Tuesday, March 30, 2010


GATINEAU, Quebec (Reuters) - The world's leading industrial nations called on Tuesday for stronger action against Iran over its nuclear program and the United States said it was confident China would agree on the need for sanctions.

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations urged the international community to take "appropriate and strong steps" to show its resolve over the nuclear program, which Tehran insists is purely peaceful.

Western members of the U.N. Security Council are pushing for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran, which many nations suspect is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

China -- which, as a permanent council member, can veto the move -- has traditionally been cool to the idea of punishing Iran further. Diplomats say Beijing is slowly losing patience but still favors a diplomatic solution.

"I believe we are making progress ... We see a growing awareness on the part of many countries, including China, as to the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the end of the meeting in Gatineau, Quebec, just outside Ottawa.

Noting that sanctions were a part of diplomacy, she said Iran had repeatedly shown an unwillingness to fulfill its international obligations over the last 15 months.

"That's the basis on which I express my optimism that we're going to have a consensus reached in the Security Council," Clinton told a news conference.

Turkey, a nonpermanent member of the Security Council, said on Monday it did not favor sanctions. Brazil, which also has a revolving seat on the council, wants a diplomatic solution.

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking in Washington. said he wanted new U.N. sanctions in place within weeks.

In Beijing on Tuesday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said his government opposed Iran acquiring nuclear weapons but stopped short of backing new sanctions.

"At present, we hope that all sides will make substantive efforts and demonstrate flexibility over the Iran nuclear issue," he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the idea that the G8 had to convince China to agree to sanctions, saying Beijing would make up its mind independently.

In their final communique, the G8 ministers said they wanted Iran to comply with demands from the Security Council and co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"Ministers agreed to remain open to dialogue and also reaffirmed the need to take appropriate and strong steps to demonstrate international resolve to uphold the international nuclear nonproliferation regime," the communique said.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that while the offer of dialogue remained on the table "the parallel track ... is one of pressure".

"G8 Increases pressure on Iran [Persia] over its Nuclear Programme," 30 March 2010 in www.reuters.com.

"It is possible that Israel will carry out a strike against Iranian Nuclear Facilities, if the U.S. does not, with the objective of either destroying the program or delaying it for some years. The success of the Strike Mission will be measured by how much of the Enrichment program has it destroyed, or the number of years it has delayed Iranian acquisition of enough Uranium or Plutonium from the Arak reactor to build a nuclear bomb.

• We conclude that a military strike by Israel against Iranian Nuclear Facilities is possible and the optimum route would be along the Syrian-Turkish border then over a small portion of Iraq then into Iran, and back the same route. However, the
number of aircraft required, refueling along the way and getting to the targets without being detected or intercepted would be complex and high risk and would lack any assurances that the overall mission will have a high success rate.

• The U.S. would certainly be perceived as being a part of the conspiracy and having assisted and given Israel the green light, whether it did or had no part in it whatsoever. This would undermine the U.S. objectives in increasing stability in the region and bringing about a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It will also harm for a very long period of time relations between the U.S. and its close regional allies.

• Another scenario is in using Low Yield Earth Penetrating Nuclear Weapons as a substitute for conventional weapons to attack deeply buried nuclear facilities in Iran. Some believe that these are the only weapons that can destroy targets deep
underground or in tunnels.

• The Israeli Sea Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM), Popeye Turbo, with a range of 1,500km launched from the German built Dolphin-class submarine, is capable of carrying these nuclear warheads. Israel is reported to possess a 200kg nuclear
warhead containing 6 kg of weapons grade Plutonium that could be mounted on the Sea Launched Cruise Missiles and producing a Yield of 20KT....

•It is doubtful that an Israeli strike on Iranian Nuclear Facilities would bring Syria into a direct conflict with Israel.
Syria knows very well that alone its military forces are no match to Israel. However, proxy actors such as
Hezbollah would engage Israel in anti-symmetric attacks, with Syrian and Iranian assistance.

• A strike by Israel on Iran will give rise to regional instability and conflict as well as terrorism. The regional security consequences will be catastrophic....

Anthony Cordesman & Abdullah Toukan, "Options to deal with Iran's Nuclear Program," 26 March 2010, in www.csis.org.

If one compares the story from Reuters concerning the meeting of the G8 Foreign Ministers with the study done by Anthony Cordesman, one can only draw the following conclusion: that Persia is on the road to acquiring nuclear weapons and that there is pretty much, very little that anyone can or will do to stop it. Those who have a will to do so (Israel), lack the capacity to do a through job. Indeed, as per Cordesman, the only way that Israel could possibly insure that a series of strikes would have the intended result would be for it to use: 'low yield earth penetrating nuclear weapons'.Which to my mind, is almost the same thing as stating that Israel will not in fact do anything due to a lack of capacity in conventional forces. And, the only power which does have the capacity (the USA), is under its current regime, frightened out of its wits, at even the possibility of using force against Persia. As for the imposing a 'fourth round of sanctions', on Teheran, this is again, almost the same thing as useless, if not completely futile. Unless, sanctions were to involve refined oil and gas, which in turn would require something akin to a naval blockade of the Persian coast, the fact of the matter is that any economic sanctions imposed would not in the least deter Persia from its path in acquiring nuclear weapons. And, of course oil and gas sanctions are not up for discussions in the United Nations Security Council. Much less, a naval blockade. And, for those who have some panglossian idea, that the mere fact of negotiations with Persia will yield some acceptable modus vivendi, are being completely naive. As Cordesman notes in his study, in order for Persia to give-up its nuclear weapons programme, would necessitate among other quid pro quos the following:

  • Guarantee and Security Assurances that Israel does not strike Iran.

  • Put a stop to the Israeli threats to the survival of the Iranian regime.

  • Disarming Israel from its Nuclear Weapons capability and its long range Ballistic Missiles.

  • The Muslim Arab world to recognize the importance of Iran as a regional power and the key role it plays in the security and stability of the region, and to be treated as such.

  • US and Europe to support the construction of Oil and Gas pipeline from the Caspian region through Iran into Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

  • To have access to all developments of Science and Technology in the West.

  • To rebuild its conventional armed forces.

  • For the U.S. to help in structurally upgrading its oil fields, and guarantee a Nuclear Power program.

One does not have to be of a pessimistic nature to be aware of the fact that Israel, will never, repeat never, give up its nuclear weapons. Certainly, not in the absence of a complete change of regime in Persia (and perhaps Syria as well). The upshot of the above desiderata, is that the chances of negotiating a plausible solution to Persia's quest for nuclear weapons is pretty much nil. Which means that in a very short order, the West needs to make a major decision: accept the fact of Persia's nuclear existence and come up with a plausible policy to counter the perceived consequences of this unfortunate fact, or follow a policy of pure coercion, including the use of substantial forces in order to forestall Persia acquiring nuclear weapons.

Monday, March 29, 2010


"Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has no doubts that the organizers of the deadly blasts in the Moscow subway carried out on Monday morning will be punished.

"It is well known that today a terrible crime against civilians in its effects and disgusting in its character was carried out," the prime minister said. "Dozens of people died in the subway."

"I am sure that police will do their best to find and punish the criminals," Putin continued. "The terrorists will be destroyed."

Two blasts in Moscow's subway stations Lubyanka and Park Kultury occurred during the early morning rush hour with an interval of 40 minutes, the first one at approximately 8:00 a.m. Moscow time (5:00 GMT). According to preliminary information, at least 37 people have died and dozens were injured".

"Moscow Terrorist Attack organizers will be punished," 29 March 2010, in www.rian.ru.

"They 're terrific rogues these Asiatics! You don't think their yelling helps much do you? You can't tell what the devil they're saying....Terrific cheats, they are. But what can you do about them? They do like to skin the traveller....Yes, sir, we had enough of these ruffians; now, thank God, things are quieter, but there was a time when you couldn't venture a hundred paces beyond the rampart without some hairy devil stalking you, ready to put a halter around your neck or a bullet through the back of your head the moment he caught you napping."

Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of Our Times. Trans. Martin Parker. Originally published in 1840.

"Today we were unlucky, but remember we have only to be lucky once."

Official Irish Republican Army (IRA) statement on the failed attempted bombing of the entire British Cabinet in Brighton on the 12th of October 1984.

There is both not much and too much one can say about what happened on the morning of the 29th of March, Moskva time. Obvious thoughts such as the fact that the Russian police and security organs seem to be completely incompetent and hopeless, while seemingly true on the surface, obscures rather than illuminate matters. How many people (besides myself it seems) recalls that in October 1984, it was merely chance which prevented the IRA from blowing up the entire British Cabinet? An intelligence failure of major proportions notwithstanding the fact that MI-5, was and is immeasurably superior to the present-day Russian Security Services. And, while the deaths of 37 innocents, particularly during Holy Week (both Pravoslovnii and Catholic), is something horrible beyond measure, looking at the matter more coolly (provided one can of course), it is easy to see that the numbers of dead, do not far surpass the worse cases of dead in some IRA bombings of the 1970's and 1980's, in London and other parts of the UK. Obviously, the Russian authorities do really need and require a major effort to round-up and destroy the terrorist cells and cadres in Moskva (and elsewhere in Russia proper). Whether or not this incident means that Putin & Medvedev should 're-think' the 'Kadyrov Solution' to the Chechen problem is not something that I am willing, or indeed can pronounce on with any confidence at the moment. There are some who will tell you, people who have personal experience of Kavkaz liudii, that what North Caucas, et. al., needs and requires is simply more of the Kadyrov treatment: that Kavkaz liudii only respect brute force and that any endeavors of liberalism are treated as signs of weakness and decadence. The upshot of the entire matter though seems to be that like the British who eventually, via good intelligence work and policing managed to defang the IRA by the mid-1990's (by which time the entire IRA apparatus was infiltrated by MI-5), Russian intelligence needs to get back to basics and begin the long and hard fight with these Muslim filth. Otherwise, I am afraid that more and more people will eventually incline to 'solving' this problem the Iosef Vissarionovich way. Not something that anyone who has an ounce of Christian feeling in him or her wishes to contemplate.

Friday, March 26, 2010


"Europe is haunted again by a German question. Somewhere along the way the old neurosis has been up-ended. The issue that so long vexed Europeans has returned in another guise. Berlin’s neighbours used to worry about an over-mighty, expansionist state straddling the heart of the continent. Now they must grapple with an indifferent, introverted Germany. Angela Merkel’s hostility to a eurozone rescue package for Greece slots into a bigger picture. Whether it is economics or foreign affairs, the German chancellor speaks for a nation that has turned inwards – one that has reassessed, and downsized, its obligations to Europe.

The crisis in the eurozone has crystallised things. Greek profligacy has metamorphosed into a serious threat to European economic integration. On Wednesday, José Manuel Barroso was moved to voice confidence that Ms Merkel would eventually back a bail-out. After all, the president of the Brussels Commission observed poignantly, she was a “committed European”.

Yet the message from Berlin has been at best equivocal. Ms Merkel has insisted on the involvement of the International Monetary Fund as the price of help for Athens. All in all, Germany has made it clear that it will not allow efforts to stabilise the euro to compromise its devotion to financial discipline.

The collision between Germany and its partners reaches beyond an argument about the respective responsibilities of deficit and surplus nations. It touches most acutely on the Franco-German alliance, once the vital motor of European integration. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy still imagines the European Union as a global actor – an institution whose economic strength will be matched one day by serious political clout. Mrs Merkel wants the quiet life.

It was the German chancellor who pressed forcefully for the new, post-Lisbon, role of European Union president to be filled by a political minnow. Herman Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister virtually unknown beyond his country, was chosen by Berlin as the candidate least likely to challenge German caution.

The new Germany has a narrower – some would say selfish – view of its interests. It is unburdened by the guilt that shaped a postwar generation. Berlin no longer wants to pay for the grandiose ambitions of others. Instead of a robust European policy towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it wants its own, untroubled relationship with Moscow....

The passive Berlin sits content under a US security umbrella, but wants to rid its soil of American nuclear weapons. It has bowed to pressure to send troops to Afghanistan, but under conditions calculated to demonstrate that the mission is an unrepeatable exception. Meanwhile, the other, assertive Germany insists that rules of the eurozone cannot elevate the common over the national interest.

All in all, solidarity with allies and neighbours now takes its place in the queue behind German public opinion. Some will say: and why not? Why should Germany play the part of the altruist? We cannot expect Germans to be forever paying reparations. No one would ask Mr Sarkozy, or for that matter Britain’s Gordon Brown, to elevate the European ahead of national interests.

We are merely witnessing an inevitable shift. The second half of the 20th century was the exception. Germany is now a “normal” country. If it chooses a future as Greater Switzerland, what has the rest of Europe to complain about?

For those with an ear to history, it does indeed sound strange to berate Germany for lack of ambition. Do its partners really want the Continent’s most powerful nation to start throwing its weight around? Wasn’t that what the founding fathers hoped to put an end to with the creation of the coal and steel community?

Earlier efforts at coercive containment had ended in catastrophic failure: the first world war had given way to a flawed treaty that sowed the seeds of fascism and a second global conflagration. The cycle was only broken by the division of Germany and European integration – the latter an expression of the rare genius of a generation of American and European statesmen....

None of these squalls, though, challenged the vital underpinnings of the European project: Germany’s willingness to merge its national with the European interest. The deal married German economic power to French political leadership.

This is the bargain that Ms Merkel challenges with a policy not of expansionism but of hiding under the warm bedcovers of German self-interest. There has been much hand-wringing about what sort of Europe will emerge eventually from the present era of tumultuous geopolitical change. The prior question is: what sort of Germany?"

Philip Stephens, "Merkel's Myopia Reopens Europe's German Question," 26 March 2010 in www.ft.com.

"Just as important is the perspective of the Continental European countries like France, Italy and Germany, which served to justify, at the time, their participation in the Kosovo intervention. In expectation of eventual ratification by the Security Council, these countries understood this intervention as an “anticipation”of an effective law of world citizenship - as a step along the path from classical international law to what Kant envisioned as the “status of world citizen” which would afford legal protection to citizens against their own criminal regimes. Already at that time (in an article for the April 29, 1999 issue of “Die Zeit”), I had posited a characteristic difference between the Continental European and the Anglo-American: “It is one thing for the U.S.A. to employ, in the course of what is also an admirable political tradition, human rights instrumentally as surety of a hegemonic order. It is another thing if we understand the precarious transition, from classical power politics to the state of world citizenship, as a learning process to be mastered collectively. This more comprehensive perspective requires greater caution. The self-empowerment of NATO should not become the rule....

Certainly, the patriotic upsurge following upon September 11, had an American character. But the key to the curtailment of fundamental law, which you’ve referred to, to the breach of the Geneva Convention in Guantanamo, to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, etc., I would locate elsewhere. The militarization of life domestically and abroad, the bellicose policies which open themselves up to infection by their opponent’s own methods, and which return the Hobbesian state to the world stage where the globalization of markets had seemed to have driven the political into the wings, all this the politically enlightened American populace would have overwhelmingly rejected, if the administration had not, with force, shameless propaganda, and manipulated insecurity, exploited the shock of September 11. For a European observer and a twice-shy child such as I, the systematic intimidation and indoctrination of the population and the restrictions on the scope of permitted opinion in the months of October and November of 2002, (when I was in Chicago), were unnerving. This was not “my” America. From my 16th year onward, my political thinking, thanks to the sensible re-education policy of the Occupation, has been nourished by the American ideals of the late 18th century.

Jurgen Habermas,"America and the World - Jurgen Habermas in Conversation, (Summer 2004), in www.logosjournal.com

"It is not so much that STRATFOR now sees the euro as workable in the long run — we still don’t — it’s more that our assessment of the euro is shifting from the belief that it was a straightjacket for Germany to the belief that it is Germany’s springboard. In the first assessment, the euro would have broken as Germany was denied the right to chart its own destiny. Now, it might well break because Germany is becoming a bit too successful at charting its own destiny. And as it dawns on one European country after another that there was more to the euro than cheap credit, the ties that bind are almost certainly going to weaken.

The paradigm that created the European Union — that Germany would be harnessed and contained — is shifting. Germany now has not only found its voice, it is beginning to express, and hold to, its own national interest. A political consensus has emerged in Germany against bailing out Greece. Moreover, a political consensus has emerged in Germany that the rules of the eurozone are Germany’s to refashion. As the European Union’s anchor member, Germany has a very good point. But this was not the “union” the rest of Europe signed up for — it is the Mitteleuropa that the rest of Europe will remember well".

Peter Zeihan, "Germany: Mitteleuropa Redux," 16 March 2010, in www.stratfor.com.

What the crisis twin crises of both the Euro (id est., the common currency of the European Union), and, of the European Union, highlight is that as the always insightful if occasionally befuddled by his bien-pensant view of the world, Philip Stephens put it: Germany wants to be merely a 'Greater Switzerland'. Rien plus. It does not, contrary to the occasional paranoia one hears on occasion, especially in the US (viz the article in Stratfor being a parfait example), UK, or in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, wish to be a 'hegemonic European' power `a la the First or Third Reichs. Quite the reverse in fact: it has become an almost absolutely Kantian, political realm made of of Weltburgers. The only problem with such a country is that 'Weltburgers', tend not to be seriously interested in problems outside of their heimat. To travel yes. To offer gratis, large amounts of financial or other type of assistance (we will not even endeavor to discuss something like military assistance...), that is not something which our Deutsche Weltburger is in the least interested in. Because, au fond, the Habermasian Weltburger is at heart, merely a provincial citizen of his or her heimat. For good or for ill. Regardless, the upshot of this evolution of the German body politic, which has blended into an evolution of the larger European body politic in the last sixty-five years is that one should not have any grand expectations about what can be expected of a Europe in which the provincial, navel-gazing, Germany sets the pace for the rest of the European Union. As the American Secretary of Defence, Mr. Gates recently put it:

"One of the triumphs of the last century was the pacification of Europe after ages of ruinous warfare. But, as I've said before, I believe we have reached an inflection point, where much of the continent has gone too far in the other direction. The demilitarization of Europe - where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it - has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st. Not only can real or perceived weakness be a temptation to miscalculation and aggression, but, on a more basic level, the resulting funding and capability shortfalls make it difficult to operate and fight together to confront shared threats".

Secretary of Defence Robert Gates,"NATO Strategic Concepts Seminar," 23 February 2010in www.defense.gov.

The German attitude in the current Euro Crisis, is simply part of a larger problem, which admits to almost no easy solution. At least I do not know of any other than perhaps endeavoring an exercise of mass hypnosis of the German population of Europe and put a little of the spirit of the old Wehrmacht into them...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was poised to end a troubled U.S. visit on Wednesday with little sign he had settled a dispute with the White House over Jewish housing construction in East Jerusalem.

President Barack Obama was seeking goodwill gestures from Israel to persuade Palestinians to return to peace talks even as new settlement expansion plans on disputed land in Jerusalem threatened further strains between Washington and its close ally.

"The president asked the prime minister to take steps to build confidence for proximity talks so that progress can be made toward comprehensive peace," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, referring to indirect negotiations.

"There are areas of agreement and there are areas of disagreement," he said without elaborating.

Palestinians have demanded a complete settlement freeze in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in a 1967 war.

Netanyahu has cautioned that accepting their terms for reviving negotiations, in the format of U.S.-mediated, indirect talks, could put peace efforts on hold for another year.

The Israeli leader, who held a low-key meeting at the White House on Tuesday with Obama, was engaged in an all-day effort to ease the dispute with Washington before his departure home.

Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, met Netanyahu at the prime minister's hotel, and Israeli and U.S. officials convened on the sidelines, but both sides gave no public sign of a breakthrough on the tinderbox settlement issue.

U.S. officials have tried to get Israel to agree to suspend further Jewish home construction in East Jerusalem and to consent to discuss core issues such as borders and the status of Jerusalem in the U.S.-sponsored "proximity" negotiations.

Netanyahu, who began a three-day visit to Washington on Monday, heads a coalition government dominated by pro-settler parties, including his own.

He has pledged not to curb Jewish housing in East Jerusalem, saying he enjoyed wide public support in Israel for that policy, followed by all Israeli governments since 1967....

Undeterred by turbulence in U.S.-Israeli relations, Israel earlier on Wednesday confirmed plans for a further expansion of the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem, with more building approved.

Gibbs said U.S. officials were seeking clarification after a Jerusalem city official, in a move that angered Palestinians, said final approval was given to develop a flashpoint neighborhood from which Palestinians were evicted last year.

U.S. and Israeli officials have sought to get relations back on track after a separate plan to build 1,600 homes for Jews in Ramat Shlomo, a settlement on West Bank land that Israel annexed to Jerusalem after the 1967 war, was announced two weeks ago during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden".

"U.S. presses Israel for Mideast goodwill steps," in www.reuters.com

"President Barack Obama is back in the driver's seat. It's not just the historic victory on health care.

In responding sharply to Israel's announcement that it was going ahead with 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, the U.S. president strengthened his hand abroad and at home. Though greater difficulties loom in the Middle East, the president can now address them from a position of strength.

This is a change. Early on, the administration misplayed its hand on settlement construction. By demanding a freeze, including East Jerusalem, the administration asked for something it couldn't get. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defied the U.S. - and a shocked White House saw it had no way of making it stick.

That fiasco, the biggest foreign policy mistake by the administration, left Middle East policy in disarray.

The ambitious administration plan to make Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts a centerpiece of foreign policy fell apart. For the next year, the administration worked to rebuild its position and its prestige for a fresh try.

This explains why the administration had to respond strongly to the ill-timed Israeli housing announcement during Vice President Joe Biden's visit this month. After a humiliating defeat on this issue last year, Washington could not give the impression that Israel was able to abuse it at will.

Washington's ability to extract concessions from the Arabs, much less to pressure Iran, depends on a perception of U.S. strength. The more the Israelis kicked sand in America's face, the more the administration looked like a 98-pound weakling.

Obama grasped that, this time, it was the Israelis who had gone too far.

Whether the timing of the Ramat Shlomo housing announcement was intentional, Israel's failure to coordinate on such a sensitive subject was a blunder. It damaged its closest ally....

Obama saw the opportunity and took it. In a 43-minute telephone call described as "blistering," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave Netanyahu a list of things he needed to do to get the relationship back on track.

The screw tightened as David Axelrod denounced Israel's "insult." Next, the White House announced that Middle East negotiator George Mitchell's trip to Israel was "delayed" for mysterious "technical" reasons.

Faced with this combination, the Israelis have moved to calm Washington's ire. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are to be released and the blockade of Gaza relaxed. But on Jerusalem, the Israelis reiterated their longtime position that East Jerusalem is part of Israel and no one can tell the Israelis whether or not to build there....

This is a big diplomatic victory for Obama, one that will significantly enhance his authority overseas. Picking a fight with an Israeli prime minister the week before AIPAC's meeting in Washington will strike many foreigners as a gutsy move".

Walter Russell Mead, "Obama Re-charged US-Mideast Policy," 23 March 2010, in www.cfr.org

Poor Walter Russell Mead! This I shall say intelligent and distinguished historian of American Foreign Relations, unfortunately spoke way too soon in prematurely dressing-up, what amounted to a token slap on the wrist by the American government on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over the issue of settlements in East Jerusalem. As per Reuters, notwithstanding another (no doubt coincidental) announcement of more Israeli settlements being approved in the same locality yesterday evening, the Israeli Prime Minister was not in any way punished or bullied by his American counter-part in their meeting yesterday. Leave no doubt: I am quite sure that the American administration would truly love to see the back of the current Israeli leadership, and, vice-`a-versa. Just as the Clinton Administration, as revealed in the memoirs of its insiders, would have loved to have dealt not with Netanyahu but with either Rabin or Peres. Be that as it may, the fact of the matter is that Netanyahu is in the Prime Ministerial chair, and, he is likely to remain there for quite awhile. Certainly for another year at the very least. And, as his time in office has shown so far, both most recently and in the late nineties, he is an extremely adept diplomatic tactician, as it relates to interacting with his American counter-parts. So far, it seems as if the Israeli leader has been able to run miles around the current American administration, just as he did back in the Clinton years. Nothing that I have read so far, indicates that his trip to Washington, DC and his talks in the White House has caused him to backtrack one bit, from his stated policy on settlements or in talks with the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, as per the anti-Netanyahu, Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, the Israeli Premier stated at one meeting, according to an American observer that:

"'I think at one point the prime minister added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between building in Jerusalem and building in Tel Aviv. We disagree with that,'a White House spokesman said ahead of the meeting".
"Netanyahu and Mitchell meeting after tense White House Talks," 24 March 2010, in www.haaretz.com.

With 'opponents' like the current American Administration, Netanyahu can hardly be blamed to feel that he has nothing to worry about from the USA as it concerns Israeli policy. For good or for ill.

Friday, March 19, 2010


"My impression is that the reset has indeed become a reality. The most important thing now is that we do not stop moving forward...to halt the degradation of relations that was in place before the Obama administration came to power...".

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, 19 March 2010, quoted in www.rian.ru.

"Let me echo Minister Lavrov’s comments. As President Medvedev said at the very beginning of our meeting, the reset has been a success. And now we have to build on the relationships that we have developed, starting between our two presidents, and going throughout our governments....

We also discussed a range of other issues from Iran to Afghanistan and so much more as our part of our ongoing consultation. And we look forward to welcoming President Medvedev back to Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit in a few weeks.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. Mark Landler from The New York Times. Also a question for both of you. It has been seven months since the disclosure of the secret Iranian nuclear facility at Qom, three months since the Iranian government rejected the offer of enrichment for the Tehran research reactor, and one month since the government of Iran announced it would begin enriching uranium up to 20 percent. And yet, after (inaudible) an international solidarity on how to confront Iran are continuing and taking by all accounts longer than anyone had hoped, there have been some comments recently from diplomats that we might not see a UN resolution until June.

My question is simply whether you worry that the clock is in some sense running out? And what you would hope to do to speed up this process?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, we have pursued the diplomatic track and thought it was correct to do so. We are now, however, at the stage where we are asking for action and are working very hard in the Security Council to attain a resolution expressing the international community’s disapproval of Iranian actions and pulling together the world in a regime of smart sanctions, as President Medvedev has referred to them, that will try to change the behavior of the Iranian leadership. And we believe we are making progress because many countries are seeing what you have briefly summarized along with the latest report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, and we expect to reach consensus around an appropriate response".

American Secretary of State, Clinton in Moskva, quoted in, "Remarks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov,www.rian.ru

The trip by the American Secretary of State, to Moscow appears on the surface at any rate to have gone well indeed. Or at the very least as well as can be expected under the circumstances. There were announcements by the Quartet relating to the Arab-Israeli dispute (nice if meaningless), to possibly finalizing this coming Spring the nuclear reduction talks between the two powers (nice and possibly quite important), to possibly do away with that idiotic Cold War relic, the Jackson-Vanik amendment, and, finally as well as most importantly signs that Russia might, just might be willing to move closer to actually imposing some type of additional sanctions on Persia. So in short, there has indeed been a
substantial 're-set' in Russo-American relations since the end of the Bush regime's time in power. The question is how far along will this take us? Certainly as far as atmospherics go, there has been a change for the good. With much of the poison, and, automatic nay saying of the prior years gone, hopefully for good. And, the news concerning the possible consummation of a further round of nuclear reduction talks ('START') is also to be welcomed. Concerning the perhaps most important issue between the two powers, that of increased sanctions on Persia, the jury, or at least this juror is still out. Reading between the lines of Lavrov's remarks, it would appear that there has already been a provisionally made 'da', in favor of sanctions if they do come up for a vote in the United Nations Security Council. Whether or not, Mosvka will impose sanctions in conjunction with the Americans and the other Western powers, outside of the framework of the Security Council is at this point impossible to say for sure. If I had to give a surmise, my own answer would be that it is likely to be 'nyet'. With those elements in the decision-making hierarchy in Moskva who are less inclined to favor sanctions, tout court, using a Chinese veto in the Security Council (if it indeed comes to that) as a rationale to stand aloof and do nothing. As it is, the type of sanctions that Moskva favors is of the type which will hardly seriously injure the regime of Mullahs, something which Lavrov was quite open about:

"As President Medvedev put it on numerous occasions, sanctions are never beneficial, but there are some instances where they are impossible to avoid, and the Iranian case might be one of such instance. And as President Medvedev also mentioned on a number of occasions and he reaffirmed that today that sanctions must be smart. They must not be aggressive. They must not paralyze the life of Iranian state. They must not degrade the humanitarian situation and the country. They must not be targeted against the population but rather against those people that are in charge of the decision making process and that identified already in position on the international arena."

Not by any means the optimum response, especially since the type of sanctions mentioned above, are extremely unlikely to penalize the regime in Persia in such a fashion as to make its rulers give-up the idea of pursuing its nuclear programme seriously. However, faute de mieux, the Americans will no doubt take half a loaf, rather than none at all. Even if it is not going to materially change things on the ground in Persia...

Monday, March 15, 2010


I have written myself about the Obama administration’s more-than-flatfooted policies on Syria (here, here, and here) and Iran (here, here, and here). So I am particularly gratified when I find myself in alignment with Barry Rubin, a truly brainy scholar with a slight polemical touch. His latest analysis is below.

Syria is a galling instance of the president’s obsessions ... and for several reasons. A weak country, both economically and militarily, its only possible political sway is to exacerbate the hatreds of its neighbors towards Israel. Were this Alawite dictatorship to somehow soften its line on Israel--which is extremely difficult to imagine since the hard line is central to its raison d'être--its allies (Hezbollah and Hamas) would simply proceed without Damascus and turn to Tehran for more of their sustenance than they already receive.

It still amazes me (although by now it shouldn’t) how comfortable Obama is in not only making overtures to, but in establishing pacts with governments like Syria. The Assads are the last regime except Gadhafi’s from the generation of the colonels, which goes back to Nasser and Hussein and whose chilling ethic is carried on by the opthamologist heir to his father Hafez, murderer of much too many to count. Do you recall how the press welcomed Bashar as a rational man of science?

In any case, the Obama courtship of Doctor Assad fell on bad times no sooner than it began. Assad knows well that any real standing he and his government might have in the Arab world is as a troublemaker. That is why he and the North Koreans cooked up a secret atomic weapons plant in northern Syria ... and also why Israel deftly took it out. Now, Assad alleges that Israel arranged for it to be put there precisely in order to destroy it. It is not so shocking that the dictator would think this. But it is shocking that even Assad could imagine that his subjects would believe this fantasy.

It is also shocking that the U.S. administration would be courting this flimflam government and counting on it to behave honorably. As it happens, the last few weeks should have been taken by the Obami as comeuppance. But they haven’t.

As Rubin suggests, a more serious defeat has already been integrated into the president’s view of the world. It is not so much the utter disdain for American efforts to pacify and palliate Tehran. Could the Iranian regime have made it any clearer? Indeed, even the administration’s indifference to the Green Movement, which was supposed to buy us credit with Tehran, brought forth its contempt.

As many of us may have noticed, Obama, poor Mrs. Clinton, and other spayed spokesmen for high Washington policy makers have themselves eased the sanctions they expect the United Nations to levy on Iran. Rubin points out that these sanctions will be directed at the economic affairs of particular elites, not at the country itself. Maybe this new formulation will entice support from Moscow and Beijing. But please take note of the fact that I do not believe it. It is another self-delusion of the president which will delude other liberals. Until Iran has one bomb and then many.

Since Obama has had his hands tied on domestic policy (I am generally on his side on these matters) by the fanatic Republican opposition, he has taken all the constitutional powers allotted to him and run with them, without even the advice of the Senate. So here his own instincts--untutored instincts and tiers mondiste instincts—are free to decide and to rule the roost. No president since Lyndon Johnson has so individually defined his international affairs agenda, although he had a cabinet around to check him. Hillary is now as influential as Dean Rusk was.

Of course, the Senate may someday also wake up to the worldwide diplomatic disaster that is the architecture of this president.

Martin Peretz, "The Multitudinous Disasters of the Obama Administration," 8 March 2010, in www.tnr.com

"It took a little over 24 hours, but in the end a version of events was agreed on that allowed for the resumption of something resembling business as usual in Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu had not known about the planning approval of 1600 housing units in Occupied East Jerusalem - this was all terribly embarrassing, Israel was sincerely sorry for the unpleasantness caused, and the minister directly responsible displayed appropriate contrition. You see, the relevant district planning committee in Jerusalem had its timing wrong, completing the approval process would anyway take several more months, and actual building on the ground would only happen some time in the distant future....

America and Israel are largely talking past each other, and either the U.S. just doesn't get it and fails to understand the dynamics at work in Israel or it has convinced itself that for its own political reasons it is unable to act in anything approaching a decisive manner. Both may be correct. Neither bode well for the future....

Understanding the Israeli reality is crucial to charting a smart policy as Sen. Mitchell seeks to advance peace negotiations. The Obama administration would hardly be alone in failing to appreciate the deep and structural dynamics that are in play in Israel. Many very smart Israeli analysts, commentators, and practitioners are in denial themselves (for example, Amos Harel here, putting this latest spat down to incompetence). It is all too easy to blame the Shas minister directly responsible, Eli Yishai, or Netanyahu's poor management, or coalition intrigues.

Of all the words Israeli officials have uttered in walking back this episode, one has been conspicuously missing - that it was "wrong". Netanyahu is reported to have said the following in yesterday's cabinet meeting, "Approving that plan when the vice president of the United States is visiting here is first-rate insensitivity... We will continue to build in Jerusalem." Aye, there's the rub....

Perhaps America will present Israel with a real choice and with consequences for recalcitrance. Thus far, that has not been the case. The U.S. backed down (again) over settlements last year and the suspicion of course exists that domestic political considerations continue to constrain an American president's freedom of action when it comes to securing an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

Israel is unlikely to make a choice until the U.S. makes its own choice, and this week demonstrated that papering over the chasm now existing between U.S. and Israeli positions is an ever-more transparently flawed exercise. America may only be paying attention when the vice president is in town, but the Arab and Muslim world views America as the enabler-in-chief of Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and of the indignities being visited on Gaza's civilian population, every single day.

In the absence of decisive American leadership, Israel is likely to dig itself deeper into a hole, burying the last vestiges of hope for pragmatic Zionism. And America too will not emerge unscathed. The president can give any number of Cairo speeches and appoint Sen. Mitchell as special peace envoy, Sec. Clinton can appoint Farah Pandit as representative to Muslim communities and Rashad Hussain as envoy to the O.I.C., but these officials had all better be given the cellphone number of the Israeli interior ministry, Jerusalem district planning and building department, because that office and others in Israel's bureaucracy still have the deciding vote in framing America's image in the region".

Daniel Levy, "Biden, Netanyahu and papering over the Grand Canyon," 11 March 2010, in www.foreignpolicy.com

The diplomatic debacle which occurred last week in Israel, was an accident waiting to happen. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about what occurred. Nor should anyone on this side of the Atlantic be very surprised that the Israeli government under Prime Minister Netanyahu, decided to unveil this particular 'surprise' on the American Vice-President. The Israeli leader, who is nothing else, is a past-master of reading American leaders, knows that he has the American Administration 'number', diplomatically speaking. And, notwithstanding all of the post-facto complaints by the American Vice-President and subsequently, the American Secretary of State, there is nothing on the horizon which indicates that this state of affairs shall change anytime soon. Readers of this journal, may recall, that at the very outset of the new administration, I made a prediction that regardless of all the claims and hopes emitted by all and sundry, including by some people who should have know better in retrospect (like my sometime acquaintance Professor Joshua Landis of Oklahoma University and Syria Comment), that there was scant likelihood that anything substantive would occur in American Near Eastern diplomacy in the next four years. And, that was true specifically as per the Arab-Israeli dispute (see: "Whistling Dixie? Thoughts on what lies ahead for American Near Eastern Policy." 11 November 2008). Nothing in the 15 months since that post, has caused me to change my opinion. Ifthere is any movement in the Arab-Israeli dispute diplomatically speaking, it will be due to Israel, of its own volition, deciding to proceed with a peace agreement, either with Palestinian Authority President Abbas (highly unlikely under Netanyahu) or with Assad's Syria (more likely but by no means certain). There is, I am willing at this point to state categorically no likelihood that the current American administration, will prove able to move the diplomatic chess pieces forward in such a way as to advance prospects for peace. Rien plus.To expect otherwise is (in the words of Neville Chamberlain) "the very mid-summer of madness".

Monday, March 01, 2010


"I understand that we are not the United States, and the U.S., I believe, recognizes that they are not in our situation....I do not want to talk in terms of time limits, but I do not think that any development in the region can put the existence of Israel into question. I do not accept any such assessments....

If we navigate carefully, I consider this to be more an opportunity than a threat. However, we are powerful enough to deal with any deterioration along our northern border if this happens. We are not interested in this and we will not initiate it, but we follow what is happening in Lebanon, and the time has come to deal with it with greater determination....

It is a bizarre anomaly that it is a member of the United Nations but has a militia, with members of parliament and ministers, and an arsenal of 45,000 missiles and rockets that can hit all of Israel....

And they say they are ready to deploy it like in the past. We cannot accept this, we do not intend to chase down every individual terrorist, but we will consider the government of Lebanon, the country's infrastructure, as part of the equation with which we are confronted."

Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak quoted in: "U.S. warns Syria: Stop arming Hezbollah immediately," 28 February 2009, in www.haaretz.com

"Al-Manar television reported that the leaders discussed 'the latest developments in the region, and Zionist threats against Lebanon and Syria.'

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchcher Mottaki also attended Friday’s meeting, the television station said, adding that Nasrallah had headed an 'important delegation' to the Syrian capital.

The meeting marks a significant step from Nasrallah who, with an Israeli death threat hanging over his head, rarely ventures from his Haret Hreik stronghold in Beirut’s southern suburbs....

Assad and Ahmadinejad on Thursday reiterated the closeness of ties between their two countries and the latter announced that Israel was 'on a path of disappearing.'

Nasrallah warned Israel in a speech earlier this month that Hizbullah would strike Israeli infrastructure should Tel Aviv initiate an assault on Lebanon.

Threats of dire repercussions from any attack on Israel have been issued with increasing intensity in recent months, mainly aimed at Beirut and Damascus".

"Nasrallah joins summit in Damascus," 28 February 2010, in www.dailystar.com.lb

QUESTION: Assad, during his meeting with Ahmadinejad in Damascus, rejected Secretary Clinton’s remarks yesterday that the U.S. asked Syria to move away from Iran and implied that Syria’s alliance with Iran and their resistance won over the U.S. and its allies in the region....

QUESTION: The question: What’s your reaction that he’s rejecting your asking him to move away from Iran?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, as the Secretary reiterated yesterday, we have expressed our concerns directly to President Assad about Syria’s relationship with Iran. I mean, this is ultimately a decision that Syria has to make. But I think as President Assad assesses Syria’s long-term interest, he need only look around the region and recognize that Syria is increasingly an outlier. We want to see Syria play a more constructive role in the region, and one step would be to make clear what Iran needs to do differently, and unfortunately, there was no evidence of that today.

Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley,"Remarks to the Press," 25 February 2010, in www.state.gov.

How seriously one should read the various press accounts and official and semi-official statements is difficult to tell at this point. Particularly since it could be argued that all this shadow-boxing between Hezbollah, Syria, Hamas and Persia vis-`a-vis Israel, will remain just that: shadow-boxing, rien-plus. On the other side, it could very well be argued that the now rather recurrent charges and counter-charges between the two sides is a harginger of either a re-match between Israel and Hezbollah `a la their last encounter in 2006, or even more seriously, the beginning of a slide into a semi-regional war between Israel and all of Persia's allies, as well as ultimately Persia itself. How likely is all this? At present I would surmise that while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, et. al., in Tel Aviv, would dearly love to pay back Hezbollah for the Lebanon War of 2006, as a practical matter, Israel has little to gain, and, much to lose in any such re-match. Other than regaining fully its military prestige, diminished a bit since 2006. As a practical matter, I rather doubt, that Netanyahu (Foreign Minister Liberman being another matter entirely), has any wish to strike north against Hezbollah, much less Syria. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that if Hezbollah, were to begin to openly re-arm, especially with very advanced weaponry, and, if Hezbollah were to present Netanyahu with a plausible casus belli (such as moving rocketry close to Israel's northern border), then and most likely only then, would Israel care to strike a pre-emtive blow.

As for Hezbollah, Syria, et. al., here the picture is somewhat different. First, unlike Israel, the 'Party of God', and, more importantly its Syrian and Persian allies while having much to lose, also have a great deal to gain from another military campaign vis-`a-vis Israel. Both in terms of the actual fruits of any successful encounter, but, also the psychological and prestige gains to be won by successfully besting the 'Zionist Entity', and, its American patron. Perhaps most importantly, any such victory, which in actual fact means merely that the Israelis did not win the encounter, would introduce a deterrence variable for both sides for the first time in the Arab-Israeli dispute. Whereas previously, the notion of deterrence, was a one-sided variable in Israel's favor, in the case of an Israeli non-victory, it would also apply to the Arab side, AKA, to Persia and its allies. The end result being that Persia would then have carte blanche to proceed with its nuclear programme, notwithstanding any and all opposition to the same. Indeed, given the mentality of some scholars on the subject matter of the latter, one is almost tempted to believe that Persia has already acquired, such a deterrence factor (see: Michael O'Hanlon & Bruce Riedel, "Do not even think about bombing Iran," 1 March 2010, in www.ft.com). The upshot of all this, is that it is Persia and its regional allies, who I for one, believe are much more likely to take the plunge, or in the words of the summer of 1914: 'flucht nach vorn'. Especially, as any such outcome would on the face of it at any rate, help to cement the somewhat shaky internal position of the regime of Mullah's in Tehran. To conclude: do not be especially surprised at a sudden outbreak of hostility in the Levant in the near, perhaps indeed, the very near future.