Archive for January, 2010

January 30, 2010

Between Gulf War IV and Revolutions

by Gedalyah Reback

In 1980, Saddam Hussein started the first Gulf War by invading Iran, starting an eight-year melee that left 2 million dead between the two countries. In 1990, Hussein invaded Kuwait, underestimating the resolve of dozens of countries that launched Operation Desert Storm to expel the Iraqis. In 2003, the Bush Administration toppled the Hussein regime, igniting a massive civil war between Arab Sunnis and Arab Shiites, exposing Iraq to Iranian sabotage, and bringing Turkey to the brink of war with Iraqi Kurdistan.

In 2010, the real possibility that Iran could be attacked in a pre-emptive strike by Israel, or Iraq and other Arab states may defend themselves from an Iranian offensive, arguably has the Middle East on the brink of the fourth major war in the Persian Gulf in 30 years.

But after years of nuclear anxiety and headlines ad nauseum about negotiations, has the novelty of such a threat worn off? Much of the talk of war seems passé. But I am going to make the effort to say that the threat of a massive regional war is very real, and will reel in the major UN Security Council powers, plus Germany.

Israel has attacked hostile states’ nuclear programs before – Iraq’s and Syria’s. Any attack by Israel would have to have some level of approval from both the United States and neighboring Arab countries. The entire region would have to be in sync and ready for the attack. That is approval that Saudi Arabia, as reported by a local report by the Heritage Foundation, is willing to give to Israel when the time is right.

The US would not be able to avoid the retaliation, and would be dragged into a war with Iran. An Iranian response would involve proxies not just in Lebanon and Israel, but in Iraq and throughout the Persian Gulf. Britain, Germany and France would operationally support Israel and the United States, if not actually deploy troops into the Middle Eastern theater.

With the window closing on the opportunity for a concerted hit, it is vital that Iranian access to nuclear weapons be categorically denied immediately. But that does not imply the only option, or the best option, would be to attack Iran. On the contrary, the best case scenario there would be a delay in nuclear development. The elimination of the regime is the only guarantee that the Tehran we know and despise would acquire nuclear capabilities. If a different government ran the country, especially a democracy, the West and Israel would accept an Iranian nuclear program as non-hostile and uninterested in creating a nuclear warhead.

AS BEST IT CAN, the world needs to support the opposition movement in Iran. Estimations that a revolution usually belittle the historical memory of young Iranians, whose parents are reminding them day in and day out that a revolution is possible. They know how to do it. This is the grand fear in Tehran, a primary reason the regime there has lashed out publicly against “soft” and “velvet” revolutions, patronizing them in an effort to stigmatize any such campaign. Both Iran and China have accused the US of waging “cyber warfare,” signaling that not only is it a significant tactic – it’s something they fear.

Any revolution on the ground there will be their own. Nothing the US, Europe, Israel or anyone else could do would launch a massive revolt. But these countries can provide the tools – or at least keep them online.

In June, bloggers and hackers the world over attacked government firewalls in order to keep cell phones, the internet and Twitter afloat. Reports varied on how effective the effort was, but the fact it made any impact was significant.

Certain features, like Facebook, have been inoperable in Iran since the elections. The organizational power the website offers represents enough of a threat it is worth Tehran’s time to shut it down. Keeping these lines of communication open, not just during massive demonstrations but in the days before they are organized, is essential to protesters.

IN THE MEANTIME, this is not an option the world can count on. There are subtleties to American and European diplomacy that would help pressure Iran, plus make Syria and Hezbollah think twice about being lockstep in line with Tehran’s policies.

A prevalent idea in recent years has been an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement that would sever the Iranian-Syrian military alliance. All this assumes Syria would actually break its military alliance with Iran and the region’s prominent terrorist organizations. Syria will not do such a thing, even if Israel were willing to trade the Golan Heights for a peace deal. This entire line of thinking assumes Syria is the weak link in the chain and can be diplomatically parleyed off, when in fact it is Iran facing domestic instability.

Damascus has used the diplomatic breathing room by the Obama Administration’s warmer policies to increase pressure on Lebanon. Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been reduced to humiliating gestures like meeting with his father’s murderer and acquiescing to Hezbollah’s arsenal in coalition talks. Hariri’s March 14th alliance has relinquished these things despite having a larger margin of the vote in 2009 than 2005, when Syria was weak and isolated by the Bush Administration.

It is a combination of inability and unwillingness that make Syria just as weak under threat or American economic and diplomatic sanctions. Iran does not need Syria to send weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah, as it has proven with shipments that were caught in the Red Sea in 2002 and Sudan during Operation Cast Lead. Shipments like the one captured in Cyprus in 2009 did not need to pass through a Syrian port to reach Lebanon.

POLICY needs to be made more consistent to fully pressure the Syrians and Iranians, otherwise the countries will continue using diplomatic patience as a window for nuclear development and weapons smuggling. No amount of US and French support for Lebanon will mean anything as long as either Syria or Iran exploits weakness in Western foreign policy. The only guarantee that this alliance will crack is via a combination of domestic and foreign pressure.

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January 19, 2010

Treaty between the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the Maronite Church

by Gedalyah Reback

Treaty between the Jewish Agency for Palestine and the Maronite Church
Found at lebanonissues.com

What are the implications of the creation of a minority Jewish state on identity politics in Lebanon?

May 30th 1946

“We, the undersigned:

1. His Beatitude Antoine Arida, the Maronite Patriarch of Lebanon, acting on behalf of the Church and the Maronite community, the largest community in the Lebanese Republic with citizens residing in other countries, represented by Cheikh Toufic Aoud, ex-minister by virtue of authorization addressed to the President of the Jewish Agency, Professor Weizmann on May 24th 1946,which hereinafter shall be in this treaty addressed as “first party”.

2. Dr. Bernard Joseph, acting on behalf of the Jewish Agency for Palestine which is known in International Law as the representative of Jewish people around the world aimed at creating the Jewish National Home in Palestine,which hereinafter shall be in this treaty addressed as “first party”.

ART.1: The first party expressly and fully recognizes the historical link uniting the Jewish people to Palestine, the Jewish people’s aspirations in Palestine, and the Jewish people right to a free immigration and independence in Palestine. It also declares its approval on the Jewish agency’s declared current political program including the establishment of a Jewish state.

ART.2: The second party expressly and fully recognizes the independence of Lebanon and the right of its inhabitants to choose the regime they deem as appropriate. The second party also declares that its extending and widening program does not include Lebanon. On the contrary, it respects the state of Lebanon in its current form and borders. The Jewish immigration does not include Lebanon.

ART.3: The two parties commit themselves reciprocally to abstain from undermining their respective aspirations and status; the so-called commitment has a binding obligation restraining the representatives of both parties – officials and non officials – in the country, abroad, in international conferences whether occidental or oriental, from expressing any kind of support to decisions or actions that may harm the other party. Also do their utmost to avoid taking such decisions or undertaking such actions.

ART.4: The two parties commit themselves to provide mutual help at the following levels: political, commercial, security and social in order to promote the position of the first party and realize the aspirations of the second one. This engagement includes:

a) Raise the awareness of public opinion in the Orient and the Occident on the cause of each party, according to the spirit of the treaty hereby.

b) Concert their efforts to open the doors of each country with view to deepen cultural and social rights and promote commercial trades and the exchange of liaison officers to forge good neighboring relationships between one another.

c) The first party recognizes the right of every Jewish to immigrate to Palestine commits itself to help as much as possible in the realization of this immigration in the event that it shall pass through Lebanon.

d) The second party commits itself, after the creation of the Jewish state, to respect the sacred character of the holy sites in Palestine and commits itself as well after retaining the command of power to consider the treaty hereby as an integral part of the government program.

e) The two parties commit themselves to provide help, if requested, to one another in order to maintain security in their respective countries. This engagement has the binding obligation to take all necessary measures to block the entrance or exit of hostile elements capable of sowing public disorder and the obligation to refrain from providing any kind of help for such elements.

f) The two parties commit themselves to exchange information on all issues such as the politics of their countries, their economy, security, and relations with third parties.

g)At the industry, agriculture and scientific research levels, the two parties commit themselves to exchange information and advice in order to synchronize the Lebanese and Jewish efforts with a view to ensure the best development of their respective industries (including the tourism sector), agriculture and research on the basis of mutual cooperation.

h)After creating the Jewish state, the second party commits itself to reserve a friendly treatment to the representatives of the Maronite Patriarch, to facilitate the buying of a land and the construction of a Patriarchate worthy of the Maronite community.

i)The second party commits itself to require from its offices all over the world to support the cause of the first party and back its representatives in Washington, London, and Paris and in international conferences.

ART.5: In order to achieve the afore-mentioned obligations, and additional practical means of collaboration and mutual aid, the two parties will hold direct or indirect (through representatives) talks depending on the relevant advancement and circumstances. The first party has already chosen Cheikh Toufic Aouad to be its authorized representative till further notice.

ART.6: The treaty hereby takes effect upon signature. Each party has the right to terminate it within six months notice.

In witness whereof the two parties have signed this treaty.”

Double original copy, Jerusalem, May 30th 1946.

On behalf of His Beatitude His Grace Antoine Pierre Arida, Toufic Aouad

On behalf of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, Bernard Joseph

Source: Central Zionist Archives 525/3269

January 8, 2010

A Jewish and Democratic One-State Solution

by Gedalyah Reback

As published in the Jerusalem Post on 13 January 2010 C.E.

It’s difficult to write this without being framed as some sort of fanatic. Either I should fall on the left that advocates a bi-national state, or on the right that can only see things through the lens of “Greater Israel.” Both of these labels are presumptuous, and have precluded debate about this issue. Like this, many other issues and questions have been glossed over, and beg attention. There is a way to reconcile these “extremes” and providing a reason to trend away from the two-state plan.

The Obama Administration is trying to torpedo renewed discussion of this idea with a strained attempt to force two-state negotiations while continuing the Bush Administration policy of building the PA’s security apparatus. But an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank in any capacity would contract the country’s defensive posture in the Middle East and invite encroachment from Syria, with no guarantees the already extant terrorist groups in the area would not grow and infiltrate a Palestinian state’s security forces.

At this point in time, annexing the West Bank (without the Gaza Strip) would not hinder Jews’ clear majority in a unified state. That does not imply that absorbing the territory immediately would resolve a plethora of security, social and religious issues. But to give the vote to everyone in the West Bank would create both a Jewish and democratic state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, sans Gaza. The question then comes to how the Jewish population intends to preserve that majority.


Photo: Jonathan Beck

But before that can be answered, we need to remember why we should be concerned about that in the first place? Like alluded to above, this is a question that is seldom addressed and its answers seldom clarified by commentators. It was sighted ad nauseum in the lead up to the disengagement five years ago, but I am not so sure observers really understood why this issue was so important to Israelis.

Jews instinctively would bring up domestic security concerns. Israelis are especially cognizant of the pogroms in Europe and especially the Arab riots in 1929, 1936-39 and the two intifadas. Annexation evokes fears of anti-Semitic sabotage and civil war or, God forbid, pogroms in Israel if the government ever fell into the hands of a hostile Arab majority.

This is a concern that no one can simply alleviate. Jewish sovereignty and qualitative ability to defend the Jewish world from attack are one of dozens of the conceptual underpinnings of the entire Zionist movement and existence of the State of Israel. It is what justified one of the first global, collective gestures of affirmative action in modern history – the creation of an ethnically based country – the Jewish State of Israel.

The moderate approach in Israeli politics regarding a One-State solution would be to both annex the West Bank and push off the idea of official “bi-nationalism.” Such a state would have to remain a Jewish state, with a Jewish symbol on its flag like an Islamic crescent dawns the Turkish or Pakistani banners, and maintain a Jewish majority (not plurality) in the territory of the state.

So again, how would it be preserved? It brings the whole debate back to what should be called the “big blue elephant” in the room – the need to increase Jewish immigration to Israel and the natural birthrate of Israeli Jews. These are not policies that Western democracies are expected to implement. But Western states do not exist for the sake of ethnic preservation against global instances of oppression, whether it be in Europe or the Arab World. These policies are not radical to Israelis and they are not radical to certain other ethnic states. And given the willingness to discuss population exchange and mass eviction during peace negotiations, they are not all too awkward to the likes of the Western powers either.

Few Israeli politicians suggest this because it all assumes too many developments. Recently, Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely alluded to it when she fielded the idea of giving Israeli citizenship to Palestinians. There seems to be no guarantee a renewed push for Aliyah and reversal of Yeridah would bear fruit, or Jewish families would decide to have more children.

But global Jewish leadership have fought against such pessimism. Tens of millions of dollars are already spent every year on all forms of Jewish outreach – religious, cultural and political. Activists the world over urge the end of assimilation and absorption of mixed families into the greater Jewish community. The push is for far bigger and far more Jewish families by leaders and organizations everywhere. The State of Israel, the strongest Jewish organization in the entire world, should coordinate all of these efforts, stress the importance of the Land of Israel to all streams of Judaism and emphasize the centrality of the state to the modern Jewish world.

It is possible to enhance Israel’s Jewish, democratic and defensive characteristics all simultaneously. Israel’s Jewish character and the preservation of minorities’ rights and needs are reconcilable. It is a mixture of idealism and practicality, yet an objective approach, politically satiable and the optimal approach to take.

January 6, 2010

Abbas Hurting Himself with Pre-Conditions?

by Gedalyah Reback

Against my better judgment (because I don’t think a two state solution would last without a war), if Abbas dropped this pre-condition business, he and Netanyahu would be talking and his popularity levels would go up. Why Abbas is doing this is beyond me. He concedes the point that Hamas and not Israel is responsible for Gaza being sieged and even says Egypt’s blockade is justified. Neither of these views will make him a popular Palestinian president. The fact he is saying these things is all about pressuring Hamas, not Israel. But in so doing, he is hurting his chances of getting back to the table. I cannot see him actually thinking the 67 borders are a possibility.

January 2, 2010

Israel’s Challenges after an Iranian Revolution

by Gedalyah Reback

Analysts of geopolitics and strategy are having trouble analyzing the rapid developments in Iran revolving around the growing strength of the country’s opposition. Even Western policymakers are reworking their next moves regarding the nuclear crisis. Will sanctions hurt or help the opposition movement? Will negotiating any further enable the regime in Tehran to salvage political legitimacy? These are powerful concerns. The game has certainly changed.

But little is known what would happen in the event that a few months from now if the opposition movement successfully forces massive resignations in Tehran or forces the regime from power. Most analysts will affirm things will change immensely, but there is no guarantee that the Middle East will have a reduction in security problems. Primarily, Israel, Arab states and Western powers have to concern themselves with fugitive officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Inevitably, a new Iranian government will issue hundreds of warrants for arrest and move to cease Guards’ financial and material assets worldwide. The major threat comes from that money and particular officers who may decide to invest their cash and time in areas like Iraq, Yemen or primarily southern Lebanon.

Without complicating an early analysis trying to figure out if a new Iran would certainly become a “liberal democracy,” the largest security threat to the Middle East could become a consolidated Hizbullah. The movement began with the help of Iranian intelligence in the early stages of Operation Peace for Galilee, and has been the most successful franchising of the Islamic Revolution abroad. The movement would be quick to shield former officers in the Guards and employ them as officials in their own military ranks.

Western powers would notice the reduced strength of Syria without its long time ally, at least to the extent the two countries have been allied the last thirty years. Syria would be faced with two extreme options in the event of a total regime collapse in Tehran. But the opposite option foresees Damascus consolidating its government’s power, increasing pressure on Jerusalem and Beirut, then aiding former Revolutionary Guards and giving them quarter in Syrian territory. Those former officers would become tremendous assets to the Syrian military.

Few analysts assume Iran would be stable enough to represent a significantly negative or significantly positive force in the Middle East immediately after a revolution, but it would certainly want to move quickly to prevent an armed rebellion against a new government.

On top of all this, Israel should not expect a quick restoration of relations with Iran. Political considerations will play into a hypothetical Iranian leadership’s decision to what extent it wants to publicly relate to Israel, given the perceptions of Israel perpetuated by the Iranian regime the last thirty years. It could be difficult to secure a cooperative relationship with a new Iran to face a resurgent threat from Hizbullah and Syria.

But Israelis should not be disconcerted by this. The positive developments from a revolution may outweigh these concerns. A new Iran would likely balance its relations with Israelis and Palestinians, and probably establish ties with Israeli intelligence to pursue wanted Iranian criminals, names the Revolutionary Guards themselves. It could serve as a bridge to other governments to open up ties with Israel. Any investment from Israel in the country’s financial recovery from years of sanctions would be tremendously welcome, and Israel certainly has the capacity to make that relationship happen. Backed by Western urging, Jerusalem would likely have an embassy in Tehran, despite what reservations many Iranians had.

No matter the construct of a new government, it would certainly be more liberal and less of a threat to everyone in the region, allowing its nuclear program to also become less of a concern. It will certainly reorder Israel’s security priorities and open up opportunities for Jerusalem’s foreign relations. The current government in Beirut may see an opportunity to pressure Hizbullah to surrender its weapons arsenal without the Iranian government continuing to replenish its supply into perpetuity. And with Syria and Hizbullah politically weakened, it could create a political back-channel between Jerusalem and Beirut aimed at ending the official war between the two capitals, and give Israel leverage in negotiations with Syria and the Palestinian Authority.

Pressure on Israel will certainly not go away and its concerns with Hizbullah and Syria will not immediately vanish, but the optimism throughout the Middle East and certainly in Israel and Iran would be omnipresent. Israel should prepare for the day after tomorrow, while keeping itself focused on the still pressing reality.

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