HOW TO KEEP THE PEACE IN A PALESTINE RUN BY HAMAS? 03 January 2013

President Shimon Peres has caused a storm by praising the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas. In a speech at the Foreign Ministry's annual conference last week, he declared emphatically that Abbas was "the only Arab leader to stand up and say that he is for peace and against terror".

He added that there was "a clear majority for the principle of two-states for two peoples" and that Israel had to be "proactive" and complete "the peace deal with the Palestinians and without further delay". It is not hard to see why some have criticised his remarks.

For if Abbas has indicated anything in recent months, it is that he wants the world to recognise a Palestinian state without any peace deal. That is why he went to the General Assembly two months ago to get 'Palestine' upgraded to a non-member observer state.

That is also why he rejected the chance to negotiate with Netanyahu, even when settlement expansion was frozen for nearly a year. And surely that was why he rebuffed Ehud Olmert's generous peace deal in 2008, the most far reaching concessions ever offered to any Palestinian leader.

Abbas has made it clear that he intends 'Palestine' to join a set of established international bodies. Such actions will enhance the standing of his virtual state but potentially tarnish Israel in the court of world opinion. Yet even as the Palestinian leader rejects negotiation and compromise, he is lauded as a peacemaker.

Peres' claim of "a clear majority for the principle of two states for two peoples" is correct but only partially so. There is a clear and consistent majority on the Israeli side but not, sadly, on the Palestinian one. This has been borne out by two recent and highly revealing opinion polls that give very different views about Israeli and Palestinian attitudes towards the peace process.

According to a poll conducted by the Ramallah-based Arab World Research and Development centre, which surveyed 1200 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, an overwhelming majority (88%) believed the result of Operation Pillar of Defence 'proved that armed struggle is the best means of achieving Palestinian independence'. West Bank Palestinians were far more likely to prefer the methods of Hamas to Fatah (42% to 28%).

Such attitudes are scarcely a one off. In November 2010, a poll conducted for the Israel Project showed 60% of Palestinians supported the creation of two states but only as a stepping stone to a one state solution. An even bigger percentage welcomed Arafat's rejection of the Camp David peace offer in 2000.

By contrast, a Smith research poll that spoke to 500 Israeli Jews found nearly two thirds (62%) supported the principle of two states for two peoples. This is broadly consistent with a 2009 poll for Haaretz in which 64 percent of Israelis supported a two-state solution. In the Smith poll, 78% of respondents were concerned at the possibility of Israel becoming a binational state.

Of course, polls cannot always be relied upon, not least because they offer a mere snapshot of opinion at any one time. But neither can they be dismissed lightly. That such an overwhelming majority of Palestinians could support violent armed struggle is a worrying sign of radicalisation and extremism in the West Bank.

For all the security co-operation in recent years between Fatah and Israel, there are serious concerns Hamas could outperform Fatah if elections were held in the disputed territories.

By contrast, most Israelis have consistently supported a two state settlement, whether or not conducted through multilateral negotiation. Generally, they favour some form of disengagement and recognise Palestinian claims, even though they acknowledge that this probably means an upsurge of terror at a later stage.

Nonetheless, some will embrace Peres' comments and argue Abbas still offers the best hope for moderate Palestinian leadership. If so, they should explain why the PA leader has spurned clear opportunities to reach a final settlement and rejected negotiation with Israel for so long.

But even if Peres is right, they must still explain how peace would be kept were Hamas to win or seize power in a West Bank Palestinian state. Given the alarming opinion polls and the regional trend towards radicalisation following the 'Arab Spring', such an outcome is far from unlikely.




ISRAELI INTERVENTION IN SYRIA WAS PRUDENT AND MEASURED 07 February 2013

For two years, Israelis have watched with alarm as the Syrian civil war has torn that country apart. During this time, Benjamin Netanyahu has stayed out of the conflict, anxious to insulate his countrymen from the regional fall out.

Just a week ago, however, all that changed. Last Wednesday, according to intelligence sources, Israeli jets struck targets near the Syrian/Lebanese border, including a convoy of Russian SA17 anti aircraft missiles, possibly bound for Hezbollah, and a biological weapons facility. Israel is also reportedly ready to set up a buffer zone inside Syria to prevent rebels setting up near her borders.

Not surprisingly, this intervention has attracted criticism from some of Israel's regional foes. The Foreign Office has rather predictably called the strike "unacceptable" while for other observers, Israel's operation is an unjustified violation of Syrian sovereignty.

In fact, it is arguable that Israel has taken a prudent measure of self defence. One need only imagine the consequences if Russian anti aircraft missiles were smuggled to Hezbollah controlled territory. Such weapons would limit Israel's air superiority over Lebanese skies in the event that she had to respond to rockets fired by terrorists. They might even provide a shield of invincibility in a future war.

Many Israelis will remember the devastating effect of Egypt's Russian supplied air defence system during the Yom Kippur war. Keeping sophisticated weapons from Hezbollah is clearly vital.

Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of al Qaeda or some other radical faction pose yet greater problems. Syria has stocks of Sarin, mustard gas and cyanide which could easily devastate civilian areas if used at will. Whereas President Assad has shown restraint towards Israel (in regard to WMD), it is far from clear that this posture would be adopted by a terrorist group, particularly one which was driven by a warped cult of death and 'martyrdom'.

So why the the criticism of Israel's actions, at least from those who are only mildly ill disposed towards the Jewish state? Part of the reason is that there is a conceptual difficulty with the idea of pre-emptive action. Normally self defence is taken to involve a response to an armed attack, as per the strict interpretation of the UN Charter. But in the post 9/11 world, there is an equally valid notion of anticipatory self defence where intelligence suggests that an attack may be imminent.

The case for launching pre-emptive strikes would have to depend on the scale and immediacy of the threat posed and this can only depend on a prior intelligence assessment. Clearly, if the Syrian state was stable and capable of guaranteeing complete control of its weaponry, there would be less justification for pre-emptive action.

But with the country disintegrating on a daily basis and with the real concern that weapons could fall into the wrong hands, the room for caution is somewhat limited. By striking such significant military targets in Syria, Israel is sending out the clearest possible signal to both President Assad and the Iranian mullahs: prevent advanced weaponry and WMD reaching terrorists or we will do the job ourselves.

Others have argued that such pre-emptive action will only worsen the threat from jihadism and inflame terrorist groups against the west. Again, this is a flawed argument. If anything gives encouragement to terrorists, it is the belief that the west will not defend its interests and would rather retreat in the face of a determined onslaught. Given that Islamist terrorists are seeking to exploit a vacuum and establish bases in failed states, it is irresponsible to give them free rein.

That is why the recent Anglo-French intervention in Mali is justified. Francois Hollande and David Cameron understand that it is vital to halt the Islamist advance in that country and prevent it from becoming yet another base for terrorism.

Yet if both countries are justified in intervening thousands of miles from home, Israel is equally right to do so in her own backyard. It would be a grave dereliction of duty to do otherwise.

So by her actions last week, Israel has strengthened her deterrent position in the region. At the same time she has sent out a clear message that she intends to remain one step ahead of her deadliest foes.



LORD AHMED'S APOLOGY AND THE CLASSIC MOTIFS OF ANTI-SEMITISM 05 April 2013

Last week Lord Ahmed issued an apology for the incendiary anti semitic comments he'd previously made on Pakistani TV. In an interview with the Huffington Post, he described his comments as "completely wrong" and "unacceptable", the product of a "twisted mind".

However genuine these sentiments may have been, we ought to be wary of accepting the apology. For one thing, it was given to a journalist, not representatives of the Jewish community. For another, he said he used the word yehudis (Jews) only because there was no Urdu word for 'Zionist'. The implication appears to be that allegations of Zionist, as opposed to Jewish, control have more credibility, an idea that even Lord Ahmed dismissed as "outrageous".

When asked whether his comments reflected widespread anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, he declared that some of his co-religionists sometimes did "cross the line between the Israeli government policies and Jewish policies". But this sounds like an excuse for anti semitism by suggesting that anti semites are mere critics of Israel who get carried away.

Lord Ahmed did not start out by criticising Israel. He invoked the spectre of 'malevolent' Jewish power in order to explain his own personal misfortune. He specifically alleged that powerful Jews who owned media outlets had been so taken aback by his own pro-Palestinian views that they had somehow connived to manipulate a legal decision against him.

Such warped thinking weds traditional tropes of Islamic anti-Semitism, where the Jew is seen as cunning and deceitful, with modern conspiracy theories in which hidden forces dictate the world's affairs. Such conspiratorial anti-Semitism is common across the Muslim world.

Take Pakistan, where Lord Ahmed engaged in his paranoid hate-mongering. Newspapers there often explain the country's woes by some reference to Jewish control and influence. Thus, in 2010, when Pakistan's cricketers were accused of involvement in a match fixing scandal, a Pakistani newspaper alleged that 'Indian and Jewish lobbies' in the UK had trapped the team in order to defame the country.

A year earlier, another Urdu magazine alleged that a 'dangerous Jewish conspiracy' was responsible for the global campaign to eradicate polio. There is a widespread belief in Pakistan that 9/11 was a carefully executed Mossad job which has been wrongly blamed on Muslims. Even Facebook has been described as part of a 'Jewish conspiracy' which allows Israel to recruit spies from Muslim countries.

Elsewhere in the Islamic world you can find similar theories purporting to reveal the hidden hand of international Jewry. In 2006 Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's dictatorial leader, said that reports of genocide had been heavily exaggerated and that those responsible were "Jewish organisations". His foreign minister Ali Karti recently declared that America was "in the control of a few Jews in the decision-making centres".

Egyptian newspapers refer to the Holocaust as a Zionist concocted myth to extort money from Germany while, nonetheless, praising the Nazis. Jews are depicted with hooked noses and presented as thieves, liars and manipulators, the classical motifs of anti-Semitism. This pernicious imagery is commonplace in the Arab media.

Such deranged thinking also made sense to Mahathir Muhammed, Malaysia's former Prime Minister. In 1997, he blamed Jews for the collapse of his country's currency and, several years later declared that "Jews rule this world by proxy" as "they get others to fight and die for them."

Sadly this toxic prejudice is also flourishing among Muslim communities in the west.
A report from 2011 on Dutch language elementary schools in Brussels found that anti-Semitism was vastly more prevalent among Belgian Muslim teenagers than their non-Muslim counterparts. It found roughly half of Muslim students in second and third grade could be considered anti-Semites, versus 10% of non Muslims.

Many of the worst assaults carried out recently against Jewish communities in France, Denmark and Sweden have come from extremist Muslims. The trend is unmistakeable and deeply alarming.

Many Muslims are repelled by anti-Semitism and have no time for such bigotry. But Lord Ahmed's comments have not emerged in a vacuum. They reflect a culture of anti semitism in the Muslim world. Those who think otherwise are in denial.



BY REWARDING TERROR, THE UNITED NATIONS HAS NO REAL PURPOSE 23 May 2013

How Iran's leaders must be chuckling. Their country has just been appointed to chair the UN sponsored Conference on Disarmament, established to broker agreements on arms control.

So a country which faces punishing sanctions for its illegal nuclear programme, which has broken its obligations under the non proliferation treaty and which has committed crimes against its own population, now has a prestigious platform to declare its 'peaceful' intentions. This reward for the world's leading sponsor of international terrorism is truly extraordinary.

There is no doubt that Iran will use the ceremonial position to stall even further for time over its nuclear plans. It will denigrate its western enemies without hesitation and enhance its prestige in the process. Thus, from every conceivable angle, the appointment is politically and morally outrageous. As Hillel Neuer of UN Watch has observed with characteristic wit, it is akin to putting Jack the Ripper in charge of a women's shelter.

UN officials justify Iran's appointment by pointing to the system of automatic rotation. Every member of the Conference gets to chair the body simply because they happen to be next in alphabetical order.

But this obsession with process constitutes a moral blind spot, allowing nations at war with the UN to stand guard over it. In 2011, North Korea chaired the Conference on Disarmament despite Pyongyang having violated several UN resolutions on arms control and being a major proliferator of nuclear weapons. Now the baton has passed to Iran.

Automatic rotation seems to be based on the view that every country is equally worthy of respect at the top table. But this bizarre form of moral relativism is an unmitigated nonsense. By giving identical rights to all members, the UN has given equal treatment to the liberal state and the autocracy and failed to differentiate between the democracy and the dictatorship.

It runs counter to the UN's guiding principles which speak of protecting human dignity and preserving security. It insults all those who are burdened by the daily reality of oppressive rule.

The UN's encouragement for state sponsored terror has always gone hand in hand with its anti-semitic campaign to tarnish Israel's reputation. Indeed the organisation today is the epicentre of diplomatic assaults on the Jewish state. Every year, the General Assembly produces a virulent barrage of anti-Israeli resolutions while offering a free pass to repressive dictatorships.

The Human Rights Council, in its first year, passed no less than 22 resolutions condemning Israel but not a single one condemning Sudan, despite the genocide in Darfur.

The UN, with its voting bloc of Islamic countries and their third world allies, has a plethora of agencies and offices to promote the Palestinian cause. Together, this unholy alliance helped produce the infamous motion comparing Zionism with racism.

Whenever the UN attacks the Jewish state, Israel's PR machine is forced into action. It has to counter every spurious allegation and absurd lie. The problem here is that this allows the anti-Zionists to set the political agenda.

To counter this, a concerted effort must be made to highlight the absurd way the UN operates. It must be revealed as the sham it is, one whose lop sided resolutions mean it has become an irrelevance in handling security issues. Its status as a respected arbiter in international disputes must not be allowed to stand up to scrutiny.

By holding up the UN to ridicule, one demeans the demoniser and denigrates the delegitimiser. The same tactic must be used to undermine the credibility of all demonisers, whether it is NGOs like War on Want, academics like Noam Chomsky or politicians like Ken Livingstone.

It is not enough to attack the arguments they put forward. It is also necessary to expose and ridicule their shameful hypocrisy and malicious agendas. By doing so, their lack of integrity will be laid bare.

Attacking Israel's detractors in this way is not a substitute for argument and debate, nor should it be used to avoid legitimate criticism. But it is a powerful tool for undermining those critics who constantly lay claim to the moral high ground.




HOW THE VICTIMS BECAME THE VICTORS 29 May 2013

It is often assumed the Jews played a merely passive role in the Second World War. As victims of the Holocaust, they are thought to have offered little resistance to the Nazis and to have gone “like sheep to the slaughter”.

Such a remark is insensitive and misguided, writes Jeremy Havardi. It ignores the powerlessness of Europe’s Jewish communities, the grave difficulties of resistance and the need for survival in the face of a brutal enemy. But it also fails to tell the true story of world Jewry’s role in the war.

A new book written by Benjamin Ginsberg, professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, offers a completely different, and somewhat uplifting perspective.

In How The Jews Defeated Hitler, he shows how a mixture of Jewish engineers, scientists, propagandists and fighters played a major role in defeating the Axis powers.

Ginsberg concentrates on four crucial areas: weapons production, intelligence, propaganda and the resistance movement. In terms of weaponry, the Jewish contribution was massively influential. The story of how America developed the atomic bomb, largely through the work of Jewish émigré scientists, has been well enough told.

What is less well known is how Jews helped to arm the Soviet Union, the nation that played the greatest role in Germany’s military defeat.

The Soviet T34-85 tank, which the Germans regarded as the deadliest and most efficient tank of the war, had a number of Jewish designers and engineers. More importantly, it had a chief builder, Isaac Zaltzman. The son of a Jewish tailor from the Ukraine, Zaltzman was dubbed “King of the tanks” for his achievement.

The LA5 and LA7 fighter planes, which Soviet pilots regarded as the equal of German fighters, were both designed by a Jew, Semyon Lavockhin. Many Jewish designers also played a key role in assembling the Il-2, a war winning plane that Stalin once said was as vital to the Red Army “as air and bread”, as well as the famous MIG-3 jet. Jewish engineers even designed the Katyusha rocket.

But Soviet survival also depended on being able to shift military production to the east after the German invasion. The key figure in conceiving the evacuation plan was a Russian Jew, Boris Vannikov, while the task of transporting and reconstructing Soviet industry was supervised by two Jewish commissars. Without these individuals, the war on the eastern front might have looked very different.

Moreover, Jews served with distinction in the Red Army and the Soviet air force – 150 Jews received the highest award for bravery, Hero of the Soviet Union, making them the best rewarded recipients of all Soviet nationalities, relative to their numbers.

Another section of Ginsberg’s book examines the Jewish role in intelligence and espionage, which were both critical to the Allies’ success. At Bletchley Park, the work of mathematician Max Newman led to the creation of Colossus, the world’s first operational electronic computer, while Rolf Noskwith broke the German naval Offizier code.

In the United States, Jews were heavily represented in the US Army’s Signals Intelligence Service where they were pioneers of modern code breaking and played a major role in cracking the Japanese naval codes.

A number of Jewish spies also contributed valuable human intelligence. Across occupied Europe, they conveyed vital information on German troop and tank movements to their superiors. Among them was Alexander Rado, a Hungarian Jew whose reports gave the Soviet army vital foreknowledge in the Battle of Kursk.

Ginsberg offers a valuable insight into Jewish resistance in occupied Europe. In France, a quarter of the Jewish population took part in the resistance, compared to only one per cent of the general population. This included several members of De Gaulle’s general staff, as well as Admiral Louis Khan, formerly the navy’s chief engineer. Even the resistance’s anthem, Chant des partisans, was co-written by the Jewish novelist Joseph Kessel. Yet none of this stopped the French authorities from assisting in the deportation of many Jews.

The pattern of Jewish resistance was replicated in other occupied nations, including Belgium, Slovakia, Poland and Greece. In many cases, the German forces were harassed and demoralised by repeated acts of subversion.

In ghettos across Poland, Jews also carried out revolts, even when their prospects of survival looked bleak. In the most famous uprising of all, the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto fought back against their Nazi oppressors rather than face the certainty of annihilation.

In a final chapter, Ginsberg highlights the resurgence of European anti-Semitism, this time dressed up as anti-Zionism. But today much of this comes from Muslim extremists, with Europe’s leftists often cheering them on. It is a depressing reminder of the enduring power of prejudice.

The book is carefully researched and well-written, with a wealth of fascinating insights and anecdotes. At the end, the reader will marvel at how tiny and beleaguered Jewish communities made such an overwhelming contribution to defeating Nazism. Far from being sheep that went to the slaughter, they were lions who helped to end it.



HOW THE VICTIMS BECAME THE VICTORS 30 May 2013

It is often assumed that the Jews played a merely passive role in the Second World War. As victims of the Holocaust, they are thought to have offered little resistance to the Nazis and to have gone 'like sheep to the slaughter'. Such a remark is insensitive and misguided. It ignores the powerlessness of Europe's Jewish communities, the grave difficulties of resistance and the need for survival in the face of a brutal enemy. But it also fails to tell the true story of world Jewry's role in the war.

A new book written by Benjamin Ginsberg, Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, offers a completely different, and somewhat uplifting, perspective. In How the Jews defeated Hitler, he shows how a mixture of Jewish engineers, scientists, propagandists and fighters played a major role in defeating the Axis powers.

Ginsberg concentrates on four crucial areas: weapons production, intelligence, propaganda and the resistance movement. In terms of weaponry, the Jewish contribution was massively influential. The story of how America developed the atomic bomb, largely through the work of Jewish emigre scientists, has been well enough told. What is less well known is how Jews helped to arm the Soviet Union, the nation that played the greatest role in Germany's military defeat.

The Soviet T34-85 tank, which the Germans regarded as the deadliest and most efficient tank of the war, had a number of Jewish designers and engineers. More importantly, it had a chief builder, Isaac Zaltzman. Zaltzman, son of a Jewish tailor from the Ukraine, was dubbed 'King of the tanks' for his achievement.

The LA5 and LA7 fighter planes, which Soviet pilots regarded as the equal of German fighters, were both designed by a Jew, Semyon Lavockhin. Many Jewish designers also played a key role in assembling the Il-2, a war winning plane that Stalin once said was as vital to the Red Army 'as air and bread', as well as the famous MIG-3 jet. Jewish engineers even designed the Katyusha rocket.

But Soviet survival also depended on being able to shift military production to the east after the German invasion. The key figure in conceiving the evacuation plan was a Russian Jew, Boris Vannikov, while the task of transporting and reconstructing Soviet industry was supervised by two Jewish commissars. Without these individuals, the war on the eastern front might have looked very different.

Moreover, Jews served with distinction in the Red Army and the Soviet air force. 150 Jews received the highest award for bravery, Hero of the Soviet Union, making them the best rewarded recipients of all Soviet nationalities, relative to their numbers.

Another section of the book examines the Jewish role in intelligence and espionage, which were both critical to the Allies' success. At Bletchley Park, the work of mathematician Max Newman led to the creation of Colossus, the world's first operational electronic computer, while Rolf Noskwith broke the German naval Offizier code. In the United States, Jews were heavily represented in the US Army's Signals Intelligence Service where they were pioneers of modern code breaking and played a major role in cracking the Japanese naval codes.

A number of Jewish spies also contributed valuable human intelligence. Across occupied Europe, they conveyed vital information on German troop and tank movements to their superiors. Among them was Alexander Rado, a Hungarian Jew whose reports gave the Soviet army vital foreknowledge in the Battle of Kursk.

Ginsberg offers a valuable insight into Jewish resistance in occupied Europe. In France, a quarter of the Jewish population took part in the resistance, compared to only one per cent of the general population. This included several members of De Gaulle's general staff as well as Admiral Louis Khan, formerly the navy's chief engineer. Even the resistance's anthem, Chant des partisans, was co-written by the Jewish novelist Joseph Kessel. Yet none of this stopped the French authorities from assisting in the deportation of many Jews.

The pattern of Jewish resistance was replicated in other occupied nations, including Belgium, Slovakia, Poland and Greece. In many cases, the German forces were harassed and demoralised by repeated acts of subversion. In ghettos across Poland, Jews also carried out revolts, even when their prospects of survival looked bleak. In the most famous uprising of all, the inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto fought back against their Nazi oppressors rather than face the certainty of annihilation.

In a final chapter, Ginsberg highlights the resurgence of European anti semitism, this time dressed up as anti Zionism. But today much of this comes from Muslim extremists, with Europe's leftists often cheering them on. It is a depressing reminder of the enduring power of prejudice.

The book is carefully researched and well written, with a wealth of fascinating insights and anecdotes. At the end, the reader will marvel at how tiny and beleaguered Jewish communities made such an overwhelming contribution to defeating Nazism. Far from being sheep that went to the slaughter, they were lions who helped to end it.



JUST ANOTHER AHMEDINEJAD? 13 June 2013

Next month, millions of Iranians will go to the polls to elect their next President for the first time since 2009. This election comes at a time of increasing international uncertainty about Iran's nuclear programme, which may be only months away from crossing the red lines set by western leaders.

But if anyone hoped that this would herald a more moderate Iranian government, they are likely to be disappointed. Judging by the view of leading experts, these elections will not produce a truly reformist President while tensions over the nuclear programme, and with Israel, are set to continue.

In terms of the Iranian-Israeli relationship, the Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Liebler offers a stark assessment: "No candidate endorsed by the Ayatollahs would deviate from the currently viral hostility against Israel. In fact a more sophisticated version of Ahmadinejad who did not explicitly call for Israel's destruction or promote Holocaust revisionism, could be grasped upon by those seeking to appease rather than confront a nuclear Iran, as signs of moderation". He adds that this would "benefit the Ayatollahs" and "place greater onus on Israel to convince the world about the perils of a nuclear Iran."

As with the Egyptian elections of 2011, what is likely to unite the Presidential candidates is their forthright condemnation of Israel, bolstered by paranoid anti semitic hate-mongering. Certainly, no candidate calling for an explicit recognition of the Jewish state could ever hope to succeed. But while there will be no rapprochement with Israel, does that mean that hopes for political reform are equally futile?

Sir Richard Dalton, the former British ambassador to Iran from 2003-2006, is quite pessimistic. Some candidates, he argues, might "try to be more accommodating to foreign demands". But he adds: "If there were any reformist candidates as such they would be unlikely to win without Khamenei's backing - which is unlikely. Khamenei, not the President, is the decision maker."

Shashank Joshi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, offers an equally downbeat analysis. "No reformist candidate will succeed. They will be weeded out, and the Supreme Leader will not want a repeat of the Green Revolution in 2009".

Joshi's analysis is borne out by recent events. Under the Iranian constitution, the Guardian Council, answerable to Supreme Leader Khamenei, vets all Presidential candidates for their 'religious and ethical probity'.

Back in January, Khamenei gave the strongest indication that he would not tolerate any genuine reform minded candidate with an independent power base. He declared: "Those who make general recommendations about the election through [expressing] concerns should take care not to serve the purpose of the enemy".

This was followed by a statement from Ali Saeidi, Khamenei’s representative in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who said that the duty of the IRGC was to engage in a “rational and logical engineering of the election”. The clerical regime has been shoring itself up against a re-run of the mass protests from 2009 by imprisoning some key figures from the Green movement.

Joshi is convinced that we could nonetheless see a pragmatic figure emerging from the elections. Any such figure would be "more concerned about stabilising Iran's economy than defying the West".

One such figure is Hassan Rouhani who has played a key role in the Islamic revolution since 1979. Rouhani has stated his commitment to building bridges with the West and improving Iran's troubled economy, while being a highly vocal critic of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani is one of a number of 'reformist' candidates standing for the June 2013 elections.

Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Centre, however, cautions about whether such a figure would prove accommodating to western leaders. As he puts it: "The choice such a person would have is this: stall for time while working hard to build nuclear weapons or seek a genuine deal. The easier it is to stall for time, the more likely Tehran is to do that."

Stalling for time had been Iran's favoured tactic over the years as world powers (the Six), have offered a 'soft power' diplomatic route to resolving the nuclear stand off. This would suggest that the tension between the West and Iran over the latter's nuclear weapons programme is set to continue, regardless of which Presidential candidate is successful.

Sir Richard Dalton believes that this necessitates a change of approach from western governments. "The key to lowering tensions and finding solutions is just as much in the hands of the Six as it is in Iranian hands", he says. Diplomacy has to include "sanctions relief" and "acknowledgement of Iran's full rights under the NPT in return for verified observance of its obligations".

But as yet, there is no evidence that Khamenei is prepared to make the kind of far reaching concessions necessary to ease western, and specifically Israeli, anxieties. He has presided over a worsening economy that has seen the Iranian rial plunge against the dollar.

Despite this, there is no sign that he will initiate an imminent change of policy. It is more likely he will choose to ride out the storm of sanctions to further Iran's regional ambitions than to alleviate his nation's suffering. The same was as true of Saddam Hussein's Iraq as it is true of North Korea today.

Regardless of the nuclear programme, one other thing is certain to remain - Iran's theocracy, backed by the IRGC. For that reason, the National Council of Resistance, the main Iranian resistance, believes this is a "sham election" with no chance of political reform.

As one spokesman from their London branch put it, there is "no chance for a moderate to come to power and no way out of the system". Unlike Sir Richard Dalton, their London spokesman believes that negotiations with Iran are a "waste of time" as "terrorism is an important pillar of their foreign policy" and "they need the nuclear bomb to safeguard their future".

If this pessimistic reading proves accurate, the chances of a regional conflagration over the Iranian bomb remain increasingly high.




KERRY'S PEACE MISSION WILL FLOUNDER LIKE ALL THE OTHERS 11 July 2013

With the Middle East still reeling from the removal of President Morsi, John Kerry’s attention has turned elsewhere. He has been busy badgering Israel to make concessions to Mahmoud Abbas in the hope of renewing bilateral negotiations.

Several months of shuttle diplomacy have seen him make five visits to the region with a sixth due soon. But as sure as night follows day, he will find he gets nowhere, just like all his predecessors. Palestinian leaders, who are in no mood for a diplomatic breakthrough, will certainly see to that.

Consider the latest Palestinian demand, which is for the release of 120 terrorists currently held in Israeli jails. These are people with blood on their hands and, were they to be freed, it would not only undermine the justice system but encourage other would be murderers.

But the grand bargain is that by capitulating in this way, Israel would be granted the ‘right’ to sit down with Abbas. Such breathtaking arrogance from the Palestinian leader redefines chutzpah!

But this is not Abbas’ only precondition for talks. He also wants a guarantee that Israel will withdraw to the pre 1967 ceasefire lines, with minor amendments, and the ending of all settlement activity. In other words, he wants the outcome of talks to be decided before they even start, and in his favour.

Abbas is playing an intransigent game because he does not want to negotiate or make painful compromises. Compromise would mean recognising that Israel is the Jewish homeland, and a fixture in the Middle East. It would necessitate changing the charter of Fatah and agreeing to end all further territorial claims on Israel.

It would mean recognising that there is a Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount in particular. Above all, compromise would entail foregoing the right of return of Palestinian ‘refugees’. Yet to forego this spurious right and acquiesce in Jewish statehood is tantamount to blasphemy, even for the secular Fatah.

While there are undoubtedly extremists on both sides of this conflict, there is a consensus in Israel for disengagement and mutual recognition. By contrast, during all his years of power, Abbas has failed to build a consensus for partition and made no effort to change societal attitudes towards Jews.

Consequently, opinion polls indicate that most Palestinians who support a two state solution see it as a mere stepping stone to the end of Israel. Abbas’ preconditions, which he knows that Netanyahu cannot agree to, are just another excuse to avoid negotiating.

Instead of trying to browbeat Israel into agreeing to Abbas’ endless preconditions, the State Department should adopt a different approach. It could encourage new and more pragmatic Palestinian perspectives which offer an alternative to the rejectionist narrative.

As David Horovitz has recently argued, this could involve funding ‘educational programs’, ‘grass-roots interactions’, and ‘media channels’ that offer a more honest and critical appraisal of the conflict. To this one could add an insistence on ending all incitement and glorification of terror in the territories. In the longer term, this strategy might start to shift opinion and empower some genuine moderates on the Palestinian side.

Sensible as this suggestion is, we cannot forget that such moderates would still be minority players in the West Bank and Gaza. Fatah and the Jew hating Hamas stand supreme in those areas and neither are willing to give way to less radical forces.

Moreover, the unrest released by the ‘Arab Spring’ has only exacerbated Israeli cynicism towards these American backed peace proposals. Grass roots protests against authoritarianism have brought jihadi radicals onto the streets of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria.

Those forces are in the ascendant now, not the far smaller numbers pursuing a vision of western style, liberal democracy.

It would be naive to assume that Hamas, currently suffering from the loss of its Islamist patron in Cairo, would not seek to assert itself in the West Bank given half the chance. Naturally, such an outcome would be an unmitigated disaster.

Israel would face a determined enemy ruling over an enclave that overlooked Israel’s largest population centres and much of its infrastructure. Armed with crude rockets, Hamas could turn the coastal cities into mini Sderots.

John Kerry would do well to ponder such an invidious scenario when he flies in for his next visit.




OBAMA'S FAILURE TO ACT GIVES ASSAD GREEN LIGHT TO CONTINUE 4 September 2013

John Kerry has delivered an impassioned case for military action against Assad. The Secretary of State has reminded the world that without firm action, the Syrian leader and his terrorist allies will only be emboldened. While Kerry's intentions are laudable, there remains a curious disconnect between rhetoric and action. Far from being a display of strength, America's proposed intervention could become as ineffectual and irrelevant as the rest of Obama's Middle East policy.

Firstly, there is a fairly strong case for resolute military action. There is compelling evidence that regime forces murdered civilians, more than 1400 according to American estimates, in the chemical weapons attack in Damascus on 21st August. While all attacks on civilians are horrific, such an indiscriminate assault with weapons of mass destruction is a game changer.

Aside from the legal obligation to protect civilians, which the UN will ignore thanks to Russian and Chinese vetoes, there is a need to uphold the ban on using chemical or poisonous substances. Whether expressed in the Geneva Convention or the more recent Chemical Weapons Convention, there is a general acceptance that the use of these weapons puts any state beyond the pale. To legitimise such barbarism would only encourage more regimes to break international norms to their advantage.

Inaction is especially toxic given Obama's declaration that chemical weapons use crosses America's red lines. He allowed one red line to be crossed several months ago after evidence emerged that such crimes had taken place. By reneging on a pledge to take action, Obama effectively gave a green light to Assad to continue his assault on the Syrian population. Increased passivity now will only shred western credibility further.

But while there is ample justification for military action, an incredible reticence has taken hold in Washington. From information that has been leaked, we appear to know the likely duration of any attacks, the missiles to be deployed and the type of targets that might be attacked. The scope of military action, we are assured, is going to be very limited. Obama has made it clear to everyone that he has no intention of removing Assad from power as regime change is not on the cards.

As it happens, overthrowing Assad may be far from wise, given that the Syrian opposition has been infiltrated by jihadists and al Qaeda affiliates. But to tell Assad in advance that his survival is guaranteed, to make it clear that his regime will remain intact with just a few targets hit, is strategically inept. A few bombs dropped without purpose will be treated with scorn.

All this suggests half heartedness and a lack of seriousness about the whole operation. Wars are not won by gestures after all. In addition, Obama has effectively outsourced his decision making to Congress even though there is no legal necessity for him to do this. The long delay, together with Parliament's recent vote, has given Assad invaluable breathing space.

The policy of talking tough without carrying a big stick has been the hallmark of Obama's Iran policy too. In 2009 the President declared that he would never tolerate nuclear weapons in Iranian hands. Since then, he has all but closed the door to military action, the only route to preventing such an invidious scenario. He has dismissed as 'background noise' the many voices calling for a more robust policy, suggesting to Tehran that all options are not on the table. Instead he has relied on punitive sanctions which have done nothing to shift the position of the Iranian leadership.

While progressives in both Washington and London view Rouhani as a moderate, the reality is completely different. The Iranian President, a key figure in his country's security apparatus, led the failed nuclear negotiations a decade ago and boasted of how he had managed to dupe the western powers. He is, above all, a loyal figure in Khamenei's theocracy.

Iran and Syria are thus locked together in a lethal embrace, either pursuing or employing weapons of mass destruction with a cavalier disregard for the west. And all the while, America's President adopts tough rhetoric against his enemies while acting in a hesitant and uncertain manner. Obama's policy on Iran brings to mind that famous line from Macbeth - ''full of sound and fury, signifying nothing'. Time will tell if his Syrian policy is any different.



ROUHANI CHARM OFFENSIVE BUYS TIME FOR IRAN TO GET THE BOMB 3 October 2013


Hassan Rouhani's recent charm offensive appears to be reaping significant dividends. Suddenly he has become the face of a new, 'moderate' Iran desperate to end decades of isolation and hostility. His phone conversation with Obama, described by the White House as 'cordial', has ended three decades of diplomatic isolation. The prospect that sanctions might be eased in return for nuclear concessions now dangles before the Iranian leadership.

With much of the western commentariat getting starry-eyed over Rouhani, a reality check is badly needed. For ovmore than 30 years, Iran's President has been a key player in a regime that has repeatedly deceived the west, concealed evidence of its nuclear activities and supported terror across the world.

In the past, he has served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, boasting of how his country duped gullible western powers to gain valuable time for the regime. And since Rouhani swept to power in June, there is no sign that sanctions have slowed Iran's quest for the bomb. The new President's language may be moderate but his actions are not.

Still, the vital question is whether the proposed nuclear negotiations will yield a viable solution to this crisis? Sadly, there is every reason to assume they will not. We only need remind ourselves about the unmitigated disaster of US policy in Syria.

A year ago, Obama indicated Assad had to step down, so terrible was his war against Syrian citizens. That turned into a demand for robust international action following the heinous gas attack at Ghouta. But any element of surprise was wrecked by briefings about the proposed strikes, which we were then assured would be extremely small in any case. Obama then delayed this insignificant action by seeking Congressional approval before he finally bent at the knee before Syria's arch protector, Russia.

The highlight of this gross diplomatic incompetence was America's acquiescence in Resolution 2118. The resolution calls on parties in Syria not to 'use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer' any chemical weapons. Like resolution 1701 which insists on Hezbollah's disarmament, this is a toothless piece of UN diplomacy, lacking a military option for non-compliance. President Assad is unlikely to give up his chemical stockpiles voluntarily, and has every incentive to stall for time.

The US' dealings with Rouhani must be viewed in this light. Of course, if a deal can be reached in which Iran agrees to stop enriching uranium, ship out its enriched uranium to another country and cease its plutonium activity, it will be a significant breakthrough. Any such deal would go a long way to calming nervous Israeli observers. John Kerry has also stated that there will be no lifting of sanctions until it is clear a "verifiable, accountable, transparent process is in place" on its nuclear programme.

The only problem is that America's credibility is in pieces after the Syrian fiasco. Israelis are being asked to accept Obama really does consider all options to be on the table and that he is ready to use force if the Iranians prove duplicitous.

But after the absurd and immoral posturing over Syria, is this remotely credible? It is surely more likely that Obama will accept an Iranian overture in a desperate effort to avoid dragging America into another Middle East war. After all, he has spent five years arguing that security threats can be solved by goodwill and diplomacy rather than military force. He is unlikely to change course now, particularly after promising to forge a new relationship with the Islamic world in his Cairo speech.

Iranian leaders are not stupid either. They sense that America is receptive to a compromise formula, one which will buy Tehran valuable time while the pressure of sanctions is lifted. As with North Korea, Iran can forge a deal and renege on it later, secure in the knowledge that any mendacious behaviour is likely to go unpunished. As long as her leaders make promises of peace and goodwill, like the phony ones Arafat made on the White House lawn, they will receive a sympathetic ear from Washington. As history so often shows, this is the path of appeasement.

Thus with the clock ticking on Iran's nuclear programme, one can only await developments in the coming months with a sense of trepidation.





IRAN COULDNT HAVE DREAMT OF SUCH A GIFT OF LEGITIMACY November 27, 2013


President Obama hailed last Sunday’s Geneva accord as a triumphant vindication of his soft-power strategy: “For the first time in nearly a decade we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear programme, and key parts of the programme will be rolled back,” he said.

Such rosy optimism seems rather premature. The deal looks more like an ‘historic mistake’ because it reduces pressure on Iran just as it stands on the threshold of becoming a nuclear weapon state. This could yet be the most feckless diplomacy in a generation. The deal appears promising. Iran has agreed to stop enriching uranium above five percent while neutralising its stockpile of 20 percent enriched material.

It also agrees not to install next-generation faster centrifuges and to halt progress on the plutonium track at Arak. It agrees to allow the IAEA intrusive monitoring and obtains modest sanctions relief in return. But the bad outweighs the good.

While the IAEA is empowered to carry out daily inspections, experts have already cautioned there may be secret installations. Unless the agency can have unfettered access and make snap inspections, these clandestine facilities will escape the agency’s radar, undermining the agreement.

Crucially, Iran has 10,000 operational centrifuges and the right to enrich uranium to five percent, a major concession by the West. Yet the whole point of the sanctions programme, to say nothing of six UN Security Council resolutions, was to suspend enrichment altogether. The deal puts into question the authority of these resolutions, undermines international law and hobbles the non-proliferation treaty, which concedes no such right of enrichment to signatory nations.

Moreover, as Mark Wallace, a former representative for UN management and reform, warned after the deal: “By not agreeing to dismantle a single centrifuge, Iran has … retained the ability to break out and produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon in as little as two months.”

Thus the Geneva accord leaves Iran as a ‘nuclear threshold’ state and upholds its right to enrich uranium. Far from rolling back Iran’s nuclear programme, the deal merely freezes it pending a further agreement. With the Iranian programme on the verge of nuclear break-out, the risk of a regional arms race remains palpable.

Suggestions have already emerged of how Saudi Arabia has struck a deal to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan and other countries could well follow Riyadh’s lead. The optimists argue a further deal could be reached in six months to dismantle the nuclear programme altogether.

Naturally this will rely on Iranian co-operation and unprecedented flexibility on the part of the autocratic Khamenei. But if Iran’s history of evasion and deceit are anything to go by, prospects for progress look dim and worse still if one surveys America’s futile effort to halt the North Korean bomb.

Here, too, a sinister regime continually duped hapless US administrations into providing economic concessions, to no avail. It is true the agreement allows sanctions to be re-imposed but this requires international co-operation and it is not clear this will come.

Worse, Obama will now be loath to upset his Iranian counterparts over other issues for fear of scuppering this half-baked deal and further shredding his credibility. This would explain his outrageous silence following Khamenei’s reported incendiary comment that Israel was the “unclean, rabid dog” of the Middle East, which was “doomed to failure and annihilation”.

When does an American president refuse to speak out in the face of such intense provocation? The answer: when that president is determined to appease a rogue state at all costs. By ruling out force and insisting on diplomacy to resolve this crisis, Obama has given the ayatollah regime a level of legitimacy it could never have dreamt of.