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Monday, November 14, 2011

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Monday, November 14.
1) Public discussion of secrets

Jackson Diehl observes in For Israel, a tough call on attacking Iran:
A weird but wonderful feature of Israeli democracy is that even fateful decisions about national security — like whether to carry out a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities — are publicly debated and covered in the press as if they were questions about road building or water rates, complete with vote counts in the cabinet and speculation about political motives.
For more than two weeks now, mullahs in Tehran, generals in Washington and anyone else with an Internet connection has been able to read detailed accounts of attempts by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to convince their military chiefs and coalition partners that an Israeli strike is both feasible and necessary. Bitter closed-door debates have been chronicled; op-ed pages have been filled with the arguments, pro and con. There’s even been polling: Forty-one percent of Israelis were reported to favor an attack vs. 39 percent who were opposed.
If it happens, this may be the most unsurprising sneak attack in history. Reports that Israel is on the verge of bombing Iran have been appearing regularly since at least 2008. It’s tempting to dismiss the latest flurry as political noise or orchestrated leaks, aimed at focusing Western attention on the need for tougher sanctions against Iran, or at drowning out the Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations.
Diehl goes on to write that he thinks there is some news here. At the very least it appears that PM Netanyahu and DM Barak are trying to convince reluctant military chiefs of the necessity of attacking the Iranian nuclear program.

Isabel Kershner reports Israel Lobbies Discreetly for More Sanctions After U.N. Report on Iran:
Israel has quietly mobilized diplomats to press for stricter sanctions in foreign capitals.
Their efforts have been bolstered by a flurry of speculative news reports and leaks about possible plans for an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, along with Israel’s testing of a ballistic missile this month.
Whether those reports were intended, in part, to prod Western powers to act is impossible to know. Officials insist that the missile test, on a weekday morning in full view of Tel Aviv commuters on their way to work, had been long planned and was carried out as scheduled.
I think the word "speculative" here is important. Another speculative report (via memeorandum) is Israel refuses to tell US its Iran intentions:
Officially, his brief was restricted to the Middle East peace process, but the most important part of his mission was a private meeting with Mr Netanyahu and the defence minister, Ehud Barak. Once all but a handful of trusted staff had left the room, Mr Panetta conveyed an urgent message from Barack Obama. The president, Mr Panetta said, wanted an unshakable guarantee that Israel would not carry out a unilateral military strike against Iran's nuclear installations without first seeking Washington's clearance.
The two Israelis were notably evasive in their response, according to sources both in Israel and the United States.
This, of course, proves nothing. It hardly means that an Israel attack on Iran is imminent, though it may well be that Israel wants Iran to think so.

The Washington Post reports on Russian scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko’s aid to Iran offers peek at nuclear program (h/t Small Wars Journal, Eli Tabori )
Fifteen years later, the Russian scientist has emerged as a central character in the still-unfolding mystery that is Iran’s nuclear program. A report last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency highlighted the role of a “foreign expert”— identified by Western diplomats close to the U.N. nuclear agency as Danilenko — in Iran’s efforts to gain expertise in disciplines essential to building a nuclear warhead.
No bomb was built, the diplomats say. But help from foreign scientists such as Danilenko enabled Iran to leapfrog over technical hurdles that otherwise could have taken years to overcome, according to former and current U.N. officials, Western diplomats and weapons experts.
Such assistance also provided a trail of evidence that the IAEA’s investigators were later able to follow. Documents and other records — and, in the case of Danilenko, interviews — would offer a rare glimpse inside a highly secretive program hidden within Iranian universities and civilian institutions, the officials and experts said.
2) Kicked out and still misbehaving

David Ignatius writes By suspending Syria, Arab League finally breaks from its past:
President Hafez Assad marched his troops into Lebanon in 1976 to defuse the Lebanese civil war, in what was called the “Arab Deterrent Force” and sanctioned by the Arab League. It’s useful, in understanding the minority politics of the region, to remember that the practical effect of this Syrian intervention was to rescue the Maronite Christians, who were fighting the Palestinians and an alliance of Sunni Muslims and Druze.
Once the Syrians arrived in Lebanon, they stayed to feast on its spoils — until they were driven out by popular demand after the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, a crime for which the Syrians were initially blamed but that a U.N. investigator now says was the work of Hezbollah. Looking back, you could argue that the “March 14 movement” that expelled the Syrians six years ago was the start of what we now call the Arab Spring.
How ironic that the Syrians, who for decades refused to demarcate their border with Lebanon (arguing that it was really part of “Greater Syria”) are now mining that same border. To quote the un-Arab but still apposite Sir Walter Scott, “What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”
Ignatius claims that the UN investigator is implicating Hezbollah in the killing of Hariri and not Syria. Hezbollah's involvement hardly clears its sponsor, Syria.

But if the proposed suspension was supposed to leave Syria chastened, it hasn't worked. The New York Times reports Mobs Strike Embassies After Group Bans Syria:
Several thousand Syrians attacked the embassies and consulates of Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and France on Saturday evening, shortly after the Arab League announced its surprising decision to suspend Syria’s membership for failing to end the bloody crackdown on antigovernment protesters.
Turkey’s evacuation, and denunciations of the attacks by other countries, set the stage for a tumultuous week in the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, which began in March.
The Arab League has invited Syrian opposition figures to Cairo on Tuesday in what seems to be a bid to close the ranks of an unwieldy group. If Syria does not relent in its crackdown, which the United Nations says has killed more than 3,500 people, the suspension will take effect on Wednesday.
Once again diplomatic missions in Syria that are supposed to be immune to this sort of thing, are targets.

3) EU Funding

The New York Times reports Israeli Government Backs Limits on Financing for Nonprofit Groups:
The 11-to-5 vote threw the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government behind the bills, which human rights groups have denounced as violations of free expression and an effort by the government to silence its critics.
Officials and legal experts said that the bills would probably be altered before reaching Parliament and could ultimately be struck down by the Supreme Court.
One bill would limit to about $5,000 a year the amount that a foreign government, government-supported foundation or group of governments like the European Union could give to Israeli groups considered “political.” The other bill would impose a heavy tax on such contributions.
Prof Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor is quoted arguing against these specific bills but for more transparency on the part of the NGO's.

We get to the end of the article and we learn:
In addition to Gisha, about 15 other Israeli groups rely heavily on European aid, including Breaking the Silence, which focuses on abuses by Israeli troops, and Physicians for Human Rights, Israel.
To take Breaking the Silence as an example, what's missing from this article isn't simply that these are "human rights" groups, but often they are dishonest. But these NGO's also know that poorly sourced charges against Israel often make the news. If news organization's were more responsible about how they treated NGO's probably none of these bills would have come under consideration.

One other aspect of this that the New York Times missed is the obvious conflict of interest displayed by the EU. As a member of the so-called Quartet, the EU should be above suspicion in terms of its even handedness. (I will acknowledge that neither Russia nor the UN have this quality. Both are obviously tainted.) If the EU sponsors these organizations, which make their livings off of slandering Israel, why should Israel trust the EU?

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