Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman report:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday vehemently denied aWall Street Journal report, leaked by the Obama White House, that Israel spied on U.S. negotiations with Iran and then fed the intelligence to Congressional Republicans. His office’s denial was categorical and absolute, extending beyond this specific story to U.S.-targeted spying generally, claiming: “The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies.”
Israel’s claim is not only incredible on its face. It is also squarely contradicted by top secret NSA documents, which state that Israel targets the U.S. government for invasive electronic surveillance, and does so more aggressively and threateningly than almost any other country in the world. Indeed, so concerted and aggressive are Israeli efforts against the U.S. that some key U.S. Government documents – including the top secret 2013 intelligence budget – list Israel among the U.S.’s most threatening cyber-adversaries and as a “hostile” foreign intelligence service.
One top secret 2008 document features an interview with the NSA’s Global Capabilities Manager for Countering Foreign Intelligence, entitled “Which Foreign Intelligence Service Is the Biggest Threat to the US?” He repeatedly names Israel as one of the key threats.
While noting that Russia and China do the most effective spying on U.S., he says that “Israel also targets us.” He explains that “A NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] ranked [Israel] as the third most aggressive intelligence service against the US.” While praising the surveillance relationship with Israel as highly valuable, he added: “One of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel.” Specifically, the Israelis “target us to learn our positions on Middle East problems.”
Other NSA documents voice the grievance that Israel gets far more out of the intelligence-sharing relationship than the U.S. does. One top secret 2007 document, entitled “History of the US – Israel SIGINT Relationship, post 1992,” describes the cooperation that takes place as highly productive and valuable, and, indeed, top secret documents previously reported by the Intercept and the Guardian leave no doubt about the very active intelligence-sharing relationship that takes place between the two countries. Yet that same document complains that the relationship even after 9/11 was almost entirely one-sided in favor of serving Israeli rather than U.S. interests: . . .
David Shulman writes in the NY Review of Books:
Benjamin Netanyahu has won again. He will have no difficulty putting together a solid right-wing coalition. But the naked numbers may be deceptive. What really counts is the fact that the Israeli electorate is still dominated by hypernationalist, in some cases proto-fascist, figures. It is in no way inclined to make peace. It has given a clear mandate for policies that preclude any possibility of moving toward a settlement with the Palestinians and that will further deepen Israel’s colonial venture in the Palestinian territories, probably irreversibly.
Netanyahu’s shrill public statements during the last two or three days before the vote may account in part for Likud’s startling margin of victory. For the first time since his Bar Ilan speech in 2009, he explicitly renounced a two-state solution and swore that no Palestinian state would come into existence on his watch. He promised vast new building projects in the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. He made it clear that Israel would make no further territorial concessions, anywhere, since any land that would be relinquished would, in his view, immediately be taken over by Muslim terrorists.
And then there was his truly astonishing, by now notorious statement on election day itself, in which he urged Jewish voters to rush to the polls because “the Arabs are voting in droves.” One might have thought that those Arab voters were members of the body politic he headed as prime minister. Imagine a white American president calling on whites to vote because “blacks are voting in large numbers.” If there’s a choice to be made between democratic values and fierce Jewish tribalism, there’s no doubt what the present and future prime minister of Israel would choose.
Mindful of Netanyahu’s long record of facile mendacity, commentators on the left have tended to characterize these statements as more dubious “rhetoric”; already, under intense pressure from the United States, he has waffled on the question of Palestinian statehood in comments directed at a foreign, English-speaking audience. But I think that, for once, he was actually speaking the truth in that last pre-election weekend—a popular truth among his traditional supporters. What does this mean? On the face of it, things are not all that different today than before the election. But the now seemingly impregnable rule of the right has at least four likely consequences for the near and mid-term future.
First, the notion that there will someday be two states in historic Palestine has been savagely undermined. We have Netanyahu’s word for it. If he has his way—and why shouldn’t he?—Palestinians are destined for the foreseeable future to remain subject to a regime of state terror, including the remorseless loss of their lands and homes and, in many cases, their very lives; they will continue to be, as they are now, disenfranchised, without even minimal legal recourse, hemmed into small discontinuous enclaves, and deprived of elementary human rights.
Take a mild, almost innocuous example, entirely typical of life in the territories. Last weekend I was in the south Hebron hills with Palestinian shepherds at a place called Zanuta, whose historic grazing grounds have been taken over, in large part, by a settlement inhabited by a single Jewish family. Soldiers turned up with the standard order, signed by the brigade commander, declaring the area a Closed Military Zone; the order is illegal, according to a Supreme Court ruling, but the writ of the court hardly impinges on reality on the ground in south Hebron. Within minutes, three of the shepherds and an Israeli activist were arrested.
The people of Zanuta live with such arbitrary decrees on a daily basis, as they live under the constant threat of violent assault by Israeli settlers, acting with impunity. In short, these Palestinian villagers are slated for dispossession and expulsion. We are doing what we can to stop the process, but it isn’t easy. The situation in the northern West Bank is considerably worse.
Secondly, we may see the emergence in the West Bank of . . .
Netanyahu has clearly revealed his character and the future he plans for Israel.
Banks have narrow-gauge worries: no “big picture” for them. Lee Fang reports in The Intercept:
Could a deal to normalize Western relations with Iran and set limits on Iran’s development of nuclear technology lead to a more peaceful and less-weaponized Middle East?
That’s what supporters of the Iran negotiations certainly hope to achieve. But the prospect of stability has at least one financial analyst concerned about its impact on one of the world’s biggest defense contractors.
The possibility of an Iran nuclear deal depressing weapons sales was raised by Myles Walton, an analyst from Germany’s Deutsche Bank, during a Lockheed earnings call this past January 27th. Walton asked Marillyn Hewson, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, if an Iran agreement could “impede what you see as progress in foreign military sales.” Financial industry analysts such as Walton use earnings calls as an opportunity to ask publicly-traded corporations like Lockheed about issues that might harm profitability.
Hewson replied that “that really isn’t coming up,” but stressed that “volatility all around the region” should continue to bring in new business. According to Hewson, “A lot of volatility, a lot of instability, a lot of things that are happening” in both the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region means both are “growth areas” for Lockheed Martin.
The Deutsche Bank-Lockheed exchange “underscores a longstanding truism of the weapons trade: war — or the threat of war — is good for the arms business,” says William Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Hartung observed that Hewson described the normalization of relations with Iran not as a positive development for the future, but as an “impediment.” “And Hewson’s response,” Hartung adds, “which in essence is ‘don’t worry, there’s plenty of instability to go around,’ shows the perverse incentive structure that is at the heart of the international arms market.”
Listen to the exchange here: . . .
As background, Jill Lepore has an excellent article in the New Yorker:
For about a century, economic inequality has been measured on a scale, from zero to one, known as the Gini index and named after an Italian statistician, Corrado Gini, who devised it in 1912, when he was twenty-eight and the chair of statistics at the University of Cagliari. If all the income in the world were earned by one person and everyone else earned nothing, the world would have a Gini index of one. If everyone in the world earned exactly the same income, the world would have a Gini index of zero. The United States Census Bureau has been using Gini’s measurement to calculate income inequality in America since 1947. Between 1947 and 1968, the U.S. Gini index dropped to .386, the lowest ever recorded. Then it began to climb.
Income inequality is greater in the United States than in any other democracy in the developed world. Between 1975 and 1985, when the Gini index for U.S. households rose from .397 to .419, as calculated by the U.S. Census Bureau, the Gini indices of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Sweden, and Finland ranged roughly between .200 and .300, according to national data analyzed by Andrea Brandolini and Timothy Smeeding. But historical cross-country comparisons are difficult to make; the data are patchy, and different countries measure differently. The Luxembourg Income Study, begun in 1983, harmonizes data collected from more than forty countries on six continents. According to the L.I.S.’s adjusted data, the United States has regularly had the highest Gini index of any affluent democracy. In 2013, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a Gini index of .476.
The evidence that income inequality in the United States has been growing for decades and is greater than in any other developed democracy is not much disputed. It is widely known and widely studied. Economic inequality has been an academic specialty at least since Gini first put chalk to chalkboard. In the nineteen-fifties, Simon Kuznets, who went on to win a Nobel Prize, used tax data to study the shares of income among groups, an approach that was further developed by the British economist Anthony Atkinson, beginning with his 1969 paper “On the Measurement of Inequality,” in the Journal of Economic Theory. Last year’s unexpected popular success of the English translation of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-first Century” drew the public’s attention to measurements of inequality, but Piketty’s work had long since reached American social scientists, especially through a 2003 paper that he published with the Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez, in The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Believing that the Gini index underestimates inequality, Piketty and Saez favor Kuznets’s approach. (Atkinson, Piketty, Saez, and Facundo Alvaredo are also the creators of the World Top Incomes Database, which collects income-share data from more than twenty countries.) In “Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998,” Piketty and Saez used tax data to calculate what percentage of income goes to the top one per cent and to the top ten per cent. In 1928, the top one per cent earned twenty-four per cent of all income; in 1944, they earned eleven per cent, a rate that began to rise in the nineteen-eighties. By 2012, according to Saez’s updated data, the top one per cent were earning twenty-three per cent of the nation’s income, almost the same ratio as in 1928, although it has since dropped slightly.
Political scientists are nearly as likely to study economic inequality as economists are, though they’re less interested in how much inequality a market can bear than in how much a democracy can bear, and here the general thinking is that the United States is nearing its breaking point. In 2001, . . .
And Paul Krugman notes in his NY Times blog:
I haven’t been following Israeli politics at all — actually, if truth be told, after being out front so much against the Iraq venture, I’ve spent the era of financial crisis taking a personal vacation from Middle East issues. But I have noticed that Netanyahu is in big trouble — not over foreign policy and security, but over economics. Oddly, however, much of the reporting seems to either neglect or downplay the background here, which is the extraordinary rise in Israeli income inequality over the past generation. Here’s Israel compared with the US, from the LIS data:
When I first visited Israel in the early 1980s, it was still an egalitarian place, with a lot of the kibbutz spirit still around. Since the early 90s, however, the concentration of income and wealth has soared; at this point Israel may be the most unequal society in the advanced world, surpassing even the US. Goodbye kibbutz, hello Gilded Age.
No deep thoughts or analysis here, just pointing out something you should know.
Some very interesting responses to the Netanyahu speech, as reported in James Fallows’s blog. I did wince at “centers around” from the historian: it should be “centers on.” To take one example:
. . . 2) The modern history that got left out of the speech. Gary Sick, of Columbia University, has studied Iranian politics and policy for more than 40 years. After Netanyahu’s speech he wrote an assessment, including its strength as a “barn burner of a campaign speech” for the Israeli elections, but also its weakness as a studiously misleading description of the real state of negotiations with Iran.
.You don’t want to include anything that will detract from your central purpose [of campaigning in Israel, where the speech came on at 6pm local time]. So, what did Netanyahu leave out of his speech?
1. Iran has dramatically reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium. Remember Bibi’s cartoon bomb that was going to go off last summer? Well, it has been drained of fuel, and that will probably continue to be true indefinitely. No mention.
2. Inspections will continue long after the nominal 10-year point, contrary to his claim that everything expires in ten years. No mention.
3. The heavy water reactor at Arak will be permanently modified, so it produces near zero plutonium. Not only did he not mention it, but he listed the reactor and plutonium as one of his threats.
4. His repeated assertion that Iran is actively seeking nuclear weapons ignores the judgment “with high confidence” of both American and Israeli intelligence that Iran has taken no decision to build nuclear weapons. It also contradicts the repeated findings of the IAEA that no materials have been diverted for military purposes.
5. All the major countries of the world are co-negotiators with the United States, so a U.S. congressional intervention that killed the deal will not only affect us but all of our major allies. If we stiff them, there is no reason to believe the international sanctions will hold for long. No mention.
Are these simply oversights in the interests of time? Why did he leave out only the facts that cast doubt on his central thesis?
Read all of Gary Sick’s piece; compare it with Netanyahu’s end-days warnings about the emerging “bad deal”; and while you’re at it think back to people who were telling you in 2002 and early 2003 to be skeptical of the end-days warnings about Saddam Hussein’s imminent and existential threat to the world. . . .
James Fallows has some good observations (and links) in his Atlantic blog:
Why is Benjamin Netanyahu going ahead with his speech to Congress in a few hours’ time, despite complaints from all quarters about the damage it is causing? It’s a trickier question than it seems.
Was it simple tin ear on his side, and Ambassador Ron Dermer’s? The idea, as Netanyahu has preposterously claimed, that he “didn’t intend” any affront to the sitting U.S. president and was surprised by all the ruckus? Were they that ill-informed, naive, trapped in a bubble, or plain dumb?
I find that hard to believe, from a leader who prides himself on his U.S. connections and an ambassador born and raised in the U.S. and schooled by Newt Gingrich and Frank Luntz. If Barack Obama addressed the Knesset and said he had a “moral obligation” to criticize Netanyahu’s policies, would he then say he “didn’t intend” any offense? Please.
Was it crass election-year politicking on Netanyahu’s part, based on the need to get through this month’s election in Israel and the faith that eventually things would sort themselves back out with the United States? All politicians know that if they don’t hold office their platforms don’t matter, and most convince themselves that what is good for them is good for their country. So maybe he rationalized that getting through this election was worth whatever bruised feelings it might cause.
On this I defer to the reporting of The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, here, here, and here about the tensions between Netanyahu’s electoral incentives and long-term U.S.-Israeli relations. From my point of view, this would be the most benign explanation. Countries act in their own self-interest, and so do politicians.
Was it because Netanyahu has been such a prescient, confirmed-by-realityjudge of real-world threats that he feels moral passion about making sure his views are heard?
Hardly. I can’t believe that he’s fooled even himself into thinking that his egging-on of war with Iraq looks good in retrospect. And for nearly two decadesNetanyahu has been arguing that Iran was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. When you’re proven right, you trumpet that fact—and when you’re proven wrong, you usually have the sense to change the topic. Usually.
Was it because Netanyahu has a better plan that he wants Congress or the United States to adopt in dealing with Iran? No. His alternative plan for Iran is like the Republican critics’ alternative to the Obama healthcare or immigration plans. That is: It’s not a plan, it’s dislike of what Obama is doing. And if the current negotiations break down, Iran could move more quickly toward nuclear capacity than it is doing now—barring the fantasy of a preemptive military strike by Israel or the U.S. As Michael Tomasky put it in the Daily Beast: . . .
Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to address the U.S. Congress tomorrow about the perils of striking a nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu, not generally known for his measured rhetoric, has been vociferous in his public statements about the dangers of such compromise, warning that it will allow Iran to “rush to the bomb” and that it amounts to giving the country “a license” to develop nuclear weapons.
It is worth remembering, however, that Netanyahu has said much of this before. Almost two decades ago, in 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he darkly warned, “If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind,” adding that, “the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close.”
Almost 20 years later that deadline has apparently still not passed, but Netanyahu is still making dire predictions about an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. Four years before that Congressional speech, in 1992, then-parliamentarian Netanyahu advised the Israeli Knesset that Iran was “three to five years” away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be “uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S.”
In his 1995 book, “Fighting Terrorism,” Netanyahu once again asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in “three to five years,” apparently forgetting about the expiration of his old deadline.
For a considerable time thereafter, Netanyahu switched his focus to hyping the purported nuclear threat posed by another country, Iraq, about which he claimed there was “no question” that it was “advancing towards to the development of nuclear weapons.” Testifying again in front of Congress again in 2002, Netanyahu claimed that Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program was in fact so advanced that the country was now operating “centrifuges the size of washing machines.”
Needless to say, these claims turned out to be disastrously false. Despite this, Netanyahu, apparently unchastened by the havoc his previous false charges helped create, immediately went back to ringing the alarm bells about Iran.
A 2009 U.S. State Department diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks described then-prime ministerial candidate Netanyahu informing a visiting Congressional delegation that Iran was “probably one or two years away” from developing weapons capability. Another cable later the same year showed Netanyahu, now back in office as prime minister, telling a separate delegation of American politicians in Jerusalem that “Iran has the capability now to make one bomb,” adding that alternatively, “they could wait and make several bombs in a year or two.” . . .
Toward the end of the article:
The conclusion from this history is inescapable. Over the course of more than 20 years, Benjamin Netanyahu has made false claims about nuclear weapons programs in both Iran and Iraq, inventing imaginary timelines for their development, and making public statements that contradicted the analysis of his own intelligence advisers.
Reminds me of Alan Greenspan and other conservative economists who constantly warn that inflation is just about to happen, year after year after year, with inflation not happening: inability to learn from experience.