Author Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR  (Read 382471 times)


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Gulf States and the Shiite Conundrum
« Reply #50 on: March 11, 2008, 06:12:26 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: The Gulf States and the Shiite Conundrum
March 10, 2008
Kuwait has experienced an unusual series of Shiite protests. The protests in the usually controlled society were sparked by the arrests of Shiite mourners and government members who organized a rally after the killing of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah. The Kuwaiti Shia — who comprise roughly 30 percent of the emirate’s population — rarely organize, let alone rally or protest. The recent unrest has served to remind the government of previous Shiite incidents, such as when militants hijacked two airliners in the 1980s.

The incidents have put the Kuwaiti government in a difficult position. It can’t ignore pro-Hezbollah sentiments among some of its Shiite citizens. But it cannot adopt a tough stance against them either without risking inflaming Shia throughout Persian Gulf Arab states. The Kuwaiti Shia themselves probably will not let things spin out of control, but even so, unrest could spread to Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, where 20 percent and 70 percent of the population, respectively, is Shia.

Thus far, Shia in all three Gulf Arab states have not been openly pro-Iranian or Pan-Shia. But simmering Shiite unrest could boil over, given tensions arising over Iraq and Lebanon combined with perceptions of unfairness at home. The Sunni Arab states fervently don’t want this to come to pass, and so far they don’t have a serious problem on their hands. But their fears could prompt action that might produce the very outcome they are trying to avoid.

The present concerns of the Gulf states — which for the most part are all U.S. allies — are dredging up fears from decades past of a potential Shiite fifth column with an Iranian sponsor. Tehran already is causing regional tensions with its support of the Shia in Iraq and of Hezbollah in Lebanon. These tensions could become a conflagration if the Shiite populations in the Sunni states of the Gulf catch fire.

For its part, Iran is delighted at the timing of the pro-Hezbollah sympathies in the Gulf states. Tehran is coming off of an embarrassing week after Washington snubbed the Iranians when they turned up in Iraq for another set of negotiations. The Iranians have since been using excuses such as “scheduling issues” as reasons the Americans didn’t show up. In reality, the United States doesn’t feel it needs to be at the table with Iran at the moment. Instead, Washington is waiting things out with the Iranians, preferring for the moment to make Tehran sweat over a potential showdown between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

This means the Iranians need a lever in their negotiations with the United States. Selecting the Gulf Shia is a great option that scares many of Iran’s opponents in the game, from Sunni Arab states to the United States. But Iran may not proceed too far down this path, since if it does not score a knockout punch with its Sunni Arab neighbors, it will have created new implacable foes for itself. And Iran doesn’t need any more of those just now.


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A Mystery
« Reply #51 on: April 09, 2008, 05:48:04 PM »
A Mystery in the Middle East
By George Friedman

The Arab-Israeli region of the Middle East is filled with rumors of war. That is about as unusual as the rising of the sun, so normally it would not be worth mentioning. But like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day, such rumors occasionally will be true. In this case, we don't know that they are true, and certainly it's not the rumors that are driving us. But other things — minor and readily explicable individually — have drawn our attention to the possibility that something is happening.

The first thing that drew our attention was a minor, routine matter. Back in February, the United States started purchasing oil for its Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The SPR is a reserve of crude oil stored in underground salt domes. Back in February, it stood at 96.2 percent of capacity, which is pretty full as far as we are concerned. But the U.S. Department of Energy decided to increase its capacity. This move came in spite of record-high oil prices and the fact that the purchase would not help matters. It also came despite potential political fallout, since during times like these there is generally pressure to release reserves. Part of the step could have been the bureaucracy cranking away, and part of it could have been the feeling that the step didn't make much difference. But part of it could have been based on real fears of a disruption in oil supplies. By itself, the move meant nothing. But it did cause us to become thoughtful.

Also in February, someone assassinated Imad Mughniyah, a leader of Hezbollah, in a car bomb explosion in Syria. It was assumed the Israelis had killed him, although there were some suspicions the Syrians might have had him killed for their own arcane reasons. In any case, Hezbollah publicly claimed the Israelis killed Mughniyah, and therefore it was expected the militant Shiite group would take revenge. In the past, Hezbollah responded not by attacking Israel but by attacking Jewish targets elsewhere, as in the Buenos Aires attacks of 1992 and 1994.

In March, the United States decided to dispatch the USS Cole, then under Sixth Fleet command, to Lebanese coastal waters. Washington later replaced it with two escorts from the Nassau (LHA-4) Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG), reportedly maintaining a minor naval presence in the area. (Most of the ESG, on a regularly scheduled deployment, is no more than a few days sail from the coast, as it remains in the Mediterranean Sea.) The reason given for the American naval presence was to serve as a warning to the Syrians not to involve themselves in Lebanese affairs. The exact mission of the naval presence off the Levantine coast — and the exact deterrent function it served — was not clear, but there they were. The Sixth Fleet has gone out of its way to park and maintain U.S. warships off the Lebanese coast.

Hezbollah leaders being killed by the Israelis and the presence of American ships off the shores of Mediterranean countries are not news in and of themselves. These things happen. The killing of Mughniyah is notable only to point out that as much as Israel might have wanted him dead, the Israelis knew this fight would escalate. But anyone would have known this. So all we know is that whoever killed Mughniyah wanted to trigger a conflict. The U.S. naval presence off the Levantine coast is notable in that Washington, rather busy with matters elsewhere, found the bandwidth to get involved here as well.

With the situation becoming tense, the Israelis announced in March that they would carry out an exercise in April called Turning Point 2. Once again, an Israeli military exercise is hardly interesting news. But the Syrians apparently got quite interested. After the announcement, the Syrians deployed three divisions — two armored, one mechanized — to the Lebanese-Syrian border in the Bekaa Valley, the western part of which is Hezbollah's stronghold. The Syrians didn't appear to be aggressive. Rather, they deployed these forces in a defensive posture, in a way walling off their part of the valley.

The Syrians are well aware that in the event of a conventional war with Israel, they would experience a short but exciting life, as they say. They thus are hardly going to attack Israel. The deployment therefore seemed intended to keep the Israelis on the Lebanese side of the border — on the apparent assumption the Israelis were going into the Bekaa Valley. Despite Israeli and Syrian denials of the Syrian troop buildup along the border, Stratfor sources maintain that the buildup in fact happened. Normally, Israel would be jumping at the chance to trumpet Syrian aggression in response to these troop movements, but, instead, the Israelis downplayed the buildup.

When the Israelis kicked off Turning Point 2, which we regard as a pretty interesting name, it turned out to be the largest exercise in Israeli history. It involved the entire country, and was designed to test civil defenses and the ability of the national command authority to continue to function in the event of an attack with unconventional weapons — chemical and nuclear, we would assume. This was a costly exercise. It also involved calling up reserves, some of them for the exercise, and, by some reports, others for deployment to the north against Syria. Israel does not call up reserves casually. Reserve call-ups are expensive and disrupt the civilian economy. These appear small, but in the environment of Turning Point 2, it would not be difficult to mobilize larger forces without being noticed.

The Syrians already were deeply concerned by the Israeli exercise. Eventually, the Lebanese government got worried, too, and started to evacuate some civilians from the South. Hezbollah, which still hadn't retaliated for the Mughniyah assassination, also claimed the Israelis were about to attack it, and reportedly went on alert and mobilized its forces. The Americans, who normally issue warnings and cautions to everyone, said nothing to try to calm the situation. They just sat offshore on their ships.

It is noteworthy that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak canceled a scheduled visit to Germany this week. The cancellation came immediately after the reports of the Syrian military redeployment were released. Obviously, Barak needed to be in Israel for Turning Point 2, but then he had known about the exercise for at least a month. Why cancel at the last minute? While we are discussing diplomacy, we note that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney visited Oman — a country with close relations with Iran — and then was followed by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. By itself not interesting, but why the high-level interest in Oman at this point?

Now let's swing back to September 2007, when the Israelis bombed something in Syria near the Turkish border. As we discussed at the time, for some reason the Israelis refused to say what they had attacked. It made no sense for them not to trumpet what they carefully leaked — namely, that they had attacked a nuclear facility. Proving that Syria had a secret nuclear program would have been a public relations coup for Israel. Nevertheless, no public charges were leveled. And the Syrians remained awfully calm about the bombing.

Rumors now are swirling that the Israelis are about to reveal publicly that they in fact bombed a nuclear reactor provided to Syria by North Korea. But this news isn't all that big. Also rumored is that the Israelis will claim Iranian complicity in building the reactor. And one Israeli TV station reported April 8 that Israel really had discovered Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which it said had been smuggled to Syria.

Now why the Bush administration wouldn't have trumpeted news of the Syrian reactor worldwide in September 2007 is beyond us, but there obviously were some reasons — assuming the TV report is true, which we have no way of establishing. In fact, we have no idea why the Israelis are choosing this moment to rehash the bombing of this site. But whatever their reason, it certainly raises a critical question. If the Syrians are developing a nuclear capability, what are the Israelis planning to do about it?

No one of these things, by itself, is of very great interest. And taken together they do not provide the means for a clear forecast. Nevertheless, a series of rather ordinary events, taken together, can constitute something significant. Tensions in the Middle East are moving well beyond the normal point, and given everything that is happening, events are moving to a point where someone is likely to take military action. Whether Hezbollah will carry out a retaliatory strike or Israel a pre-emptive strike in Lebanon, or whether the Israelis' real target is Iran, tensions systematically have been ratcheted up to the point where we, in our simple way, are beginning to wonder whether something has to give.

All together, these events are fairly extraordinary. Ignoring all rhetoric — and the Israelis have gone out of their way to say that they are not looking for a fight — it would seem that each side, but particularly the Americans and Israelis, have gone out of their way to signal that they are expecting conflict. The Syrians have also signaled that they expect conflict, and Hezbollah always claims there is about to be conflict.

What is missing is this: who will fight whom, and why, and why now. The simple explanation is that Israel wants a second round with Hezbollah. But while that might be true, it doesn't explain everything else that has happened. Most important, it doesn't explain the simultaneous revelations about the bombing of Syria. It also doesn't explain the U.S. naval deployment. Is the United States about to get involved in a war with Hezbollah, a war that the Israelis should handle themselves? Are the Israelis going to topple Syrian President Bashar al Assad — and then wind up with a Sunni government, or worse, an Israeli occupation of Syria? None of that makes a lot of sense.

In truth, all of this may dissolve into nothing much. In intelligence analysis, however, sometimes a set of not-fully-coherent facts must be reported, and that is what we are doing now. There is no clear pattern; there is no obvious direction this is taking. Nevertheless, when we string together events from February until now, we see a persistently escalating pattern of behavior. In fact, what we can say most clearly is that there is escalation, without being able to say what is the clear direction of the escalation or the purpose.

We would like to wrap this up with a crystal clear explanation and forecast. But we can't. The motives of the various actors are opaque; and taken separately, the individual events all have quite innocent explanations. We are not prepared to say war is imminent, nor even what sort of war there would be. We are simply prepared to say that the course of events since February — and really since the September 2007 attack on Syria — have been startling, and they appear to be reaching some sort of hard-to-understand crescendo.

The bombing of Syria symbolizes our confusion. Why would Syria want a nuclear reactor and why put it on the border of Turkey, a country the Syrians aren't particularly friendly with? If the Syrians had a nuclear reactor, why would the Israelis be coy about it? Why would the Americans? Having said nothing for months apart from careful leaks, why are the Israelis going to speak publicly now? And if what they are going to say is simply that the North Koreans provided the equipment, what's the big deal? That was leaked months ago.

The events of September 2007 make no sense and have never made any sense. The events we have seen since February make no sense either. That is noteworthy, and we bring it to your attention. We are not saying that the events are meaningless. We are saying that we do not know their meaning. But we can't help but regard them as ominous.


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #52 on: April 10, 2008, 06:32:16 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Iranian Escalation and the Saudi Connection
April 8, 2008
Syria decided on Tuesday to postpone releasing the findings of its investigation into the Feb. 12 assassination of Hezbollah operations chief Imad Mughniyah just as Iranian media outlet, Fars News Agency, reported through its Persian language service that Syrian authorities had detained a Saudi Arabian intelligence official for allegedly participating in the assassination. According to the Fars report, the Saudi official’s Syrian girlfriend bought the two vehicles used in the bombing that killed Mughniyah. We are also told that Prince Bandar bin Sultan, a top Saudi national security official, masterminded the operation.

While Damascus is refraining from officially implicating Riyadh in the assassination, the Iranians have decided to escalate matters with the Saudis, their chief rivals in the Arab/Muslim world.

In fact, the conflicts in both Iraq and Lebanon (and to a lesser degree in the Israeli-Palestinian theatre) represent a struggle between the Saudis and Iranians for influence over the predominantly Arab Middle East. However, this struggle did not begin with the rise of Iran and the Arab Shia when the Baathist regime was ousted in Iraq at the hands of the United States nearly five years ago.

Instead, the Saudi-Iranian rivalry truly began at the foundation of the Islamic republic in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Up until that point, Saudi Arabia saw itself as the virtually unchallenged leader of the Arab/Islamic world. Saudi Arabia claimed unrivaled status as the preeminent nation-state in the largely Sunni Islamic world, given that its founding principle was Islam (albeit Wahhabi) coupled with the fact that that the Kaaba was housed in Mecca while the Mosque of the Prophet was located in Medina.

Alongside its identity as an Islamic state, Saudi Arabia is also a pro-western country with the largest oil resources in the Middle East. More importantly it was a key U.S. ally in the region. But, the autocratic nature of the regime coupled with its western alignment made Saudi Arabia a target of resentment among emerging radical Islamists. The establishment of a radical Islamist (though Shiite) regime in Iran, which overthrew the pro-western Iranian monarchy of the Shah, led to the rise of the worst Saudi nightmare — a regional state with comparable energy resources and a much larger military force. This new power challenged Saudi Arabia for leadership of the Islamic world by employing a radical brand of Islam that appeared more attractive to the Arab/Muslim masses who were disillusioned with what they perceived as the moribund version of official Islam promoted by a corrupt Saudi regime.

For the longest time, the Saudis took comfort from the fact that the Persian and Shiite character of the clerical regime in Tehran would stifle an Iranian challenge.

Another key factor that kept the Saudis comfortable was the fact that Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein. This created a buffer separating the Iranians from the Arabian Peninsula. Furthermore, Iraq (a Shiite majority state dominated by the Sunni minority) kept Iran occupied with eight years of war and forced the newly formed Islamic republic to temper its regional ambitions. Tehran therefore reached an informal and uncomfortable accommodation of sorts with Riyadh.

The most that the Iranians were able to do was help create Hezbollah in Lebanon and align with Syria. It was not until the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which removed a major threat to the Iranians, that Tehran was presented with an opportunity to revisit its regional ambitions by empowering pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia in Baghdad. As a result, the return of the Iranian/Shiite threat has been the single largest security nightmare for the Saudis.

Realizing that there is not much that can be done to check Iranian gains in Iraq, the Saudis are trying to strike back in the Levant by creating a coalition against Hezbollah while forcing Syria out of the Iranian orbit. Here is where Saudi and Israeli interests converge. A behind the scenes cooperation has emerged between the two with Prince Bandar playing a key role. This collaboration would explain why the Iranians linked him to the Mugniyah assassination. Emboldened by their growing influence in Iraq, the Iranians now feel that they can afford to up the ante with the Saudis, and hence the leak via Fars.

It is unlikely that the Iranians or the Saudis will come to blows because of these rising tensions, but their rivalry has just intensified. To what degree the Saudis can play the Persian/Shiite card against Tehran and how far the Iranians can exploit Saudi alignment with the United States and Israel against Riyadh in this race for regional domination remains to be seen. From Washington’s point of view, so long as it exists, this conflict is perfect and one that it can use to advance its own regional interests.



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Iraqi Kurds threaten Iran
« Reply #53 on: April 13, 2008, 11:47:12 PM »


 Kurdish rebels in Iraq threaten to attack Iran by Shwan Mohammed
Sun Apr 13, 7:26 AM ET

MOUNT QANDIL, Iraq (AFP) - A Kurdish rebel group based in northern Iraq threatened on Sunday to launch bomb attacks inside Iran if Tehran fails to halt anti-Kurdish policies in the Islamic country.

Pejak (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) warned it has the ability to "carry out bombings against Iranian forces" inside Iran.

Ronahi Ahmed, a member of Pejak's political bureau, told AFP from the group's hideout in Qandil mountain in northern Iraq that the rebels were ready for a long fight with Tehran.

"We can't stand handcuffed when Iran is chasing us on daily basis. We have the ability to confront Iran inside Tehran. We are not accepting any threat from anybody," she said.

"We don't accept the religious suppression that is being carried out by the Iranians. We totally reject it."

Ahmed said the group had recently attacked Iranian forces across the border.

"Last month our people were able to infiltrate Mahkook town in northwest Iran. They killed dozens of Iranian soldiers. In another incident in Iran's Miryuwan town our guerrillas killed six soldiers," she said.

"Iran should be aware that we have a long arm that can strike at significant places inside Iran, especially in the northwest reaching Tehran."

The Iranian military often shells Iraqi border villages in an attempt to flush out Kurdish guerrillas, sending residents fleeing from their homes.

Pejak is an anti-Iranian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish rebel movement fighting to carve out an independent state in southeastern Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has killed more than 37,000 people.

The PKK and Ankara's troops fought fierce battles in March inside Iraq after Turkey launched a ground offensive.

"If they (Iran) continue to follow the policy of (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, then the battle will be more severe and the region where we are staying will be hit by a war," Ahmed said.

Tehran alleges that Washington supports Pejak in its fight against Iran, but Ahmed denied the allegation.

"We have no relations with the Americans and Iran's claim that we have an alliance with America is not true. America does not back or fund us. We depend on supplies from our own people," she said.

Ahmed's statement comes as mystery still surrounds an explosion in a mosque in Iran's southern city of Shiraz on Saturday that killed 11 people and wounded at least 191.

Some officials insist the blast was accidental, but others said it could have been caused by a bomb.


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Iran's Al-Sadr Problem
« Reply #54 on: April 15, 2008, 10:28:32 PM »
Geopolitical Diary: Iran’s al-Sadrite Problem
April 16, 2008
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that differences have surfaced between the U.S. and Iraqi governments on how to deal with radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

While Shia-dominated Baghdad had assumed a far tougher attitude towards al-Sadr — wanting to eliminate him as a political force altogether — Washington is seeking to accommodate the Shiite leader in the political process.

Meanwhile, as the Americans and the Iraqis figure out what to do with al-Sadr, the Iranians have their own set of problems with his movement. Iran enjoys a significant amount of influence over al-Sadr, giving the country the ability to rein him in, especially on several recent occasions. But the relationship between Iran and the maverick cleric-to-be is both complex and problematic. While the Iranians are providing al-Sadr with the opportunity to establish his clerical credentials by allowing him to pursue his studies in their seminary city of Qom, they have also used punitive tools to keep him in line.

One tool includes a murder case filed in an Iranian court against al-Sadr by the family of Ayatollah Abdul-Majid al-Khoei, an assassinated Iraqi Shiite cleric, according to an April 10 report in the UK-based Saudi news website Elaph. Al-Khoei was gunned down by unidentified assailants in Najaf in April 2003 when he returned from exile in London following the toppling of the Baathist regime. The murder victim was the son of Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Abul-Qassim al-Khoei, an internationally renowned Iraqi Shiite cleric and the mentor of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Initially, the cleric’s family filed a case with Iraqi authorities blaming al-Sadr along with 27 other individuals for the murder. Although a judge issued an arrest warrant for al-Sadr, it was never executed. Overall, U.S. and Iraqi authorities did not pursue the matter. They decided to back off given the power of his Medhi Army militia and Iraq’s unstable political situation.

Frustrated with the situation, al-Khoei’s family decided to take the matter to the Iranians. The case was brought to the attention of a special court established by the Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that is designed to prosecute clerics who violate the law. It seems the case has stalled there. Although it has not been pursued, it also had not been dismissed.

Given certain jurisdictional issues, the Iranians cannot technically prosecute al-Sadr since he is neither an Iranian national nor a cleric. Furthermore, al-Khoei’s family members are ideological rivals to the Iranians. In fact, Tehran views them as U.S. lackeys and has reveled in seeing them suffer setbacks.

However, the lingering case still provides the Iranians with a handy method of keeping al-Sadr in check and managing his ability to upset its plans for Iraq. But the power of the Iranians to intimidate al-Sadr only extends so far, given his large following among the Iraqi Shia. Iranians have no interest in jeopardizing the relationships they have spent the last five years cultivating with the al-Sadrites. But that does not diminish the strong opposition many Iranians feel toward al-Sadr.

Tehran has long viewed al-Sadr as a political wildcard who can never be completely tamed. Recently, his willfulness was demonstrated in a March 29 interview with al-Jazeera in which he recalled a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“I told him that we share the same ideology, but that politically and militarily, I would not be an extension of Iran, and that there were negative things that Iran was doing in Iraq,” al-Sadr reportedly said in the interview. “I mentioned to him a few things that Iran needs to rectify with regard to Iraq. Iran committed mistakes that it should not have made.”

Whether or not al-Sadr actually said this to Khamenei matters little, but the claims — made on an international television station — have still caused a significant stir within Iran. In fact, many senior Iranian officials have publicly criticized al-Sadr. Those critics include Mohammed Baqer Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, who is seen as the main challenger to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in next year’s presidential election. Another power critic includes Mohsen Rezai, secretary of the Expediency Council and the former head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

This situation is being watched closely by Saudi Arabia, which is eager to counter an emerging Iran by exploiting intra-Shia rifts. This position could explain why news of the impending murder case was reported by a Saudi media group while it has received little publicity elsewhere. The Saudis realize problems between Iran and Iraqi Shia, hamper Iran’s ability to threaten their national security. Therein lies al-Sadr’s ability to serve as a potential arrestor to Iranian ambitions in Iraq and the region.

The Saudis are not the only ones happy to see the wrangling between al-Sadr and Iran. The United States, engaged in multiple complex dealings with Iraqi factions in order to block Iran’s path towards regional dominance, would also like to see as many obstacles in the path of Iran as possible. While it continues to create a bulwark among Iraq’s Sunnis, Washington can certainly benefit from a Shiite thorn in Iran’s side and recent comments from top U.S. officials have almost rallied behind al-Sadr.

Last week in fact, al-Sadr was described as “a significant political figure,” by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates who added that the United States wanted the Shiite leader to work within the political process. Additionally Gen. David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Iraq, called the al-Sadrite movement a major force that should be accommodated to varying degrees.

Politicking aside, it is unlikely that Washington can align with al-Sadr, given his radical Islamist ideology and anti-occupation nationalist stance although an understanding could develop. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. However, what is clear is that al-Sadr is proving to be a problem for Iran and his influence could play a key role in preventing the Iranians from dominating Iraq in the long run.

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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #55 on: April 20, 2008, 10:10:15 PM »
Geopolitical Diary: Syria and Israel Consider a Deal
April 21, 2008
Rumors are circulating once again that Syria and Israel are engaged in serious peace talks. Syrian President Bashar al Assad announced April 19 that he had exchanged back-channel messages with Israel about possibility of resuming talks, adding that Israel knows well what Syria will and will not accept, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported on Sunday.

In a similar vein, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Thursday that the two countries have been engaged in talks, stating “They know what we want from them, and I know full well what they want from us.” Stratfor sources also say that an undercover meeting took place between April 17 between Syria and Israel.

The idea of the Syrians and Israelis conducting covert peace negotiations is nothing new. It is unusual, however, to see both sides actually acknowledging that meetings are taking place. Normally, each time a flurry of such talks makes its way into the press — usually propagated by the Israeli media — a flood of denials from both sides quickly follows. So perhaps talks are happening.

Each side will be asking for a high price. The framework for such peace talks would include Israel’s withdrawal from the Golan Heights to pre-1967 borders. Syria would also be expected to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and distance itself from Iran.

These are not easy concessions for either side to make. The Israelis are loath to withdraw from the strategic 7,296-foot Mount Hermon, which is critical for Israel’s ability to defend its northeastern flank. In exchange for pulling back, Israel would want to retain control over the use of water from the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret — which provide roughly one-third the country’s water supply.

Syria, on the other hand, knows the risk of cutting ties with Iran and its militant proxies, who have the capacity to strike back at the al Assad regime. For all intents and purposes, Syria under the al Assad regime has made an ideal ally for the Iranians in the Arab world. Syria is ruled by Alawites, a minority sect of Shiite Islam, and the Alawite regime in Damascus has long been out of step with the regional Arab “consensus” on a host of issues. It sided with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. It also helped establish and nurture Hezbollah in Lebanon in collaboration with the Arabs’ principal rival, Iran.

But the Syrians are in an uncomfortable spot right now. Syria’s relations with Hezbollah and Iran have been strained ever since the assassination of Hezbollah top commander Imad Mughniyah on Syrian soil in February. Meanwhile, thanks to the U.S.-backed Sunni regimes in Cairo and Riyadh, the Syrians are facing a wall of resistance preventing them from reconsolidating influence in neighboring Lebanon. And finally, Israel has made a number of moves in recent weeks to suggest that the next military confrontation it has with Hezbollah in Lebanon could very well drag the Syrians in, much to their peril.

Well aware of its inferior defenses, Damascus is in no mood for a war with Israel that could threaten the survival of the al Assad regime. Israel, too, is keen on preserving the stability of the Alawite regime, because from Israel’s perspective all the alternatives are worse. As a result, the war threats coming from Israel over the past couple of weeks have been carefully interlaced with offers of peace.

With these rumors of peace talks afloat, we will be watching closely to see what leaks come out of a meeting April 22 between the Bush administration and the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee over nuclear ties between North Korea and Syria. If peace negotiations between Israel and Syria have indeed reached a serious phase, the discussion on Syria’s alleged nuclear activity will likely be subdued (at Israel’s insistence). If, however, the United States and Israel plan to push Syria further, the coming week will be blazing with reports of a supposed Syrian nuclear threat.

At the very least, the buzz about peace talks between Israel and Syria allows the Israelis and the Americans to inject distrust into the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah coalition. We now need to see how serious the Israelis are in taking these talks a step further


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Syria and Israel hint at Peace Talks
« Reply #56 on: April 24, 2008, 06:20:56 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Syria and Israel Hint at Peace Talks
April 24, 2008
The morning of April 21, we woke up to a report in the Syrian media saying that Israel had agreed to hand the Golan Heights back to Syria in exchange for a peace agreement. The Syrian story was reported in the Israeli media, with no comment from the Olmert government, although several Israeli politicians vigorously condemned the idea. Since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was reported to be on vacation, we figured there was a time delay and settled back waiting for the Israeli government to deny the Syrian report.

That’s when it became interesting. Rather than denying the report, Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said, “I have nothing to add beyond what the prime minister said on Friday in his interviews with the Israeli press about his desire for peace with Syria.” Olmert had said, “Very clearly we want peace with the Syrians and are taking all manner of action to this end. President Bashar al-Assad knows precisely what our expectations are and we know his. I won’t say more.”

Today, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem held a press conference in Tehran, of all places, along with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. Al-Moallem said there that “if Israel is serious and wants peace, nothing will stop the renewal of peace talks.” Another Syrian minister, speaking on Al Jazeera at about the same time, said that “Olmert is ready for peace with Syria on the grounds of international conditions; on the grounds of the return of the Golan Heights in full to Syria.”

So now we have the Syrian foreign minister offering peace talks with the Israelis while standing next to the Iranian foreign minister, who apparently did not go into cardiac arrest; another Syrian minister confirming this and implying that the quid pro quo for peace is the Golan Heights; and the Israeli prime minister’s office refusing to deny these reports while referring back to a statement made by the prime minister in which he said that Israel wants peace with the Syrians and both sides know what the terms are.

This is not quite the same thing as saying that a deal has been made. What it is saying is that the terms of such a deal are clearly understood by both sides and that neither side is walking away from the table, which means that the terms are at least in the ball park — so much so from the Syrian side that it was worth going to Tehran to talk about it with the Iranians, and apparently the Iranians did not back away from Syria. That means that the Syrians not only have their ally on board, but are signaling the Israelis that the ally — Iran — can live with the terms, which of course opens other vistas.

The talk today has focused on the Golan Heights, at least as far as the Syrians are concerned. From the Israeli point of view, the Heights are not nearly as militarily critical as they once might have appeared. While holding the Heights — which, unlike Gaza, are fairly lightly populated — the Syrians fired artillery at Israeli settlements. That was a problem, but not a strategic threat. Holding the Golan Heights did pose a challenge to the Israelis. In the 1973 War, the Israelis had to fight with their backs to the Golan escarpment in order to block the Syrians. Had the Syrians held the Heights, and the Israelis were in the hills on the other side of the Jordan River, the strategic situation would have been different. The Syrians could not have taken the Israelis by surprise, and the armor descending the Heights would have been in the killing ground for Israeli armor, artillery and missiles as they descended. Moreover, in today’s military environment, conventional artillery is vulnerable to everything from cruise missiles to helicopters firing Hellfire missiles and to computerized counter-battery fire. Whatever the argument was for taking the Heights in 1967, the military situation has evolved since then.

It is therefore not inconceivable that Olmert would trade the Golan Heights for a peace treaty. But the real issue between Israel and Syria isn’t the Golan Heights. The issue is Lebanon. Syria’s fundamental interest is to the west, where it has strategic and economic interests. It wants to be the dominant power in Lebanon. Israel also has deep interests in Lebanon, which are primarily defensive. It does not want Lebanon used — primarily by Hezbollah at this point — as a base from which to attack Israel. Israel and Syria had an informal understanding after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon that Syria would have a free hand there and would be expected to control Hezbollah. There is a basis for understanding here as well — one which would leave many Lebanese in a difficult position, but might satisfy Israeli and Syrian interests.

But before that comes the domestic battle in Israel. There are powerful forces that would argue that one, the Golan is much more significant militarily than we have portrayed it; two, allowing Syria to dominate Lebanon gives Damascus another axis from which to attack Israel later; and three, Israel would find a Syrian-Iranian force to their north over the next generation. These are not trivial arguments and can be reinforced by the Tehran press conference, which signaled that the Syrians are not acting independently of the Iranians.

At the same time, Olmert will argue that peace is worth the risk and point to Egypt as an example. The argument will go on, but now at least we are seeing where the various odd events of the past few weeks were leading — and it is not clear that it cannot end in war. If this falls apart, as it well might, the situation could rapidly spiral out of control as both countries start to maneuver in Lebanon.

All of this is fascinating, but what stands out is the fact that the Iranians have signaled that they can live with a deal with Israel. In the long run, the implications of that are the most interesting.


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Stratfor: Why Now
« Reply #57 on: April 25, 2008, 08:30:46 AM »
April 25, 2008
The Bush administration briefed the U.S. Congress on Thursday about the reasons behind the Sept. 6, 2007, Israeli raid on Syria. According to the secret briefing — the content of which, of course, not only was leaked immediately (as was intended) but was essentially confirmed by a White House spokeswoman — the target was a nuclear reactor, able to produce plutonium, that had been built with the assistance of North Korea. The administration showed a videotape, apparently produced by Israeli intelligence, showing faces that were said to be in the facility and to be clearly Korean.

What is important to note is this information is not new. It is a confirmation of the story leaked by the administration shortly after the attack and also leaked by the Israelis a bit later. The explanation for the attack was that it was designed to take out a reactor in Syria that had been built with North Korean help. There are therefore three questions. First, why did the United States go to such lengths to reveal what it has been saying privately for months? Second, why did the administration do it now? Third, why is the United States explaining an Israeli raid using, at least in part, material provided by Israel? Why isn’t Israel making the revelation?

It has never been clear to us why the Israelis and Americans didn’t immediately announce that the Syrians were building a nuclear reactor. Given American hostility toward Syria over support for jihadists in Iraq, we would have thought that they would have announced it instantly. The explanation we thought most plausible at the time was that the intelligence came from the North Koreans in the course of discussions of their nuclear technology, and since the North Koreans were cooperating, the United States didn’t want to publicly embarrass them. It was the best we could come up with.

The announcement on Thursday seems to debunk that theory, at least to the extent that the primary material displayed was U.S. satellite information and the Israeli video, which was said to have been used to convince the United States of the existence of the reactor and of North Korean involvement. So why didn’t the administration condemn Syria and North Korea on September 7? It still seems to us that part of the explanation is in the state of talks with North Korea over its own program. The North Koreans had said that they would provide technical information on their program — which they haven’t done. Either the United States lost its motivation to protect North Korean feelings because of this or the Bush administration felt that Thursday’s briefings would somehow bring pressure to bear on North Korea. Unless the United States is planning to use these revelations as justification for attacks on the North Koreans, we find it difficult to see how this increases pressure on them.

More interesting is the question of why the United States — and not Israel — is briefing on an Israeli raid. Israeli media reported April 23 that the Israelis had asked the Americans not to brief Congress. The reason given was that the Israelis did not want the United States to embarrass Syria at this point. As we noted on April 23, there appeared to have been some interesting diplomatic moves between Syria and Israel, and it made sense that revealing this information now might increase friction.

If this read is true, then it would appear that the United States briefed deliberately against Israeli wishes. Certainly, the Israelis didn’t participate in the process. One answer could be that the United States is unhappy about Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s moves on Syria and wants to derail them. The United States wanted Syria out of Lebanon. The Israelis have a more complex view of their presence. In some ways, they see the Syrians as a stabilizing force. And they certainly aren’t eager to see Bashar al Assad’s government fall, since whatever might replace the al Assad government would probably be worse from the Israeli point of view. That would mean that the Israelis would want to take out the reactor, but not necessarily rub the Syrians’ nose in it.

So there are two plausible answers to today’s show. One is to increase pressure on North Korea. The second is to derail any Israeli-Syrian peace process. The problem is that it’s hard to see why North Korea is going to be moved by the official declaration of what Washington has been saying from the beginning. The second is hard to believe because it would assume that U.S.-Israeli relations had deteriorated to the point that the United States had to use this as a lever. That’s tough to believe.

The senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, said after the briefing, “This administration has no credibility on North Korea. A lot of us are beginning to become concerned that the administration is moving away from getting a solid policy solution to ‘let’s make a deal.’”

So that seems to undermine the prep for strike theory. That leaves tension between the United States and Israel as the last standing theory. Not a good theory, but the last standing one.


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Syria-Israel peace deal moving forward?
« Reply #58 on: May 01, 2008, 07:33:28 PM »

Stratfor has received an unconfirmed report that the U.S. administration is
currently reviewing a peace agreement drafted by Syria and Israel. Some of the terms
of the alleged deal involve Syria regaining its military, political and economic
influence in Lebanon in exchange for suppressing its militant proxies -- Hezbollah,
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Syria and Israel also reportedly came up
with a system to create a demilitarized zone along the Israeli-Syrian border in
which Syria would pull back four miles for every one mile that Israel pulls back its
forces. The Golan Heights would be returned to Syria, though Israel would likely
retain full rights to the key water source in the territory.
If this information is true, it would indicate the ongoing peace negotiations
between Israel have reached a critical phase. Our first clue that these were not
simply talks for the sake of talks came when the negotiations broke into the public
sphere a little more than a week ago. The lack of denials followed by a public
acknowledgment by both the Israeli and Syrian leaderships demonstrated that
something serious was going on. The deal could evaporate given the complexities
surrounding the issue, but if the two sides have actually crafted a peace agreement
that is now being debated among U.S. officials in Washington, then the political map
of the Middle East could undergo some major changes in the near future.
Over the years, Syria has carved out a place for itself as the regional pariah. It
is a minority Alawite regime in a majority Sunni country. It openly harbors
Palestinian militant leaders. It supports Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is the only Arab
state allied with Iran. And it has directly supported the jihadist insurgency in
Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion. Taken together, these charges make behavior
modification in Syria sound nearly impossible.
But it must be remembered that Syria's core geopolitical interest is in Lebanon --
its primary gateway to the Mediterranean basin. Without Lebanon, Syria is
politically, economically and militarily hamstrung. For Syria to regain its regional
footing, it must finagle its way into a peace agreement in which the Arab world and
the West will recognize a Syrian hegemonic role in its western neighbor. The
opportunity has come through Israel, and it makes sense for the Syrians to pursue
Tactically speaking, however, this will be a messy peace agreement to implement.
Perhaps the messiest part of it all is that Syria will have to demonstrate that it
will incur the risk and trouble of containing Hezbollah. A few Hezbollah heads would
need to roll for Syria to pull this off, and the process may have even already
started. The February assassination of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah on Syrian
soil, though still extremely murky, came at a critical point in these negotiations.
We also cannot help but notice Syria's unusual silence on its investigation of the
assassination. If Syria were not engaged in serious peace talks with Israel, it
would waste no time in playing the blame game to clear suspicion of its own
involvement in the hit.
Meanwhile, a rumor is circulating that Syria has instructed its Shiite ally Nabih
Berri, speaker of the Lebanese House of Parliament and leader of the Amal Movement,
to set a new date -- May 13 -- to elect a new president for Lebanon. If Syria has
indeed gotten the guarantees it wants on Lebanon, it would make sense to see some
moves in the coming weeks that would pull Lebanon out of political stagnation with
the election of a Syria-friendly president in Beirut.
These signs of progress are all hinting that a peace deal may indeed be just around
the corner, but there are enough spoilers on the table that this peace bubble could
burst. It is questionable whether the current Israeli government has the political
muscle to override domestic dissent in seeing through a peace treaty with Syria.
Though it appears Saudi Arabia and France are backing the deal, it is far less
assured that the United States is on the same page as Israel in pursuing peace with
Syria. The Iranians, already pursuing complex negotiations with the United States
over Iraq, are certainly not going to be happy if their Shiite extension in the
Levant is hived off. And the groups with the most to worry about -- Hezbollah, Hamas
and PIJ -- are highly unlikely to take their death sentence lying down.
In other words, though we are seeing some movement, we'll need to see more before we
believe that a solid deal can be cut.

Copyright 2008 Strategic Forecasting, Inc.


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New Intel on Iran's nukes?
« Reply #59 on: May 05, 2008, 09:51:13 PM »

UK paper: Breakthrough reached in intel on Iran
Mossad chief Meir Dagan is expected to brief Britain's MI6 head Sir John Scarlett, who is slated to visit Israel later this month, on an intelligence breakthrough regarding the Iranian nuclear program, London's Sunday Times reported.

Concern has been mounting in Israel that Iran's nuclear capability may be far more advanced than was recognized by the US National Intelligence Estimate last December, which reported that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons development program in 2003 in response to international pressure.

A source quoted by the paper on Sunday claimed that the new information was on par with intelligence that led to the discovery and destruction of a partly constructed nuclear reactor in Syria last September.

Israeli officials believe the US will revise its analysis of Iran's program.

"We expect the Americans to amend their report soon," a high-ranking military officer said last week.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni briefed British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Israel's findings during talks on the Middle East in London last week. Israeli intelligence officers, en route from Washington where they had been outlining their latest information to American officials, joined Livni for the briefing.

It is believed that if Israel were weighing military action against Iran, it would first seek diplomatic support in London and Washington because of the danger of triggering a wider Middle East conflict.

"We're doing a lot of things about Iran," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said last week. "We say we shouldn't rule out any option. Not ruling out options means action, but the worst thing to do at the moment is to talk [about it]."


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T. Friedman: The New Cold War
« Reply #60 on: May 14, 2008, 05:55:03 AM »
The New Cold War
Yahoo! Buzz

Published: May 14, 2008
The next American president will inherit many foreign policy challenges, but surely one of the biggest will be the cold war. Yes, the next president is going to be a cold-war president — but this cold war is with Iran.

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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman

Go to Columnist Page » That is the real umbrella story in the Middle East today — the struggle for influence across the region, with America and its Sunni Arab allies (and Israel) versus Iran, Syria and their non-state allies, Hamas and Hezbollah. As the May 11 editorial in the Iranian daily Kayhan put it, “In the power struggle in the Middle East, there are only two sides: Iran and the U.S.”

For now, Team America is losing on just about every front. How come? The short answer is that Iran is smart and ruthless, America is dumb and weak, and the Sunni Arab world is feckless and divided. Any other questions?

The outrage of the week is the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah attempt to take over Lebanon. Hezbollah thugs pushed into Sunni neighborhoods in West Beirut, focusing particular attention on crushing progressive news outlets like Future TV, so Hezbollah’s propaganda machine could dominate the airwaves. The Shiite militia Hezbollah emerged supposedly to protect Lebanon from Israel. Having done that, it has now turned around and sold Lebanon to Syria and Iran.

All of this is part of what Ehud Yaari, one of Israel’s best Middle East watchers, calls “Pax Iranica.” In his April 28 column in The Jerusalem Report, Mr. Yaari pointed out the web of influence that Iran has built around the Middle East — from the sway it has over Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to its ability to manipulate virtually all the Shiite militias in Iraq, to its building up of Hezbollah into a force — with 40,000 rockets — that can control Lebanon and threaten Israel should it think of striking Tehran, to its ability to strengthen Hamas in Gaza and block any U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“Simply put,” noted Mr. Yaari, “Tehran has created a situation in which anyone who wants to attack its atomic facilities will have to take into account that this will lead to bitter fighting” on the Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi and Persian Gulf fronts. That is a sophisticated strategy of deterrence.

The Bush team, by contrast, in eight years has managed to put America in the unique position in the Middle East where it is “not liked, not feared and not respected,” writes Aaron David Miller, a former Mideast negotiator under both Republican and Democratic administrations, in his provocative new book on the peace process, titled “The Much Too Promised Land.”

“We stumbled for eight years under Bill Clinton over how to make peace in the Middle East, and then we stumbled for eight years under George Bush over how to make war there,” said Mr. Miller, and the result is “an America that is trapped in a region which it cannot fix and it cannot abandon.”

Look at the last few months, he said: President Bush went to the Middle East in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went in February, Vice President Dick Cheney went in March, the secretary of state went again in April, and the president is there again this week. After all that, oil prices are as high as ever and peace prospects as low as ever. As Mr. Miller puts it, America right now “cannot defeat, co-opt or contain” any of the key players in the region.

The big debate between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is over whether or not we should talk to Iran. Obama is in favor; Clinton has been against. Alas, the right question for the next president isn’t whether we talk or don’t talk. It’s whether we have leverage or don’t have leverage.

When you have leverage, talk. When you don’t have leverage, get some — by creating economic, diplomatic or military incentives and pressures that the other side finds too tempting or frightening to ignore. That is where the Bush team has been so incompetent vis-à-vis Iran.

The only weaker party is the Sunni Arab world, which is either so drunk on oil it thinks it can buy its way out of any Iranian challenge or is so divided it can’t make a fist to protect its own interests — or both.

We’re not going to war with Iran, nor should we. But it is sad to see America and its Arab friends so weak they can’t prevent one of the last corners of decency, pluralism and openness in the Arab world from being snuffed out by Iran and Syria. The only thing that gives me succor is the knowledge that anyone who has ever tried to dominate Lebanon alone — Maronites, Palestinians, Syrians, Israelis — has triggered a backlash and failed.

“Lebanon is not a place anyone can control without a consensus, without bringing everybody in,” said the Lebanese columnist Michael Young. “Lebanon has been a graveyard for people with grand projects.” In the Middle East, he added, your enemies always seem to “find a way of joining together and suddenly making things very difficult for you.”


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Stratfor: US Iranian negotiations
« Reply #61 on: May 28, 2008, 09:52:28 AM »
The U.S.-Iranian Negotiations: Beyond the Rhetoric
February 12, 2008 | 1943 GMT
By George Friedman

Tehran has announced that Iran and the United States will hold a new round of talks on the future of Iraq at some point next week. The Iranians said that the “structure of the discussions have been finalized but the level of participation has not yet been agreed.” Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to visit Iraq before March 20, the Iranian New Year. The United States has not denied either of these reports. There thus appears to be some public movement occurring in the U.S.-Iranian talks over Iraq.

These talks are not new. This would be the fourth in a series of meetings; the most recent meeting happened last August. These meetings have been scheduled and canceled before, and because who will attend this go-round remains unsettled, these talks may never get off the ground. More significant, no Iranian president has visited Iraq since the Khomeini revolution. If this visit took place, it would represent a substantial evolution. It also is not something that would happen unopposed if the United States did not want it to; by contrast, the Iraqi government lacks much of a say in the matter because it does not have that much room for maneuver. So we can say this much: Nothing has happened yet, but the Iranians have repositioned themselves as favoring some sort of diplomatic initiative from their side and the Americans so far have not done anything to discourage them.

U.S.-Iranian negotiations are always opaque because they are ideologically difficult to justify by both sides. For Iran, the United States is the Great Satan. For the United States, Iran is part of the Axis of Evil. It is difficult for Iran to talk to the devil or for the United States to negotiate with evil. Therefore, U.S.-Iranian discussions always take place in a strange way. The public rhetoric between the countries is always poisonous. If you simply looked at what each country says about the other, you would assume that no discussions are possible. But if you treat the public rhetoric as simply designed to manage domestic public opinion, and then note the shifts in policy outside of the rhetorical context, a more complex picture emerges. Public and private talks have taken place, and more are planned. If you go beyond the talks to actions, things become even more interesting.

We have discussed this before, but it is important to understand the strategic interests of the two countries at this point to understand what is going on. Ever since the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq has been the buffer between the Iranians and the Arabian Peninsula. The United States expected to create a viable pro-American government quickly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and therefore expected that Iraq would continue to serve as a buffer. That did not happen for a number of reasons, and therefore the strategic situation has evolved.

The primary American interest in Iraq at this point is a negative one — namely, that Iraq not become an Iranian satellite. If that were to happen and Iranian forces entered Iraq, the entire balance of power in the Arabian Peninsula would collapse. Whatever the future of Iraq, U.S. policy since the surge and before has been to prevent a vacuum into which Iran can move. The primary Iranian interest in Iraq also is negative. Tehran must make sure that no Iraqi government is formed that is dominated by Sunnis, as happened under the Baathists, and that the Iraqi military never becomes powerful enough to represent an offensive threat to Iran. In other words, above all else, Iran’s interest is to avoid a repeat of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Obviously, each side has positive goals. The United States would love to see a powerful, pro-American Iraqi government that could threaten Iran on its own. The Iranians would love to see a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Neither side is in a position to achieve these goals. The United States cannot create a pro-U.S. government because the Iranians, through their influence in the Shiite community, can create sufficient chaos to make that impossible. Through the surge, the United States has demonstrated to the Iranians that it is not withdrawing from Iraq, and the Iranians do not have the ability to force an American withdrawal. So long as the Americans are there and moving closer to the Sunnis, the Iranians cannot achieve their positive goals and also must harbor concerns about the long-term future of Iraq. Each side has blocked the other’s strategic positive goal. Each side now wants to nail down its respective negative goal: avoiding the thing it fears the most.

Ever since the 2006 U.S. congressional midterm elections, when President George W. Bush confounded Iranian expectations by actually increasing forces in Iraq rather than beginning a phased withdrawal, the two countries have been going through a complex process of talks and negotiations designed to achieve their negative ends: the creation of an Iraq that cannot threaten Iran but can be a buffer against Iranian expansion. Neither side trusts the other, and each would love to take advantage of the situation to achieve its own more ambitious goals. But the reality on the ground is that each side would be happy if it avoided the worst-case scenario.

Again, ignoring the rhetoric, there has been a fairly clear sequence of events. Casualties in Iraq have declined — not only U.S. military casualties but also civilian casualties. The civil war between Sunni and Shia has declined dramatically, although it did not disappear. Sunnis and Shia both were able to actively project force into more distant areas, so the decline did not simply take place because neighborhoods became more homogeneous, nor did it take place because of the addition of 30,000 troops. Though the United States created a psychological shift, even if it uses its troops more effectively, Washington cannot impose its will on the population. A change in tactics or an increase of troops to 150,000 cannot control a country of 25 million bent on civil war.

The decline in intracommunal violence is attributable to two facts. The first is the alliance between the United States and Sunni leaders against al Qaeda, which limited the jihadists’ ability to strike at the Shia. The second is the decision by the Iranians to control the actions of Iranian-dominated militias. The return of Muqtada al-Sadr — the most radical of the Shiite leaders — to ayatollah school and his decision to order his followers to cease fire dramatically reduced Shiite-on-Sunni violence. That would not, and could not, have happened without Iranian concurrence. If the Iranians had wanted the civil war to continue unabated, it would have. The Iranians cannot eliminate all violence, nor do they want to. They want the Americans to understand that they can resume the violence at will. Nevertheless, without the Iranian decision to limit the violence, the surge would not have worked.

If the prime Iranian threat against the United States was civil war in Iraq, the prime American threat against Iran was an air campaign against Iranian infrastructure. Such a campaign was publicly justified by the U.S. claim that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. With the Iranians having removed the threat of overwhelming civil war in Iraq, the United States responded by removing the threat of an air campaign. The publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stating that Iran does not have a nuclear program at present effectively signaled the Iranians that there would be no campaign.

There was intense speculation that the NIE was a “coup” by the intelligence community against the president. Though an interesting theory, not a single author of the NIE has been fired, none of the intelligence community leaders has been removed, and the president has very comfortably lived with the report’s findings. He has lowered the threat of war against Iran while holding open the possibility — as the NIE suggests — that the Iranians might still be a threat, and that a new NIE might require airstrikes.

The Iranians reduced Shiite violence. The United States reduced the threat of airstrikes. At various points, each side has tested and signaled to the other. The Iranians have encouraged small-scale attacks by Shia in recent weeks, but nothing like what was going on a year or two ago. During Bush’s trip to the region, the United States triggered a crisis in the Strait of Hormuz to signal the Iranians that the United States retains its options. The rhetoric remains apocalyptic, but the reality is that, without admitting it, each side has moved to lower the temperature.

Clearly, secret negotiations are under way. The announcement that an agreement was reached on the structure and subject of a public meeting this week by definition means that unpublicized conversations have been taking place. Similarly, the announcement that Ahmadinejad will be visiting Iraq could not have come without extensive back-channel discussions. We would suspect that these discussions actually have been quite substantial.

The Iranians have made clear what they want in these negotiations. Mottaki was quoted in the Iranian media as saying, “We did express our readiness for entering into negotiations with the U.S. when the talks were held by the five Security Council permanent members plus Germany over Iran’s nuclear program.” He also said that, “Revising its policies toward Iran, the U.S. can pave the way for us to consider the circumstances needed for such talks to be held.” Since talks are being held, it must indicate some movement on the American part.

It all comes down to this: The United States, at the very least, wants a coalition government in Iraq not controlled by Iran, which can govern Iraq and allow the United States to draw down its forces. The Iranians want an Iraqi government not controlled by the United States or the Sunnis, which can control Iraq but not be strong enough to threaten Iran. Iran also wants the United States to end sanctions against Iran, while the United States wants Iran to end all aspects of its nuclear program.

Ending sanctions is politically difficult for the United States. Ending all aspects of the nuclear program is difficult for Iran. The United States can finesse the sanctions issue by turning a blind eye to third powers trading with Iran and allowing U.S. companies to set up foreign subsidiaries to conduct trade with Iran. The Iranians can finesse the nuclear issue, maintaining limited aspects of the program but not pursuing all the technologies needed to build a weapon.

Rhetoric aside, we are therefore in a phase where there are ways for each side to get what it wants. Obviously, the political process is under way in both countries, with Iranian parliamentary elections on March 14 and the U.S. presidential race in full swing. Much domestic opposition is building up against Ahmadinejad, and an intensifying power struggle in Iran could be a fairly large distraction for the country in the short term. The Iranians also could wait a bit more to see how the U.S. presidential campaign shapes up before making any major decisions.

But then, a political process is always under way. That means the rhetoric will remain torrid; the public meetings few and low-key; the private discussions ongoing; and actions by each side sometimes inexplicable, keyed as they are to private discussions.

But it is clear from this week’s announcements by the Iranians that there is movement under way. If the Iranian president does visit Iraq and the United States makes no effort to block him, that will be the signal that some sort of accommodation has been reached. The United States and Iran will not recognize each other and will continue to condemn and even threaten each other. But this is truly a case where their rhetoric does not begin to reflect the reality.


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Big Read
« Reply #62 on: June 03, 2008, 07:13:21 PM »
By George Friedman

The Saudis are hosting an interfaith conference June 4. Four hundred Islamic scholars from around the world will be there, with one day devoted to interfaith issues. Saudi King Abdullah will open the conference, over which Saudi Shura Council head Saleh bin Huma will preside. This is clearly intended to be a major event, not minimized by the fact that Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran’s most influential leader — who heads Iran’s Assembly of Experts, the body that elects and can remove the Supreme Leader — will be attending as well. Rafsanjani was specifically invited by the Saudi ambassador to Iran last Wednesday with the following message: “King Abdullah believes you have a great stature in the Islamic world … and he has assigned me the duty of inviting you to the conference.” We would not have expected to see a meeting on interfaith dialogue even a year ago.

For its part, al Qaeda condemned the conference. Its spokesman, Abu Yahya al-Libi, said of Abdullah via videotape that “He who is called the defender of monotheism by sycophantic clerics is raising the flag of brotherhood between religions … and thinks he has found the wisdom to stop wars and prevent the causes of enmity between religions and peoples.” He went on to say “By God, if you don’t resist heroically against this wanton tyrant … the day will come when church bells will ring in the heart of the Arabian Peninsula.” In the past, the Saudis have been very careful not to push al Qaeda, or the kingdom’s own conservatives, too far.

One reason for the change might be the increasing focus by conservative Saudi clerics on the Shia, particularly Iran and Hezbollah. Twenty-two leading conservative clerics issued a statement condemning the Shia as destabilizing the Arab world and hostile to Sunnis. More important, they claimed that Iran and Hezbollah are only pretending to be hostile to the United States and Jews. In a translation by The Associated Press, the clerics said that “If they (Shiites) have a country, they humiliate and exert control in their rule over Sunnis. They sow strife, corruption and destruction among Muslims and destabilize security in Muslim countries … such as Yemen.” This view paralleled statements by al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri a few weeks back.

No Fear of the Conservatives
To begin understanding all this, we need to start with the obvious fact that the Saudi government is no longer afraid of antagonizing conservatives. It should be remembered that there was extensive al Qaeda activity in Saudi Arabia in 2003 and 2004 after the Saudis increased their cooperation with the United States. The Saudis eliminated this activity, and the royal family has done extensive work in decreasing its internal rifts as well as reaching out to tribal leaders. Nevertheless, the Saudi government has been careful not to push too far. Holding a meeting to study interfaith dialogue would appear to be crossing the line. But clearly the Saudis don’t think so.

There are three reasons for this. First, al Qaeda has been crippled inside Saudi Arabia and in the broader region. The U.S. boast that al Qaeda in Iraq is on the run is no exaggeration. Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and Iraq are on the run because of a split among Sunni conservatives. Conservative Sunnis have their roots in local communities. Al Qaeda is an international grouping that moves into communities from the outside. As such, they threaten the interests of local Sunni leaders who are more unlikely to share theological values with al Qaeda in the long-term, and don’t want to be displaced as communal leaders nor want to see their communities destroyed in al Qaeda’s adventures. Theology aside, al Qaeda pushed its position too far, and those Sunnis who might theoretically support them have come to see them as a threat.

Second, and far more important, there is Saudi money. At current oil prices, the Saudis are absolutely loaded with cash. In the Arabian Peninsula as elsewhere, money buys friends. In Arabia, the rulers have traditionally bound tribes and sects to them through money. At present, the Saudis can overwhelm theological doubts with very large grants and gifts. The Saudi government did not enjoy 2004 and does not want a repeat. It is therefore carefully strengthening its ties inside Saudi Arabia and throughout the Sunni world using money as a bonding agent. That means that conservative Sunnis who normally would oppose this kind of a conference are less apt to openly criticize it.

Third, there is the deepening Sunni-Shiite split. In Christian history, wars between co-religionists like Roman Catholics and Protestants were brutal, and the distrust still echoes today. The Sunni-Shiite split, like the Catholic-Protestant split, ranges across theological and national interests. Iran is the major Shiite nation. It is mistrusted and feared by the Sunni Saudis, whose enormous wealth and military weakness leaves them vulnerable to the Iranians and forces them into an alliance with the Americans.

At this particular point, where Tehran’s mismanagement of Iran’s economy and particularly its oil industry has caused it to be left out of the greatest benefits of the surge in oil prices, the Saudis are worried that internal Iranian tensions and ambitions will cause Tehran at least to increase its subversive activities among Shia in the Arabian Peninsula and in Lebanon. Hence conservative Saudi clerics have focused their attacks on Iran and Hezbollah — officially without government sanction, but clearly not shut down by the government.

Protecting the Oil Bonanza
Behind all of this, something much deeper and more important is going on. With crude prices in the range of $130 a barrel, the Saudis are now making more money on oil than they could have imagined five years ago when the price was below $40 a barrel. The Saudis don’t know how long these prices will last. Endless debates are raging over whether high oil prices are the result of speculation, the policy of the U.S. Federal Reserve, conspiracy by the oil companies and so on. The single fact the Saudis can be certain of is that the price of oil is high, they don’t know how long it will remain high, and they don’t want anything interfering with their amassing vast financial reserves that might have to sustain them in lean times should they come.

In short, the Saudis are trying to reduce the threat of war in the region. War is at this moment the single greatest threat to their interests. In particular, they are afraid of any war that would close the Strait of Hormuz, through which a large portion of the oil they sell flows. The only real threat to the strait is a war between the United States and Iran in which the Iranians countered an American attack or blockade by mining the strait. It is assumed that the United States could readily deal with any Iranian countermove, but the Saudis have watched the Americans in Iraq and they are not impressed. From the Saudi point of view, not having a war is the far better option.

At the same time, if the Iranians decide to press the issue, the Saudis would be in no position to defend themselves. It is assumed that the United States would protect the Saudi oil fields out of self-interest. But any American government — and here they are looking past the Bush administration — might find it politically difficult to come to the aid of a country perceived as radically Islamist. Should another contingency come to pass, and the Iranians — either through insurgency or attack — do the unexpected, it is in the Saudi interest to create an image that is more compatible with U.S. tastes. And of course nothing does that better than interfaith dialogue. At this point, the Saudis are only at the point of discussing interfaith dialogue, but this still sets the stage.

It also creates a forum in which to drive home to the Iranians, via Rafsanjani, the unease the Saudis feel about Iranian intentions, using Hezbollah as an example. In permitting public attacks on the Shia, the Saudis do two things. First, they placate a domestic conservative constituency by retargeting them against Shiites. Second, they are boosting the theological framework to allow them to support groups who oppose the Shia. In particular that means supporting groups in Lebanon who oppose Hezbollah and Sunni groups in Iraq seeking more power in the Shiite dominated government. In doing this, Riyadh signals the Iranians that the Saudis are in a position to challenge their fundamental interests in the region — while Iran is not going to be starting Shiite uprisings in Arabia while the price of oil is high and the Shia can be made content.

Pacifying the Region
The Saudis are engaged in a massive maneuver to try to pacify the region, if not forever, then for at least as long as oil prices are high. The Saudis are quietly encouraging the Syrian-Israeli peace talks along with the Turks, and one of the reasons for Syrian participation is undoubtedly assurances of Saudi investments in Syria and Lebanon from which Damascus can benefit. The Saudis also are encouraging Israeli-Palestinian talks, and there is, we suspect, Saudi pressure on Hamas to be more cooperative in those talks. The Saudis have no interest in an Israeli-Syrian or Israeli-Hezbollah conflict right now that might destabilize the region.

Finally, the Saudis have had enough of the war in Iraq. They do not want increased Iranian power in Iraq. They do not want to see the Sunnis marginalized. They do not want to see al Qaeda dominating the Iraqi Sunnis. They have influence with the Iraqi Sunnis, and money buys even more. Ever since 2003, with the exception of the Kurdish region, the development of Iraqi oil has been stalled. Iraqis of all factions are aware of how much money they’ve lost because of their civil war. This is a lever that the Saudis can use in encouraging some sort of peace in Iraq.

It is not that Saudi Arabia has become pacifist by any means. Nor are they expecting (or, frankly, interested in) lasting peace. They are interested in assuring sufficient stability over the coming months and years so they can concentrate on making money from oil. To do this they need to carry out a complex maneuver. They need to refocus their own religious conservatives against the Shia. They need to hem in Iran, the main Shiite power. They need to reposition themselves politically in the United States, the country that ultimately guarantees Saudi national security. And they need to at least lower the temperature in Middle Eastern conflicts or, better still, forge peace treaties.

The Saudis don’t care if these treaties are permanent, but neither would they object if they were. Like any state, Saudi Arabia has interests to pursue; these interests change over time, but right now is the time for stability. Later is later. It is therefore no surprise that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visited Riyadh for talks this weekend. The discussions weren’t theological in nature. Mubarak shares with the Saudis an interest in an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Mubarak fears the spread of Hamas’ ideas back into Egypt and he wants the radical Palestinian group kept in its Gaza box. A large cache of weapons uncovered in the Sinai last week, including surface to air missiles, is as much a threat to Egypt as to Israel. Mubarak has been in no position to conclude such an agreement, even though he has tried to broker it. The Saudis have the financial muscle to make it happen. Clearly the Egyptians and Saudis have much to discuss.

We are not at the dawn of a new age in the Middle East. We are in a period where one country has become politically powerful because of mushrooming wealth, and wants to use that power to make more wealth. A lasting peace is not likely in the Middle East. But increased stability is possible, and while interfaith dialogue does not strike us as a vehicle to this end, hundreds of millions in oil revenue does. Peace has been made on weaker foundations.


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Security pact issues
« Reply #63 on: June 11, 2008, 03:35:33 PM »
David Satterfield, the U.S. State Department’s top adviser on Iraq, said Tuesday that a U.S.-Iraq security pact would be finalized in July. This is likely wishful thinking on Washington’s part, though. If a Shiite-dominated parliament in Iraq is going to sign anything that deals with the terms and conditions of U.S. forces remaining in Iraq, the United States is first going to have to reach an understanding with its political adversaries in Tehran.

Since the U.N. mandate for coalition forces in Iraq expires in December, the United States has been trying to coax Iraq’s fractured government into signing onto a deal for “long-term” bases in the country. This is absolutely crucial for Washington to appease the concerns of Sunni Arabs, as well as its own, that Iran and its Shiite allies in Iraq should be kept at bay. But a political storm has erupted in Iraq over rumors of the United States using the pact to establish permanent bases in the country surreptitiously, with Iraq’s Shiite community leading the protest against what they see as a U.S. attempt to keep Iraq on ball and chain.

There is no question that Iran has played a role in stirring up opposition against the security pact. In fact, Iran’s supreme leader made a point of telling the Iraqi prime minister during his visit to Iran this week that the occupiers who interfere with Iraq’s affairs through their “military and security might” are the number one issue in Iraq. There is little doubt that this is a top priority for Iran as well.

A long-term U.S. military presence on Iran’s western frontier, after all, is one of the core sticking points in Iran’s ongoing negotiations with the United States. This is simply not an issue that is going to be decided between Americans and Iraqis alone, and Iran is doing its part to make sure the United States understands this. Already Iran has succeeded in getting the bulk of Iraqis to protest against the security pact. But Iran also has other, more powerful levers to get Washington’s attention.

Senior Iraqi Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammad al-Modaressi, who has close relations with Iran, issued an implicit warning on June 8 that the U.S.-Iraq security pact might cause an uprising in Iraq. The prospect of a sectarian uprising in Iraq that could reverse the success of the troop surge, during a U.S. election year no less, is more than enough to give the U.S. administration some pause, and al-Modaressi did just that.

But this is still just posturing. Iran has threatened uprisings before, but at the end of the day it still wants stability in Iraq so it can consolidate influence there. And there is little doubt that Iran has played a significant role in reducing sectarian violence by curbing Shiite militia activity as part of its ongoing negotiations with the United States. However, the Iranians are showing little intent of giving up their Shiite militant card entirely — at least until they get the appropriate security guarantees from the United States.

A Stratfor source recently revealed that Iran and its Shiite allies in Iraq launched a new militant unit in late April under the direction of the Quds force in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) and Iran’s main militant extension into Iraq — the Badr Organization (previously known as Badr Brigade). The Badr Brigade is the armed wing of Iran’s main Shiite ally in Iraq, the Islamic Supreme Iraqi Council led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, and has been formally incorporated into Iraq’s army and police forces. The new unit is called al Tariqa al Safraa’, (the Yellow Way), and is responsible for executing clandestine operations including kidnappings, assassinations and spying on rival Shiite organizations (such as Muqtada al Sadr’s current movement). While the Badr Brigade has been integrated into Iraq’s security apparatus, this new unit has more freedom to maneuver and could be utilized by Tehran to instigate attacks — and help spur a potential uprising — to turn the screws on Iraq, and hence Washington.

The stakes will be high for Iran if it decides to risk throwing Iraq back into chaos as a pressure tactic against the United States. The Iranians have had a hard enough time already getting the Iraqi Shiite house in order, and it is highly uncertain that Iran would land on its feet again if it suffers a major setback in its negotiations with Washington, especially without knowing for certain what a new U.S. presidency might bring in January.

But the Iranians still want Washington to know that they have options. The mere threat of an Iranian-sponsored uprising in Iraq carries enough punch for now.


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Strat: Isreali Psy Ops
« Reply #64 on: July 11, 2008, 09:22:23 AM »
An Iraqi news agency has reported that Israeli fighter jets have overflown Jordanian airspace and landed in Iraq to practice for a raid on Iranian nuclear sites. The report, which represents a bid to create the impression that the United States is on board with an impending Israeli attack on Iran, is likely part of an ongoing psywar campaign against Iran.

Israeli fighter jets have been flying over Jordanian airspace and landing in Iraq over the past month to practice for a raid on Iranian nuclear sites, Iraqi news agency Nahrainnet reported July 11, citing sources in the Iraqi Defense Ministry. The Iraqi news agency reported that the Israeli warplanes mostly flew at night and landed at U.S. air bases near Haditha, in western Anbar province, and in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

The Iraqi news report is intended to give the impression that the United States is already actively cooperating in an Israeli attack against Iran — and that such an attack could be imminent.

Iran’s Press TV picked up the Iraqi news report, as did major Israeli media outlets later. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev denied the Iraqi report, saying it was “erroneous” and adding that Israel has no hostile intentions toward Iran. A statement from Iraq’s Defense Ministry followed, denying knowledge of any Israeli air force drills in its airspace.

The mysterious report in the Iraqi press appears to be yet another link in an ongoing and intensifying psywar campaign against Iran. While Israel does possess the weaponry to launch a debilitating strike against Iran, it would not be able to enter Iranian airspace on its own. Israeli fighter jets would need cooperation from Turkey, Saudi Arabia or U.S. forces in Iraq to access Iranian airspace. Out of the three, the third is the most viable option. But U.S. forces have shown little inclination to assist in an Israeli air attack against Iran given the fragile negotiations Washington is pursuing with Tehran.

Most significantly, if this were a real preparation for an attack, its operational security was just blown sky high. The attack could only be carried out now if the Israelis and Americans were incredibly confident the attack would take place without resistance and without Iranian material and personnel being relocated. Under normal circumstances, a breach of security like this would provide ample justification to abort such an attack (meaning that in the unlikely event that this was the real deal, a large bevy of Israeli fighter-bombers would soon be seen flying west).

Moreover, there appears to be only one U.S. carrier in Iran’s vicinity at the present time, the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (CSG). The CSC was relocated from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, and is now currently providing air support for security operations in Afghanistan, along with the USS Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group in the Persian Gulf. An effective U.S. strike on Iran would likely involve a great deal more fighting power in the Persian Gulf were an attack imminent.

A psywar campaign targeting Iran has been steadily building up in recent weeks with Israeli war games in the Mediterranean, threats of Western energy firms pulling out of Iran, sanctions being tightened and war threats from all sides making their way into the press through anonymous leaks. At the same time, negotiations between Iran and the United States have shown progress, with Iran currently in talks with the West over its nuclear program. If Washington and Tehran are close to clinching a deal on Iraq, now is the time for the United States to convince the Iranians that imminent military action is still on the table if Iran does not follow through with its end of the bargain. And even though the Iraqi report on Israeli practice raids has more than enough punch to make oil prices jump, the probability of war in the Persian Gulf is still low


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #65 on: July 14, 2008, 08:59:08 AM »
The War Between the Wars
Who says we can only face our enemies in one place at a time?
By Christopher Hitchens

Posted Monday, July 14, 2008, at 11:07 AM ET

If there is one element of moral and political certainty that cements the liberal consensus more than any other, it is the complacent view that while Iraq is "a war of choice," it is really and only Afghanistan that is a war of necessity. The ritualistic solidity of this view is impressive. It survives all arguments and all evidence. Just in the last month, as the Iraqi-based jihadists began to beat a retreat and even (according to some reports) to attempt to relocate to Afghanistan and Pakistan, it still seemed to many commentators that this proved that no U.S. forces should have been wasted on Iraq in the first place. This simplistic view ignores, at a minimum, the following points:

   1. Many of the al-Qaida forces—most notably the horrific but now deceased Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—made their way to Iraq in the first place only after being forcibly evicted from Afghanistan. Thus, if one did not want to be confronting Bin Laden fans in Mesopotamia, it was surely a mistake to invade Afghanistan rather than Iraq.
   2. The American presence in Afghanistan is not at all "unilateral"; it meets every liberal criterion of being formally underwritten and endorsed and armed and reinforced by our NATO and U.N. allies. Indeed, the commander of the anti-Taliban forces is usually not even an American. Yet it is in these circumstances that more American casualties—and not just American ones—are being experienced than are being suffered in Iraq. If this is so, the reason cannot simply be that our resources are being deployed elsewhere.
   3. Many of the most successful drives against the Taliban have been conducted by American forces redeployed from Iraq, in particular from Anbar province. But these military victories are the result of counterinsurgent tactics and strategies that were learned in Iraq and that have been applied triumphantly in Afghanistan.

In other words, any attempt to play off the two wars against each other is little more than a small-minded and zero-sum exercise. And consider the implications. Most people appear now to believe that it is quite wrong to mention Saddam Hussein even in the same breath as either a) weapons of mass destruction or b) state-sponsored terrorism. I happen to disagree, but just for an experiment, let us imagine that some regime did exist or did arise that posed such a combination of threats. (Actually, so feverish is my imagination that I can even think of one whose name also begins with I.) Would we be bound to say, in public and in advance, that the Western alliance couldn't get around to confronting such a threat until it had Afghanistan well under control? This would be rather like the equivalent fallacy that nothing can be done in the region until there is a settlement of the Israel-Palestine dispute. Not only does this mean that every rogue in the region can reset his timeline until one of the world's oldest and most intractable quarrels is settled, it also means that every rogue has an incentive to make certain that no such settlement can ever occur. (Which is, of course, why Saddam threw, and now the Iranians throw, their support to the suicide-murderers.)

It would also be very nice to accept another soft-centered corollary of the Iraq vs. Afghanistan trade-off and to believe that the problem of Afghanistan is a problem only of the shortage of troops. Strangely, this is not the view of the Afghan government or of any of the NATO forces on the ground. The continued and, indeed, increasing insolence of the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies is the consequence of one thing and one thing only. These theocratic terrorists know that they have a reliable backer in the higher echelons of the Pakistani state and of its military-intelligence complex and that while this relationship persists, they are assured of a hinterland across the border and a regular supply of arms and recruits.

So, the question for Sen. Barack Obama and his glib supporters is this: Would they solve this problem by removing the American forces from Iraq and putting the thereby-enhanced contingent there to patrol a frontier where one of our main "allies" is continually engaged in stabbing them in the back? (At one point last year, Obama himself appeared to accept the illogic of his own position and spoke hotly of the possibility of following the Taliban onto Pakistani soil. We haven't heard much of that lately. Did he mean to say that, come to think of it, we had enough troops to occupy three countries instead of the stipulated and solitary one? Or would he just exchange Iraq for Pakistan? At least we do know for sure that Pakistan has nuclear weapons acquired mainly by piracy and is the host and patron of the Taliban and al-Qaida.)

Another consideration obtrudes itself. If it is true, as yesterday's three-decker front-page headline in the New York Times had it, that "U.S. Considering Stepping Up Pace of Iraq Pullout/ Fall in Violence Cited/ More Troops Could Be Freed for Operations in Afghanistan," then this can only be because al-Qaida in Iraq has been subjected to a battlefield defeat at our hands—a military defeat accompanied by a political humiliation in which its fanatics have been angrily repudiated by the very people they falsely claimed to be fighting for. If we had left Iraq according to the timetable of the anti-war movement, the situation would be the precise reverse: The Iraqi people would now be excruciatingly tyrannized by the gloating sadists of al-Qaida, who could further boast of having inflicted a battlefield defeat on the United States. I dare say the word of that would have spread to Afghanistan fast enough and, indeed, to other places where the enemy operates. Bear this in mind next time you hear any easy talk about "the hunt for the real enemy" or any loose babble that suggests that we can only confront our foes in one place at a time.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.


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« Reply #66 on: July 14, 2008, 07:54:44 PM »
Good logic there SB.

Here's this from John Bolton in the WSJ:

Israel, Iran and the Bomb
July 15, 2008

Iran's test salvo of ballistic missiles last week together with recent threatening rhetoric by commanders of the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards emphasizes how close the Middle East is to a fundamental, in fact an irreversible, turning point.

Tehran's efforts to intimidate the United States and Israel from using military force against its nuclear program, combined with yet another diplomatic charm offensive with the Europeans, are two sides of the same policy coin. The regime is buying the short additional period of time it needs to produce deliverable nuclear weapons, the strategic objective it has been pursuing clandestinely for 20 years.

Between Iran and its long-sought objective, however, a shadow may fall: targeted military action, either Israeli or American. Yes, Iran cannot deliver a nuclear weapon on target today, and perhaps not for several years. Estimates vary widely, and no one knows for sure when it will have a deliverable weapon except the mullahs, and they're not telling. But that is not the key date. Rather, the crucial turning point is when Iran masters all the capabilities to weaponize without further external possibility of stopping it. Then the decision to weaponize, and its timing, is Tehran's alone. We do not know if Iran is at this point, or very near to it. All we do know is that, after five years of failed diplomacy by the EU-3 (Britain, France and Germany), Iran is simply five years closer to nuclear weapons.

And yet, true to form, State Department comments to Congress last week – even as Iran's missiles were ascending – downplayed Iran's nuclear progress, ignoring the cost of failed diplomacy. But the confident assumption that we have years to deal with the problem is high-stakes gambling on a policy that cannot be reversed if it fails. If Iran reaches weaponization before State's jaunty prediction, the Middle East, and indeed global, balance of power changes in potentially catastrophic ways.

And consider what comes next for the U.S.: the Bush administration's last six months pursuing its limp diplomatic efforts, plus six months of a new president getting his national security team and policies together. In other words, one more year for Tehran to proceed unhindered to "the point of no return."

We have almost certainly lost the race between giving "strong incentives" for Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and its scientific and technological efforts to do just that. Swift, sweeping, effectively enforced sanctions might have made a difference five years ago. No longer. Existing sanctions have doubtless caused some pain, but Iran's real economic woes stem from nearly 30 years of mismanagement by the Islamic Revolution.

More sanctions today (even assuming, heroically, support from Russia and China) will simply be too little, too late. While regime change in Tehran would be the preferable solution, there is almost no possibility of dislodging the mullahs in time. Had we done more in the past five years to support the discontented – the young, the non-Persian minorities and the economically disaffected – things might be different. Regime change, however, cannot be turned on and off like a light switch, although the difficulty of effecting it is no excuse not to do more now.

That is why Israel is now at an urgent decision point: whether to use targeted military force to break Iran's indigenous control over the nuclear fuel cycle at one or more critical points. If successful, such highly risky and deeply unattractive air strikes or sabotage will not resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis. But they have the potential to buy considerable time, thereby putting that critical asset back on our side of the ledger rather than on Iran's.

With whatever time is bought, we may be able to effect regime change in Tehran, or at least get the process underway. The alternative is Iran with nuclear weapons, the most deeply unattractive alternative of all.

But the urgency of the situation has not impressed Barack Obama or the EU-3. Remarkably, on July 9, Sen. Obama, as if stumbling on a new idea, said Iran "must suffer threats of economic sanctions" and that we needed "direct diplomacy . . . so we avoid provocation" and "give strong incentives . . . to change their behavior." Javier Solana, chief EU negotiator, was at the time busy fixing a meeting with the Iranians to continue five years of doing exactly what Mr. Obama was proclaiming, without results.

John McCain responded to Iran's missile salvo by stressing again the need for a workable missile defense system to defend the U.S. against attacks by rogue states like Iran and North Korea. He is undoubtedly correct, highlighting yet another reason why November's election is so critical, given the unceasing complaints about missile defense from most Democrats.

Important as missile defense is, however, it is only a component of a postfailure policy on Iran's nuclear-weapons capacity. In whatever limited amount of time before then, we must face a very hard issue: What will the U.S. do if Israel decides to initiate military action? There was a time when the Bush administration might itself have seriously considered using force, but all public signs are that such a moment has passed.

Israel sees clearly what the next 12 months will bring, which is why ongoing U.S.-Israeli consultations could be dispositive. Israel told the Bush administration it would destroy North Korea's reactor in Syria in spring, 2007, and said it would not wait past summer's end to take action. And take action it did, seeing a Syrian nuclear capability, for all practical purposes Iran's agent on its northern border, as an existential threat. When the real source of the threat, not just a surrogate, nears the capacity for nuclear Holocaust, can anyone seriously doubt Israel's propensities, whatever the impact on gasoline prices?

Thus, instead of debating how much longer to continue five years of failed diplomacy, we should be intensively considering what cooperation the U.S. will extend to Israel before, during and after a strike on Iran. We will be blamed for the strike anyway, and certainly feel whatever negative consequences result, so there is compelling logic to make it as successful as possible. At a minimum, we should place no obstacles in Israel's path, and facilitate its efforts where we can.

These subjects are decidedly unpleasant. A nuclear Iran is more so.

Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #67 on: July 15, 2008, 07:21:07 AM »

The New York Times and other media are reporting that the United States is
considering withdrawing troops from Iraq this year. The Bush administration is
thinking about withdrawing as few as one and as many as three of 15 combat brigades
now operating in Iraq by inauguration day in January 2009. That would not be a
stunning reduction, but it would be a substantial one. The leak to the Times is
obviously designed to prepare public opinion and see how various constituencies
respond. The administration leaks these things after it has decided to do something
but wants to retain options. So we take the report seriously.

There are three audiences for this report. The first, obviously, is the U.S. public.
This is an election year, and there is little doubt that George W. Bush would like
to see John McCain succeed him, as partial vindication of his presidency. This was
the week in which Barack Obama shifted his public posture on Iraq, indicating
greater flexibility than he had signaled during the primaries. In fact, as we have
said, Obama's position does not differ much from McCain's, save in rhetoric. Obama
knew that he had to run to the center during the general election and had prepared
for the shift in various position papers no one read during the primaries. When
Obama went to the center, backing away from his automatic withdrawal plan to a more
nuanced one, the administration responded by indicating that withdrawals were indeed
possible. They tried to catch Obama off-balance. It was a clever move, but it's not
clear that it will have any impact.

The second audience is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. There are negotiations
under way over the status of U.S. troops in Iraq. Al-Maliki is demanding a timetable
for withdrawal, shifting away from his prior position that U.S. troops will be
needed in Iraq to stabilize the regime to a new view that U.S. withdrawal is needed.
The United States has, in a way, been the victim of its own success. Having created
a much stronger Iraqi government than most thought possible, it now sees that
government becoming demanding. If the United States ignores al-Maliki, it will
undermine its own credibility. So, whatever is actually negotiated, the United
States has little choice but to follow al-Maliki's wishes.

The third audience is Iran. The weird combination of apocalyptic threat coupled with
diplomacy continues. While the obsession has been nuclear weapons, the real issue
has always been Iraq. The United States is trying to give Iran every reason to stop
enriching uranium. One recent offer was to begin talks without requiring a halt in
enrichment ("pre-negotiations," it was called, as opposed to negotiations). Leaving
diplomatic hair-splitting aside, the demonstration of a U.S. willingness to withdraw
from Iraq is a critical issue to the Iranians. They have more than 140,000 U.S.
troops on their border. Progress on nukes in Iran is much more likely with a
reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Audiences aside, of course, there is another looming issue: Afghanistan. That war
continues to rage, with nine American soldiers killed over the weekend. Gen. David
Petraeus, confirmed by the U.S. Senate as CENTCOM commander July 11, now is
responsible for Afghanistan as well as Iraq. In looking at his board, he clearly
sees the need for more troops in Afghanistan and feels he can cut troop levels in
Iraq. Indeed, Iraq is the only place where he can find more troops. The Afghanistan
issue is coupled with a clear deterioration of the situation in Pakistan and a
looming crisis between Pakistan and India over the bombing of the Indian Embassy in
Kabul. Iraq is stable and happy compared to the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater.

But three U.S. brigades, added to the 52,000 NATO troops currently operating in
Afghanistan, are not going to make a difference in a country where nearly 120,000
Russians with much looser rules of engagement couldn't make a difference. So the
most important aspect of the troop reduction in Iraq will be the unfolding of
Petraeus' Afghanistan strategy. It is not clear to us what he has in mind, but it
would appear that the beginning of U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq is something not
only Obama, al-Maliki and Tehran want to see. Petraeus might want to see it, too.

Copyright 2008 Strategic Forecasting, Inc.


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Appearance vs. Reality
« Reply #68 on: July 15, 2008, 10:39:01 PM »
Geopolitical Diary: Appearance vs. Reality and Israeli-Syrian Progress
July 14, 2008
On the surface, the July 14 Mediterranean Union summit appears to have been somewhat of a bust with respect to Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Despite sitting at the same round table, Syrian President Bashar al Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did not give the cameras the pleasure of shaking hands, much less make eye contact with one another. Al Assad even made a big display of leaving the room 20 minutes prior to Olmert’s speech during the summit. In fact, the Syrian delegation was so particular about the details of the protocol measures that according to a CBS report citing Paris-based diplomats, the Syrians even made sure both leaders would enter the room from different doors to ensure the two didn’t have an “accidental encounter.”

Underneath al Assad’s hard exterior, however, a complex strategy is in motion for Israel and Syria to bury the hatchet diplomatically after 60 years of hostile relations.

It must be remembered that al Assad is in a unique position. He is an Alawite leader of an overwhelmingly Sunni country long viewed by its neighbors as a geopolitical runt that can be flattened by Israeli F-16s at a moment’s notice. It is now up to him to navigate Syria toward international esteem, relying primarily on his government’s links with militant proxies to get him there. To maintain control over the state while he pursues these peace talks, al Assad must show he is negotiating from a position of strength. He can do so by driving a hard bargain publicly with the Israelis and the Americans while delivering on key concessions behind the scenes.

This strategy has already made itself apparent. Al Assad has made a point of telling reporters he is no rush for a peace deal with the Israelis, saying that direct negotiations would simply have to wait for the inauguration of a new U.S. president in January. His actions at the Mediterranean Union summit underlined how Syria does not feel it is under pressure to negotiate or make any grand diplomatic gestures while Olmert remains on shaky political ground at home. At the same time, The Jerusalem Post published a report citing diplomatic sources as saying Olmert had delivered a message to al Assad through Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The message reportedly said it would be a mistake for al Assad to wait for a new U.S. president to engage in direct talks, and urged him to commit to direct talks in the near future.

Syria quite shrewdly has turned the tables on Israel, at least in the public arena. While in the past it was always the Syrians begging for talks with the Jewish state, al Assad has now created the perception of an Israel pushing Syria to negotiate — something that scores him major points at home.

More important, the Syrians appear to be making some big moves behind the scenes to push the talks forward. According to a Stratfor source in Lebanon, a Syrian security officer has recently provided U.S. intelligence officers in Istanbul with key information on Hezbollah activities and military capabilities. The Syrian officer also provided his U.S. counterpart with information on al Qaeda and al-Sadrite forces in Iraq. Washington has made clear to the Syrians that before the United States can publicly jump on board with the Syrian-Israeli peace process it will have to see some serious intelligence cooperation regarding Hezbollah and Iraq. If the source’s information is accurate, it appears the Syrians are providing that intelligence.

The Lebanese also formed a government July 14, something that would have been impossible without Syrian cooperation. Syria has a close relationship with Michel Suleiman, the former commander of the Lebanese army and the newly elected president of Lebanon. According to another Stratfor source in Lebanon, al Assad and Suleiman worked out a strategy to clamp down on some of the Islamist militant camps in Lebanon, which have always been an expendable resource for the Syrians. To this end, the Syrian state-run National News Agency reported July 8 that the group Fatah al-Intifada evacuated a military base in al Balayit village in Rashaya province along the Lebanese-Syrian border, allowing Lebanese troops to reoccupy the base. The source also claimed that Syria has agreed to help Lebanese troops close down two major bases operated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine -General Command, namely the Qusaya and Nama bases. Qusaya is the larger of the two bases, and enjoys a commanding position overlooking the Lebanese airbase in Riyaq and Ablah army base. Nama controls traffic along the Beirut-southern Lebanon highway, as well as the Beirut airport. It also controls Lebanese army movement to and from southern Lebanon, which is key to its defense against Hezbollah.

Stratfor is wary of falling in love with its forecast of a Syrian-Israeli peace deal, and we are making an honest effort to disprove our assumptions. But the trajectory of events — from the September 2007 Israeli airstrike in Syria to the February assassination of Hezbollah’s top commander in Damascus, from the public launch of peace talks to the developments on the ground Monday — all point toward a comprehensive deal in the making. National security interests are pushing both sides toward a political accommodation that neither side can deny will grant them overwhelming benefits as long as each delivers on its end of the agreement. We can’t help but notice that sources from across the spectrum are reporting information that all points in the same direction — namely, toward progress. As in all complex diplomatic negotiations, what you see in the headlines is not necessarily what you get.


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From Iraq to Afg.
« Reply #69 on: July 15, 2008, 11:02:56 PM »
Second piece tonight from Stratfor:

Now for the Hard Part: From Iraq to Afghanistan
July 15, 2008

Related Special Topic Page
U.S. Military Involvement in Iraq
By George Friedman

The Bush administration let it be known last week that it is prepared to start reducing the number of troops in Iraq, indicating that three brigades out of 15 might be withdrawn before Inauguration Day in 2009. There are many dimensions to the announcements, some political and some strategic. But perhaps the single most important aspect of the development was the fairly casual way the report was greeted. It was neither praised nor derided. Instead, it was noted and ignored as the public focused on more immediate issues.

In the public mind, Iraq is clearly no longer an immediate issue. The troops remain there, still fighting and taking casualties, and there is deep division over the wisdom of the invasion in the first place. But the urgency of the issue has passed. This doesn’t mean the issue isn’t urgent. It simply means the American public — and indeed most of the world — have moved on to other obsessions, as is their eccentric wont. The shift nevertheless warrants careful consideration.

Obviously, there is a significant political dimension to the announcement. It occurred shortly after Sen. Barack Obama began to shift his position on Iraq from what appeared to be a demand for a rapid withdrawal to a more cautious, nuanced position. As we have pointed out on several occasions, while Obama’s public posture was for withdrawal with all due haste, his actual position as represented in his position papers was always more complex and ambiguous. He was for a withdrawal by the summer of 2010 unless circumstances dictated otherwise. Rhetorically, Obama aligned himself with the left wing of the Democratic Party, but his position on the record was actually much closer to Sen. John McCain’s than he would admit prior to his nomination. Therefore, his recent statements were not inconsistent with items written on his behalf before the nomination — they merely appeared so.

The Bush administration was undoubtedly delighted to take advantage of Obama’s apparent shift by flanking him. Consideration of the troop withdrawal has been under way for some time, but the timing of the leak to The New York Times detailing it must have been driven by Obama’s shift. As Obama became more cautious, the administration became more optimistic and less intransigent. The intent was clearly to cause disruption in Obama’s base. If so, it failed precisely because the public took the administration’s announcement so casually. To the extent that the announcement was political, it failed because even the Democratic left is now less concerned about the war in Iraq. Politically speaking, the move was a maneuver into a vacuum.

But the announcement was still significant in other, more important ways. Politics aside, the administration is planning withdrawals because the time has come. First, the politico-military situation on the ground in Iraq has stabilized dramatically. The reason for this is the troop surge — although not in the way it is normally thought of. It was not the military consequences of an additional 30,000 troops that made the difference, although the addition and changes in tactics undoubtedly made an impact.

What was important about the surge is that it happened at all. In the fall of 2006, when the Democrats won both houses of Congress, it appeared a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from Iraq was inevitable. If Bush wouldn’t order it, Congress would force it. All of the factions in Iraq, as well as in neighboring states, calculated that the U.S. presence in Iraq would shortly start to decline and in due course disappear. Bush’s order to increase U.S. forces stunned all the regional players and forced a fundamental recalculation. The assumption had been that Bush’s hands were tied and that the United States was no longer a factor. What Bush did — and this was more important than numbers or tactics — was demonstrate that his hands were not tied and that the United States could not be discounted.

The realization that the Americans were not going anywhere caused the Sunnis, for example, to reconsider their position. Trapped between foreign jihadists and the Shia, the Americans suddenly appeared to be a stable and long-term ally. The Sunni leadership turned on the jihadists and aligned with the United States, breaking the jihadists’ backs. Suddenly facing a U.S.-Sunni-Kurdish alliance, the Shia lashed out, hoping to break the alliance. But they also split between their own factions, with some afraid of being trapped as Iranian satellites and others viewing the Iranians as the solution to their problem. The result was a civil war not between the Sunnis and Shia, but among the Shia themselves.

Tehran performed the most important recalculation. The Iranians’ expectation had been that the United States would withdraw from Iraq unilaterally, and that when it did, Iran would fill the vacuum it left. This would lead to the creation of an Iranian-dominated Iraqi Shiite government that would suppress the Sunnis and Kurds, allowing Iran to become the dominant power in the Persian Gulf region. It was a heady vision, and not an unreasonable one — if the United States had begun to withdraw in the winter of 2006-2007.

When the surge made it clear that the Americans weren’t leaving, the Iranians also recalculated. They understood that they were no longer going to be able to create a puppet government in Iraq, and the danger now was that the United States would somehow create a viable puppet government of its own. The Iranians understood that continued resistance, if it failed, might lead to this outcome. They lowered their sights from dominating Iraq to creating a neutral buffer state in which they had influence. As a result, Tehran acted to restrain the Shiite militias, focusing instead on maximizing its influence with the Shia participating in the Iraqi government, including Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

A space was created between the Americans and Iranians, and al-Maliki filled it. He is not simply a pawn of Iran — and he uses the Americans to prevent himself from being reduced to that — but neither is he a pawn of the Americans. Recent negotiations between the United States and the al-Maliki government on the status of U.S. forces have demonstrated this. In some sense, the United States has created what it said it wanted: a strong Iraqi government. But it has not achieved what it really wanted, which was a strong, pro-American Iraqi government. Like Iran, the United States has been forced to settle for less than it originally aimed for, but more than most expected it could achieve in 2006.

This still leaves the question of what exactly the invasion of Iraq achieved. When the Americans invaded, they occupied what was clearly the most strategic country in the Middle East, bordering Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran. Without resistance, the occupation would have provided the United States with a geopolitical platform from which to pressure and influence the region. The fact that there was resistance absorbed the United States, therefore negating the advantage. The United States was so busy hanging on in Iraq that it had no opportunity to take advantage of the terrain.

That is why the critical question for the United States is how many troops it can retain in Iraq, for how long and in what locations. This is a complex issue. From the Sunni standpoint, a continued U.S. presence is essential to protect Sunnis from the Shia. From the Shiite standpoint, the U.S. presence is needed to prevent Iran from overwhelming the Shia. From the standpoint of the Kurds, a U.S. presence guarantees Kurdish safety from everyone else. It is an oddity of history that no major faction in Iraq now wants a precipitous U.S. withdrawal — and some don’t want a withdrawal at all.

For the United States, the historical moment for its geopolitical coup seems to have passed. Had there been no resistance after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, the U.S. occupation of Iraq would have made Washington a colossus astride the region. But after five years of fighting, the United States is exhausted and has little appetite for power projection in the region. For all its bravado against Iran, no one has ever suggested an invasion, only airstrikes. Therefore, the continued occupation of Iraq simply doesn’t have the same effect as it did in 2003.

But the United States can’t simply leave. The Iraqi government is not all that stable, and other regional powers, particularly the Saudis, don’t want to see a U.S. withdrawal. The reason is simple: If the United States withdraws before the Baghdad government is cohesive enough, strong enough and inclined enough to balance Iranian power, Iran could still fill the partial vacuum of Iraq, thereby posing a threat to Saudi Arabia. With oil at more than $140 a barrel, this is not something the Saudis want to see, nor something the United States wants to see.

Internal Iraqi factions want the Americans to stay, and regional powers want the Americans to stay. The Iranians and pro-Iranian Iraqis are resigned to an ongoing presence, but they ultimately want the Americans to leave, sooner rather than later. Thus, the Americans won’t leave. The question now under negotiation is simply how many U.S. troops will remain, how long they will stay, where they will be based and what their mission will be. Given where the United States was in 2006, this is a remarkable evolution. The Americans have pulled something from the jaws of defeat, but what that something is and what they plan to do with it is not altogether clear.

The United States obviously does not want to leave a massive force in Iraq. First, its more ambitious mission has evaporated; that moment is gone. Second, the U.S. Army and Marines are exhausted from five years of multidivisional warfare with a force not substantially increased from peacetime status. The Bush administration’s decision not to dramatically increase the Army was rooted in a fundamental error: namely, the administration did not think the insurgency would be so sustained and effective. They kept believing the United States would turn a corner. The result is that Washington simply can’t maintain the current force in Iraq under any circumstances, and to do so would be strategically dangerous. The United States has no strategic ground reserve at present, opening itself to dangers outside of Iraq. Therefore, if the United States is not going to get to play colossus of the Middle East, it needs to reduce its forces dramatically to recreate a strategic reserve. Its interests, the interests of the al-Maliki government — and interestingly, Iran’s interests — are not wildly out of sync. Washington wants to rapidly trim down to a residual force of a few brigades, and the other two players want that as well.

The United States has another pressing reason to do this: It has another major war under way in Afghanistan, and it is not winning there. It remains unclear if the United States can win that war, with the Taliban operating widely in Afghanistan and controlling a great deal of the countryside. The Taliban are increasingly aggressive against a NATO force substantially smaller than the conceivable minimum needed to pacify Afghanistan. We know the Soviets couldn’t do it with nearly 120,000 troops. And we know the United States and NATO don’t have as many troops to deploy in Afghanistan as the Soviets did. It is also clear that, at the moment, there is no exit strategy. Forces in Iraq must be transferred to Afghanistan to stabilize the U.S. position while the new head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus — the architect of the political and military strategy in Iraq — figures out what, if anything, is going to change.

Interestingly, the Iranians want the Americans in Afghanistan. They supported the invasion in 2001 for the simple reason that they do not want to see an Afghanistan united under the Taliban. The Iranians almost went to war with Afghanistan in 1998 and were delighted to see the United States force the Taliban from the cities. The specter of a Taliban victory in Afghanistan unnerves the Iranians. Rhetoric aside, a drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq and a transfer to Afghanistan is what the Iranians would like to see.

To complicate matters, the Taliban situation is not simply an Afghan issue — it is also a Pakistani issue. The Taliban draw supplies, recruits and support from Pakistan, where Taliban support stretches into the army and the intelligence service, which helped create the group in the 1990s while working with the Americans. There is no conceivable solution to the Taliban problem without a willing and effective government in Pakistan participating in the war, and that sort of government simply is not there. Indeed, the economic and security situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate.

Therefore, the Bush administration’s desire to withdraw troops from Iraq makes sense on every level. It is a necessary and logical step. But it does not address what should now become the burning issue: What exactly is the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan? As in Iraq before the surge, the current strategy appears to be to hang on and hope for the best. Petraeus’ job is to craft a new strategy. But in Iraq, for better or worse, the United States faced an apparently implacable enemy — Iran — which in fact pursued a shrewd, rational and manageable policy. In Afghanistan, the United States is facing a state that appears friendly — Pakistan — but is actually confused, divided and unmanageable by itself or others.

Petraeus’ success in Iraq had a great deal to do with Tehran’s calculations of its self-interest. In Pakistan, by contrast, it is unclear at the moment whether anyone is in a position to even define the national self-interest, let alone pursue it. And this means that every additional U.S. soldier sent to Afghanistan raises the stakes in Pakistan. It will be interesting to see how Afghanistan and Pakistan play out in the U.S. presidential election. This is not a theater of operations that lends itself to political soundbites.


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Hez attack on Israel coming?
« Reply #70 on: July 21, 2008, 11:44:11 PM »
Geopolitical Diary: The Possibility of a Hezbollah Attack on Israel
July 21, 2008
Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin warned Israel on Sunday of the increased potential for a Hezbollah attack along Israel’s northern frontier. Yadlin said that Hezbollah militants could use continuing disputes over border territories and Israeli Air Force flights over Lebanon as excuses to attack northern Israel. An attack on Israel certainly might be launched under one of the pretexts Yadlin mentioned, but Hezbollah strategy is far more complex than that.

Israel has been engaged in talks with Syria for some time now. Although Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar al Assad have not publicly sealed an agreement yet, we have seen a number of indications that the Syrians are taking steps to reduce Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon. Cooperation between Syria and Israel spells serious trouble for Hezbollah, as any deal between the two countries will have to involve Syria cracking down on the militant group and weakening its position in Lebanon. Hezbollah needs to disrupt the talks between Syria and Israel in order to have a chance of survival. By blatantly attacking Israel, Hezbollah could exploit Israeli misgivings about Syria and a weak Israeli leadership to derail the peace talks.

But this strategy comes with big risks, as attacking Israel now would mean almost certain defeat for Hezbollah. The Israelis have been preparing for another war with Hezbollah since the summer 2006 conflict that ended more or less in a stalemate. If Hezbollah sparked another round of conflict, Israel would be much better prepared this time.

Israel, eager to make a better showing against Hezbollah than in the 2006 conflict, would this time not hesitate to unleash its full force on the militant group. Also, unlike in 2006, Israel would enjoy Syrian support against Hezbollah. Hezbollah would suffer hostility along one of its most important supply lines and opposition from a close state ally. Hezbollah’s communications network (its lifeline) would also be completely vulnerable, making victory nearly impossible for the group. A war with Israel would also result in massive damage within Lebanon’s Shiite community, undercutting Hezbollah’s chances of salvaging existing popular support — especially after a military defeat.

In short, the environment in the summer of 2008 is very different from that of summer of 2006.

The question of whether to attack or hold back is reflected in Hezbollah’s leadership structure. Hezbollah is deeply divided. It appears that the main split is between the old guard leadership and the younger cadres emboldened by the 2006 summer conflict. The old guard is willing to focus more on Hezbollah’s economic potential in Lebanon — mainly controlling the drug trade in the Bekaa Valley for a tidy profit. This faction of Hezbollah has something to lose by being clobbered in a war with Israel and Syria. But the younger members, encouraged by Hezbollah’s performance against Israel in 2006, won’t go down without a fight, regardless of the cost. To attack and get beaten back or to not attack and shrivel up — this is the question that Hezbollah’s leadership is grappling with right now.

Disputes over Hezbollah’s future and how it should proceed in light of an Israeli-Syrian agreement only weaken Hezbollah. Without a clear vision on how to proceed, Hezbollah’s chances of succeeding diminish and its chances of splintering rise. Hezbollah’s rivals can exploit and exacerbate this split and are doing so. Syria has recently thrown its support behind minority factions of Hezbollah, even making possible the return of former Hezbollah Secretary-General Sheikh Subhi al-Tufaili. The Amal movement, Hezbollah’s main rival within Lebanon’s Shiite community, is another tool for the Syrians to use in diminishing Hezbollah’s influence. Currently, Hezbollah is vulnerable to the age-old military strategy of divide and conquer.

It is unclear which path Hezbollah will take from here. It certainly still poses a threat to Israel and, even if there is not consensus among Hezbollah’s leaders, there still could be a rogue attack carried out by one of the factions inclined to attacking. Hezbollah’s response to such an act would be interesting to see. If the militants take credit for it, then they would face a two-front war; if they denounce it, they would reveal their vulnerability to splintering just as Israel would be mounting a response to the initial attack.

There are a number of regional powers leaning on Hezbollah to refrain from attacking Israel. They call on Hezbollah to accept its fate and transition from militancy to a more civil form of politics. So if Hezbollah were to attack, it would be doing so without much outside support — meaning that a unified Hezbollah attack would be very desperate, with very little chance of success. But there is too much internal opposition to support the movement’s transition from militancy. Hezbollah does not have any good options right now, and the probability of it suffering a major internal fracturing is higher than ever.

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Petraeus in Lebanon
« Reply #71 on: August 07, 2008, 02:57:09 PM »
U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, the top coalition military commander in Iraq and future head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), made a surprise visit to Beirut on Wednesday to discuss military cooperation with the Lebanese. The U.S. general reportedly met with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman (also a former army commander) and acting Lebanese army commander Maj. Gen. Shawki al-Masri.

Petraeus essentially has been Washington’s rainmaker for the Middle East. He is credited with bringing some semblance of stability to Iraq and has been chosen to try to do the same for Afghanistan. Though his hands are already quite full, the general — who takes over as CENTCOM chief in September — apparently felt the need to make time for some meetings in the Levant, which leaves us wondering what this trip is really about.

Contrary to expectations, the visit likely has little to do with military assistance to the Lebanese army. No amount of U.S. aid is going to be enough to build the Lebanese military into a force unified and formidable enough to competently confront an organization like Hezbollah. And a soon-to-be CENTCOM chief like Petraeus certainly does not have to be the one to make the time for a trip to Beirut to discuss giving a new batch of vehicles to Lebanese security forces. We suspect this meeting addressed more important matters.

The visit comes at a critical time; the regional dynamics are shifting in the Levant. Israel and Syria are negotiating in fancy hotel rooms in Turkey over a peace deal that would enhance Israel’s national security and reassert Syrian hegemony in Lebanon. These talks are progressing and are making Hezbollah more and more paranoid by the day, given that any final accommodation between the Israelis and the Syrians would include cutting Hezbollah down to size.

Though the Syrians already appear to have taken some (quiet) steps to curtail Hezbollah’s arms supplies, the Israelis are signaling that the ultimate litmus test for this peace deal will involve bigger and bolder action by the Syrians against the Shiite militant group. Israel is not about to allow Syria to play the middle ground in dealing with Hezbollah. With the Lebanese incapable of containing Hezbollah themselves, the Syrians are expected to play a major role in diluting Hezbollah’s military strength.

Exactly how Israel intends to deal with Hezbollah is still unclear, especially as the Israeli government is in a major political flux over its prime minister’s impending resignation. But Israeli preparations for a military confrontation with Hezbollah are now in full swing, and we can’t help but wonder whether these preparations are simply precautionary measures in case of a Hezbollah attack; or perhaps they are part of an Israeli strategy to goad Hezbollah into a war that would prove Syria’s commitment to the peace talks.

The same day Petraeus was in Lebanon, Stratfor picked up information from a source in the region claiming that Syria had dismantled an anti-aircraft system in the Anti-Lebanon mountain range to the east of the Bekaa Valley — a major Hezbollah stronghold and likely the main site of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel should full-scale hostilities resume. According to the source, Israel assured the Syrians (via Turkey) that it would not attack Syrian military positions in the event of such an outbreak, leaving Hezbollah particularly vulnerable and dependent on its own meager arsenal of man-portable surface-to-air missiles.

Stratfor has not been able to confirm this information, but if true, it signals a significant shift toward peace by the Syrians. Whether or not Israel intends to attack Hezbollah, whether or not Syria intends to attack Hezbollah, and whether or not the two decide to work together militarily or politically against Hezbollah, the bottom line is that that time is coming. Any of the above options are feasible, and there are many more ways to skin this particular cat. But the commonality among all of them is that Israel and Syria are sliding from a cold war into a cold peace, and that will redefine not just their bilateral relations, but the balance of power throughout the region. A Syria that can work with Israel is one in which Iran holds little influence. A Lebanon under the Syrian thumb is one in which groups like Hezbollah face the question of accommodation or oblivion. A more secure Israel is one that does not need to be overly concerned about anything the Palestinians demand. All this adds up to a very different region, and one which the United States — via Petraeus — fully intends to be involved in shaping.

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Analysis: Subtly and determinedly, Syria is taking over Lebanon
« Reply #72 on: August 07, 2008, 04:48:08 PM »
Here is an analysis that is almost totally opposite the  previous one  :|

Aug. 7, 2008

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman is to visit Syria next week, to discuss the opening of diplomatic relations between the countries, a Lebanese official told reporters this week.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy last month hailed President Bashar Assad's expression of willingness in principle to establish diplomatic relations with Lebanon as "historic progress."

The establishment of a first-ever Syrian Embassy in Beirut is probably not imminent, for various reasons. Nevertheless, the signs of normalization in relations between Syria and Lebanon are significant. They are the latest indication of Syria's growing confidence, and far from being a harbinger of more peaceful times in the neighborhood, they offer clues as to the shape of possible further strife.

The formation of the new Lebanese government after the Beirut clashes in May represented a very significant gain for the pro-Syria element in Lebanese politics. Hizbullah now controls a blocking 11 of the 30 cabinet seats. With a Lebanese government of this type, there is no reason for Syria to be in dispute there. The short period when Damascus felt the need to express its will in Lebanon solely in a clandestine way is drawing to a close.

Still, Western hopes for the rapid establishment of formal relations between the two countries are probably exaggerated. Damascus is in no hurry. Syria's return to Lebanon is a work in progress. Assad has listed the preconditions for the establishment of diplomatic relations to become a real possibility. These include the passing of an election law, and the holding of the scheduled May 2009 general election.

Behind Assad's honeyed words, one may glimpse the contours of Syrian strategy in the next stage. The election of May 2009 will be conducted under the shadow of Hizbullah's independent and now untouchable military capability.

Intimidation will go hand in hand with the real kudos gained by the movement and its allies because of recent events - including the prisoner swap with Israel, and the Doha agreement that followed the fighting in May. The result, the Syrians hope, will be the establishment of a government more fully dominated by Hizbullah and its allies, in which the pro-Western element will have been marginalized.

Such a government would mark the effective final reversal of the events of the spring of 2005, when the Cedar Revolution compelled the Syrian army to leave Lebanon. Damascus would then go on to conduct friendly and fraternal relations with the new order in Beirut. Mission accomplished.

If this strategy plays out, however, it will represent not the normalization of Syrian-Lebanese relations, but rather the enveloping of Lebanon into the regional alliance led by Iran, of which Syria is a senior member.

On the ground in Lebanon, this regional alliance is still engaged in consolidating its gains. The lines separating the official Lebanese state from the para-state established by Hizbullah continue to blur. The new government's draft policy statement, which is still to be discussed by the parliament, supports the "right of Lebanon's people, the army and the Resistance to liberate all its territories."

This statement thus nominally affords the Resistance. i.e. Hizbullah, equal status with the Lebanese Armed Forces, and appears to consider it an organ of official government policy.

The new organ of government policy, meanwhile, is building its strength. Ostensibly for the mission of "liberating" 20 square kilometers of border farmland, Hizbullah has built a capability of 40,000 missiles and rockets, is frenziedly recruiting and training new fighters, and is expanding and developing its command and logistics center in the Bekaa.

The latest talk is of Iranian-Syrian plans to supply Hizbullah with an advanced anti-aircraft capacity that would provide aerial defense to the investment in rockets and missiles. Such a move would represent a grave altering of the balance of power. Serious moves towards it could well prove the spark for the next confrontation.

In all its moves, the Iranian-Syrian-Hizbullah alliance has known how to combine brutal military tactics on the ground with subtle and determined diplomacy. Its willingness to throw away the rule book governing the normal relations between states has been perhaps its greatest advantage. While the West sees states as fixed entities possessing certain basic rights, Iran and Syria see only processes of rising and falling power. They see themselves as the force on the rise, and the niceties of internationally fixed borders as a trifle unworthy of consideration.

The region has known the rise of similar systems of power and ideology in the past. Experience shows that such states and alliances have become amenable to change and compromise - if at all - only after experiencing defeat, setback and frustration.

The Syrians and their allies, of course, are far weaker in measurable military and societal terms than their rhetoric would suggest. Western (including Israeli) actions over the last years have tended to blur this fact. The general acceptance of the transformation of Lebanon into a platform for this alliance - and the lauding of it as 'historical progress' - is the latest example of this. The reacquaintance of rhetoric with reality on all sides is long overdue.

Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #73 on: August 07, 2008, 10:48:30 PM »

I have high regard for Stratfor, but this time around I suspect they may be a bit too in love with their own IQ.



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The Region: Crusades long gone, but jihad lingers on
« Reply #74 on: August 13, 2008, 04:54:40 PM »

The Region: Crusades long gone, but jihad lingers on
Aug. 7, 2008

A 19-year-old man is tortured and beheaded for a bad joke interpreted as blasphemy. A father is accused of killing his son because he converted to another religion. They are not Muslims but Christians, and the place is France in the mid-1700s.

There was a time when Europe often behaved in ways parallel to that of Muslim-majority countries today. Yet by the end of the 1700s, this was changing. In the first case cited above, the king and even Catholic bishops failed to save the unfortunate Chevalier de la Barre, but the outcry led to the end of such actions. In the second case, Voltaire led a campaign that saw Jean Calas's name legally cleared on the grounds that he was the victim of an unjust frame-up because he was a member of the Protestant minority.

It's true, then, that there are parallels between Western and Middle Eastern societies. But even leaving aside important doctrinal religious issues, the crucial difference between the two is that phenomena the West has left far back in the past continue to exist in Muslim-majority counterparts.

The Crusades ended eight centuries ago; jihad continues. And other critical differences differentiate between the two civilizations. One is that progressive opinion, intellectuals, governments, even many of the Christian churches themselves, fought for progress in the West. They didn't say "These are our sacred practices, our lifestyle and thus must remain forever unchanged." They didn't let fear of being labeled "Christianophobic" paralyze them.
Another is that four centuries of rethinking, struggle and debate were needed to create contemporary Western democratic society.

Such processes have, at best, barely begun in the contemporary Middle East.

IT'S EXTRAORDINARY that much analysis of the region - possibly the most important intellectual endeavor of our times - is conducted in an ad-lib fashion based on the latest newspaper interview, underpinned with wishful thinking. Yet if we're going to be serious about this task, serious historical perspective is needed. Most should be based on the region's own distinctive past and world view.

But since people insist on making transregional analogies, here's a way of doing one. Consider the following statement: "The world is not ruled by an intelligent being." Instead, religion has created a deity who is a "monster of unreason, injustice, malice and atrocity."

Who said this - someone last week in the West? No, it was the French writer Jean Meslier in 1723. That statement, too hot to publish at the time, was a few decades later part of mainstream French discourse.

Oh, and by the way, Meslier was a lifelong Catholic priest.

THE BASIS of democracy began in 1215 in England with its Magna Carta. The battle to have a legitimately accepted division between religion and state was waged and largely won there in the Middle Ages. A basis was laid for secular-dominated society.

True, in the 1500s underground Catholic priests in England were tortured and executed, while Protestants in France suffered even worse. Yet at the same time, English universities were teaching the classical tradition which, in Italy, formed the basis of representational art. The works of Shakespeare and his fellow creators depended on this freedom, background and example. A basis was laid for a pragmatic, empiricist, utilitarian culture that stood on the scientific method.

That was the Renaissance, or rebirth. For the West, the great civilization of classical times was being rebuilt.

But Greece and Rome are not part of the Arab-Islamic tradition, where representational art is viewed with suspicion. The time before the coming of Islam is rejected with horror. To this day, secularism is almost a hanging offense in the Middle East; and democracy, as it is understood in the West, is deemed inappropriate. Much of Europe's cultural production in the 16th through 18th centuries could not be produced and widely accepted in the Arabic-speaking world today.

Of course, these things do appear, but usually as imports from the West, which raises suspicion and gives ruling forces - clerical and state - a strong incentive to demonize the West in order to limit the appeal of subversive ideas.

THE GREAT historian of France, Alfred Cobban, wrote that the new secular ideology triumphed there between 1748 and 1770, after already flourishing in Britain and the Netherlands. Even in the Catholic Church "the persecuting spirit was dying down." The English, Dutch, American and French revolutions were not triumphs of traditionalism, as in Iran, but of greater democracy.
Many Westerners continued (as they do today) to be religious, but more open and tolerant.

This struggle between the old and new societies characterized much of the 19th and 20th centuries, yet the trend was steady. Perhaps fascism - and arguably communism - were the final reactionary movements, and World War II was the last struggle. Yet victory required 500 years of rethinking and education.

There's no such history in the Middle East, while several additional problems block movement toward moderation and democracy here. Whatever one thinks of specific Islamic doctrine as generally interpreted, the big problem is that it remains so powerful and hegemonic. Arab nationalism is anti-democratic, repressive and statist. Islamists seek a somewhat revised version of the eighth century, albeit with rockets and mass communication.

IT IS also worse because Middle East regimes and revolutionaries know Western history. They are aware of the fact that while pious Western philosophers and scientists sincerely believed open inquiry and democracy didn't threaten traditional religion and the status quo, they were wrong. Openness led to revolution and to modern secular-dominated society - a West with all the ills decried by those in religious, ideological and political power in the Middle East. They also know what happened to Soviet-bloc dictatorships that experimented with more freedom. And they know that accepting Western ideas makes people want to change their own societies.

On top of that knowledge, they have weapons, technology, new means of organization and communication to block any change that tries to make its way through persuasion or threat. This point applies as much to Iran's Islamist rulers as to Syria's pretend-pious ones or Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi monarchs.

FINALLY, it is worse because there's a powerful, growing movement - radical Islamism - posing an alternative to modernism. The question is not merely of tiny, marginalized al-Qaida but also the governments of Iran, Syria and Sudan; the Saudi regime; powerful mainstream societal influences, Hamas and Hizbullah; the Muslim Brotherhood, and many others.

In comparison, while there are courageous individual liberals, there's no real liberal party anywhere in the Middle East, no liberal-controlled media or liberal proselytizing university. In Egypt the only liberal organization has been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood.

So while the great majority of people want a good life for themselves and their children - while they breathe air, drink water and bleed when they are pricked - as they did in Ice Age caves, ancient Rome, medieval France, imperial China, Inca Peru and the central deserts of Australia - that does not mean everyone thinks the same, or that all societies and governments are basically equivalent.

Anyone who doesn't understand history is doomed to be battered by it.

The writer is director of Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies.


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #75 on: October 26, 2008, 09:47:59 PM »
October 26, 2008

US Special Forces Launch Rare Attack Inside Syria

Filed at 10:06 p.m. ET

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- U.S. military helicopters launched an extremely rare attack Sunday on Syrian territory close to the border with Iraq, killing eight people in a strike the government in Damascus condemned as ''serious aggression.''

A U.S. military official said the raid by special forces targeted the network of al-Qaida-linked foreign fighters moving through Syria into Iraq. The Americans have been unable to shut the network down in the area struck because Syria was out of the military's reach.

''We are taking matters into our own hands,'' the official told The Associated Press in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the political sensitivity of cross-border raids.

The attack came just days after the commander of U.S. forces in western Iraq said American troops were redoubling efforts to secure the Syrian border, which he called an ''uncontrolled'' gateway for fighters entering Iraq.

A Syrian government statement said the helicopters attacked the Sukkariyeh Farm near the town of Abu Kamal, five miles inside the Syrian border. Four helicopters attacked a civilian building under construction shortly before sundown and fired on workers inside, the statement said.

The government said civilians were among the dead, including four children.

A resident of the nearby village of Hwijeh said some of the helicopters landed and troops exited the aircraft and fired on a building. He said the aircraft flew along the Euphrates River into the area of farms and several brick factories. The witness spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Another witness said four helicopters were used in the attack.

Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there have been some instances in which American troops crossed areas of the 370-mile Syria-Iraq border in pursuit of militants, or warplanes violated Syria's airspace. But Sunday's raid was the first conducted by aircraft and on such a large scale. In May 2005, Syria said American fire killed a border guard.

Syria's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the U.S. and Iraqi charges d'affaires to protest against the strike.

''Syria condemns this aggression and holds the American forces responsible for this aggression and all its repercussions. Syria also calls on the Iraqi government to shoulder its responsibilities and launch and immediate investigation into this serious violation and prevent the use of Iraqi territory for aggression against Syria,'' the government statement said.

Syrian state television late Sunday aired footage that showed blood stains on the floor of a site under construction, with wooden beams used to mold concrete strewn on the ground. Akram Hameed, one of the injured, told the television he was fishing in the Euphrates and saw four helicopters coming from the border area under a heavy blanket of fire.

''One of the helicopters landed in an agricultural area and eight members disembarked,'' the man in his 40s said. ''The firing lasted about 15 minutes and when I tried to leave the area on my motorcycle, I was hit by a bullet in the right arm about 20 meters (yards) away,'' he said.

The injured wife of the building's guard, in bed in hospital with a tube in her nose, told Syria TV that two helicopters landed and two remained in the air during the attack.

''I ran to bring my child who was going to his father and I was hit,'' she said. The TV did not identify her by name.

The area targeted is near the Iraqi border city of Qaim, which had been a major crossing point for fighters, weapons and money coming into Iraq to fuel the Sunni insurgency.

Iraqi travelers making their way home across the border reported hearing many explosions, said Qaim Mayor Farhan al-Mahalawi.

The foreign fighters network sends militants from North Africa and elsewhere in the Middle East to Syria, where elements of the Syrian military are in league with al-Qaida and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath party, the U.S. military official said.

He said that while American forces have had considerable success, with Iraqi help, in shutting down the ''rat lines'' in Iraq, and with foreign government help in North Africa, the Syrian node has been out of reach.

''The one piece of the puzzle we have not been showing success on is the nexus in Syria,'' the official said.

On Thursday, U.S. Maj. Gen. John Kelly said Iraq's western borders with Saudi Arabia and Jordan were fairly tight as a result of good policing by security forces in those countries but that Syria was a ''different story.''

''The Syrian side is, I guess, uncontrolled by their side,'' Kelly said. ''We still have a certain level of foreign fighter movement.''

He added that the U.S. was helping construct a sand berm and ditches along the border.

''There hasn't been much, in the way of a physical barrier, along that border for years,'' Kelly said.

The White House in August approved similar special forces raids from Afghanistan across the border of Pakistan to target al-Qaida and Taliban operatives. At least one has been carried out.

The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has been cut to an estimated 20 a month, a senior U.S. military intelligence official told the Associated Press in July. That's a 50 percent decline from six months ago, and just a fifth of the estimated 100 foreign fighters who were infiltrating Iraq a year ago, according to the official.

Ninety percent of the foreign fighters enter through Syria, according to U.S. intelligence. Foreigners are some of the most deadly fighters in Iraq, trained in bomb-making and with small-arms expertise and more likely to be willing suicide bombers than Iraqis.

Foreign fighters toting cash have been al-Qaida in Iraq's chief source of income. They contributed more than 70 percent of operating budgets in one sector in Iraq, according to documents captured in September 2007 on the Syrian border. Most of the fighters were conveyed through professional smuggling networks, according to the report.

Iraqi insurgents seized Qaim in April 2005, forcing U.S. Marines to recapture the town the following month in heavy fighting. The area became secure only after Sunni tribes in Anbar turned against al-Qaida in late 2006 and joined forces with the Americans.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem accused the United States earlier this year of not giving his country the equipment needed to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq. He said Washington feared Syria could use such equipment against Israel.

Though Syria has long been viewed by the U.S. as a destabilizing country in the Middle East, in recent months, Damascus has been trying to change its image and end years of global seclusion.

Its president, Bashar Assad, has pursued indirect peace talks with Israel, mediated by Turkey, and says he wants direct talks next year. Syria also has agreed to establish diplomatic ties with Lebanon, a country it used to dominate both politically and militarily, and has worked harder at stemming the flow of militants into Iraq.

The U.S. military in Baghdad did not immediately respond to a request for comment after Sunday's raid.


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WSJ: Should have hit Syria a long time ago
« Reply #76 on: October 28, 2008, 04:02:44 AM »
After five years and six months during which Syria has been an active accomplice to the insurgency in Iraq, the U.S. has finally struck back. Historians will be left to ponder how the course of the Iraq war might have changed if President Bush had acted sooner.

U.S. military sources are confirming that on Sunday U.S. special forces raided a location in eastern Syria that was being used by a network of Syrian military officials and al Qaeda-connected groups to smuggle foreign jihadists into Iraq. The Syrians, predictably, denounced the raid as "an outrageous crime" and an "unprovoked" attack on a "sovereign country."

The Syrians have an interesting definition of unprovoked and a curious notion of sovereignty. Even before U.S. troops took Baghdad, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explicitly warned that Syria was shipping military equipment to help Saddam Hussein, including night-vision goggles and antitank weapons. Only days after Baghdad fell, Mr. Bush warned Damascus against becoming a safe haven for top Iraqi Baathist officials. "We expect cooperation," he said, "and I'm hopeful we'll receive cooperation." Siding with Secretary of State Colin Powell over Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Bush dispatched Mr. Powell to Damascus in a show of postinvasion diplomatic goodwill.

President Bashar al Assad did not reciprocate, and Damascus soon became the capital in exile from which the Sunni insurgency was financed, organized and directed. In late 2003, Cofer Black, the State Department's Counterterrorism Coordinator, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Syria "needs to do a lot more" to stop terrorist infiltration, but added that he "remained optimistic that continued engagement with Syria will one day lead to a change in Syrian behavior."

It didn't. The following May, Mr. Bush ordered the minimum possible sanctions on Damascus under the Syria Accountability Act of 2003. Though Damascus offered some token intelligence cooperation, it also turned Damascus International Airport into the central hub through which jihadists from Morocco to Saudi Arabia could reach Iraq. Insurgent leaders were brazen enough to hold meetings, in Damascus hotels, that were known both to Syrian and U.S. intelligence.

Administration hawks urged more forceful action, including Predator missile strikes against terrorist hideouts in Syria. But the CIA and others valued ties to Syrian intelligence, and in January 2005 Mr. Bush decided instead to send then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Damascus to read Mr. Assad the riot act. Mr. Armitage succeeded in getting the Syrians to turn over Saddam's half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan, a ringleader of the insurgency. This token cooperation, along with episodic Syrian efforts to police their border with Iraq, served mainly to disguise their ongoing support for the insurgency.

By the time the insurgency reached its height in 2006, more than 100 jihadists were coming into Iraq from Syria every month. According to U.S. military estimates, they accounted for between 80% and 90% of the suicide attacks, mainly against Iraqi civilians. Thanks to a combination of the surge, the Sunni Awakening and better internal monitoring by the Saudis and others of just who was boarding planes to Damascus, that flow has now slowed to about 20 a month.

Yet the Syrians continue to show little interest in aiding the U.S., despite recent efforts by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to court her Syrian counterpart, Walid Al-Moallem. Those efforts include inviting Syria to last year's Annapolis conference on Arab-Israeli peace and face-to-face meetings in Egypt and, just last month, New York.

Little wonder, then, that even the Iraqi government, which has sought good relations with its neighbor, has lost patience. "This area was a staging ground for activities by terrorist organizations hostile to Iraq," said Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, in reference to the American raid. "The presence in Syria of groups that are hostile to Iraq and who contribute to terrorist activity against Iraqis hinders the progress of our relationship."

We wonder how differently the war in Iraq might have gone had the U.S. conducted this kind of raid as often as necessary in 2003 and 2004, or if it had put Mr. Assad on notice that his survival in power was at risk if he continued to support the insurgency. Our guess is that the war would have been shorter, far less bloody for American and Iraqi troops, and less politically costly to Mr. Bush.

There's a lesson in these Bush Administration mistakes for the next President, particularly if he is Barack Obama. The Syrians interpreted diplomatic accommodation in the face of their anti-American acts as a sign of weakness to exploit. Mr. Obama has promised he'll engage Syria diplomatically as part of an overall effort to end the conflict in Iraq. If he really wants to end the war faster, he'll pick up on Syria where the Bush Administration has now ended.

Please add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.


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Iran, Iraq, and the SOFA
« Reply #77 on: November 18, 2008, 01:27:34 PM »
Geopolitical Diary: The SOFA and Iranian Options
November 18, 2008 | 0257 GMT
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the head of Iran’s judiciary and a figure close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, publicly praised the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) reached between the United States and the government of Iraq. He said the Iraqi government had acted “very well” in approving the SOFA — the first time a senior Iranian official had anything good to say about the agreement.

This is clearly a public shift in Iranian policy, which has thus far been critical of the SOFA, which would allow U.S. forces to remain in Iraq for another three years. Iran’s position has been that American troops should be withdrawn immediately. Therefore, in accepting the presence of U.S. forces for three more years, Tehran appears to have made a concession. Publicly, the Iranians had been opposing the pact, but behind the scenes they were part of the negotiation process. They have also cut the ground out from under those Iraqi Shia who oppose the SOFA, such as Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement. The al-Sadrites have said they would oppose the treaty through “legal avenues,” which means there is a possibility of some trouble in the legislature.

But we can be confident that Shahroudi did not make his statements casually. He is too well connected and too influential to have simply spoken out of turn. The Iranians have signaled their approval. But it should be remembered that this was not an official government endorsement. Iran can potentially back away from its approval. Nevertheless, it is as close as we can get to approval by Iran without a sea change in U.S.-Iranian relations.

That’s the real question here — whether Shahroudi’s statement represents a redefinition of U.S.-Iranian relations. There have been persistent reports of the Bush administration opening low-level diplomatic relations with Iran before it leaves office. There have been indications from Tehran that such an opening would be welcome. Undoubtedly, there have been quiet talks between U.S. and Iranian officials. Senior Iraqi Shiite leaders were cool on the SOFA until this weekend, when they shifted their position, opening the door for an agreement. It is speculative, but not unreasonable, to wonder what role the Iranian government played in changing the Shiite leaders’ minds and what other elements there may be to any U.S.-Iranian understanding that Shahroudi’s statement was a part of.

And then there is the important question of why Iran is so happy about this deal. One answer is that Tehran has moved closer to an agreement with the United States that guarantees its interests in Iraq. The other is that the SOFA, while extending the U.S. presence in Iraq, guarantees that U.S. forces will leave the country after three years and reduce their presence in Iraq’s cities in 2009. If we were cynical, we would wonder whether Iran’s good cheer — agreement with Washington or not — stems from the fact that the Americans will be gone and Iran will still be there after three years. The Iranians can wait, and they know that in three years or 10, the Baghdad government will be fragile and manipulable.

Indeed, the two explanations are fully compatible. The United States and Iran may well have reached quiet understandings that have made this SOFA achievable, and Iran is content with those agreements. At the same time, the Iranians may be thinking ahead and recognizing that the SOFA clears the way — should the situation permit and require — for much greater Iranian involvement in Iraq down the road. The SOFA gives the Iranians options, and it should not be a surprise that they are pleased.

As for the United States, this SOFA, if implemented, closes down options and limits influence. With the United States pulling out in three years — or perhaps less — Iraqi groups know that they will not be able to depend on American forces to protect their interests. They will be moving away from the United States to secure their positions on their own. As that happens, U.S. influence in Baghdad will begin to decrease dramatically.

This leaves open the question of what Washington — either George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s — thinks the status of U.S.-Iranian relations will be in three years. As it currently stands, the SOFA, without any other understandings, works only if the government in Baghdad is effective enough and motivated to block Iranian influence in three years. Without that, Iraq could well come into an Iranian orbit. The United States is clearly betting on Baghdad.


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #78 on: November 19, 2008, 08:41:31 AM »
November 19, 2008 | 0258 GMT

Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin, head of military intelligence in Israel, said that he would not regard a dialogue between Washington and Iran as necessarily negative. In a public speech, Yadlin said, “Dialogue is not appeasement.” Even if the talks failed, Yadlin said, they could lead to a strengthening of sanctions and might lead to some success as well. He said, “Iran will do anything not to be cornered in the position of Iraq or North Korea,” adding that “Iran is also very susceptible to international pressure because of the (financial) crisis.”

This is a shift in Israeli thinking. While the future of Israel’s government is unclear, to say the least, Yadlin is certainly expressing more than his private views. He is certainly speaking for the leadership of the Israel Defense Forces and in all probability for the Israeli intelligence community. Over the past months, there has been a shift in the way Israelis have presented the imminence of the threat from Iran, indicating that the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon is neither as immutable nor as near as previously thought. Yadlin’s statement brings Israel one step further in this direction.

The change in tone tracks with the change in Iranian-U.S. relations. While hardly warm, there are signs of some thawing, as we have discussed. U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration appears to be moving toward more extensive, open discussions with Iran, and President-elect Barack Obama has indicated a commitment to exploring dialogue with Iran. Under those circumstances, Israel is not going to simply oppose talks. Israel cannot stray too far from the American position, and given that the Bush and Obama positions are converging, Israel cannot attempt to play off political disagreements in Washington.

Yadlin’s statement was far from an enthusiastic endorsement of diplomatic dialogue, since he recognized that a failure in talks between Washington and Tehran would open the door to harsher sanctions against Iran. He did point out that Israel recognizes two weaknesses in the Iranian position. First, Iran does not want to be a pariah state like North Korea or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Second, Iran — whose economy was already fragile — is under heavy pressure because of the global financial crisis. Given Iran’s long-term fear of isolation and attack, and its immediate financial problems, Yadlin seemed to be saying that if there are going to be talks with Iran, now is the time to have them.

The Israelis have been shifting positions on a number of issues in the past few months. Israel shifted its position on Georgia even before the war with Russia began, and then reached out to the Russians in the hope of preventing arms sales to Syria. Now Israel is shifting its views on talks with Iran. A great deal of this redefinition undoubtedly has to do with Obama’s election, but some of it has to do with a recognition that the dynamics of the world are changing and Israel’s posture was not aligned with new realities. Russia is becoming a more important player that Israel cannot take for granted, and talks with Iran are inevitable.

There is one deeper level here. The Israelis always wanted a balance of power between Iraq and Iran. They saw Iran as a block to Arab aspirations. Whatever the internal ideology of Iran, the tension between Iran and the Arabs benefits Israel. Many Israelis were less than thrilled by the U.S. invasion of Iraq because it collapsed that balance. A permanent presence of American forces in Iraq would of course have compensated, but the new Status of Forces Agreement means that U.S. troops will be leaving Iraq — and perhaps leaving it stronger than when they arrived. If there is going to be a strong Iraq, Israel will want a strong Iran. Now we are far from a strong Iraq, but we are also far from a glowing endorsement of U.S.-Iranian dialogue. What Yadlin has done is open the door to the idea that talking to Iran would not mean catastrophe for Israel. For the moment, that is quite enough.


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US, Iran, and potential for cooperation in Afg
« Reply #79 on: January 23, 2009, 09:27:43 AM »
Iran, U.S.: Obama and the Potential for Cooperation in Afghanistan
Stratfor Today » January 23, 2009 | 1210 GMT

U.S. President Barack ObamaSummary
Several of the Obama administration’s top foreign policy agenda items significantly raise the potential for the United States and Iran to work together in Afghanistan. These priorities include reducing the U.S. military presence in Iraq, diplomatic engagement with Iran, and the search for alternatives to the increasingly insecure NATO supply routes to Afghanistan that traverse Pakistan.

Related Special Topic Page
U.S.-Iran Negotiations

Engaging Iran diplomatically is high on new U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy agenda. Tehran also hopes for change with Obama administration after some seven years of limited dealings with the Bush presidency. And Afghanistan could become a place where U.S.-Iranian cooperation flourishes.

One key issue that could facilitate improved bilateral relations is the two countries’ common interests in Afghanistan. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) chief Gen. David Petraeus noted this during a Jan. 8 talk in Washington, saying that Iran “doesn’t want to see … extremists running Afghanistan again any more than other folks do.” Critically for the United States, Iran could help solve the supply chain problem the United States and its NATO allies have been facing amid the growing insecurity in Pakistan.

In his previous position as top U.S. commander in Iraq, Petraeus played a key role in U.S.-Iranian dealings, which led to the greatly improved security situation in Iraq. The potential for fruitful U.S.-Iranian dealings and the security gains made thus far in Iraq have reached the point where there are indications from within the U.S. military that a substantial drawdown in Iraq could occur more rapidly than expected. This will not be possible without continued improvement in U.S.-Iranian negotiations, however.

Though Iraq remains the focal point of Iranian foreign policy efforts, it is hardly Tehran’s only interest abroad. Any settlement between the United States and Iran will involve an understanding regarding Iranian interests in the Levant and elsewhere in the mostly Arab Middle East, regarding Tehran’s controversial nuclear program and regarding Afghanistan. Tehran essentially wants the United States to recognize the Islamic republic as the major player in the region.

Iran views its sphere of influence as including not only the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant and the eastern rim of North Africa, but also Central Asia, the Caucasus and South Asia. Iran’s ability to project power in Central Asia and the Caucasus is quite limited, however, relative to regional rivals Turkey and — more significantly — Russia. South Asia, by contrast, is more fertile terrain for Iranian interests.

Although ethnicity and sect serve as roadblocks to Iranian regional ambitions in the Middle East (Iran is Persian and Shiite while most Muslim countries in the Middle East are largely Arab and Sunni), ethnicity and sect work in Tehran’s favor in Afghanistan, with which Iran shares a 582-mile border. Some 30 percent of Afghans are Tajiks, another branch of the Persian ethnicity. And even though ethnically Afghanistan is majority Pashtun, the lingua franca of Afghanistan is Dari (a variant of the Persian language). Finally, 16 percent of Afghans are Shia.

These factors allow Iran almost to rival Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. In fact, when Afghanistan was ruled by the pro-Pakistani Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, the Iranians (in concert with Russians and the Indians) supported the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance opposition. In 1999, Iran almost went to war with the Taliban after the killings of several Iranian diplomats in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Taliban and their transnational jihadist allies still constitute a threat to Iran, and remain an obstacle to Tehran’s ability to consolidate its influence in Afghanistan. This explains Tehran’s willingness to cooperate in the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban from power after 9/11. Just as Iran’s allies in Iraq would later work with the United States to forge a post-Baathist Iraq, Iranian proxies in Afghanistan worked with Washington to shape a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Though the exact shape of its cooperation remains unclear, Iran also provided direct logistical support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

To halt the Taliban’s effort to stage a comeback, Washington will soon embark on a military surge in Afghanistan while simultaneously mounting a political offensive much like the one it used to undercut the Iraqi insurgency. This will create an opening for another round of U.S.-Iranian cooperation, one that could prove much more substantial than the previous rounds.

As in 2001, the United States will once again need Iranian assistance in pulling together a coalition that can serve to block Taliban ambitions in Afghanistan. And the Iranians have something of critical importance to the United States that they can offer in the short term: the shortest overland route for shipping supplies to Western forces in Afghanistan.

With the principal Western supply routes to Afghanistan, which pass through Pakistan, becoming increasingly insecure because of a raging jihadist insurgency in Pakistan, Washington has intensified its efforts to lock down alternative and/or supplementary routes through Central Asia. The situation is so critical that Washington even appears willing to make concessions to a resurgent Russia to secure a supply chain to Afghanistan for Western forces passing through either Russian territory or the Russian sphere of influence. (Compared to the Iranian and Pakistani routes, these are long, complex and expensive supply lines.)

A much simpler alternative to traversing the former Soviet Union would be to ship material for U.S. and NATO forces to the Iranian port of Chahbahar. Supplies could be offloaded there and transferred to trucks running on a northbound highway connected to the southwestern Afghan town of Zaranj. Zaranj is connected by road to the Afghan town of Delaram by the Indian army’s engineering corps in a major highway project that was only recently completed. Like Zaranj, Delaram is in Nimroz province, and is connected to the ring road that links the major Afghan cities. If an arrangement can be worked out between the United States and Iran, Western forces could thus reduce their dependence on the main routes through Pakistan and perhaps avoid the logistical and geopolitical costs of having to go transport supplies through Central Asia.

The United States clearly could greatly benefit from Iranian cooperation in Afghanistan. The extent to which the two sides can work together, however, is contingent on the level of improvement in U.S.-Iranian bilateral relations — and on Washington’s ability to balance the interests of the multiple regional players who have a stake in Afghanistan.


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WSJ: Netanyahu
« Reply #80 on: January 24, 2009, 08:10:52 AM »

It's Sunday morning, and I've been trying for days to get an interview with former -- and, if his poll numbers hold up through the Feb. 10 election, soon-to-be -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But it's a political season, and there's a war on, and my calls aren't being returned. With nothing better to do, I go downstairs to the hotel gym for a jog.

Terry ShoffnerSo who should be on the treadmill next to mine? Benjamin Netanyahu. We chat for a few minutes, mostly about the cease-fire that the government of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has just declared, and I ask if he'd be willing to sit for an interview later in the day. His answer is something between a "maybe" and a "yes." As a nod to the customs of the country, I take that as a definite yes, so much the better to press his aides to arrange the meeting.

When the interview finally happens, in the grand reception hall of the old King David Hotel, it's close to one o'clock in the morning on Monday. Mr. Netanyahu has come from a long dinner with visiting European leaders -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and German Chancellor Angela Merkel among them -- and he is plainly exhausted, joking that he can't be held responsible for anything he might say.

The crack is unnecessary. Rare for a leading Israeli political figure, the 59-year-old Mr. Netanyahu is a phenomenally articulate man -- Obama-esque, one might even say -- not just in his native Hebrew, but also in the unaccented English he acquired at a Philadelphia high school and later as an architecture and management student at MIT. True to form, near-lapidary sentences all but trip from his tongue. Such as:

"I don't think Israel can accept an Iranian terror base next to its major cities any more than the United States could accept an al Qaeda base next to New York City."


"If we accept the notion that terrorists will have immunity because as they fire on civilians they hide behind civilians, then this tactic will be legitimized and the terrorists will have their greatest victory."


"We grieve for every child, for every innocent civilian that's killed either on our side or on the Palestinian side. The terrorists celebrate such suffering, on our side because they openly say they want to kill us, all of us, and on the Palestinian side because it helps them foster this false symmetry, which is contrary to common decency and international law."

And so on. The immediate question, of course, is the Israeli government's unilateral cease-fire, followed hours later by Hamas's declaration of a conditional, one-week cease-fire. Was the war a win? A draw? Or did it accomplish nothing at all -- thereby handing Hamas the "victory" it loudly claims for itself?

When Mr. Olmert announced Israel's cease-fire late Saturday night, he could hardly keep a grin off his face. In his estimate, along with that of his senior military brass, Israel had scored a clear win: It had humiliated Hamas militarily; it had caused a political rift within the group; it had taken relatively few casualties of its own; it had focused international attention on the problem of the arms smuggling beneath Gaza's border with Egypt. Most important, in the eyes of the Olmert government, it had avoided the trap of reoccupying Gaza -- the only means, it believed, of finally getting rid of Hamas.

Ordinary Israelis, however, seem less confident in the result, and Mr. Netanyahu gives voice to their caution. He is quick to applaud the "brilliant" performance of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and the "perseverance and strength" of Israeli civilians under Hamas's years-long rocket barrages.

But, he adds, "we have to make sure that the radicals do not perceive this as a victory," and it remains far from clear that they would be wrong to see it as one. "Notwithstanding the blows to the Hamas, it's still in Gaza, it's still ruling Gaza, and the Philadelphi corridor [which runs along Gaza's border with Egypt] is still porous, and . . . Hamas can smuggle new rockets unless it's closed, to fire at Israel in the future."

So is Mr. Netanyahu's preference regime change in Gaza? "Well, that would have been the optimal outcome," he says, adding that "the minimal outcome would have been to seal Gaza" from the missiles and munitions being smuggled into it. So far it's unclear that Israel has achieved even that: A "Memorandum of Understanding" agreed to last week by Israel, the U.S. and Egypt could be effective in stopping the flow of arms, but that's assuming Cairo lives up to its responsibilities.

"One would hope they would actually do it," says Mr. Netanyahu, sounding less than optimistic. Within days, his doubts are confirmed when the Associated Press produces video footage of masked Palestinian smugglers moving through once-again operational tunnels.

Rather than looking for solutions from Egypt, however, Mr. Netanyahu's gaze is intently fixed on Iran, a subject that consumes at least half of the interview. Iran is the "mother regime" both of Hamas, against which Israel has just fought a war, as well as of Hezbollah, against which it fought its last war in 2006. Together, he says, they are more than simply fingers of Tehran's influence on the shores of the Mediterranean.

"The arming of Iran with nuclear weapons may portend an irreversible process, because these regimes assume a kind of immortality," he says, arguing that the threat of a nuclear Iran poses a much graver danger to the world than the current economic crisis. "[This] will pose an existential threat to Israel directly, but also could give a nuclear umbrella to these terrorist bases."

How to stop that from happening? Mr. Netanyahu mentions that he has met with Barack Obama both in Israel and Washington, and that the question of Iran "loomed large in both conversations." I ask: Did Mr. Obama seem to him appropriately sober-minded about the subject? "Very much so, very much so," Mr. Netanyahu stresses. "He [Mr. Obama] spoke of his plans to engage Iran in order to impress upon them that they have to stop the nuclear program. What I said to him was, what counts is not the method but the goal."

It's easy to believe that Mr. Netanyahu, of all people, must be wishing President Obama well: If diplomacy with Iran fails and the U.S. does not resort to military force, it would almost certainly fall to Mr. Netanyahu to decide whether Israel will go it alone in a strike. (In a separate interview earlier that day, a senior military official assured me that a successful strike on Iran's nuclear facilities is well within Israel's capabilities.)

On the other hand, a Prime Minister Netanyahu could easily tangle with the Obama administration, particularly if it makes a big push -- as it looks like it might with the appointment of former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the new special envoy to the region -- for the resumption of comprehensive, "final status" peace negotiations. There's already a history here: During his first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, Mr. Netanyahu frequently clashed with the administration of the man whose wife is now the secretary of state.

Mr. Netanyahu's own prescriptions for a settlement with the Palestinians -- what he calls a "workable peace" -- differ markedly from the approaches of the 1990s. He talks about "the development of capable law enforcement and security capabilities" for the Palestinians, adding that the new National Security Adviser Jim Jones had worked on the problem for the Bush administration. He stresses the need for rapid economic development in the West Bank, promising to remove "all sorts of impediments to economic growth" faced by Palestinians.

As for the political front, Mr. Netanyahu promises a gradual, "bottom-up process that will facilitate political solutions, not replace them."

"Most of the approaches to peace between Israel and the Palestinians," he says, "have been directed at trying to resolve the most complex problems, like refugees and Jerusalem, which is akin to building the pyramid from the top down. It's much better to build it layer by layer, in a deliberate, purposeful pattern that changes the reality for both Palestinians and Israelis."

Whether this approach will work remains to be seen: Palestinian economic development was also a priority in the 1990s, until it became clear that billions in foreign aid were being siphoned off by corrupt Palestinian officials, and after various joint economic projects with Israel were violently sabotaged.

But however Mr. Netanyahu's economic and security plans play out, he makes it equally clear that he is prepared to go only so far to reach an accommodation that will meet some of the current demands being made of Israel -- not only by Palestinians, but by the Syrians, the Saudis, and much of the rest of the "international community" as well. "We're not going to redivide Jerusalem, or get off the Golan Heights, or go back to the 1967 boundaries," he says. "We won't repeat the mistake our [political opponents] made of unilateral retreats to merely vacate territory that is then taken up by Hamas or Iran."

This brings Mr. Netanyahu to the political pitch he's making -- so far successfully -- to Israelis ahead of next month's election. When elections were held three years ago, bringing Mr. Olmert to power, "we [his Likud Party] were mocked" for warning that Gaza would become Hamastan, and that Hamastan would become a staging ground for missiles fired at major Israeli cities such as Ashkelon and Ashdod.

"I think we've shown the ability to see the problems in advance," he says. "Peace is purchased from strength. It's not purchased from weakness or unilateral retreats. It just doesn't happen that way. That perhaps is the greatest lesson that has been impressed on the mind of the Israeli public in the last few years."

The polls seem to agree. As of Wednesday, an Israeli poll gives Likud a 30-seat plurality in the next Knesset, ahead by eight of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's Kadima party. Well behind both of them is the left-leaning Labor Party of Defense Minister Ehud Barak (at about 15 seats), which in turn is running roughly even with Avigdor Lieberman's right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu.

The dovish parties of yore, particularly Meretz, barely exist as political entities anymore. Whether they'll ever be back will be a testament, one way or another, to the kind of prime minister Mr. Netanyahu will be this time around.


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #81 on: February 15, 2009, 06:29:30 PM »
Yemen strikes multifaceted deals with al Qaeda
By JANE NOVAK February 11, 2009 8:03 PM

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh recently struck a deal with Ayman Zawahiri, and Yemen is in the process of emptying its jails of known jihadists. The Yemeni government is recruiting these established jihadists to attack its domestic enemies as it refrains from serious counter-terror measures against the newly formed Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The tripartite relationship between the Yemeni regime and al Qaeda enables all participants to further their goals at the expense of national, regional, and global security.

Yemen releases 95 jihadists

News reports from Yemen detail a meeting in Sana'a between President Saleh and a number of so-called reformed jihadists late January. The militants demanded freedom for imprisoned associates. A presidential committee identified 170 jihadists eligible for release, and 95 were released Saturday. Other reports indicate that authorities have cleared for release a total of 300 of the 400 total suspected al Qaeda in prison.

In the latest round of negotiations, Saleh reportedly asked the militants to engage in violence against the southern mobility movement. The southern uprising is bent on achieving the independence of South Yemen and is a substantial threat to Saleh's grip on power. Tariq al Fahdli was present at the meeting, and at a later meeting in Abyan, militants brandished an official order directing the military to supply the mercenary group with arms and ammunition. Fahdli fought alongside bin Laden in Afghanistan and has been accused of complicity in the 1992 Aden hotel bombing, the first al Qaeda attack that targeted American troops. Fahdli's sister is married to Brigadier General Ali Mohsen al Ahmar, President Saleh's half brother and a recruiter for bin Laden in the 1980s.

President Saleh deployed Fahdli and other Afghan Arabs against southern Socialists in 1994's civil war. Some bin Laden loyalists were rewarded with high positions in the administration and military after the 1994 civil war. More recently, General al Ahmar incorporated Sunni extremists into military ranks during the 2004-2008 Saada War against Shiite "Houthi" rebels. Militants legitimize both the 1994 and Saada deployments by referencing the "apostate" nature of the enemy. This task is made easier by the official media's description of both Socialists and Shiites as satanic.

The deployment of al Qaeda extremists as a government paramilitary affords the jihadists training, experience, contacts, financial benefit, and the ability to dictate to the regime and indoctrinate followers. Many are awarded military salaries and official positions. After years of integrating militants into Yemen's security forces and bureaucracy, aspects of the state have been co-opted by extremists.

Direct negotiations between the Yemeni president and al Qaeda operatives grew out of Yemen's "Dialog Program" established in 2002. Through discussion of the Koran, the program sought to gain assurances that jihadists would not launch assaults within Yemen but said nothing about the Islamic legitimacy of attacks on US troops in Iraq. The program ran until 2005 and was described by some participants as an expedited release program.

In 2005, President Saleh began openly negotiating with the jihadists. One such negotiation in 2006 was conducted by Saleh and the head of Yemen's Political Security Organization. The jihadists' representative was Rashad Mohammed Saeed (Abu al Feida), formerly a major figure in al Qaeda and the Taliban who has been seen in videos near Osama Bin Laden.

Saeed later described the outcome of the meeting with Saleh. "It was also agreed to cancel measures imposed on those who are released, like house arrest, the monthly signing of official register and taking permission if you wish to go another province in Yemen," he said. In 2006, Saeed praised Yemen as "the best country" to deal with militants and noted "The Yemeni government will not enter open confrontations with Mujahideen."

President Saleh has also arranged state jobs, cars, cash payments and even weddings for militants who pledged to follow the regime's dictates. Officials spin these negotiations as fostering rehabilitation and integration into society.

In January 2008, a spokesman for an al Qaeda cell in Yemen said the government had recruited some of its members to fight in the Saada War. In exchange, the security forces agreed to "ease the persecution of (al Qaeda) members." Ahmed Mansour said the group is and has been in contact with the government through intermediaries, adding bin Laden ordered a ban on attacks directed against the regime and that the US remains enemy number one. Other al Qaeda insiders who reference bin Laden's prohibition on assaults against Saleh's government include Nasser al Bahri (Abu Jandal), bin Laden's longtime bodyguard, and Rashad Saeed.

Al Qaeda Central

Another prong of President Saleh's tripartite relation with al Qaeda is with the group's central leadership, thought to currently be in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Yemen supplied thousands of recruits to the Afghan jihad in the 1980s, and Yemenis were among the top ranks in the organization, as well as forming the core of personnel who were guarding, feeding, and transporting bin Laden. Saleh welcomed thousands of Yemeni and non-Yemeni jihadists from Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the Soviets. Ayman Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden frequently visited and preached in Yemen in the 1990s and have many loyalists among Yemeni government ranks.

A long-standing pattern of negotiation exists. After al Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash was arrested in Yemen in 1999, bin Laden contacted a Yemeni official and bargained for Attash's release. The Yemeni regime released Attash and promised not to confront al Qaeda. In exchange, bin Laden pledged not to attack the government. Attash later went on the play a role in the USS Cole bombing. Another round of negotiation appears to have taken place 2003 in which regime concessions resulted in immunity from attack.

A current agreement between Yemen's President Saleh and the al Qaeda terror group was referenced in a report here at The Long War Journal detailing communication between Ayman Zawahiri and President Saleh after September's embassy attack. A US military official reported that "Saleh feared his government would be the next target, but Zawahiri wanted al Qaeda prisoners released from Yemeni jails and committed al Qaeda foot soldiers to fight the Houthi rebels."

Active Jihadists

Although Yemen formally joined the US-led War on Terror after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Yemeni regime has facilitated jihadists' efforts externally, sheltered fighters internally, and repeatedly misled the US about their whereabouts and status. In early 2007, a Yemeni newspaper tallied 1800 Yemenis who traveled to Iraq for jihad; their families said the young men were trained by top level Yemeni military commanders.

Yemeni courts fail to criminalize attacks on US troops or civilians abroad. In a 2006 trial of 13 jihadists who fought in Iraq, the court found that it is not against Yemeni law to murder foreign nationals in "occupied" Muslim nations. Although the defendants admitted to fighting US and Iraqi forces, they faced no judicial penalty and were convicted only of document fraud.

Yemen refuses to extradite or imprison the al Qaeda operatives convicted of the terror attack on the USS Cole. President Saleh has been equally lenient with those convicted of attacks on tourists and oil facilities. Several were granted "house arrest" after escaping from prison. Yemen's banking system lacks the legal framework to criminalize terrorist financing.

Some analysts assert that some of the terror attacks since 2006 were orchestrated by Yemen's security forces in a bid to manipulate international perceptions or overshadow domestic political crises. One of Yemen's most wanted terrorists, Hamza Ali Saleh al Dhayiuani, said "I am ready to prove the reality that some attacks were planned in co-ordination and agreement of the Political Security and its agents to gain foreign support."

In November 2008, Al Quds Al Arabi carried an interview with a former terrorist in Yemen who was described as "very close to al Qaeda". The senior jihadi reported that the terrorist organization has entered a "positive phase" in planning an attack against the US that will "outdo by far" Sept. 11. Al Quds Al Arabi previously published bin Laden's 1998 fatwa against the US. The Yemeni former operative reported that he is contact with the current leaders of the organization in Yemen who in turn receive messages from bin Laden.

Al Qaida groups in Yemen and Saudi Arabia formally merged operations in January, under the name al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The group announced the merger at a press conference attended by a single journalist, Abdulea Shaya, employed as a researcher by the state news agency, SABA. The group was acknowledged by Ayman Zawahiri in a statement. AQAP is based in Yemen. Its leader is a Yemeni, Nasser al Wahishi, who was a close associate of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. AQAP vowed to strike at Western interests and supply routes across the region. The new group and its broad goals appear to be a strategic development on the part of al Qaeda Central in furtherance of its global strategy.

The stated goals of AQAP mirror an April 2008 statement by Al Qaeda's central leadership which said establishing naval terror cells and control of the seas around Yemen is a "vital step" in achieving a global caliphate. The Bab al Mandeb waterway and Gulf of Aden were termed "of supreme strategic importance" in al Qaeda's long-term plan. The April statement highlighted the attacks on the USS Cole in 2001 and the French tanker Limburg in 2002 in Port Aden.

In response to the formation of AQAP, Saleh's regime made several announcements of its intent to find the group's hideout. Saleh called on tribal leaders and citizens to turn in the militants. Officials accused the opposition parties of supporting al Qaeda in an attempt to overthrow the state. Security forces set up checkpoints, engaged in hunting activities, and beat a man named al Zaheri because his name was similar to the al Qaeda chieftain's.

AQAP issued a communiqué explaining the unique configuration to its local members and legitimized fighting for the state by referencing the 1994 war. A copy of the letter was obtained by News Yemen. Echoing the earlier agreement by Saleh and Zawahiri late in 2008, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula explained to its followers that President Saleh wants jihadists to fight on behalf of the state, especially those who did already in 1994, against the enemies of unity-- southern oppositionists. AQAP in return will gain prison releases and unimpeded travel to external theaters of jihad, the letter explained.


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The other Friedman
« Reply #82 on: June 14, 2009, 01:13:38 PM »
The occasionally insightful Thomas Friedman:

Published: June 13, 2009
Twenty years ago, I wrote a book about the Middle East, and recently I was thinking of updating it with a new introduction. It was going to be very simple — just one page, indeed just one line: “Nothing has changed.”

Skip to next paragraph
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman

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Times Topics: Iran | LebanonIt took me two days covering the elections in Beirut to realize that I was dead wrong. No, something is going on in the Middle East today that is very new. Pull up a chair; this is going to be interesting.

What we saw in the Lebanese elections, where the pro-Western March 14 movement won a surprise victory over the pro-Iranian Hezbollah coalition, what we saw in the ferment for change exposed by the election campaign in Iran, and what we saw in the provincial elections in Iraq, where the big pro-Iranian party got trounced, is the product of four historical forces that have come together to crack open this ossified region.

First is the diffusion of technology. The Internet, blogs, YouTube and text messaging via cellphones, particularly among the young — 70 percent of Iranians are under 30 — is giving Middle Easterners cheap tools to communicate horizontally, to mobilize politically and to criticize their leaders acerbically, outside of state control. It is also enabling them to monitor vote-rigging by posting observers with cellphone cameras.

I knew something had changed when I sat down for coffee on Hamra Street in Beirut last week with my 80-year-old friend and mentor, Kemal Salibi, one of Lebanon’s greatest historians, and he told me about his Facebook group!

The evening of Lebanon’s election, I went to the Beirut home of Saad Hariri, the leader of the March 14 coalition, to interview him. In a big living room, he had a gigantic wall-size television broadcasting the results. And alongside the main TV were 16 smaller flat-screen TVs with electronic maps of Lebanon. Hariri’s own election experts were working on laptops and breaking down every vote from every religious community, village by village, and projecting them on the screens.

Second, for real politics to happen you need space. There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”

When I reported from Beirut in the 1970s and 1980s, I covered coups and wars. I never once stayed up late waiting for an election result. Elections in the Arab world were a joke — literally. They used to tell this story about Syria’s president, Hafez al-Assad. After a Syrian election, an aide came in and told Assad: “Mr. President, you won 99.8 percent of the votes. It means that only two-tenths of one percent of Syrians didn’t vote for you. What more could ask for?”

Assad answered: “Their names!”

Lebanese, by contrast, just waited up all night for their election results — no one knew what they’d be.

Third, the Bush team opened a hole in the wall of Arab autocracy but did a poor job following through. In the vacuum, the parties most organized to seize power were the Islamists — Hezbollah in Lebanon; pro-Al Qaeda forces among Iraqi Sunnis, and the pro-Iranian Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Mahdi Army among Iraqi Shiites; the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan; Hamas in Gaza.

Fortunately, each one of these Islamist groups overplayed their hand by imposing religious lifestyles or by dragging their societies into confrontations the people didn’t want. This alienated and frightened more secular, mainstream Arabs and Muslims and has triggered an “awakening” backlash among moderates from Lebanon to Pakistan to Iran. The Times’s Robert Mackey reported that in Tehran “chants of ‘Death to America’ ” at rallies for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week were answered by chants of “Death to the Taliban — in Kabul and Tehran” at a rally for his opponent, Mir Hussein Moussavi.

Finally, along came President Barack Hussein Obama. Arab and Muslim regimes found it very useful to run against George Bush. The Bush team demonized them, and they demonized the Bush team. Autocratic regimes, like Iran’s, drew energy and legitimacy from that confrontation, and it made it very easy for them to discredit anyone associated with America. Mr. Obama’s soft power has defused a lot of that. As result, “pro-American” is not such an insult anymore.

I don’t know how all this shakes out; the forces against change in this region are very powerful — see Iran — and ruthless. But for the first time in a long time, the forces for decency, democracy and pluralism have a little wind at their backs. Good for them.

The public editor’s column will return next week.


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Israeli Arms and Russian Intentions
« Reply #83 on: August 19, 2009, 11:22:38 PM »
Wednesday, August 19, 2009   STRATFOR.COM  Diary Archives 

Israeli Arms and Russian Intentions

ISRAELI PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES met with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, at Medvedev’s summer resort in Sochi on Tuesday. During their four-hour visit, the Russian president reiterated that Moscow is against “nuclear weapons in Iranian hands.” He also said he wanted to upgrade the Russo-Israeli strategic relationship to the same level as Russia’s relations with Germany, France and Italy.

Medvedev evidently planned to flatter Peres for the cameras during this visit. By putting Israel level with three major European powers — all of which are closely intertwined with Russian political, military and economic interests — he publicly signaled intentions to bring Israel as close to Moscow and as far from Washington as possible. Before Peres’ visit, Russian leaders had had a series of high-profile meetings with the Germans, the Turks and the Poles. The Russian invitation to Israel — yet another critical U.S. ally — is a reminder to Washington that the U.S. alliance system, designed to counter Russia, could be on shaky ground.

“The last thing Moscow wants is for Israel, which has a strong defense relationship with Georgia and Ukraine, to arm U.S. allies in the former Soviet periphery.”
But Israel is an especially tricky country for Russia to deal with. The two countries usually maintain civil relations and would prefer to leave each other alone, but their geopolitical vulnerabilities bring them into conflict from time to time. Now is one of those times.

A tiny country surrounded by hostile powers, Israel requires an external security guarantor — a role the United States currently serves — for its survival. Russia, on the other hand, is a massive country that is constantly concerned with the threat of Western encroachment. By pushing for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine and ballistic missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, the United States poses a critical threat to Russian national security. The common link for Israel and Russia is the United States.

The Russians are already engaged in an intense standoff with Washington. The last thing Moscow wants is for Israel, which has a strong defense relationship with Georgia and Ukraine, to arm U.S. allies in the former Soviet periphery. But the Israelis are also watching Washington’s rebuffs of Moscow’s demands. Considering how poorly U.S.-Russian negotiations are going, Moscow could turn the screws on Washington by boosting critical defense support for Iran.

Such a prospect is obviously very unsettling for the Israelis, and Peres was likely on a mission during this visit to secure a guarantee from Medvedev that Russia will refrain from arming Iran — with Israel backing away from arms sales to Georgia and Ukraine in return. Whether Peres got that guarantee is unclear, but there was something else on Tuesday that had us questioning Russia’s plans for the Middle East.

While Peres was in Sochi, STRATFOR received a message from a high-level Russian source indicating that the Russo-Israeli relationship was wounded in 2008, when Israel allegedly was shipping weapons to Ukraine and Georgia. The Israelis abruptly halted those shipments after coming to a compromise with the Russians, in the lead-up to the Russo-Georgian war last August. However, the source said, Israel later resumed defense sales to Ukraine and Georgia and also has pending deals with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, where Russia dominates the arms market. Moreover, the source claimed there was an additional concern about Israeli weapons being found in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan — Russia’s restive republics in the Caucasus.

The abundance of Israeli weapons floating around the region makes it entirely possible that Israeli arms are turning up in the Caucasus. But the source made it clear that the Russians suspect Israel of directly interfering in Russian territory. The Israelis know they can push the Russians by selling weapons to former Soviet states, but arming rebels within Russia proper is a highly sensitive issue for Moscow. It is a risk the Israelis are not likely to take, given their concerns over Russia’s defense relationship with Iran. Still, we can’t shake the idea that this accusation against Israel could have been disseminated for a very specific purpose. While Medvedev charmed Peres in public, he might have had a very different message for the Israeli president in private.

Regardless of whether Israel is actually sending arms directly into Russia, we must be aware of the potential for Russia to simply use such an accusation as justification to follow through on threats concerning Iran. The Kremlin essentially would telling Washington, via the Israelis, that if U.S. allies interfere in its sphere of influence, Russia will respond in a critical arena like the Middle East, where the United States is already heavily entrenched. At the very least, this could be a message to Israel and the United States to back off — or else. At most, the “or else” could imply that operations are already under way to destabilize the Middle East. We simply do not know for sure either way, but it’s a possibility we need to consider.


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What do we make of this?
« Reply #84 on: May 25, 2010, 07:11:58 PM »


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #85 on: May 25, 2010, 07:56:39 PM »
A white house desperate for some appearance of strength and competence leaks programs that are probably emasculated with policy and procedure designed by Holder's DOJ, so their disclosure is no real loss.


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #86 on: May 25, 2010, 10:11:42 PM »
That certainly is plausible, but do you think Petraeus would participate in that?
Does the following shed any light?

Washington Strengthens Its Bargaining Position
IRAN SENT A LETTER TO THE INTERNATIONAL Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday saying that it accepted a nuclear fuel swap deal proposed by Turkey and Brazil that would involve transferring low-enriched uranium to Turkey for storage. The deal is a bid to reassure the international community that Iran is not using the fuel to make highly enriched uranium for a nuclear device. The United States responded that it would review the proposal, speak with France and Russia, and then respond to the IAEA in the coming days.

The U.S. response followed its initial rejection of the Turkey-Brazil proposal and claim that it would continue pressing for new sanctions against Iran in the United Nations. This is notable especially because the Iranian letter did not provide any new details that would change Washington’s calculus. It did not indicate any specifics about the timing or volume of uranium transfers, nor did it suggest in any way that Iran has changed its position on enriching uranium, which Washington wants to stop fully. It merely asserted Tehran’s acceptance of the Turkish proposal.

Nevertheless, the United States has not dismissed the proposal outright. This is because Iran’s nuclear program is not the only thing on Washington’s mind, but rather one component of a more complex set of negotiations as the United States prepares to withdraw from Iraq and, before too long, Afghanistan. If the United States is to withdraw major forces from the region, it wants to ensure that some semblance of balance has taken shape so that the threat of any one actor gaining too much of an advantage is minimized. It has become clear that such a strategy will require forging an arrangement with Tehran, since Iran has a special ability to affect both Iraq and Afghanistan. Having for the moment ruled out the option of striking Iran militarily, the United States must now look for ways to coordinate with Iran, while at the same time imposing limits to its power so that it will not overturn the regional balance when the United States leaves.

“Iran’s nuclear program is not the only thing on Washington’s mind, but rather one component of a more complex set of negotiations.”
Washington’s problem, however, is that it is attempting to find ways to negotiate while Iran sits in the best bargaining position. In recent months, Iran has seen a series of victories. It has watched as the United States vetoed Israel’s threats of military strikes; watered down proposals for sanctions at the United Nations so as to curry Russian and Chinese favor; and, crucially, it has turned the March election in Iraq to its favor by manipulating the various factions as they attempt to form a governing coalition. The latter is a tool Iran can use at length and to devastating effect if necessary, threatening to disrupt U.S. President Barack Obama administration’s withdrawal plans — and its other plans for that matter.

Washington needs to strengthen its bargaining position. And so it has, by attacking the problem from a different angle. Throughout the United States’ lengthy diplomatic quest to pressure Iran, a chief sticking point has been Russia. Moscow sees the U.S. imbroglios in the Middle East as an opportunity of a lifetime, and is pleased to use its relationship with Iran as a means of drawing out the opportunity, whether by offering to assist Iran with its nuclear energy program through the long-awaited completion of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear facility, provide it with S300 anti-air missile systems, or circumvent international sanctions on its fuel imports. The United States has tried before to work out a deal with Russia to abandon its support of Iran, which would leave Tehran isolated and considerably weaker in its negotiations with the United States. Previous attempts failed because the United States was not willing to give Russia the concessions it wanted — namely recognition of its superiority within the former Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.

But whenever the United States and Russia have begun negotiating more intensely with each other, Iran has become more conscious of its role as a mere bargaining chip for Russia, often signaling its displeasure with an outburst of rhetoric. Notably, just such a paroxysm occurred over the weekend, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Russia to support the nuclear swap proposal, warning against making “excuses,” and saying that Russia should be more careful about remarks concerning its “great neighbor” Iran.

Why should Iran suddenly doubt Russia’s support? On the same day that Iran sent its letter to the IAEA, the United States transferred a battery of Patriot missiles to Poland. The Patriots are significant as a symbol of U.S. commitment to Poland’s security — and by extension that of its Central European allies — after the United States canceled plans for a fixed ballistic missile defense installation in the country. The Patriots come at a time in which the Obama administration is fashioning a new national security strategy that aims to spread the responsibility and costs of foreign interventions among U.S. allies. This will inevitably attract the most interest from European states that acutely feel the threat posed to them by a resurgent Russia. None of these developments have gone unnoticed in Moscow, and neither have positive U.S. moves, such as lifting sanctions on Russian arms dealers and not attempting to prevent Russia from selling the S300s to Iran. The United States has grabbed Russia’s undivided attention, and that alone is enough to unnerve Iran.

« Last Edit: May 25, 2010, 10:16:32 PM by Crafty_Dog »


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #87 on: May 26, 2010, 06:40:52 AM »
That certainly is plausible, but do you think Petraeus would participate in that?

**He is a soldier. He can follow the lawful orders from the CIC, or he can put in his retirement papers and then speak publicly when clad in civvies.**
Does the following shed any light?

**Obarry is trying for a "Peace with honor" surrender of both wars and playing his very weak hand in an attempt for it to not look like that, fooling no one.**


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Limited Options in Iraq
« Reply #88 on: August 17, 2010, 08:41:10 AM »
August 17, 2010


By George Friedman

It is August 2010, which is the month when the last U.S. combat troops are scheduled
to leave Iraq. It is therefore time to take stock of the situation in Iraq, which
has changed places with Afghanistan as the forgotten war. This is all the more
important since 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq, and while they may not be
considered combat troops, a great deal of combat power remains embedded with them.
So we are far from the end of the war in Iraq. The question is whether the departure
of the last combat units is a significant milestone and, if it is, what it

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003 with three goals: The first was the
destruction of the Iraqi army, the second was the destruction of the Baathist regime
and the third was the replacement of that regime with a stable, pro-American
government in Baghdad. The first two goals were achieved within weeks. Seven years
later, however, Iraq still does not yet have a stable government, let alone a
pro-American government. The lack of that government is what puts the current
strategy in jeopardy.

The fundamental flaw of the invasion of Iraq was not in its execution but in the
political expectations that were put in place. As the Americans knew, the Shiite
community was anti-Baathist but heavily influenced by Iranian intelligence. The
decision to destroy the Baathists put the Sunnis, who were the backbone of Saddam's
regime, in a desperate position. Facing a hostile American army and an equally
hostile Shiite community backed by Iran, the Sunnis faced disaster. Taking support
from where they could get it -- from the foreign jihadists that were entering Iraq
-- they launched an insurgency against both the Americans and the Shia.

The Sunnis simply had nothing to lose. In their view, they faced permanent
subjugation at best and annihilation at worst. The United States had the option of
creating a Shiite-based government but realized that this government would
ultimately be under Iranian control. The political miscalculation placed the United
States simultaneously into a war with the Sunnis and a near-war situation with many
of the Shia, while the Shia and Sunnis waged a civil war among themselves and the
Sunnis occasionally fought the Kurds as well. From late 2003 until 2007, the United
States was not so much in a state of war in Iraq as it was in a state of chaos.

The new strategy of Gen. David Petraeus emerged from the realization that the United
States could not pacify Iraq and be at war with everyone. After a 2006 defeat in the
midterm elections, it was expected that U.S. President George W. Bush would order
the withdrawal of forces from Iraq. Instead, he announced the surge. The surge was
really not much of a surge, but it created psychological surprise -- not only were
the Americans not leaving, but more were on the way. Anyone who was calculating a
position based on the assumption of a U.S. withdrawal had to recalculate.

The Americans understood that the key was reversing the position of the Sunni
insurgents. So long as they remained at war with the Americans and Shia, there was
no possibility of controlling the situation. Moreover, only the Sunnis could cut the
legs out from under the foreign jihadists operating in the Sunni community. These
jihadists were challenging the traditional leadership of the Sunni community, so
turning this community against the jihadists was not difficult. The Sunnis also were
terrified that the United States would withdraw, leaving them at the mercy of the
Shia. These considerations, along with substantial sums of money given to Sunni
tribal elders, caused the Sunnis to do an about-face. This put the Shia on the
defensive, since the Sunni alignment with the Americans enabled the Americans to
strike at the Shiite militias.

Petraeus stabilized the situation, but he did not win the war. The war could only be
considered won when there was a stable government in Baghdad that actually had the
ability to govern Iraq. A government could be formed with people sitting in meetings
and talking, but that did not mean that their decisions would have any significance.
For that there had to be an Iraqi army to enforce the will of the government and
protect the country from its neighbors -- particularly Iran (from the American point
of view). There also had to be a police force to enforce whatever laws might be
made. And from the American perspective, this government did not have to be
pro-American (that had long ago disappeared as a viable goal), but it could not be
dominated by Iran. 

Iraq is not ready to deal with the enforcement of the will of the government because
it has no government. Once it has a government, it will be a long time before its
military and police forces will be able to enforce its will throughout the country.
And it will be much longer before it can block Iranian power by itself. As it stands
now, there is no government, so the rest doesn't much matter.

The geopolitical problem the Americans face is that, with the United States gone,
Iran would be the most powerful conventional power in the Persian Gulf. The
historical balance of power had been between Iraq and Iran. The American invasion
destroyed the Iraqi army and government, and the United States was unable to
re-create either. Part of this had to do with the fact that the Iranians did not
want the Americans to succeed.

For Iran, a strong Iraq is the geopolitical nightmare. Iran once fought a war with
Iraq that cost Iran a million casualties (imagine the United States having more than
4 million casualties), and the foundation of Iranian national strategy is to prevent
a repeat of that war by making certain that Iraq becomes a puppet to Iran or,
failing that, that it remains weak and divided. At this point, the Iranians do not
have the ability to impose a government on Iraq. However, they do have the ability
to prevent the formation of a government or to destabilize one that is formed.
Iranian intelligence has sufficient allies and resources in Iraq to guarantee the
failure of any stabilization attempt that doesn't please Tehran.

There are many who are baffled by Iranian confidence and defiance in the face of
American pressure on the nuclear issue. This is the reason for that confidence:
Should the United States attack Iran's nuclear facilities, or even if the United
States does not attack, Iran holds the key to the success of the American strategy
in Iraq. Everything done since 2006 fails if the United States must maintain tens of
thousands of troops in Iraq in perpetuity. Should the United States leave, Iran has
the capability of forcing a new order not only on Iraq but also on the rest of the
Persian Gulf. Should the United States stay, Iran has the ability to prevent the
stabilization of Iraq, or even to escalate violence to the point that the Americans
are drawn back into combat. The Iranians understand the weakness of America's
position in Iraq, and they are confident that they can use that to influence
American policy elsewhere.

American and Iraqi officials have publicly said that the reason an Iraqi government
has not been formed is Iranian interference. To put it more clearly, there are any
number of Shiite politicians who are close to Tehran and, for a range of reasons,
will take their orders from there. There are not enough of these politicians to
create a government, but there are enough to block a government from being formed.
Therefore, no government is being formed.

With 50,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, the United States does not yet face a crisis.
The current withdrawal milestone is not the measure of the success of the strategy.
The threat of a crisis will arise if the United States continues its withdrawal to
the point where the Shia feel free to launch a sustained and escalating attack on
the Sunnis, possibly supported by Iranian forces, volunteers or covert advisers. At
that point, the Iraqi government must be in place, be united and command sufficient
forces to control the country and deter Iranian plans.
The problem is, as we have seen, that in order to achieve that government there must
be Iranian concurrence, and Iran has no reason to want to allow that to happen. Iran
has very little to lose by, and a great deal to gain from, continuing the stability
the Petraeus strategy provided. The American problem is that a genuine withdrawal
from Iraq requires a shift in Iranian policy, and the United States has little to
offer Iran to change the policy.

From the Iranian point of view, they have the Americans in a difficult position. On
the one hand, the Americans are trumpeting the success of the Petraeus plan in Iraq
and trying to repeat the success in Afghanistan. On the other hand, the secret is
that the Petraeus plan has not yet succeeded in Iraq. Certainly, it ended the major
fighting involving the Americans and settled down Sunni-Shiite tensions. But it has
not taken Iraq anywhere near the end state the original strategy envisioned. Iraq
has neither a government nor a functional army -- and what is blocking it is Tehran.

One impulse of the Americans is to settle with the Iranians militarily. However,
Iran is a mountainous country of 70 million, and an invasion is simply not in the
cards. Airstrikes are always possible, but as the United States learned over North
Vietnam -- or from the Battle of Britain or in the bombing of Germany and Japan
before the use of nuclear weapons -- air campaigns alone don't usually force nations
to capitulate or change their policies. Serbia did give up Kosovo after a
three-month air campaign, but we suspect Iran would be a tougher case. In any event,
the United States has no appetite for another war while the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan are still under way, let alone a war against Iran in order to extricate
itself from Iraq. The impulse to use force against Iran was resisted by President
Bush and is now being resisted by President Barack Obama. And even if the Israelis
attacked Iran's nuclear facilities, Iran could still wreak havoc in Iraq.

Two strategies follow from this. The first is that the United States will reduce
U.S. forces in Iraq somewhat but will not complete the withdrawal until a more
distant date (the current Status of Forces Agreement requires all American troops to
be withdrawn by the end of 2011). The problems with this strategy are that Iran is
not going anywhere, destabilizing Iraq is not costing it much and protecting itself
from an Iraqi resurgence is Iran's highest foreign-policy priority. That means that
the decision really isn't whether the United States will delay its withdrawal but
whether the United States will permanently base forces in Iraq -- and how vulnerable
those forces might be to an upsurge in violence, which is an option that Iran

Another choice for the United States, as we have discussed previously, is to enter
into negotiations with Iran. This is a distasteful choice from the American point of
view, but surely not more distasteful than negotiating with Stalin or Mao. At the
same time, the Iranians' price would be high. At the very least, they would want the
"Finlandization" of Iraq, similar to the situation where the Soviets had a degree of
control over Finland's government. And it is far from clear that such a situation in
Iraq would be sufficient for the Iranians.

The United States cannot withdraw completely without some arrangement, because that
would leave Iran in an extremely powerful position in the region. The Iranian
strategy seems to be to make the United States sufficiently uncomfortable to see
withdrawal as attractive but not to be so threatening as to deter the withdrawal. As
clever as that strategy is, however, it does not hide the fact that Iran would
dominate the Persian Gulf region after the withdrawal. Thus, the United States has
nothing but unpleasant choices in Iraq. It can stay in perpetuity and remain
vulnerable to violence. It can withdraw and hand the region over to Iran. It can go
to war with yet another Islamic country. Or it can negotiate with a government that
it despises -- and which despises it right back. 

Given all that has been said about the success of the Petraeus strategy, it must be
observed that while it broke the cycle of violence and carved out a fragile
stability in Iraq, it has not achieved, nor can it alone achieve, the political
solution that would end the war. Nor has it precluded a return of violence at some
point. The Petraeus strategy has not solved the fundamental reality that has always
been the shadow over Iraq: Iran. But that was beyond Petraeus' task and, for now,
beyond American capabilities. That is why the Iranians can afford to be so


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #89 on: August 17, 2010, 12:24:18 PM »
Very interesting Strat, as always.  Seems to me they exaggerate our goal number 3, ending with a pro-American government.  Pro-American is a little hard to arrange.  We would I think settle for anything that involves stability, self-determination and not actively planning (or harboring) attacks against American interests. 

Iran is a key player and factor but I wonder if Stratfor overestimates how much the Iraqis, even Shia, want to be controlled by Iran. 

Iran has some stability issues of its own with 70 million oppressed people.  The USA by now should have some covert destabilization contingency plan of its own ready to deploy in Iran, short of an invasion.  In Iraq it was the previous Dem administration in 1998, candidate Gore in 2000 as well as many inconsistent, antiwar Democrats of the 2000s who kept alleging that "regime change" policy did not mean all-out military invasion.  Similarly could be covert destabilization efforts could be launched or threatened within Iran.  Even if unsuccessful, they could keep the tyrannical regime busy with problems of its own.  Here is Clinton '98 discussing efforts to destabilize Iraq toward regime change:

For all the talk by Obama and his cronies about political rather than military solutions in conflicts, in Iraq it is the military effort succeeding and the political situation failing at the moment, yet he has his ace number one chief diplomat HRC assigned elsewhere.  If I were President Barack "I have a Gift" Obama, friend of all Arabs and Muslims, I would send myself to the negotiating table (the photo-opp of the century) and sit down now with all the factions, here them all out and then settle the issues, letting each side believe that they won all they could win in the negotiations for power. 

After we leave and destabilization comes back and spreads across the country, that opportunity to negotiate and settle power may never again be possible.


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Pres. Clinton from the memory hole
« Reply #90 on: August 19, 2010, 06:11:55 AM »
Nice find on that clip of President Clinton.


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Re: The Middle East War
« Reply #91 on: August 19, 2010, 11:00:14 AM »
"Nice find on that clip of President Clinton."

I'm glad it was appreciated.  Really just hollow words though without the followup video made possible by the policies of his successor and the American military; Saddam Hussein's hanging is at about the 1:37 mark of this clip12/30/2006:

In both cases you would think the availability of google, youtube and camcorders everywhere would begin to persuade world leaders to behave better.


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Rethinking options on Iran
« Reply #92 on: August 31, 2010, 08:33:18 AM »
Rethinking American Options on Iran
August 31, 2010
By George Friedman

Public discussion of potential attacks on Iran’s nuclear development sites is surging again. This has happened before. On several occasions, leaks about potential airstrikes have created an atmosphere of impending war. These leaks normally coincided with diplomatic initiatives and were designed to intimidate the Iranians and facilitate a settlement favorable to the United States and Israel. These initiatives have failed in the past. It is therefore reasonable to associate the current avalanche of reports with the imposition of sanctions and view it as an attempt to increase the pressure on Iran and either force a policy shift or take advantage of divisions within the regime.

My first instinct is to dismiss the war talk as simply another round of psychological warfare against Iran, this time originating with Israel. Most of the reports indicate that Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran. From a psychological-warfare standpoint, this sets up the good-cop/bad-cop routine. The Israelis play the mad dog barely restrained by the more sober Americans, who urge the Iranians through intermediaries to make concessions and head off a war. As I said, we have been here before several times, and this hasn’t worked.

The worst sin of intelligence is complacency, the belief that simply because something has happened (or has not happened) several times before it is not going to happen this time. But each episode must be considered carefully in its own light and preconceptions from previous episodes must be banished. Indeed, the previous episodes might well have been intended to lull the Iranians into complacency themselves. Paradoxically, the very existence of another round of war talk could be intended to convince the Iranians that war is distant while covert war preparations take place. An attack may be in the offing, but the public displays neither confirm nor deny that possibility.

The Evolving Iranian Assessment

STRATFOR has gone through three phases in its evaluation of the possibility of war. The first, which was in place until July 2009, held that while Iran was working toward a nuclear weapon, its progress could not be judged by its accumulation of enriched uranium. While that would give you an underground explosion, the creation of a weapon required sophisticated technologies for ruggedizing and miniaturizing the device, along with a very reliable delivery system. In our view, Iran might be nearing a testable device but it was far from a deliverable weapon. Therefore, we dismissed war talk and argued that there was no meaningful pressure for an attack on Iran.

We modified this view somewhat in July 2009, after the Iranian elections and the demonstrations. While we dismissed the significance of the demonstrations, we noted close collaboration developing between Russia and Iran. That meant there could be no effective sanctions against Iran, so stalling for time in order for sanctions to work had no value. Therefore, the possibility of a strike increased.

But then Russian support stalled as well, and we turned back to our analysis, adding to it an evaluation of potential Iranian responses to any air attack. We noted three potential counters: activating Shiite militant groups (most notably Hezbollah), creating chaos in Iraq and blocking the Strait of Hormuz, through which 45 percent of global oil exports travel. Of the three Iranian counters, the last was the real “nuclear option.” Interfering with the supply of oil from the Persian Gulf would raise oil prices stunningly and would certainly abort the tepid global economic recovery. Iran would have the option of plunging the world into a global recession or worse.

There has been debate over whether Iran would choose to do the latter or whether the U.S. Navy could rapidly clear mines. It is hard to imagine how an Iranian government could survive air attacks without countering them in some way. It is also a painful lesson of history that the confidence of any military force cannot be a guide to its performance. At the very least, there is a possibility that the Iranians could block the Strait of Hormuz, and that means the possibility of devastating global economic consequences. That is a massive risk for the United States to take, against an unknown probability of successful Iranian action. In our mind, it was not a risk that the United States could take, especially when added to the other Iranian counters. Therefore, we did not think the United States would strike.

Certainly, we did not believe that the Israelis would strike Iran alone. First, the Israelis are much less likely to succeed than the Americans would be, given the size of their force and their distance from Iran (not to mention the fact that they would have to traverse either Turkish, Iraqi or Saudi airspace). More important, Israel lacks the ability to mitigate any consequences. Any Israeli attack would have to be coordinated with the United States so that the United States could alert and deploy its counter-mine, anti-submarine and missile-suppression assets. For Israel to act without giving the United States time to mitigate the Hormuz option would put Israel in the position of triggering a global economic crisis. The political consequences of that would not be manageable by Israel. Therefore, we found an Israeli strike against Iran without U.S. involvement difficult to imagine.

The Current Evaluation

Our current view is that the accumulation of enough enriched uranium to build a weapon does not mean that the Iranians are anywhere close to having a weapon. Moreover, the risks inherent in an airstrike on its nuclear facilities outstrip the benefits (and even that assumes that the entire nuclear industry is destroyed in one fell swoop — an unsure outcome at best). It also assumes the absence of other necessary technologies. Assumptions of U.S. prowess against mines might be faulty, and so, too, could my assumption about weapon development. The calculus becomes murky, and one would expect all governments involved to be waffling.

There is, of course, a massive additional issue. Apart from the direct actions that Iran might make, there is the fact that the destruction of its nuclear capability would not solve the underlying strategic challenge that Iran poses. It has the largest military force in the Persian Gulf, absent the United States. The United States is in the process of withdrawing from Iraq, which would further diminish the ability of the United States to contain Iran. Therefore, a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear capability combined with the continuing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would create a profound strategic crisis in the Persian Gulf.

The country most concerned about Iran is not Israel, but Saudi Arabia. The Saudis recall the result of the last strategic imbalance in the region, when Iraq, following its armistice with Iran, proceeded to invade Kuwait, opening the possibility that its next intention was to seize the northeastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia. In that case, the United States intervened. Given that the United States is now withdrawing from Iraq, intervention following withdrawal would be politically difficult unless the threat to the United States was clear. More important, the Iranians might not give the Saudis the present Saddam Hussein gave them by seizing Kuwait and then halting. They might continue. They certainly have the military capacity to try.

In a real sense, the Iranians would not have to execute such a military operation in order to gain the benefits. The simple imbalance of forces would compel the Saudis and others in the Persian Gulf to seek a political accommodation with the Iranians. Strategic domination of the Persian Gulf does not necessarily require military occupation — as the Americans have abundantly demonstrated over the past 40 years. It merely requires the ability to carry out those operations.

The Saudis, therefore, have been far quieter — and far more urgent — than the Israelis in asking the United States to do something about the Iranians. The Saudis certainly do not want the United States to leave Iraq. They want the Americans there as a blocking force protecting Saudi Arabia but not positioned on Saudi soil. They obviously are not happy about Iran’s nuclear efforts, but the Saudis see the conventional and nuclear threat as a single entity. The collapse of the Iran-Iraq balance of power has left the Arabian Peninsula in a precarious position.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia did an interesting thing a few weeks ago. He visited Lebanon personally and in the company of the president of Syria. The Syrian and Saudi regimes are not normally friendly, given different ideologies, Syria’s close relationship with Iran and their divergent interests in Lebanon. But there they were together, meeting with the Lebanese government and giving not very subtle warnings to Hezbollah. Saudi influence and money and the threat of Iran jeopardizing the Saudi regime by excessive adventurism seems to have created an anti-Hezbollah dynamic in Lebanon. Hezbollah is suddenly finding many of its supposed allies cooperating with some of its certain enemies. The threat of a Hezbollah response to an airstrike on Iran seems to be mitigated somewhat.

Eliminating Iranian Leverage In Hormuz

I said that there were three counters. One was Hezbollah, which is the least potent of the three from the American perspective. The other two are Iraq and Hormuz. If the Iraqis were able to form a government that boxed in pro-Iranian factions in a manner similar to how Hezbollah is being tentatively contained, then the second Iranian counter would be weakened. That would “just” leave the major issue — Hormuz.

The problem with Hormuz is that the United States cannot tolerate any risk there. The only way to control that risk is to destroy Iranian naval capability before airstrikes on nuclear targets take place. Since many of the Iranian mine layers would be small boats, this would mean an extensive air campaign and special operations forces raids against Iranian ports designed to destroy anything that could lay mines, along with any and all potential mine-storage facilities, anti-ship missile emplacements, submarines and aircraft. Put simply, any piece of infrastructure within a few miles of any port would need to be eliminated. The risk to Hormuz cannot be eliminated after the attack on nuclear sites. It must be eliminated before an attack on the nuclear sites. And the damage must be overwhelming.

There are two benefits to this strategy. First, the nuclear facilities aren’t going anywhere. It is the facilities that are producing the enriched uranium and other parts of the weapon that must be destroyed more than any uranium that has already been enriched. And the vast bulk of those facilities will remain where they are even if there is an attack on Iran’s maritime capabilities. Key personnel would undoubtedly escape, but considering that within minutes of the first American strike anywhere in Iran a mass evacuation of key scientists would be under way anyway, there is little appreciable difference between a first strike against nuclear sites and a first strike against maritime targets. (U.S. air assets are good, but even the United States cannot strike 100-plus targets simultaneously.)

Second, the counter-nuclear strategy wouldn’t deal with the more fundamental problem of Iran’s conventional military power. This opening gambit would necessarily attack Iran’s command-and-control, air-defense and offensive air capabilities as well as maritime capabilities. This would sequence with an attack on the nuclear capabilities and could be extended into a prolonged air campaign targeting Iran’s ground forces.

The United States is very good at gaining command of the air and attacking conventional military capabilities (see Yugoslavia in 1999). Its strategic air capability is massive and, unlike most of the U.S. military, underutilized. The United States also has substantial air forces deployed around Iran, along with special operations forces teams trained in penetration, evasion and targeting, and satellite surveillance. Far from the less-than-rewarding task of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, going after Iran would be the kind of war the United States excels at fighting. No conventional land invasion, no boots-on-the-ground occupation, just a very thorough bombing campaign. If regime change happens as a consequence, great, but that is not the primary goal. Defanging the Iranian state is.

It is also the only type of operation that could destroy the nuclear capabilities (and then some) while preventing an Iranian response. It would devastate Iran’s conventional military forces, eliminating the near-term threat to the Arabian Peninsula. Such an attack, properly executed, would be the worst-case scenario for Iran and, in my view, the only way an extended air campaign against nuclear facilities could be safely executed.

Just as Iran’s domination of the Persian Gulf rests on its ability to conduct military operations, not on its actually conducting the operations, the reverse is also true. It is the capacity and apparent will to conduct broadened military operations against Iran that can shape Iranian calculations and decision-making. So long as the only threat is to Iran’s nuclear facilities, its conventional forces remain intact and its counter options remain viable, Iran will not shift its strategy. Once its counter options are shut down and its conventional forces are put at risk, Iran must draw up another calculus.

In this scenario, Israel is a marginal player. The United States is the only significant actor, and it might not strike Iran simply over the nuclear issue. That’s not a major U.S. problem. But the continuing withdrawal from Iraq and Iran’s conventional forces are very much an American problem. Destroying Iran’s nuclear capability is merely an added benefit.

Given the Saudi intervention in Lebanese politics, this scenario now requires a radical change in Iraq, one in which a government would be quickly formed and Iranian influence quickly curtailed. Interestingly, we have heard recent comments by administration officials asserting that Iranian influence has, in fact, been dramatically reduced. At present, such a reduction is not obvious to us, but the first step of shifting perceptions tends to be propaganda. If such a reduction became real, then the two lesser Iranian counter moves would be blocked and the U.S. offensive option would become more viable.

Internal Tension in Tehran

At this point, we would expect to see the Iranians recalculating their position, with some of the clerical leadership using the shifting sands of Lebanon against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Indeed, there have been many indications of internal stress, not between the mythical democratic masses and the elite, but within the elite itself. This past weekend the Iranian speaker of the house attacked Ahmadinejad’s handling of special emissaries. For what purpose we don’t yet know, but the internal tension is growing.

The Iranians are not concerned about the sanctions. The destruction of their nuclear capacity would, from their point of view, be a pity. But the destruction of large amounts of their conventional forces would threaten not only their goals in the wider Islamic world but also their stability at home. That would be unacceptable and would require a shift in their general strategy.

From the Iranian point of view — and from ours — Washington’s intentions are opaque. But when we consider the Obama administration’s stated need to withdraw from Iraq, Saudi pressure on the United States not to withdraw while Iran remains a threat, Saudi moves against Hezbollah to split Syria from Iran and Israeli pressure on the United States to deal with nuclear weapons, the pieces for a new American strategy are emerging from the mist. Certainly the Iranians appear to be nervous. And the threat of a new strategy might just be enough to move the Iranians off dead center. If they don’t, logic would dictate the consideration of a broader treatment of the military problem posed by Iran.


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Stratfor: Afg and the War Legend
« Reply #93 on: September 05, 2010, 10:20:55 AM »
Afghanistan and the War Legend
September 3, 2010


As many of you know, Robert Merry joined STRATFOR as publisher in January. While primarily focused on our business (bless him) he is also a noted reporter (years with The Wall Street Journal as Washington correspondent and head of Congressional Quarterly). Bob knows Washington well, while STRATFOR has always been an outsider there. Since Bob brings a new perspective to STRATFOR, we’d be foolish not to take advantage of it. This analysis marks the first of what will be regular contributions to STRATFOR’s work. His commentary will be titled “Washington Looks at the World” and will focus on the international system through the eyes of official Washington and its unofficial outriders. In this first analysis, Bob focuses on the thinking that went into President Barack Obama’s Aug. 31 speech on the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq. As with all of STRATFOR’s pieces, it treats political leaders as rational actors and avoids ideology and advocacy. Both are in ample supply in this country, and there is no need to add to it. Bob is not trying to persuade, praise or condemn. Nor is he simply providing facts. He is trying to understand and explain what is happening. I hope you find this of value. I learned something from it. By all means let us know what you think, especially if you like it. Criticisms will also be read but will not be enjoyed nearly as much.
— George Friedman, STRATFOR CEO

By Robert W. Merry

U.S. President Barack Obama’s Aug. 31 Oval Office speech on the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq had many purposes: to claim a measure of credit for largely fulfilling one of his major campaign promises; to thank those who have served and sacrificed in the cause; to spread the balm of unity over any lingering domestic wounds; to assure Americans that it has all been worth it and that no dishonor was attached to this foreign adventure, which was opposed by many in Obama’s own party and by him from the beginning.

Of all those purposes, and any others that might have been conceived, the need to express assurance of the war’s validity — and honor in its outcome — is by far the most important. Any national leader must protect and nurture the legend of any war over which he presides, even those — actually, particularly those — he has brought to a close. The people need to feel that the sacrifice in blood and treasure was worth it, that the mission’s rationale still makes sense, that the nation’s standing and prestige remain intact.

In terms of America, nothing illustrates this more starkly than the Vietnam experience. This was a war that emerged quite naturally out of a foreign policy outlook, “containment,” that had shaped American behavior in the world for nearly two decades and would continue to shape it for another two decades. Hence, one could argue that the Vietnam War was a noble effort entirely consistent with a policy that eventually proved brilliantly successful. But the national pain of defeat in that war spawned an entirely different legend — that it was a huge mistake and a tragic loss of life for no defensible purpose. The impact of that legend upon the national consciousness could be seen for decades — in war-powers battles between the president and Congress, in a halting defense posture often attributed to what was called the “Vietnam Syndrome,” in the lingering civic hostility engendered when the subject emerged among fellow citizens, in the flow of tears shed daily at Washington’s Vietnam Memorial.

So the presidential responsibility for the legend of war is no trivial matter when young Americans begin returning home in body bags. A wise president will keep it well established in his mind in selling a war, in prosecuting it and eventually in explaining it at its conclusion.

This important presidential function posed two particular challenges for Obama during his Oval Office speech: First, his past opposition to the war in Iraq created a danger that he might appear insincere or artificial in his expressions, and second, it isn’t entirely clear that the legend can hold up, that the stated rationale for the war really withstands serious scrutiny. Yes, America did depose Saddam Hussein and his regime. But the broader aims of the war — to establish a stable, pro-Western regime in the country and thus maintain a geopolitical counterweight to the regional ambitions of Iran — remain unfulfilled. The president handled the first challenge with aplomb, hailing the war’s outcome (so far) while avoiding the political schisms that it bred and delivering expressions of appreciation and respect for his erstwhile adversaries on the issue. Whether he succeeds in the second challenge likely will depend upon events in Iraq, where 50,000 American troops remain to support Iraqi security forces and help maintain stability.

But Obama’s effort to preserve the war’s legend, which was ribboned throughout his speech, raises the specter of an even greater challenge of preserving the legend of a different war — the war in Afghanistan, which Obama says will begin to wind down for America in July of next year. It remains a very open question whether events will unfold in that nettlesome conflict in such a way as to allow for a reassuring legend when the troops come home. That open question is particularly stark given the fundamental reality that America is not going to bring about a victory in Afghanistan in any conventional sense. The Taliban insurgency that the United States is trying to subdue with its counterinsurgency effort is not going to go away and, indeed, the Taliban will likely have to be part of any accommodation that can precede America’s withdrawal.

Thus, the Obama administration has become increasingly focused on what some involved in war planning call “the endgame.” By that, they mean essentially a strategy for extricating the country from Afghanistan while preserving a reasonable level of stability in that troubled land; minimizing damage to American interests; and maintaining a credible legend of the war that is reassuring to the American people. That’s a tall order, and it isn’t clear whether the nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, under U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, can affect the magnitude of the challenge one way or another.

Very quietly, top officials of the Obama administration have initiated a number of reviews inspecting every aspect of this endgame challenge. Some involve influential outside experts with extensive governmental experience in past administrations, and they are working with officials at the highest levels of the government, including the Pentagon. One review group has sent members to Russia for extensive conversations with officials who were involved in the Soviet Union’s ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Others have traveled to Pakistan and other lands, including the United Kingdom, Germany and France, to master the diplomatic implications of any Afghan exit strategy.

It’s too early to determine just what impact these review groups will have on administration thinking, which appears to remain in a state of development. But it can be said that at least some of these outside experts are pressing hard for an endgame approach that moves beyond some earlier thinking about the war and its rationale. For example:

The need to involve Afghanistan’s neighbors in any accommodation that would allow for at least a reasonably graceful American exit. In addition to next-door Pakistan, these likely would include Russia, India and perhaps even Iran. All have a stake in Afghan stability, and all have their own particular interests there. Hence, the diplomatic game will be extremely difficult. But it is worth noting that during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Russia served as a facilitator of U.S. cooperation with the northern ethnic tribes, and Russians even provided personnel and vehicles to America’s Northern Alliance allies. Iran also helped facilitate the invasion by suggesting security for American pilots faced with ditching over Iranian territory.
The necessity of working with local power centers and finding a way of developing a productive discussion with the different ethnic groups that need to be part of the Afghan endgame. How to do that reportedly was one question posed to Russian officials who were involved in the Soviet Union’s Afghan experience and who had to deal with insurgent leaders on the way out.
A probable requirement that the United States relinquish any hope that a strong central government in Kabul will form and bring about stability in the country. Afghanistan has never had a strong central government, and the various ethnic and religious groups, local warlords, tribes and khans aren’t going to submit to any broad national authority. Their mountainous homeland for centuries has afforded them plenty of protection from any invading force, and that isn’t going to change.
A probable need to explore a national system with a traditionally weak central government and strong provincial actors with considerable sway over their particular territories.
Underlying all this is a strong view that the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force cannot impose an endgame. The Taliban are not going to submit to U.S. blandishments for negotiation as a result of any fear of what will happen to them if they don’t. That’s because they are winning and possess the arms, wiles, knowledge of terrain and people and insurgency skills to keep on winning, irrespective of what Petraeus does to thwart them. Besides, the tribes of Afghanistan have demonstrated through the centuries that they have the patience to outlast any invader.

If the Taliban won’t negotiate out of fear of what the U.S. military can do to them, the question becomes whether they will negotiate out of a sense of opportunity — as a means of bringing about the U.S. exit that American government officials increasingly seem to want as well. There are indications the Taliban might be interested in participating in such a negotiated American exit, perhaps in exchange for some kind of international recognition. At this point, however, there is no firm evidence that such an approach could prove fruitful, and hence this question remains one of the great imponderables hovering over America’s presence in Afghanistan.

But, if that does prove possible, the question of America’s war legend will loom very large indeed. Those involved in the review groups reportedly are well aware that the nature of the U.S. departure will inform the legend, and they are intent on crafting an outcome that will honor America’s Afghanistan war dead and U.S. war veterans. In other words, in this view, there must remain a narrative that explains why America was there, what was accomplished, and why the departure was undertaken when it was. It must resonate throughout the nation and must be credible.

This poses another fundamental question: Is there an inherent inconsistency between the outlook emerging from these governmental review groups and the recent pronouncements of Petraeus? Many of the review-group participants seem to be working toward what might be called a “graceful exit” from Afghanistan. Yet Petraeus told The New York Times on Aug. 15 that he does not see his mission in such small terms as a “graceful exit.” Rather, he said his marching orders were to do “all that is humanly possible to help us achieve our objectives.” By “our objectives,” he seemed to mean establishing, through military force, a sufficient degree of stability in the country to allow a negotiated exit on American terms, with his Iraq record serving as the model. Even if that is possible, it certainly will take considerable time. The general made clear in the Times interview and in others that he fully intended to press Obama hard to delay any serious troop withdrawal from Afghanistan until well beyond the July 2011 time frame put forth by the president.

Thus, the nature and pace of withdrawal becomes another big question hovering over the president’s war strategy. Many high-ranking administration officials, including the president, have said the pace of withdrawal will depend upon “conditions on the ground” when July 2011 arrives. Obama repeated that conditional expression in his Iraq speech the other night. But that leaves a lot of room for maneuver — and a lot of room for debate within the administration. The reason for delaying a full withdrawal would be to try to apply further military pressure to force the Taliban to become less resistant. That goal seems to be what’s animating Petraeus. But others, including some involved in the review groups, don’t see much prospect of that actually happening. Thus, they see no reason for much of a withdrawal delay beyond the president’s July deadline — particularly given the need to preserve the country’s war legend. The danger, as some see it, is that an effort to force an outcome through military action, given the unlikely prospect of that, could increase the chances of a traditional military defeat, much like the one suffered by the Soviets in the 1980s and by the British in two brutal military debacles during the 19th century.

Many of the experts involved in the Afghanistan review effort see a link between the departure of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, as described by Obama in his Oval Office speech, and the imperative to fashion an Afghanistan exit that offers a war legend at least as comforting to the American people. Certainly, the importance of the war legend was manifest in Obama’s Iraq speech. First, he repeatedly praised the valor and commitment of America’s men and women in uniform. Even in turning to the need to fix the country’s economic difficulties, he invoked these U.S. military personnel again by saying “we must tackle those challenges at home with as much energy, and grit, and sense of common purpose as our men and women in uniform who have served abroad.” He expressed a resolve to honor their commitment by serving “our veterans as well as they have served us” through the Department of Veterans Affairs, emphasizing medical care and the G.I. Bill. And he drew an evocative word picture of America’s final combat brigade in Iraq — the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade — journeying toward Kuwait on their way home in the predawn darkness. Many Americans will recall some of these young men, extending themselves from the backs of convoy trucks and yelling into television cameras and lights, “We won! We’re going home! We won the war!”

But, as Obama noted in his speech, this is “an age without surrender ceremonies.” It’s also an age without victory parades. As he said, “we must earn victory through the success of our partners and the strength of our own nation.” That’s a bit vague, though, and that’s why Obama’s speech laid out the elements of the Iraq success in terms that seemed pretty much identical to what George W. Bush would have said. We succeeded in toppling Saddam Hussein. We nurtured an Iraqi effort to craft a democratic structure. After considerable bloodshed, we managed to foster a reasonable amount of civic stability in the country so the Iraqi people can continue their halting pursuit of their own destiny. Thus, said the president, “This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security.” He added, “Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it’s time to turn the page.”

That’s probably enough of a legend to fortify the good feelings of those young men yelling of victory from the backs of Stryker Brigade vehicles on the way out of Iraq. But getting to even that degree of a war legend in Afghanistan will be far more difficult. And, as the endgame looms in that distant land, the administration will have to grapple not only with how to prosecute the war and foster a safe exit but also with how to preserve a suitable legend for that war once the shooting stops.


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« Reply #94 on: October 23, 2010, 05:45:34 AM »


The day after the U.S. government formally notified Congress of a massive, $60
billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, Saudi King Abdullah called Iranian President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday to “discuss bilateral relations.” Ahmadinejad had
earlier phoned the Saudi king, making this the second time in only nine days that
Iran has reached out to its Persian Gulf rival.

While the Saudis and Iranians have been nervously feeling each other out, the junior
players in the Persian Gulf are also keeping busy. The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
announced Thursday that it has opened a naval base on its eastern coast in the
emirate of Fujairah. The base, jutting out into the Arabian Sea, would also house a
giant oil-storage terminal that would connect to the oil-rich emirate of Abu Dhabi
through a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline now under construction.  In following
these plans, the UAE appears to be creating an option to circumvent the Strait of
Hormuz so that they may continue exporting oil and importing goods should Iran
attempt to follow through on threats to blockade the strategic chokepoint.

Just off the Arabian Peninsula, the tiny island nation of Bahrain -- home to the
U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet -- is gearing up for parliamentary elections Saturday. To
prepare for the polls, the ruling Sunni al-Khalifa family is doing everything it can
to ensure the country’s Shiite majority doesn’t increase its political clout -- and
thus provide its Persian neighbor with another stick with which to probe the

"With the Persian Gulf in flux, the United States is trying to get back into a
position where the natural Arab-Persian divide in the region balances itself out."

Iran is clearly weighing heavily on the minds of the Persian Gulf states. These
states don’t exactly long for a repeat of Saddam Hussein and his extraterritorial
oil ambitions, but they did watch with trepidation as the Sunni pillar in Iraq
crumbled under the watch of the United States throughout the course of the Iraq war.
Though the United States made the first big attempt to correct this imbalance with
the surge and the co-optation of Sunni former Baathists, it is obvious to everyone
that Iran is the emerging power in the Persian Gulf, while the United States is more
than ready to make its exit from the region.

But the United States also doesn’t have the option of clearing out and leaving its
Sunni Arab allies in a lurch. Whether or not American Tea Partiers, isolationist
pundits or regular taxpayers like it, the U.S. military is spread far beyond its
borders, with American boots on the ground in more than 150 countries and the U.S.
Navy in the unique position of dominating the high seas. The United States also
holds a quarter of the world’s wealth in gross domestic product and is responsible
for roughly the same fraction of the world’s fossil fuel consumption, a large
percentage of which comes from the Persian Gulf. Along with this ubiquitous global
presence comes a heavy burden. That burden does not necessarily mean playing the
global policeman and putting out fires wherever there is a real or imagined nuclear
threat, claims of genocide or otherwise. Instead, it means selectively choosing its
military engagement and maintaining various balances of power that allow the United
States to sustain its hegemony without getting bogged down in conflicts around the
world for dangerous lengths of time.

With the Persian Gulf in flux, the United States is trying to get back into a
position where the natural Arab-Persian divide in the region balances itself out.
From the U.S. point of view, Iran and Iraq could go on fighting each other for years
-- as they did throughout the 1980s -- as long as neither one is capable of wiping
the other out. Right now, Iraq is in far too weak a position and is too wedded to
the Iranians to rebuild itself as a useful counter to Iran. So that responsibility
is increasingly falling to Iraq’s neighbors.

Though there is great power in petrodollars alone, the Persian Gulf states are far
from warriors. In spite of all the state-of-the-art equipment the United States
floods into countries like Saudi Arabia, the Saudi military severely lacks the
leadership, ethos, training and doctrine to proficiently and coherently employ these
systems. The Persian Gulf states’ dependence on Washington is what allows the United
States to militarily entrench itself in the region. The $60 billion arms sale to
Saudi Arabia, for example, loudly signals to Iran that a U.S. exit from Iraq is not
tantamount to the United States abandoning its interests in the region. But as the
United States continues to grow and spread itself across the globe, it will
increasingly need to rely on local forces to manage things on their own, with the
United States standing close behind. For the Persian Gulf, that means the United
States investing the years into shaping the Saudi military into an effective force
and encouraging the UAE to reduce its vulnerabilities to Iran, as it appears to be
doing with this new export route into the Arabian Sea. These are initiatives that
take a great deal of time, money and effort, but they also have the best chance of
materializing when a state is confronted by an external threat. For the Persian Gulf
states, the threat of Iran dominating the gulf is as good a threat as ever to drive
them into action.

Copyright 2010 STRATFOR.


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Glick: Jordan-Iran
« Reply #95 on: December 27, 2010, 06:21:57 AM »

Two weeks ago, Iran scored a massive victory. Jordan, the West's most stable and loyal ally in the Arab world began slouching towards the Iranian Gomorrah.

On December 12, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei met with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman and extended a formal invitation from Ahmadinejad for him to pay a state visit to Iran. Abdullah accepted.

According to Iran's ISNA news agency, Mashei said that Abdullah's visit will begin a new page in bilateral relations and that, "the two countries hold massive potential to work together." Mashei added, "If Islamic states stand united, no country will be threatened."

For his part, Abdullah reportedly said that his country recognizes Iran's nuclear rights and supports its access to peaceful nuclear technology.

Abdullah was one of the first world leaders to sound the alarm on Iran. In 2004 Abdullah warned of a "Shiite crescent" extending from Iran to Iraq, through Syria to Lebanon. His words were well reported at the time. But his warning went unheeded.

In the intervening six years, reality has surpassed Abdullah's worst fears. Not only Lebanon and Syria have fallen under Iranian control. Iraq, Turkey, Qatar, Gaza and increasingly Oman, Yemen and Afghanistan are also either willing or unwilling members of the axis.

In the face of Iran's expanding web of influence and the mullahs' steady progress towards nuclear capability, Washington behaves as though there is no cause for concern. And the likes of Jordan are beside themselves.

In a WikiLeaks leaked cable from April 2009 written by US Ambassador to Jordan R. Stephen Beecroft, Jordan's frustration and concern over the Obama administration's incompetence in handling the Iranian threat was clear.

Beecroft wrote, "Jordan's leaders are careful not to be seen as dictating toward the US, but their comments betray a powerful undercurrent of doubt that the United States knows how to deal effectively with Iran."

On the one hand, Jordanian Senator Zaid Rifai beseeched US to bomb Iran's nuclear installations. Rifai said, "Bomb Iran, or live with an Iranian bomb. Sanctions, carrots, incentives won't matter."

But on the other hand, the Jordanians recognized that the Obama administration was committed to appeasing Iran and so tried to convince the Americans to ensure that their appeasement drive didn't come at the Arabs' expense.

Beecroft reported a clear warning from Abdullah. Abdullah cautioned that if the Arabs believe that the US was appeasing Iran at their expense, "that engagement will set off a stampede of Arab states looking to get ahead of the curve and reach their own separate peace with Teheran.

"King Abdullah counseled Special Envoy George Mitchell in February [2009] that direct US engagement with Iran at this time would just deepen intra-Arab schisms and that more 'countries without a backbone' would defect to the Iranian camp."

THAT WAS then. And since then, the Obama administration did nothing after Ahmadinejad and his henchmen stole the presidential election. It did nothing as they repressed the tens of millions of Iranians who demonstrated against the election fraud. The Obama administration did nothing as Iran conducted repeated war games along the Straits of Hormuz, progressed in its nuclear program, deepened its military alliances with Turkey and Venezuela and escalated its proxy war against the US and its allies in Afghanistan.

The Americans said nothing as Iran prevented the pro-US faction that won the Iraqi election from forming a government. They did nothing as Iran forced the reinstallation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki despite his electoral defeat.

As Washington stood idly by in the face of Iran's aggression, Jordan and the other US-allied Arab states watched as Obama harassed Israel, announced his plan to withdraw all US forces from Iraq next year, appointed a new ambassador to Syria and approved more military aid to the Iranian-controlled Lebanese army. And Abdullah and the other Arabs watch now as the US is poised to begin yet a new round of appeasement talks with Iran next month.

Unlike the previous failed rounds of talks, the next failed round of talks will take place in Turkey. Iranian officials are already exulting that Turkish Prime Minister Recip Erdogan will act as Iran's protector in those talks, and so officially end any semblance of Iranian diplomatic isolation on the nuclear issue.

And so, just as Abdullah warned would happen, today he is leading Jordan into the ranks of "countries without a backbone," and making a separate peace with Ahmadinejad.

Jordan is a weak country. Its minority Hashemite regime has failed to dominate its Palestinian majority. And since its inception by the British in 1946, Jordan has depended on Western powers and Israel for its survival.

In acting as he is, Abdullah is following in his father's footsteps. The late King Hussein survived by watching the prevailing winds closely and always siding with the side he believed was strongest at any given time.

When Hussein believed that the West and Israel were weakening, he went with their enemies. He only rejoined the Western alliance after it defeated its foes, and so convinced him that it was stronger. Notable examples of this are his 1967 alliance with Egypt and Syria against Israel and his decision in 1990 to stand with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of Saddam's conquest of Kuwait.

IT IS often erroneously claimed that siding with the metaphorical stronger horse is primarily an Arab practice. In truth, everyone does it.

Take France for instance.

In another diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks, the US embassy in Paris reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy thinks that the Palestinians are stronger than Israel. The report claimed that in Sarkozy's June 2009 meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he told the Israeli leader that he must surrender to all the Palestinian demands because in his view the Palestinians are stronger than Israel is.

Before Sarkozy took office, he was considered a great supporter of Israel and a personal friend of Netanyahu's. But since taking office, he has sided with the Palestinians against Israel. He has been friendly to Syria. Most recently, he agreed to sell one hundred advanced anti-tank missiles to the Hizbullah-controlled Lebanese military.

In light of his comment to Netanyahu it is clear that what motivates Sarkozy to act as he does is his analysis of the power balance between Israel and its enemies. Happily for Israel, Sarkozy is wrong. Israel is stronger than the Palestinians and has the capacity to defend itself effectively against its enemies.

Unhappily for Israel, Sarkozy's analysis is probably based in large part on arguments he has heard from the Israeli Left under Kadima. Over the past several years, Kadima leaders have managed to convince the country's best friends that Israel has no option other than surrender.

This is due to Kadima's obsession with demography and its demented plan for extricating Israel from what it considers predetermined demographic doom.

According to the likes of Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, the fact that there are 6 million Jews and 4 million Arabs west of the Jordan River means that Israel has no option other than surrendering Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to the Palestinians. As far as Livni and her leftist comrades are concerned, it makes no difference that such a move will not decrease the number of Arabs west of the Jordan.

It makes no difference to the Israeli Left that the Palestinian state they hope to build will - with their consent -- bring in millions more Arabs as immigrants into the landmass west of the Jordan River and so quickly render Jews a minority, making war a foregone conclusion.

In short, through their asinine demographic argument - with which they surrender all Israeli claims to the capital city, and to strategically vital land that Israel has valid legal and historical claims to -- Livni and her colleagues tell the likes of Sarkozy that not only is Israel weaker than the Palestinians. They tell these erstwhile friends that Israel is doomed to destruction and there is no reason for them to support it.

Based on these claims, Sarkozy's decision to make a separate peace with Iran through its Palestinian, Syrian and Hizbullah proxies makes sense.

It is important to bear this in mind when one considers the reason that the campaign to delegitimize Israel is gaining momentum. Given the Israeli-fuelled sense among key governments that Israel is a lost cause, as they see it, they have no reason to defend Israel from its detractors. From their perspective, their interests are better served by either standing on the sidelines or turning on Israel the weak horse.

ALL THIS is not to say that the Left is purposely sinking the ship of state. It is simply a victim of its own success. The Left has convinced Europe and the Arabs that it is dedicated to appeasement.

The Left believed that by convincing the Arabs and the Europeans that Israel is serious about appeasing its enemies that they would make an alliance with the Jewish state. And since Europe is stronger than Israel, and the Arabs are a threat to Israel, by winning their favor, the Left believed it would strengthen Israel.

What the Left failed to recognize is that Europe and the Arabs would rather cut a deal with Iran than defend themselves against it. A surrendering Israel is of no use to them. They only like Israel when it wins.

And now that weakness has pushed Jordan over the edge.

The lesson of all of this for Israel is clear. For the past 17 years, in the throes of the Left's strategic blindness, Israel has spent its time emphasizing its weaknesses and its enemies' strengths. This practice must be reversed. Israel must now concentrate on its strengths and its enemies' weaknesses.

For instance, Israel has a stronger claim to the disputed territories that the Palestinians. And Israel is stronger than the Palestinians by every possible measuring rod.

On their side, not only are the Palestinians militarily weak, they have nothing to offer anyone. Because the Palestinian national cause has far more to do with destroying Israel than building a Palestinian state, the Palestinian track record is one of destruction not creation. And this destructive tendency expresses itself on every front.

Iran too is far less powerful than it looks. From the Stuxnet worm, to a faltering economy, from increased domestic sabotage to the continuing opposition bid to overthrow the regime, Iran's soft underbelly is exposed. And it is getting softer all the time.

In contrast, Israel has a stable government. And its economic, technological and military power is constantly growing. Israel is a force to be reckoned with.

Jordan's move into the Iranian camp is not inexorable. Nor is Lebanon's or even Syria's. True, much to the Left's dismay, Israel lacks the option of joining the "countries without a backbone."

But we have a better option. We are strong and we can get stronger. And our enemies have weaknesses and we can weaken them still further.


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Stratfor: The Turkish Role
« Reply #96 on: January 11, 2011, 05:52:08 AM »
The Turkish Role in Negotiations with Iran
January 11, 2011

By George Friedman

The P5+1 talks with Iran will resume Jan. 21-22. For those not tuned into the obscure jargon of the diplomatic world, these are the talks between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia), plus Germany — hence, P5+1. These six countries will be negotiating with one country, Iran. The meetings will take place in Istanbul under the aegis of yet another country, Turkey. Turkey has said it would only host this meeting, not mediate it. It will be difficult for Turkey to stay in this role.

The Iranians have clearly learned from the North Koreans, who have turned their nuclear program into a framework for entangling five major powers (the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea) into treating North Korea as their diplomatic equal. For North Korea, whose goal since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the absorption of China with international trade has come down to regime survival, being treated as a serious power has been a major diplomatic coup. The mere threat of nuclear weapons development has succeeded in doing that. When you step back and consider that North Korea’s economy is among the most destitute of Third World countries and its nuclear capability is far from proven, getting to be the one being persuaded to talk with five major powers (and frequently refusing and then being coaxed) has been quite an achievement.

Iran Exploits an Opportunity

The Iranians have achieved a similar position. By far the weakest of the negotiators, they have created a dynamic whereby they are not only sitting across the table from the six most powerful countries in the world but are also, like the North Koreans, frequently being coaxed there. With the obvious blessings of the others, a seventh major power, Turkey, has positioned itself to facilitate and perhaps mediate between the two sides: the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany on one side, Iran on the other. This is such an extraordinary line-up that I can’t help repeating it.

No one does anything about North Korea militarily because it is more of a nuisance than a threat, even with its artillery in range of Seoul (fixed artillery positions are perfect targets for U.S. air power). Negotiations and occasional aid solve the problem. Iran’s position is much more significant and goes far beyond potential nuclear weapons. If the United States withdraws from the region, Iran becomes the most powerful conventional power in the Persian Gulf, regardless of whether it has nuclear weapons. Given that the United States is officially bound to leave Iraq by the end of this year, Iran is becoming substantially more powerful.

North Korea’s goal is regime survival. It has no goals beyond that. Iran’s ambitions include regime survival but go well beyond it. Indeed, if there are any threats to the regime, they do not come from outside Iran but from inside Iran, and none of them appears powerful enough to cause regime change. Iran, therefore, is less about preserving its power than it is about enhancing it. It faces a historic opportunity and wants to exploit it without embroiling itself in a ground war.

The drawdown of American forces in Iraq is the first step. As U.S. power declines in Iraq, Iranian power increases. Last week, Muqtada al-Sadr returned to Iraq from Iran. Al-Sadr was the leader of a powerful pro-Iranian, anti-American militia in Iraq, and he left Iraq four years ago under heavy pressure from American forces. His decision to return clearly was not his alone. It was an Iranian decision as well, and the timing was perfect. With a nominally independent government now in place in Iraq under the premiership of Nouri al-Maliki, who is by all accounts pro-Iranian, the reinsertion of al-Sadr while the U.S. withdrawal is under way puts pressure on the government from the Iranians at the same time that resistance from the United States, and the confidence of its allies in Iraq, is decreasing.

U.S. Options

The United States now faces a critical choice. If it continues its withdrawal of forces from Iraq, Iraq will be on its way to becoming an Iranian satellite. Certainly, there are anti-Iranian elements even among the Shiites, but the covert capability of Iran and its overt influence, coupled with its military presence on the border, will undermine Iraq’s ability to resist. If Iraq becomes an Iranian ally or satellite, the Iraqi-Saudi and Iraqi-Kuwaiti frontier becomes, effectively, the frontier with Iran. The psychological sense in the region will be that the United States has no appetite for resisting Iran. Having asked the Americans to deal with the Iranians — and having failed to get them to do so, the Saudis will have to reach some accommodation with Iran. In other words, with the most strategically located country in the Middle East — Iraq — Iran now has the ability to become the dominant power in the Middle East and simultaneously reshape the politics of the Arabian Peninsula.

The United States, of course, has the option of not drawing down forces in Iraq or stopping the withdrawal at some smaller number, but we are talking here about war and not symbols. Twenty thousand U.S. troops (as the drawdown continues) deployed in training and support roles and resisting an assertive pro-Iranian militia is a small number. Indeed, the various militias will have no compunction about attacking U.S. troops, diplomats and aid workers dispersed at times in small groups around the country. The United States couldn’t control Iraq with nearly 170,000 troops, and 50,000 troops or fewer is going to result in U.S. casualties should the Iranians choose to follow that path. And these causalities would not be accompanied by hope of a military or political success. Assuming that the United States is not prepared to increase forces in Iraq dramatically, the Iranians now face a historic opportunity.

The nuclear issue is not all that important. The Israelis are now saying that the Iranians are three to five years away from having a nuclear weapon. Whether this is because of computer worms implanted in Iranian centrifuges by the U.S. National Security Agency or some other technical intelligence agency, or because, as we have said before, building a nuclear weapon is really very hard and takes a long time, the Israelis have reduced the pressure publicly. The pressure is coming from the Saudis. As STRATFOR has said and WikiLeaks has confirmed, it is the Saudis who are currently pressing the United States to do something about Iran, not because of nuclear weapons but because of the conventional shift in the balance of power.

While Iran could easily withstand the destruction of weapons that it does not have, its real fear is that the United States will launch a conventional air war designed to cripple Iran’s conventional forces — its naval and armored capability, particularly. The destruction of Iranian naval power is critical, since Iran’s most powerful countermove in a war would be to block the Strait of Hormuz with mines, anti-ship missiles and swarming suicide craft, cutting off the substantial flow of oil that comes out of the strait. Such a cutoff would shatter the global economic recovery. This is Iran’s true “nuclear” option.

The Iranians are also aware that air warfare — unlike counterinsurgency — is America’s strong suit. It does not underestimate the ability of the United States, in an extended air war, to shatter Iran’s conventional capability, and without that conventional capability, Iran becomes quite insignificant. Therefore, Iran comes to the table with two goals. The first is to retain the powerful negotiating hand it has by playing the nuclear card. The second is to avoid an air campaign by the United States against Iran’s conventional capabilities.

At stake in this discussion is nothing less than the future of the Arabian Peninsula. The Iranians would not have to invade militarily to be able to reshape the region. It would be sufficient for there to be the potential for Iran to invade. It would shift the regime survival question away from Iran to Saudi Arabia. U.S. troops in Kuwait would help but would not change the basic equation. The Saudis would understand that having left Iraq, the United States would be quite capable of leaving Kuwait. The pressure on the Saudis to accommodate the Iranians would be terrific, since they would have to hedge their bets on the United States. As for basing troops in Saudi Arabia itself, the risks pyramid, since the U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm helped trigger the rise of al Qaeda.

Therefore, the choices appear to be accepting the shift in the regional balance in favor of Iran, reversing the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq or attempting to destroy Iran’s conventional forces while preventing the disruption of oil from the Persian Gulf. From the American point of view, none of these choices is appetizing. Living with Iranian power opens the door to future threats. Moving heavily into Iraq may simply not be possible with current forces committed to Afghanistan. In any case, reversing the flow out of Iraq would create a blocking force at best, and one not large enough to impose its will on Iraq or Iran.

There is, of course, the option of maintaining or intensifying sanctions. The problem is that even the Americans have created major loopholes in these sanctions, and the Chinese and Russians — as well as the Europeans — are happy to undermine it at will. The United States could blockade Iran, but much of its imports come in through land routes in the north — including gasoline from Russia — and for the U.S. Navy to impose an effective naval blockade it would have to stop and board Chinese and Russian merchant ships as well as those from other countries. The United States could bomb Iranian refineries, but that would simply open the door for foreign sales of gasoline. I do not have confidence in sanctions in general, and while current sanctions may hurt, they will not force regime change or cause the Iranians to forego the kind of opportunities they currently have. They can solve many of the problems of sanctions by entrenching themselves in Iraq. The Saudis will pay the price they need for the peace they want.

The Europeans are hardly of one mind on any subject save one: They do not want to see a disruption of oil from the Persian Gulf. If the United States could guarantee a successful outcome for an air attack, the Germans and French would privately support it while publicly condemning American unilateralism. The Chinese would be appalled by the risks U.S. actions would impose on them. They need Middle Eastern oil, though China is happy to see the United States bogged down in the Middle East so it doesn’t have to worry too much about U.S. competition elsewhere. And, finally, the Russians would profit from surging energy prices and having the U.S. bogged down in another war. For the Russians, unlike the Europeans and Chinese, an attack would be acceptable.

Therefore, at the table next week will be the Americans, painfully aware that its campaigns look promising at the beginning but frequently fail; the Europeans and Chinese, wanting a low-risk solution to a long-term problem; and the Russians, wanting to appear helpful while hoping the United States steps in it again and ready to live with soaring energy prices. And there are the Iranians, wanting to avoid a conventional war but not wanting to forego the opportunity that it has looked for since before the Islamic Republic — domination of the Persian Gulf.

The Turkish Stake

Then there are the Turks. The Turks opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq because they expected it to fail to establish a viable government in Baghdad and thereby to destroy the balance of power between Iraq and Iran. The Turks have also tried to avoid being drawn into the south beyond dealing with threats from Turkish Kurds operating out of Iraq. At the same time, Turkey has been repositioning itself as both a leading power in the Muslim world and the bridge between the Muslim world and the West, particularly the United States.

Given this, the Turks have assumed the role of managing the negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran. The United States in particular was upset at Turkey’s last effort, which coincided with the imposition of sanctions by the P5+1. The Turks, along with Brazil, negotiated a transfer of nuclear materials from Iran that was seen as insufficient by the West. The real fact was that the United States was unprepared for the unilateral role Turkey and Brazil played at the time they played it. Since then, the nuclear fears have subsided, the sanctions have had limited success at best, and the United States is a year away from leaving Iraq and already has withdrawn from a combat role. The United States now welcomes the Turkish role. So do the Iranians. The rest don’t matter right now.

Now the Turks must face their dilemma. It is all very good to want to negotiate as a neutral party, but the most important party isn’t at the table: Saudi Arabia. Turkey wants to play a dominant role in the Muslim world without risking too much in terms of military force. The problem for Turkey, therefore, is not so much bringing the United States and Iran closer but bringing the Saudis and Iranians closer, and that is a tremendous challenge not only because of religious issues but also because Iran wants to be what Saudi Arabia opposes most: the dominant power in the region. The Turkish problem is to reconcile the fundamental issue in the region, which is the relationship between Persians and Arabs.

The nuclear issue is easy simply because it is not time-sensitive right now. The future of Iraq is time-sensitive and uncertain. The United States wants to leave, and that creates an Iranian ally. A pro-Iranian Iraq, by merely existing, changes the reality of Saudi Arabia. If Turkey wants to play a constructive role, it must find a formula that satisfies three needs. The first is to facilitate the American withdrawal, since simply staying and taking casualties is not an option and will result in the conventional air war that few want. The second is to limit the degree of control Iran has in Iraq, guaranteeing Iranian interests in Iraq without allowing absolute control. The third is to persuade Saudi Arabia that the degree of control ceded to Iranians will not threaten Saudi interests.

If the United States leaves the region, the only way to provide these guarantees to all parties is for Turkish forces, covert and overt, to play an active role in Iraq counterbalancing Iranian influence. Turkey has been a rising power in the region, and it is now about to encounter the price of power. The Turks could choose simply to side with the Iranians or the Saudis, but neither strategy would enhance Turkish security in the long run.

The Turks do not want an air war in Iran. The do not want chaos in Iraq. They do not want to choose between Persians and Arabs. They do not want an Iranian regional hegemon. There are many things the Turks do not want. The question is: What they do want? And what risks are they prepared to take to get it? The prime risk they must take is in Iraq — to limit, not block, Iranian power and to provide a threat to Iran if it goes too far in the Arabian Peninsula. This can be done, but it is not how the Turks have behaved in the last century or so. Things have changed.

Having regional power is not a concept. It is a complex and unpleasant process of balancing contradictory interests in order to prevent greater threats to a country’s interests emerging in the long run. Having positioned itself as a host for negotiations between the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany on one hand and Iran on the other hand, Turkey has a basic decision to make: It can merely provide a table for the discussion, or it can shape and guarantee the outcome.

As the Americans have learned, no one will thank them for it, and no one will think better of them for doing it. The only reason for a deeper involvement as mediator in the P5+1 talks is that stabilizing the region and maintaining the Persian-Arab balance of power is in Turkey’s national interest. But it will be a wrenching shift to Turkey’s internal political culture. It is also an inevitable shift. If not now, then later.


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Stratfor: Overview
« Reply #97 on: February 15, 2011, 02:51:53 PM »
Analyst Reva Bhalla takes a closer look at the unique factors afflicting each of the Middle Eastern countries currently experiencing unrest.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

With protests breaking out everywhere from Yemen to Bahrain to Algeria to Iran, everyone is asking themselves who’s next in the so-called wave of revolutions. Now while there are some common trends in each of these countries, this can’t be seen as some sort of domino effect where revolutions will spread everywhere in sight. Each of these countries are living in very unique circumstances, and understanding those factors are important in understanding which of these regimes are really at risk.

There are common threads to many of the countries experiencing unrest right now. First, most obviously, you have severe socio-economic conditions where you have high rates of youth unemployment in particular, inflationary pressures driving up the price of food and fuel, lack of basic services. Overall, you see a general reaction to decades of crony capitalism that really built up during the Nasserite era in this region.

Exacerbating matters in places like Algeria and Yemen are these illegitimate succession plans. So for example, in Yemen, the president has already announced that he is not going to run again for president in 2013, nor will his son, and that was designed to appease the political opposition. So far it seems to have worked, and the political opposition has dropped out of the demonstrations, leaving those on the streets more and more divided.

Now, in Algeria, the main concern is not so much the civil unrest in the streets, although that’s notable. The real concern is who is manipulating that unrest behind the scenes. So in Algeria, you have an intense power struggle that’s been playing out between an increasingly embattled president, who has wanted to hand the reins over to his brother, and a powerful intelligence minister, who is hotly opposed to those plans. So as these demonstrations play out, it’s extremely important to take a look at what quiet concessions are being offered behind the scenes as this power struggle plays out.

Another key theme is that many of these countries face the dilemma of how to integrate Islamists in the political system. Now, countries like Jordan have a better relationship with the Islamists in the opposition; there, they actually have the ability to participate in the political system, albeit not to the levels they want. In other countries — like Algeria, Syria and, of course, Egypt — these are the countries that continue to struggle with this Islamist dilemma.

One thing is clear to us: In Egypt, we did not see a popular revolution in the true sense of the word; what we saw was a carefully and thoughtfully managed succession by the military. In Algeria, you’re mostly seeing a power struggle play out. In places like Jordan, Yemen and Bahrain, you’re seeing opposition groups and tribes start to seize the opportunity to press for their demands, but they are still operating under great constraints, and, in many cases, they know their limits.

In other words, while this latest unrest is a wake-up call for many regimes in the region, we are not seeing a wave of revolutions spread throughout the region. And where you do see things flare up, like we might see in Algeria this coming Friday, you have to take a closer look at the political intrigue behind the demonstrations to really understand the true risk to the regime.


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Stratfor: Iranian moves
« Reply #98 on: February 17, 2011, 09:19:48 PM »
Iranian Moves in the Wake of Arab Unrest

A number of Iran-related developments made for a busy Wednesday in the Middle East.

The day began with Iran’s most important military commander, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaafari, saying that Iran’s elite military force would soon unveil a project that would “surprise the world.” Then, Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah called on his movement’s military forces to be prepared to invade Israel in the event of an Israeli attack on Lebanon. Nasrallah was responding to a statement from Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who a day earlier warned about the eruption of conflict on Israel’s northern border.

Wednesday’s most significant statement came from Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said two Iranian naval vessels would be passing through the Suez Canal en route to Syria. Lieberman described the move as “a provocation that proves Iran’s nerve and self-esteem are growing from day to day.” The Israeli foreign minister went on to say that the global community needed to realize that his country could not “ignore these provocations forever.”

“Even if the street agitation in Arab capitals had not erupted, Iranian military ships making their way through the heart of the Arab world would still create a major stir in the Arab countries, Israel and the United States.”
These statements come at a time when Egypt and other states in the wider Arab world are dealing with domestic unrest. The United States and Israel are concerned about future regional stability in the wake of the regional commotion, especially with Egypt in play. It is true that Iran was already a problem, but in the current uncertain circumstances, the behavior of Tehran’s clerical regime becomes an even bigger concern.

Iran, which already has the upper hand in its regional struggle with the United States, would like to be able to take advantage of the current situation by creating more problems for Washington at a time when the Obama administration is trying to manage the situation in the Arab countries without weakening its position regarding Iraq and Iran. There are already concerns about Iranian backing for the protesters from the Shiite majority community in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain.

Furthermore, Iranian warships ferrying through the Suez Canal on their way to Syria had been planned ahead of the recent unrest in Arab countries. Even if the street agitation in Arab capitals had not erupted, Iranian military ships reportedly making their way through the heart of the Arab world would still create a major stir in the Arab countries, Israel and the United States. And now that the region is in the middle of unprecedented instability, the event — and the Iranians appear to be proceeding — carries a much bigger significance.

The Islamic republic is attempting to telegraph to everyone in the region and beyond of its growing regional prowess. Iran knows that its moves will not go unnoticed. The United States, Israel and the Arabs cannot just dismiss Tehran’s moves as minor, especially not in the current Middle East climate.

Certainly Iran does not yet posses the kind of naval capability for power projection far away from its shores, nor does it want to pick an actual fight. But its neighbors and the United States cannot be sure of that and it is this perception that makes Tehran’s moves significant.


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Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Iran
« Reply #99 on: February 18, 2011, 10:08:24 PM »
Concerns Over Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Iran

The Persian Gulf island of Bahrain was Thursday’s geopolitical focal point. The day began with domestic security forces storming an encampment of protesters in a central square in the capital of Manama — an operation that left five people dead and another 100-200 reportedly injured. While the army is trying to ensure against further protests, more unrest in the coming days cannot be ruled out. Manama’s trepidation can be gauged from the fact that Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa chaired an extraordinary session of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) foreign ministers.

Bahrain is unique in that it is the only country among the mostly wealthy Arab states on the Arabian Peninsula that is experiencing public unrest. However, public agitation is by no means new, as it has a lengthy tradition of pro-democracy mass risings. But in the wake of the toppling of presidents who long ruled Tunisia and Egypt, this latest wave of unrest in Bahrain is seen with a greater sense of urgency.

“From Riyadh’s perspective, the empowerment of Shia in neighboring Bahrain could very likely embolden its own Shiite minority…”
In addition to being the only GCC member state to experience demonstrations, the country’s location and sectarian demographic sets it apart from every other Arab nation. An overwhelming Shiite majority seeks a greater say in the country ruled by a Sunni royal family and in close proximity to Iran. Thus, the demand for democracy, which in the case of other Arab countries is seen by many around the world as a positive development, is a cause of regional and international concern for Bahrain.

This would explain why U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked by phone with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa (also deputy commander of the country’s armed forces) to discuss the security situation. Washington is not only concerned about security and stability because it is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, but also because of the fear that Iran could potentially exploit the situation to its advantage. As it stands, Iran already has the upper hand in its struggle with the United States over Iraq and Lebanon.

The potential for the al-Khalifas to make concessions to the Shia is a frightening prospect for the Saudis, who are already trying to deal with the Shiite empowerment in Baghdad and Beirut. From Riyadh’s perspective, the empowerment of Shia in neighboring Bahrain could very likely embolden its own Shiite minority (20 percent of the kingdom’s population, concentrated in the kingdom’s oil rich Eastern province, which is in close proximity to Bahrain).

Even before the outbreak of regional unrest, Saudi Arabia has had a difficult time in light of the pending transition of the geriatric king and the top three princes. But now with the contagion that began in North Africa engulfing Saudi Arabia’s immediate neighborhood, there is a sense of alarm in the Saudi capital. A senior member of the House of Saud, Prince Talal bin Abdel-Aziz, who is close to King Abdullah, told BBC Arabic that the regional unrest threatened the kingdom unless it engaged in political reforms and the only one who could initiate the process is the country’s 86-year old ailing monarch.

But now with Bahrain in play, the Saudis are not just concerned about calls for democracy, but also the rise of Shia on the Arabian Peninsula and with it, a more assertive Iran.