Commentary Magazine


Topic: Tehran

A Consequential Event, a Tectonic Shift, a Silent President

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

Elliott Abrams writes that Hezbollah’s power grab in Lebanon is a “consequential event” — reflecting the continuing reduction of American influence in the Middle East as Iranian influence continues to rise:

The last straw may have been the decision to send an ambassador to Syria by recess appointment despite the Senate’s unwillingness to confirm the Administration’s candidate. That foolish gesture must have indicated to the Syrians and to Hizballah that the Administration had learned nothing from two years of insults and rebuffs by Damascus.

It is not clear that the administration has learned anything either from two years of insults and rebuffs by Iran. Iran deigns to take a meeting in Istanbul: the Minutes of the prior meeting 15 months ago are read and approved; Iran refuses to discuss any New Business unless sanctions are ended; the meeting ends without scheduling another one. A Turkish nuclear expert says the walkout means Iran is going to ride out the sanctions, which no one describes as “crippling.” Bad Rachel has a devastating summary of Obama’s “efforts to force engagement down the throats of our enemies.”

Boker tov, Boulder! has an illustrated round-up, with a comment by Mannie Sherberg that Lebanon may signal a “tectonic shift” in Middle East politics — with “much more quivering and quaking in Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt” than Israel:

Throughout modern history, we in the West have assumed that the Middle East was — and would remain — a Sunni region of the world with a small and insignificant minority of Shi’ites. That changed, of course, in 1979, but even then — with the single exception of Iran — the Middle East remained predominantly Sunni. Suddenly, with Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon, it and Iran — with a compliant Syria in-between — make up a very large chunk of the Middle East. … With Tunisia facing a very uncertain future, and with Egypt on the brink of what could be radical change, the next few years could see unimaginable turmoil in the Muslim world.

Barry Rubin writes that it is a very sad day for the Middle East and Western interests:

What do you think the rest of the region is going to take away from this? America cannot or will not protect you. Islamism and Iran are the wave of the future. Submit or die. And that’s even before Tehran gets nuclear weapons. The way things are going, maybe Iran doesn’t even need them.

And where is the United States? Asleep. … An American government that will put all of its resources into preventing the construction of apartment buildings in east Jerusalem can barely be roused to prevent the construction of an Islamist-dominated state in a country of tremendous strategic significance.

In a one-hour, 7,000-word speech to Congress and the nation last night, President Obama devoted one sentence to Iran, saying that because of a “diplomatic effort,” it now faces “tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.” In last year’s speech, he emphatically promised “growing consequences” if Iran continued to ignore its obligations. Last night, he made no such promise.

About Lebanon, he had nothing to say.

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The Fall of Beirut

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt now says he “supports” Hezbollah and the ghastly regime in Syria that murdered his father and his friend Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah’s fan boys should not kid themselves here. Jumblatt is under duress and is only saying what he must to ensure his own survival and that of his people.

Saad Hariri remains defiant, but Michael Young — the best analyst of Lebanon’s internal politics — thinks he probably won’t return as prime minister. If that’s the case, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution is well and truly cooked. Beirut is being cleverly reconquered by Damascus and Tehran, and is rejoining, against its will, the Iran-led Resistance Bloc.

Everybody in Lebanon needs to understand something: Israel is more likely than ever to target the entire country during the next round of conflict. Not since 1948 has Israel fought a war against the Lebanese government; its wars in Lebanon have always been waged against terrorist organizations that were beyond the control of the state.

But if Hezbollah leads the government, the government will be a legitimate target. That’s how it works. Regime-change in Lebanon would have been an insane policy with Hariri’s March 14 coalition in charge, but it won’t be if Hezbollah is calling the shots.

The next war will almost certainly be bloodier than the last.

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt now says he “supports” Hezbollah and the ghastly regime in Syria that murdered his father and his friend Rafik Hariri. Hezbollah’s fan boys should not kid themselves here. Jumblatt is under duress and is only saying what he must to ensure his own survival and that of his people.

Saad Hariri remains defiant, but Michael Young — the best analyst of Lebanon’s internal politics — thinks he probably won’t return as prime minister. If that’s the case, Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution is well and truly cooked. Beirut is being cleverly reconquered by Damascus and Tehran, and is rejoining, against its will, the Iran-led Resistance Bloc.

Everybody in Lebanon needs to understand something: Israel is more likely than ever to target the entire country during the next round of conflict. Not since 1948 has Israel fought a war against the Lebanese government; its wars in Lebanon have always been waged against terrorist organizations that were beyond the control of the state.

But if Hezbollah leads the government, the government will be a legitimate target. That’s how it works. Regime-change in Lebanon would have been an insane policy with Hariri’s March 14 coalition in charge, but it won’t be if Hezbollah is calling the shots.

The next war will almost certainly be bloodier than the last.

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The Unintended Consequences of a Unilateral Declaration of Statehood for Palestine

Anyone taking seriously the Palestinians’ current diplomatic offensive against Israel — by way of a UN resolution on settlements and international recognition of Palestine as an independent state — should think again. In a must-read piece in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer a unique insight into Palestinian thinking. Their bottom line:

“In the hope of alarming Israelis, some Palestinians toy with options they haven’t seriously considered, don’t believe in, or cannot implement. … It’s a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state. Not one of these ideas has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point. They are essentially attempts to show that Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals’ lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none.”

Palestinian diplomats quietly explain that even if the PA eventually declares independence unilaterally, it does not aspire to go beyond the rhetoric of the declaration and the whirlwind of diplomatic recognition they anticipate will follow. They think such a step might put them in a better position to negotiate with Israel on the outstanding issues that remain unsolved without realizing that such a dramatic step — taken from Ramallah by the PA rather than from Algiers by the PLO as happened 23 years ago — may trigger far worse consequences this time.

Israel might take unilateral actions to respond, which would expose the inadequacy of Palestinian proclamations and further reduce for the future the space available for a Palestinian sovereign entity. Israel could easily show the hollowness of such a declaration by challenging the PA to establish sovereignty for real — and Palestinians have no intentions, let alone a plan, to even begin doing so at border crossings, checkpoints, on the airwaves, in their airspace, on their shores, and in many other areas where independence may be affirmed (controversially, one may add, in the absence of agreement with Israel) by the exercise of sovereign attributes. Read More

Anyone taking seriously the Palestinians’ current diplomatic offensive against Israel — by way of a UN resolution on settlements and international recognition of Palestine as an independent state — should think again. In a must-read piece in the New York Review of Books, Robert Malley and Hussein Agha offer a unique insight into Palestinian thinking. Their bottom line:

“In the hope of alarming Israelis, some Palestinians toy with options they haven’t seriously considered, don’t believe in, or cannot implement. … It’s a curious list: unilaterally declaring statehood, obtaining UN recognition, dissolving the PA, or walking away from the idea of negotiated partition altogether and calling for a single, binational state. Not one of these ideas has been well thought out, debated, or genuinely considered as a strategic choice, which, of course, is not their point. They are essentially attempts to show that Palestinians have alternatives to negotiation with Israel even as the proposals’ lack of seriousness demonstrably establishes that they currently have none.”

Palestinian diplomats quietly explain that even if the PA eventually declares independence unilaterally, it does not aspire to go beyond the rhetoric of the declaration and the whirlwind of diplomatic recognition they anticipate will follow. They think such a step might put them in a better position to negotiate with Israel on the outstanding issues that remain unsolved without realizing that such a dramatic step — taken from Ramallah by the PA rather than from Algiers by the PLO as happened 23 years ago — may trigger far worse consequences this time.

Israel might take unilateral actions to respond, which would expose the inadequacy of Palestinian proclamations and further reduce for the future the space available for a Palestinian sovereign entity. Israel could easily show the hollowness of such a declaration by challenging the PA to establish sovereignty for real — and Palestinians have no intentions, let alone a plan, to even begin doing so at border crossings, checkpoints, on the airwaves, in their airspace, on their shores, and in many other areas where independence may be affirmed (controversially, one may add, in the absence of agreement with Israel) by the exercise of sovereign attributes.

The Arab world — already under pressure on account of developments in Tunisia and uncertain succession challenges from Egypt to Saudi Arabia — might only act in so far as their actions will safeguard the regimes. As usual, their support will be rhetorical — with some diplomatic backing here and there — but hardly decisive. There may be some pledges of cash; whether the money comes is a different, and altogether sadly familiar, story.

Meanwhile, rejectionists in Gaza, Damascus, and Tehran will probably see this development as an opportunity — to wreak havoc, to fan the flames of conflict, to corner the PA for its acquiescence to Israel, and to establish themselves once and for all as the authentic standard bearers of the Palestinian cause.

Clearly, then, the only way forward seems to be the old one and the one that Palestinians currently avoid — direct negotiations with Israel to solve all outstanding issues. Instead, the PA and its diplomatic apparatus pursues the beaten path of failure — change the international balance in your favor so as to weaken your opponent’s negotiating ability, in the hope that this strategy will obviate the need for direct talks. Hence the quest for a UN resolution on settlements — to get the UN, not direct negotiations, to solve borders and territory.

Palestinians are woefully unprepared to handle both the likely consequences of a unilateral declaration and the Israeli response — not to mention the practical implications of independence. They also fail to see that all the successful diplomacy in the world will not undo what history did since 1947 to their ambitions.

What they want, in other words, is sovereignty without responsibility — a goal that reveals their game.

Hussein Agha and Robert Malley may not see it this way, of course, but their exposure of how hollow and unserious the current PA strategy is does a great service to those who are considering support for either Palestinian unilateral independence or, for that matter, the current Palestinian effort to get the UN Security Council to condemn settlements.

Settlements will not go away with a UN resolution. Palestine will not be independent just because its president said so and many heads of state around the world upgraded Palestinian missions to embassy status in La Paz, Santiago, or even Moscow.

Only direct talks will achieve this — with a full appreciation that history cannot be undone, no matter how unfair it may look to you.

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Israel: 1991-2011

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Read More

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets began to rain down on Tel Aviv. The specter of a chemical attack was Israel’s nightmare, because anthrax was a reality in Saddam’s Iraq. Thirty-nine missiles fell on Israel. On those cold nights, the Israelis wore gas masks, because Saddam had revived the idea in the Israeli unconscious that the Jews could be gassed again. The Israelis checked the shelters, sealing doors and windows, they stood in line for gas masks in the hallways of neighborhood elementary schools, and watched chemical-warfare defense videos. Food cans quickly disappeared from the supermarkets. “Drink a lot of water” was the army’s advice against the effects of a possible biochemical attack. Saddam’s Scuds damaged 4,393 buildings, 3,991 apartments, and 331 public institutions. This accounting does not include the incalculable costs of equipping every Israeli with a gas mask, of the need for every Israeli family to prepare sealed rooms, of the national disruption caused by multiple alerts, and of lost business and tourism.

Twenty years ago, Saddam Hussein threatened to “burn half of Israel.” Today Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has promised to wipe out the “dead rats,” as he called the Israelis. Tehran is the biggest strategic threat to Israel’s existence, especially by the terror satellites of Hezbollah and Hamas. According to the new Israeli intelligence reports, Iran would now be able to launch 400 “lethal” missiles on Tel Aviv. Hezbollah could launch up to 600 rockets per day. From Teheran to Tel Aviv, an Iranian Shihab-3 rocket would take 12 minutes to hit the Jewish state. The Dan area of Tel Aviv, where live a quarter of the entire Israeli population, is the target of the next war, about which nobody knows if and when it will burst, but everyone knows that it will have emblazoned within it the eyes of the ayatollahs.

Israel is investing in its own survival. Both Tel Aviv and the port city of Haifa were severely hit by the rockets of 1991. But, for the first time since the birth of Israel, tomorrow these cities could be reached by devastating bombs. The power of death in the region has risen dramatically. It has been estimated that four years ago, Syria had 300 missiles that could reach Tel Aviv, a dozen for Hezbollah, 50 for Iran, and nothing for Hamas. Two years later, Syria had 1,300, Hezbollah 800, Hamas a dozen, and Iran 300. Today it’s 2,300 for Syria, 1,200 for Hezbollah, 400 for Teheran, and a good arsenal of Fajr-5 for Hamas. Jerusalem could be hit with a precision that would leave intact the Al-Aqsa Mosque. So Tel Aviv today is not extending only to the sky with its beautiful skyscrapers but also sinks into the ground because it’s a new target for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

The Habima Theater, for example, will have four underground floors, with entrances on each side. Jerusalem should see the opening of the largest nuclear bunker across the country: 80 feet underground to accommodate 5,000 people. Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, is building “the largest underground hospital in the world.” And the state is continuing the distribution of gas masks. These first appeared in 1991, when Benjamin Netanyahu, then the Israeli deputy foreign minister, appeared on CNN with a mask. Today thousands of private Israeli homes have been equipped with nuclear-proof shelters ranging from air filters to water-decontamination systems.

Drills have become a routine all over the country. Hospitals and emergency facilities have to be ready in case of necessity, and the municipalities have evacuation protocols. A postcard of the Home Front Command, delivered to Israeli citizens, divide the country into six regions, from the Negev to the Golan. Each region has different times of reaction in case of attack. If you live along the Gaza Strip, you have 20 seconds to shelter. In Jerusalem, it’s three minutes. But if you live close to Lebanon or Syria, the color red means that, unless you are already in a bunker, you just have to wait for the rocket. The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, is building a labyrinth of underground tunnels and rooms where the Jewish leadership would guide the country in case of attacks.

Twenty years after the first Gulf War, Israel remains the only “bunkered” democracy in the world and is now even more relentlessly demonized and ghettoized. But if in 1991 Israel responded with understatement and quiet civil courage, it will probably react differently to Iran’s nuclearization. Because, as Joe McCain wrote few years ago, “the Jews will not go quietly again.”

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The Beginning of the End of Swiss ‘Active Neutrality’?

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

Since the introduction of global sanctions against Iran last year, encompassing 33 countries, Switzerland has defied the West, including the Obama administration and the EU, by touting its “active neutrality” position, whatever that means.

Today, however, the Swiss government relented and announced that it will fall into line with EU sanctions targeting Iran’s energy sector.

WikiLeaks cables have documented the tensions between the U.S. government and the Swiss government over the latter’s overly cordial relations with Iran. Yet WikiLeaks did not ambush any of the seasoned observers of Swiss-U.S. and Swiss-Israeli relations. The Swiss Foreign Ministry has gone to great lengths to maximize their gas and other economic deals with the mullah regime. One need only recall Micheline Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister who in 2008 enthusiastically embraced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

The purpose of her Tehran visit was to sign off on the estimated 18-22 billion euro EGL gas deal with the National Iranian Gas Export Company (NIGEC). The gas revenues from the deal with NIGEC, whose parent company, National Iranian Gas Company, was placed on Britain’s Proliferation Concerns List in February 2009, would end up funding Iran’s nuclear-weapons program as well as its wholly owned subsidiaries, Hamas and Hezbollah.

EGL is a Swiss state-owned gas giant, and the Bush administration and Israel protested vehemently and publicly against the deal back in 2008. WikiLeaks simply reiterated the U.S. anger that was already out there. Israel summoned the new Swiss ambassador at the time to bitterly complain about the Swiss jeopardizing the security of the Mideast region.

Calmy-Rey, a leader of the Social Democratic Party, has a troubling record on Iran. In 2006, while meeting with an Iranian delegation on the nuclear crisis, she proposed seminars on different perspectives of the Holocaust. That helps to explain why Roger Köppel, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Swiss weekly Die Weltwoche, wrote a Wall Street Journal Europe piece entitled, “Somebody Stop Calmy-Rey.”

Roger Köppel neatly captured the alliance of the loony Swiss left and fanatical Iranian Holocaust deniers. “One must understand the enormity of this: Ms. Calmy-Rey suggested a debate in Switzerland with Iranian Holocaust deniers on whether the murder of 6 million Jews actually happened. Fortunately, nothing came of this idea. It would not only have been outrageous, but also illegal, since genocide denial is a crime in Switzerland.”

While the statement that Switzerland’s “active neutrality” on the Iranian nuclear threat is welcome, the true test of its intentions will be the termination of the EGL-Iran gas deal.

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The Berlin-Rome-Tehran Axis

One of those dirty secrets that broad swaths of European media and politicians avoid like the plague is the ways in which European countries are propping up Tehran’s regime and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah via their pro-Iranian trade policies. Last year, Italy and Germany turned out to be Europe’s major economic respirators for Iran’s stagnating economic system, with an overall joint business volume of 10 billion euros.

Last summer, the EU signed off on watered-down economic sanctions targeting Iran. Nevertheless, the EU did awaken from its slumber and banned the delivery of crucial energy technology to the Islamic Republic. Whereas the more robust U.S. sanctions prohibit the acquisition of Iranian gas and crude oil, European countries are permitted to consume vast amounts of the stuff. Iran’s lifeline is the sale of its crude oil, and Italy has an Iranian oil addiction, with imports mushrooming by 90 percent in 2010.

Traditionally, Germany has  been Europe’s No. 1 trade partner with Iran. During the second Bush administration, U.S. diplomats urged German engineering firms and banks to end their flourishing deals with Iran. Bush had some striking successes, such as major German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank shutting down their Iranian operations. Bush twisted arms in Germany.

President Obama is limping on both legs in trying to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to shut down Iranian banks in Germany. Last summer, he called Merkel to persuade her to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank, an entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its involvement in Iran’s illicit nuclear-proliferation and ballistic-missile program. Merkel simply snubbed Obama.

Despite Merkel’s promises to the Israeli Knesset in 2008 and to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable“ and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped, business as usual takes priority over the so-called German-Israeli special relationship and defending Western and global security.

It seems that the time is ripe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to flex their diplomatic muscles and publicly urge Rome and Berlin to implement unilateral sanctions against Iran, as Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are a making a mockery of President Obama’s multilateral effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.

One of those dirty secrets that broad swaths of European media and politicians avoid like the plague is the ways in which European countries are propping up Tehran’s regime and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah via their pro-Iranian trade policies. Last year, Italy and Germany turned out to be Europe’s major economic respirators for Iran’s stagnating economic system, with an overall joint business volume of 10 billion euros.

Last summer, the EU signed off on watered-down economic sanctions targeting Iran. Nevertheless, the EU did awaken from its slumber and banned the delivery of crucial energy technology to the Islamic Republic. Whereas the more robust U.S. sanctions prohibit the acquisition of Iranian gas and crude oil, European countries are permitted to consume vast amounts of the stuff. Iran’s lifeline is the sale of its crude oil, and Italy has an Iranian oil addiction, with imports mushrooming by 90 percent in 2010.

Traditionally, Germany has  been Europe’s No. 1 trade partner with Iran. During the second Bush administration, U.S. diplomats urged German engineering firms and banks to end their flourishing deals with Iran. Bush had some striking successes, such as major German financial institutions like Deutsche Bank shutting down their Iranian operations. Bush twisted arms in Germany.

President Obama is limping on both legs in trying to convince Chancellor Angela Merkel to shut down Iranian banks in Germany. Last summer, he called Merkel to persuade her to pull the plug on the Hamburg-based European-Iranian trade bank, an entity that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department because of its involvement in Iran’s illicit nuclear-proliferation and ballistic-missile program. Merkel simply snubbed Obama.

Despite Merkel’s promises to the Israeli Knesset in 2008 and to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that Israel’s security is “non-negotiable“ and that Iran’s nuclear-weapons program must be stopped, business as usual takes priority over the so-called German-Israeli special relationship and defending Western and global security.

It seems that the time is ripe for President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to flex their diplomatic muscles and publicly urge Rome and Berlin to implement unilateral sanctions against Iran, as Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are a making a mockery of President Obama’s multilateral effort to isolate the Islamic Republic.

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Morning Commentary

I’m going to guess that, for President Obama, getting praised by Dick Cheney is a whole lot worse than being criticized by him. During an interview that aired on the Today show this morning, the former vice president noted that Obama has continued many of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies (“I think he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate”). Cheney also spoke about how he was perceived by the public during his last few years in office (“I was there to do a job. And if it meant I had to break some china to get the job done, I did it”).

Does Hillary Clinton’s speech on Tunisia last Thursday indicate a return of the freedom agenda? Lee Smith wonders whether her tough talk on human rights helped bring down Ben Ali: “Over the last two years the Obama administration has rightly been excoriated for ignoring human rights issues throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East. … But Thursday afternoon in Doha Secretary Clinton fired a shot across the bow of the Arab political order.”

Ahead of Saturday’s nuclear talks between P5+1 and Tehran, Iran’s nuclear negotiator has accused the U.S. of launching a “cyberattack” against the country’s facilities and claims to have documentation of U.S. involvement in Stuxnet (where would he have gotten that impression?): “‘Those who have done that could see now that they were not successful in that and we are following our success,’ he said. He added that Iran is not the only country vulnerable to cyberattacks, as evidenced by the WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables. ‘They are also weak and vulnerable,’ he said of the United States.”

In an interview with Just Journalism, Dr. Avner Cohen took a swipe at Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran article from last summer, which estimated that Israel had more than a 50 percent chance of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities by next July: “I never believed the alarmist story by Jeffrey Goldberg in July — I thought that he was speculating (or led by others to advance a highly speculative view) about issues that were not decided then, and surely much less so today.” Cohen also criticized the recent suggestion that Iran won’t be capable of building a bomb until 2015: “I think that anybody who suggests a concrete timetable is a fool. I do not take seriously any timetable.”

National Review’s Katrina Trinko explains why you should take those two new ObamaCare polls with a grain of salt: “Take the AP poll, which shows that 40 percent of adults support Obamacare and 41 percent oppose it. In November, the last time the AP polled this question, 38 percent supported Obamacare and 47 percent opposed it.  But the sample in November was very different: 38 percent Republican and 39 percent Democrat. The sample in January wasn’t so balanced, with 42 percent of the responders Democrat and 36 percent Republican.”

I’m going to guess that, for President Obama, getting praised by Dick Cheney is a whole lot worse than being criticized by him. During an interview that aired on the Today show this morning, the former vice president noted that Obama has continued many of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism policies (“I think he’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate”). Cheney also spoke about how he was perceived by the public during his last few years in office (“I was there to do a job. And if it meant I had to break some china to get the job done, I did it”).

Does Hillary Clinton’s speech on Tunisia last Thursday indicate a return of the freedom agenda? Lee Smith wonders whether her tough talk on human rights helped bring down Ben Ali: “Over the last two years the Obama administration has rightly been excoriated for ignoring human rights issues throughout the Arabic-speaking Middle East. … But Thursday afternoon in Doha Secretary Clinton fired a shot across the bow of the Arab political order.”

Ahead of Saturday’s nuclear talks between P5+1 and Tehran, Iran’s nuclear negotiator has accused the U.S. of launching a “cyberattack” against the country’s facilities and claims to have documentation of U.S. involvement in Stuxnet (where would he have gotten that impression?): “‘Those who have done that could see now that they were not successful in that and we are following our success,’ he said. He added that Iran is not the only country vulnerable to cyberattacks, as evidenced by the WikiLeaks release of U.S. diplomatic cables. ‘They are also weak and vulnerable,’ he said of the United States.”

In an interview with Just Journalism, Dr. Avner Cohen took a swipe at Jeffrey Goldberg’s Iran article from last summer, which estimated that Israel had more than a 50 percent chance of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities by next July: “I never believed the alarmist story by Jeffrey Goldberg in July — I thought that he was speculating (or led by others to advance a highly speculative view) about issues that were not decided then, and surely much less so today.” Cohen also criticized the recent suggestion that Iran won’t be capable of building a bomb until 2015: “I think that anybody who suggests a concrete timetable is a fool. I do not take seriously any timetable.”

National Review’s Katrina Trinko explains why you should take those two new ObamaCare polls with a grain of salt: “Take the AP poll, which shows that 40 percent of adults support Obamacare and 41 percent oppose it. In November, the last time the AP polled this question, 38 percent supported Obamacare and 47 percent opposed it.  But the sample in November was very different: 38 percent Republican and 39 percent Democrat. The sample in January wasn’t so balanced, with 42 percent of the responders Democrat and 36 percent Republican.”

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Stay Engaged with Tunisia

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters. Read More

As Max Boot implies, riot-torn Tunisia is not predestined for any particular future. The U.S. response will matter to the outcome. The sclerotic Ben Ali regime has been under rhetorical fire from dissidents for years due to its corrupt, repressive character, but there is no evidence of an organized opposition bent on armed revolution. No ideological red flags are waving over Tunisia; there may be groups encouraging the outbreak of unrest, but there has been no accelerating drumbeat from a well-defined radical organization like the plotters of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The riots in Tunisia mirror the fears in Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Jordan over a common set of economic woes: rising food and gas prices and high unemployment.

But while Tunisia may not be experiencing a centrally directed ideological revolt, the political conditions are not quiescent there. If pluralism and consensual government are to take hold, the U.S. will have to interest itself in the process. The usual suspects — the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda — have stakes in Tunisia already. The principal opposition group, al-Nadha (“Renaissance”), is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi (not to be confused with the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took power on Friday), is an exile in Britain, a biographical detail that echoes the history of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But Ghannouchi’s profile as a Sunni Islamist leader is more similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Ghannouchi endorses terrorist groups like Hamas but spends most of his time writing, lecturing, and attending conferences.

Rachid Ghannouchi has been largely silent during the past week’s unrest, giving no indication that he has specific political intentions. But he would be a natural focus of interest for regional governments — Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France — that are on the alert to influence developments in Tunisia. Attempts at influence by Tehran are a given as well: Ghannouchi was an early supporter of the 1979 revolution and has maintained his ties to Iranian clerics. Tunisia severed relations with Iran in the 1980s over the Islamic Republic’s penchant for fomenting unrest, but diplomatic and economic ties have been restored over the past decade. These ties include an Iranian cultural center in Tunis (referenced here and here), an entity that in other regional nations has been a means of introducing paramilitary operatives and Islamist recruiters.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has seized on the Tunisian unrest as a pretext for issuing audio appeals and a recruiting video. There is no evidence AQIM is organized for operations on a large scale, nor is the seizure of political power an al-Qaeda method. But any period of internal disorder in Tunisia will be an invitation to AQIM to ramp up its efforts there.

Tunisia sits on a crucial geographic chokepoint — the Strait of Sicily — in the central Mediterranean Sea. The U.S. and Europe can get away with shrinking navies while the Mediterranean coast is held by well-disposed governments. But Tunisia is one of a handful of nations in the world that could single-handedly turn a maritime choke point into an oversize international security problem. A radicalized Tunisia would have even greater security implications than a radicalized Libya or Algeria; the geography of a strait is a stern taskmaster. And Iran’s history of interest in the choke points on which the West relies for commerce and naval power (see here and here) suggests that the leadership in Tehran is fully aware of those implications and will do what it can to exploit them.

The good news is that a newly liberal, consensual government in Tunisia would be the best outcome for U.S. interests as well as for Tunisians. But we will have to actively encourage that outcome if we want to see it. The forces working against it are sure to multiply.

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Morning Commentary

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

China, Russia, and the EU have reportedly snubbed Iran’s invitation to visit its nuclear facilities. The trip was intended to undermine the upcoming P5+1 talks with Tehran. However, Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, and Syria are still planning to take the Iranian government up on the offer.

The nominations for RNC chair start today, and Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Reince Priebus still appears to be the front-runner, with approximately 44 committee members expected to support him. In comparison, incumbent RNC chair Michael Steele can currently count on support from around 24 members, according to Politico: “On a tactical level, the race has come down to two questions: How quickly can Steele’s challengers leave him in the dust? And can anyone get a decisive edge if the chairman falters early?”

For the fifth consecutive year, Freedom House has reported a worldwide decline in freedom. The number of “free” countries dropped from 89 to 87 last year, and the overall number of electoral democracies has dropped from 123 to 115 since 2005. From the Washington Post editorial board: “When the United States does not advocate strongly for freedom, other democracies tend to retreat and autocracies feel emboldened. If the disturbing trend documented by Freedom House is to be reversed, Mr. Obama will need to make freedom a higher foreign policy priority.”

The riots in Tunisia and Algeria could make the youth populations of both countries susceptible to the forces of Islamic extremism: “This tide of furious young people, willing to die if need be, is undoubtedly a social modernization movement; due to the regimes’ self-interest, however, the Islamist dogma could overwhelm their thirst for justice and seize the upper hand over the riots.”

The House GOP is preparing for the debate on new health-care legislation next week, while congressional Democrats have decided to dub the Republican’s bill the “Patient’s Rights Repeal Act.”

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Iran Declares War on Purim

Less than two years ago, the readers of the New York Times were being treated to Roger Cohen’s tribute to Iran’s supposedly kindly treatment of the remnant of a once-great Jewish community. Cohen’s rosy description of life inside the Islamist republic was widely scorned for his willingness to buy into the lies being peddled by the tyrants of Tehran. The Times columnist’s motive for trying to soften the image of that openly anti-Semitic government was to undermine support for sanctions or the use of force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The point was that if Iran’s eliminationist rhetoric about the State of Israel could be rationalized or its reputation for Jew-hatred wished away, it would be that much harder to forge an international consensus on the need to stop this regime for gaining nuclear capability.

In the intervening two years since Cohen’s fallacious pro-Iranian broadside, we haven’t heard much about the treatment of the small Jewish community there. But this week, via a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, we learned that the Iranian news agency FARS has announced that the site of the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther in the city of Hamdan has lost its official status as a religious pilgrimage site. The FARS report says that Iranian children are now being taught that the site, which honors the biblical heroine Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, who are the central figures in the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim, was “an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty.” FARS went on to say that the name of the shrine must be obliterated in order to teach Iranians to “beware of the crimes of the Jews.” It goes on to say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious-endowments authority. This is, of course, the same Iranian government that officially denies the fact of the actual Holocaust.

The Iranian account speaks of the events of the Purim story, in which Esther and Mordechai foiled a plan hatched by the King’s minister Haman to exterminate the Jews of the Persian Empire, who then strike back against the forces arrayed to slaughter them.

The action against the tomb appears to be a response to a demonstration by Iranian students who called for its destruction in response to a false report that Israel was digging beneath the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.

While we cannot know whether the Iranians will follow through on this threat and actually tear down the tomb or transform it into a center of anti-Jewish hate, it does provide yet another insight into the virulent nature of the attitudes of those in power there. Not satisfied with whipping up hatred against the State of Israel and the tiny, cowed remnant community that still lives there, the Iranians are now striking out against biblical Jews. The vicious nature of this regime is rooted in a view of Islam that apologists for Tehran have consistently sought to ignore. While the blow against Esther and Mordechai may be purely symbolic, it must be placed in the context of a long-running campaign of incitement against Jews and Israel that makes the possible acquisition of nuclear arms by this country even more alarming.

The Iranian war on Purim makes it even more imperative that they never be allowed to gain the power to do what the ayatollah’s ancient hero Haman attempted: the physical elimination of a Jewish population. Anyone who thinks that we can live with a nuclear Iran needs to consider the madness of allowing a government that thinks the Purim story should be reversed the power to do just that.

Less than two years ago, the readers of the New York Times were being treated to Roger Cohen’s tribute to Iran’s supposedly kindly treatment of the remnant of a once-great Jewish community. Cohen’s rosy description of life inside the Islamist republic was widely scorned for his willingness to buy into the lies being peddled by the tyrants of Tehran. The Times columnist’s motive for trying to soften the image of that openly anti-Semitic government was to undermine support for sanctions or the use of force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The point was that if Iran’s eliminationist rhetoric about the State of Israel could be rationalized or its reputation for Jew-hatred wished away, it would be that much harder to forge an international consensus on the need to stop this regime for gaining nuclear capability.

In the intervening two years since Cohen’s fallacious pro-Iranian broadside, we haven’t heard much about the treatment of the small Jewish community there. But this week, via a report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, we learned that the Iranian news agency FARS has announced that the site of the Tomb of Mordechai and Esther in the city of Hamdan has lost its official status as a religious pilgrimage site. The FARS report says that Iranian children are now being taught that the site, which honors the biblical heroine Queen Esther and her uncle Mordechai, who are the central figures in the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim, was “an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty.” FARS went on to say that the name of the shrine must be obliterated in order to teach Iranians to “beware of the crimes of the Jews.” It goes on to say that the site must become “a Holocaust memorial” to the “Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai” and be placed under the supervision of the state religious-endowments authority. This is, of course, the same Iranian government that officially denies the fact of the actual Holocaust.

The Iranian account speaks of the events of the Purim story, in which Esther and Mordechai foiled a plan hatched by the King’s minister Haman to exterminate the Jews of the Persian Empire, who then strike back against the forces arrayed to slaughter them.

The action against the tomb appears to be a response to a demonstration by Iranian students who called for its destruction in response to a false report that Israel was digging beneath the al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.

While we cannot know whether the Iranians will follow through on this threat and actually tear down the tomb or transform it into a center of anti-Jewish hate, it does provide yet another insight into the virulent nature of the attitudes of those in power there. Not satisfied with whipping up hatred against the State of Israel and the tiny, cowed remnant community that still lives there, the Iranians are now striking out against biblical Jews. The vicious nature of this regime is rooted in a view of Islam that apologists for Tehran have consistently sought to ignore. While the blow against Esther and Mordechai may be purely symbolic, it must be placed in the context of a long-running campaign of incitement against Jews and Israel that makes the possible acquisition of nuclear arms by this country even more alarming.

The Iranian war on Purim makes it even more imperative that they never be allowed to gain the power to do what the ayatollah’s ancient hero Haman attempted: the physical elimination of a Jewish population. Anyone who thinks that we can live with a nuclear Iran needs to consider the madness of allowing a government that thinks the Purim story should be reversed the power to do just that.

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Don’t Ignore the Politics of Mossad’s Iran Assessment

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clearly doing her best to defuse the bombshell dropped last week by Israel’s outgoing Mossad chief, Meir Dagan. During a visit to the Gulf states yesterday, she stressed that Dagan’s assertion that Iran will not go nuclear before 2015 is no excuse for not keeping up the pressure on Tehran.

In their posts last week, Jonathan Tobin and J.E. Dyer both offered good reasons not to be reassured by Dagan’s prediction. But Clinton also alluded to a very different reason. “We don’t want anyone to be misled by anyone’s intelligence analysis,” she said.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying what two respected Israeli military analysts said openly that same day: Dagan’s public assessment must be evaluated in the light of its clear political purpose — to thwart any possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran, which he is known to oppose.

As Haaretz columnist Amir Oren put it, “Dagan didn’t provide a pure intelligence assessment, but rather a political statement designed to influence government policy.” And Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel, noting that Dagan avoided the media like the plague for the previous eight years of his tenure, termed the decision to go public with this assessment “a Bibi-bypass maneuver” — a way of constraining Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu by publicly asserting that military action against Iran is unnecessary.

Nobody is suggesting that Dagan deliberately falsified the evidence to reach this conclusion. But when intelligence is evaluated with a particular desired outcome in mind, it is human nature to magnify the importance of information that supports this outcome and downplay the importance of information that contradicts it.

That is precisely what happened with the now widely discredited 2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The professionals who prepared it certainly didn’t deliberately falsify information; but they did want a result that would make it impossible, from a public-opinion standpoint, for then-President George W. Bush to go to war against another Muslim country. As a result, the report downplayed all the indications that Iran was continuing its nuclear program in order to reach its now-infamous conclusion: that Iran had halted its drive to obtain a nuclear bomb in 2003 and had yet to restart it.

It’s also important to remember, as Oren noted, that “in a marketplace of opinions based on the same intelligence data, his [Dagan’s] opinion is not superior to a contrary one held by other senior officials.” Some intelligence professionals have already reached different conclusions; others, including military intelligence staffers and the incoming Mossad chief, will certainly be reviewing the data, and may do so as well.

Precisely because Dagan is known to have vehemently opposed military action against Iran, his confident assertion that Iran won’t have the bomb before 2015 should be taken with a large grain of salt. Dagan is both a dedicated patriot and a consummate professional, but even patriotic professionals are still human. And it is only human nature to read the tea leaves in a way that supports what you would most like to believe.

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Curb Your Enthusiasm: Iran Is Still on Track to Have a Bomb in Four Years

Two weeks ago, Israeli cabinet member Moshe Ya’alon said that Iran wouldn’t have a nuclear weapon until 2013. But apparently, the outgoing head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is even more optimistic. In a summary given to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Meir Dagan assured his country’s parliament that Iran would not have nuclear capability until 2015 at the earliest. According to Dagan, a series of “malfunctions” have plagued the Iranian program, setting it back.

If true, that is certainly good news, and if the “malfunctions” are the result of Western or Israeli sabotage operations, such as the much-talked-about Stuxnet virus or the reported attacks on Iranian scientists, then so much the better. It gives both Israel and the United States a bit more breathing room to build an international coalition in favor of serious sanctions on Iran as well as more time to prepare less-diplomatic methods of ensuring that the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran does not obtain the ultimate weapon.

But the problem with such pronouncements is that they also tend to foster complacency about the deadly nature of the Iranian threat. After all, even if the Mossad is right (and like our own CIA, Israel’s vaunted spooks have been terribly wrong about a lot of things in the past), it still means that Iran will have the bomb in just four years. However little we may think of the Iranians’ scientific capabilities, the odds are that they will figure out how to solve the Stuxnet attack on their computers by then — and also how to toss a curve or two our way. Given the resources they have put behind this project and the limited impact of the weak Western sanctions that have been imposed on them, it is only a matter of time (and perhaps less time than we think) before they succeed.

Stuxnet is not a solution to the existential threat that an Iranian bomb poses to Israel in particular and to stability in the Middle East in general. It is just a delaying tactic. It is has been extremely difficult to awake a slumbering Western public to the danger that Iran represents. Iran has profited in the past by delaying tactics that were facilitated by the credulousness and inexperience of the Obama administration. The time that Stuxnet may have earned the West is valuable, but we need to curb our enthusiasm about it. Those who take too much comfort from pronouncements such as the one made by Dagan are liable to awake one morning and be confronted with the unpleasant reality of a nuclear Iran.

Two weeks ago, Israeli cabinet member Moshe Ya’alon said that Iran wouldn’t have a nuclear weapon until 2013. But apparently, the outgoing head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, is even more optimistic. In a summary given to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Meir Dagan assured his country’s parliament that Iran would not have nuclear capability until 2015 at the earliest. According to Dagan, a series of “malfunctions” have plagued the Iranian program, setting it back.

If true, that is certainly good news, and if the “malfunctions” are the result of Western or Israeli sabotage operations, such as the much-talked-about Stuxnet virus or the reported attacks on Iranian scientists, then so much the better. It gives both Israel and the United States a bit more breathing room to build an international coalition in favor of serious sanctions on Iran as well as more time to prepare less-diplomatic methods of ensuring that the tyrannical Islamist regime in Tehran does not obtain the ultimate weapon.

But the problem with such pronouncements is that they also tend to foster complacency about the deadly nature of the Iranian threat. After all, even if the Mossad is right (and like our own CIA, Israel’s vaunted spooks have been terribly wrong about a lot of things in the past), it still means that Iran will have the bomb in just four years. However little we may think of the Iranians’ scientific capabilities, the odds are that they will figure out how to solve the Stuxnet attack on their computers by then — and also how to toss a curve or two our way. Given the resources they have put behind this project and the limited impact of the weak Western sanctions that have been imposed on them, it is only a matter of time (and perhaps less time than we think) before they succeed.

Stuxnet is not a solution to the existential threat that an Iranian bomb poses to Israel in particular and to stability in the Middle East in general. It is just a delaying tactic. It is has been extremely difficult to awake a slumbering Western public to the danger that Iran represents. Iran has profited in the past by delaying tactics that were facilitated by the credulousness and inexperience of the Obama administration. The time that Stuxnet may have earned the West is valuable, but we need to curb our enthusiasm about it. Those who take too much comfort from pronouncements such as the one made by Dagan are liable to awake one morning and be confronted with the unpleasant reality of a nuclear Iran.

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We Get It — They’re Just Like Us

Why do apologists for authoritarian regimes always cite the diversity of the impacted people as evidence of the regime’s moderate governance and of the reader’s ignorance?   “[I]n China as a whole, discrete zones of freedom exist alongside governmental repression, and the view of a homogenized, blinkered populace is highly misleading,” writes Iain Mills  in World Politics Review. “Rather, Chinese society is diverse and dynamic, and so is the distribution of freedom and repression within it.” To whom is Mills ascribing this view of China’s people as a “blinkered populace”? Those of us who want to see Beijing release its Nobel Prize–winning thinkers from jail? Those of us who believe the Chinese should have unfettered Internet access and a right to redress their leaders without fear of punishment?

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

Why do apologists for authoritarian regimes always cite the diversity of the impacted people as evidence of the regime’s moderate governance and of the reader’s ignorance?   “[I]n China as a whole, discrete zones of freedom exist alongside governmental repression, and the view of a homogenized, blinkered populace is highly misleading,” writes Iain Mills  in World Politics Review. “Rather, Chinese society is diverse and dynamic, and so is the distribution of freedom and repression within it.” To whom is Mills ascribing this view of China’s people as a “blinkered populace”? Those of us who want to see Beijing release its Nobel Prize–winning thinkers from jail? Those of us who believe the Chinese should have unfettered Internet access and a right to redress their leaders without fear of punishment?

To Mills, somehow pointing out government oppression is synonymous with assuming the existence of a zombie public. As inexplicable as this intellectual shell game is, it is not uncommon. This is exactly what we heard from Tehran apologists in 2009, during the run-up to the fraudulent June 12 presidential election and the deadly crackdown that followed it. “Iranians are property-buying, car-mad, entrepreneurial consumers with a taste for the latest brands,” wrote the New York Times’s Roger Cohen in February of that year. “Forget about nukes. Think Nikes,” he urged, before closing on this recommendation: “America, think again about Iran.” I hope the Iranians had their Nikes on four months later when they had to run from Revolutionary Guard clubs and bullets.

It is precisely because Americans do not assume the people in authoritarian countries to be thoughtless automatons that we recognize the tragedy of their lot. The fact of individualism and the recognition that people in other countries harbor the same hopes and dreams of all human beings are the most elemental aspects of support for political freedoms. A defense of a country’s population is not a defense of its authoritarian leaders; it is an indictment of them.

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Should We Feel Encouraged About an Iranian Nuke in Three Years?

Israel’s deputy prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, caused something of a stir on Wednesday when he told Israel Radio that he believed Iran would be capable of creating a nuclear weapon within three years. But as alarming as that may sound, it seems that Ya’alon, the former IDF chief of staff who currently also serves as strategic affairs minister, was sounding a note of optimism, since he credited the delay to “technological difficulties.”

This is being widely interpreted as meaning the Israelis believe the Stuxnet virus has dealt the Iranian nuclear program a serious setback. On Fox News, John Bolton speculated that this statement may mean “Stuxnet worked better than some of us thought.” While the former UN ambassador admitted that it was “hard to know the truth” about the state of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear capability, he said the one thing we do know about their program is “that they are determined” to achieve it.

Given that we know very little about Stuxnet or any other covert action undertaken by either the United States or Israel, it’s difficult to assess the current level of danger of an Iranian breakthrough. It may be that Israel is trying to dampen speculation about an imminent IDF attack on Iranian targets, but it is not clear whether such an attack would be launched in the face of almost certain American opposition.

While some may take comfort from Ya’alon’s statement, it is not exactly encouraging to know that, in spite of all the difficulties they have encountered, Iran is likely to be in possession of a nuclear weapon by the end of 2013. Even if we believe that Stuxnet has been a success, all it has accomplished is to push off the day of reckoning, and not by all that much. We already know that diplomacy won’t work; that serious sanctions are unlikely to ever gain international support; and, as we learned last week, that even the United States is not enforcing those sanctions against Iran that are already in place.

Bolton noted that “the Iranians have zero fear” of an American attack on their nuclear facilities so long as Barack Obama is president, and he is almost certainly right about that. The Iranians have taken Obama’s measure in the last two years, and their actions speak volumes about their lack of respect for the president and their belief that he is not to be taken seriously as a world leader. They have mocked U.S. efforts at diplomacy and disregarded America’s half-hearted attempts to mobilize world opinion against Tehran. So even if the virus or other clandestine operations have hampered the Iranians, the mullahs and Ahmadinejad have good reason to feel optimistic about their chances of ultimate success. If the best face we can put on this problem is the certain knowledge that in the absence of a U.S. and/or Israeli attack, an Iranian bomb will exist in three years, the Ya’alon announcement is no cause for celebration.

Israel’s deputy prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, caused something of a stir on Wednesday when he told Israel Radio that he believed Iran would be capable of creating a nuclear weapon within three years. But as alarming as that may sound, it seems that Ya’alon, the former IDF chief of staff who currently also serves as strategic affairs minister, was sounding a note of optimism, since he credited the delay to “technological difficulties.”

This is being widely interpreted as meaning the Israelis believe the Stuxnet virus has dealt the Iranian nuclear program a serious setback. On Fox News, John Bolton speculated that this statement may mean “Stuxnet worked better than some of us thought.” While the former UN ambassador admitted that it was “hard to know the truth” about the state of Iran’s progress toward a nuclear capability, he said the one thing we do know about their program is “that they are determined” to achieve it.

Given that we know very little about Stuxnet or any other covert action undertaken by either the United States or Israel, it’s difficult to assess the current level of danger of an Iranian breakthrough. It may be that Israel is trying to dampen speculation about an imminent IDF attack on Iranian targets, but it is not clear whether such an attack would be launched in the face of almost certain American opposition.

While some may take comfort from Ya’alon’s statement, it is not exactly encouraging to know that, in spite of all the difficulties they have encountered, Iran is likely to be in possession of a nuclear weapon by the end of 2013. Even if we believe that Stuxnet has been a success, all it has accomplished is to push off the day of reckoning, and not by all that much. We already know that diplomacy won’t work; that serious sanctions are unlikely to ever gain international support; and, as we learned last week, that even the United States is not enforcing those sanctions against Iran that are already in place.

Bolton noted that “the Iranians have zero fear” of an American attack on their nuclear facilities so long as Barack Obama is president, and he is almost certainly right about that. The Iranians have taken Obama’s measure in the last two years, and their actions speak volumes about their lack of respect for the president and their belief that he is not to be taken seriously as a world leader. They have mocked U.S. efforts at diplomacy and disregarded America’s half-hearted attempts to mobilize world opinion against Tehran. So even if the virus or other clandestine operations have hampered the Iranians, the mullahs and Ahmadinejad have good reason to feel optimistic about their chances of ultimate success. If the best face we can put on this problem is the certain knowledge that in the absence of a U.S. and/or Israeli attack, an Iranian bomb will exist in three years, the Ya’alon announcement is no cause for celebration.

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Iran: Calculus Changing for the “Force Option”?

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

There’s more than one way to undermine America’s ability to conduct military strikes on the Iranian nuclear program. Iran has been working hard on one of those methods over the last six months: denying us our use of regional military bases for the attack.

Of the bases we use in the Persian Gulf region, the most significant to an attack campaign are in the small kingdoms of Bahrain and Qatar, which host, respectively, our fleet headquarters and a very large multi-use facility at Al-Udeid Air Base. For security operations in the Strait of Hormuz, we also rely on the use of airfields and ports in Oman.  We have additional facilities in Kuwait and the UAE, but for waging an offensive campaign in any part of the Gulf region, the necessary bases are the ones in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

These are the nations Iran has been concentrating on. The approaches are different for the different nations: in Bahrain, where a majority of the Arab population is Shia and the emir’s government is justifiably concerned about unrest fomented by Tehran, the Iranians have alternated between threats and cajolery. In August their intimidation campaign paid off: the Bahraini foreign minister announced that Bahrain would not allow its territory to be used as a base for offensive operations. Because the U.S. military doesn’t usually operate strike aircraft out of Bahrain, the impact of this is uncertain – but it could well jeopardize the U.S. Navy’s ability to command and supply its fleet during an air campaign.

With Qatar and Oman, Iran has sought bilateral defense-cooperation agreements. That approach introduces ambivalence in the host nation’s strategic orientation – and hence in the status and purpose of the U.S. forces on its territory. Last week, for example, Qatar hosted a visit by three Iranian warships and a military delegation. The unprecedented event concluded with an announcement of Qatar’s readiness for joint military exercises with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

And in August, Oman signed a defense-cooperation agreement with Iran. The pretext focused on by the media was the explosion that rocked a Japanese oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 28, an event that remains unexplained. But the agreement, ratified by the Iranian parliament in December, portends joint defense drills, intelligence sharing, and cooperative administration of security in the Strait of Hormuz. This is no mere technicality: Oman has signed up to make difficult choices if Iran seeks to shut down the strait in response to a U.S. strike. The new agreement posits a definition of security in the strait that excludes U.S. oversight. At the very least, Oman is now more likely to deny the use of its airfields and port refueling facilities to American forces.

These consequences are not inevitable. But Washington’s latitude to “calibrate” force against Iran is effectively gone. If we hope to operate from bases in Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman now, we will have to be “all in”: we will almost certainly have to guarantee to our hosts – who would be breaking agreements by siding with us – that they won’t be caught in a protracted cycle of retaliation from a still-dangerous Iran. Perceiving that prospect themselves, they have started hedging their bets. We may validly perceive benefits in waiting to take action, but doing so always carries costs. This is one of them.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

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Exemptions Granted by U.S. Prove Iran Sanctions Won’t Work

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran. Read More

Those aware of the profound nature of the threat that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose to the West and to Israel have long been assured by the Washington foreign policy establishment that if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to behave, international sanctions provide the leverage that can solve the problem. Well, after two years of an administration dedicated to “engagement,” even President Obama seems to know diplomacy won’t work. So that leaves us with sanctions.

Amassing an international coalition to back the sort of economic sanctions that could bring Iran to heel has proven beyond the capacity of the United States. Even if our European allies are now prepared to think about tough sanctions, the Chinese and the Russians are not. So the best President Obama could do was to get the United Nations to pass a set of mild sanctions this past year that didn’t impress the Iranians. We knew that the confidence of the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad regime as they faced down the West was due to its knowledge that Russia and China would never allow serious sanctions to be passed. We also knew that Tehran felt it could count on its Western European business partners to ensure that the West was sufficiently divided on the need to enforce sanctions, let alone resort to force to prevent Tehran from achieving their nuclear ambitions.

But today we learned another reason why the Iranians were so confident about their chances for victory: the United States government has been allowing a vast number of companies to evade the existing sanctions and to do literally billions of dollars in business with Iran.

A story on the front page of today’s New York Times informs us that a “little known office of the Treasury Department has granted more than 10,000 licenses” allowing Americans to trade with Iran and other blacklisted countries. The companies that have gained these exemptions include some of the biggest, such as Kraft Food and Pepsi as well as major banks. While the purpose of the statute that allows for exemptions was to provide humanitarian aid, the Obama administration has let things like chewing gum, sports equipment and even hot sauce be sold to Iran. Even worse, it has allowed an American company to “bid on a pipeline job that would have helped Iran sell natural gas to Europe, even though the United States opposes such projects. Several other American businesses were permitted to deal with foreign companies believed to be involved in terrorism or weapons proliferation.”

An administration spokesman claimed that focusing on the vast number of exemptions “misses the forest for the trees,” since “no one can doubt that we are serious about this.” But as even former Clinton administration official Stuart Eizenstat told the Times, “When you create loopholes like this that you can drive a Mack truck through, you are giving countries something for nothing, and they just laugh in their teeth. I think there have been abuses.”

The loopholes in the law are bad enough. But, as the Times reports, they are widened by the influence of politicians who seek to grant favors to local businesses and contributors. In one instance, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) intervened to force the Treasury office to allow a company owned by one of his contributors to do business with a Chinese firm that had been banned for its role in selling missile technology to Iran and Pakistan.

The point here is not so much the corruption of our political system. Rather it is that as much as we doubted the determination of our allies to enforce sanctions, the United States government has shown itself to be equally incapable of getting tough with Iran. While concerned citizens can pray that clandestine operations, such as the Stuxnet virus, will undermine Iran’s nuclear program, the fact remains that the countdown toward an Iranian nuke proceeds. Though it was common knowledge that this administration, like its predecessor led by George W. Bush, seemed to lack the will to fully confront Iran, we didn’t know just how much our own government was allowing the existing sanctions to be flouted. In light of these revelations, it’s clear that sanctions will never work to halt the march of this terror sponsor toward nuclear capability. After reading this shocking story, there’s little doubt that Ahmadinejad and his tyrannical Islamist confederates are laughing at us.

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Stalling for Time the Best Hope for Iran … and Its Apologists

The Islamist extremists running Iran have consistently spurned any attempt to entice them to abandon their nuclear ambitions via Western bribes. Though Barack Obama arrived in Washington in 2009 determined to “engage” with them, they humiliated the president, leaving him no choice but to pursue the weak sanctions that have been imposed on Iran, which have done nothing but further convince the mullahs and their chief front man, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the United States is a paper tiger whose warnings can be ignored with impunity. The Iranians know that their smartest strategy is to combine an intransigent refusal to give on their desire for a nuclear weapon with Fabian diplomacy in which they play upon the West’s belief in negotiations with endless delays.

Unfortunately, that Fabian strategy fits perfectly with Secretary of Defense Gates’s continued assurance that Iran is years away from nuclear capability, as well as the administration’s blind faith that the sort of ineffectual sanctions it has been pursuing will ultimately persuade Tehran to behave in a responsible fashion.

But rather than the failure of sanctions serving to persuade the administration that it is time to get tougher with Iran, this is just the moment it has decided to soften its approach. Tony Karon noted with approval in the National that there was been a “Significant though … little noted but potentially profound shift in the U.S. negotiating position. Speaking in a recent BBC interview, the secretary of state Hillary Clinton suggested that the West could accept Iran enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, once it had ‘restored the confidence of the international community’ that its program had no military objective. ‘They can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations,’ Mrs. Clinton said.”

This is an open invitation to Iran for more stalling and pretense. Moreover, it is an open betrayal of the position the United States — along with France and Israel — took  on Iran. The Bush administration rightly determined that the Iranian regime — a brutal religious dictatorship that has repressed its own people, stolen elections, sponsored terrorism throughout the Middle East, and threatened Israel with extinction — could not be trusted with even a purely civilian nuclear program, since there was no way to prevent it from converting to a more sinister purpose. If Clinton is going to start down the path of approving an Iranian nuclear program of any sort, it is an indication that the administration is not serious about ending this threat. Indeed, it is a signal that Obama and Clinton are willing to appease Ahmadinejad in order to gain his signature on an agreement that will pretend to stop an Iranian nuke but will, in fact, facilitate one.

Of course, for writers like Karon, the real danger is not a nuclear Iran but the possibility that the United States or Israel will move to remove this threat. Thus, Karon applauds the recent statements from Clinton and Gates. His talk of a “diplomatic solution” that “could be years in the making” helps to stifle the calls for action against Iran from sensible Americans that rightly fear the consequences of the mullahs’ gaining possession of a nuclear weapon while giving Ahmadinejad and his confederates all the breathing space they need.

The Islamist extremists running Iran have consistently spurned any attempt to entice them to abandon their nuclear ambitions via Western bribes. Though Barack Obama arrived in Washington in 2009 determined to “engage” with them, they humiliated the president, leaving him no choice but to pursue the weak sanctions that have been imposed on Iran, which have done nothing but further convince the mullahs and their chief front man, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the United States is a paper tiger whose warnings can be ignored with impunity. The Iranians know that their smartest strategy is to combine an intransigent refusal to give on their desire for a nuclear weapon with Fabian diplomacy in which they play upon the West’s belief in negotiations with endless delays.

Unfortunately, that Fabian strategy fits perfectly with Secretary of Defense Gates’s continued assurance that Iran is years away from nuclear capability, as well as the administration’s blind faith that the sort of ineffectual sanctions it has been pursuing will ultimately persuade Tehran to behave in a responsible fashion.

But rather than the failure of sanctions serving to persuade the administration that it is time to get tougher with Iran, this is just the moment it has decided to soften its approach. Tony Karon noted with approval in the National that there was been a “Significant though … little noted but potentially profound shift in the U.S. negotiating position. Speaking in a recent BBC interview, the secretary of state Hillary Clinton suggested that the West could accept Iran enriching uranium for peaceful purposes, once it had ‘restored the confidence of the international community’ that its program had no military objective. ‘They can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations,’ Mrs. Clinton said.”

This is an open invitation to Iran for more stalling and pretense. Moreover, it is an open betrayal of the position the United States — along with France and Israel — took  on Iran. The Bush administration rightly determined that the Iranian regime — a brutal religious dictatorship that has repressed its own people, stolen elections, sponsored terrorism throughout the Middle East, and threatened Israel with extinction — could not be trusted with even a purely civilian nuclear program, since there was no way to prevent it from converting to a more sinister purpose. If Clinton is going to start down the path of approving an Iranian nuclear program of any sort, it is an indication that the administration is not serious about ending this threat. Indeed, it is a signal that Obama and Clinton are willing to appease Ahmadinejad in order to gain his signature on an agreement that will pretend to stop an Iranian nuke but will, in fact, facilitate one.

Of course, for writers like Karon, the real danger is not a nuclear Iran but the possibility that the United States or Israel will move to remove this threat. Thus, Karon applauds the recent statements from Clinton and Gates. His talk of a “diplomatic solution” that “could be years in the making” helps to stifle the calls for action against Iran from sensible Americans that rightly fear the consequences of the mullahs’ gaining possession of a nuclear weapon while giving Ahmadinejad and his confederates all the breathing space they need.

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Australian Blindsides Israel on Nukes

Reports about the alleged success of the Stuxnet virus setting back the Iranian nuclear program by two years have heartened friends of Israel who have had little reason to be encouraged by international diplomatic efforts to remove this serious threat to world peace. Despite votes for sanctions in the United Nations, there is not much hope that more serious measures that might actually hurt the Islamist regime will ever be passed.

Further evidence of the problems Israel has had in making even Western democracies understand the nature of the problem was provided by Australia this week when its foreign minister spoke out in favor of subjecting Israel’s nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Kevin Rudd told the Australian newspaper in an interview that the Jewish state, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the IAEA monitors, should get the same sort of scrutiny that Iran, which has signed the treaty, receives. The statement, made during the course of a tour of the region by Rudd, shocked the Israelis, who were not consulted about this by the Australian government in advance of the foreign minister’s visit.

The problem with Rudd’s shot fired across Israel’s bow is not so much the request itself but the fact that it represents a tacit acceptance of the main talking point of apologists for Iran’s nuclear ambitions: the positing of a moral equivalence between Israel’s nuclear deterrent and Iran’s desire for the ultimate weapon. The difference between the two is clear. Iran’s nukes would pose a threat both to the Jewish state, whose existence the Islamist regime has said it wishes to extinguish, and to neighboring Arab states that also have good reason to fear Tehran. An Iranian bomb would also provide a nuclear umbrella to its terrorist allies and surrogates, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But Israel’s longstanding nuclear capability exists solely to deter military attacks from an Arab and Muslim world that seeks to wipe it out. The real test here is not so much whether a country has nukes but whether it can be trusted not to use them. Israel has already passed that test repeatedly, making IAEA inspections a pointless exercise aimed at embarrassing Jerusalem. Iran, on the other hand, is a nation led by Islamist extremists who openly deny the Holocaust while proclaiming their desire for another.

The point here is that if even Western democracies such as Australia can’t be counted on for solidarity in the diplomatic struggle to isolate Iran, then what hope is there for creating the sort of international coalition that could adopt punitive measures that might actually persuade the Iranian mullahs and Ahmadinejad that they must back down? With allies like Australia and Kevin Rudd undermining Israel’s case, we must hope that the stories about Stuxnet’s devastating impact really are true.

Reports about the alleged success of the Stuxnet virus setting back the Iranian nuclear program by two years have heartened friends of Israel who have had little reason to be encouraged by international diplomatic efforts to remove this serious threat to world peace. Despite votes for sanctions in the United Nations, there is not much hope that more serious measures that might actually hurt the Islamist regime will ever be passed.

Further evidence of the problems Israel has had in making even Western democracies understand the nature of the problem was provided by Australia this week when its foreign minister spoke out in favor of subjecting Israel’s nuclear facilities to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Kevin Rudd told the Australian newspaper in an interview that the Jewish state, which is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the IAEA monitors, should get the same sort of scrutiny that Iran, which has signed the treaty, receives. The statement, made during the course of a tour of the region by Rudd, shocked the Israelis, who were not consulted about this by the Australian government in advance of the foreign minister’s visit.

The problem with Rudd’s shot fired across Israel’s bow is not so much the request itself but the fact that it represents a tacit acceptance of the main talking point of apologists for Iran’s nuclear ambitions: the positing of a moral equivalence between Israel’s nuclear deterrent and Iran’s desire for the ultimate weapon. The difference between the two is clear. Iran’s nukes would pose a threat both to the Jewish state, whose existence the Islamist regime has said it wishes to extinguish, and to neighboring Arab states that also have good reason to fear Tehran. An Iranian bomb would also provide a nuclear umbrella to its terrorist allies and surrogates, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. But Israel’s longstanding nuclear capability exists solely to deter military attacks from an Arab and Muslim world that seeks to wipe it out. The real test here is not so much whether a country has nukes but whether it can be trusted not to use them. Israel has already passed that test repeatedly, making IAEA inspections a pointless exercise aimed at embarrassing Jerusalem. Iran, on the other hand, is a nation led by Islamist extremists who openly deny the Holocaust while proclaiming their desire for another.

The point here is that if even Western democracies such as Australia can’t be counted on for solidarity in the diplomatic struggle to isolate Iran, then what hope is there for creating the sort of international coalition that could adopt punitive measures that might actually persuade the Iranian mullahs and Ahmadinejad that they must back down? With allies like Australia and Kevin Rudd undermining Israel’s case, we must hope that the stories about Stuxnet’s devastating impact really are true.

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Just a Reminder: Iranian Nukes Mean Egyptian Nukes, African and Middle East Instability

Courtesy of WikiLeaks, something to chew on as the latest Iran talks collapse and, per J.E. Dyer’s prediction, we prepare to let Tehran drag the process into 2011. Egypt — perennially a bullet and a disgruntled general away from being the most dangerous country in the region — is not going to cope well with Iranian nuclearization:

President Hosni Mubarak warned U.S. officials that Egypt might develop nuclear arms if Iran obtained atomic weapons, cables made public by Wikileaks showed. A U.S. ambassador described Egypt, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid since making peace with Israel in 1979, as a “stubborn and recalcitrant ally” in a February 2009 cable. … A May 2008 cable quoted Mubarak, whose country does not have diplomatic ties with Iran, telling a group of U.S. officials that “we are all terrified” about a possible nuclear Iran.

Now, of course, the reason weapons are pursued doesn’t really determine how they eventually get used. That’s where arms races really get fun.

Egypt could very well point to Iran as a pretext for going nuclear, and realists could very well insist that parity between Shiite, Sunni, and Jewish rivals enhances regional stability. It’s questionable whether that stays true in the context of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and a nervous Israeli air force — or even during an inevitably troubled Mubarak succession, to be conducted against the backdrop of an uneasy cold peace — but at least there’s a theory as to why Egyptian nuclearization might not throw the region into chaos. And who knows: maybe the transition to Gamal Mubarak will be smooth. It could happen.

But none of that accounts for how Egypt will throw its newfound nuclear weight around regionally. There’s little doubt that Cairo would take to bullying neighbors over how the Nile is divvied up, for instance. Regional hegemons will be regional hegemons, after all, and the Egyptians really want that water. The way weaker states might respond, up to and including asymmetrical warfare, doesn’t bode particularly well for peace.

And none of it accounts for what will be happening to already persecuted Jews and Christians inside Egypt. Muslim radicals will run roughshod over religious minorities, correctly guessing that no one will pressure the fragile Egyptian regime to stop them. The fragile Egyptian regime will in turn conclude that it’s better to have wannabe jihadists beating up on religious minorities than on the government. Christians are already getting burned alive in the streets, and the Obama White House has already been loath to lean on Mubarak over it. Wait until Cairo gets nukes and every iota of pressure elicits a “Well, would you prefer the Muslim Brotherhood” response.

No worries, though. Egypt might get a few nukes, but they’re never going to complete their nuclear triad and secure a second-strike capability. Know why? Zionist sharks.

Courtesy of WikiLeaks, something to chew on as the latest Iran talks collapse and, per J.E. Dyer’s prediction, we prepare to let Tehran drag the process into 2011. Egypt — perennially a bullet and a disgruntled general away from being the most dangerous country in the region — is not going to cope well with Iranian nuclearization:

President Hosni Mubarak warned U.S. officials that Egypt might develop nuclear arms if Iran obtained atomic weapons, cables made public by Wikileaks showed. A U.S. ambassador described Egypt, recipient of billions of dollars of American aid since making peace with Israel in 1979, as a “stubborn and recalcitrant ally” in a February 2009 cable. … A May 2008 cable quoted Mubarak, whose country does not have diplomatic ties with Iran, telling a group of U.S. officials that “we are all terrified” about a possible nuclear Iran.

Now, of course, the reason weapons are pursued doesn’t really determine how they eventually get used. That’s where arms races really get fun.

Egypt could very well point to Iran as a pretext for going nuclear, and realists could very well insist that parity between Shiite, Sunni, and Jewish rivals enhances regional stability. It’s questionable whether that stays true in the context of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and a nervous Israeli air force — or even during an inevitably troubled Mubarak succession, to be conducted against the backdrop of an uneasy cold peace — but at least there’s a theory as to why Egyptian nuclearization might not throw the region into chaos. And who knows: maybe the transition to Gamal Mubarak will be smooth. It could happen.

But none of that accounts for how Egypt will throw its newfound nuclear weight around regionally. There’s little doubt that Cairo would take to bullying neighbors over how the Nile is divvied up, for instance. Regional hegemons will be regional hegemons, after all, and the Egyptians really want that water. The way weaker states might respond, up to and including asymmetrical warfare, doesn’t bode particularly well for peace.

And none of it accounts for what will be happening to already persecuted Jews and Christians inside Egypt. Muslim radicals will run roughshod over religious minorities, correctly guessing that no one will pressure the fragile Egyptian regime to stop them. The fragile Egyptian regime will in turn conclude that it’s better to have wannabe jihadists beating up on religious minorities than on the government. Christians are already getting burned alive in the streets, and the Obama White House has already been loath to lean on Mubarak over it. Wait until Cairo gets nukes and every iota of pressure elicits a “Well, would you prefer the Muslim Brotherhood” response.

No worries, though. Egypt might get a few nukes, but they’re never going to complete their nuclear triad and secure a second-strike capability. Know why? Zionist sharks.

Read Less




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