Archive for January, 2007

January 25, 2007

Democracy in Iran is Still the Way to Peace in the Middle East

by Gedalyah Reback

Democracy is blossoming again in a country that has seen so many external and internal interference in that process. After decades of oppression under the Shah, an Iranian Revolution became a fruitless endeavor, as a country’s revolutionary hopes were dashed by a megalomanic leadership. Following a brief period of liberalization, the Iranian regime is now consolidating power and keeping its citizens deadlocked in a cycle of disappointment.

The parliament in Iran has no power – its decisions can be vetoed by a group of 12 elitist clerics. The president has no power – he can set economic policy but all power is vested in the “Supreme Leader. Even those candidates Iranians can choose are limited to who the regime lets run – a filtered democracy, a limited democracy.

Iranian elections are more expensive public opinion polls than efforts by the citizenry to determine their own fate. Recent elections for the Assembly of Experts – the body that gets to select a new supreme leader when the position is vacant – did not fare well for Ahmadinejad’s supporters. The public does not support this regime, nor its policies. It is only holding Iranians back from taking the helm and creating a powerful Iranian democracy that would economically prosper and contribute to stabilizing the region.

January 24, 2007

The Next Lebanese Civil War

by Gedalyah Reback

Lebanon is on the verge of a new civil war, something about hwich analysts have been in disbelief for months. Following 15 years of terrible civil war, it was thought unthinkable that Lebanese today would allow their country to again fall into sectarian disarray.

But yesterday’s protests have proven those ideals wrong. There is still a substantial contingent of people willing to fight for their political power. Six Lebanese died in clashes on 22 January and a shootout was sparked at a funeral for one of those killed. Pro and anti-government forcesclashed in the northern city of Tripoli, well outside the city limits of Beirut.

The main reason for this simmering war is not the Israel-Hizbullah war of this summer – that was merely a catalyst. The tensions between the government in Beirut and the Hizbullah-led opposition is over control of the country and territorial power. Hizbullah’s dominance resonates in Shiite areas, which take up almost half the country in the northeast and the southern region that borders Israel. The brunt of this summer’s war was fought there, where local residents who may support Hizbullah, and many do, would accommodate any Hizbullah war effort.

In the months leading up to the war, the Lebanese government had been asking the United States and Great Britain to request Israel leave the small niche territory called the Shebaa Farms, which Hizbullah claims is occupied Lebanese territory. While the United Nations recognizes it is not, Hizbullah has popularized this claim inside Lebanon. The logic behind Prime Minister of Lebanon Fouad Siniora’s request was that without the justification to maintain its militia – the reacquisition of “Lebanese” territory occupied by Israel – Hizbullah would have to disarm.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s secretary general, was facing domestic political pressure to disarm, plus international pressure thanks to the UN Resolution 1559. Thus, when Israel launched an operation in the Gaza Strip in June 2006 in response to a raid by Hamas on the Israeli-Gazan border, Nasrallah saw an opportunity to regain political capital by relegitimizing his militia. The result was Hizbullah’s exact mirroring of the Hamas operation, only on the Israeli-Lebanese border. The result was a similar, though larger, Israeli response. While its size may not have been expected, an Israeli counterattack would have been expected given Israel’s response the same type of raid only two weeks earlier. Hassan Nasrallah provoked a political war to regain domestic strength and political capital in Lebanon’s turbulent politics.

This continues to be the case, as large demonstrations organized by Hizbullah have attempted to gain more seats in the Lebanese cabinet for Hizbullah and its allies. With southern Lebanon in disarray following the war, the six-week long anti-government protests have only hurt the economy more. Yesterday’s strike, organized by Hizbullah, again crippled the Lebanese economy further, blocking roads in and out of the capital which is the main economic hub of the country.

Ironically, the strikes were motivated by the Lebanese government’s economic reform plans which are being drawn in order to win more financial aid from the international community and a donors’ conference Thursday, January 25 in Paris.

Given the contempt for the country’s declining economy and the willingness to get involved in political clashes with little hesitation or restraint from Sheikh Nasrallah, it is evident that this crisis is not a matter of leigitmate financial concern but one of a struggle for power motivated by outside factors – Syria & Iran for Hizbullah and Europe & the US for the Lebanese government. A recent report in the New York Times highlighted the plight of southern Lebanese towns which have seen more political wrangling over reconstruction than actual work. This is after an initial invasion of Hizbullah construction equipment into the area that seems to have attracted more media attention than actually gotten work done. Now, both the weak Beirut government and a politically motivated Hizbullah are blaming each other for the lack of progress.

Two parallel armed forces exist in Lebanon – the one controlled by the government in Beirut plus Hizbullah’s militia. Even the Lebanese Army is even made up of a large segment of Shiites, making a significant part of the Lebanese military potentially owing its allegiance to Hizbullah’s militia if their political and community ties lead them in that direction. Any strengthening of the Lebanese military needs to coincide with a greater diversification of the Lebanese Army, which would likely see a large influx of Shiite soldiers if Hizbullah’s militia were to integrate into it.

This is not just a problem from a geopolitical standpoint in being advantageous to Syria and Iran, but perhaps sewing the seeds of another civil war if Lebanese Shiites see their community doing the majority of the grunt work in the military while Christian and Sunni communities largely stay out of it.

This is just a small set of factors to consider when looking at the internal Lebanese situation, and this particularly piece of writing largely focuses on Hizbullah’s flaws, while Beirut is not itself without faults, though no balancing act of mutual flaws can negate the significant political maneuver it was for Hizbullah to provoke a war with Israel. Watch for Hizbullah to look for any opportunity to increase pressure on the government, including expanding protests and potentially grinding the economy to an absolute halt.

January 11, 2007

Empower Iraqi Kurdistan and Let it Influence the Rest of the Country: Part I

by Gedalyah Reback

Kurdistan has been a flower in junkyard when one looks at the situation in Iraq. Without any playing down of the remarkable contrast and amazing progress of Iraq’s north, Kurdistan has been a G-dsend. Kurdistan’s economy is booming, investment is coming in, its security is stable (and actually exists), plus it is not sending its militias into the sectarian free-for-all that is engulfing the Arab parts of the country. Iraq’s instability is an Arab affair, and Kurdistan is an aspect of relief for the Coalition’s efforts there.

This is a component of the new Iraq that cannot be lost on American strategists. As Iraq’s civil war worsens and Kurdish leaders will look to keep their region’s lot continally safe from that violence and chaos, it is in American and Coalition interests to allow that stability to resonate as far as the Kurdistan Regional Government can extend it.

Iraqi Kurds are enveloped in ethnic conflict with northern Iraq’s minorities, but hardly in the way the Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab sectors of Iraq are battering each other. This is a conflict of underprivileged minority in an ethnic majority’s world. It is parallel to the situation of many urban and lower class minorities around the world, a significant difference from the open civil war in the country center and its south.

This allows the US to focus on urban development and microeconomic issues, freeing it from the burden of economic reconstruction tied with security as is with the other parts of the country. Kurds’ ethnic conflicts also stem from Saddam Hussein’s Arabization efforts in the 1980s that kicked many Kurds out of major cities like Kirkuk and Mosul – both of which sit on the rough imaginary line between heavily Arab and heavily Kurdish communities. Today, Kurds do make up significant portions of those cities’ populations, and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) want to control them. They are the economic and and resourceful hubs of Iraq’s north.

In the event the Sunni-Shiite Arab civil war spirals out of any concept of control, it is in American interests to have the stable Kurdish authorities controlling these cities rather than a potentially anarchy-prone Baghdad government. It would also create a solid base for development in more of the region than the current area of control for the KRG. Additionally, with heavy American influence, the lot of Sunni Arab, Christian and Turkmen minorities in these cities can improve, provided heavy investment. This allows the United States to maintain a significant assemblance of order in Iraq if it fails to stabilize the situation in the central and southern parts of the country.

January 11, 2007

US Strategy and Alliances in Iraq are Hypocritical and Jeopardizing

by Gedalyah Reback

With sectarian rifts abound in Iraq, the United States has recklessly found itself fighting the battles of a sectarian government as it engages what are unquestionably called “terrorists” or “insurgents” in Washington. In the meantime, while the US military fights Sunni forces in al-Anbar province in Iraq’s vast eastern desert, Shiite militias have turned Baghdad into their private playground. The Mahdi Army, with its strongest center of Capital-based support in Baghdad’s Sadr city Shiite slums, has taken to ethnically cleansing Sunni neighborhoods. This has happened because of US intransigence and weakness in confronting the Iraqi government to let the United States open up on Shiite militias in the same way it is giving it to Sunni insurgents.

The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has opposed US troop boosts for one major reason – the United States wants to fight all militant elements in the country, not just the Sunni ones that were once the core of the insurgency. Besides two organized rebellions by the Mahdi Army in 2004, Sunni radicals have attacked Baghdad and dominated Anbari cities like Ramadi since the inception of the war. But these forces are hardly organized and present an irritable threat to stability as Shiite militias aim to ethnically isolate and cleanse Sunnis.

The Shiite offensive by militias as only gone on for roughly a year, since the major insurgent attack on a Shiite shrine in Samarra (which is actually north of Baghdad in heavily Sunni country). However, the American crackdown has not been focused on Shiite, but Sunni insurgents, who are incapable of these massive operations. The United States was even confronted with opposition from the Iraqi government about its new plan, because it focused too much on Baghdad, leading to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suggesting the US focus on al-Anbar and allow the Iraqi government to take the lead ob Baghdad operations.

Those suggestions thankfully led Bush in the opposite direction, bringing him to the realization that no matter which Shiite political party was in power – Maliki’s al-Da’wa al-Islamiyya (or just al-Da’wa), Abdul Aziz al-Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Iraq’s largest party), or Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, that the flavor of the party and its militia will lead it to favor its own ethnic interests and thus promote sectarianism.

To his credit, Bush has tried in recent months to promote a multiethnic coalition overnment that would sideline Sadr, and those like him with a “moderate” alliance – Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs under one banner. But the flaws involved here are two-fold. One, this does not strengthen Sunni forces against Shiite and possibly government-sponsored Shiite attacks; and two, it sidelines Muqtada al-Sadr, who ironically carries political beliefs that are more similar to American interests – he opposes breaking Iraq into autonomous regions.

This idea, coming from the Kurdish demands for autonomy but popular with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), would allow groups of Iraqi provinces to form regions that would have a great degree of independence from the central government. Al-Sadr’s anti-foreign stance, and thus anti-imperialist stance, sees this as making smaller pieces of Iraq more vulnerable to outside influence than a strong centralized Iraqi state. While this sounds like it makes al-Sadr heavily anti-American and a force to be reckoned with, and it does, this also provides a strong anti-Iranian position in Iraq’s Shiite areas. Al-Sadr is tameable, and has not been at open war with American forces since the summer of 2004. In the meantime, the militia leader’s own rhetoric against Iran has increased, just as US pressure on Tehran has done the same.

On the other hand, the central government, while it depends on some support from al-Sadr, is controlled and dominated by SCIRI. SCIRI started as an exiled opposition party to Saddam Hussein by exiles in Iran. The party’s militia, the Badr Brigades fought along with the Iranians in the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s. It is heavily influenced by Iran, and its militia members are preeminent in Iraq’s security forces. With such close ties between the clerical leaders in the Iraqi government and those of the Iranian government, you essentially see the realistic formation of an Iranian satellite state in Iraq.


This has to be opposed, and the US is left little choice in its maneuverability. At this point, allowing Iraq to become an Iranian client state would be as a parallel a disaster as the ethnic cleansing occuring right now, especially in Baghdad. The US should consider becoming more authoritative and balancing the forces of Sunnis and Shiites, plus pay closer attention to the ethnic concerns of countries like Saudi Arabia, which has vowed to support Sunni Arab Iraqis if the US fails to protect them. Countering Iranian influence is vital, and Iraq is a bigger front than Lebanon in this regard.

January 9, 2007

A Peace Process Right Now is Naïve and Stupid

by Gedalyah Reback

The thought that is pervading in Israeli and American politics right now, to initiate a new round of peace talks with the Palestinians – is misguided. I am not calling it misguided because of the idea of a Palestinian state, but the unlikelihood that that state would succeed, thus spiraling the situation back to its founding problems and force a peace process to start from scratch.

There is no stable infrastructure, it is prudent and corrupt. There are no resources for the current state and barely any industry. There is no development going on in the country and it has little foundation to begin forming it right now. Worst of all, the territories are on the verge of civil war.

Neither dominant faction commands the legitimacy across the Palestinian population to negotiate a peace and neither has enough loyalty to ensure it succeeds. Kicking the Israelis out of the West Bank will not bring peace, only a new version of the conflictive status quo.

Forcing Palestinian independence right now negates the viability of a deal between Israel and moderate forces like Fatah is weak because of the mass opposition Hamas poses to it. Additionally, it reduces the significance and importance of Israel’s security needs, assuring that the Israelis will not be able to accept any major agreement in the near future.

These are facts that have to be accepted by the international community, which needs to alter its approach and get away from ambitious short-term goals like rushed peace deals. They are short-term because they will not hold and will only be used for short-term political gain by the negotiators, when in fact the multitude of similar interests between Israelis and Palestinians cannot possibly be resolved within the next couple of years.

Allowing a ship to leave port for the first time which has no life rafts, no starboard and no hull will inevitably sink with few survivors, making policymakers pray that it breaks down in warm water so all its occupants do not freeze to death waiting to be rescued. If the captain and the first make cannot agree on the course of the ship, the analogy breaks down when both take their own wheel and steer it in opposite directions, breaking the ship in two. This is your civil war. No state in its infancy could possibly survive on its own while its two most powerful factions are fighting each other.

Ideas for sustainable development are being passed around but few of their details have been implemented. Plus, the factors of international and civil war make for ridiculous conditions for a forced peace. Getting the Israelis to withdraw during what can easily be argued to be an international war, plus assuring an unchallenged authority can rule the Palestinian territories without the worry of rebellion or secession, are unlikely and most certainly impossible at this stage.

Policymakers and international diplomats have to accept a reform of the status quo prior to final status negotiations and the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is defensive in nature, so observers and participants in the conflict have to realize neither an imperial nor reconstructionary occupation exists there. In order to stabilize the region and give incentive to the Israeli government and military to withdraw, a reform of the nature of Israel’s presence there geared into infrastructure development, economic reconstruction and nation-building have to be implemented.

The occupation of West Germany after World War II was driven by the need to stabilize and problematic region for the country’s occupiers, and thus geared toward the country’s economic reconstruction. For a region which has not had an official status in nearly 60 years, not undertaking this would demonstrate the misguided and political motivations for a hurried and reckless peace process which has only morphed the ways the factions fight, rather than morphed the status quo from war to peace.

This is what has to be considered to have a realistic way to a sustainable two-state solution. Without these concerns for economic reconstruction and heating civil war in the Palestinian territories, any peace efforts aimed at a two-state solution will crumble.

January 9, 2007

Declaring Interdependence: A Workable Mideast Future

by Gedalyah Reback

After years building a modern state out of an Ottoman backwater, Israel has achieved unbelievable advancements in technology, medicine, and culture. Having built a modern, thriving state, however, Israel has a new challenge: marshaling these same resources to make itself the regional leader in the Middle East, one that utilizes its substantial Jewish majority and diverse social groups to form a leading society that bridges the East-West divide.

When I say “regional leader,” I’m not referring to the country as the region’s top military force.
Besides working toward a workable and sustainable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel needs more developed foreign relations, increased economic cooperation with non-Western countries, strengthened ties with as many of its Middle Eastern neighbors as possible, and a renewed focus on improving the lot of its own poor and minorities.

First among these important objectives is an attempt to create peace with the Palestinians. Unlike past deals, the initial focus should not be on Palestinian independence, but Israeli-Palestinian interdependence. In emphasizing independence over interdependence, the international community is attempting a short-term solution to a long-term problem. If the issue were only independence for the Palestinians, the conflict would have been solved by now. But independence must also be matched with security for Israel.

Interdependence means Israel needs to better the lives of Palestinians to reduce the appeal of militancy in the disputed territories. The Palestinians’ economic situation can only get worse if they are unable to conduct international trade or get the proper international financial support for its domestic institutions and industries.

Israel’s occupation of the West Bank should not be one of limitless control, but characterized by helping the Palestinians with economic reconstruction and thus integration into the Israeli economy. Mutual dependence would deter Palestinian leaders from conducting or condoning devastating attacks against Israel that would devastate the Palestinians’ own economy.

Israel has been reluctant to admit the need to redraw the map to ensure Israel’s security. It may even be wise for Israel to consider a much larger annexation of territory from the West Bank that would extend citizenship to thousands of Palestinians. While Israel and the international community institute a Marshall Plan for the West Bank’s majority-Palestinian cities like Hebron, Nablus, and Jericho, access to the Israeli economy would improve the new Arab Israelis’ lot in Israel proper. Meanwhile, Israel would retain control of all the major Jewish settlement blocs, including several smaller ones that would otherwise be dismantled under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan.

For such a plan to work, considering the country’s need to preserve its Jewish majority, Israel needs to create conditions that would attract a new movement of immigration to balance the population shifts. Israel has begun investment into building up the unpopulated areas of the Galilee and Negev; they should be the hubs of new immigration.

Simultaneously, the state should attend to the needs of communities like the Druse and Beduin, who have contributed vitally to the Israel Defense Forces and the state as a whole. Initiatives would include more allocations for development in Druse communities in the Galilee and the recognition of currently illegitimate Beduin settlements in the Negev. The development projects being currently initiated in the Negev should open themselves up more to the particular concerns of the Beduin community in that region.

An ambitious new plan of regional interdependence is also what Israel needs to rejuvenate its own people. Years of exhausting war with the Palestinians have weakened the Zionist zeal of many Israelis. Their leaders need to recognize this by adopting initiatives that reinvigorate Israeli society. Reducing the size of the country is not going to create the prime conditions for Israel to build a strong Jewish nation. It must be matched with an effort to meet the needs of its underserved minorities and poor, whose welfare was overlooked by leaders focused on security in the West Bank and Gaza. Economic development is the key not just to peace but to boosting morale.

A premature peace deal, without a reorganization of the Israeli and Palestinian economies, would just be lumped in with the Oslo Accords, the 2000 withdrawal from Lebanon, and the Gaza disengagement as failed land-for-peace initiatives that eventually led to new wars. Each of these efforts put Palestinian independence before a workable future of Israel-Palestinian interdependence — in essence, kicking a bird out of the nest before it can fly. This time, Israel should work out how Israel and a future Palestinian state would work together ahead of plans for separation and independence.

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