A Worried Israel Prepares for War

Benjamin NetanyahuSix months ago, as rocket fire was falling on Tel Aviv, my six-year-old daughter had to pay her first visit to a bomb shelter. On Monday, she had to pay her second and third visits. On Sunday night, before she went to bed, we had reminded her that sirens would be going off the next day, that she shouldn’t be afraid of them. Yes, yes, she said, impatiently brushing us off; she knows it’s a drill. Along with all Israeli children, and the small part of the adult population willing to play a role, at 12:30 p.m. Monday she was duly marched by a teacher to the shelter. At 7:05 p.m. it was our turn as parents to run through the drill at home. Such drills are not a novelty to Israelis, but the more a potential war seems imminent, the more sober they become. All day, radio announcers remind us: “In case of real emergency, another siren will be heard.” In recent weeks there was hardly a day without someone discussing the possibility of real war. Israel, as New York Times reported less than a week ago, is reluctantly being dragged into the Syria’s turmoil. Israel’s imperative is clear: to prevent transfer of game-changing weaponry from getting into the wrong hands. It can’t permit Syria to send chemical weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, nor can it allow Syria to receive missiles or other weapons systems that will make it harder for Israel to defend itself against future aggression. Earlier this month, Israeli warplanes attacked targets in Syria to prevent a delivery of Iranian missiles to Hezbollah. There were two Israeli airstrikes in Syria within two days, the second being the third this year, after more than five years without Israeli attacks in Syria. Given these recent Israeli strikes and Israel’s vows to act “with determination” to achieve its goals, escalation of rhetorical threats against Israel was probably unavoidable. There are Syrian threats to use missiles against Israel, and Hezbollah has warned that it may launch a “popular-resistance campaign’’ in the Golan Heights. In turn, Israel has been making more of its own threats. While Israeli leaders keep saying that they don’t want any part in Syria’s war, and there’s no reason to doubt their sincerity, their message can be contradictory at times. “Israel wants to both eat a cake and keep it untouched,” said Professor Eyal Zisser of the Tel Aviv University, Israel’s leading expert on Syria. Israeli government, he added, wants to attack Syrian installations and convoys when it deems necessary, yet it also wants to prevent a war from breaking out. As it tries to hold together a fragile peace, Israel has its citizens conduct drills and prepare for the worst. “These days a number of scenarios can lead to a surprise war,” chief of Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, declared a week ago. A “Somalization” of Syria, a scenario that both Israeli and Arab diplomats see as a real possibility, would present Israel with a whole new set of security challenges. Israeli leaders should be telling the public the truth. Choosing to attack Syria is not opting for a good option over a bad one but rather picking a bad option, risk of war, over another bad one, risk of letting Israel’s enemies get new weaponry. “A severe case of brinkmanship is being played at moment,” said a former U.N. peacekeeper in Lebanon. When such game is going on, a sudden state of a war can hardly be considered a “surprise.” (source: Shmuel Rosner – NYTimes – 28/05/2013)


Syria and the Middle East: our greatest miscalculation since the rise of fascism

Bashar al-AssadThere could no more dreadful idea than to pour more armaments into sectarian war now consuming Syria. Yet that is precisely what Britain’s coalition government wants to do. The foreign secretary, William Hague, seemed on Monday to parody his hero Pitt the Younger by demanding “How long must we go on allowing … ?” and “what we want to see is”. Who is this we? But even Pitt would never be so stupid as to declare war on Syria, which is only morally sound outcome of William Hague’s rhetorical mission creep. For two years the pundits have proclaimed the lasting imminent fall of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. High on Arab spring, they declared he would fall from logic of history. Or he would fall because the western sanctions would bring him down. Or he would fall because the media, as in the novel “Scoop”, were with the rebels and had decided they would win. Assad has not fallen. Still there, locked in the lethal Muslim schism that resurfaced with the demise of the region’s secularist dictators. These have now almost all gone: the shah in Iran, Najibullah in Afghanistan, Saddam in Iraq, Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya. They had faults in abundance, but they succeeded in suppressing religious discord, instilling rudimentary tolerance and keeping region mostly in order. This was in the west’s interest, rulers, like those in the Gulf, were supported accordingly. Turning turtle and abetting their downfall may yet prove most disastrous miscalculation of the western diplomacy since the rise of fascism. Prior to the Iraq war, Saddam persecuted the Shias, but their shrines were safe and intermarriage was common. After the war, Sunni and Shia are torn asunder, with a death toll of ghastly proportions. A similar agony may soon be visited on the Afghans. Libya’s Tripoli is more unstable now the west has toppled Gaddafi, its fundamentalist guerrillas spreading mayhem south across Sahara to Algeria, Mali and Nigeria. These upheavals might have occurred without western intervention. Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were largely self-starting. Islamist parties often came to power, because they offered an alternative discipline to existing regimes. But the west’s sudden zest for “wars of choice”, its meddling in the politics of Pakistan and its sabre-rattling in Iran have created a cause on to which the neoconservative Islamism could fasten. Al-Qaida was in 2000 a tiny group of fanatics. But America and Britain have portrayed it as an all-powerful enemy, apparently lurking in support of every anti-secularist rebellion. Cameron calls it “an existential terrorist threat… to inflict the biggest possible amount of damage to our interests, way of life”. Yet stabbings and bombings do not constitute an “existential threat”. UK is a stronger culture than Cameron appears to believe. There is no threat to its existence, while the chief damage being done to its way of life comes from the incompetence of its government. Syria is certainly a claim on world’s humanitarian resources, to be honoured by supporting the refugee camps and aid agencies active in the area. Assad’s suppression of a revolt has been appallingly brutal, but he was Britain’s friend, as was Saddam, long after his regime began its brutality. That is how the things are in this part of the world. The west cannot stop them. To conclude “we cannot allow this to happen” assumes a potency over other people’s affairs that “we” do not possess (…..)

Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/28/syria-greatest-miscalculation-fascism

Start-Up Diplomacy

Morocco2011, a group of American high-tech executives and angel investors traveled to North Africa as part of an innovative State Department economic development program. Local entrepreneurs flocked to workshops in Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, where Americans judged their business proposals, encouraged them to open start-ups. Initiative embodied the “economic statecraft” at heart of Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision for American foreign policy. But program turned out to be so poorly financed that it had no prize for winners. Embarrassed delegates cobbled one together: an internship at a start-up incubator in Detroit. (source: David Rohde – NYTimes – 08/05/2013)

Today, Middle East is an economic powder keg. About 60% of the Arab world’s population is under the age of 30; millions of jobs are needed or already high unemployment levels will explode. Obama administration’s efforts in the region should be more economic than military. “The United States government has done a terrible job of focusing on economic issues in Middle East,” Thomas R. Nides, a former deputy secretary of state, told recently. “You have huge youth unemployment, no hope.” This argument is hardly new. “To succeed, the Arab political awakening must also be an economic awakening,” Mrs. Clinton said, more than a year ago. “Economic policy is foreign policy,” her successor, John Kerry, said this week. Last month he asked Congress to approve creation of a $580 million “incentive fund” that would reward countries in the Middle East and North Africa for enacting reforms that foster market-based economies, democratic norms, independent courts and civil societies.

But Mrs. Clinton’s proposal for a similar fund received a scant support last year from a Congress that was understandably focused on domestic issues. With the sequester now in effect, Kerry’s request could suffer the same fate. After Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s no longer politically feasible to sponsor vast development initiatives with little regard for whether they create self-sustaining growth for the region. We must find innovative ways to conduct economic statecraft in an age of austerity. The incentive fund, a small fraction of the $1.2 trillion Washington has spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a good start. Some countries in the region have had success implementing, on their own, the kinds of reforms the fund would encourage. Over the past decade, Turkey has carried out a harsh International Monetary Fund economic reform program, opened its economy, attracted foreign investment as part of its effort to join European Union. Today, few Turkish business owners care if the country is part of the union. In 2011, Turkey boasted a faster growing economy than any other European nation. And in the West Bank, the economic and security reforms of Salam Fayyad, who recently resigned as prime minister of Palestinian Authority, deserve much praise. Mr. Kerry should also focus aid in areas where viable markets and partners exist. Tareq Maayah, a Palestinian engineer who runs a West Bank high-tech firm, said $100,000 from the United States Agency for International Development helped his firm gain a tryout with Hewlett-Packard. Today, his company writes software for Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Alcatel-Lucent, with no government assistance.

Ahmed El Alfi, an Egyptian-American Silicon Valley venture capital investor, said American officials could “do a lot more” at little cost. Mr. Alfi, who began a high-tech incubator in Cairo, said Egyptian start-ups clamor for access to American investors. “Have a weekly call for companies from the region doing 10-minute presentations to American companies,” he suggested. Mr. Kerry should emphasize to American companies that investment opportunities exist in the region, particularly in infrastructure, energy and aviation. Chinese firms exported an estimated $150 billion to the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, twice as much as American firms. Of course, some countries in the region are too unstable for American private investment. But in others, public-private initiatives that foster trade, a investment and the job creation with little taxpayer funding could be expanded. The high-tech entrepreneurship delegations started by Mrs. Clinton should be increased and properly funded. Wealthy Persian Gulf countries should be asked to finance a regional bank for small and medium-size enterprises. Perhaps most important, we should stop thinking we can transform societies overnight. Even if United States perfectly executes its policies and programs, they alone will not stabilize countries. We need viable local partners. Nations must transform themselves. Should scale back ambitions and concentrate on long-term economics. By trying to do fewer things over longer periods, we will achieve more. 

Israel Says It Has Proof That Syria Has Used Chemical Weapons

Damascus - SyriaIsrael declared Tuesday that it had found evidence that the Syrian government repeatedly used chemical weapons last month, arguing that President Bashar al-Assad was testing how the United States and others would react and that it was time for Washington to overcome its reluctance to intervene in the Syrian civil war. In making the declaration, which went somewhat beyond recent suspicions expressed by Britain and France, Israeli officials argued Assad had repeatedly crossed what President Obama said last summer would be “red line”. But Obama administration officials pushed back, saying they would not leap into conflict on what viewed as inconclusive evidence, even while working with allies on plans to secure weapons if it appeared they were about to be used, handed to Hezbollah. The declaration from Israel’s senior military intelligence analyst was immediately questioned in Washington. Officials said an investigation was necessary, but added American intelligence agencies had yet to uncover convincing evidence that an attack on March 19, and smaller subsequent attacks, used sarin gas, a deadly agent Syria is believed to hold in huge stockpiles. “We are looking for conclusive evidence, if it exists, if there was use of chemical weapons,” Jay Carney, White House press secretary, said when pressed on the Israeli assessment. In a briefing in Tel Aviv, an Israeli military official was vague about the exact nature of the evidence, saying that it was drawn from an examination of photographs of victims and some “direct” findings that he would not specify. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested there were mixed messages emerging from Israel, saying that he spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday morning and that the Israeli leader “was not in a position to confirm” intelligence assessment. Israeli officials said they would not try to explain apparent difference between Mr. Netanyahu’s statement and that of his top military intelligence officials. At same time, Daniel B. Shapiro, American ambassador to Israel, said that contingency plans to address the use of chemical weapons in Syria were “very much part” of the discussions between Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Israeli counterpart here on Monday. The Israeli intelligence analyst, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, told participants at a security conference in Tel Aviv Syrian government “has increasingly used chemical weapons.” That echoed accusations that Britain and France made in a letter last week to the secretary general of United Nations, calling for a deeper investigation. “The very fact they have used chemical weapons without any appropriate reaction,” General Brun said, “is a very worrying development, because it might signal that this is legitimate” Gen. Brun’s statements were the most definitive to date by Israeli official regarding evidence of possible chemical weapons attacks on March 19 near Aleppo, Syria, and Damascus, the capital. Another military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the evidence had been presented to Obama administration but that it had not fully accepted the analysis. None of the assertions, by Israel, Britain or France, have included physical proof. Experts say most definitive way to prove use of chemical weapons is to collect soil samples promptly at the site and examine suspected victims (…..)

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/24/world/middleeast/israel-says-syria-has-used-chemical-weapons.html

La penetración iraní en Sudamérica

Iván PetrellaEl memorándum de entendimiento que nuestro gobierno firmó con Irán y nuestro Parlamento acaba de aprobar no es, para el contexto sudamericano, un caso de acercamiento aislado. Todo lo contrario, en los últimos años un grupo de países de la región afianzó, como parte integral de su inserción en el mundo, sus lazos con la nación del Medio Oriente. Pero hay tres grandes diferencias: nosotros sufrimos un atentado terrorista en carne propia, nuestra política exterior tradicionalmente ha hecho de los derechos humanos y no proliferación banderas fundamentales y la Argentina, como ningún otro país de América latina, ha tenido una política activa y responsable en el largo conflicto que afecta esa región (…..) ¿El acercamiento de la Argentina a Irán es, entonces, igual a la de los demás países de la región? No. En primer lugar, hay que resaltar que el afianzamiento de las relaciones con Irán se da dentro de los simpatizantes del “eje bolivariano” y no entre los países de la Alianza del Pacífico. Estos últimos apuestan a consolidar su institucionalidad y su crecimiento mirando hacia Occidente y Asia. En segundo lugar, hay que tener en cuenta que, incluso dentro del eje bolivariano, la Argentina es tal vez el país que más parece desdeñar equilibrios que ayudan a diversificar la propia inserción internacional. Brasil tiene acuerdos con Irán pero también tiene acuerdos estratégicos, entre ellos militares, con EEUU, Francia, UK que balancean sus intereses. Además, Dilma Roussef cambió el rumbo tomado por su predecesor para priorizar la relación con EEUU. De la misma manera, Ecuador se acercó a EEUU y Bélgica para la reforma de su sistema educativo y utiliza el dólar como moneda. Bolivia emitió el año pasado deuda internacional a menos de 5%: no está aislada de los mercados de capitales. La Argentina, en cambio, está prácticamente sola, sin acuerdos comerciales y políticos excepto Mercosur, acompañada tal vez únicamente por Venezuela, en su marginación respecto buenas prácticas globales. Pero todo esto podría indicar algo mucho más profundo y preocupante. Indicaría que parte de América latina no está necesariamente incómoda por el hecho estrechar relaciones con un país, como el Irán actual, que ha sido duramente censurado en materias de derechos humanos, calidad institucional y no proliferación nuclear por el Consejo de Derechos Humanos, OIEA y Consejo de Seguridad de Naciones Unidas. Probablemente estas circunstancias no signifiquen demasiado en términos de política “realista” para muchos de nuestros vecinos. Para la Argentina debería ser distinto. La Argentina, como motor político de América latina, ha sido actor equidistante y con gravitación en conflicto de Medio Oriente, pionera en los derechos humanos desde su generosa concepción sobre el asilo hasta nuestros días y reconocida por la no proliferación y la autolimitación cuando era el único en la región con dominio de tecnología nuclear. La percepción que estaríamos “abdicando” de principios que fueron marca registrada por diplomacia argentina preocupa por la brecha de confiabilidad que ello implica hacia el exterior y hacia adentro, en particular con los familiares que siguen sufriendo, en carne propia, el atentado de la AMIA. Encarar negociaciones formales con un Irán sospechado de promover terrorismo por nuestra justicia y por otros países, es más riesgoso para Argentina que para sus vecinos porque se da en un área muy sensible, relacionada con la paz y la seguridad, y porque estamos alejados de las iniciativas estratégicas globales, de las grandes corrientes comerciales y financieras. No por nada Barack Obama le pidió a su nuevo canciller John Kerry un informe sobre actividades de Irán en América latina. Si a esto sumamos nuestro distanciamiento de Carta Democrática Interamericana y la Comisión de Derechos humanos de la OEA surge la preocupación de que estemos buscando un proyecto de alineamiento a contramano del mundo, incluso de nuestra sub-región, y que en realidad no sería más que un peligroso callejón, de difícil salida, al cual llegaríamos por ceguera ideológica y torpeza.

Link: http://www.lanacion.com.ar/1558809-la-penetracion-irani-en-sudamerica

Obama Plans Visit to Israel This Spring

ISRAELPresident Obama plans to travel to Israel this spring for the first time since taking office, as he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu try to move past the friction of last 4 years now that both have won re-election. By making Israel a stop on first overseas trip of his second term, Mr. Obama hopes to demonstrate support for the Jewish state despite doubts among some of its backers. But the trip also seems designed to signal new start in a fraught relationship rather than an ambitious effort to revive a stalled peace process. (source: NYTimes – 06/02/2013)

“The start of the president’s second term and the formation of a new Israeli government offer the opportunity to reaffirm the deep and enduring bonds between the United States and Israel,” Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said Tuesday, “and to discuss the way forward on a broad range of issues of mutual concern, including, of course, Iran and Syria.” Mr. Carney said Mr. Obama would also travel to Jordan and West Bank. Israeli news media reported that Mr. Obama would arrive on March 20, but the White House would not discuss any dates for the trip. Mr. Netanyahu’s office said a visit by the president would be “an important opportunity to underscore the friendship and strong partnership between Israel and the United States.” The relationship between the two leaders has been edgy for years over issues like Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and ways to stop Iran’s nuclear program. While Obama won a clear victory in November, Mr. Netanyahu emerged from elections last month in a weakened state. His party won enough seats for him to retain office, but he will be forced to recruit centrist lawmakers for a coalition that might temper his policies. He has until March 16 to present his new government. Obama is not expected to unveil concrete proposals for bringing Israelis and Palestinians together during his visit or initiate a specific new peace process. But advisers hope just by showing up and talking about these issues, Mr. Obama will show he is not walking away from them. Dennis Ross, a former Middle East adviser to Mr. Obama, attributed the trip to “a desire to connect with Israeli public at a time when he can go and not have high expectations about having to produce something.” The president “can create a new beginning with same prime minister but with new Israeli government,” Mr. Ross said. Some peace advocates welcomed the trip but said it should go beyond atmospherics.

“The key is, they’ve got to use this as a real substantive jumping off point for a serious diplomatic initiative”, said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a Washington advocacy group. “This has to be more than a photo op to show that he cares.” A former Israeli defense official said the trip’s announcement might have been timed to send a message to Israelis and even influence composition of the next government amid talk of restarting the peace effort. Former official said a more centrist government would allow the sides more room to maneuver. Also on the agenda this trip will be Iran and the continuing strife in Syria that threatens to descend into a wider regional conflict. Israel last week struck a convoy of antiaircraft weapons inside Syria that it feared was being moved to Hezbollah forces. “The United States can put an end to the Iranian threat,” President Shimon Peres of Israel said in an address to Parliament on Tuesday, “and I believe that the president of the United States is determined to do it”. While Mr. Obama visited Israel in 2008 as a candidate, he did not travel there during his first term, a fact that became fodder on the campaign trail last year. A television commercial from a group called Emergency Committee for Israel said Mr. Obama had “traveled all over Middle East but he hasn’t found time to visit our ally and friend, Israel.” Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, ran his own advertisement criticizing president for not going to Israel. Only 4 sitting presidents have visited Israel: Nixon and Carter each went once, George W. Bush twice, Bill Clinton four times. Bush, considered one of the strongest friends Israel has had in the Oval Office, did not visit until 2008, near the end of his presidency. 

Tepid Vote for Netanyahu in Israel Is Seen as Rebuke

Yair LapidA weakened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged Wednesday from Israel’s national election likely to serve a third term, after voters on Tuesday gave surprising second place to new centrist party founded by television celebrity who emphasized kitchen-table issues like a class size and apartment prices. For Mr. Netanyahu, who entered the race an overwhelming favorite with no obvious challenger, the outcome was a humbling rebuke as his ticket lost seats in the new Parliament. Over all, his conservative team came in first, but it was the center, led by the political novice Yair Lapid, 49, that emerged newly invigorated, suggesting at the very least Israel’s rightward tilt may be stalled. Lapid, a telegenic celebrity whose father made a splash with his own short-lived centrist party a decade ago, ran a campaign that resonated with middle class. His signature issue is a call to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into army and work force. Perhaps as important, he also avoided antagonizing right, having not emphasized traditional issues of the left, like the peace process. Like a large majority of Israeli public, he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but is skeptical of the Palestinian leadership’s willingness to negotiate seriously; he has called for return to peace talks but has not made it a priority. Sensing his message of strength was not penetrating, Mr. Netanyahu posted a panicky message on Facebook before polls closed, saying, “The Likud government is in danger, go vote for us for sake of the country’s future.” Tuesday ended with Mr. Netanyahu reaching out again, this time to Mr. Lapid, Israel’s newest kingmaker, offering to work with him as part of the “broadest coalition possible.” Israel’s political hierarchy is only partly determined during an election. Next stage, when the factions try to build a majority coalition, decides who will govern, how they will govern and for how long. While Mr. Lapid has signaled a willingness to work with Mr. Netanyahu, the ultimate coalition may bring together parties with such different ideologies and agendas that result is paralysis. Still, for the center, it was a time of celebration. “The citizens of Israel today said no to politics of fear and hatred,” Mr. Lapid told upscale crowd of supporters who had welcomed him with drums, dancing, popping Champagne corks. “They said no to possibility that we might splinter off into sectors, groups and tribes, narrow interest groups. They said no to extremists, and they said no to antidemocratic behavior.” With 99% of ballots counted by Wednesday morning, the traditional blocs were evenly divided, with 60 Parliament seats for right-wing and religious parties, and 60 for center, left and Arab-dominated factions (…..)

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/23/world/middleeast/israel-votes-in-election-likely-to-retain-netanyahu.html