Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 6/21/2012: Obama & Syria: Promise & Failure

From DG:
1) Fouad Ajami on Obama and Syria

Fouad Ajami begins America, Russia and the tragedy of Syria with:
The ordeal of Syria has been a rebuttal of what the diplomacy of Barack Obama once promised and stood for. It is largely forgotten now that Syria and Iran were the two regimes in the Greater Middle East that Mr. Obama had promised to "engage." 
Back when he was redeemer in chief, Mr. Obama had been certain that the regime in Damascus would yield to his powers of persuasion. He cut Damascus a wide swath, stepped aside when the Syrian regime all but laid to waste the gains of the 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, assassinating and terrorizing its way back into its smaller neighbor. 
When the storm that broke upon the Arabs in early 2011 hit Syria, the flaws of the Obama approach were laid bare. It took five months of hesitation and wishful thinking before Mr. Obama called on the Syrian ruler to relinquish power. That call made, he had hoped that the storm would die down, that the world's attention would drift from the sorrows of Syria. 
Early in the Obama administration, Omri Ceren pointed out that President Obama didn't even wait to enter office before embarking on his engaging diplomacy:
Any meetings that happened between November and the inauguration – that was merely Obama circumventing and potentially undermining a sitting Commander In Chief. But the stuff that happened before the election – that’s egregious. Remember that Obama’s main line of attack on Bush and McCain was that they weren’t offering sufficient “strong carrots” to get Iran and Syria to change course. While he was launching those attacks, his surrogates were sitting down with those cretins and talking about all the extra concessions they could expect if they dragged their feet until Obama’s inauguration. Some people might consider that a straightforward betrayal of US interests.
(Given this history it's more than a little ironic that President Obama is complaining that the Romney campaign is making an issue of his handling of foreign policy!)

Currently, though, Jonathan Spyer writes that the tide might be turning against Assad (h/t Legal Insurrection):
A reporter for McClatchy Newspapers, embedded with Free Syrian Army fighters in Homs governate, noted that the rebels have now expelled government troops from the towns of Rastan and Talbiseh, north of Homs city. 
The rebels are also battling for Qusayr, to the south of Homs. The FSA unit engaged in this area is the Farouq Brigade, one of the best organized of the free army formations. 
An individual identified as a former captain of Assad’s army captured by the FSA expressed his surprise at the rebels’ strength. “We didn’t imagine they had these numbers and so much equipment,’ he told McClatchy.
Michael Herzog and Soner Cagaptay write in How America Can Help Its Friends Make Nice, that the United States could use Syria as a way to seek conciliation between Israel and Turkey:
Turkey seems interested in intervention inside Syria only if America and NATO back such an endeavor. A Turkish-Israeli dialogue on Syria could bolster Israel’s interest in regime change and enlist Israel to generate American support. A normalized Turkish-Israeli relationship would also open opportunities for cooperation against the Assad government, with the Turks taking the political and regional lead and the Israelis providing intelligence and additional practical assets. The parties could also address shared concerns over the fate of the huge suspected chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria. 
Any Israeli contribution would, of course, have to be invisible in order not to create a sense that Israel was behind the Syrian uprising. This makes Turkish-Israeli cooperation against Mr. Assad even more valuable, for it would allow Israel to provide untraceable assets to support Turkey’s efforts to undermine the Assad government.
I'm not optimistic with Herzog's and Cagaptay's opinoin that an Israeli apology for the Mavi Marmara would change anything.

Herzog used to be Ehud Barak's chief of staff. Does this op-ed in any way represent Barak's way of thinking.

2) J-Street's pro-Israel follies

In late May the New York Times published a news report press release, Divergent Path on Israel Helps Lobby Group Grow (originally titled "J Street, a Lobbying Group, Builds on Moderate Stance on Israel.")
While aggressive defenders of Israel still dominate the debate, more moderate voices in the Jewish community — led by J Street, a Washington lobbying group — are expanding their ability to generate money and political capital for pro-Israel candidates who favor a less confrontational approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, said in an interview that “the assumption has always been that to run for office, you have to run to the right on this issue with a relatively hawkish view on Israel and the Middle East — the ‘Israel right or wrong’ position.” 
“We’re changing that calculus,” he said. “We are beginning to organize a very, very large network of people in the middle.”
Last week Alan Dershowitz, wrote J-Street undercuts Obama policy on Iran:

Enter J Street. J Street is a lobby in Washington that advertises itself as "pro-Israel and pro-peace." But its policy with regard to Iran is neither pro-Israel nor pro-peace. It is categorically opposed to any "military strike against Iran." It is also opposed to maintaining any credible military threat against Iran, through "legislation, authorizing, encouraging or in other ways laying the ground work for the use of military force against Iran." This is according to their official policy statement that can be read at They favor sanctions and they recognize that "Iran obtaining nuclear weapons would pose a very serious threat to America and Israeli interests." But they believe that diplomacy and sanctions alone can deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. By advocating this path, they are totally undercutting the policy of the Obama Administration. They are sending a message both to Iran and to Israel that there is no credible military threat, and that if Iran is prepared to withstand sanctions and diplomacy, they will have nothing further to worry about if they move forward with their nuclear weapons program.
In an interview with Adam Kredo, Dershowitz went even further in his criticisms of J-Street.

Kredo also observed the other day that even as Hamas was once again escalating rocket attacks against Israel, J-Street was advocating further Israeli concessions to make peace with the Palestinians.

Finally, Elder of Ziyon observed that a Congressman, Rep. David Price, who sponsored an anti-Israel resolution considered by the North Carolina Democratic Party, was enthusiastically endorsed by J-Street.

Consider J-Street's record in just the past two weeks:
  1. It is undermining effort to reduce the Iranian threat to Israel.
  2. It ignores increased terror against Israel.
  3. It endorsed a Congressman who is demontratably anti-Israel.
The New York Times article about J-Street began:
There was a time not so long ago when political contributions from Americans supportive of Israel inevitably veered toward those Congressional candidates who were the most hawkish and outspoken in defending Israel and its security.
No longer.
Given J-Street's recent record that should have been written:
There was a time not so long ago when political contributions from Americans supportive of Israel inevitably went to candidates who supported Israel's right to defend itself, opposed its enemies and countered its critics.
No longer.
3) Rapacious Zionists

To read the likes of J-Street and other "informed" critics of Israel, one would assume that in the aftermath of the Six Day War, 45 years, rapacious Zionist quickly sought to colonize the newly captured territories and dispossess the Palestinians. Well it didn't quite happen like that. Yaacov Lozowick has summarized the discussions of the Israeli government after the war, based on some recently declassified documents.
Sometime in the 1980s the general perception of the conflict changed. No longer seen as Arab rejection of a Jewish State, the conflict was understood as a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, which the Arab world would maintain only until the two central protagonists reached an accommodation. Since the Israelis and Palestinians have not yet reached accommodation this proposition has never been tested, a fact which contributes to its explanatory power. 1967, however, was before the 1980s, and participants and observers the world over saw the conflict as an Arab-Jewish conflict, with the local Arabs playing a subordinate role; they were not generally referred to as Palestinians. 
I know this is hard to believe, but it's true. 
This dissonance of historical perspectives is essential to understanding the discussion about the future of the territories. Israel's entire Cabinet in 1967 agreed that Egypt and Jordan had no more claim to Gaza and the West Bank than Israel did, as all three had conquered them through war; since Israel was now in possession it had superior claim. There were serious disagreements, however, as to what that meant. Many ministers were wary of returning the area to King Hussein, assuming that his long-term chances of survival were not good and whoever overthrew him wouldn't respect his commitments. (Hussein died on the throne in 1999 and his son is still there. Forecasting the future is tricky). 
Many of the speakers felt the previous 20 years had shown there had to be Israeli forces on the River Jordan, but refused to countenance Israeli control over the large number of Arabs on the West Bank. Minister of Justice Ya'acov Shimshon Shapira was implacable on the matter of citizenship. Israel can give citizenship to the Arabs it controls or it can stop controlling them, but there's no third way. Most of his colleagues accepted this. Some thought the entire area should be handed back to Hussein, while a few thought it could be split along demographic lines, with the sparsely populated Jordan valley under Israeli control but the crowded mountain area to Hussein. A number of speakers so disliked the thought of handing territories to Hussein, that they suggested finding some local Arabs to hand it over to – what would later be called the two-state solution. Menachem Begin was the only speaker who demanded the entire area remain part of Israel, but even he didn't know what to do with the local Arabs, suggesting merely that the question be revisited in "6 or 7 years". Yigal Allon presented the first outline of the plan that would later bear his name: the Jordan Valley and the Hebron area should be annexed to Israel while the populous northern part of the West Bank should be either returned to Hussein or somehow handed to the locals. He was the only speaker who explicitly recommended creating Israeli settlements; even Begin didn't go that far. Levi Eshkol sardonically summed up the diversity of opinions: You do realize you're playing chess with yourselves, don't you?
Lozowick's concluding paragraph drives home Eshkol's point:
The Americans were informed of Israel's positions. It is not known if they relayed them to any Arab leaders. In September the Arab leaders convened in Khartoum and rejected any possibility of peace with Israel. The paradigm Israel's leaders thought they were operating in was irrelevant, and the reality developed in directions they hadn't foreseen. But that's a story for another day.
In Why is the peace process dead?, Hisham Jarallah - identified as a journalist located in the West Bank - concludes:
The peace process is dead because a majority in the Arab and Muslim world still has not come to terms with Israel's right to exist.
 This shows how little has changed since Khartoum.
4) Ehud Barak's Washington Post Interview

Lally Weymouth interviewed Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the Washington Post. In response to a question about the seriousness of America in preventing Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities, Barak answered:
And you feel the U.S. means it?
At least on a technical level, there are a lot of preparations. But it’s not a secret that America prefers that it will be solved through diplomacy. We all hope that [diplomacy] will be successful, but time is not unlimited in this regard. Iran is not just a challenge for Israel — it remains a major challenge for whoever is willing to look reality in the eyes. Iran is a radical Muslim theocracy that is trying to reach nuclear military power. It also tries to hegemonize the whole [Persian] Gulf. Talk to the leaders of the Gulf. They are terrified by the possibility that Iran will turn nuclear. A nuclear Iran will be the end of the nonproliferation regime: Saudi Arabia will turn nuclear immediately, Turkey within several years, and probably the new Egypt will start moving to do it. Not to mention the potential of weapons-grade material leaking into the hands of terrorist groups from Iran. 
Then comes the issue of terror. The Iranians are sponsoring terror among the Baluchi tribe in Afghanistan, among the insurgents in Iraq — they are everywhere. They are trying to raise their profile in Cuba, in Nicaragua and Venezuela, of course. They have a global aspiration, and the world won’t be the same place once they turn nuclear. Whoever thinks that it’s complicated to deal with Iran right now, as some think-tank leaders are writing: Just close your eyes and think what it will mean to deal with these very same issues once Iran turns nuclear as a result of an absence of political will. It will be much more dangerous, much more costly in terms of human lives and financial resources. And it will become nuclear if the world will not be tough enough to stop it.
5) Let me show you how it's done

The other day, Charlie Daniels tweeted:
Theres going to be a mess in Egypt before this cycle is over. The Camp David Accords have been shredded Israel has another border to watch
This shows that he is more perceptive than many so-called experts.
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