” The subpoena was successfully fought, but the fact that Pickering would seek to compel release of even classified emails written when I was a Pentagon employee (which I didn’t have copies of at any rate) to hand to a pro-regime lobby group has forever made me question his judgment.

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Over at the Atlantic, James Fallows publishes a statement signed by 9 former ambassadors saying they have worked with former Senator Chuck Hagel, and he “has been opposed to those who would undermine or threaten Israel’s security.” Frankly, Fallows and others pushing for Hagel seek to caricature all opposition to him as motivated by his positions on Israel. That may be the case for some but, as with Chas Freeman—who was equally atrocious on China—it has far more to do with his broader foreign policy vision and gut instincts. Let’s look at the ambassadors endorsing Hagel:

Edward Djerejian: Djerejian has spent his retirement promoting rapprochement with Bashar al-Assad, and an end to the Syrian dictator’s isolation in Syria. His insertions regarding unrelated Israel issues in the Iraq Study Group report were, at best, bizarre.

Thomas Pickering: Pickering is an adviser to the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a group that lobbies against sanctions on the Islamic Republic and seeks to bring American foreign policy into greater conformity with Iran’s positions on controversial issues. They recently lost a defamation case against a journalist which called them out on their lobbying activities. Pickering was the group’s adviser when they sought to subpoena a decade’s worth of emails from me, anything that mentioned “Iran.” The subpoena was successfully fought, but the fact that Pickering would seek to compel release of even classified emails written when I was a Pentagon employee (which I didn’t have copies of at any rate) to hand to a pro-regime lobby group has forever made me question his judgment.

Ryan Crocker: I have great respect for Ambassador Crocker, but his June 8, 2010 testimony before the Senate regarding Hezbollah continues to trouble me. “We should talk to Hezbollah,” Crocker said. “One thing I learned in Iraq is engagement can be extremely valuable in ending an insurgency.” Does Crocker really believe that he could turn Hezbollah by talking to them? Perhaps. Certainly Hagel does and that, itself, is problematic as it plays into Tehran’s strategy of attacking by proxy while maintaining plausible deniability.

William Luers: While never an ambassador to Israel, as Fallows suggested, Luers is a frequent contributor to the op-ed pages. In a 2009 piece for The New York Review of Books, Luers urged unconditional talks and even greater incentives for Iran. That didn’t turn out so well but in Hagel, Luers has found one of the few figures who is willing to overlook evidence and make the same mistakes repeatedly.

Nicholas Burns: Throughout his career in the State Department hierarchy, Burn has always pushed the line that diplomacy has no cost. Speaking before the Senate on May 6, 2009, he declared, “We will be no worse off if we try diplomacy and fail.” Alas, if the adversary seeks to use diplomacy as a mechanism for delay rather than as a process to resolve conflict, the cost of diplomacy can be very great indeed.

Samuel Lewis: Lewis’s blind support for Hagel should not surprise. Lewis was also a vocal defender of Chas Freeman, Jr., who withdrew from consideration to head the National Intelligence Council after his views, analysis, and biases embarrassed President Obama.

William Harrop: Has, since his retirement from the Foreign Service, appeared increasingly taken in by fringe views of “the Israel Lobby.” He certainly is entitled to them, but his endorsement may do more harm than good.

All of these former ambassadors should be applauded for endorsing Chuck Hagel. They believe he is an honorable man whose views conform to their own and it is to their credit that they will come out directly and say so. They appear to like Hagel because, when it comes to engaging Hezbollah, talks without end with Iran and, for a few among them, the nefarious power of pro-Israel advocates, his views conform to their own. Many, like Pickering, Djerejian, Luers, and perhaps Lewis, appear frequent participants on the post-retirement letter-signing circuit.

What I take from their endorsement is that Hagel would fit in well at Foggy Bottom, but will have a hard time at the Pentagon winning the respect of men whose buddies have been murdered by the very regimes and groups upon which Hagel wants to bestow legitimacy. It will be interesting to see if Hagel and his supporters can find an equal number of prominent former Pentagon officials (Frank Wisner, who is already listed, aside), to endorse him.

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Hagel’s Hezbollah Problem

As others have made clear, Chuck Hagel’s problems extend beyond his controversial comments about the “Jewish lobby.” Several of his stated positions–and not just his opposition to Iran sanctions–could have practical consequences for U.S. interests. A prime example is the European Union’s indication that it may finally designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, depending on the outcome of the Burgas bus bombing investigation. The U.S. has lobbied the reluctant EU on this for years, since the move would cut off much of the terror group’s funding:

European diplomats from Spain and France have told the Post that blacklisting Hezbollah is contingent on the outcome of the Bulgarian investigation into a July bombing in Burgas which killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. American and Israeli intelligence officials believe a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation executed the suicide bombing. Europe has held the line on its ban of Hamas in 2003. Hezbollah’s terrorism is equally deadly and there are no shortage of compelling reasons to evict Hezbollah from European soil.

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As others have made clear, Chuck Hagel’s problems extend beyond his controversial comments about the “Jewish lobby.” Several of his stated positions–and not just his opposition to Iran sanctions–could have practical consequences for U.S. interests. A prime example is the European Union’s indication that it may finally designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, depending on the outcome of the Burgas bus bombing investigation. The U.S. has lobbied the reluctant EU on this for years, since the move would cut off much of the terror group’s funding:

European diplomats from Spain and France have told the Post that blacklisting Hezbollah is contingent on the outcome of the Bulgarian investigation into a July bombing in Burgas which killed five Israelis and their Bulgarian bus driver. American and Israeli intelligence officials believe a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation executed the suicide bombing. Europe has held the line on its ban of Hamas in 2003. Hezbollah’s terrorism is equally deadly and there are no shortage of compelling reasons to evict Hezbollah from European soil.

It’s a promising sign from the EU, but the U.S. will still need to continue the pressure. While serving as ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hagel drew notice in 2006 for refusing to sign onto a letter calling on the EU to designate Hezbollah–a letter that was signed by 88 Senators. The decision was striking, considering his prominent role in the committee. It also gave cover to an Iranian-allied terrorist organization, in direct contradiction with U.S. interests. What signal would his potential appointment send to the EU about the U.S.’s seriousness on cracking down on Hezbollah?

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President Should Sign “Counter Iran in the Western Hemisphere” Act

Word came yesterday evening that the House of Representatives has agreed with a Senate amendment and so Rep. Jeff Duncan’s (R-South Carolina) “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act” will head to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

If the bill becomes a law—and presumably it will because the White House did not oppose it—then the secretary of state will have to report to Congress on a broad range of Iranian activity in the Western hemisphere. According to the Congressional Research Service’s summary, the report will include:

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Word came yesterday evening that the House of Representatives has agreed with a Senate amendment and so Rep. Jeff Duncan’s (R-South Carolina) “Countering Iran in the Western Hemisphere Act” will head to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

If the bill becomes a law—and presumably it will because the White House did not oppose it—then the secretary of state will have to report to Congress on a broad range of Iranian activity in the Western hemisphere. According to the Congressional Research Service’s summary, the report will include:

(1) Descriptions of the presence, activities, and operations of Iran, the IRGC, the IRGC’s Qods Force, and Hezbollah;

(2) descriptions of the terrain, population, ports, foreign firms, airports, borders, media outlets, financial centers, foreign embassies, charities, religious and cultural centers, and income-generating activities utilized by Iran, the IRGC, the IRGC’s Qods Force, and Hezbollah;

(3) descriptions of the relationship of Iran, the IRGC, the IRGC’s Qods Force, and Hezbollah with transnational criminal organizations;

(4) descriptions of the relationship of Iran, the IRGC, the IRGC’s Qods Force, and Hezbollah that may be present with governments in the Western Hemisphere;

(5) descriptions of federal law enforcement capabilities, military forces, state and local government institutions, and other critical elements, such as nongovernmental organizations that may organize to counter the Iranian threat in the Western Hemisphere; [and]

(6) descriptions of activity by Iran, the IRGC, the IRGC’s Qods Force, and Hezbollah that may be present at the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada and at other international borders within the Western Hemisphere

Under Secretary of State Clinton and her two Bush administration predecessors, the State Department’s attitude toward Iran in the Western hemisphere has been “hear no evil, see no evil, report no evil.” Yet, the Iranian government has pursued an active strategy in the region. My American Enterprise Institute colleague Roger Noreiga has written a great deal on the Iran-Venezuela nexus, including here at COMMENTARY. His analysis has been remarkably prescient; most critics counter not Roger’s evidence, but simply the fact that the State Department has yet to second his findings. The reason for that is, more often than not, because diplomats refuse to look. Let us hope that Obama signs the bill: Information should not an enemy for policymakers.

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IAEA: Bibi’s Red Line Warnings Were Right

Hamas’s decision not to go along with their patron Iran’s determination to keep Bashar Assad in power in Syria broke up a profitable alliance that had worked well for both parties. But though the two may no longer be working in tandem, Hamas’s decision to launch a rocket offensive against Israel did a favor for the country that had supplied the terror group with cash and weapons for a decade: it diverted international attention away from the release of a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about the Iranian nuclear program.

That’s fortuitous for Iran, since the IAEA’s latest findings about Tehran’s project more or less confirm the warnings that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued from the podium of the General Assembly of the United Nations in September. As Britain’s Guardian reports, all those pundits and kibitzers who mocked Netanyahu’s rhetoric and graphic display at the UN may need to rethink their position:

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Hamas’s decision not to go along with their patron Iran’s determination to keep Bashar Assad in power in Syria broke up a profitable alliance that had worked well for both parties. But though the two may no longer be working in tandem, Hamas’s decision to launch a rocket offensive against Israel did a favor for the country that had supplied the terror group with cash and weapons for a decade: it diverted international attention away from the release of a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about the Iranian nuclear program.

That’s fortuitous for Iran, since the IAEA’s latest findings about Tehran’s project more or less confirm the warnings that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued from the podium of the General Assembly of the United Nations in September. As Britain’s Guardian reports, all those pundits and kibitzers who mocked Netanyahu’s rhetoric and graphic display at the UN may need to rethink their position:

Iran has expanded its enrichment capacity and is enriching uranium at a pace that would bring it to what Israel has declared an unacceptable red line in just over seven months, according to a report by the UN nuclear watchdog. The red line drawn by Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, during his UN appearance in September, represented 240kg of 20%-enriched uranium, enough to make a warhead if further enriched to weapons grade.

The sensitivity of 20% uranium figure is that it can be turned into weapons grade relatively fast and easily. The last time the IAEA inspectors drew up a report, three months ago, Iran had made 189kg of 20% uranium. but had used nearly 100kg for civilian purposes, leaving an outstanding 96kg.

In the last three months, that stockpile has grown by 43kg and Iran has not diverted any more of it to civil uses. At the current steady rate of production, that would bring Iran to the Israeli red line by mid-June. But it also installed new centrifuges at its underground enrichment plant in Fordow, with which it could double its rate of production if it chose to do so.

The IAEA report should concentrate American minds on the fact that although the erratically enforced international economic sanctions imposed on Iran have caused great pain to the country, they have done nothing to weaken the resolve of the ayatollahs to stick to their nuclear plan. The June red line date gives President Obama only a few months to do something to vindicate his insistence that diplomacy can work to persuade the Iranians to give up their nuclear ambition. Though the attention focused on Hamas’s war has diverted the press and the public from the question of Iran this week, Washington shouldn’t count on the Israelis being similarly distracted.

The fact that the Iranians understand this all too well is apparent in their attitude toward the fighting going on along the Israel-Gaza border. Though Iran’s vilification of Israel is second to none, it has not sought to do anything to ease the pressure on their former allies. While the Israelis are pounding Hamas, Iran’s Hezbollah auxiliaries have been suspiciously quiet. Iran could order Hezbollah to start firing its own rockets at northern Israel–something that could put a terrible strain on the Jewish state’s already heavily burdened missile defense systems. But they haven’t done so. The reason for this is that they know that if they did unleash Hezbollah, it would give the Israelis an excuse to launch an all-out offensive aimed at knocking out the Lebanese terror group’s offensive capabilities. That would mean that Iran would be deprived of a major deterrent to an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities.

Nevertheless, the bottom line here is that the UN group has confirmed that Netanyahu’s calculations about the moment when Iran would have the ability to create a weapon were largely accurate. That leaves the ball firmly placed in President Obama’s court. The clock is ticking down the moments until Iran passes the red line that will mark them as a potential nuclear power. It is also counting down the time that the president has left before he will be forced to choose between taking action against Iran or reneging on his campaign promises to stop them.

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Is this How the Israel-Iran War Begins?

Experts and defense analysts agree that Iran would respond to any Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities by proxy, specifically by Hamas and Hezbollah rocketry launched at Israeli towns and cities. Indeed, this is one of the reasons beyond sheer ideological spite that the Iranian leadership has gone to such great lengths to arm both Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Iranian leadership may be coming very close to forcing Israel’s hand. If Hezbollah seeks to open a second front against Israel, then Israel could find itself in a two-front war with terrorist entities. Make no mistake, Israel would achieve its objective of destroying the majority of the longest-range and most lethal missiles supplied to Hamas and Hezbollah by Iran, Syria, and perhaps even North Korea.

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Experts and defense analysts agree that Iran would respond to any Israeli strike on its nuclear facilities by proxy, specifically by Hamas and Hezbollah rocketry launched at Israeli towns and cities. Indeed, this is one of the reasons beyond sheer ideological spite that the Iranian leadership has gone to such great lengths to arm both Hamas and Hezbollah.

The Iranian leadership may be coming very close to forcing Israel’s hand. If Hezbollah seeks to open a second front against Israel, then Israel could find itself in a two-front war with terrorist entities. Make no mistake, Israel would achieve its objective of destroying the majority of the longest-range and most lethal missiles supplied to Hamas and Hezbollah by Iran, Syria, and perhaps even North Korea.

This might reduce the costs to Israel of undertaking a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. After all, if Hamas and Hezbollah are temporarily neutered and if the Israeli government concludes that the elements of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who would have command and control over any Iranian nuclear arsenal would pose an existential threat, then the Israelis may decide that their window of opportunity would never be so favorable as the present. After all, Iran’s air defense is only going to get more sophisticated with time, and its missile program is advancing steadily, and so time is otherwise not on Israel’s side.

The Iranians often quip that they play chess while their opponents play checkers. Let us hope before it is too late that the Iranian regime comes to realize, despite its overconfidence, that it is not the grandmaster it believes itself to be.

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