October 08, 2006

What's Going on in Iran?

While the UN's "Perm Five" meet - as usual to no effect - to talk about Iran's nuclear program, the people of Iran are reacting strongly to continued oppression. Over the past few days there have been repeated but unconfirmed reports such as this one from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that supporters of a non-political ayatollah are rioting against his re-arrest.

Ayatollah Kazemeyni Boroujerdi has reportedly rejected politicization of Islam and condemned the Tehran regime for it. If these reports are correct, this is an important split among the Shia of Iran. It is precisely this kind of fissure we should support and seek to widen. If the reports aren't correct, they still show one of the paths to destabilizing Tehran. Even if Boroujerdi is a fiction, there may be others like he is portrayed to be. If he is real, he is a hero of Iran and someone we should be trying to support overtly or covertly or both.

September 05, 2006

The Lebanon Ambulances - Jed Babbin

The fauxtography and clearly-faked stories (reported by AP and others) about the alleged Israeli air strikes on ambulances in Lebanon were so absurd that no comment seemed necessary. At the time, nothing needed to be added to the great work by Zombietime, LittleGreenFootballs and Powerline, among others. But the ambulance story lingers and now there's even some effort to rehabilitate the reports. It wouldn't be important but for the new UN committee that's looking into Israeli - not Hizballah - "war crimes" in Lebanon, and the efforts in several EU nations to bring war crimes charges against Israeli pols. It's time to quash this ambulance business once and for all.

The one bunch of experts we haven't heard from is the fighter jocks, guys who have made their living by killing people and breaking things in the air and on the ground with missiles, bombs and guns. I sent an e-mail to some of my fly-guy pals, asking for their take on what would be left after - as AP reported - the vehicles were hit with air-to-ground missiles. The responses - which ranged from the hilariously profane to "they gotta be kidding" -- included the following. (Remember, these guys were all engineers before they became fliers, so their vocabularies are abnormal. Here are their responses, without translation from pilot-speak):

From a retired Navy captain:

They could have used a rocket or missile like a Maverick but the warhead would have ripped the ambulance apart and scattered the parts all over a football field. Bottom line for thinking about the damage from things dropped off a jet: Think of the impact of a baseball thrown by a good fast ball pitcher.... about 95 mph.... now make that a bowling ball..... OK.... now make it a 500-pound hunk of steel and have it hit an ambulance dead center on the roof where the exhaust/ventilation hole is. That would be impressive huh?? OK, NOW for the reality.... think about the energy transferred into the vehicle and its unlucky inhabitants from something that weighs 500 pounds and traveling at about Mach 1 which is about the terminal velocity of a bomb dropped from about 15,000-20,000 feet by a fast mover..... oh.... and it's about 6 foot long so squeezing through that little vent hole would be a tough shot even for a Naval Aviator!!

From a retired Air Force colonel:

Well, one would have to see the specific ambulances. A proximate hit (i.e, the missile impacted/exploded close to the vehicle as opposed to a direct hit, would cause different levels of destruction. Some do miss, you know. The Pk is not always 1. Also, was it a missile, or a bomb? There are also area weapons, like ones that airburst above the vehicles and set loose a torrent of shrapnel. These would not necessarily destroy the vehicle, but would really shred it up. Also, are there combustion products? Punctured fuel tanks usually burn and carbonize a lot of the car and melt a lot of the plastics. Some of these pictures reveal obvious fictions. For example, one vehicle had a big hole in the center of the roof (where identical vehicles nearby had a cooling unit installed) and numerous smaller holes in the roof with little damage to the vehicle interior. This one was obviously Ratheresque - the smaller holes all had considerable areolar oxidation (rust) around them just hours after the alleged attack. Must be the salt air. This is what happens when journalism majors, who can't even jump start their cars, control the information flow.

Another retired Air Force colonel:

If an ambulance were hit by anything at all like an AGM-65 Maverick, there would be nothing left. Even antique 2.75" AAFR Rockets would make a total mess of it. Hell, one 20mm HEI cannon shell would do a number on it.

And another former Navy fighter pilot:

As to the lethality of such equipment, suffice it to say, little within a 100 ft. CEP would be recognizable. About the only thing that would survive such a weapon's destructive power would be an anvil....if you could find it.

From a former Navy attack helo driver, who used to operate with the SEALs:

It is possible that the air to ground missile came from an attack helicopter. The smallest such missile would be a 2.5" folding fin aerial rocket with a 10 lb (or possibly 17 lb) high explosive warhead. My experience is that such a force is highly detrimental to an enemy bunker. And...even if the warhead were a white phosphorous (WP---Willy Pete) marking round it is doubtful that anyone would survive (plus there would be a whole lot of white smoke).

My considered opinion is that they "speak with forked tongue."

If those ambulances had been hit with any air-launched missile or air-delivered bomb, they'd be scattered pieces of smoking debris. No one inside would have survived to parade for the television cameras. Period, end of story.

August 31, 2006

A Plug: Mosaic

If you haven't, you might want to check out Mosaic, an online video site with translated newscasts from the Middle East.

They sure do hate Israel over there at Al Jazeera.

Galloway's Vision

Sure, we have to put up with former President Jimmy Carter saying silly and ridiculous things all the time, but at least we don't have to live with George Galloway.

In case you missed it, here's a YouTube clip of the British MP in Beirut earlier this week congratulating Hassan Nasrallah for a "historic victory" over Israel and declaring that Tony Blair did everything he could to "intensify" the suffering of the Lebanese people.

If that were not bad enough, today Galloway pens an op-ed for The Guardian in which he writes that Israel must accept a "comprehensive settlement" that includes the right of return for Palestinians, a contiguous Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem and "internationally guaranteed Palestinian control over its land, air, sea and water" - which is more or less a negotiated, less violent version of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vision of "wiping Israel off the map."

Galloway concludes by saying:

The Arab world is waking up to its potential power. It has seen the Iraqis confound Anglo-American efforts to recolonise their country, the unbreakability, whatever the cost, of the Palestinian resistance, and now the success of Hizbullah. If there is no settlement there can only be war, war and more war, until one day it is Tel Aviv which is on fire and the Israeli leaders' intransigence brings the whole state down on their heads. Nor is it only Israel that will pay the price for continued conflict: the enduring injustice of Palestinian dispossession has already poisoned western-Muslim relations and helped spill violence and hatred on to our own streets. There is still time to choose peace. But make no mistake, with the victory of Hizbullah, a terrible beauty is born.

This is reprehensible stuff, even by Galloway's standards. He needs a good drubbing - and I know just the person to give it to him.

August 16, 2006

Middle East Despots Emboldened by Israel's Failure

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, praising Hezbollah's "glorious battle" against Israel is arguing that US plans for the Middle East, i.e. for peace and democracy, have now vanished and that Israel is now known to be vulnerable.

In another subtle but very important point, Assad says that it is time for Arab nations to stop feeling pre-emptively defeated, to gain confidence, and to work toward ultimate defeat and destruction of Israel.

Of the world's many dictators, Assad is one of the most pathetic. He is an optometrist, trained in England, who was handed his job by his father. It is no accident that he keeps his moustache looking much like Hitler's.

But despite the degree to which Assad has been a bad actor and made a nuisance of himself and his country, he is small potatoes compared to the damage which Iran could cause.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who to the western eye certainly seems unbalanced, is probably much smarter and more clever than we give him credit for. He also controls a much bigger and better military than Assad.

Therefore, we must pay close attention to his rhetoric despite any desire to brush him off as all bark and no bite. And it is particularly disturbing to hear Ahmadinejad spouting the same very dangerous line as Assad:

From the Iranian president's web site:

"Aside from the humiliation it (Zionist regime) received as a result of its failure to achieve its military objectives, the myth of the regime's military invincibility has been destroyed thanks to the the enduring faith and resistance of Lebanon's Hezbollah," he said. "Henceforth, all power equations in the region will witness a change," he added.

It is no coincidence that the same day Amhadinejad released a statement saying that "Enemies fail in attempts against Iran's nuclear issue." Middle Eastern dictators are feeling empowered, at our great peril.

We are now seeing the long-term damage done to Israel, and more importantly our own American interests, in the Middle East by the muddling uncertain prosecution of the war by Israel. In my estimation, there is almost no chance that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will keep his job through the end of the year.

In the first time in Israel's history, they have a Prime Minister and Defense Minister who have no real military experience. Unfortunately, they demonstrated their ineptness and uncertainty in the most damaging way, leaving Israel the non-victor in a war with an enemy they absolutely had to defeat.

Make no mistake, this outcome is effectively a loss by Israel. We should all recognize that it is just as great a loss for America and anybody who treasures freedom, life, and everything the world has brought us since the "nasty, brutish, and short" life of the Middle Ages, the life that Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and Ahmadinejad want to return us to.

August 14, 2006

Israel Misses Ariel Sharon

On Saturday I quickly commented after reading Ralph Peters' observation that the Israeli government had made a complete mess of its prosecution of the war that this would not have happened had Ariel Sharon still been Israel's Prime Minister.

From a historical standpoint it is interesting to watch the many ripples from Sharon's unnecessary stroke and its impact on the future of Israel and the Mideast.

I really wonder whether Hezbullah, Syria or Iran would have been so cavalier about escalating the situation vis-a-vis Israel with Sharon in charge of the IDF. I don't think it is an overstatement to say that the original Hezbullah provocation would likely never have occurred.

Israel's enemies may have hated Sharon, but they feared and respected him. Peace through strength.

Second, had the same Hezbollah attack occurred, I suspect Sharon would have not equivocated in directing Israel's response.

A very seasoned friend of RCP, who thoroughly understands Israeli security concerns, U.S.-Israeli relations and the Mideast landscape writes:

It is hard not to conclude that for Israel, the war has gone badly. Several times the IDF prepared for a major ground offensive, then pulled back. Hizbollah is well armed and well trained, but they are only a few thousand fighters. Olmert and Peretz had never run a war, and it showed. The media war would be lost regardless of what Israel did, due to the biases of many in the international press, and how Hezbollah threatens journalists in their territory. But the real war had to be won, in the sense that Hezbollah was forced out of southern Lebanon. It wasn't.

Israel would have absorbed serious casualties fighting Hezbollah on the ground once reserves were called up (which normally takes 72 hours), since Hezbollah was well dug in. But in a month, they should have chopped them up. For too long, Israel relied on air power, and it was not enough. I think the US conceded on the UN resolution, in part, because we thought Olmert could not get the job done, and a long inconclusive war was not in our interests (nor Israel's, with war costs over $5 billion and counting, and over 100 IDF dead). Recriminations are beginning in Israel over Olmert's leadership.

I think Sharon would have moved in ground forces in large numbers quickly, and with air superiority, Israel would have prevailed. This was amateur hour and gives many bad signals to Israel's enemies, who are as committed to its destruction today, as they ever were, and better armed. The war has shown how vulnerable Israel is to rocket and missile fire, so borders, and walls mean less. Inevitably the rockets will get more accurate, longer range, and more lethal.

My guess is that the government of Lebanon will be unable to win compliance from Hezbollah to disarm, in Southern Lebanon or elsewhere. Why would they, or their sponsor in Teheran, agree voluntarily to, in effect, force themselves out of business. So this war is only round one, I think.
The issue of how to deal with Iran's soon to be completed nuclear program now looms larger than ever.

In another email, he reiterated that "Sharon would have gotten the job done. This was amateur hour."

I suspect the Olmert government will fall.

August 13, 2006

Inside Hezbollah's Free Fire Zone

Michael Totten has pictures and a report from the front line on the Lebanese/Israeli border.

August 12, 2006

Sharon's Stroke

Ralph Peters in today's New York Post.

Israel has made a number of mistakes, but one has been fateful, if not fatal. It didn't fight hard enough when it had the chance. Now it's ready to fight seriously - but the window may have closed.

Let's hope not. Israel must smash the terrorist presence in southern Lebanon. Beyond dispute. It has to create a new reality on the ground.

By the time you read this, the IDF may be approaching the Litani River with 40,000 combat troops and hundreds of armored vehicles. Or the diplomats and politicians may have handed victory to the advance guard of the latest Persian satraps.

Would any of this have happened had Ariel Sharon still been in charge?

July 31, 2006

Iranian ForMin In Beirut: Who Knew? - Peter Brookes

While the U.S. media focused on the U.N. Security Council's passage of a resolution today, giving Iran until the end of August to suspend uranium enrichment--or face the possible implementation economic and diplomatic sanctions--an equally important story regarding Iran escaped notice.

Today, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, was scheduled to meet with his Lebanese counterpart, Fawzi Salloukh in Beirut. While no one is fooled by Iran's hand in the ongoing crisis, Tehran has so far kept a very low, public profile since it all started three weeks ago.

So why has Iran reared its head in Beirut at this moment? Three reasons: a) To weigh in with the Lebanese government about its interests in the outcome of the conflict as the pace of crisis diplomacy accelerates; b) Show support for--and encourage--its terrorist cat's paw, Hezbollah; and c) Warn the international community that how it deals with Iran's nuclear program, for example at the U.N. Security Council, will affect how Iran deals with Hezbollah and Lebanon. Unfortunately, this means we can only expect more troublemaking from Iran in the weeks ahead.

Heritage Foundation senior fellow, Peter Brookes, is the author of: "A Devil's Triangle: Terrorism, WMD and Rogue States."

July 28, 2006

Iain Duncan Smith on Israel

Former British Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith has a long, must read post on Israel over at It includes this rather choice bit, upbraiding certain world leaders for hypocrisy:

The 'world community' asks Israel to act proportionately but what will 'world community leaders' do in order to protect Israel if it does act in a way that Annan, Chirac and Putin think appropriate? Not, of course, that these leaders act proportionately in defence of their own interests. Putin almost bombed Grozny back to the stone age when Chechnya wanted independence. Chirac ignored world opinion when France tested nuclear weapons in the South Pacific. Annan turned a blind eye to the corruption of the oil-for-food programme - corruption that contributed to the loss of thousands of lives every month in Saddam's Iraq. The best clue to understanding how the world will protect Israel in the next few years is to reflect on recent history. The best thing the world community does is talk. Disproportionate talking is in fact the only thing it does but jaw-jaw has not stopped the suicide bomb or missile attacks on Israel.

Read the whole thing.

July 25, 2006

Proportionality Pecksniffs - Jed Babbin

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson has yet another tiresome liberal take today on the "disproportionate" response by Israel to the Hizballah rocket attacks and the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. As all the other libs, EUnuchs and UN types have before him, Robinson bemoans the fact that, "Proportionate military action might have enhanced Israel's security, but video footage of grandmothers weeping amid the rubble of their homes and bloodied children lying in hospital beds won't make Israel more secure." But Robinson never defines what "proportionate" means. What "proportional" military action is enough to make Israel more secure without leaving civilian homes in rubble?

Proportionate responses can only be defined by the attack. If you fire one rocket with a twenty-pound warhead at me, I can return fire only to equal destructive effect. By definition, that means I cannot - even if I have you and your truck-mounted launching system painted with my laser designator - drop one of those 250-pounders hanging on my right wing to create a smoking hole in the ground where you now stand. It means never doing more than your attacker did to you. It means giving you the right to shoot those rockets at my house as many times as it takes to kill me, because I can never use whatever force I have to end your ability to attack me. By definition, proportionality means perpetual war.

As Adam Smith wrote in 1776 in "The Wealth of Nations," the first duty of the sovereign is defense. No logic, international law or treaty binds a nation to defend itself only in proportion to an aggressor's attack. The duty of a national government is to defeat an enemy so its people can live in peace and security. And that requires the infliction of the maximum amount of damage on the enemy in the minimum amount of time. Let's not speak any more about proportionality. It's another liberal code word for accepting defeat.

July 24, 2006

Is Syria Panicking? - Peter Brookes

As a major diplomatic offensive begins with the surprise visit of Secretary of State Condi Rice to Beirut this morning, Syria is feeling increasingly isolated. And with good reason. Not only are other Arab states putting pressure on Damascus to rein in Hizballah, but the word this morning is that Syria will not be invited to attend this Wednesday's Rome conference on Lebanon.

Is Syria panicking? Could be. Just take a look at Damascus' evolving stance over the duration of the conflict. First, Syria said nothing about the Hizballah-initiated armed attack into Israel that resulted in the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. No surprise there as Hizballah is Damascus' cat's-paw after all.

Then as Israel responded to the Hizballah provocation with force and massed troops on the Lebanese border, Syria said that if Israel invades Lebanon, it will send in troops. Next we hear whispers that Damascus may be seeking an opening-even rapprochement--with Washington a year after the U.S. recalled its ambassador. Even more interesting, Syria said it is willing to help the U.S. with al Qaeda, in Lebanon of all places.

But while Syria's position seems to be softening, Damascus is, in actuality, desperate. It is becomes increasingly marginalized in this Middle East crisis by both the United States and other Arab nations, and may have little to no say in resolving the current Lebanese conflict. This would be a serious blow to Damascus' interests-and more painfully, its ego.

The United States should only engage Syria on the Lebanon issue if it is in our interest to do so, not merely to placate other regional players. And should we decide to do so, we must not forget in our haste to resolve the ongoing conflict about Syria's other transgressions including its involvement in the assassination of Lebanese politicians and journalists, its support of the insurgency in Iraq or its deepening ties with Iran. In the long run, if Syria wants to reestablish ties with the U.S., it's going to have to do a lot more than control Hizballah.

Peter Brookes is a Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Email:

July 21, 2006

Worth 10,000 Words

I wish I knew who to credit for this cartoon:


July 19, 2006

Bush Curses, World Jumps - Jules Crittenden

A couple of days have passed. Its time for some sober reflection on the importance of Bush saying "shit."

It is not, as American commentators have suggested, either particularly good or particularly bad or in any way worrisome that the leader of the free world said "shit." A lot of us say it a lot, on and off the job. I said it the other day when I hit my thumb with a hammer in a home renovation project. Emphatically. Then I said it again later at work. Never mind why.

The big deal also was not this nonsense about Tony "Yo" Blair being Bush's poodle. Some Brit scribblers hate Bush, Blair agrees with Bush, Blair is Bush's poodle. Ok, fine. Brit tantrum noted, moving on ...

The real problem is that two decades after Ronald Reagan open-miked the infamous words, "We begin bombing in five minutes..." world leaders haven't figured out what a bully pulpit the open mike is. You'd think by now they'd be open-miking all over the place. Look what happened to the Soviet Union just a few short years after Reagan's open-mike "gaffe." No bombing involved.

Diplomacy generally calls for conveying messages in understated fashion that leaves room for both sides to maneuver. Forceful and threatening statements are avoided unless there is a firm intention to act on them, imminently. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is a notable exception, as he enjoys issuing threats he currently has no ability to carry out, such as the destruction of Israel. This has not done much to raise Ahmadinejad's standing anywhere except possibly at Hezbollah HQ, which is experiencing difficulties and may not have a very high opinion of the boss in Iran at the moment, either.

When Bush says something offhand in front of an open mike, everyone pays very close attention. At this very moment, you can be sure Syrian and Iranian intelligence analysts are examining all possible nuances of Bush's open-mike babble.

Bush can dismiss it as a joke. He can even ignore the fact that he ever said it. Because within the norms of diplomacy, he didn't say shit, as it were. But an important message still gets through.

In times like these, with Iran fighting a proxy war against Israel in Lebanon, Bush may want to consider a few more open-mike moments. Something along the lines of:

"Yo Blair, the irony is, if we just blew the shit out of Damascus and Teheran, that Hezbollah shit would come to an end pretty quick."

Strike on Israeli Navy Ship - Jed Babbin

Over the weekend, I spoke to a retired senior Israeli military officer who gave me some insights into the missile strike on the small Israeli navy ship.

The Hizballah terrorists - probably aided at the scene by Iranian Republican Guard officers and/or technicians - fired a Chinese-designed C-802 "Silkworm" missile at the ship. My source indicated that the missile may be Iranian-manufactured, but other sources indicate this is more likely a direct import from China. The Silkworm is a subsonic, radar-guided cruise missile that carries a warhead of about 120 pounds of high explosive. This Israeli ship, a corvette, is one of the smallest ships (about 1300 tons' displacement and 300 feet long) that qualifies as a "ship" rather than a "boat." (By comparison, a Nimitz-class carrier is about 98,000 tons and is about 1100 feet long). A missile such as the Silkworm, with a warhead that large, should be able to sink a corvette almost instantly. But this Israeli ship is a bit different.

For starters, it's apparent that the crew wasn't tuned in. Their anti-missile defense systems, which this former senior officer told me includes an Israeli-designed anti-missile missile system and a Vulcan cannon (very similar to the close-in weapon system mounted on our capital ships), could easily have destroyed the Silkworm before it hit. But for one thing: as open sources have reported the crew didn't think they were facing a missile threat so the system wasn't turned on. That may or may not be the real reason. My source didn't accept this explanation.

Two conclusions: First, this Israeli corvette is apparently the best of its kind in the world. It not only stayed afloat after taking a hit that should have sunk it in seconds, it regained power and got itself out of the line of fire; and second, the undemonstrated capability of the Israeli anti-missile system may be a decisive advantage in any larger war. (Note to Mr. Assad: survivable ships, no matter what their size, can deliver all sorts of weapons, and can loiter in range of targets almost indefinitely.)

July 17, 2006

Rallying in Berlin

Two weeks ago people were rallying in the streets of Berlin to cheer on nations in the world's greatest soccer tournament. Today Muslims showed up for a decidedly different purpose, chanting "death to Israel" and "death to Zionists."

Meanwhile,halfway around the world at a rally in support of Israel held in New York City today, there was no chanting of "Death To Lebanon" or "Death to Muslims." Only a recognition that Israel has a right to defend herself against unwanted aggression and provocation. Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, put it about as plain as could be:

"To those countries in there who claim that we're using disproportionate force, I have only this to say: You're damn right we are. Because if your cities were shelled the way ours were, if your citizens were terrorized the way ours are, you would use much more force than we are using."

McCain Speaks - Part I

On Saturday John McCain was in town to give a boost to the campaign of Republican David McSweeney, who is mounting a serious challenge to Democrat Melissa Bean in Illinois 8th Congressional District. Here is a partial transcript of McCain's remarks and responses to questions from the media:

McCain on the crisis in the Middle East: "We are possibly on the brink of a major conflict in the Middle East. Israel has been attacked.

Many of our European friends have urged that the Israelis stop or pull back. I would remind you that if people crossed our border and killed our soldiers and captured our soldiers, our citizens would expect a vigorous response.

I think it's important to recognize that Hezbollah and Hamas are both supported, and in some ways a creation of the Iranians. And the Iranians have provided them with training, with weapons, and the motivation to attack Israel. I don't think this attack would have taken place without the encouragement, at the very minimum, and the permission of the Iranian government.

Hezbollah must be disarmed. Hezbollah must be disarmed. If you had a ceasefire, which we all want, without the Lebanese government controlling its own country, in other words controlling Hezbollah and Hezbollah being disarmed, then you would see a recurrence of this kind of terrorist activity in the future.

Hezbollah and Hamas are terrorist organizations. They are dangerous in of themselves, but when they have a state sponsoring them, such as Iran and Syria are doing with Hezbollah, then the challenge becomes even greater."

On whether the U.S. has been too weak with respect to Iran: "I think that this administration has handled a very difficult situation with regards to Iran as well as we could. The focus up till now has obviously been on Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. We have stayed with our European allies and kept them with us as we go the UN Security Council. We have known, and this administration has known, of Iranian involvement in southern Iraq and their increasing influence there and problems they've created there.

But I'm not sure what else we could have done. Now we obviously have reason to get tougher with Iran. I've said on several occasions, it would be a terrible thing for us to have to intervene militarily because of the Iranians acquiring nuclear weapons. There would only be one thing worse and that would be Iran acquiring nuclear weapons."

On Iranian involvement in the fighting in Lebanon: "The drone that struck the Israeli ship could not have been achieved, either acquired or operated by Hezbollah alone. It had to have Iranian involvement in it and serious Iranian involvement in it, so I don't think there's any doubt in any expert's mind that the Iranians are heavily involved with equipping and training of Hezbollah including many of those rockets that are being fired as we speak into Haifa and other cities are Iranian made."

On the military option with Iran: "I want to make this clear: before we seriously consider a military option we have to make sure we've exhausted every other, including using the United Nations to impose severe sanctions on Iran. I am in no way advocating exercising the military option at this time, what I am saying is that we can't remove it."

WSJ Middle East News Tracker

The WSJ has launched a useful tool to stay on top of the latest news out of the war in the Middle East.

July 14, 2006

The Kidnapping of Democracy

That's the title of Tom Friedman's excellent column this morning. Friedman writes:

What we are seeing in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Lebanon is an effort by Islamist parties to use elections to pursue their long-term aim of Islamizing the Arab-Muslim world. This is not a conflict about Palestinian or Lebanese prisoners in Israel. This is a power struggle within Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq over who will call the shots in their newly elected "democratic'' governments and whether they will be real democracies.

The tiny militant wing of Hamas today is pulling all the strings of Palestinian politics, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah Shiite Islamic party is doing the same in Lebanon, even though it is a small minority in the cabinet, and so, too, are the Iranian-backed Shiite parties and militias in Iraq. They are not only showing who is boss inside each new democracy, but they are also competing with one another for regional influence.

As a result, the post-9/11 democracy experiment in the Arab-Muslim world is being hijacked. Yes, basically free and fair elections were held in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq. Yes, millions turned out to vote because the people of the Arab-Muslim world really do want to shape their own futures.

But the roots of democracy are so shallow in these places and the moderate majorities so weak and intimidated that we are getting the worst of all worlds. We are getting Islamist parties who are elected to power, but who insist on maintaining their own private militias and refuse to assume all the responsibilities of a sovereign government. They refuse to let their governments have control over all weapons. They refuse to be accountable to international law (the Lebanese-Israeli border was ratified by the U.N.), and they refuse to submit to the principle that one party in the cabinet cannot drag a whole country into war.

July 13, 2006

Persian Perfidy - by Peter Brookes

Never underestimate Iran's treachery. As Hezbollah's "Sugar Daddy," Tehran is up to their necks in orchestrating war on Israel, using their terrorist toadies, Lebanon's Hezbollah.

It's all part of a deadly, devious plan to divert world attention from its nuclear weapons mischief--and hinder its referral back to the U.N. Security Council for possible punitive sanctions--by instigating a Middle East war.

Iran is completely mindful that its atomic aspirations are high on this weekend's G-8 summit agenda in St. Petersburg, Russia, too. Attention may, instead, turn to the Israel-Lebanon situation, getting Iran off the hotseat.

But perhaps more than anything else, Tehran doesn't want to miss an opportunity to remind Washington that it can make life much more complicated--and difficult--for American national interests, beyond its current support for the insurgency in Iraq, if it wants to.

April 22, 2006

The Saudi Ambassador, Optimism on Iraq, Pessimism on Iran

On Thursday Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S., gave a luncheon speech put on by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the Economic Club of Chicago. I didn't find anything he said on Wahhabism or Islamic extremism new or revealing, as the proof is always more in the actions in the region as opposed to what is said to non-Muslim audiences in Chicago or London. However, Prince Turki did make two remarks that I found interesting.

The first was on the issue of Iran and nukes. Turki reiterated Saudi Arabia's position that the entire region should be free of nuclear weapons, going out of his way to include Israel. This was met with strong applause from approximately 1/4 to 1/3 of the audience of roughly 400 people. The issue of Israel's nuclear capability is going to become a big issue as the effort to prevent a nuclear Iran continues to move down the tracks. Israel is never going to give up their nukes, which gives people who are not serious about stopping a nuclear Iran the argument of "Well, why can Israel have nukes but not Iran?" Of course there is an argument against this logic (for starters, Israel's Prime Minister is not talking about wiping out or eliminating other countries), but to many otherwise reasonable people this is seen as a fair question and a legitimate point.

Al-Faisal's other interesting comment - which I found quite encouraging, as opposed to his position on Iran - was about Iraq. The ambassador went out of his way to say that "the political process has been growing steadily since the removal of Saddam Hussein" and that the government being put together in Baghdad is "truly legitimate and representative of the Iraqi people." I found this to be an unexpected boost of support for the U.S. effort in Iraq, and coupled with the news that the stalemate over the new Iraqi PM may be over, perhaps there is reason for some guarded optimism about the eventual acceptance of a unified Iraqi government.

Of course, I'm aware that the Prince and Saudi Arabia may have their own selfish reasons for wanting to see a stable and functioning Iraq. The last thing the House of Saud wants is Shiite Iran essentially take over a Lebanonized Iraq. But regardless of Prince Turki's motivations, the more governments, institutions and people who see the new Iraqi government as truly "legitimate and representative," the higher the U.S. odds of success.

February 28, 2006

Islam's Modernity Problem

Thomas Lifson has an interesting article today looking at the Islamist attack on intellectual property. One of the interesting points in the piece that dramatizes the lack of progress in Islamic societies vis a vis Europe, Asia and the Americas is the patent activity in the Islamic world:

Saudi Arabia, which only established a patent office in 1990, has not granted a patent in six years. Iran in 2001 granted only one patent. Egypt, home to a quarter of the world’s Arabs, is only now getting around to mandating the task of undertaking a substantive investigation of patent claims before granting patents.

The basic machinery of technological innovation is absent. Indonesia, with almost a quarter billion people, has totaled 30 patents in the last five years.

Lifson points out that intellectual property is the foundation of modern life and why it challenges the premise of the jihadist vision for the world:

It turns out that the very internet which is powering so much innovation and efficiency is being used to build a political movement to destroy all technological dynamism. These guys may be crazy, but they are smart. Intellectual property is the bedrock foundation of modern life.

Without the ability to protect (and profit from) intellectual property, there will be no innovation. Nobody will have an incentive to do things differently from the way they have always been done. The phrase for such a world is The Dark Ages……

At its heart, the Islamist vision is opposed to all technological change. Rather than a society characterized by continuing discoveries in medicine, telecommunications advances and new applications of micro-electronics to further delight the mind and body, these Islamists prefer (or think they prefer) a steady state society, roughly fixed at the seventh century, when Muhammad received divine revelations and laid down the optimal way to govern human existence for all time.

Lifson goes on to ask:

If they get their way, do they envision getting rid of all post-800 AD innovations? Or will they try to hold onto what exists, while allowing no further innovation? The mind boggles. Who will train the air conditioner repair men? How will they keep up with what already exists if nobody is interested extending in such knowledge? Everyone might as well just study the Koran in madrassas.

And that is the point.

In many ways this is one of the central reasons why President Bush is pushing for the Dubai Ports deal encouraging Islamic countries to embrace modernity, capitalism, and commerce: so that young Arab men have more to do than just study the Koran in madrassas.

February 27, 2006

The Beauty of Democracy

Israel's high court (reg req'd) finds in favor of Arabs in a discrimination complaint:

A special panel of seven High Court justices on Monday accepted a petition brought forth by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, which claimed that there were double standards in the financing and providing of education by the state, which were set according to areas of national priority. [snip]

"The government's decisions were flawed," said Supreme Court Chief Justice Aharon Barak. "They clearly discriminated against Arabs and damaged equal rights."

My guess is that you could spend countless hours searching in vain for any decree from an Islamic court protecting minority rights of Jews or Christians.

February 22, 2006

The Ports Deal Makes a Comeback

I am finding myself able to argue both sides of this ports deal. I understand what the administration is trying to do, and I support the President in his drive to engage the Arab Middle East, encourage capitalism and free markets, and promote allies and countries that have been helpful in the post 9/11 fight. And I also have a tremendous amount of faith that this administration and particularly this President takes terrorism and national security issues extremely seriously.

However, there is a common-sense factor here that says should a state-owned company from an Arab/Islamic country be managing U.S. ports? That's a pretty big hurdle in my mind, not insurmountable, but boy I'd want to be awfully sure.

And then there is the political aspect, which is a loser.

Taken all together it seems to me the original decision in committee should have been no. And there is no question that the White House totally blew the PR aspect of this and should have recognized the  political explosiveness of the issue and done a better job of consulting the relevant political leaders.

However, given where we stand right now Charles Krauthammer makes the point that the damage that would be done in the foreign policy arena to our relationship in the Arab world with nations that have been moderate and cooperative in the War, may have shifted the risk/reward analysis over to the side of letting this deal go through. And I think that is a very legitimate point, as I think you can make a credible argument that the original decision was wrong, but a reversal of that decision today would actually hurt our long-term national security.

But that does not take into account the political aspects of this decision and the President is going to have to do a very persuasive job, particularly to many in his base, that this decision will have no negative impact on national security. There is the very real potential that this could have negative consequences for Republican prospects in 2006 and that calculus would also have to be factored in to any macro risk/reward analysis of this decision’s ultimate impact on national security.

Bottom line this issue is not going away, and a deal that I thought was almost certainly dead 48 hours ago is starting to show some signs of life.

Call It What It Is .....Islamophobia

This whole brouhaha surrounding the Bush administration’s green-light to a United Arab Emirates company slated to manage six major U.S. ports has nothing to do with protecting homeland security. Allow me to give it its proper name: Islamophobia.

This UAE company-Dubai Ports World—is just a commercial administrator. They are not in charge of security. That responsibility remains tight in the hands of our U.S. Coast Guard and Customs Officials. Moreover, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, (a multi-agency panel which includes seasoned representatives from the departments of Defense, Treasury and Homeland Security) has looked it over and has vetted the deal.

None of the Administration’s eager critics has furnished a scintilla of evidence showing the Administration hasn't done its due diligence. Add it all up, and I think what you’ve got here is a bi-partisan pack of protectionist politicians. Throw in some xenophobic anti-Arab feeling and you get our current state of affairs.

An amusing component of this flare-up is the dovish Democrat crowd’s sudden call to arms. Aren’t many of these vocal critics the same folks who opposed the Patriot Act? The same posturing chorus who attacked Bush and opposed NSA surveillance of al Qaeda phone calls? The same folks who want immediate withdrawal from Iraq? Why this sudden about face? This is utter nonsense.

The UAE is an American ally in an unsettled Mideast—and an important ally at that. They are exactly the kind of Arab country we need in our war effort and our ongoing, critical mission in the region—not unlike our friend Jordan. (In fact, the UAE is a lot better than Egypt and Saudi Arabia.) As the WSJ pointed out today:

“Critics also forget, or conveniently ignore, that the UAE government has been among the most helpful Arab countries in the war on terror. It was one of the first countries to join the U.S. container security initiative, which seeks to inspect cargo in foreign ports. The UAE has assisted in training security forces in Iraq, and at home it has worked hard to stem terrorist financing and WMD proliferation. UAE leaders are as much an al Qaeda target as Tony Blair.”

Could Bush have done a better job in handling all of this? Sure. The President made some clear political marketing mistakes. He should have opened up the black-box of executive review and shared it with members of Congress.

But in the end, America ought to honor its word. We have a duty to keep our promise and we should treat our neighbors fairly. There is no room for prejudice or bigotry here. And so far, no one has proven that executive branch security vetting is flawed.

Make no mistake about it. What is going on right now on television news channels, newspapers and the Internet is simple. It is called Islamophobia.

February 17, 2006

The Muslim Holocaust

I'm confused. Half the time we're told by Muslims that the Holocaust never happened, and now we have people like Bouthaina Shaaban, the Syrian Minister of Expatriates, saying the Holocaust was not only real but is a perfect analogy for the way Muslims are being treated today:

"Facts show that Europe is launching a new Holocaust against Muslims around the world. What is happening to Muslims in Europe today is almost identical with what the Jews suffered at the beginning of the [last] century."

You'll have to forgive 76 year-old Herman Rosenblat if he doesn't quite buy the comparison:

Imprisoned in a German concentration camp during World War II, Rosenblat's early teens were spent carrying the dead bodies of his fellow prisoners from the gas chamber to the crematorium.

Wearing nothing but rags and beaten so hard he once went blind for three days, Rosenblat was sure he would perish in the camp. With their father and mother dead -- the former from typhus, the latter after being sent to a death camp -- Rosenblat's three older brothers did their best to keep the youngest member of the family alive, sneaking him bits of food.

Not quite the same thing as being forced to suffer the offense of a few lame scribblings in a Danish newspaper, but everything is relative, right?

February 10, 2006

Bring On The Moderates

On a day when we saw more bad news in the Cartoon Wars, we've also finally been treated to some good news: European Muslims Offer Low-Key Response to CartoonsDanish Imam Condemns Cartoon Violence.

Most importantly, this story that just cleared the AP wire about an hour ago:

The Islamic world is fed up with violence and extremism in the name of religion and is ready for an era of progressive, democratic Muslim governments, former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said Friday.

Under the current circumstances, these types of gestures are an important first start. We'll have to wait and see whether they lead to real progress or just more of the same.

Another reason for encouragement is this email, sent to me by a reader in response to my column on Wednesday asking where all the moderate Muslims have been for the last five years. Reader AH writes:  

Dear Tom,

I am an American-Muslim. I also am a regular visitor of In reference to your opinion about 'Waiting for the Moderate Muslims,' well, we are here. We have been here pre-9/11 too, its just that the media does not find us TV savvy. They do not find moderate and powerful voices of the Muslim community that clearly condemn acts such as cartoon violence, the incessant Bin Laden tapes, and 'honor killings' better than the minority of many of the Muslim countries playing with bombs and fire. Neither do the media realize what impact Muslims are making at a civic engagement standpoint such as steering a Muslim-American Homeland Security Congress, producing a counter-terrorism plan [and have been well before 9/11, yearly], and holding regular meetings with the FBI and other local officials to be 'part' of the solution. Muslims groups such as CAIR and MPAC call for mosque transparency in terms of their bookkeeping/accounting so they do not fall victim of frozen funds from terrorist related suspects. These are just minuscule examples of what we are attempting to accomplish in order to fully integrate into our pluralistic society. Trying to build viable contacts with the government and ensuring the media to look at us with a legitimate and credulous perspective, as you can imagine, is very difficult. Not only has the acts of the cartoon violence inhibited our growth to manifest the Muslim moderate voice, so has the initial publishing of the cartoon itself.

I have no doubt there is a huge media component to this story. Much like the press's  propensity to distort reality in Iraq by constantly broadcasting the latest flames and carnage, it's almost certainly true we are getting a distorted picture of the protests in the Cartoon Wars. They are a small but important sliver of the larger reality.

Lastly, I also received an email from C. Holland Taylor, the CEO of an organization called the Libforall Foundation, who wrote, "We work with moderate Muslim leaders who have not only the courage, but also the influence to combat the spread of Islamist radicalism and affect the outcome of the struggle for the soul of Islam that is raging throughout much of the world." You can visit the Libforall Foundation web site here.

February 07, 2006

Waves of Muslim Rage

Reuters "Afghan police shot dead four people protesting on Tuesday against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that have unleashed waves of rage and soul-searching across the Muslim world and Europe."

We can all see the rage but can someone please point out where the "soul searching" is?

Meanwhile, at a press conference earlier today Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen described the siuation a "global crisis" and called for Muslim countries to "reestablish a dialogue" and "work together in the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance." Here's the full text of Rasmussen's remarks:

The violent arson attacks on several European embassies demonstrate that this is not a matter between the Muslim world and Denmark alone.

It has been a great comfort to my government and the Danish people to receive widespread international support in this difficult situation. We are working in close cooperation with friends and allies in Europe and the United States as well countries and organizations in the Muslim world.

I am happy to inform you that just a few minutes ago President Bush called me. The President called to express support and solidarity with Denmark in light of the violence against Danish and other diplomatic missions.

We agreed that the way ahead is through dialogue and tolerance, not violence. And we emphasized that freedom of press and respect for all faiths are crucial values.

We share with the Muslim countries a common interest in calming down the situation. We want cooperation, not conflict.

The European Union is now considering ways to re-establish a dialogue with countries in the region building on the long existing friendship between Europe and the Muslim world.

Today I want to appeal and reach out to all people and countries in the Muslim world: Let us work together in the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance. We need to solve this issue through dialogue, not violence.

We are today facing a growing global crisis that has the potential to escalate beyond the control of governments and other authorities. Right now, radicals, extremists and fanatics are adding fuel to the flames in order to push forward their own agenda. For that purpose they are portraying a picture of Denmark and European countries that is not true.

Today the people of Denmark witness with disbelief and sadness the events unfolding in the world. We are watching Danish flags being burned and Danish embassies being attacked. We are seing ourselves characterized as an intolerant people or as enemies of Islam as a religion.

That picture is false. Extremists and radicals who seek a clash of cultures and religions are spreading it. I would like to emphasize: Denmark and the Danish people are not enemies of Islam or any other religion.

Danes have for generations fought for political liberty, human rights and democracy and for economic freedom, free trade and a free and civilized world. We will continue to do that. It is a part of our history and a fundamental part of our society today.

Denmark is one of the world’s most tolerant and open societies.

We believe in freedom of expression

We believe in freedom of religion and we respect all religions.

We believe in dialogue between cultures.

We oppose violence and hatred.

And we believe in equal rights for everyone irrespective of gender, religious belief, political conviction or ethnic background.

Let me remind you: It was a free and independent newspaper that published the cartoons. Neither the Danish government nor the Danish people can be held responsible for what is published in a free and independent newspaper.

Let me also remind you that the newspaper has already apologized for the offence caused by the cartoons.

I have also made it clear that the Danish government does not have any intention whatsoever to offend Muslims or believers in any other religion. On the contrary, we do respect people’s religious beliefs.

I am appalled that we are in a situation where lies and misinformation not only tarnishes the image of Denmark but also spurs violence abroad.

But we are confronted by misinformation passed on by mobile messages and web logs at such high speed that it is picked up and acted upon before we have a chance to correct it.

So for the record let med re-iterate: There has been no burning of the Quran in Denmark. If any person attempts to do so the police authorities will react immediately.

These are trying times for the Danish people. On several occasions I have appealed to the Danish people not to be provoked by the events abroad. I have called on all parties to abstain from any statement or action that will create further tension. I am proud to say that all people in Denmark have been acting with calm and dignity using their democratic rights to state their opinion.

I also welcome strongly the moderate statements from many Danish Muslims. They represent the vast majority of Muslims in Denmark, who day by day make an important contribution to the Danish society.

February 03, 2006

Off and Running in Palestine

Charles Krauthammer turns his considerable acuity on Hamas' recent victory:

The Palestinian people have spoken. According to their apologists, sure, Hamas wants to destroy Israel, wage permanent war and send suicide bombers into discotheques to drive nails into the skulls of young Israelis, but what the Palestinians were really voting for was efficient garbage collection.

It is time to stop infantilizing the Palestinians. As Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said in a news conference four days after the election, ``The Palestinian people have chosen Hamas with its known stances.'' By a landslide, the Palestinian people have chosen these known stances: rejectionism, Islamism, terrorism, rank anti-Semitism, and the destruction of Israel in a romance of blood, death and revolution. Garbage collection on Wednesdays.

As of today, at least, garbage collection seems to be less of a concern to Palestinians than threatening to kill people and destroy property over the publishing of a few cartoons:

Armed groups in the Palestinian territories have threatened to attack Danish, French and Norwegian nationals.

Abu Mudjahid, a spokesman for the factions, said the threat was serious and extended to the nationals of all countries that had published the caricatures.

"We demand that the offices and consulates of the three countries concerned close, otherwise we will not hesitate to destroy them," the statement said.

In the Gaza Strip on Thursday, a dozen men from Islamic Jihad and an armed faction of Fatah known as the Yasser Arafat Brigade surrounded the EU compound and fired into the air. They demanded an apology within 48 hours over the cartoons.

To be fair, news reports from around the world make clear this behavior is hardly unique to the folks in Gaza - which, I'm afraid, is a perfect illustration of the problem.

January 30, 2006

The Priorities of the Palestinian People

"We call on you to continue moral and financial support, and to direct all aid to the Palestinian treasury so it can be used in keeping with the priorities of the Palestinian people." That's Ismail Haniyah, senior member of the newly elected Hamas, making a plea to the EU, the Russians, the U.S. and the UN to keep the aid spigot turned on.

In an article last night for the Washington Post, Scott Wilson broke down the PA's troubling financial situation: $1 billion revenue per year generated locally, $1 billion in foreign aid per year - $403 million of that from the United States and $300 million from European governments.  And the PA still runs a $50 million defecit every month.

Hamas leaders are suggesting they will allow the UN and/or Western governments to supervise the spending of funds. Fine and dandy. But until the "priorities of the Palestinian people" - as expressed through their vote to elect Hamas - cease to include the destruction of Israel, having a few green-eyeshade types looking over the books isn't anywhere near good enough.

January 26, 2006

Reaction From Israel on the Palestinian Choice

An email from a reader in Israel:

There may actually be much to be gained by Hamas' victory in yesterday's elections in the Palestine Authority (PA).  The Palestinian people participated in democracy; exercised their right to vote; voiced an opinion; and opted for a political party, Hamas.  And they will get what they voted for.
On a positive note, there probably will be less corruption.  (Fatah, the party of Arafat and hitherto the dominant party within the PA was corrupt to its core).  And for those who favor confrontation with Israel and the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians (i.e. "terror"), if Hamas is consistent to its history and its platform, they will get this confrontation.
On the negative side of the ledger, Hamas will enact new limits on liberty, as it moves, however slowly, to its goal of a theocratic society.  Moreover, assuming the US and the EU are true to their word, then much less funding will be available (unless Hamas should change its charter, and its character).  Foreign investment will disappear.  The Palestinian economy will suffer accordingly.
Internationally, support for the Palestinian cause will suffer.  We see that even today, in the annoucements (nothing less than remarkable) of European leaders, including French Prime Minister de Villepin, who conditioned France's support on a change in Hamas' charter.  And Hamas' announcements shows no indication of being remotely interested in such a change.
Furthermore, the "confrontation" with Israel may be an unproductive one, to put it mildly.  Israel's defensive barrier is largely built, and is effective.  Israel's intelligence within the West Bank and Gaza is excellent. Israel's retaliatory capabilities are enormous.  Israel is experienced with Low Intensity Conflict, and knows the value of targeted assassinations.  And with Hamas heading the PA, Israel's reluctance to retaliate massively will be reduced.
In short, should Hamas pursue its goal to eliminate Israel, and to use terror as the principal means in this process, then clearly the Palestinian people will be 1) isolated internationally; 2) on the receiving end of unprecedented financial hardships; and 3) all the while facing the nightmare of daily chaos and the collapse of internal security.  And they'll have the beginnings of a theocratic regime, for a people who historically have never expressed much interest in this.
Of course, Hamas could choose peace, but in so doing it would no longer be Hamas (and would betray its electorate).
So, let Hamas win, and make its choices, and let the Palestinian people profit (or suffer) accordingly.  This democratic action will encourage Palestinians to recognize what all mature adults understand: actions have consequences.  And then perhaps in the next election they will choose differently.

When the Bad Guys Win

Today’s Hamas victory is one of the problems in President Bush’s policy to push democracy as the answer to the problems in the Mideast. What happens when the really bad guys win? It’s just a tad bit hypocritical to push democracy and elections, and then when you get results you don’t like say we don’t recognize your government.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily arguing that we should recognize Hamas, only pointing out one of the serious flaws in preaching democracy as a cure all.

I have said this before, when you are transitioning an authoritarian society that has never known democracy the preferable way is to establish the rule of law, a strongly capitalist economy and thus a growing middle class, and then over time a phase in of increased democratic reforms. This allows a country to grow into a functioning democracy and gives it the foundation to succeed. To just go from dictatorship to free elections, in a society that has only known corruption and poverty is a prescription for disaster.

Obviously we face some of these same risks in Iraq. However unlike the Palestinians, Iraq had a relatively educated, functioning society pre-Saddam Hussein and not un-importantly has tremendous oil resources, and these assets might give it enough of a foundation to accomplish the transition from Hussein’s dictatorship to democracy successfully.

We’ll see.