While the West dithers, the centrifuges spin February 19, 2012

It is now a diplomatic given that the greatest immediate danger to Israel, the Middle East and the West comes from Iran’s determined pursuit of nuclear weapons. An ayatollah regime with hegemonic aspirations, bent on the destruction of Israel and armed with weapons of mass destruction, is a recipe for regional instability, arms proliferation and unending terror.
This certainly appears to be the position among senior western politicians. The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, warned yesterday that a nuclear Iran could trigger an unstoppable arms race and that there was a palpable “threat of a new cold war in the Middle East”. Similar sentiments have long been echoed in Washington, particularly after the discovery of an Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador on US soil. There is alarm too in the capitals of Europe where the thought of another Middle East conflict brings undiluted dread.
But acknowledging a problem and presenting workable solutions are two different things. William Hague, who decries military action against Iran, has said that the government is “100% focused to bring Iran to the negotiating table” through “a twin-track strategy” of sanctions and negotiations. He is supported in this position by all three of the UK’s party leaders.
The EU too favours sanctions and diplomacy over military action. For President Sarkozy, the solution to this crisis ‘is political’ and ‘diplomatic’ while his German counterpart has repeatedly cautioned against Israeli unilateralism. The Americans have long sought to prevent a lone Israeli strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities. Former CIA director, Leon Panetta, has spoken of “the combination of economic and diplomatic sanctions” as “the best way of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon” while Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has said an Israeli attack would be “destabilizing”.
In recent days, politicians in London, Brussels and Washington have reacted with cautious optimism to an Iranian agreement for a further round of talks on the nuclear issue. The talks were suggested by Caroline Ashton on behalf of the EU and other powers.
But is there really any merit in relying on either sanctions or renewed diplomacy? Diplomacy at this late stage is surely an Iranian ruse for buying time and warding off the worst of the sanctions programme. The Iranian letter merely talks of ‘new initiatives’ and declares that the ‘success of the talks is subject to the constructive response of the G5+1 to the initiatives of the Islamic republic’.
In other words, it is Iran that will seek to dictate the agenda, not the other powers. The letter offers no concrete proposals on how to end Iran’s nuclear weapons programme and it is hard to see how these proposed talks will achieve anything more than the previous rounds of fruitless diplomacy.
In his instructive memoir, Surrender is not an option, former US diplomat John Bolton talked of his frustration with the EU3 (Britain, France and Germany) in their dealings with Iran. In one chapter he described his attempts to win a harder line approach on the country, only to find that his initiatives were scuppered by those he called “the three tenors.”
They were engaged in a “diplomatic frolic” based on “nothing but air”, though one that gave Iran breathing space to advance its nuclear program. One fears that this latest letter is just another diplomatic frolic which will give Iran further invaluable ‘breathing space’.
Iranian leaders are past masters at the tactic of divide and rule. They will try to drive a wedge between western hardliners who seek to maintain pressure on Tehran and the others, particularly in Europe, who demand the alleviation of pressure in order to maintain Iranian ‘goodwill’. Such goodwill always comes at a price, after all.Economic pressure in the form of sanctions against Iran’s oil industry and Central bank is the ideal way to bring the regime to its knees, and properly disrupt the nuclear programme. But that is just the point – the sanctions are not effective enough in their current form.
  • Certainly, they have had some effect. The Iranian rial has recently plunged in value against the dollar, inflation in Iran is on the rise and the country’s income from oil production has fallen. A country heavily dependent on oil exports has started to feel the pinch. But the proposed EU boycott of Iranian oil will not fully take effect until 1st July, providing the EU’s cash strapped economies (and Iran) with time to adjust to the measures. Worse, the top importers of Iranian oil, namely Iran, China and Japan, are refusing to sign up to the oil embargo and remain defiant in the face of American pressure. A determined Iran is likely to do all it can to circumvent the sanctions policy while bringing misery to its own population.And while the economic pressure continues, the Iranians have recently unveiled more centrifuges at Natanz in a defiant rebuke to the West. The words of Leon Panetta two years ago now seem prophetic: “I think the sanctions will have some impact. Will it deter them (the mullahs) from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability? Probably not”.
  • Yet for all these shortcomings, politicians in Britain, Europe and the US remain convinced that diplomacy and sanctions will eventually pay off over Iran. But if many rounds of sanctions failed to bring a recalcitrant North Korea to its knees, there is little chance they will work with an equally determined adversary in Tehran. They may even strengthen the resolve of the ayatollahs. What we are left with is the only viable option, namely the use of military force.
  • Detractors will argue that all options should be on the table before such a drastic step is taken, and one that entails such grave ramifications for regional security. The tragedy is that time is fast running out for preventing Iran from acquiring its first nuclear weapon. Time is the one vital commodity that the Iranians have been bargaining for over the last decade. With the West’s connivance, they are receiving it in ample measure.

Into the cesspit of hate February 26, 2012

The diplomatic war against Israel shows few signs of abating. On the contrary, it is gathering strength within mainstream sections of the media, the church and academic circles. The tone of the anti-Zionist narrative is increasingly twisted and hysterical, the language used ever more vicious and inflammatory. Judging by some of the charges levelled against the Jewish state, there are few levels of depravity to which the hatemongers will not willingly descend.
There is no better example of this than Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), an annual series of events held on university campuses which, according to their organisers, ‘educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system’. In reality, IAW is a globally orchestrated outpouring of hate directed towards Israel, Zionism and the Jewish community.

One such event took place this week on a university campus in London. A trio of speakers delivered a malevolent tirade against the Jewish state that was worthy of the most extreme Islamist. Baroness Jenny Tonge, best remembered for her remark that she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she were a Palestinian, declared that “Israel [was] not going to be here forever”. She warned her audience to be wary of the power of the “Israel lobby” for “they will go for you” and never stop.

Ghada Karmi, a Palestinian now living in London, said that Israel treated Palestinians like “a sub human species” and that in its desperation to ensure that the country remained non Arab, went “fishing” for Jews in any part of the world. In her words, “You can be any sort of person. You can call yourself ‘a Jew’. As long as you’re not an Arab, it’s alright”.

The worst of the rhetoric came from Ken O’Keefe, an American activist who was on board the Turkish flotilla which tried to break the Gaza blockade in 2009. In shrieking tones, he openly compared Jews to Germans living under the Nazi regime, arguing that they both had a “special obligation” to stand up to fascistic tyranny. The inflammatory comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany was met with thunderous applause, particularly when he declared that the “genocidal, apartheid” Jewish state “had to be destroyed’.

Judging by the panel, it was already clear that the university’s Palestinian society had lost all credibility before the event had even started. This was not a serious debate but a festival of hatemongering with an intention to stir up the audience’s basest instincts.

Of course, the absurdity of labelling Israel as an apartheid state should be evident from the outset. Under the iniquitous system of apartheid in South Africa, a minority of white people seized control of the country’s political system, denying voting rights to the black majority. Black people were forbidden from marrying whites or even fraternizing with them. They were also confined to native areas called Bantustans.

By contrast, Israeli Arabs enjoy an array of political and economic rights. They can vote in the country’s elections, have sexual relationships with Jews and own businesses like any other citizen. Jews and Arabs attend schools and universities together, work in the same hospitals and frequent the same public places. In recent years, Israel has had an acting Arab President, an Arab judge has served on the Supreme Court and Israeli Arabs have been represented in the Cabinet. Thus the comparison of Israel and South Africa shows contempt, not only for Israelis, but for black people who experienced legally sanctioned degradation under the apartheid system.

But if apartheid is a malevolent description of Israeli policy towards Arabs, is it a fair description of the country’s policy towards Palestinians? The IAW’s organisers point out that Palestinians cannot vote in Israel despite the IDF’s presence in ‘occupied’ territory, that they are restricted from travelling into Israel and that they are hemmed in by the security fence. These are regarded as forms of discrimination akin to those of apartheid South Africa.

Again, these are baseless charges. While the IDF maintains a military presence in the West Bank, this area is under the overall control of the Palestinian Authority. The PA has responsibility for the civic and economic life of Palestinian Arabs and it organises elections for its population.

Certainly, the Israeli military restrictions do have an impact on the lives of ordinary civilians and that point should not be overlooked. But these restrictions, including the fence, are a vital component of Israel’s security, following a repugnant wave of terrorism that has killed and injured thousands of civilians. By contrast, black people never threatened the white minority government in South Africa.

Naturally there are some forms of discrimination that exist in Israel, as with any country in the world. In a nation which has been at war with much of the Arab world since day one, it would hardly be surprising if anti-Arab prejudice persisted in places, even if it is less prevalent than some people might imagine. Israel has taken many strides to improve the lot of her non-Jewish citizens and no doubt, there is more that can and should be done.

The point is that the discrimination which does exist is institutional, not constitutional. Israel’s laws, including the Declaration of Independence, guarantee equality for all her citizens, regardless of religion, race or sexual orientation. Thus the apartheid label amounts to nothing more than outright demonization, a blatant attempt to cast Israel as a pariah among the nations.

The irony is that apartheid is a very real phenomenon in the Middle East, that is within the Arab and Muslim world. In Sudan, the native black Sudanese have been persecuted and enslaved by Muslim Arabs for some three decades, resulting in massacres and exile for more than 2 million people. The Kurds have suffered systematic repression in Syria where they have been dispossessed and denied citizenship since the 1960s.

In Saudi Arabia’s system of religious apartheid, Christians cannot openly practise their religion and the distribution of Bibles is illegal. Indeed the relentless persecution of Christians in Muslim lands is one of the sadder aspects of recent Middle East history. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas has stated that his proposed Palestinian state should be free of both Jews and gays. In classic Freudian terms, the charge of apartheid is a form of projection, an attempt to blame others for your own sins. It is a truly despicable tactic.

With this in mind, Israelis should go on the attack and expose their critics’ double standards and blatant disregard for the truth. They must force their critics to explain, and apologise for, the evils which they so readily ascribe to others. It is only then that the anti-Zionists will be revealed for the charlatans they are.

The shame of anti-semitism in British politics March 5 2012

Following her bilious and inflammatory comments about Israel last week, Baroness Jenny Tonge has been forced to resign from the Liberal Democrats. In her resignation statement this week, however, there was not the slightest hint of contrition or regret. Her comments were, to use the time honoured phrase, “taken completely out of context” and made in “protest at the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank”. She went on to accuse Israel of breaking international law and violating the rights of Palestinians. Moreover, she accused her party of always seeking “to abet the request of the pro-Israel lobby”. This last comment ought to raise the biggest horse laugh of all. For if anything is true, it is that her party has repeatedly failed to abet the request of pro Israel supporters to have her permanently removed from the Liberal Democrats.

Describing the Palestinian campaign of terrorism during the second intifada, Tonge said that, “If I had to live in that situation – and I say that advisedly – I might just consider becoming one (a suicide bomber) myself.” At best this could be taken as a typically ignorant attempt to articulate the motives of suicide bombers, at worst, an outright justification of terror. Two years later, she declared that the “pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a grip on our party”.

Evoking wild conspiracy theories about the reach of Jewish power is one of the more familiar themes in modern anti semitism. Yet despite the widespread condemnation of her remarks, Tonge remained a Liberal Democrat. Then in 2010, she lent credence to the view that Israeli soldiers had harvested organs in Haiti in 2010. This time, she was swiftly demoted from her position as the Liberal Democrat health spokesman in the Lords. Quite why she had not been kicked out altogether was the real mystery though.

Yes, Nick Clegg has taken the right decision to finally remove the whip from his outspoken colleague. But this has come after years of outrageous comments, and numerous calls for her dismissal that have gone unheeded. That is not sound leadership but cowardice.

Among those criticising Tonge was Labour leader, Ed Miliband. Rather sadly, his party’s track record in ousting its extremists is hardly better. Labour’s Gerald Kaufman is notorious when it comes to hurling malicious political invective in Israel’s direction. During Operation Cast Lead in 2009, he directly compared Israel’s actions in Gaza to those of Nazi Germany. Citing the murder of his grandmother at the hands of the Nazis in WW2, he told MPs:”My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza”.

Israel’s Government was, he said, “ruthlessly and cynically” exploiting “guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians”. Nor was this Jewish parliamentarian averse to attacking fellow Jews more directly, as when he declared that the Conservative party was under the control of “right wing Jewish millionaires”.

At the same time Labour MP Martin Linton, a veteran pro Palestinian campaigner, warned of the “long tentacles of Israel in this country” which were “funding election campaigns and putting money into the British political system for their own ends”. Another Labour MP, Tam Dalyell, was unapologetic when he said that Tony Blair was being unduly influenced by a “cabal” of Jewish advisers running a “Likudnik” policy.

These men implied that any support for Israel within their party was due to the shadowy influence of a secret pro-Israeli lobby which was operating behind the scenes in sinister fashion. This spectre of malign Jewish power and financial influence bears all the hallmarks of classic anti semitic conspiracy theories, a 21st century Protocols of the Elders of Jerusalem, if you will. Yet for all their shameful comments, none of these MPs were deselected, or threatened with deselection. What does that say about the Labour leadership’s repeated denunciation of anti-semitism?

No doubt there are several reasons, apart from obvious tribal loyalty, why parties choose to protect their own miscreants so persistently. For one thing, the pressure to demote or remove an MP will be proportional to the media firestorm that erupts after an alleged wrongdoing. While there are some redoubtable bloggers and commentators who pick up on every anti semitic utterance, their influence is inevitably limited. Without sustained impact, a story can quickly disappear and the offence then goes unpunished. And despite the alleged ubiquitous power of the pro Israel lobby, the fact remains that the greatest shaper of public opinion in the UK, namely the BBC, frequently adopts a pro Arab narrative itself.

Perhaps the second reason is that party leaders refuse to read into the inflammatory rhetoric any anti semitic connotation. As wayward politicians appear to be focusing on alleged Israeli misdeeds or the supposedly nefarious influence of its lobby, their protestations of being anti racist carry great weight. The usual refrain is that one can criticise Israel and not be opposed to Jews. Thus Nick Clegg has described Tonge’s outbursts as “risible not racist”.

But the imagery associated with her previous remarks, and those of the other MPs, bears more than a passing similarity to familiar Judaeophobic racism. These MPs have drawn upon the language and themes of conspiratorial anti semitism, even if they have not consciously acknowledged these influences. Drawing from the well of Jew hatred, even unintentionally, is still vile and indefensible.

This is why Britain’s party leaders need to wise up. It is one thing to condemn racism in all its manifestations, and quite another to mean it. With anti semitism creeping more and more into the political discourse of the Arab-Israeli conflict, our political leaders must make every effort to stamp it out.

Sudden Israeli withdrawals are a recipe for disaster March 12 2012

Within the last 72 hours, Israel has again witnessed the Palestinian version of ‘land for peace’. Palestinian terror groups have fired over 150 rockets, many of which are believed to have been imported from Libya, at a number of towns and cities across southern Israel. Thankfully, Israel’s Iron Dome system has intercepted the vast majority of the rockets heading for major population centres, helping to keep casualty rates mercifully low.

But does this renewed violence offer any lessons in strategic thinking? Does it also offer a riposte to the widely held view that it is in Israel’s short term interests to engage in land for peace with the Palestinians?

There are indeed some crucial strategic lessons here. The first is to acknowledge the high price that Israel pays when making withdrawals from disputed territory, particularly when those withdrawals are made unilaterally. In 2000, Ehud Barak oversaw an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon after many years of heavy fighting.

Five years later, Ariel Sharon vacated Gaza in what proved to be a domestically divisive and painful move in unilateralism. Both withdrawals were described at the time as groundbreaking opportunities for peace and the actions were given support from much of the Israeli media.

The reality has not matched the hopes. The withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon created a vacuum that was duly filled by terrorist groups. Hezbullah’s political weight in Lebanon has grown since 2000 to the point where it now has a controlling stake in the Lebanese parliament and enjoys widespread political legitimacy in much of the Arab world. For its part, Hamas easily defeated Fatah in the 2006 legislative elections and then launched a coup to seize control of the Gaza Strip a year later.

Both Hezbullah and Hamas have built up an extensive military infrastructure that is capable of bringing serious harm to Israeli civilians. Hezbullah’s arsenal of some 40,000 rockets, mainly supplied by Iran and Syria, can reach every major city in Israel. Hamas and other affiliated Palestinian terror groups have a smaller rocket arsenal, still in the thousands, that is being used to terrorise civilians in southern Israel.

The second lesson, in light of these points, is that Israel’s enemies will inevitably interpret her tactical withdrawals as a symptom of weakness, as well as a vindication of their own terrorist activity. Proof that terrorism was given a lightning boost by the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon came within months when 3 IDF soldiers were abducted at Mt. Dov in October 2000. Similarly, within months of the disengagement from Gaza, rocket attacks from Gaza intensified as Hamas punished communities across southern Israel. Then came the abduction of Gilad Schalit.

But in each case, it took several years before the combined effect of border raids, rocket attacks and terror attacks led to a crushing Israeli response. It was not until 2006, six years after the disengagement from Lebanon, that Israel launched a war to silence the terrorists of Hezbullah. And thousands of rockets had to be fired before the initiation of Operation Cast Lead in December 2009. The delay between the start of the terrorist upsurge and the Israeli response was seen as further evidence (for the terrorists) of Israeli weakening, procrastination and lack of resolve.

Thus it is crucial that the third lesson is learnt. Having vacated territory unilaterally or otherwise, Israel has to maintain a meaningful relationship of deterrence with terrorist organisations by making them realise that there is a punishing price to be paid for attacking Israelis. The vital question is whether such a relationship exists today.

There is some evidence that Israel’s enemies have been deterred after their bruising encounters with the Israeli armed forces. For one thing, the war of 2006 has led to six years of relative quiet along the Israel-Lebanon border with only one minor incident affecting an otherwise peaceful period in relations.

Both sides are acutely aware that a renewed war would bring far more destruction than the last. For Israel, there is the palpable fear of mass civilian casualties arising from Hezbullah’s arsenal of ballistic missiles, and for the Lebanese group, the justified belief that they will suffer heavy losses greater than those in 2006.

It could also be argued that the last thing Hamas’ leaders want is a dramatic escalation with the Jewish state. They fear that an Israeli counter-offensive along the lines of Cast Lead will lead to the decimation of their terrorist infrastructure and the destruction of their leadership.

But one could equally argue that the Israeli-Hamas and Israeli-Hezbullah relationships have been transformed by events. Hezbullah knows it has a powerful and stubborn Iranian proxy with seemingly insatiable nuclear ambitions. In the event that Tehran crosses the nuclear finishing line, Hezbullah will feel emboldened, knowing that Israel has to live under the umbrella of a Shi’ite atomic arsenal.

Hamas too has been transformed by the Arab spring, and in a similar way. The fall of the Mubarak regime in Cairo has created a clear political beneficiary – the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian branch. With the MB poised to play a significant role in any new Egyptian government, Hamas is bound to feel like it has a valuable patron backing its every move.

The changes in Egypt have also intensified the use of Sinai as a major hub of jihadist activity. Even before Mubarak’s ouster, weapons were flowing freely from Gaza into Sinai and back again. Today, many Hamas operatives are based in the peninsula, recruiting for the terror group and storing much of their weaponry beyond Israel’s reach.

There are now serious concerns that a destabilised and increasingly radicalised Sinai could disrupt the already fragile Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. The worry is that these circumstances could start to erode the deterrence relationship that has been built up in recent years.

Finally, there appear to be clear implications for the land for peace agenda. Israel continues to come under international pressure to vacate the West Bank in a peace deal with the Palestinians. But the effect of any such disengagement could be to bolster Hamas’ position in the territory.

In recent months, the group has pragmatically signed an accord with Fatah, perhaps in the hope that in the forthcoming PNC elections, it will make considerable gains at the expense of its former rival.
Ultimately Hamas sees itself as the long term victor in Palestinian politics, hoping that when it attains an overall majority, it can replace Fatah altogether. An Israeli pullback from the West Bank might add rocket fuel to the group’s sense of inevitable victory.

Worse, a Hamas takeover would destabilise neighbouring Jordan with its majority Palestinian population and strong Islamist sympathies. While it seems hard to conceive of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank, it was equally hard to foresee their legislative win in 2006 or their subsequent military coup. An alternative to the two state paradigm which does not empower Hamas, perhaps a Jordanian/Palestinian confederation on the West Bank, may soon be seen as the preferred political option.

While world leaders and Israeli leftists implore the Israeli government to offer land for peace, the lessons of history should not be ignored. It is the well organised extremists, not the moderates, who fill the vacuum.

Ashton’s remark reflects the EU’s moral turpitude March 22, 2012

This week’s slaughter of the innocents in Toulouse has rightly caused shock and revulsion around the world. Many have found it hard to comprehend how innocent lives could be snuffed out in such a ruthless manner. Yet today there is little doubt that this was a carefully calculated act of multiple murder carried out by a determined Islamist supremacist. The self confessed killer, Mohammed Merah, appears to have had one sole aim: to murder as many Jews as he could get hold of. According to French prosecutor, Francois Molins, the killer “expresses no regret, only that he didn’t have time to have more victims.” He also boasted of “bringing France to its knees”, a comment which lends weight to the theory that he was also the murderer of three soldiers last week.

Yet in the face of such blatant Islamist terror, the EU’s foreign policy maestro, Caroline Ashton, saw fit to draw an absurd level of moral equivalence between children who died in Gaza and the children murdered in Toulouse. In her exact words:

“When we remember young people who have been killed in all sorts of terrible circumstances — the Belgian children having lost their lives in a terrible tragedy, and when we think of what happened in Toulouse today, when we remember what happened in Norway a year ago, when we know what is happening in Syria, when we see what is happening in Gaza and in different parts of the world — we remember young people and children who lose their lives”.

The reasons why her analogy is both absurd and offensive are almost too obvious to need stating. The IDF has indeed killed Palestinian children in Gaza but never as part of a deliberate policy of cold blooded murder. Civilian casualties occur as a by product of killing terrorists, not as part of a state sanctioned policy of murder, and they largely result from the use by Hamas of human shields.

Indeed the only meaningful connection between Toulouse and Gaza is the pervasive stench of Jew hatred that has blown through both places. Palestinian terrorists and Islamist supremacists both obsess about the alleged misdeeds of world Jewry, both revel in a blood soaked cult of death and both groups spread poisonous lies about Jews and Israelis.

Ashton’s false equivalence is scarcely an accidental, off the cuff remark though. It reflects a European political mindset devoid of any moral clarity, a mindset which refuses to see the difference between Israeli self defence and Islamist murder. This is partly because Israel embodies a host of ideals that Europe has long given up on. Israel takes pride in its national story and in the religious ideals that shape the nation; Europe instead has embraced multiculturalism. Israel defends itself robustly against its enemies; Europe prefers appeasement. Israel defends western values and its alliance with America; the EU is embarrassed by alliances and military force, preferring internationalism and treaty making.

Worse, the EU views Israel through the prism of anti colonialism, choosing to depict the Jewish state as an illegal occupier settling the land of others. These problems are exacerbated by the presence of a vocal and radicalised minority of Muslims in a number of European countries. In the face of their relentless intimidation, Europe’s response to events in the Middle East has too often been marked by retreat, cowardice and appeasement.

To take one example, during the Mohammed cartoon affair, many of Europe’s leaders condemned newspaper editors in Denmark far more than the jihadis who were causing mayhem across the world. When you throw in the long established policy of Arabism and Europe’s obsessive anti-Americanism, you have a pretty fatal combination.

The EU cannot seem to comprehend the ideological nature of Islamism, just like it refuses to see Palestinian terror as a symptom of Jew hatred.

Given the above, it is probably futile calling for Ashton’s resignation. She embodies an institution marked by a palpable sense of intellectual and moral bankruptcy. It’s surely the EU which should resign.

Egypt suffers as the Muslim Brotherhood reveals its true colours April 7, 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to field a candidate, the businessman Khairat El-Shater, for Egypt’s forthcoming Presidential election is certainly a volte face, but not an unpredictable one. The MB had previously promised to stay away from the election, no doubt wishing to lessen anxiety that Egypt was on the verge of a fundamentalist takeover. But this was a mere political ‘hudna’. The Muslim Brotherhood has broken this, and other, promises because all they care about is creating an Islamic Revolution and destroying the hopes of a liberal generation. And their decision to stand reveals a great deal about the group’s political strategy and the imbecilic thinking of much of the western commentariat.

For the Brotherhood have a long history of concealing their true aims from prying western eyes, and those of their own people. In July 2011, a spokesman from the Brotherhood talked of the need for a ‘secular state’ and ‘a secular political scene’ which ‘would not allow extremism to gain momentum’. He wanted ‘a state that [was] truly neutral between religions’. {C}{C}

A key member of the MB delegation to Washington, Sondos Asem, recently declared that his group represented “a moderate, centrist Muslim viewpoint” and that their “priorities” were “preserving the revolution ideals of social justice, education, security for the people.”

Yet in a recent New York Times article, Shater declared that the “recent elections have proved that Egyptians demand an explicitly Islamic state,” while adding that “the Islamist landslide in the parliamentary elections is an indisputable democratic mandate for an explicitly Islamic government”. Interestingly, the manifesto of the Freedom and Justice Party said nothing about creating an explicitly Islamic state and imposing sharia law on the population.

In other words, just as Ayatollah Khomeini deceived the Iranian people in 1979 about his desire to create a religious autocracy, so too the Egyptian Islamists have deceived their electorate about their true aims, namely the creation of a fundamentalist Islamic state. So the true trajectory in Egyptian politics, as predicted by many a year ago, is towards Islamist dictatorship rather than true democratic governance.

Yet despite Egypt’s worrying descent into religious radicalism, many in Washington are still pinning their hopes on Muslim Brotherhood moderation. According to Tom Vietor of the US National Security Council, this is how the MB will receive full recognition:

“In all our conversations with these groups, we emphasize the importance of respect for minority rights, the full inclusion of women, and our regional security concerns.”

This suggests an almost Panglossian level of optimism. Islamists who believe in creating a religious state based on Sharia law are already signalling a hasty retreat from western values. Under Sharia, women, gays and non-Muslims are very much treated as second class citizens. Is this something that Washington does not know, or simply chooses not to acknowledge?

As for treating all Egyptian people equally, one need only consult the Copts of Egypt who have long suffered terrible persecution from Islamist thugs and who now fear the rise of a majority Islamist government. Perhaps this is why the Coptic delegation recently withdrew from a panel working on a new Egyptian constitution.

There is also ample evidence that ‘regional security concerns’ will only grow if the Brotherhood takes control of the new government. While State Department spokesman, Victoria Nuland was careful to say that the US had received “good guarantees” that the political parties would respect the 1979 Egypt-Israel treaty, this was not the position of the Brotherhood.

Rashad al-Bayoumi, the Brotherhood’s second in command, told Al-Hayat that “the Muslim Brotherhood will not recognize Israel under any circumstances and might put the peace treaty with the Jewish state up to a referendum. We will take the proper legal steps in dealing with the peace deal. To me, it isn’t binding at all”. So much for all those assurances then.

The bottom line is that when the Brotherhood, or any Islamist group, seeks power from a minority position, it will make all kinds of vague promises to respect the constitution, uphold human rights and maintain religious freedom. Once in power, those promises go up in smoke. Just look at Gaza where Hamas refused to share power with Fatah, launching a deadly coup just one year after legislative elections. Look at Iran under the ayatollahs where secularists, communists and non Islamists were trounced in 1979 by the Ayatollah. The same is already happening in Egypt in 2012.

Why Israel cannot outsource her security to the US September 12, 2012

There is a significant chance that we may soon be at the point of no return over Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu and his more hawkish ministers seem convinced that the mixture of diplomacy and sanctions favoured by Washington has done nothing to curb the Iranian nuclear programme. No one can discount the possibility of an Israeli military strike within weeks or months, though it is always possible that Israeli spokesmen are engaged in a game of bluff, designed to galvanise the reluctant Americans who are desperate for more stability in the Gulf.

Only last week there was an intense row on this subject between Netanyahu and the American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro. The Prime Minister accused Obama of failing to draw a red line in dealing with the Iranian threat, thus failing to indicate when action might be taken against the Islamic Republic. Those who refused to do this, he argued, had no right to place red lines on Israeli action.

On this issue, Netanyahu has surely got it spot on. President Obama’s ‘wait and hope’ strategy has proved ineffective in dealing with the Iranian regime. Over the last 4 years, he has initiated an extraordinary programme of outreach to Iran, including nuclear talks with the Republic and a refusal to back military force in unambiguous terms. His goodwill led him to effectively spurn the Green movement during the bloody crackdown in 2009.

But today, Iran is a defiant power with little sign of being cowed. The country’s lesdership continue to make belligerent pronouncements threatening Israel and America with destruction. The most recent IAEA report indicates that the country has significantly increased its stockpile of enriched uranium while other reports suggest that there is an ongoing attempt to hide evidence of her illicit activities, including at the Parchin site. Thus while ordinary Iranian civilians are suffering, the regime’s nuclear aspirations remain intact.

Nonetheless, some prominent Israeli figures have spoken out against the wisdom of their country attacking Iran. Last year, former Mossad boss, Meir Dagan, decried such action as foolish and illegal and his scepticism was shared by former Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin and ex Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz. They are joined in their view by President Shimon Peres, a man for whom good relations with the US are a sine qua non. Implicit in their argument is that Israel should reach an understanding with the US on any timetable for action.

Of course, American led action in principle is more desirable than a unilateral Israeli strike, given that the US has much greater firepower at its disposal. It also has the luxury of the Diego Garcia base and a number of aircraft carriers.

But there are clear problems with outsourcing Israel’s security to the United States. For one thing, Israel would have to accept America’s red lines for military action and these may differ significantly from her own. Already these red lines have shifted from demanding a halt to any uranium enrichment to allowing Iran some uranium enriched below 20%. Iran will have interpreted such shifting positions as evidence that the West is not serious about concerted military action.

From Jerusalem’s perspective, nothing short of the complete abandonment of Iran’s nuclear programme, under close international inspection, is needed. After all, they are forced to hear Iran’s genocidal rhetoric on a daily basis. Yet how you perceive a threat depends on your proximity to it. Living 8,000 miles away from the Islamic Republic, rather than 1,000, makes political compromise seem more attractive.

Israel cannot assume that a Romney presidency would be drastically different. Certainly Romney has spoken of “a moral imperative” to deny Iran’s leaders the bomb while also criticising the inadequate policies of the Obama administration. But only last week he stated that “We should continue to pursue diplomatic channels” as well as maintain the policy of “crippling sanctions”. He added: “That does not mean we should take off the table our military options”. In other words, his policy position and Obama’s are not that dissimilar. Their language would appear to be relatively interchangeable.

In any case, what Presidential candidates say before an election can be very different from what they say in the White House. One ought to remember that, prior to winning the Presidential race in November 2008, Obama made a number of statements that were highly supportive of Israel’s operations in Gaza. Once in power, he began to identify Israeli settlements, rather than Palestinian terror, as the primary impediment to peace. This was a form of egregious appeasement that has had a baleful impact on US-Israeli relations ever since.

Moreover, America’s record in preventing nuclear proliferation among rogue states is far from perfect. The most notable example was the inability of the Clinton administration to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear facilities, despite the ‘agreed framework’ of 1994. It is entirely reasonable to assume that this reflected a failure of intelligence gathering at the highest levels.

If American intelligence were faulty with regard to Iran, it is conceivable that Washington’s red lines could be crossed with impunity. Israel would then be faced with the prospect of containing a nuclear Iran, a disastrous outcome. This would shatter Israel’s deterrent capability in the eyes of the world, most particularly in Tehran.

Quite simply, Israel cannot rely on any American administration when it comes to dealing with an existential threat of this magnitude. But if she is forced into a pre-emptive strike, either this year or next, it will only be because the US and her allies have appeased Tehran for too long.

What does Obama's Syria policy portend for Israel? 20 September 2013

Towards the end of Macbeth, the eponymous hero reflects that life is a tale “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. In the last few months, this has come to be an apt summary of Obama's incompetent approach towards Syria. How else can one describe a policy of allowing red lines to be crossed with impunity and issuing tough rhetoric which is then contradicted by inaction?

The Syrian dictator has every reason to feel protected as he sits behind his powerful Russian protector. Last year he heard that Obama had established red lines for the use of chemical weapons in his country. But then those weapons were used and no action was taken. That passivity gave a green light to committing further barbaric outrages, including the attack in Ghouta that reportedly killed up to 1,500 civilians.

That crime galvanised the President. Obama told the world that action was needed, that a "crime against humanity" had been committed and the international community's credibility was at stake. But then Congress had to be summoned, further delaying even this 'limited' strike and giving Assad vital breathing space to hide his chemical weapons.

While this was happening, the Secretary of State was assuring Assad that any military intervention would be "unbelievably small" anyway, destroying at a stroke any element of deterrence. But the appeasement didn't end there, for, at the eleventh hour, the President kowtowed to the Kremlin and allowed Moscow to dictate the agenda.

The US-Russian deal to strip Assad of his chemical weapons sounds tough and purposeful. If efficiently implemented within a year, it would surely weaken Assad. But it took UNSCOM six years to inspect Saddam's arsenal of WMD and they still concluded that thousands of munitions were unaccounted for. Destroying the weapons could take even longer and prove incredibly expensive.

Remember too that Syria is hardly a stable place right now and, as the civil war rages, there is every opportunity for weapons to be lost or hidden or for the inspectors' work to be impeded. Moreover, Moscow will block any attempt to use force against Assad if he is guilty of non-compliance. He remains a key Russian client and a lynchpin of Moscow's anti-western policy in the Middle East.

Above all, the deal offers the dictator a vital diplomatic lifeline. The White House used to insist that Assad was a "dead man walking" and that he "had to go". Instead Assad has become, according to Eurasia analyst Ayham Kamel, "the key interlocutor for the international community".
Without Assad's approval, there can be no chemical weapons removal, and approval confers legitimacy. The deal is a Russian ploy to allow 'their' man to survive, and America has meekly complied. It is an abject and wholly pathetic surrender of western initiative.

A President whose Syria policy has been marked by such indecision, hesitation and craven surrender now wants Israel to trust in his Iran policy. But this would be utter madness because, in respect of the greatest immediate security threat to the west, Obama has similarly been found wanting. After declaring on multiple occasions that he would not tolerate a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands, Obama has all but closed the door to military action, the only means of preventing that terrifying scenario.
He has dismissed as 'background noise' the many voices calling for a tougher approach, relying instead on punitive sanctions to shift Iran's intransigence. Sanctions have helped to cripple the country's economy but Rouhani, the alleged moderate, insists on his country's right to enrich uranium.

Just as Obama poured forth with endless and empty threats against Damascus and ended up with a maddening compromise suiting only the Russians, so he is likely to do the same against Tehran.

Rouhani is reportedly about to offer the closure of the Fordo enrichment plant as part of a deal to ease sanctions on his country's economy. Whether such a suggestion could be implemented is doubtful – he would need the agreement of Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards. Regardless, the enticing offer gives even more breathing space to the regime as the details are thrashed out in the coming months.

Even if Fordo was closed as part of a grand bargain with the US, it still leaves other vital components of the nuclear infrastructure intact. Such a view is suggested by Obama's recent comment that Iran would need to show its seriousness by agreeing "not to weaponise nuclear power". This is far removed from the basic conditions that Israel has (quite reasonably) demanded. These include the removal of enriched uranium and a halt to plutonium activity. The White House could thus be gearing up for another irresponsible fudge.

The likeliest outcomes are either a nuclear Iran or a compromise in which a reluctant Iranian leadership, desperate to alleviate the pressure of sanctions, offers token concessions to buy time for their nuclear programme. Either way, it is surely rational for Ayatollah Khamenei, surveying the wreckage of Obama's Syria policy, to conclude that nothing worse than sanctions will hit his country.

Above all, the only rational conclusion for Israel's government is that it cannot rely on Washington to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions. A US administration that issues empty threats as a matter of course simply cannot be trusted to confront Israel's key enemy. To take such a gamble would be a gross dereliction of duty.

Thus we must revisit a comment that Netanyahu made on 5th March 2012 in a meeting with the US President. On that day Netanyahu declared that Israel would be "master of its own fate", hinting that an Israeli administration might have to go it alone in tackling the Iranian nuclear threat. With America so badly in retreat, history may prove Netanyahu right.

The Palestinians remain trapped by their pseudo history November 13, 2012

For years the PLO and their supporters have been waging an intimidating propaganda campaign against the State of Israel. They have labelled the country a pariah nation, an apartheid state and an abuser of human rights without parallel in the world. Israeli leaders have been labelled war criminals, racists and Nazis. Central to this “soft war” is a distorted historical narrative which casts the Palestinians as the innocent victims of western backed imperialism and which denies the Jews any legitimate right to self determination.
Lest anyone believe that this war is confined to mere Palestinian radicals, one need only read the recent article by Nabeel Sha’ath, a member of the Fatah Central committee, and a man often regarded as a true voice of Palestinian moderation.

Sha’ath starts by castigating the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the pledge made by the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Baron Rothschild to establish a national homeland for the Jews. This was a pledge made “to a people who did not even live there” and “without consulting the indigenous Christian and Muslim inhabitants of Palestine, the Palestinian people”.

Nowhere here is there any acknowledgement that Palestine had been continuously populated by Jews, both before and after their expulsion in 70 AD, that it was the location of Judaism’s holiest sites and that the area had served as the focus of world Jewry’s religious aspirations. Instead he regards Zionism as a con trick because it diverted Jewish immigration “away from America and Western Europe”.

Sha’ath’s twisted historical narrative continues. He talks of how, during the First World War, “Britain had committed herself to assisting the Arab nations in achieving their independence from the Ottoman Empire” and goes on to say that “thousands of Palestinians, fought for their freedom”, allowing the establishment of the mandate.

The latter claim is largely false: Palestinian Arabs generally remained loyal subjects of their Ottoman overlords and failed to assist the Allied armies, partly a consequence of their underdeveloped national identity. But in his first statement, Sha’ath is blind to the implications of what he is saying. Britain did assist the Arab nations in their quest for post WW1 independence, carving out a number of Arab states from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Zionism was a complementary liberation movement, looking to free land from an imperial overlord. It should properly be seen as the spearhead of an anti-imperial movement, not a form of colonial oppression.

Sha’ath talks of how Britain “repressed Palestinian nationalism” while it “helped to encourage Zionist immigration into Palestine”. Palestine, he declares, was the “victim of colonial conspiracies”. Whatever his personal animus towards the British imperial administration, he ignores the fact that Britain’s position in Palestine was entirely legal. Since 1920 at the San Remo conference, Britain’s mandate over Palestine operated with the support of the international community. The 51 member League of Nations ratified the mandate in 1922, providing an overwhelming level of legitimacy for creating a Jewish homeland.

Moreover, far from stifling the rights of Palestinian Arabs, Britain supported them enthusiastically. Notwithstanding the handing over of three quarters of Palestine to a future Jordanian state in 1922, the 1937 Peel Commission recommended a partition of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, the latter forming the vast majority of the area. While the Zionists accepted the principle of partition, the Arabs, under the leadership of the notorious anti-semite Hajj Amin-al Husseini, rejected it wholeheartedly. This was the most blatant sign that the Palestinian leadership would never accept any form of Jewish self determination in the area, whatever the cost.

Sha’ath goes on to say that it was never envisaged “that the British mandate would end with a catastrophe in the form of the expulsion of the majority of the Palestinian people from their homeland”. Indeed not. The undoubted calamity brought upon some 600,000 Arab citizens came about because, once again, Palestinian leaders rejected a compromise formula.
After the UN voted to partition the area into a Jewish and Arab state in 1947, the Zionist leaders responded with an emphatic “yes” and Husseini with an equally emphatic “no”. What followed was a concerted effort to drive the Jews into the sea.

As the historical archives have been opened, it has become abundantly clear that Jewish communal leaders in Haifa, Jaffa and elsewhere did all they could to prevent an Arab exodus in 1948. It is equally clear that, amid the civil war that engulfed Palestine in 1947-8, Arab inhabitants largely fled from the war zone, encouraged by exaggerated tales of Jewish atrocities and the promise of a swift return once the Zionists had been routed. The Palestinian exodus was a self induced catastrophe.

When Sha’ath says that the mandate was “never meant permanently to thwart Palestinian national aspirations” he is wrong. Under the mandate, Britain was only obliged (rightly) to safeguard “the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion”. Its primary provisions were to facilitate a Jewish homeland and it made no promise to create another Arab state.

But as already stated, there could have been a Palestinian state prior to 1948. It was the bitter, prolonged and bloody campaign of intimidation launched by Palestinian leaders that thwarted those aspirations and the same pattern of terror and violence has followed in subsequent decades.

What Sha’ath does not tell his readers is that whenever Israel has made major concessions to her Palestinian partners, the result has been an upsurge of violence and terrorism. When Israel implemented the Oslo accords in the 1990s, she faced a relentless barrage of suicide bombers sent by Hamas. In 2000-1 Israel’s offer to disengage from the majority of the West Bank was rebuffed by Yasser Arafat. What followed was the second intifada which killed hundreds of Israeli civilians and maimed thousands more.

The withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 saw an upsurge of rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorists, affecting Israeli communities across the south of the country. Mere Israeli concessions are not the panacea for peace, and they never have been.

The Palestinians must be encouraged to give up their dream of defeating Israel. This means abandoning the “right of return”, banning incitement against Jews and ending the glorification of terrorists. Above all, they must free themselves from the twisted historical narrative that has been foisted upon them for so long. Only then should we start talking about a future Palestinian state.

Another hudna for Hamas November 22, 2012

To judge the success or failure of Operation Pillar of Defence, one must understand the objectives that Israel set itself prior to the operation. It was clear 8 days ago that Israel sought to bring peace to beleaguered communities across the south who had been facing an intolerable wave of terror attacks. The aim was to deter Hamas from launching rockets, or allowing other groups to do the same. In other words, conquering the Gaza Strip and defeating Hamas outright was never on the cards.

It is simply too early to say whether these aims have been satisfied, for only events will reveal whether Hamas will cease their terror activities. History would suggest, however, that this is merely yet another lull in the Hamas war, a hudna or a temporary ceasefire while they recover and regroup. We will almost certainly be back here next year, or the year after.

Certainly Israel achieved considerable successes. The IAF struck over 1,500 targets in Gaza, including command and control centres, rocket launching sites and underground tunnels. They eliminated several senior Hamas commanders, depriving the terror group of enormous experience at the military level. Israel’s wonderful Iron Dome had a success rate of 84%, ensuring that the civilian casualties on the Israeli side were kept remarkably low. For 8 days, the IAF put Hamas under relentless pressure and managed, by keeping civilian casualties low, to gather support from many world leaders. Yet Hamas will surely rebuild, just as Hezbollah did in 2006. They will stockpile more (and potentially deadlier) weapons, fitting the trajectory since 2005, and replenish their terror arsenal just as effectively. With only about 120 Hamas terrorists killed, the group still has many thousands of ‘martyrs’.

What was fundamental was that the supply route to Gaza was shut down and that rockets and missiles could no longer reach the enclave. This has now been put in the hands of the Egyptians, led by the Hamas ally, Mohammed Morsi. In one sense, this might not appear disastrous. After all, Morsi urgently needs American economic assistance and investment for his poverty stricken country, something he might not want to risk by reneging on a pledge to bring security to Gaza. But one should not forget that Morsi has already presided over a declining security situation in Sinai, a region awash with weaponry and terrorists, and it is not clear that he will seek to rein in the militants. Even if he does, this will only further empower the Muslim Brotherhood with their virulent anti western ideology.

In political terms, Hamas will also feel emboldened by this latest conflict. They are once again calling the shots in the region, after already seeing their stock rise as a result of the Gilad Schalit affair. That they were able to continue firing their missiles up until the ceasefire, in particular that they brought fear to the citizens of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, will give enormous comfort to their supporters. Moreover, they will see Israel’s refusal to launch a ground invasion as a a victory for western, specifically American, pressure. Israel’s famed deterrence will be seen to have ground to a halt under a barrage of misguided diplomatic manoeuvres.

Mahmoud Abbas, by contrast, cuts a rather ineffectual figure as he bids for a unilateral state at the United Nations. He kept quiet for 8 days and eschewed the direct use of violence and terror. While that is to his credit, it will not necessarily provide any pay offs among his own people. The militant jihadis appear to be the ones testing Israeli resolve right now. And the rise and rise of jihadis at the expense of their secular rivals seems to be in keeping with regional developments. After all, we have seen Islamists triumph in Tunisia and Egypt and murderous Islamist rampages have brought chaos inside Libya. With the Muslim Brotherhood in the ascendant, why should Gaza be any different? For now, there is an uncertain quiet across Israel. One fears that the next round of fighting is just around the corner.

Five (possibly contradictory) thoughts on Syria August 29 2013

1. Last year, President Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would cross a red line in the civil war. When such weapons were used by Assad, no action followed, undermining the President’s moral authority and encouraging Assad to strike again. There is now strong evidence that the regime was behind last week’s appalling atrocities. If no action is taken for a second time after clear evidence of mass murder, the US will once again look like a paper tiger, potent in threat but not in deed. An emboldened Assad gives an enormous boost to both Iran and Hezbollah, making western inaction particularly toxic. In this sense, it would be disastrous for western leaders not to act.

2. There is a strong moral case to act, given that last week’s atrocity involved game changing weapons of mass destruction being used against a civilian population. But by the law of unintended consequences, Assad may now be incentivised to further his campaign of mass murder without using chemical weapons, knowing that this apparently causes less moral alarm in the west – a somewhat perverse outcome.

3. But Assad is not stupid. He also knows that there is no appetite in the west for bringing about regime change in Syria. This is a combination of several factors: post Iraq exhaustion, the heinous nature of the Syrian opposition, the support Assad enjoys from Russia and Iran, Obama’s reluctance to start another war that will go down badly with a war weary public and the public declarations of Cameron and Obama.

​Rather ineptly, both leaders have already spelt out the limits of their proposed action against Assad. All of which undermines the west’s overall deterrent capability, something Assad knows better than anyone. But if the dictator continues his atrocities, will the west launch further military action, with possible mission creep, or are the imminent strikes merely a one time punishment? Is there any kind of long term strategy in place? One suspects not. What we are gearing up for then is, at best, a deterrent action that won’t end up changing much on the ground and, at worst, another advertisement of western irresolution and impotence.

4. A more meaningful form of intervention would have involved deeper financial, military or logistical support for Syria’s secular opposition before it became infiltrated by Sunni jihadists and al Qaeda sympathisers. But for the last two and a half years, the Obama administration has shown abject leadership on Syria just as it did on Iran and Egypt, meaning that today, a truly meaningful, non-gestural form of intervention is almost impossible to contemplate. The fall of Assad today could lead to a Muslim Brotherhood dominated Syria with al Qaeda infiltration or a chaotic civil war, possibly undermining the Iran/Hezbollah axis but arguably fuelling the region’s chaos, violence and instability in a greater civil war. This is the infernal choice for the Middle East, Syria and Israel.

5. So in the long term, over the last three years, western leaders have advertised their lack of political will, their misjudgements and their inept leadership – that is the real tragedy of the ‘Arab spring’. And the tragedy of Syria is that there are basically no good options to play around with, though inaction is clearly not a good option either.

Postscript: Ed Miliband’s motion does not deserve to pass. He has focused on entirely the wrong debate by making the UN process the sacrosanct issue. Russia and China will use their vetoes, not because there is a lack of evidence indicting Assad but for selfish political interests i.e. to protect their client state. Miliband’s real fear is being seen as the heir to Blair and his insistence on legality should be viewed in this political context. This, rather than the national interest, is surely his prime motive.