Archive for November, 2009

November 30, 2009

The Regime is Eroding, Iran is Changing

by Gedalyah Reback

Three years ago I got to write a paper on the influence Shi’ite clerics on Middle Eastern power politics and military strategy. There is hardly consensus on ideological points, like one might assume listening to Hizbullah’s Hassan Nasrallah or Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But their rhetoric clouds the changes happening in the Shi’ite world. Iraq and Iran are moving away from extremism, not toward it. What the definition of “extreme” is also very debatable, since the term is only subjective and needs to be used in reference to some more “moderate” position. But more and more, the clerics who had been overshadowed by paramilitary and revolutionary politics are regaining their foothold among the masses. Indeed, Shi’ite Islam is “de-politicizing.”

This trend began long ago, when a major authority in Shi’ite Islam, Ayatollah Ali Hussein Montazeri, broke ranks with Iran’s revolutionary leadership, namely Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He openly disagreed with him on the suppression of political opposition, the edict against Salman Rushdie and the flurry of executions against political prisoners at the end of the Iran-Iraq War (1988):

“The denial of people’s rights, injustice and disregard for the revolution’s true values have delivered the most severe blows against the revolution. Before any reconstruction [takes place], there must first be a political and ideological reconstruction . . . This is something that the people expect of a leader”

The Ayatollah was remanded to house arrest in 1989. Now, 20 years later, he is re-emerging as a forgotten figure with impeccable credentials. What he has that Iran’s secular opposition has never had is the ability to criticize Iran’s “Islamic Republic.” Remember, a secular person arguing against the existence of such a government will always be associated with an agenda. Religious Iranians would always have to suppress their own mistrust of someone not interested at all in religious authority.

But Ayatollah Montazeri, and many more figures like him, cannot be accused of such a thing. Following the protests this summer, the country is opening up. Despite an increase in arrests and executions, more Iranians feel free to attack government policy and legitimacy. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad’s government feel intense pressure, otherwise they would feel no need to arrest dozens of student leaders, continuing closing newspapers, and of course limiting access to the internet.

The rise of Montazeri, and the emergence of figures like Ali Sistani in Iraq, and several in Iran, mark a significant shift that is causing Tehran to react harshly. The government there is under intense pressure.

November 23, 2009

A Very Brief Word on Talking to "Terrorist Organizations"

by Gedalyah Reback

Any distinction between a “military wing” and a “civil/humanitarian wing” of an armed paramilitary organization, whether or not someone calls it a “terrorist organization,” is simply absurd. Drawing these distinctions only serves the agendas of governments seeking to assert themselves as political powers to mediate between, and hence manage conflicts between waring powers.

In terms of the Middle East, this convoluted distinction exists regarding groups like Hizbullah. This group graces the list of known “terrorist organizations” kept by several countries, namely Israel, the US and Canada. But the UK and Australia only list their “armed wings” as terrorist groups. But this division is nonsense.

If a politician living in a country where it was politically unpopular to talk to the United States wanted to initiate some dialog, it would be inarguably absurd to say he would only speak with the people who run Medicaid because they represent the “civil/humanitarian wing” of the US government.

Such distinctions are political, arbitrary, and totally asinine. They are merely subjective, and give governments excuses to speak with groups that make displacing and annihilating other people a priority for their organizations. Politics and international relations often take place in this uncomfortable vacuum where idealists have to bite the bullet and establish relationship with tyrannical governments like in Burma, or genocidal regimes like in Sudan. But such relations do not grant any more legitimacy to a government, or militant group. All these governments and all these groups have multiple departments and several ministries. They all represent the same group.

Consider this the next time the British want to have dialog with the “political wing” of Hizbullah, or NGOs funnel money to an organization through its “humanitarian wing.” These are policies of political convenience, not idealism.

November 20, 2009

On West Bank Infrastructure, Time to Circumvent the Palestinian Authority

by Gedalyah Reback

The Israeli government is faced with a slew of responsibilities that it seems to either be neglecting, or rejects having an obligation to fulfill. But taking these obligations as opportunities would give the country an opportunity to force the renewal of peace talks without preconditions, or simply steer the peace process in a totally new direction.

Take for instance the problem of water in the West Bank. As reported by the Christian Science Monitor recently, there is a continuing dispute between Israel and residents of the West Bank about water allocation from the area’s main aquifier. (What’s an aquifer?, check here). West Bankers tend to accuse Israeli settlements of cutting into major water resources, drying out springs and wells. But this does not consider the role the Palestinian Authority also plays in some of this diversion, nor does it mean that the Israeli government actually is obligated to create the infrastructure for local water supplies.

But the lack of an obligation is not reason enough to avoid taking the initiative on the issue. Given the precarious strength of the Palestinian Authority, and the strong possibility the West Bank will become a part of Israel (in part or whole), Israel would solidify authority by apportioning more water to more places.

Implementing New Tech on Massive Public Level
Israel’s water treatment infrastructure, mostly via desalinization technology, is allowing Israel to alter Mediterranean salt water into viable drinking supplies, allowing the region’s stressed ecology (such as the low-level Sea of Galilee and Jordan River) to replenish. According to some, the country will be depending on this type of water much more than underground and river sources by 2012.

A Simple Cost Benefit for the Economy and Security
Old ideas, like the creation of a water pipeline from Turkey, are quickly becoming cliche. But the preventative measure in all this is the willingness to commit anywhere from 200 – 400 million shekels per year from now on ($50-100 million) to solve the water shortage problem. Considering the rapid growth of the water industry, and the help clean technologies are getting from economic booster packages worldwide, there will be plenty more cause to make this a cornerstone for Israel in providing the infrastructure in the West Bank and forcing the Palestinian Authority back to the table, or to make good on its threat to collapse.

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