Monday, September 03, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 9/3/2012: Running Out Of Red Lines for Iran

From DG:

1) The IAEA, Israel, the United States and Iran

The Jerusalem Post reports IAEA fails to reach deal on 'Iranian bomb research' (h/t Omri Ceren):
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned on Friday that Iran’s nuclear drive was accelerating and that Tehran had failed to heed the international call to stop its program.
He spoke on the same day that the International Atomic Energy Agency said it failed to strike a deal with Iran, which aimed at allaying concerns about suspected nuclear weapons research by Tehran, a setback in efforts to resolve the standoff diplomatically before any Israeli or US military action.  
In Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, “Just yesterday, we received additional proof of the fact that Iran is continuing to make accelerated progress toward achieving nuclear weapons while totally ignoring international demands.”
One issue that apparently separates Israel and the  rest of the world is Iranian intent. The Wall Street Journal reports Iran's Nuclear-Arms Guru Resurfaces (via Daily Alert):
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, widely compared with Robert Oppenheimer, the American physicist who oversaw the crash 1940s effort to build an atomic bomb, helped push Iran into its nuclear age over the past two decades. A senior officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, he oversaw Iran's research into the construction and detonation of a nuclear warhead, Western officials say. 
Mr. Fakhrizadeh complained in 2006 that his funding and nuclear-weapons work had been frozen by Iran's government, according to intercepted email and phone calls, U.S. officials said. The intercepts contributed to a 2007 U.S. intelligence report that concluded Iran had halted its attempts to build a nuclear bomb in 2003. 
Today, however, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, believes Mr. Fakhrizadeh has opened a research facility in Tehran's northern suburbs involved in studies relevant to developing nuclear weapons. The offices include some of the same scientists and military staff active in Iran's previous nuclear-weapons research, said intelligence officials who have seen intelligence on the facility.
It's interesting to note that aside from a claim of one these nuclear scientists that he was targeted by the West, there is nothing about the killing of nuclear scientists in this article. If Israel really had been killing scientists involved in Iran's nuclear program, wouldn't it have targeted those apparently at the top of the hierarchy? It would appear that the suspicion that Israel was involved with those killings was a red herring.

The New York Times reports To Calm Israel, U.S. Offers Ways to Restrain Iran. However even if stronger sanctions are being considered, the article notes:
Inside the Obama White House, there has also been debate about whether Mr. Obama needs to reshape his negotiating strategy around clear “red lines” for Iran — steps beyond which the United States would not allow the country to go. Earlier this year Mr. Obama said he believed that the United States and its allies could not simply accept a nuclear Iran, largely because of the high risk that other Arab states would seek weapons. 
Even if Mr. Obama set a clear “red line” now, its credibility may be questionable. According to a tally by Graham Allison, the Harvard expert on nuclear conflict, the United States and its allies have allowed Iran to cross seven previous “red lines” over 18 years with few consequences. That leaves one other option that officials are loath to discuss: new covert action. 
The “Olympic Games” attack on Iran’s centrifuges was chosen over another approach that the Bush administration explored: going after electrical grids feeding the nuclear operations. But Mr. Obama has rejected any attacks that could risk affecting nearby towns or facilities and thus harm ordinary Iranians. Other plans considered in the past, and now reportedly back under consideration, focus on other targets in the nuclear process, from making raw fuel to facilities involved in missile work. One missile plant blew up last year, and Israeli sabotage was suspected, but never proven. American officials say the United States was not involved.
Given how many red lines have been crossed, it's reasonable to ask if stronger sanctions are being considered to deter Iran or deter Israel? If it's the latter, by the Cordesman criteria(cited elsewhere in the article),  expect new red lines to be crossed. The idea that the United States seeks to deter Israel is reinforced by Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey's remarks and haselicited a critical editorial of the administration in the Wall Street Journal.

The problem is, as Seth Mandel writes:
The irony is, telling Israel they’re on their own only makes a strike more likely. If the U.S. made a convincing case that the Obama administration will take care of Iran no matter what it entails—even, yes, a military strike—then the American timeline would predominate. But if the Obama administration spends its time trying to wash its hands of the whole thing, then the decision rests solely on Israel’s shoulders. And the if the decision is Israel’s, then so are the timelines and the judgments used to determine the course of action.
Finally, Evelyn Gordon criticizes a number of Israeli critics of Netanyahu:
To these pundits, it’s inconceivable that Netanyahu could be motivated by objective concerns, such as the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report, which shows that Iran has doubled the number of centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. At this rate, given Israel’s limited military capabilities, Iran’s nuclear program may well be invulnerable to an Israeli strike by spring (if it isn’t already), meaning Israel’s only choices may be strike now or accept a nuclear Iran. But many leftists can’t credit a center-right politician with genuine concern for Israel’s wellbeing; they can only see him as driven by petty personal hatreds. 
Similarly, these pundits can’t accept that Netanyahu might reasonably deem the sanctions/diplomacy track dead. After 120 nations sent senior officials to the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran this week–where all, including the UN secretary-general, listened without demurral as Iran’s supreme leader reiterated his threats to annihilate Israel–many non-leftist commentators concluded that contrary to the Obama administration’s assertions, Iran is far from isolated, and will thus easily find allies to help it evade Western sanctions. But many leftists seem unable to imagine a reasonable person of goodwill evaluating the evidence differently than they do.
This, of course, is what's troubling about the New York Times's coverage of Israel and Iran. Israel's need for self-defense is portrayed as cynical political posturing rather than a very real strategic need. I wonder if the administration is operating from the same delusion.

2) Sand in the face

Barry Rubin writes in Egypt Kicks Sand in Obama’s Face; Brotherhood’s Leading Liberal Ally Defects; West Still Doesn’t Get It:
The U.S. government asked its good buddy Egyptian President al-Mursi to inspect an Iranian ship suspected of carrying arms to Syria while it passed through the Suez Canal. Remember that to do so is arguably in Egypt’s own interest since Cairo is supporting the rebels while Tehran backs the regime. But it is also possible that the U.S. government blundered, or was badly timed, since international agreements dictate that Egypt is not supposed to inspect ships in the Canal itself. 
The Egyptian government despite three decades of massive U.S. aid, licensing to produce advanced American tanks and other equipment, strategic backing, and an invitation to Washington to meet Obama—refused. Indeed, al-Mursi headed for Tehran to attend a “non-aligned” conference. 
Does this mean Egypt is going to ally with Iran? No, Egypt will fight Iran for influence tooth and nail. The two countries will kill the others’ surrogates. But it means al-Mursi feels no friendlier toward America than he does toward Iran. And Cairo will not lift a finger to help Washington against Tehran unless by doing so the Egyptian Brotherhood advances its own cause of putting more Sunni Islamists (anti-Americans, of course) into power.
Dennis Ross, in the unfortunately titled Egypt’s new leaders must accept reality argues:
The record to date is not good: News reports suggest that more than 100,000 Coptic Christians have left Egypt ; there have been new efforts to intimidate the media, and Morsi has moved armored forces into the Sinai without first notifying the Israelis — a requirement of the peace treaty. The administration’s position needs to be clear: If this behavior continues, U.S. support, which will be essential for gaining international economic aid and fostering investment, will not be forthcoming. Softening or fuzzing our response at this point might be good for the Muslim Brotherhood, but it won’t be good for Egypt.
(I am no fan of Dennis Ross and when I saw the title, I assumed that the gist of the article would consist of scolding the Muslim Brotherhood to accept Ross's values. I was pleasantly surprised that he asked the administration to attempt to use its financial resources to influence Egypt's direction.)

Given Prof Rubin's observation and Ross's advice, what path has the administration taken?

The New York Times reports U.S. Prepares Economic Aid to Bolster Democracy in Egypt:
The administration’s efforts, delayed by Egypt’s political turmoil and by wariness in Washington about new leaders emerging from its first free elections, gained new urgency in recent weeks, even as the United States risks losing influence and investment opportunities to countries like China, which President Mohamed Morsi chose for his first official visit outside of the Middle East. 
In addition to the debt assistance, the administration has thrown its support behind a $4.8 billion loan being negotiated between Egypt and the International Monetary Fund. Last week it dispatched the first of two official delegations to work out details of the proposed debt assistance, as well as $375 million in financing and loan guarantees for American financiers who invest in Egypt and a $60 million investment fund for Egyptian businesses. 
The assistance underscores the importance of shoring up Egypt at a time of turmoil and change across the Middle East, from the relatively peaceful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia to the still-unfinished transition in Libya, and from the showdown over Iran’s nuclear program to the war in Syria. Given Egypt’s influence in the Arab world, the officials said, its economic recovery and political stability could have a profound influence on other nations in transition and ease wariness in Israel about the tumultuous political changes under way.
The aid discussed in the article seems to be geared toward bolstering Egypt's government. It's possible that some small portion of the aid is to go towards organizations devoted to promoting democracy, but the article does not explicitly say so. In other words Egypt is learning that it can flout the wishes of the United States and still count on American support.

3) Edward Alexander on The State of the Jews

Assaf Romirowsky concludes his review of Edward Alexander's The State of the Jews with:
Alexander has been able to compile and show how many Jews have adopted pro-Palestinian, anti Zionist views to garner self-promotion and self-importance by being hostile thus showing their "globalism" or "enlightenment" that is proving that they care more about the world than their Jewish identity. 
Like Hitler's professors there is no other place where Alexander's points come to play as they do in academe where politicized writing and teaching have displaced scholarship, and academic freedom has been redefined as the liberty to dispense with academic standards. As such, we have seeing the pervasiveness of hiring token Israeli Jews who share their views eliminates debate while providing the illusion of balance. Moreover, these Israeli academics have built their reputation on scholarship that is harshly critical not only of Israeli policy, but of Israel's very existence. As a result, these anti-Israel scholars who hail from Israel have been embraced and nurtured by so many pro-Palestinian groups. 
Finally, as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is gaining more and more popularity Alexander's book is indeed critical given how many in the Jewish community in their naïveté are willing to engage in the debates that question Israel and Jewish legitimacy under the cloak of academic freedom, which gives them the impression of legitimate criticism rather than racism. The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal only reinforces the complex battlefield associated with war of ideas revolving Jewish survival and why a cogent understanding of history is critical. All and all, it is a must-read from a seasoned scholar who has grappled with these issues during the course of his entire career.

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