Friday, July 31, 2009

Our so-called "Friends"

Our annual $3 billion gift of money and weapons to Israel, the largest recipient would seemingly generate goodwill. But no, Israelis are determined to continue their aggressive policies, not pursue a serious peace agreement with the Palestinians, or make any significant concession to the positions of the US. The NY Times, no foe of Israel, showcases the anti-American (and some racist attitudes toward our President) of some Israeli colonists on the West Bank.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Iranian Influence Eclipsing American in Iraq

For the second day in a row, Iraqi forces clashed with members of an Iranian exile and opposition group that was long sheltered by the US military. The Iraqi entered the camp yesterday, killing a number of people and harassing many more. Many see this as the latest incidence of Iraqis defying US wishes and the increasing power of Iran in Iraq as US forces withdraw. The provocative nature of the raid was highlighted by the fact that it coincided with Defense Secretary Gate's visit to Baghdad. The US military apparently had no warning of the operation.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Secretary Gates meets with Ehud Barak in Jerusalem, once again gets distracted by Iran

By Shane McCarthy, CNI Staff Writer

The disparity between American and Israeli interests was once again illuminated in a recent meeting between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem. In a joint news conference at the King David Hotel, Mr. Barak stated that he did not approve of America’s willingness to begin dialogue with Iran but also acknowledged that he was in no position to dictate to the United States. Additionally, Mr. Barak maintained Israel’s hardline stance by stating that all options were still on the table in terms of dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, alluding to a possible military strike.

Although Ehud Barak has made clear that political efforts and economic sanctions should continue to be the preferred course of action, it is clear that Israeli patience with the diplomatic process is wearing thin. Recently, the Israeli military conducted a number of military exercises which suggest a preparation for the type of strike on Iran that they have been threatening.

President Obama, who from the onset of his presidency has sought out diplomatic dialogue with Iran, is hoping for a formal response from the Islamic Republic by the time that the United Nations General Assembly meets in late September. In early June, the White House received back-channel contact from Ayatollah Khamenei indicating a willingness to hold talks. However, the recent election turmoil and continuing human rights abuse allegations against Iran have made the possibility of a formal discussion more and more tedious.

Israel and the United States are aware of the possibility that Iran is simply trying to buy time to further develop its nuclear program. However, it also seems very likely that Israel is also trying to buy time. It was made apparent that in Secretary Gates’ meeting with Minister Barak (and subsequent meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu) that the majority of the conversation focused on the Iranian threat. Once again, Israel has demonstrated its uncanny ability to use the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran to distract the conversation away from other contentious issues, namely settlement construction and their own human rights violations.

President Obama is planning to send several more envoys to Jerusalem over the next few weeks, including NSC staffer Dennis Ross and special envoy George Mitchell. If any progress is to be made at all in the peace process, it is going to be necessary to take control of the conversation. Iran must be firmly dealt with, but much to the chagrin of Ehud Barak it is not the only issue on the table.

UK Parliamentary Committee: Talk to Hamas

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons recommended in a report released today that Britain engage in talks with moderate elements of Hamas, noting that the current Israeli and Western approach of shunning the Islamist militant has not achieved any success. The committee also expressed regret that British-supplied weapons were used by Israel in the attack on Gaza this past winter. The House of Commons members, representing all three major British parties, join a former US undersecretary of state Thomas Pickering and a quartet of American elder statesmen--former President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker, and former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski--in calling for talks with Hamas.

The British speak from experience here. Britain long denounced the Irish independence party Sinn Fein and its military wing, the Irish Republican Army, as "terrorists" who could not be negotiated with. But informal contacts with the IRA in the late 1980s led to open talks in the 1990s and then the 1998 Good Friday Peace Agreement. Since then, British controlled Northern Ireland has enjoyed peace and increasing prosperity, while the province's long-suffering Catholics have achieved far greater political and social rights. There have been steps toward intercommunal reconciliation and greater trust building between all sides. In the past few years, the British army has withdrawn many of their forces from Northern Ireland while the IRA has announced that the armed struggle is over and destroyed its weapons. Such an outcome in the Middle East seems unthinkable today, but it did in the north of Ireland two decades ago too.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Middle East Awaits Deeds, Not Words, from Obama

The most recent report of the Pew Global Attitudes Project was released Thursday revealing that the world's image of America has improved significantly since Barack Obama's election. In the Middle East, only Lebanon showed substantial increase in the image of the US, while their was slight improvement of America in the other Middle East countries surveyed Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories. (Israel was surveyed also and there was a slight decline in the image of the US since the last survey.)

Many around world placed great hope in Obama, especially in the Muslim and Arab worlds, given his Muslim middle name (Hussein) and time living in Indonesia as a kid. And while his address in Cairo was well received,many are still waiting to see what he does. As CNI stated at the time, unless his powerful rhetoric is matched by strong action vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine, Obama's historic opportunity will be squandered.

Clinton Moves to Contain Iran and Bolster Gulf Security

As recommended by CNI, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is moving to extend the American nuclear and security umbrella to American allies in the Persian Gulf, including increased arms sales and military aid. It is hoped that the prospect of an Arab and American arms build up in the Gulf may bring cash-strapped Iran back to the negotiating table. Israel fears this means the US may be willing to live with a nuclear Iran, and Israeli intelligence Minister Dan Meridor slammed Clinton in a radio interview.

CNI wrote a week ago how extending the American nuclear umbrella and smart diplomacy, especially with our Gulf Arab allies, (and doing everything possible to restrain Israel) would allow the US to live with a nuclear armed Iran. Israel would not happy, as it would no longer have a nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. But the consequences of a third war in the region would like be worse than a nuclear armed Iran.

Israel Slights Arab Israelis

Israel has decided to remove references to its founding as "al-nakba" or "the catastrophe" in its Arabic textbooks, which is the common word for Israel's founding in the Arab world, especially amongst the Palestinian diaspora. Israel is also considering removing street signs in Arabic and English that list Israeli place names and substituting Arabic and English transliterations of Hebrew names. While it is understandable that a country would not refer to its founding as the catastrophe, the proposed street sign change seems designed only to offend Israel's Arab minority. Both moves would serve to increase tensions in the already fraught relationship between the Jewish majority and Israel's Arab minority.

These actions underscore the inherent contradiction between Israel's claim to be both a Western-style liberal democracy and a Jewish state. It also shows the extent to which Israel does not share America's values of secularism and equality. Sixty-five years after Brown v. Board of Education, Israel maintains a "separate but equal" society, in which Arab citizens do not serve in the military and have their civil law cases tried in separate courts, in addition to widespread social discrimination. Israel is a Jewish state, and a Jewish democracy, but it is not a secular one and these two actions highlight how its values are very different from America's.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

House Committee Detached from Iran Reality

Today's House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Iran showcased some reasoned thinking but unfortunately many of the old Neo-con delusions were exhibited by both congressmen and panelists. Four of the six panelists were from Neo-con interventionist think tanks (the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, and the Hoover Institute). Most of the panelists, especially those from the Neo-con think tanks, recommended harsh sanctions on Iran, criticized the administrations approach as being too soft, and repeated the misleading conception that an Iranian bomb would be intolerable. As CNI has said, there is no reason a nuclear Iran could not be contained and deterred and that a nuclear Iran is no more of threat than a nuclear Pakistan, India, or North Korea, let alone nuclear Russia or China.

The effect of the Israel Lobby in warping American thinking was evident, with many congressmen voicing their support of Israel. Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) said he supports Israel "100%", Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) was concerned that Iran would bomb Israel as soon as it had nuclear weapons, despite Israel's nuclear stockpile, and Representative Scott said Iran's nuclear programs and stance towards Israel are what concern the US. It should be clear: Iranian nukes would threaten Israel because it would no longer have the complete military domination over here neighbors that her nuclear stockpile now ensures (which is the reason that Iran wants one). Iranian nuclear weapons would be easily deterred by our overwhelming global nuclear superiority. With sound diplomacy we could also secure our allies, as we have done since the Soviets tested their first nuclear weapon in 1948.

Perhaps just as disheartening as the Israel-first stance of the members was their evident lack of knowledge of the Middle East, including by Rep. Burton, ranking Republican, who noted many Iranians have warm feelings towards American and even "dress like us." We are in great trouble of our elected leaders think wearing blue jeans equals broad support for American polices and practices. Rep. David Scott's (D-GA) question, as to whether the protests meant Iranians were opposed to Ahmadinejad's attitudes towards Israel revealed a man hopeless clueless as to popular attitudes in the Muslim world. Unless we have better analysis and understanding of the Middle East, we will doomed to continue our failed policies that have brought about our present troubles.

Friday, July 17, 2009

An Arab and An Israeli Leader on Middle East Peace

The Washington Post ran side by side op-eds from Israeli former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Bahraini Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa today, discussing Arab Israeli peace. Sheikh Salman emphasized the need of Arabs to talk to Israelis, stop spreading anti-Semetic propaganda, and talked of the great benefits Arab-Israeli trade would bring. However he did not mention any specific policies that Bahrain intended to adopt. Still, perhaps this is a sign that Bahrain intends to take a more active role in promoting a general peace with Israel.

Olmert's column said settlements should not be the main focus of the US-Israeli relationship, which he rightly described as one of Israel's greatest assets. However this is disingenous, as the very existence of settlements (let alone their expansion) is the main sticking point for the Palestinians, who rightly feel that any future state is being wittled away before their eyes.

The Israel Lobby's Orwellian Dictionary

The Israel Project, a pro-Israel non-profit designed to influence journalists, put together a guidebook (or "Global Language Dictionary")on what language and talking points to use in promoting Israel and pro-Israeli policies in the West. While not illegal, this is yet another example of how Israeli-first groups attempt to dominate national public and political dialogues (especially in the US), repress criticism of Israel, and promote pro-Israel policies.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rep. Berman Encourages the Palestinians to Negotiate. Will He Lean on the Israelis to do so in Good Faith?

Representative Howard Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called on the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to accept Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's offer of negotiations. While Netanyahu did offer to negotiate with any Arab leader in his June speech, he stipulated that any such Arab leader recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and said any future Palestinian state must have severely curtailed sovereignty and Jerusalem would remain entirely in Israeli hands.

It is encouraging to see an influential congressional committee wading into the Middle East peace process. However, let us hope congressional leaders also pressure Israel to take more realistic and less inflammatory positions. Obama and the Congress should not allow Netanyahu to deflect pressure onto the Palestinians while holding to such outlandish preconditions that effectively scuttle talks before they begin.

Clinton to Push for Mideast Peace and Negotiate with Enemies

Yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out a foreign policy vision both realistic and hard nosed. She said the US would "counter violent extremists while reaching out to Muslims around the world" and "encourage and facilitate the efforts of all parties to pursue a comprehensive peace in the Middle East." She noted that "America’s willingness to talk" even with those who do not "share our values and interests" was not as "a sign of weakness." This gives new hope that the US pursue a realistic policy in defense of our interests.

Monday, July 13, 2009

UK Withdraws Arms Export Licenses to Israel

This Monday, the United Kingdom revoked arms export licenses to Israel after it was proven in a government review that the criteria for licensing was breached. The British embassy in Tel Aviv claims that it is not a partial embargo, they simply are adhering to their licensing policy.

Of the 182 licenses, only 5 were denied. The revoked licenses authorized the sales of spare parts for Sa’ar 4.5 gunships. The UK administration conducted an inquiry into the uses of British-made equipment by the Israeli military. The results proved that the gunships were used in operation Cast Lead (the three-week war in the beginning of this year). The British government declared this a violation of the security agreement it had with Israel.

The British Embassy in Tel Aviv released a statement explaining their reasoning for revoking the export licenses saying, "Future decisions will take into account what has happened in the recent conflict. We do not grant export licenses where there is a clear risk that arms will be used for external aggression or internal repression.”
“We consistently urge Israel to act with restraint and supported the EU Presidency statement that called the Israeli actions during operation Cast Lead 'disproportionate.'"

The UK is not a large arms dealer to Israel, and the spare parts they denied the Israeli navy will have little impact on its operational capability. This is, however, a very significant political statement. It sets precedence for other nations to also show disapproval of the Israeli military’s actions and encourages them to enforce tighter arms sales restrictions.

Click MORE to read the rest of the article on the CNI website.

American Elder Statesmen Say CNI is Right About Negotiations

Four American elder statesmen, former President Jimmy Carter, former Secretary of State James Baker, and former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski say that President Obama should launch a bold initiative for negotiations with all parties (including Hamas) leading to a final settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

New book addresses attack on U.S.S. Liberty

A new book by journalist James Scott looks at the circumstances surrounding the 1967 Israeli attack on the American ship U.S.S. Liberty. "The Attack on the Liberty" is one of the few instances in which this controversial issue is addressed publically, and tries to figure out whether or not the attack was deliberate or mere coincidence. Although Scott's work does lack a solid Israeli perspective, it is an important work in that it sticks to the facts and asks the questions that need to be asked. Read the Seattle Times book review here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cynthia McKinney: Letter from an Israeli Jail

Follow the link to read Cynthia McKinney's report from an Israeli jail after being arrested by Israeli Forces. She was one of many arrested aboard the Free Gaza boat that was bringing humanitarian supplies into Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Repercussions and Implications of an Israeli Strike on Iran

Check out CNI's latest article on why the US should not "green light" an Israeli attack on Iran.

Congressional Hearing on US-UAE Nuclear Cooperation

The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing today on whether or not to approve a nuclear deal with the United Arab Emirates that would allow US firms to sell and operate peaceful nuclear technology in the Persian Gulf nation. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher answered questions on the proposed agreement, which was negotiated by the Bush Administration and signed by the Obama administration. The congressmen's questions focused on the UAE's ability to prevent the acquisition of technology by Iran and terrorist groups and whether it would spark a regional race for nuclear technology. Secretary Tauscher assured them that while some risks of course existed, they were small and far outweighed by the benefits.

Apparently mindful of the hurt and offense caused in the Arab world, and especially the UAE, by the Dubai Ports World scandal, the congressmen were all careful to emphasize their appreciation of American-Emirati friendship and the assistance given by the UAE to US counterterrorism efforts and the Iraq War.

Monday, July 6, 2009

International attention towards Iran increases

By Shane McCarthy, CNI Staff Writer

Ever since it became clear that the fallout from the Iranian election would cause massive unrest and draw world attention to the region, both Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad have continuously warned Western powers to avoid interfering in the political process. For this reason, world leaders (including President Obama) have been careful to put out statements which promote democratic courses of action without seeming too intrusive. However, violence perpetrated against protestors by government and paramilitary forces have given foreign powers a means by which they can express their disapproval as to how this election has been carried out.

In a conference in Treiste, Italy, foreign ministers in the G8 summit released a statement criticizing the post-election violence in Iran and urging the ruling Clerics to make sure that the will of the people is reflected in the ballots. This statement comes after negotiations between the several nations and is especially encouraging because Russia (which had previously expressed congratulations to Ahmadinejad) was included. In somewhat stronger language, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated that Iranians deserve better leaders.

So far, the United States has been careful to avoid any statements or actions which could be construed as meddling or taking sides on the election results. If the recent arrest of British journalists in Tehran is any indication, the Supreme Leader and Revolutionary Guard are looking for any opportunity to point fingers at Western powers. Despite the deep divisions among the Iranian people which this election has brought to light, it is widely believed that they would rally around the government if there was any real evidence of American interference.

Unfortunately, the continuing turmoil in Iran has greatly set back any intentions that the U.S. had to pursue negotiations over the nuclear issue. Although President Obama has stressed that diplomatic talks must continue, it is now unlikely that Iran would be willing to listen to outside opinion on the matter. To resolve the nuclear dilemma it is likely that the U.S. will need to garner the help of Russia and China, two countries which have historically had the most sway over Iran but who are also the least likely to cooperate on such an issue.

Recent government actions in Iran have given a clear indication that any sort of multi-party negotiations will not happen for some time. In a move which was expected and dreaded by many experts, the Revolutionary Guard has taken control of Iranian national security in lieu of continuing protests and demonstrations for reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Calling their actions a “revival of the revolution”, the elite military branch has pledged to take control of the situation on the ground. It is unclear whether the Guard has any intention of rescinding power once the situation is dealt with, and so for the time being Iran is effectively under the military control.

With this taken into account, the best means for the international community to approach the government of Iran is in solidarity. It is extremely unlikely that the regime will change policy at the behest of a single Western nation (especially the U.S.), and so it must be made clear that the actions being taken are not only damaging to the Iranian people, but also to the world at large. However, it is also important that lines be drawn with regard to intrusion. While outside nations may call on the government to reflect the will of the people, they cannot decide what that will is.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Israeli Navy Starves, Humiliates, and Impoverishes Gazans

Today's Christian Science Monitor published two insightful stories chronicling how the US-subsidized Israeli military's blockade of Gaza is starving Gazans and destroying the economy. They discuss the Israeli navy's turning back ships of humanitarian aid and also their abuse of Palestinian fishermen. Unfortunately, in the minds of the much of the Arab and Muslim world, the US will be seen as just as responsible. Afterall, why would we give the Israeli military billions of dollars annually if we did not approve of their actions?