Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mahmoud Abbas (again): "... if Israel continues to resist an end to occupation ...I will have to tell our people there is no use for me!..."

"From your mouth to the gates of Heaven Mr. Former-Actual-President of the non operational Palestinian Authority!"

In the Guardian/ here

"The Palestinian leader is under pressure, both from his Islamist rival Hamas and inside his own Fatah movement, over concessions to the US and Israel and the perceived inability of his leadership to deliver tangible progress towards Palestinian national goals of an end to Israeli occupation, statehood and the return of Palestinian refugees.

"There will be no return to armed struggle," Abbas said. "It will destroy our territories and our country." Hamas itself, he argued, "is not resisting" – a reference to the organisation's effective ceasefire since January last year – "and now they are talking about peace and a truce with Israel".

But if Israel continued to resist an end to occupation, he would resign and refuse to stand in new elections: "I will have to tell our people there is no hope and no use in my staying in office." Abbas's four years as elected PA president expired a year ago, but last month the PLO extended his term until any new elections are held.

The PA leader defended his security forces' crackdown on Hamas activists in the West Bank, insisting that "we don't want to imprison any political members of Hamas, but only people who provoke the security situation, even from Fatah".

He also denied reports published in the Guardian that the CIA had been working closely with elements of the PA security apparatus involved in arresting and allegedly torturing Hamas supporters. The American role was restricted to the training and rehabilitation of the security forces as part of the wider international effort, he said.....

The Palestinian president also defended Egypt's decision to build an underground wall on the blockaded Gaza strip's southern border to prevent smuggling through tunnels. "I support the wall," Abbas said. "It is the Egyptians' sovereign right in their own country. Legitimate supplies should be brought through the legal crossings."

Dubai Police: "Mossad hand in murder of Hamas official"

Haaretz/ here
"It could be Mossad, or another party," police chief Dhahi Khalfan told AFP. "Personally, I don't exclude any possibility. I don't exclude any party that has an interest in the assassination."

NYTimes: "... we were glad to see Secretary of State Clinton publicly warn China ..."

Does the NYTimes really think that China gives a rat's arse about being "isolated"?
" ... Britain, France and Germany share Mr. Obama’s concerns. Russia and China — which have veto power on the Security Council and strong economic ties with Iran — have previously insisted on watering down penalties. That has made the Council look feckless and made it far too easy for Iran to press ahead. On Friday, we were glad to see Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly warn China, which seems especially intractable, that it faces diplomatic isolation if it fails to back new sanctions..."

Netanyahu:"... I'll free Fatah prisoners to boost Abbas..."

Haaretz/ here
Occupation & aggression continue while occupier offers meaningless ...
... Israeli gestures that would be carried out at the start of the proximity talks the United States would conduct. The main goodwill gesture is expected to be the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners to the West Bank. The senior source in Jerusalem said that these would largely be prisoners with only a little time left in their sentences...."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

"... Israel has no sense of us as an ally, any more than do any of the Arab states ..."

Lang on Philip Giraldi via SST/ here
"A 1996 Defense Investigative Service report noted that Israel has great success stealing technology by exploiting the numerous co-production projects that it has with the Pentagon. "Placing Israeli nationals in key industries …is a technique utilized with great success." A General Accounting Office (GAO) examination of espionage directed against American defense and security industries described how Israeli citizens residing in the US had stolen sensitive technology to manufacture artillery gun tubes, obtained classified plans for a reconnaissance system, and passed sensitive aerospace designs to unauthorized users. An Israeli company was caught monitoring a Department of Defense telecommunications system to obtain classified information, while other Israeli entities targeted avionics, missile telemetry, aircraft communications, software systems, and advanced materials and coatings used in missile re-entry. The GAO concluded that Israel "conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any US ally." In June 2006, a Pentagon administrative judge overruled an appeal by an Israeli who had been denied a security clearance, stating, "The Israeli government is actively engaged in military and industrial espionage in the United States. An Israeli citizen working in the US who has access to proprietary information is likely to be a target of such espionage." More recently, FBI counter intelligence officer John Cole has reported how many cases of Israeli espionage are dropped under orders from the Justice Department. He provides a "conservative estimate" of 125 worthwhile investigations into Israeli espionage involving both American citizens and Israelis that were stopped due to political pressure from above. "

McChrystal's 'change of heart'?

What's going on with the good soldier Stanley? His recent statements to the press indicate that he thinks that his "surge" will bring the hard core Taliban to the negotiating table to decide on a political future for the de facto confederation that the state of Afghanistan has always been. This is radically different from the COINista babbling that has characterized his utterances before. That line of talk has been all about CNAS dreams of construction of a nation state.

Israeli sources: CIA director Leon Panetta traveled to Israel to discuss ...Iran

Laura Rosen/ here

"... The main subject of conversation was Iran, as well as "relations" in general, the former official said. A CIA spokesman said that they don't as a rule discuss the CIA director's travel. Regional news reports said that Panetta also traveled to Cairo for meetings with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and other officials...."

US Ambassador to Syria ...

Politico/ here

"Two well-informed Levant analysts say the as yet unannounced Obama administration nominee for U.S. ambassador to Syria will likely be Robert S. Ford, most recently the deputy U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Ford, a highly regarded career Foreign Service Officer and diplomat, has served previously as the U.S. ambassador to Algeria, DCM of the U.S. embassy in Bahrain, and a political officer at the U.S. embassy in Iraq. An Arabic speaker, Ford is the recipient of several State Department awards, including several Superior Honor and Meritorious Honor awards.

Ford didn't respond to a query. An administration official said they would let us know when they have personnel announcements. One associate said that Ford would be a terrific choice for a difficult place. Another former senior official says he's the top choice and would be excellent. Administration officials have previously indicated the pick would likely be a career Foreign Service officer with deep experience in the region over a political appointee..."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"... Simultaneously Offering talks & threatening sanctions ... appear on the verge of failure...."

TIME/ here

" ... The President has given Iran two deadlines to demonstrate good faith. Last spring, his Administration told reporters that if Iran didn't show willingness to engage in talks by September, sanctions would follow. Then, in September, when Iran hinted that it might possibly talk, Obama delivered another deadline, this time the end of 2009.

Iran's response to these deadlines has been repeated delays and obfuscation.................. In recent weeks, Iran has made a counteroffer to export its uranium in small parcels over a longer time period that State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described as "clearly an inadequate response."

The idea behind Obama's engagement effort, though, was that if Iran kept stalling, countries previously opposed to sanctions, such as Russia, China and Germany, could be persuaded to support new punitive measures aimed at forcing Iran to cooperate. "We actually believe that by following the diplomatic path we are on, we gain credibility and influence with a number of nations who would have to participate in order to make the sanctions regime as tight and as crippling as we would want it to be," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in last April.
So, how's that working? Not very well, by all indications.
True, with Iran stalling, the Germans seem to be playing along, although earlier in the year they said they'd only support sanctions if approved by the U.N. And while senior American officials and European diplomats say Russia has come around to supporting sanctions, nothing that has happened publicly [except Lavrov's remarks today] has confirmed that claim — and the signals from Moscow remain mixed.
But where Russia had previously taken the lead in blocking sanctions efforts, that role has now fallen to China, which has a rapidly growing stake in Iran's energy sector. Beijing believes that while Iran must be brought into compliance with the international nonproliferation regime, its nuclear program does not represent an imminent danger of producing nuclear weapons and diplomacy should therefore be given a lot more time. ........
Without China, which holds a Security Council veto, there is no prospect of meaningful sanctions at the U.N. That in turn means difficulty getting tough sanctions from all the European countries, some of whom can't act without U.N. approval.
Now Obama faces the unpleasant reality that neither the engagement track nor the sanctions track appear to be going anywhere. His defenders at home and abroad say it was the right way to proceed, but skeptics of Obama's policy are emerging, even in his own party. (see below)
"What exactly did your year of engagement get you?" asks a Hill Democrat.
So what options does Obama have left? Some European and American diplomats hold out hope that they will be able to bring China around. But privately they say the U.S. and its allies may need to move ahead on their own, without China. "No one wants to go there," says the European diplomat, but "what we're saying to the Chinese now explicitly is there's no point in going forward together" if the current approach isn't changing Iran's behavior.
Splitting the international community has been Iran's goal from the start, and unilateral sanctions could be fatally undermined if a bloc of countries that trade with Iran, such as China, Russia, Turkey and India, don't comply. The very fact that the U.S. and its allies are even thinking of going it alone is a sign of just how much trouble Obama's policy is in."

IMPORTANT: NEW Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) discards "two-major-war" paradigm ...

Via AbuMuqawamah's in Inside Defense... here

Senators pressure Obama on Iran sanctions

In the Cable/ here
".... Senior administration officials have said over and over that they are switching to the "pressure track" against the Iranian regime following an acknowledgment that the year-long "engagement track" effort has failed to produce measurable results. The Senate is getting ready to bring up Chris Dodd's Iran sanctions bill, not waiting for the administration to be ready, causing some friction within the Democratic power structure...."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Khalid Bin Sultan: "... border conflict is a closed chapter ..."

Gulf News/ here
".. He reiterated that the Saudi armed forces were successful in deterring an armed infiltration of Al Houthi rebels across its southern border."As far as the gang of infiltrators is concerned, there are only some snipers remaining and they will be wiped out," he said.."

India prepares for a 'two-front' war with Pakistan and China, undelines Army chief ...

Via WPR, in the Diplo-Courier/ here
" ... Pakistan reacted predictably by describing India’s move as reflecting a “hegemonistic and jingoistic mindset” as well as accusing India of “betraying hostile intent,” and urged the international community to take due notice of developments in India. Pakistani officials emphasized that their nation’s “capability and determination to foil any nefarious designs against the security of Pakistan” should not be underestimated. Pakistan’s reaction was expected, as the security establishment views this as an opportunity to once again press upon the Americans the need to keep Pakistani forces intact on the India-Pakistan border rather than fighting the Taliban forces on the border with Afghanistan.
China’s response, on the other hand, was more measured, and it chose not to address the issue directly. The controversy arose at a time when the two states were beginning a new phase in their defense ties by initiating a dialogue at the level of defense secretaries. But Chinese analysts have expressed concerns in recent years about India’s growing military ambitions and a purported shift in Indian defense strategy from a passive to an “active and aggressive” nature...."

More "lost Jews" to settle occupied Palestine ...

"...Shavei Israel, a former assistant to Benjamin Netanyahu & a religious group known as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, draws on wide support from evangelical Christians in the US..."
In the National/ here
" ... A previous attempt to bring the Bnei Menashe to Israel was halted in 2003 by Avraham Poraz, the interior minister at the time, after it became clear that most of the 1,500 who had arrived were being sent to extremist settlements, including in the Gaza Strip and next to Hebron, the large Palestinian city in the West Bank.
Dror Etkes, who monitors settlement growth for Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group, said there were strong grounds for suspecting that some of the new Bnei Menashe would end up in the settlements, too.
“There is a mutual interest being exploited here,” he said. “The Bnei Menashe get help to make aliyah [immigration] while the settlements get lots of new arrivals to bolster their numbers, including in settlements close to Palestinian areas where most Israelis would not want to venture.” ......
Mr Gangte added that the Bnei Menashe were attracted to the West Bank because life was cheaper in the settlements than in Israel and the settlers “give us help finding housing, jobs and schools for our children”.
Mr Etkes of Yesh Din said “past experience” fed suspicions that the Bnei Menashe would be encouraged to settle deep in the West Bank, adding that the so-called settlement freeze, insisted on by the United States as a prelude to renewed peace talks, was having little effect on the ground.
“There is no freeze because it is being violated all the time. The settlers had lots of time to prepare for the freeze and spent the four to five months before it in a frenzy of construction activity.”
Shavei Israel lobbies for other groups of Jews to be brought to Israel, including communities in Spain, Portugal, Italy, South America, Russia, Poland and China.
Israeli peace groups were outraged in 2002 when Shavei Israel placed a group of 100 Peruvian immigrants, whose ancestors converted to Judaism 50 years ago, in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the West Bank."

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"...Any starring role for the US in Yemen, would turn this drama toward farce, or even toward tragedy"

CSIS's Alterman in WPR/ here
"... The reality is messier than that, though. From a Yemeni perspective, the common threats are few. For Yemen's long-serving president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, al-Qaida in the Ara­bian Peninsula is a third-order issue, far less troubling than boiling insurgencies in the north and south of the country, swiftly dwindling oil rev­enues, a plummeting water table and massive unemployment. In fact, to many among Yemeni's leadership, al-Qaida's 200 to 300 followers in the country must seem to be less a threat than an opportunity. An increased U.S. military commitment to Ye­men would pump weapons and training into the country that can be employed against a wide range of threats that have nothing to do with al-Qaida. A flood of money would create opportunities not only for contracting, but for graft, corruption and ex­tortion.
This would not be the first time that the government of Yemen has tried to turn hardship into opportunity. In the past, rather than try to tamp out religious radical­ism in the country, the government of Yemen has tried to co-opt its leaders and employ them in fighting the country's northern rebellion.
Yemen has a whole
host of problems, and while none of them are insoluble, virtually all of them are insoluble in the short term. U.S. allies -- and especially Arab allies from the Gulf Cooperation Council -- will have to do much of the lifting here, because the United States' instinct in this and other conflicts is to make a difference quickly and then move on. There are too many troubled nations, and too many emerging challenges, for the United States to devote decades to development in any one country in the post-Cold War world.
The biggest challenge for the United States in Yemen, then, is not to act, but rather to act in ways that have the intended effect. The United States has expertise with systems in which merit and logic reign supreme, but the resulting expectations can be a distorting prism through which to view tasks in Yemen. By contrast, the United States' GCC allies understand the tribal politics that the U.S. recoils from, and are equally comfortable coercing and co-opting recalcitrant participants. They are far-better positioned to work Yemeni politics skillfully than is the United States. ..."

ElBaradei: Don't Believe the Iran Nuke Hype ...

FP/ here
FP: It seems like people are beginning to doubt that the Iranians are negotiating in good faith. Do you think that's fair? Do you think this deal still has potential?
ElBaradei: I think that, unfortunately, as we were moving ahead with this fuel package deal, which we were about to conclude, Iran fell into an internal fight as a result of the [contested June 2009] election. This issue became [part of] a payback situation in Iran, as I see it. I still have hope that this domestic hype will come to an end and then Iran will see the fantastic opportunity you have in that deal. It is not the deal per se, but the horizon that it opens.
I know from President Obama, personally, that if that deal were to take place, it would defuse that crisis by giving him the space to negotiate a comprehensive package with Iran where nothing is off the table. This would be the opening of what everybody has been hoping for, for many, many years. I hope that the Iranians, as they settle down their domestic situation, will understand the value of such an opening....
FP: You faced some pretty bitter attacks in the Egyptian state media for these statements. Do you fear that foreshadows some of the repression you will face when you return to Egypt?
ElBaradei: I think the immediate reaction was a vicious attack by the government newspapers. Then I think they realized they made a terrible mistake because it backfired in their face. All of a sudden I became a national hero, sitting here in Vienna. People were just disgusted by how they reacted [to my statements]. ...

Monday, January 25, 2010

STOP the PRESSES: Der Spiegel obtains another "secret dossier" on Iran nukes!

Follath and his gang at the mill, actually saying that the US has either kidnapped or coaxed the two missing Iranian officials, ... something Washington denied!
Spiegel/ here
"..... Reports by Ali Reza Asgari, Iran's former deputy defense minister who managed to defect to the United States, where he was given a new identity, proved to be just as informative. Nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri, who "disappeared" during a pilgrimage to Mecca in June 2009, is also believed to have particularly valuable information. The Iranian authorities accused Saudi Arabia and the United States of kidnapping the expert, but it is more likely that he defected.
Iran's government has come under pressure as a result of the new charges. They center on the question of who exactly is responsible for the country's nuclear program -- and what this says about its true nature. The government has consistently told the IAEA that the only agency involved in uranium enrichment is the National Energy Council, and that its work was exclusively dedicated to the peaceful use of the technology.
But if the claims are true that have been made in an intelligence dossier currently under review in diplomatic circles in Washington, Vienna, Tel Aviv and Berlin, portions of which SPIEGEL has obtained, this is a half-truth at best.
According to the classified document, there is a secret military branch of Iran's nuclear research program that answers to the Defense Ministry and has clandestine structures. The officials who have read the dossier conclude that the government in Tehran is serious about developing a bomb, and that its plans are well advanced. ......... Experts believe that Iran's scientists could produce a primitive, truck-sized version of the bomb this year, but that it would have to be compressed to a size that would fit into a nuclear warhead to yield the strategic threat potential that has Israel and the West so alarmed -- and that they could reach that stage by sometime between 2012 and 2014.

"remember the Iraqi WMD trucks?"

........ This leaves the military option. Apart from the political consequences and the possibility of counter-attacks, bombing Iran's nuclear facilities would be extremely difficult. The nuclear experts have literally buried themselves and their facilities underground, in locations that would be virtually impossible to reach with
conventional weapons.
While even Israeli experts are skeptical over how much damage bombing the facilities could do to the nuclear program, the normally levelheaded US General David Petraeus sounded downright belligerent when asked whether the Iranian nuclear facilities could be attacked militarily. "Well, they certainly can be bombed," he said just two weeks ago in Washington."

"Enough is enough" [Regime Change ...quick!]

Richard Haass in Newsweek/ here
".... I am a card-carrying realist on the grounds that ousting regimes and replacing them with something better is easier said than done. I also believe that Washington, in most cases, doesn't have the luxury of trying. The United States must, for example, work with undemocratic China to rein in North Korea and with autocratic Russia to reduce each side's nuclear arsenal. This debate is anything but academic. It's at the core of what is likely to be the most compelling international story of 2010: Iran.
In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration judged incorrectly that Iran was on the verge of revolution and decided that dealing directly with Tehran would provide a lifeline to an evil government soon to be swept away by history's tide. A valuable opportunity to limit Iran's nuclear program may have been lost as a result. The incoming Obama administration reversed this approach and expressed a willingness to talk to Iran without preconditions. This president (like George H.W. Bush, whose emissaries met with Chinese leaders soon after Tiananmen Square) is cut more from the realist cloth. Diplomacy and negotiations are seen not as favors to bestow but as tools to employ. The other options—using military force against Iranian nuclear facilities or living with an Iranian nuclear bomb—were judged to be tremendously unattractive. And if diplomacy failed, Obama reasoned, it would be easier to build domestic and international support for more robust sanctions. At the time, I agreed with him.
I've changed my mind.
The nuclear talks are going nowhere. The Iranians appear intent on developing the means to produce a nuclear weapon; there is no other explanation for the secret uranium-enrichment facility discovered near the holy city of Qum. Fortunately,their nuclear program appears to have hit some technical snags, which puts off the need to decide whether to launch a preventive strike. Instead we should be focusing on another fact: Iran may be closer to profound political change than at any time since the revolution that ousted the shah 30 years ago.
The authorities overreached in their blatant manipulation of last June's presidential election, ......Ali Khamenei has lost much of his legitimacy, .....The opposition Green Movement has grown larger and stronger.....
The United States, European governments, and others should shift their Iran policy toward increasing the prospects for political change. Leaders should speak out for the Iranian people and their rights. President Obama did this on Dec. 28 after several protesters were killed on the Shia holy day of Ashura, and he should do so again. So should congressional and world leaders. Iran's Revolutionary Guards should be singled out for sanctions. Lists of their extensive financial holdings can be published on the Internet. The United States should press the European Union and others not to trade or provide financing to selected entities controlled by the Guards. ....
It is essential to bolster what people in Iran know.......
Just as important as what to do is what to avoid. Congressmen and senior administration figures should avoid meeting with the regime......
Critics will say promoting regime change will encourage Iranian authorities to tar the opposition as pawns of the West. But the regime is already doing so. Outsiders should act to strengthen the opposition and to deepen rifts among the rulers. This process is underway, and while it will take time, it promises the first good chance in decades to bring about an Iran that, even if less than a model country, would nonetheless act considerably better at home and abroad. Even a realist should recognize that it's an opportunity not to be missed."

Ethiopian jet crashes off Beirut

Relatives of those on board at Beirut's airport

BBC/ here
"An Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane with 89 people on board has crashed into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after take-off from Beirut airport.
Eyewitnesses say they saw a ball of fire in the sky before Addis Ababa-bound Flight ET409 fell into the sea after taking off in stormy weather
"We saw a flash in the sky...," he said. We saw a flash over the sea and it was the plane falling. The weather was really bad, it was all thunder and rain."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Petraeus: "'.... stationing of ships & US air defense assets in the Gulf — sends a strong signal to Iran,.."

Wired's Danger/Room/ here
" ... It’s not the first time the U.S. military has deployed Aegis BMD ships to response to missile threats. Last year, the Navy sent two Aegis destroyers in anticipation of a North Korean missile launch. In addition to the Navy ships, Petraeus said the U.S. military now had eight Patriot missile batteries in the region. “[There are] two in each of four countries, U.S. Patriot batteries that weren’t there two years ago,” he said.
In response to a question about creating a formal security alliance in the Gulf region, Petraeus said: “The best recruiting officer in recent times for the CENTCOM security architecture … in our region has been Iranian President Ahmadinejad: His rhetoric, his actions, the continued missile program development, the nuclear program, the employment of proxy elements still in Iraq, who are still active.”
But he dismissed the possibility of a NATO-style alliance in the region, at least for now. “I don’t think the concept of a NATO-like organization is all that realistic in the near term,” he said.

"... After ’06 Hezbollah will be testing to see if the IDF’s infantry is willing to “close” with them..."

Lang ...
I was asked what will happen if the 2006 Lebanon War gets a re-run:

"The IDF Air Force will once again attempt to justify air power advocates’ belief that countries can be bombed into surrender. That means that they will bomb the length and breadth of the country against infrastructure targets. The Hizbulah will shoot as deep into Israel as they can manage for as long as they can manage. They, will, of course shoot for Israeli population centers.

On the ground the IDF will encounter fortified centers associated with towns arranged in patterns that use the terrain to canalize armored movement. There will be lots of anti-tank guided missiles and mines. Individual HB fighters will wear body armor and have night vision gear. There will be a major effort against IDF aircraft.

After ’06 the HB will be testing to see if the IDF’s infantry is willing to “close” with them.

I don’t see a lot involvement for other countries except in re-supply roles.

Yallah, ...Yallah ... Aleppo's & Syria's rediscovery!

In the NYTimes/ here
"... Yet, as tensions between Damascus and Washington begin to ease, a new wave of visitors is rediscovering this ancient trading center, eager to take advantage of its low prices, spicy cuisine and maze-like bazaar.
In September, tourism in Syria was up by more than a third from the same month a year earlier, and the recent loosening of visa restrictions with Turkey means that Aleppo is being flooded with traders and tourists from across the border....."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gaza wall: "...Angering the US & Israel may lose Egypt its privileged negotiating role at a time of declining regional influence..."

OxfAn Excerpts:
"... Egypt's intensifying anti-smuggling measures and the erection of a border wall are at odds with its claim to back the Palestinian cause. It has several reasons for doing so -- chiefly its distaste for Hamas, and US pressure -- but its reference to national security is unlikely to be credible to the domestic audience. As the situation in Gaza deteriorates, Egypt's opposition could mobilise public opinion on the issue in the context of upcoming elections and expected presidential succession........
A year after Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the construction by Egypt of a wall along its border with Gaza and measures taken against tunnel smuggling highlight Egypt's cooperation with Israel in blockading the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory. This position opens the regime to both domestic and foreign criticism, (as) the blockade of the Gaza Strip is threatening its healthcare systems and putting patients' lives at risk
ANALYSIS: When Israel launched its attack on Gaza in December 2008, the repercussions on Egypt were vast:
  • Hamas and its allies -- Iran, Syria, Qatar and Hizbollah in Lebanon -- launched the harshest criticism publicly levelled against Cairo since former President Anwar al-Sadat signed the Camp David agreement.
  • That criticism stung, and Egypt responded by launching its own media offensive while, on the domestic front, it followed in Sadat's footsteps by making the case for an 'Egypt first' policy that put national security concerns above solidarity with Palestinians.
  • Boosted by Western support, Cairo was put at the centre of the process that brought that war to an end -- then dubbed the 'Egyptian initiative', although its initiator had been French President Nicolas Sarkozy .....

Despite shock at Israel's tactics in Gaza, many Egyptians responded to some extent to the 'Egypt first' argument. Doing otherwise was discouraged, since activities showing solidarity with Gaza were brought under heavy security scrutiny.
Dual policy. A year later, Cairo continues to offer the only official mechanism for negotiating a permanent truce, a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel, and inter-Palestinian reconciliation. At the same time, Egypt is a key enforcer of Israel's Gaza blockade through its refusal to open up the Rafah crossing ....

Motives. There are several possible explanations for Egypt's decision to go ahead with such a highly criticised project:

  • Egypt may want to strengthen its chokehold on Hamas in the context of its refusal to sign a Palestinian reconciliation agreement favourable to Fatah.
  • It may simultaneously want to continue to narrow Hamas' room for manoeuvre, and present its removal from power as the only solution for Gazans to improve their lot.
  • Moreover, Egypt is under heavy Israeli and US pressure to put an end to smuggling -- currently Gaza's main lifeline -- and is rewarded for its cooperation by being maintained as the only internationally-sanctioned channel for negotiations with Hamas, and by the improvement of US-Egypt ties. Congress recently approved unprecedented economic aid to Egypt and a major sale of F-16 fighter jets -- previously, Congress had withheld 100 million dollars in aid, in part because of the tunnels.
A mixture of these explanations is plausible, combined with the reality that angering the United States and Israel may lose Egypt its privileged negotiating role at a time when its regional influence is already declining. Moreover, alternative policies may reward Hamas, possibly encouraging the Islamist current across region and in Egypt itself.
Justifications. For much of 2009, Egypt was able to pursue this policy discreetly without encountering significant domestic opposition, pushing the 'Egypt first' line against any dissenting voices. However, media attention over the wall construction has put Cairo on the defensive, particularly as it coincided with worldwide demonstrations marking the one-year anniversary of the Gaza offensive and brought attention to the territory's inability to rebuild due to the blockade.
The Egyptian government has deployed several arguments to back its stance:
1. PNA absence. ......Palestinian National Authority (PNA) representatives must be present at the border. Since this is not possible without Palestinian reconciliation, Cairo has blamed the Palestinian factions (and Hamas in particular).
2. Passengers only. Egypt also insists that Rafah will remain a passenger terminal only, with commercial traffic to Gaza redirected via Israel. According to an Egyptian diplomat, this will remain the case (with a few humanitarian exceptions) until a permanent settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This argument reflects Egypt's desire to clear itself of any responsibility for Gaza, which it argues is entirely Israel's responsibility as an occupying power, and its fear of Israeli attempts to turn Gaza into Egypt's problem.
3. Security. National security was again invoked to justify the wall in light of Hamas' breach of the previous border wall in January 2008. Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit described the wall as a "defensive measure", and the upper house of parliament, the Shura Council, issued a report approving of its construction. Religious sanction was also obtained from al-Azhar, the highest religious authority in Egypt, which issued a fatwa defending the wall.
Criticism. Nonetheless, there is clear domestic opposition to the scheme: it had been widely criticised in the media and in parliament by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including by some who claim that it is part of an attempt to gain US approval for the potential presidential succession.
Activists claim that the absence of a wider uproar is due to the regime's zero-tolerance policy over protests for Gaza. During the past year, several Egyptian activists have been arrested and foreigners involved in the pro-Gaza movement have been refused entry into the country. Should the humanitarian situation in Gaza further deteriorate due to the blockade, activists may brave the security clampdown.
A linkage of domestic opposition with regional criticism provoked a strong reaction from Cairo during the Gaza offensive and is doing so again. Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Mufid Shehab (who is often used as a government spokesman) last week launched a vitriolic attack on Al-Jazeera over its coverage of the Rafah wall. Likewise, pro-regime television was mobilised to defend the erection of the wall.
Even so, the arrival of two major groups of international activists for Gaza -- the Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina -- in the last week of December embarrassed Egypt, which refused most of the first group entry to Gaza, leaving hundreds protesting in Cairo. It also made the second group rearrange its route and backtrack its humanitarian goods convoy from Aqaba, Jordan, to Lattakia, Syria.
Hamas response.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshal visited Riyadh on January 3 and asked Saudi Arabia to become more involved in inter-Palestinian negotiations, a move Cairo will see as threatening its monopoly over these talks. Should Qatar and Syria join the chorus against the wall in earnest, there could be a repeat of the Arab political and media 'cold war' seen during and in the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war. Such a revival would damage both Egypt's claim of regional leadership and influence its domestic image...."

Former FBI Director, attorney to Prince Bandar ...

Somewhat related to this huge bribery scandal, Politico, here, LR flagged somewhat old story, from Frontline/ here
" ... Bistrong worked at the time for Armor Holdings. And indeed, one of the 22 men indicted this week with Bistrong's undercover assistance on alleged bribery charges, Jonathan Spiller, was CEO of Armor Holdings until 2003, when he was fired. (In 2007, Armor Holdings was acquired by BAE -- which was itself the subject of a massive bribery investigation in Britain that was reportedly shut down under alleged Saudi pressure.)
Saudi Prince Bandar, defending himself in the investigation of whether BAE paid some $2 billion to accounts he had access to for Saudi Arabia awarding it a massive arms contract, has hired former FBI director Louis Freeh as his attorney."

Obama after Massachusets: "A diminished ability to take risks in his foreign policy ..."

Netanyahu factored in all that and concludes that Palestinians are fairer game!
Laura Rosen/ Politico/ here
"Add one other thing to the list of consequences for President Barack Obama of the Massachusetts Senate race: a diminished ability to take risks in his foreign policy.
Democratic foreign policy observers predict that a weakened domestic political position will make Obama inclined to be more selective in choosing when and with whom to engage, focusing on opportunities where he can demonstrate success over more ambitious but less certain efforts, such as trying to achieve Middle East peace.
They also predict a more populist president focused more on job creation than the globe-trotting and triumphal speech making in Cairo, Istanbul, Prague, Moscow, Beijing and Ghana that Obama took time for in his first year.
From his seemingly stillborn efforts to revive Middle East peace talks to his ambitious arms control agenda, the sense that Obama has been weakened at home could factor into the calculations of foreign leaders sizing up the president and determining whether they should risk their own domestic political standing to accommodate U.S. policy.
“What really counts is the perception among friends and adversaries of whether or not he can deliver,” says veteran Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, now with the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. “Obama’s premier legislative accomplishment – that would legitimize his political standing in the U.S. – is now literally up for grabs. There’s no doubt that he has been badly wounded.”

Benjamin Netanyahu listens to President Obama.

Some of the foreign coverage of the Massachusetts race certainly came to that conclusion. “Obama’s loss is Netanyahu’s gain,” argued Aluf Benn of Israeli daily Haaretz, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “For nine months, Netanyahu held his ground against pressure by Obama … From now on, Obama will be much more dependent on support from his Republican adversaries, who are supporters and friends of Netanyahu.”
The White House discounted any foreign policy impact to the lost Senate seat.
“The President’s responsibility to protect the American people is in no way affected by politics,” NSC spokesman Mike Hammer told POLITICO. “His national security agenda is driven by America’s national security interests, and not by anything else.”
Likewise, Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that Obama it a was mistake to think Obama was “mortally wounded” by Republican Scott Brown’s victory. But he nonetheless foresees an impact: “The question becomes: How does the president respond to this? Is he more selective in his priorities, and what are those priorities?” Maybe by being more selective in the problems he tackles.
"Hypothetically, if the Iranians or Arabs and Israelis presented the president with the prospect of success, then what happens in Massachusetts does not affect him in the least,” Woodrow Wilson Center’s Miller said. But failing that, “he cannot look for additional vulnerabilities.”“What he can’t afford now is the foreign policy equivalent of a Massachusetts’ Democratic meltdown.”
Former Clinton administration speechwriter Heather Hurlburt predicts the loss of his veto-proof majority in the Senate will reinforce a trend “over the last six months, ….of [the White House saying], ‘Let’s pick spots very carefully.’ Rather than backing down, ‘let’s be sure to pick the right battles.’” An administration foreign policy official agreed that any effect would be indirect – but argued that wouldn’t make it any less real.
“To the extent that 67, not 60, is the relevant number when it comes to the Senate and U.S. foreign policy, the Brown victory carries less direct impact on the Obama foreign policy agenda than on his domestic policy goals,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, referring to the number of Senate votes needed to ratify treaties such as the one on strategic arms reduction in the final stages of negotiation with Russia.
“It is the more indirect impact that may prove more significant,” the official continued. “Will Republicans now be emboldened to hand the President another political defeat by rejecting what the White House will tout as a significant foreign policy achievement? …. Will Republicans start finding a more aggressive voice in criticizing the President's overall handling of U.S. foreign policy? Will they start asserting he is too soft on Russia and China? Too hard on Israel? Will there be a renewed clamor for military action against the Iranian regime?”
There were already signs this week that Congressional Republicans were raising the volume on familiar criticism that the Democratic approach to counterterrorism is overly legalistic and insufficiently hard-nosed.
Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, seized on testimony by Obama’s intelligence chief Dennis Blair describing how Nigerian terrorism suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was questioned by the FBI, provided a lawyer and read his Miranda rights after his arrest in Detroit. “The Obama “administration [should] change course from their pre-9/11 mentality of treating terrorists like common criminals,” Bond argued.
Another Washington Democratic foreign policy hand said the Obama White House is likely to disengage from extraneous foreign policy engagements in stages: “By early-midsummer, the political folks will tell the policy folks that it’s only Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan that is on the President’s schedule,” he predicted.
Leading to the mid-terms, he added, the president is going “to be on the plane" to every political battlefield around the country. If the Democrats suffer serious losses next November, the message from the White House political shop is likely to be more pointed: “The president is now a war president and an economy president.”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Amos Yadlin: "Turkey does not need Israel anymore..."

Again Yadlin is 'whispering' to whom-it-may-concern, that to preserve Turkey the secular, 'someone' in Turkey needs to rid the country of the 'radicals' ...
Via WPR in Zaman/ here
The strategic ties between Israel and Turkey are not at the same level they were a decade ago, as the latter is no longer dependent on close cooperation, Israel’s military intelligence chief has said.
The comments by Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee reflected wider concern in the Jewish state following a high-profile visit to Turkey by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday that was meant to help mend the relationship after a sharp diplomatic row.
“Beyond the specific current tension, one needs to realize that the distancing is more fundamental and relates to strategic issues and common interests between Israel and Turkey,” Yadlin was quoted as saying on Tuesday by Ynetnews, an English-language Israeli news portal, during a security briefing to the committee members.
“There are still common strategic issues between Israel and Turkey, but it’s not the same strategic closeness that existed in the past. In the past Turkey acknowledged joint interests, which strengthened the relationship. For example, in the 1990s, the Turks regarded Syria as an enemy. There was a joint enemy. However, over the years Turkey and Syria resolved their differences, and Turkey doesn’t need Israel’s closeness anymore,” Yadlin elaborated.
“In the past they had an interest in securing their Syrian border and therefore their relations with Israel were strong. In the past Turkey strove to come closer to the West, beyond joining NATO,” he said.
The latest crisis between Turkey and Israel, which was triggered by a televised insult against Turkey’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, has underscored the presence of a new paradigm in bilateral relations between the two countries that has been since last winter, when a three-week offensive by Israel in the Gaza Strip left about 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of whom were civilians.
Despite acquiescing to demands from Turkey and apologizing for the insult to its ambassador last week, analysts said it is not yet clear whether Israel will embrace this new paradigm set by Turkey, which says a return to normal in bilateral ties depends on concrete steps by Israel to end the months-long humanitarian tragedy in Gaza as well as a sign of willingness to revive peace efforts in the Middle East.
“They wanted to become a member of the European market, and they thought that relations with Israel would promote them in the American market as well. They got a cold shoulder from the Europeans and couldn’t achieve their goals. In light of this, they changed their policy and are now in the midst of a process of distancing themselves from the secular approach towards a more radical direction,” Yadlin argued. “They are currently in the midst of a fundamental process of moving further away from the secular Atatürk approach, closer to a radical approach,” he claimed.....
Turkey, a member of the NATO defense pact, has a history of military cooperation with Israel and of mediating for the Jewish state with the Arab world. But ties have been shaken by a series of harsh and public criticism from both sides, culminating last week in the televised reprimand in Jerusalem of Turkey’s ambassador."

Iran in billion-euro gas deal with Germany

AFP/ here
"... Iran has signed a one-billion-euro (1.44-billion-dollar) deal with a German firm to build 100 gas turbo-compressors, an industry official said in newspapers on Wednesday.
The contract provides for the unnamed German firm to transfer the know-how to build, install and run the equipment needed to exploit and transport gas, said Iran's Gas Engineering and Development Company head, Ali Reza Gharibi.
The German company has already delivered 45 such turbo-compressors to Iran, Gharibi said, according to Iran Daily. Industry experts said he was apparently referring to Siemens.
But the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC) denied the signing of a deal.
"Following a report about a one-billion-Euro contract between Iran and Germany, the public relation of NIGC denied this," it said on its website.
The NIGC spoke of a contract with an "Iranian company to build 100 turbo-compressors in Iran using a foreign partner's know-how," without naming the firms.
The reported 2010-2015 deal for material not under an international embargo comes as the Islamic republic faces the threat of new financial, technological and international trade sanctions over its disputed nuclear programme.
Iran has the world's second largest proven global gas reserves after Russia but so far has played only a minor role on the gas export market.
The equipment and the know-how in the contract with the German firm will help Iran build plants to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG) and export it by ship, newspapers said.
The government daily Iran Daily said the contract was signed at the start of the week and would be a "relief for many German businesses that have long complained about restrictions on trade with Iran" under sanctions.
Germany and China are Iran's top trading partner after the United Arab Emirates, official figures show."

"Overall, I thought that Afghanistan was going to be the longest campaign in the Long War."

In the Cable/ here

"Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, set the expectations bar low today for President Obama's surge of U.S. troops to Afghanistan. "You're not going to turn Afghanistan," Petraeus said in a speech at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies Thursday, adding a little later: "Overall, I thought that Afghanistan was going to be the longest campaign in the Long War."
"What I was trying to say, at the least," Petraeus wrote in response to a follow-up email query from The Cable, "is that shouldn't expect to see the kind of rapid turnaround in the security situation in Afghanistan as was the case following the surge in Iraq."
The thrust of Petraeus's remarks at CSIS was that Iraq and Afghanistan are two wholly different situations and that despite Obama's commitment of 30,000 new troops to Afghanistan with the intent of beginning to withdraw them in 2011, a stark change toward stable democracy is unlikely during that timeframe.
Petraeus went on to say that the objective now in Afghanistan is to demonstrate that progress can be achieved with the appropriate approach and then to transition responsibility for continued progress back to the Afghan government.
The commander also talked about some of the other hot-button issues in his area of responsibility. He warned that the current dispute in Iraq over the banning of 500 parliamentary candidates, mostly Sunnis, "could really undermine a key issue, the reconciliation effort there."
Iraqi government players are working feverishly behind the scenes to come to a compromise over the dispute, Petraeus said. He added that the U.S. release of suspected Iran-backed terrorist Qais Khazali was an example of the length the parties had gone to for the reconciliation effort.
On Yemen, Petraeus was asked how the U.S. can have confidence that their new and improved support of the Yemeni government won't result in that money going back into the hands of America's enemies.
"We partner with the elements (of the Yemen government) who are focused on the extremists that are most important to us," the general explained.
He also pushed back on the idea that the rise of extremist activity in Yemen caught the U.S. government off guard.
"This is not something that is (not) a total surprise to us at all."

EGYPT: Muslim Brotherhood future

OxfAn, Excerpts:
"... Following an intense government crackdown, and amid growing tension between the conservatives and reformists, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) held its executive bureau elections in December:
  • The results heralded a conservative takeover of the executive bureau, with new conservatives elected, and prominent conservatives retaining their seats -- including Mahmoud Izzat, Mahmoud Ghozlan and Mohammed Badie.
  • They also brought some surprises, with prominent reformists losing their seats, such as Abdel Monein Abu Fotouh, and Deputy Supreme Guide Mohammed Habib, who had occupied his seat for 25 years.
  • However, Essam al-Erian also gained a seat. The conservatives had blocked him from getting a seat on more than one previous occasion -- causing Supreme Guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef to storm out of a meeting in October. His appointment is probably an attempt to appease a leading reformist and his faction in the wake of the removal of Habib and Abu Fotouh.
Aftermath. Following these elections, the MB's unity has been in question:
  • There has been speculation that Habib and Abu Fotouh will leave the movement in protest. Their exit would likely be followed by others, following the 1996 precedent when Abu Ella Madi (now head of the al-Wasat party) left due to what he saw as a conservative stranglehold over the movement and the static nature of its internal structure.
  • Habib has quietened such rumours by stating that his removal from the bureau was part and parcel of a democratic process. However, Abu Fotouh has been more critical, talking of a possible imminent split if the conservatives continue to suffocate the voice of the reformists.
Leadership elections.
This created a tense setting for the elections of the supreme guide. A number of prominent conservative candidates were rumoured to be vying for the top seat, including Izzat, Badie, and new executive bureau members Abdulrahman al-Barr and Sheikh Jumma. It was also rumoured that Habib might have a chance of succeeding Akef, since, although viewed as a reformist, he is known to be an effective balancer and manager, which the movement needs at such a critical time.
Seeking to avert expected reformist cries of conservative manipulation of the elections, Akef advocated for an independent committee to supervise the elections. The committee was expected to work closely with the Shura Council in selecting the most suitable candidate.
Wrangling. The election process dragged out as a result of internal disagreements. It was believed that Badie had the most support in the Shura Council, but the executive bureau preferred Rashid al-Bayoumi, a 74-year-old conservative. As a result of this conflict, the International Shura Council was asked to resolve the crisis, as it has done in the past in Syria and Jordan. In the midst of this wrangling, the crisis was heightened when Habib ruled himself out of the race and resigned from all his posts, including a seat in the Shura Council and the International Shura Council:
  • Habib had been highly critical of the election procedures and believed it had been hurried without the appropriate internal regulations being applied.
  • Habib's subsequent comments to the media have embarrassed the conservatives. A conservative delegation visited him at his Asyut residence in an attempt to iron out the disagreements and to advise him -- without success -- not to raise further uncomfortable issues with the media.
    Badie agenda. With the help of the International Shura Council, Badie was eventually chosen as the next leader, with Bayoumi as his deputy. Badie has occupied a seat on the executive bureau in the past and is well known as a conservative from the early generation of MB activists.
    He is expected to focus on the movement's traditional spiritual-educational work -- at the expense of the MB's performance in the upcoming parliamentary elections and its efforts to avert the expected presidential succession process
    . The conservatives have argued for this educational and welfare emphasis for a long time, but it will grieve the reformists, who prioritise political engagement. Challenges. A number of challenges await Badie, particularly unifying a movement in crisis. He is not known to be an effective balancer and manager, and the reaction of leading reformists has cast a shadow of illegitimacy over his appointment. Alongside pacifying the reformists, the frustrations of the youth will also need to be addressed:
    Reformists. Habib and Abu Fotouh were both absent from the press conference which announced Badie's appointment, and have refused to pledge their allegiance to him. The position of these two key reformists will remain a central concern for Badie -- and their reappointment to the executive bureau would now be unlikely to be enough to silence their criticism. It is possible that the conservatives will adopt a limited political strategy for the upcoming elections and gradual political engagement, as alluded to by Badie in recent interviews. However, there is no guarantee that Badie would be able to bring the conservative executive bureau on board with such a policy, and given the key differences in overall emphasis, this may only pacify the reformists for a limited period.
    Youth. Badie will also have to address the youth within the movement, who favour grassroots activism and confrontation with the state. The youth are growing increasingly frustrated with the conservative leadership and their own lack of influence over strategy, despite them constituting the largest section of the movement and a vital component in its activities on university campuses......
    Reformist strategy. The reformists will need to re-group to have a say in the movement, since they no longer hold strategic positions. The strongest option available to them is the use of the media -- which Habib and Abu Fotouh have already exploited -- to put pressure on the conservatives through public criticism. However, the conservatives are aware of the growing threat of such public discrediting, and have appointed Erian as the movement's media spokesman....