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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Tehran Counts on a Divided West




By  Reuel Marc Gerecht


President Trump has revived most of the U.S. sanctions on Iran that were dropped during Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic. More sanctions are coming. But to halt Iran’s march toward enriched uranium and functional ballistic missiles for good, the White House must convince more Americans and U.S. allies to join in raising pressure on the regime. The fruits of Tehran’s imperialism won’t wither until the world chokes its roots.

Looming in the background of the Trump administration’s efforts is the 2020 election, after which a Democratic president could reverse Mr. Trump’s progress. Democrats’ views on Iran are still shaped by Mr. Obama’s approach to the nuclear deal. They continue to play down Tehran’s regional aggression and especially its role in the slaughter in Syria and Yemen, and they have recast President Hassan Rouhani as a reformer despite his role as an enforcer of the mullahs’ police state. “Engaging” Tehran, restoring the nuclear deal, and reducing America’s presence in the Middle East are a gospel for progressive Democrats, who loathe Mr. Trump and aren’t enamored of Israel, Sunni Arabs or the region’s machtpolitik.

In contrast, President Trump’s sanctions-centered policy deprives Tehran of billions in hard currency each year and impedes its strategic ambitions. Yet it’s unlikely that the Trump administration’s ultimate goal, be it a new nuclear agreement or the theocracy’s collapse, can be achieved in the next two years. The Iranian regime is tenacious. The supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is probably the most accomplished modern Middle Eastern dictator. Many of the mullahs and Revolutionary Guardsmen who rule it lived through the horrific Iran-Iraq War. They are far more brutal than the shah and his generals before the revolution.

Protests by the poor and middle class have unsettled the regime since last December, but Mr. Khamenei knows how to manage dissent. As long as the protests don’t boil over into massive disorder, they might actually help the regime by allowing public outrage to vent and revealing to the security services potential leaders of a larger insurrection.

Without a more aggressive play by the U.S., this regime is unlikely to fold on its ambitions. The mullahs have thrown billions of dollars at the development of nuclear weapons in good times and bad. Even if sanctions reduce the regime’s oil sales to fewer than a million barrels a day, the earnings will be enough to keep the regime’s security services loyal absent a massive popular revolt.

Even the fear of a possible military attack hasn’t moved Iran to halt its nuclear program. According to nuclear-weapons experts David Albright and Olli Heinonen, who have reviewed Iranian archives captured in 2016 by Israeli intelligence, Tehran didn’t freeze its nuclear program after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, as American intelligence asserted with “high confidence” in 2007 and Obama officials continuously regurgitated. Today’s sanctions can’t possibly match the fear that George W. Bush provoked in Tehran when American tanks raced toward Baghdad. And the development of advanced centrifuges is cheaper than it used to be. Mr. Heinonen believes Iran likely has significant undeclared stockpiles of the required materiel.

One of the most troubling aspects of Mr. Obama’s agreement was the lack of access to Iran’s nuclear personnel, files and suspicious sites. This blind spot persists today without an agreement. The clerical regime could still be developing nuclear technology and the Central Intelligence Agency likely wouldn’t know.

The picture isn’t much prettier across the region. Iran controls vast territory through its proxies in Iraq and Syria. The war in Yemen also is an exceptionally good deal for the regime, with minimal expenditures and high returns in the form of pressure on rival Saudi Arabia. Iran’s battle-tested Shiite foreign legions do entail costs. But after 40 years of cash and materiel shortages, the regime has learned how to wage imperialism on the cheap.

The Trump administration has weakened its leverage by appearing unwilling to counter Iran’s advances with military pressure. Washington largely has left Israel with the responsibility for containing the Revolutionary Guard. Fear of Sunni jihadists and Iranian reprisals—as well as the lack of congressional authorization for lethal covert action—has frustrated ambitions for a U.S. campaign to bleed the Shiite empire through low-cost guerrillas. The U.S. won’t do to Iran what Iran did to American troops in Iraq. Unfortunately, the Israelis, Saudis and Emiratis simply can’t handle such a task without American help.

The administration needs to play a longer game. The U.S. should increase and sustain pressure long enough for Iran’s massive internal contradictions to crack the theocracy. A renewed bipartisan consensus about the clerical regime’s wickedness is an essential condition, ensuring the effort is sustained into the next presidency. The administration must also persist in its effort to unite the developed world against Iran’s aggression.

To debunk the Obama narrative of Iran, the Trump administration should highlight more vividly the regime’s savagery abroad and brutality at home. The Democratic Party and Western European countries are likely to resist as long as Mr. Trump is president, but there’s no harm in trying. It will be hard for progressives to trash a foreign policy built explicitly on advancing human rights and democracy once the crimes of Mr. Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif are fully exposed. The regime’s proclivity to assassinate expatriate dissidents—which crescendoed in the 1990s when President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his fixer, Mr. Rouhani, were in power—is growing again.

The nuclear deal’s restrictions on sales to Iran of conventional weapons and ballistic-missile technology will sunset in 2020 and 2023, respectively. Democrats and Europeans should recognize the potential dangers and inject more muscle and conscience into their foreign policies.

Mr. Trump and many Republicans have been reluctant to promote democracy and civil society overseas. They would be wise to overcome this hesitation and play every card they have against the regime to build the broader base of support, at home and abroad. The clock is ticking.

Mr. Gerecht, a former Iranian-targets officer in the CIA, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Friday, December 7, 2018

NIKKI HALEY'S SPEECH ON WHY THE U.N. SHOULD CONDEMN HAMAS






By Nikki Haley

Good afternoon. Today could be a historic day at the United Nations. Or it could be just another ordinary day.

Today could be a day in which the UN General Assembly unconditionally speaks out with moral clarity against one of the most obvious and grotesque cases of terrorism in the world. Or it could be a day in which it refuses to do that.

Ladies and gentlemen, last Friday the General Assembly approved six resolutions condemning Israel in a single day. Six. In an average year, the UN votes against Israel 20 times. Over the years, the UN has voted to condemn Israel over 500 times.

That’s what an ordinary day at the UN looks like.

Much as the United States finds that record appalling, no one can question whether the UN is on record in its hostility toward the State of Israel.

But for good measure, there will be another vote this afternoon that gives everyone another chance to put themselves on record in a way that goes against Israel.

The question before us now is something very different. The question before us now is whether the UN thinks terrorism is acceptable if, and only if, it is directed at Israel. That is something we should all think deeply about.

The resolution we have before us does not comment about the specifics of any peace agreement. As I have said, the UN has commented hundreds of times on what it would like to see in a peace agreement, and it will do it again later today. What this resolution does is stand for a foundational element of peace. That foundation is the rejection of terrorism, because we all know there can be no peace without a mutual agreement that terrorism is unacceptable.

Let’s talk about some of the activities of Hamas, an entity designated by the United States, the European Union, and others as a terrorist organization. Hamas’ charter openly calls for the destruction of Israel. Its statements continually repeat that goal.

Over the years, Hamas has used several barbaric terrorist attacks. Initially, they used suicide bombers. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Hamas members armed with bombs boarded Israeli buses and entered Israeli restaurants and detonated themselves, killing hundreds of innocent civilians and injuring thousands more.

Since then, they moved toward firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel from Gaza. They have launched thousands of them in the last five years, including more than 400 in a two-day period just last month. Neighborhoods were targeted. A bus was hit by an anti-tank missile.

More recently, Hamas tactics have changed again, as it has adopted still more methods of killing Israeli civilians and damaging Israeli civilian property. They have launched flaming kites and balloons by the thousands, often with Nazi symbols on them, into Israeli civilian areas. This is the classic case of terrorism.

And yet, throughout all of this, the United Nations has never once passed a resolution condemning Hamas. Never. Over 700* resolutions condemning Israel and not one single resolution condemning Hamas. That, more than anything else, is a condemnation of the United Nations itself.
Today – in this moment – the United Nations can change that awful record.

The world is coming to recognize the dangerous and troubling rise in antisemitism around the globe. The UN Secretary-General has forcefully spoken out against it, as have many heads of state and parliaments around the world.

And yet, what the UN chooses to do today will speak volumes about each country’s seriousness when it comes to condemning antisemitism. Because there is nothing more anti-Semitic than saying terrorism is not terrorism when it’s used against the Jewish people and the Jewish State. There is nothing more anti-Semitic than saying we cannot condemn terrorism against Israel, while we would not hesitate for one minute to condemn the same acts if they were taken against any other country. I’ve watched countries that would never take such positions on their own come together here at the UN and abandon all sense of honesty, all sense of accuracy, and all sense of truth.

Today, we have an opportunity to change that. We can come together as a unified, moral, and powerful force for peace that this institution’s founders intended.

But if that’s not enough to motivate you, then set aside for a moment the death and destruction Hamas has inflicted on Israel. Consider the suffering it has inflicted on the Palestinian people themselves. Hamas has been the de facto government of Gaza since 2007. And yet, after 11 years of Hamas rule, Gaza has electricity for only a few hours a day. Only 10 percent of its population has access to safe drinking water. Unemployment is approaching 50 percent and climbing – one of the highest unemployment rates in the entire world. Hamas uses torture and arbitrary arrests to punish its political opponents. It has made Gaza a police state. All while Hamas spends its resources – including UN resources – on rockets and terror tunnels.

The people who have suffered by far the most because of Hamas are the Palestinian people. For their sake, the world should speak out against the destruction of Hamas and what it continues to cause.

The resolution before us now would right a historic wrong. More importantly, it would put the General Assembly on the side of truth and balance in the effort to achieve peace in the Middle East. The resolution condemns Hamas rocket attacks on innocent civilians. It demands that Hamas and other militant groups end all violent attacks, including the use of flaming kites. And it also reaffirms the UN’s support for a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace.

Before the General Assembly can credibly advocate compromise and reconciliation between the Palestinians and Israel, it must be on record unambiguously and unconditionally condemning Hamas terrorism. Regardless of what any country in this chamber today thinks a future peace settlement should look like, support for this resolution is an essential step to achieving it.

Peace must be built on truth.

I want to take a personal moment and ask my Arab brothers and sisters: is the hatred that strong? Is the hatred toward Israel so strong that you’ll defend a terrorist organization, one that is directly causing harm to the Palestinian people? Isn’t it time to let that go? For true peace and security in the entire region, isn’t it time for both sides to let this go?

For the sake of peace, and for the sake of this institution, I respectfully urge my colleagues to support the United States’ resolution.

Thank you.



Did we really expect the UN to condemn Hamas for waging jihad?


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Did we really expect the UN to condemn Hamas for waging jihad?



A US-sponsored resolution A/73/L.42  condemning Hamas garnered a 87-57 majority in the UN General Assembly, but fell nine votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to be adopted.Thirty-three states abstained, and another 16 did not vote. 

Old Hamas Charter, 1988, Article 13: “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad”. 

New Hamas Charter, 2017, Article 21:  "Hamas confirms that no peace in Palestine should be agreed on, based on injustice to the Palestinians or their land. Any arrangements based on that will not lead to peace, and the resistance and Jihad will remain as a legal right, a project and an honor for all our nations' people."
Did we really expect the UN to condemn Hamas for waging jihad?


Muslim majority countries which voted for:
Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina   

Non-Muslim countries which voted against:  
Belarus, Bolivia, Botswana, China, Congo, Cuba, Laos, Namibia, Russian Federation, Venezuela, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe   


NIKKI HALEY'S SPEECH ON WHY THE U.N. SHOULD CONDEMN HAMAS



Seventy-third session
Agenda item 38
The situation in the Middle East
United States of America: draft resolution

Activities of Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza

The General Assembly,

Reaffirming support for a just, lasting and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, in accordance with international law, and bearing in mind relevant United Nations resolutions,

Recognizing that all acts of violence against civilians, particularly acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction only serve to erode trust and hinder efforts to bring about a peaceful solution,

1. Condemns Hamas for repeatedly firing rockets into Israel and for inciting violence, thereby putting civilians at risk;

2. Demands that Hamas and other militant actors, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, cease all provocative actions and violent activity, including by using airborne incendiary devices;

 3. Condemns the use of resources by Hamas in Gaza to construct military infrastructure, including tunnels to infiltrate Israel and equipment to launch rockets into civilian areas, when such resources could be used to address the critical needs of the civilian population;

4. Calls for full respect by all parties for international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including in regard to the protection of the civilian population;

 5. Also calls for the cessation of all forms of violence and intimidation directed against medical and humanitarian personnel, and reiterates the importance of respecting the inviolability and neutrality of United Nations premises;

 6. Encourages tangible steps towards intra-Palestinian reconciliation, including in support of the mediation efforts of Egypt, and concrete steps to reunite the Gaza Strip and the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority and ensure its effective functioning in the Gaza Strip;

7. Welcomes and urges further engagement by the Secretary-General

*** 

And here is how Russia's Foreign Ministry explained  the vote against:

 Российская Федерация высказалась против. Убеждены, что одобрение предложенного несбалансированного текста могло бы серьезно осложнить усилия, в том числе российские, по содействию межпалестинскому примирению и формированию единых властных структур в секторе Газа и на Западном берегу реки Иордан, взорвать ситуацию в Газе и, в конечном итоге, было бы чревато дополнительными рисками для безопасности самого Израиля. Документ, не содержащий отсылки к необходимости урегулирования на основе принципа двух государств, подвергал бы сомнению всю международно признанную базу палестино-израильского урегулирования. Исходим из того, что главная причина конфликта - не в действиях ХАМАС, а в целом в невыполнении решений ООН и ее Совета Безопасности по арабо-израильскому урегулированию.

При этом в очередной раз хотели бы акцентировать, что Россия безусловно и самым решительным образом осуждает все агрессивные вылазки и насилие в отношении мирного населения, включая ракетные обстрелы территории Израиля.


The Russian Federation was against it. We are convinced that the approval of the proposed unbalanced text could seriously complicate efforts, including Russian, to promote inter-Palestinian reconciliation and the formation of unified power structures in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, blow up the situation in Gaza and, ultimately, would be fraught with additional risks to the security of Israel itself.  The  document that does not refer to the need for a settlement on the basis of the two-state solution, would cast doubt on the entire internationally recognized base of Palestinian-Israeli settlement. We proceed from the point  that the main cause of the conflict is not in the actions of Hamas, but  non-compliance in general with the decisions of the UN and its Security Council on an Arab-Israeli settlement.

At the same time, once again, we would like to emphasize that Russia unconditionally and in the most decisive manner condemns all aggressive attacks and violence against the civilian population, including rocket attacks on Israeli territory.

***

My comment on the Russian explanation:  


I must admit this reminds me of  Orwell's  War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength  






Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The UN delusion









Letters to the Editor , Jerusalem Post , December 5, 2018

In your editorial, you write: “That [resolution] and another, which was approved 156-8, spoke of al-Haram al-Sharif without mentioning that Jews and Christians call it the Temple Mount and that it is Judaism’s holiest site.” When it comes to the UN, its declarations are in inverse proportion to the truth – i.e. y = 1/x. 

As Daniel Pipes mentioned in his “The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem” article, “‘Jerusalem’ appears in the Jewish Bible 669 times and ‘Zion’ (which usually means Jerusalem, sometimes the Land of Israel) 154 times, or 823 times in all. The Christian Bible mentions Jerusalem 154 times and Zion seven times. 


In contrast, notes columnist Moshe Kohn, ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Zion’ appear as frequently in the Koran “as they do in the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita, the Taoist Tao-Te Ching, the Buddhist Dhamapada and the Zoroastrian Zend Avesta.” Which is to say, not even once.

I would not be surprised if 156 UN members voted for a resolution that 2+2=5 if it could in some way delegitimize Israel. 


MLADEN ANDRIJASEVIC
Beersheba

Monday, December 3, 2018

PRESIDENT SISI’S RELIGIOUS WAR








 
An insidious religious war is being waged in Egypt and getting more virulent by the day. It has nothing to do with the deep-seated hostility of significant segments of the population toward the large Coptic minority and the too frequent episodes of violence against its members. Battle has been joined between the Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al Sisi and Sheikh Al Azhar Ahmed el Tayeb over the need for a new interpretation of the Islamic narrative, that is, in plain words, adapting Islam to present times. 

During the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet in the Ministry of Endowment – Awkaf – the ministry in charge of religious affairs – on November 18, there was a very public clash. Several Islamic organizations then called for protests to be held in support of el Tayeb and indirectly against the president, who had said that ills plaguing Muslims today are caused by the misinterpretation of the texts that are the source of Islam. Therefore, he went on, Islamic sages must do their utmost to find in the Sharia the way to enlightenment and the enacting of laws adapted to the present time and to modernization, in order to help the nation and the world of Islam to progress.

There was nothing new in that speech;  Sisi had said the same things on the same occasion three years ago, a scant few months after his election. Then he had stunned Egypt and the Muslim world by calling for a “revolution” in Islam and reviewing traditional Koranic interpretations that have taken root for centuries and given birth to organizations such as al-Qaida and Islamic State, which have transformed Islam into a vector of mayhem and destruction and turned the rest of the world against it.

Al Azhar, highest institution of higher learning of the Sunni world, did not respond to that call. On the contrary, its scholars stressed that there was nothing to change or amend in the Sharia, which is good and fitting for all situations and all times. But the president did not let up. He notably asked el Tayeb not only to publicly declare a) Islamic State; b) Ansar Beit El Makdess in the Sinai Peninsula, which had sworn allegiance to ISIS; and c) the Muslim Brotherhood apostate organizations, and to publish a fatwa condemning as apostate any Muslim or organization perpetrating terrorism. El Tayeb refused on the grounds that one cannot call apostate a man who recites the Shahada – the Muslim profession of faith – and therefore proclaims his belief in Allah and the prophets. He added that el Tayeb opposed in principle any move to “punish” a Muslim by declaring him apostate so long as he has not rejected the principles of Islam.

From then, relations between the president and the sheikh deteriorated quickly, although the general public was privy to only a part of it. Al Sisi tried to have the law of Al Azhar amended in order to be able to fire El Tayeb. The conflict became public last year when the Sheikh rejected the president’s initiative to formalize divorce by having the parties sign a binding document, thus doing away with oral divorce. Then the Ministry of Endowment decided that it would henceforth prepare Friday sermons for all mosques so that young people not be exposed to extremism and incitement to terrorism. It was a blow to the independence of Al Azhar, which had traditionally been in charge of sending sermons to the thousands of mosques under its tutelage. Furthermore, the ministry published new religious books without submitting them to Al Azhar, as was the norm. The venerable institution retaliated by publishing new books of its own that will be presented at the Cairo book fair next February.

Tension was high on the eve of the November 18 celebration. Undeterred, the president reasserted his position. He was backed by Endowment Minister Mohammed Mokhtar Gomaa, who stated forcefully that it was the duty of Al Azhar scholars to keep on working to eliminate extremist narratives and reinterpret the Sharia to adapt to modern times through respecting the fixed principles of Islam. Among his recommendations was a new reading of the Sunnah, a body of texts and prescriptions based on the oral transmission of the teaching of the Prophet. 

He then revealed that his ministry was drawing plans to establish a new religious academy to prepare male and female preachers. Sheikh el Tayeb rejected all attempts to reinterpret the Sunnah or amend it. Since it would lead Muslims to dispute some aspects of the Koran and its prescriptions, provoking a rift within Islam. He canceled the private meeting that was to be held with the president and refused to shake the hand of the minister. Echoes of the clash got out and on the same day, in a show of support two distinct organizations, the union of Southern tribes and that of Al Azhar graduates led special prayers in a mosque in the hometown of the sheikh in Upper Egypt. Both organizations wanted to hold a protest outside the mosque, but were convinced not to do so by a younger brother of the hheikh, himself a respected religious figure. They pledged to keep up the fight to stop “attacks on Al Azhar and on the holy Sunnah.”

Can there be a compromise between the sheikh, who is not ready to accept any compromise, and the president, who feels that Egypt has to free itself of the chains of a way of life set down at the time of the Prophet to build a strong economy and modern and progressive society?

Meanwhile Sisi maintains a direct dialogue with the youth of the country through meetings where he tries to convince them of their role in creating a new society. He initiated a National Youth committee, which meets every year at Sharm El Sheikh and the projected religious academy is yet another attempt to bypass Al Azhar and the Islamic establishment.

Though Islamic movements are up in arms, Egyptians who are now aware of the situation have yet to take stands. There is no tradition of democracy and free speech and the population as a whole is deeply religious. In the first elections following the ouster of Mubarak, Muslim Brothers and Salafists garnered 73% of the vote. The president will have to tread carefully. 

According to persistent rumors, he is considering a media campaign against el Tayeb, A double-edged policy. How would Al Azhar react? As things stand today, the president will have to promote new and modern legislation without the support of the Islamic establishment, something that the Tunisian president achieved in spite of that establishment, when he enacted laws giving women equal rights in the matter of inheritance.

Sisi has the support of the army and of the security forces, which will have to maintain order and stability should protests turn violent. But Al Arabiya reports that a new extremist group, Murabitoun, has infiltrated the army and created dozens of secret cells with officers at their heads.

In today’s Middle East, the hopes of the Arab Spring have been dashed and powerful forces are still resisting progress and democracy and promoting radical Islam. Fratricide wars are destroying Arab states and Shia Iran is deepening its involvement. Egypt is still facing a Jihadi insurgency in the Sinai and radical groups are still sowing terrorism in Cairo. The president will have his hands full implementing his economic reforms while dealing with traditional Islam striving to restore the so-called Golden Age of the Righteous Caliphs and resisting all attempts at changes.