Archive for the ‘Mideast Conflict’ Category
Ronen Bergman reports in Haaretz:
Israeli intelligence officials are concerned that the exposure of classified information to their American counterparts under a Trump administration could lead to their being leaked to Russia and onward to Iran, investigative journalist Ronen Bergman reported by Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot on Thursday.
The intelligence concerns, which have been discussed in closed forums recently, are based on suspicions of unreported ties between President-elect Donald Trump, or his associates, and the government of Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
As Russian intelligence is associated with intelligence officials in Tehran, highly classified information, such as Israel’s clandestine methods of operation and intelligence sources, could potentially reach Iran. Such information has been shared with the United States in the past.
American intelligence officials expressed despair at the election of Trump during a recent meeting with their Israeli counterparts, Bergman reported. They said that they believed that Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump, though they did not elaborate. The American media reported on Wednesday that Russia has embarrassing intelligence about the president-elect.
According to Bergman, the American intelligence officials implied that Israel should “be careful” when transferring intelligence information to the White House and the National Security Council (NSC) following Trump’s inauguration – at least until it is clear that Trump does not have inappropriate connections with Russia.
Cooperation between the Israeli and U.S. intelligence communities has intensified over the past two decades, with most of the joint operations directed, according to reports, against Iran. Hezbollah and Hamas were also intelligence targets. An official agreement in 2008 for comprehensive cooperation, including the exposure of sources and methods of action, reportedly led to impressive results, including the disruption of the Iranian nuclear program. . .
Read the depressing article. And, weirdly, he was given the Nobel Peace prize. Not for that, I assume.
Thomas Friedman writes in the NY Times:
For those of you confused over the latest fight between President Obama and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, let me make it simple: Barack Obama and John Kerry admire and want to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel. I have covered this issue my entire adult life and have never met two U.S. leaders more committed to Israel as a Jewish democracy.
But they are convinced — rightly — that Netanyahu is a leader who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never ready to cross it. He is unwilling to make any big, hard decision to advance or preserve a two-state solution if that decision in any way risks his leadership of Israel’s right-wing coalition or forces him to confront the Jewish settlers, who relentlessly push Israel deeper and deeper into the West Bank.
That is what precipitated this fight over Obama’s decision not to block a U.N. resolution last week criticizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The settlers’ goal is very clear, as Kerry put it on Wednesday: to strategically place settlements “in locations that make two states impossible,” so that Israel will eventually annex all of the West Bank. Netanyahu knows this will bring huge problems, but his heart is with the settlers, and his passion is with holding power — at any cost. So in any crunch, he sides with the settlers, and they keep pushing.
Obama ordered the U.S. to abstain on the U.N. resolution condemning the settlements (three months after Obama forged a 10-year, $38 billion military aid package for Israel — the largest for any U.S. ally ever) in hopes of sparking a debate inside Israel and to prevent it from closing off any chance of a two-state solution.
Israel is clearly now on a path toward absorbing the West Bank’s 2.8 million Palestinians. There are already 1.7 million Arabs living in Israel, so putting these two Arab populations together would constitute a significant minority with a higher birthrate than that of Israeli Jews — who number 6.3 million — posing a demographic and democratic challenge.
I greatly sympathize with Israel’s security problems. If I were Israel, I would not relinquish control of the West Bank borders — for now. The Arab world is far too unstable, and Hamas, which controls another 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, would likely take over the West Bank.
My criticism of Netanyahu is not that he won’t simply quit all the West Bank; it is that he refuses to show any imagination or desire to build workable alternatives that would create greater separation and win Israel global support, such as radical political and economic autonomy for Palestinians in the majority of the West Bank, free of settlements, while Israel still controls the borders and the settlements close to it. . .
Bernard Avishai writes in the New Yorker:
Last Friday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 2334, with a dramatic abstention by the Obama Administration. The resolution called on Palestinian leaders to take “immediate steps to prevent all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror,” and refrain from “incitement and inflammatory rhetoric.” Its real target, though, was Israel’s settlement project, which, the resolution sharply claimed, has “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
Later in the day on Friday, I spoke to Robert Malley, the special assistant to the President on the National Security Council, the senior adviser for the campaign against isis, and the White House coördinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf. In February, 2011, the Obama Administration vetoed a similar U.N. condemnation of settlements—opposing fourteen other members of the Security Council and a hundred and twenty co-sponsors from the General Assembly. Why abstain now, I asked Malley, and not then? “A real difference is that efforts to advance negotiations were ongoing in 2011,” Malley told me. “We were concerned not to interfere with a process that had some prospect of progressing. That’s not the case since Secretary Kerry’s efforts in 2014. We are at an impasse. There is no prospect of resumption of serious meaningful talks between the sides, so the argument that a U.N. resolution would interfere with negotiations doesn’t hold much water.”
In speaking of an “impasse,” Malley was exercising tact. The most salient change, he went on, is the attitude of the Israeli government toward the construction of settlements, which “has accelerated since the 2011 veto—tens of thousands of units approved, and in different stages of tendering and construction.” Malley pointed to the so-called normalization bill to legalize outposts and settlement units built on private Palestinian land, which is being considered by the Knesset. Such building is currently illegal under Israeli law, and has put the Israeli government at odds with the Supreme Court. “The legislation would represent a sea change,” Malley told me. “The Prime Minister of Israel just stated that his government was more committed to settlements than any in Israeli history. And one of his ministers”—Naftali Bennett, the Education Minister and the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home Party—“said the era of the two-state solution is over. So the resolution reflects not so much a change in President Obama’s position as in the Israeli government’s.”
Minutes after the resolution passed, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump gave his response. “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th,” he tweeted. He plans to nominate David Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer who has raised millions of dollars for an Israeli settlement, to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Trump has also promised to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a symbolic endorsement of the Israeli right’s claim to the entire city—although his designated Secretaries of State and Defense may have something to say about provoking allies like Jordan. The Walla news site, generally supportive of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reported last month that Israeli officials are hopeful that General Michael Flynn—Trump’s designated National Security Adviser, who has close ties to Israel’s defense establishment—will work with Congress to rescind the restrictions Obama put on the ten-year, thirty-eight-billion-dollar Israeli aid package that was approved this fall.
But Trump’s power as President, however consequential, cannot cancel the power that other countries have in the conflict, as Netanyahu seemed to acknowledge in the bitterness of his response. On Saturday, an Israeli official told Barak Ravid, of Haaretz, that the resolution “revealed the true face of the Obama Administration”; the next day, the Prime Minister accused the Administration of carrying out an “underhanded, anti-Israel maneuver.” On Monday, Ron Dermer, the Israeli envoy in Washington, told CNN that Israel has proof that the Obama Administration was “behind” the resolution, and would “present this evidence to the new Administration through the appropriate channels.” Malley seemed fatigued by the prospect of having to fend off such charges. “Contrary to the claim made by some Israeli officials, we did not cook up this resolution, we did not chase after it,” he told me. “Secretary Kerry averaged roughly one phone call a week to the Israeli Prime Minister over the last four years—almost four hundred—to plead, to warn, against the path his government was on. Not only did settlement-construction activities continue apace, they were accelerated.”
Recent polls conducted by the Palestinian public-opinion expert Khalil Shikaki suggest that support for a two-state solution among Palestinians in the territories is significantly depressed, not because of ideology (only about a quarter of respondents support Hamas) but because of skepticism of Israeli and American intentions. “Settlements have always been at the heart of this distrust,” Shikaki told me in Tel Aviv last Thursday. For Malley, the point was self-evident and applied to Israelis as well: “What has dropped precipitously is confidence on either side that the other side is serious about reaching a solution. It is very hard for Palestinians to believe that the Israeli Prime Minister believes in a two-state solution in which the Palestinians would have a viable state at the same time as the territory on which that state is to be built is increasingly encroached upon—not just through settlements but through home demolitions, and the refusal to grant permits for Palestinian building. Similarly, it has been very hard for Israelis to believe that the Palestinians believe in a two-state solution at the same time as they experience terrorism and hear calls for martyrdom.”
The peace process has subtly shifted from bilateral negotiations, in which envoys hammer out principles for agreement and bring these to the international community, to one in which the principles and possible impediments are understood and Western states other than the U.S. may choose to put pressure on the parties. Earlier in his career, . . .
Continue reading. There’s a lot more and it is important.
Obama’s instruction that the US abstain on the vote and not exercise its veto power is discussed as if it’s a horrible, unprecedented action. That is untrue. And the settlements are illegal, so it seems perfectly proper to criticize them.
And see this very interesting summary by Kevin Drum. It begins:
For many years:
- Virtually every country in the world has condemned Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.
- They have all repeatedly voted to say so in the UN.
- The US has also opposed Israel’s settlements, but hasn’t officially said so in the UN.
- And Israel has said very clearly that the UN is virulently anti-Israel (true) and they pay it no mind.
A few days ago one small part of this formula finally changed when the US abstained from a UN vote condemning Israel’s settlements on the West Bank. It was a parting blow from a lame-duck president who has been treated appallingly by Bibi Netanyahu, and the only surprising thing about it is that President Obama managed to hold his temper this long.
In any case, it’s entirely meaningless: Donald Trump will take office soon and Netanyahu claims to consider the UN illegitimate on this subject anyway. So why has everyone gone ballistic over it? Sure, there’s now an “official” UN resolution condemning the West Bank settlements, but what difference does that make? An “official” UN resolution is barely worth the minute or two it takes to read it. Even as a PR coup it doesn’t amount to much.
The whole Israel charade long ago ceased to interest me. I can hardly pretend to be any kind of expert, but my take is that the last chance for any kind of peace deal ended in the 90s. The huge influx of conservative Jews from Russia after the fall of the Iron Curtain, followed by the Second Intifada, turned Israel permanently against any kind of settlement with the Palestinians.
Because of this, I never blamed George Bush for not trying to broker a peace deal and never blamed Obama for not succeeding. Even people who are sympathetic toward Obama often say that he handled the Middle East badly—and the Israel relationship particularly badly—but I simply don’t see how he could have done any better. Netanyahu treated him with unconcealed contempt; was unapologetic about publicly undermining him; decided to ditch bipartisanship and openly team up with the Republican Party; and very plainly was never open to any kind of settlement at all. There is absolutely nothing Obama could have done to change that.
In any case, the following things are indisputably true:
- Israeli leaders will never* stop building in the West Bank. It would be electoral suicide.
- Israeli leaders will never give up the West Bank. It would be electoral suicide.
- Israeli leaders will never formally annex the West Bank. It would be electoral suicide.
In other words, nothing is going to happen. Period. Israel is going to keep things as they are, fight off world opinion forever, and hope that maybe over the course of several decades they can slowly get all the Palestinians in the West Bank to emigrate elsewhere. It’s sort of like Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” on steroids.
And just in case you think this puts me on the side of the Arabs and Palestinians, forget it. To the extent that I stay even marginally on Israel’s side, it’s because the Arabs have acted even more abominably. They tried to invade Israel twice. They never cared a fig for the Palestinians except as a convenient poster child. (Jordan must have been the first country in history to lose territory in a war and be happy about it.) . . .
Just as gun dealers and manufacturers repeatedly feed threats to the gun-lover community (“Eric Holder is going to take your guns! Obama’s coming for your guns! Hillary Clinton will take your guns!”) in order to spur sales (and it always works: the power of a vanishing opportunity is well-known to everyone in sales and marketing—it’s the whole idea of a limited edition, for example: buy now or be left at the gate.
Well, Trump’s highly publicized remarks on Islam, on Muslims in general, on the wars in the Middle East and on terrorism indicate that he’s going to go after them. So…
William McCants writes in the Washington Post:
This opinion piece is by William McCants, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, where he directs the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World.
President-elect Donald Trump and his top political and security advisers are convinced Islam’s moral rules, the sharia, not only imperil the safety of Americans but their very way of life. They break sharply with Presidents Obama and George W. Bush who refused to equate traditional Islam with terrorism. The rupture view could ultimately serve as a boon to jihadist recruitment.
The president-elect has called for an “ideological screening test” for immigrants “who believe that sharia law should supplant American law.” His chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, has said that the Roman Catholic Church and the “Judeo-Christian West” have to “struggle against Islam” just as their ancestors did. He is reportedly taking advice from the notorious sharia conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, whose team briefed Trump on the dangers of sharia during the campaign.
Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, called Islam a “cancer” and a “political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” (Flynn regularly promotes false stories of sharia law taking over in the United States.) And Trump’s nominee for the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has said that the true threat confronting the United States is “the toxic ideology of Islam” and has proposed screening out immigrants who “believe in sharia law.”
Suspicion of Sharia is not confined to Trump and his advisers. It permeates mainstream Republican politics. More than half Fox viewers believe American Muslims want to impose sharia. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a front-runner in the previous election cycle, described sharia as “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” (He upped the ante during Trump’s campaign, calling for deporting every Muslim citizen who believes in it.)
The content of the sharia alone cannot explain fears of it. Many of its controversial rules, like death for blasphemy and apostasy, have parallels in the Hebrew Bible, a book revered by many Americans. Most Muslim countries to do not impose the sharia in total — they either limit its application to family law or ignore it entirely. And most of the 1 percent of Americans who are Muslim believe the sharia is just ethical personal guidelines that should not supersede the Constitution — even according to the crudest online polls promulgated by the right. Like any faith community in the United States, American Muslims can practice the Sharia as long as it does not violate American law.
So whence the worry? It arises from . . .