Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mideast Media Sampler 1/17/12: Ban Ki Moon In Action, Austere Challenge 12 and Wrath of Cohen

From DG:
1) Ban Ki Moon: Hezbollah must disarm, Syria must stop killing, Israel must withdraw from village

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has been in Lebanon for among other things, a conference on "Reform and Transitions to Democracy" sponsored by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. First he was reported to have called on Hezbollah to disarm. That demand was met with scorn.
Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah dismissed on Saturday a United Nations call for his movement to disarm, saying it was determined to maintain a military capacity to defend Lebanon. 
"I affirm today, firmly, decisively and with the greatest conviction ... the choice of armed resistance," Nasrallah said. "These weapons, along with the Lebanese people and army, are the only guarantee of Lebanon's protection."
"Your concern, Secretary-General, reassures us and pleases us. What matters to us is that you are worried, and that America ... and Israel are worried with you," he said in a televised speech marking a Shiite holy day. 
In more recent remarks he called on Syria to stop killing its citizens:

“Today, I say again to President [Bashar] Assad of Syria. Stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end,” Ban said during a conference on transition and democracy in the Arab world in Beirut Sunday. 
The United Nations estimates that over 5,000 people have so far died in Assad’s ten-month crackdown on anti-democracy protesters.
“The lessons of the past year are eloquent and clear: The winds of change will not cease to blow. The flame ignited in Tunisia will not be dimmed,” he said.
and on Israel to withdraw from Ghajar
In his speech Sunday Ban said “The Israeli occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories must end.”
In an interview with The Daily Star Saturday Ban said it was “regrettable” that the issue of the Israeli-occupied northern Lebanese village of Ghajar had not yet been resolved. 
“UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] has presented its plan of action to secure the security there after the withdrawal of Israeli Defense Forces from the northern village of Ghajar. Unfortunately we have not received any response from the Israeli government,” he said.
Of course Syria won't heed Ban. And Hezbollah openly mocked. Israel likely won't either. First of all the "occupation" such as it is something that can only end through negotiations. Putting the onus on Israel, is typical for a UN functionary, but it's still wrong.

The specific case of Ghajar is interesting. Ghajar is a town on the Golan Heights. Over the years its area has grown and it has crossed the international border into Lebanon. According to resolution 1701 ending the 2006 war with Hezbollah, Israel is to withdraw from Lebanese territory, all that's left now is the northern part of Ghajar.

According to Isabel Kershner of the New York Times writing in early 2010:
But with a new government in Beirut and a desire to deny Hezbollah any justification for attacking Israel on grounds that it is occupying Lebanese territory, interested parties, the United States among them, want to see Ghajar removed from a long list of grievances. Israel also wants to show a willingness to complete its withdrawal from Lebanon in compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war. 
As a temporary solution, Unifil, the United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, has proposed taking control of the village’s northern part.
(The idea that withdrawing from Ghajar would remove a grievance from a long list, is precious. Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000 and the consequent build up of Hezbollah is precisely what led to the 2006 war. When the other side wants to be aggrieved, there is no way appease it.)

Later in the year, Israel was ready to withdraw form the northern part of the city. The residents, though, were not in favor of having their city divided. 

In the end Israel did not withdraw from northern Ghajar, citing Hezbollah's continued violations of 1701.
Secretary General Ban underlined the uselessness of the UN by demanding compliance of Syria and Hezbollah.

He emphasized that uselessness by specifically demanding an Israeli withdrawal from Ghajar when it is clear that that the only reason Israeli didn't withdraw, was the continued flouting of SC Resolution 1701 by Hezbollah.

Thanks to Elder of Ziyon and Israel Matzav, who were sources.

2) Whither Austere Challenge 12?

In recent days it's been reported that a scheduled joint military exercise between Israel and the United States has been canceled. The New York Times reports:
Speaking Monday on Israel Radio, Mr. Lieberman cited “diplomatic and regional reasons, the tensions and instability” as factors in delaying the exercise. The Israeli military said in a statement that the joint exercise, Austere Challenge 12, would take place during the second half of the year. 
The exercises, involving thousands of American and Israeli soldiers, were designed to test various Israeli and American air defense systems against missiles and rockets from a range that would include Iran, The Associated Press reported. 
The American defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, said last month that the drill exemplified unprecedented levels of military cooperation between the two countries and that it was meant to back up Washington’s “unshakable” commitment to Israel’s security, The A.P. said.
AFP provided a general description of the point of Austere Challenge 12:
"The exercise scenario involves notional, simulated events as well as some field training and is not in response to any real-world event," the military said in a written response to an AFP query. 
"The US European Command and the Israel Defence Forces periodically conduct routine exercises in Israel. These exercises, which are part of a long-standing strategic partnership, are planned in advance and part of a routine training cycle designed to improve the interoperability of our defence systems."
In addition to attributing the cancellation to "instability," Israel Hayom citing a report from Army Radio, gives the reason for the cancellation as budgetary.

Is there a hidden agenda here? Who knows? But people are speculating. Laura Rozen of Yahoo! tweeted:
Heard 'nthr inter'g theory re: Isr request to delay mil exercise-Isr PM may not want Obama to have vivid demo of US/Isr mil coop b4 US elex
I have no idea why that's interesting. If the exercises were to improve Israel's ability to defend itself against Iran, why would Netanyahu cancel them just to hurt Obama politically? Absent any supporting evidence, only someone who believes that Netanyahu's priority is to score cheap political points again Obama would believe this.

Press TV, a semi-official Iranian "news" agency cites DEBKAfile:
An unnamed military source told DEBKAfile that the White House made the announcement urgently at an unusually early hour Washington time to underscore the Obama administration's total disassociation from any preparations to attack Iran. Washington also aimed to stress its position that if an attack took place, Israel alone would be accountable. 
The friction between Israel and US, came to the surface last week by the deep resentment aroused in Israel by Washington's harsh condemnation of the assassination last Wednesday, Jan. 11, of Iran's nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan. 
The report added that prior to the cancellation, the US had started building up its military presence around Iran by stationing nearly 15,000 troops in Kuwait and keeping two aircraft carriers in the region: The USS Carl Vinson, the USS John Stennis and their strike groups.
This is all speculation based on unnamed sources and less. No doubt, official Iran is pleased to magnify any differences that exist between Israel and the United States.

3) Stop me before I write again

Roger Cohen begs, Don't do it, Bibi. "It" in this case, is referring to striking at Iran's nuclear facilities.
A U.S. ambassador in Europe was recently asked by an Israeli ambassador what could be done to improve the lousy relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. He replied: “Every once in a while, say thank you.”  
The American ambassador added a couple of other thoughts. “Maybe, once in a while, ask the president if there’s anything you can do for him. And above all stay out of our election-year politics.”
I hate to burst the ambassador's (and Cohen's) bubble but Netanyahu has been remarkably cooperative despite getting rather spiteful treatment from President Obama. Jackson Diehl explained a few weeks ago Why Netanyahu can't 'get to the damn table.' Everything in Diehl's article is a matter of public record. It isn't even remarkable, excepts that there are so many who wish to believe the worst of Netanyahu, that they won't believe Diehl.

After railing about Netanyahu's supposed ingratitude towards Obama, Cohen writes:
I would add a further piece of advice to Netanyahu if he cares about his dysfunctional relationship with Obama — and he should because Israelis know the United States matters and might be disinclined to re-elect a man who has poisoned relations with Washington. That advice is: Do not attack Iran this spring or summer. 
I'm not exactly sure why Israelis generally, or Netanyahu specifically, would listen to a man who was defending the Iranian regime in 2009, but my guess is that - based on the latest polls - Israeli's do not view Netanyahu as the man who is poisoning relations with the United States. Cohen gets to the crux of the issue here: 
Netanyahu has always portrayed himself as the man standing between Iran and a bomb. A hawk, he has a taste for the dramatic. Israel, in such issues, has already gone it alone once, when it bombed a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007. At this stage, the U.S. and Israeli triggers appear distinct — with Panetta saying “our red line to Iran is, do not develop a nuclear weapon” whereas the Israelis see irreversible nuclear capability as unacceptable even if a weapon is not being made. In that discrepancy lurks danger.  
Now note what Cohen does here. After attributing "hawkish" tendencies to Netanyahu, he switches gears to bring up the bombing the Syrian reactor in 2007. But Netanyahu wasn't the Prime Minister then, Olmert was. And it was hardly "dramatic," as the identity of the Israeli target wasn't positively identified for several weeks. (There was a lot of speculation immediately, but no concrete proof.) Still, what Cohen is acknowledging implicitly, is that Israel will act if it sees that it faces a threat, even if other countries, especially America, disagree.

Towards the end Cohen writes:
In an election year, with U.S. intelligence convinced Iran is not yet building a bomb, Obama will not send oil prices soaring and the Muslim world into another bout of anti-American rage. A lot of his presidency has been precisely about extraction from war and easing of Islamic hostility.
Yes Obama intends to end America's wars in the Islamic world. But to assert that anything he has done has ease "Islamic hostility" is ignorant.

Despite his posturing, I don't know if or when Israel will attack Iran any more than Cohen does. I believe that Israel will attack if it sees no other way to deal with the threat. It may come despite American objections. Netanyahu will attack if he sees it the best of bad choices, but he won't be doing it primarily to snub President Obama in an election year.
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