Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 2/8/2012: New York Times Editorials

From DG:
1) Syria scorecard

Last week Jackson Diehl wrote Syria’s outcome has high stakes for the entire Mideast, which is a scorecard of all the players in the Middle East and how the rebellion in Syria impacts each.
To sort through the larger stakes of this conflict, let’s start with the Persian Gulf states — led by Qatar — that have been pushing hardest for Arab League and Security Council action against the Assad regime. The emirates say their goal is Syrian democracy — but their motives are purely sectarian. Their target is not Assad but Iran, the Persian Shiite enemy of the Arab Sunni monarchies. Iran’s alliance with Syria, vital to its power in the Middle East, depends on a regime controlled by Assad’s minority Alawite sect, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
The Arab emirates’ best ally against Iran is not the United States but the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which is openly backing the Free Syrian Army. Erdogan, too, claims to be outraged by Assad’s brutality. But as a Sunni Islamist and the hugely ambitious leader of a rising power, he also perceives a strategic opportunity for Turkey to replace Iran as the preeminent outside influence in the former eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Inside Syria, Turkey is pushing the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood; in neighboring Iraq, Turkey’s support for Sunni parties, and for the autonomous region of Kurdistan, is increasingly conspicuous. 
That brings us to Nouri ­al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister of Iraq and a man known for paranoid thinking even in the best of circumstances. Maliki has concluded that the Syrian conflict endangers the Shiite supremacy in Baghdad that has been his signature achievement. 
This fear, more than authoritarian impulses, has motivated Maliki’s crackdown on Sunni leaders — which has plunged Iraq into its own crisis. Turkey’s assertiveness and Maliki’s response, in turn, have prompted Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds to consider whether they should split off their own regions into separate mini-states — a move that looks much more feasible if Syria tilts toward Sunni rule.
Diehl also looks at how the dynamics of Syria affect Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah.

2) Cohen vs. daylight

Richard Cohen concludes in America’s red lines in the sand on Iran:
The Obama administration announced the Iranian attempt on a Saudi diplomat in Washington — and then did nothing about it. Washington seems neither angry nor the least bit annoyed. This is a serious miscalculation — reasonableness gone amok. The lesson for Iran is stall and prevaricate, because Washington lacks the stomach to be ugly. In the view of the Saudis, it even abandoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a dictator but more pro-American than the authoritarian regime that’s likely going to replace him. 
The real danger for Israel and the Middle East in general is not an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel — although the use of a proxy to do something like that cannot be ruled out. (How to retaliate against a terrorist organization?) Instead, the danger is that Israel will lose its nuclear monopoly, and Iran can loose Hezbollah (50,000 or so rockets) from the north and Hamas (even more rockets) from the south on Israel. A nuclear Iran would probably mean a nuclear Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well. An increasingly unstable Middle East would become even more so. There’s no sleep here for anyone. 
The ultimate remedy is Iranian regime change. This is not as improbable as it sounds. The Tehran regime is hardly popular and will become even less so as economic sanctions bite even harder. In the meantime, Obama must ensure that Iran perceives no daylight between the United States and Israel, and no chance that Washington will become naive about Iran’s intentions. This looming crisis is not only about Israel. It’s about America, too. There are more red lines coming.
I like this article for two reasons. The first is that he's making it clear that Iran is a threat to the United States as well as to Israel. Many of those who are loudest decrying a potential Israeli attack on Iran, act as if Iran threatens Israel alone. The other is that  he observes that Obama's weakness is hurting American interests.

3) No comment

New York Times News report - As Biden Visits,Israel Unveils Plan for New Settlements:
Mr. Biden came to Jerusalem largely to assure the Israelis of Washington’s commitment to its security and to restart peace talks with the Palestinians. 
He began the day on a note of support, asserting the Obama administration’s “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.” 
But by the end of the day, Mr. Biden’s tone had a very different quality. He issued a statement condemning “the substance and timing of the announcement” of the housing, and added, “Unilateral action taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations on permanent status issues.”
New York Times Editorial - Diplomacy 102
The Obama administration is understandably furious. Mr. Biden was in Israel working to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The word came after he had spent the day vowing the United States’ “absolute, total and unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.” 
Aides say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was blindsided by the announcement from Israel’s Interior Ministry, led by the leader of right-wing Shas Party. But he didn’t disavow the plan. And it is hard to see the timing as anything but a slap in the face to Washington.

New York Times News report - Deadly Israeli raid draws condemnation
Israeli officials say that the soldiers were dropped into an ambush and were attacked with clubs, metal rods and knives. 
An Israeli official said that the navy was planning to stop five of the six vessels of the flotilla with large nets that interfere with propellers, but that the sixth was too large for that. The official said there was clearly an intelligence failure in that the commandos were expecting to face passive resistance, and not an angry, violent reaction.
But the forces “had to open fire in order to defend themselves,” the navy commander, Vice Adm. Eliezer Marom, said at a news conference in Tel Aviv, adding, “Their lives were at risk.”
New York Times Editorial - Israel and the Gaza Blockade:
There is a bigger question that Israel — and the United States — must be asking: Is the blockade working? Is it weakening Hamas? Or just punishing Gaza’s 1.4 million residents — and diverting attention away from abuses by Hamas, including its shelling of Israeli cities and its refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist? 
At this point, it should be clear that the blockade is unjust and against Israel’s long-term security.

New York Times News report - Netanyahu Gives No Ground in Congress Speech:
Mr. Netanyahu was granted a grand platform before a joint meeting of Congress, and his speech had many of the trappings of a presidential State of the Union address. With elections coming up next year, the lawmakers appeared eager to demonstrate their support for Israel as part of an effort to secure backing from one of the country’s most powerful constituencies, American Jews. 
Mr. Netanyahu received so many standing ovations that at times it appeared that the lawmakers were listening to his speech standing up. “He managed to rally wall-to-wall support from Congress,” said Rob Malley, program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group. But, he warned, it might have been a pyrrhic victory for the Israeli prime minister. 
“We’re not talking about a peace process anymore; we’re talking about a P.R. process,” he said. “None of this is going to help avert any of the dangers that the president mentioned in his Sunday speech, that Israel faces.”
New York Times Editorial - The Mideast Peace Process: No Plan for Talks:
This is the time for bold ideas to salvage Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel did not seize it. In his address to Congress, he showed — once again — that he has no serious appetite for the kind of compromises that are the only way to forge a two-state solution and guarantee both Palestinians their long-denied state and Israel’s long-term security.

New York Times News Report - Palestinians Set Bid for U.N. Seat, Clashing With U.S.:
The decision to apply for membership through the Council signals a double defeat for the United States. Washington not only failed to dissuade the Palestinians from a unilateral bid for statehood, but also fell short of its goal of confining the application to the United Nations General Assembly, where Obama administration officials believe a vote in favor of statehood would be more symbolic and less divisive. 
The Obama administration has vowed to use its veto at the Council to prevent full recognition of Palestine. But it is eager to avoid doing so because that action would likely leave the United States isolated on the issue, weakening its standing with Arab nations at a politically delicate moment.
New York Times Editorial -  The Palestinians' Bid:
Mr. Obama had no choice but to stand by Israel, this country’s historic ally. And we agree that a negotiated deal is the only way to ensure the creation of a viable Palestinian state, guarantee Israel’s security and build a lasting peace. But there should be no illusions about the high cost both Israel and this country will pay if this stalemate is allowed to drag on any longer. 
There is plenty of blame to go around. The main responsibility right now belongs to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who refuses to make any serious compromises for peace. He appears far more concerned about his own political survival than his country’s increasing isolation or the threat of renewed violence in the West Bank and all around Israel’s borders

New York Times News story - Unity Deal Brings Risks for Abbas and Israel:
The two Palestinian leaders said they would announce a full government in the next week or two, along with a date for presidential and legislative elections. It was unclear what role the current prime minister, Salam Fayyad, would play in the interim government. Mr. Fayyad is admired abroad for his financial transparency, and is the reason that some countries provide aid to the Palestinian Authority — more than $1 billion annually in total. But Hamas leaders have in the past expressed their distaste for his policies. 
The planned elections are unlikely to take place this spring, as promised last May when the Hamas-Fatah unity accord was first signed. Many of the details are bound to produce a struggle, and Palestinians greeted the news on Monday with relief but with skepticism, especially in Gaza. 
“The Palestinian people look suspiciously at Fatah-Hamas understandings because they have been repeated dozens of times without finding their way to implementation,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Gaza’s Al Azhar University.
New York Times Editorial - NONE
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