UN Games: Iran, Russia, China and the Rest


This article was written nearly a month ago. It was not completed on time, so I decided not to post it. Having just re-read it, little progress has been made and it is still as relevant as always. So please disregard the time-bound events and hope you enjoy my analysis   

 

    This week Britain has seen some of the most horrific accidents on its roads. Slowly the news of a 34 car pileup with at least 7 dead started hitting the global news. From the initial reports it was hard to understand what had actually happened, however with this number of casualties, it did not matter, as this was already a tragedy.  From reports later it was assumed that the large scale accident was caused by a combination of heavy rain, poor visibility and a nearby firework display, which blew smoke onto the road.  Whether someone will actually be accused of negligence is yet to be seen, but it was through an apparently indirect event that this tragedy has happened and it is too late to undo it.

    In world politics and especially the Middle East, this chain of events is often observed. Almost always in politics a team of people could be found sitting in a back room running scenarios of cause-and-effect to ensure that decisions that are taken would serve certain interests, provided time allowing of course. However, despite this fact every now then an event transpires that sets off another. The Arab Spring is a great example of minor events taking place shaping others. The massive arms smuggled into Gaza from Libya, as a result of the instability of the Gaddafi regime is one. The severed Iran and Hamas relationship as a result of Syrian uprisings is another. Not only do those events destabilize the region with their unpredictability, but it is often hard to understand when they have finished, which makes an analysis impossible to do.

    While there are many of these indirect events taking place, there is currently one, which is possibly the most substantial. As expected, the most substantial event involve the most influential country in the Middle East, which in many respects is Iran. On the other side of this events are NATO countries headed by Israel and the USA. The surprising element (surprising to anyone who does not follow the events in the UN) is that the indirect cause of this major event is the actions of China and Russia.

    The background for this event has been in the headlines for some time, so it is no secret that Israel has been, somewhat unusually, trying out their long range missiles, running massive evacuation drills preparing for a missile attack as well as simulating, in Italy, fuelling in midair and attacking distant targets. To add to these events there has been much debate regarding whether attacking the nuclear plant in Iran should take place. The local reports in Israel give the impression of the government being in favour, while the previous heads of the Mossad and other security organization are against this assignment. Those who would have thought that the strong opposition of the security heads to this operation would mean this is a ‘no go’, should be reminded that a similar situation occurred in 1981, which resulted in the government pushing ahead and approving the execution of the bombing of the nuclear facility in Iraq.

    There are many sceptics doubting Israel’s true intention to attack. These sceptics are claiming that this is clever politics intended to bring the Iranian situation back to the center of the Middle East, after a long break, in which the Arab Spring and the struggling regimes have taken center stage, allowing Iran to continue work away from the spotlight. This theory goes on to couple this event with the low status of Iran following the exposed assassination plot. It is worth mentioning that some suspect a conspiracy theory, concocted by Israel and the USA, which puts the entire authenticity of the assassination plot in question*.

    On the other side of the sceptics, there are some opinions warning of the window of opportunity closing on a military action taken against Iran. Some reports indicate that Iran is more advanced than previously believed. There are analyses indicating that the stuxnet virus released in the nuclear facility has not significantly damaged Iran’s capability. Other speculations are that Iran has made progress developing missiles to mount and launch an atomic bomb. Once you factor in the possibility of Iran moving their sensitive facilities into safer locations (underground facilities carved under mountains), add to that the potential of the weather during winter delaying any actions and the window of opportunities does seem to close rather quickly. Some of these speculations have been confirmed by the damning IAEA report released this week, which has been doubt showed that Iran’s intentions are anything but pure.

    Needless to say that any attack on Iran could quickly escalate into a full blown regional conflict, or as former CIA analyst, Riedel, put it “attack on Iran would ignite regional conflict from Gaza to Afghanistan ….”  Therefore as stated before by most Western players, it is generally believed that an attack should be the last option used. The other option available to the Western world is tougher sanctions, which would suffocate Iran economically, leading to either a rebellion within, toppling the government, or draining the funds used for the nuclear program. In fact, this option is also the favourite option by the heads of the military mentioned previously. This method is less risky and if military action has to be taken later, it would be easier to fight an economically weak Iran.

So why is this option not being pursued?

    This is where the indirect effect comes into play. There have currently been three rounds of sanctions past in the UN against Iran. Those sanctions have been proposed by the US and significantly watered down by China and Russia in exchange for not vetoing them in the Security Council. So while these sanctions were passed, their scope has been very limited, targeting only specific organizations whose link to the nuclear program has been established. This did not exclude China from trading with Iran in other areas, mainly oil, which has been keeping it afloat. In the next round of proposed sanctions the USA wishes to tighten the rope and disallow any trading with Iran’s central bank, which would essentially stop all foreign trading with Iran. If these sanctions are passed, it is very likely that any attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be abated, however, if those sanctions are watered down again and become ineffective, the current threat would remain on the cards.

    In the Middle East often things are said in the heat of the moment and are not followed through. For example, during the Palmer report leak and Israel’s refusal to apologize Erdogan made some game changing statements such as that Turkey would pursue to hound Israel down every UN route as well as send armed Turkish ships for any future flotilla heading to Gaza. So far there has been no significant impact in the UN and the 2 ships Flotilla, which arrived last week near the Israeli shore was not escorted and stopped as per the Navy procedure Israel said it would follow. Therefore, it is not unlikely to believe that Iran itself does not want a conflict and perhaps has now found itself in a difficult position. The Iranian regime could possibly be hoping to turn time back to a couple of years ago, when they had the option to accept the deal the US and Euro proposed, in which they would achieve their nuclear power aspirations by allowing the Uranium to be enriched in a different country. However that window has passed and perhaps explaining to their people that the dire economic situation in the past two years has been as a result of a badly calculated risk and could have been avoided all together, would have a worse impact on the longevity of the current regime than a well calculated military response.

     If Iran was indeed bluffing and would be looking to avoid an escalation of the situation, it should also lament the missed opportunity of the Obama administration’s initial policy revolving around reaching out and settling the differences, which for all intent and purposes has been rejected by Iran, by refusing to reach an agreement and continuing to advance its nuclear plan. It is clear that whichever way Iran chooses to take at this juncture would be harder than before and would require clever tactics as well as an element of risk taking.

    For the sake of the Iranian people it might be the lesser evil of two to have the Security Council impose tougher sanctions, as it might force the regime to do a complete policy change in regards to its nuclear program and make this whole episode go away until the conditions are in Iran’s favour again.

    Only time will tell whether Israel is serious regarding its intention to attack the Iranian nuclear sites, or whether Iran is willing to let this conflict escalate. Currently the most critical factor standing between a physical attack or not is the Russian and Chinese vote in the Security Council in the next few weeks. Hopefully the media will find the sense to dedicate enough attention to this event and therefore hold the entire Security Council and in particular China and Russia accountable for their vote and its direct and indirect consequences.

 

 

*I normally, do not include my own opinion in my blogs, however, it is worth mentioning that while I fully believe that timing is not a coincidence and governments are known to sit on bits of information until the right time to release them, I find it too farfetched that Israel and the USA would have this level of cooperation or that the US would fake an incident on this scale only to aide Israel, especially when Netanyahu’s government has not exactly been playing ball with the Obama administration.

Attack on Iran


    Every single person in the Western world should be somewhat concerned about the latest exchanges between Israel and Iran, as it might change things as we know them.  Now that military action in Libya is finished and the Arab League has managed to engage in some level of dialogue with Syria, the world attention is back to Iran and its nuclear program.  The timing or the decision of turning back to Iran is not a coincidence, rather, after every big change (i.e. change of government in Egypt, Libya, Syria) a vacuum is created and if the big players are not managed, they could move to fill this vacuum, in this case the fear is that Iran would advance on the newly formed regimes.

    What is surprising about the timing of the pressure being applied is that while one would expect more diplomatic pressure, it seems unusual to opt for a military strike, unless there is new information about the imminence of a threat. So far no new information has been provided or leaked to the public domain about Iran making a breakthrough in its nuclear capabilities, in fact reports suggest otherwise. It is assumed that the computer virus attack damaging the centrifuges, as well as the recent assassinations of key scientists and the economic sanctions are all slowing down Iran’s nuclear program.   

However, one must accept that not everything is in the public domain and not everything gets leaked. For example, the Western nations’ intelligence were sitting on information of Iran’s secret nuclear plan for months and it wasn’t until Iran realized that they have been found out that they “volunteered” that information. Another example is the bombing of the Syrian nuclear plant by Israel in 2007. There was no warning before, outside of the intelligence community, and it took time until the reports came through of what has actually taken place and why. So following that logic, it could be that Iran has decided to accelerate their nuclear plan. Perhaps it decided to make the nuclear breakthrough, in which Uranium is enriched to higher levels needed for a nuclear bomb in a relatively short amount of time. Possibly develop appropriate war heads to be able to mount a nuclear bomb on missiles. Or even just buy key components from other countries, which would provide immediate capabilities.

    Whatever is happening in the background, there are already symptoms showing on the ground. There have been reports of Israeli planes practicing manoeuvres in Italy, in which they bomb a distant location. As well as that air practice, Israel has launched a test missile today and has stepped up its drills to deal with the consequences of a massive missile attack to the heart of Israel.  It has also been reported that the US and British military are preparing for a possible attack by moving their navy vessels to strategic positions. On the other side, Iran has been quite defiant in its statements to the West, threatening a retaliation for any attack. The difference noted about these statements is that they were made by the head of the army, who has a direct reporting line to the superior leader. The controversial exposed plot to assassinate a Saudi diplomat and carry out a terror attack, are also signs of Iran stepping up the pressure.

    It is possible that once again this is just a show of strength of both sides, which in reality would not be allowed to spill over. In fact, since this is already in the media, suggests that it is not genuine, as such an attack would undoubtedly benefit from the element of surprise. However, no reasonable person could look at the facts and claim that the threat of a conflict is not on the cards.

    If a strike does take place, there could be different outcomes. Due to Wikileaks, it is a known fact that some Arab countries around Iran such as Saudi Arabia and Dubai are in favour of an attack. It is also known that the West has stepped up the pressure and no doubt that Israel is very much in favour of ridding Iran of nuclear power. Therefore, it is almost of little difference, who actually launches the attack as it is supported by most and the result would undoubtedly be the same, regardless of who pulls the trigger.

    If Iranian targets are attacked, it is assumed that it would rely on its proxies around the Middle East to launch an attack on American and Israeli targets. It is almost a given that Hezbollah and militant groups in Gaza would launch missiles into central cities in Israel (following the recent rift between Hamas and Iran, it would be interesting to see whether Hamas would launch missiles itself, look the other way, while the Islamic Jihad and other smaller groups do so, or distance itself from Iran and ensure the rocket fire is merely symbolic). Syria, which is Iran’s biggest ally in the region, normally does its military work via Hezbollah in Lebanon, however, it is not unlikely that due to the dire condition the government is in, would try to gain political power by positioning itself as a Muslim opposition to the attacks by the West and engage in the conflict in some capacity.

    Israel will clearly be impacted the most by this situation, however, this is a risk it is willing to take, as it knows that once Iran achieves nuclear weapon capabilities, it would be much worse off. Also, with the right level of cooperation of the attack, Israel would be able to take steps to protect itself from the proxies’ attacks and reduce the loss of life and property.

    The risks to this type of operation are plenty. The first risk is that the intelligence is not reliable enough. The Iraq war has taught the West that they do get it wrong sometimes and it is enough to underestimate Iran’s current capabilities or even to miss an important element of the program, which would be used following an attack to undermine the whole effort. The second risk could be a failure to execute the mission, from human error to uncalculated risks, if an attack is launched, but is not successful, this would carry a very heavy price. Another risk would be the conflict escalating. Although, no doubt that there will be a massive diplomatic effort along with the strike, it is not impossible that support for Iran would gather momentum in other Arab countries as well as perhaps inside European countries. The West would hope that at most only Shia Muslims may identify with Iran, which would reduce the risk to part of Iraq, which is already in turmoil or Bahrain and Azerbaijan, which do not really pose a threat. However, experience has shown that this could be seen as an East Vs. West or Christian/Jewish Vs. Muslim conflict and draw into it new stakeholders. Such a development might land another Iraq or Afghanistan, whereby the military battle is won, but constant insurgency is taking place (this time potentially on Western soil).

    It should be fair to say that the West is wary of war. The political agenda in most European countries is anti war. In all countries including the US there is a very strong leftist movement, which includes in its ranks high profile academics, artists, politicians and human rights activists, who continuously campaign against interference in the Middle East. Therefore any military action would include a political backlash. The timing is problematic also in the sense that the Western world and Europe, in particular, are going through an economic crisis. The current voter is a tough crowd to convince to invest what little money is available into a potential military conflict, when the threat is not so obvious and visible, especially, when the case put forward for Iraq in 2003 is still fresh and has a big negative impact.    

    Whether this attack will take place or not is still to be seen. Whether this attack is the right answer would become apparent, although possibly not immediately and possibly not conclusively. What is almost absolute is that this is not going to be a walk in the park. Even if executed perfectly, it is likely that the planning takes into consideration an attack on Israel as well as a backlash in the West. There is also no doubt that many in the West will criticize this action and offer many sinister interpretations as to why it has taken place. On the other hand, if the attack is to take place, it would potentially change the rules of the game. It is not unlikely that Iran would lose clout or even have a regime change. Also without Iran financing terror in the Middle East, Hamas might fall back to its less radical allies (Muslim Brotherhood), or that Syria and Hezbollah would become insignificant players. Or perhaps a new player would rise up to fill the void in the axis of evil. The West will no doubt go through some troubling economic times, as the oil price and availability would destabilize the markets.

      However, unless concrete foul motives behind the attack are revealed with time, one can safely assume that the people elected to lead, know more than they are telling and have decided that there is a threat great enough, which justifies an attack, in order to guarantee our security and way of life.

Abdullah’s dilemma


The images of watching another tyrant being toppled last week are probably still fresh in any news following person in the world. The images shown were very graphic of a leader who was once carrying himself arrogantly and confidently being pulled out of an underground hole like an animal, only to be at the mercy of the people he once ruled over with an iron fist. Gaddafi in the footage didn’t look very different to Saddam Hussain, although Saddam had the benefit of being captured by the American soldiers and therefore stood trial before being executed.

    These clips shown over and over on the different websites as well as news channels must be especially alarming to the leaders of the Arab world, who know that the wind can blow the other way at any moment. While Iran has quite a resilient ruling system, which would be hard to topple (as seen after the previous botched elections), it knows that if the US pushes tougher economic sanctions, this could be the catalyst that would undermine their control. Bashar El-Asad knows that he is probably the next in line, as his country is already engulfed in mayhem and even if he manages to work a miracle, his rule would most probably never again be as absolute as it was.

    In the article http://middleeastinterpreter.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/arab-spring-or-western-winter it was discussed that the countries most likely to undergo a successful Arab Spring revolt were not the monarchies, rather the countries that are being ruled by the aftermath of a military coup (Egypt, Libya, Syria and to some extent Turkey). Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait…etc. have so far all been spared a genuine overthrow threat and it seems that they might be see it safely to the other side this time around.

    However despite being also being a monarchy, Jordan is a special case and it has reasons to worry.

    Jordan is currently ruled by King Abdullah, who took the reins from his father, King Hussain.  Hussain ruled the country from the 1950s to 1999. Under the last two kings many political reforms were made and the country enjoyed relative advancement as it has always “played ball” with the US and UN, especially noticeable in 1994, when it signed a peace agreement with Israel.

    Despite the relative stability and the fact that Jordan does not fit the mold of a country vulnerable to the Arab Spring, Jordan has always had strong undercurrents of revolution. Jordan’s ethnic groups include more than 50% people of Palestinian decent. Out of the population of roughly 6 million, this is more Palestinian than currently in the Palestinian territories taken by Israel in1967. Moreover, had Jordan not returned the West Bank to Israel, there would have been more Palestinians than Jordanian’s in the land, which would have led to a minority rule (similar to the Alouwaites ruling over Sunnis in Syria).

    Throughout Jordan’s history the Palestinian Liberation Front, which resided in its borders grew stronger with time and apart from dragging the fighting with the Israeli Defense Force into Jordanian land, it also challenged the rule of King Hussain. The Palestinians almost created a state within a state and there are also reports of failed assassination attempts of King Hussain. All these events led to establishing a couple of agreements between the PLO and the Monarchy, in an attempt to reach a workable system. However, when those failed to maintain order, King Hussain launched an operation known as Black September (in 1970), in which the Palestinian militants were crushed, killing thousands and driving the PLO out of Jordan.

    During the years of 1970 and 1971, King Hussain’s throne was at a genuine threat as the Palestinians leaders called for a revolt against the ruler. While Hussain managed to successfully destroy the mutiny (at the price of estimated thousands of dead), the potential for a resurrection of the conflict was never completely obliterated.

    King Abdullah has followed his father’s way by keeping the peace with Israel and avoiding getting stuck in the middle of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However due to the strong historical connection between the Palestinians and Jordan, while keeping out, he has a vested interest to keep the Palestinian attention away from his country.

    So unlike some of the country heads in the Middle East, who are quietly joining the Western opposition to global Jihad, which may one day undermine their rule, as it attempts to achieve one Caliphate rule across the Middle East, Jordan has a much more imminent threat of its rule being undermined by Palestinians.

    The best possible outcome for Jordan would be a long lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, in which most Palestinians’ demands would be met, in order to satiate their appetite for more land but also to restrict their right to arm themselves, in order to avoid them becoming a regional threat.

    The worst case scenario would be a weak position against Israel, which may turn the Palestinians’ efforts to Jordan or make Jordan on the receiving end of more fallout, i.e. more displaced Palestinians settling in its borders. While not imminent, both scenarios are not impossible and at a time when the winds of change are blowing in the Middle East, paranoia is not an irrelevant consideration in determining foreign policy.

    Another possible gloom scenario for Jordan would be the ethnic awakening of Palestinians in Jordan, wishing to do away with the monarchy and go to democratic elections. It is apparent to every ruler these days that technology can provide a platform to revolt and organize, while the violent methods employed in the past could no longer be hidden or tolerated for a length of time due to that same technology.

    It is no surprise, therefore, that the message coming from Jordan is criticizing the Israeli government for not wanting real peace and demanding that they make more concessions. King Abdullah has recently stepped up the pressure in the media, calling for more leniency from the Israeli government, openly doubting Netanyahu’s genuine interest to compromise for peace as well as questioning the stability of Israel’s peace agreements with its neighbors. All in an effort to make sure things are moving in the right direction to serve Jordan’s interests with no sudden turns. There are also indications that Jordan is giving the head of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, more maneuvering room by allowing him into Jordan (although officially for humanitarian reasons), this perhaps could indicate that there is a level of communication and influence happening between Jordan and Hamas away from the eye of the media.

    As for Jordan coping with the internal upheaval, so far the protests have been around corruption and mainly the poor economic situation, prompting King Abudllah to dismiss the cabinet and replace the PM. There has, so far, not been a real threat to the monarchy and none of the usual worrying symptoms, such high ranking generals defecting, have been on the cards.

    King Abdullah probably wasn’t lying when he said in his CNN interview “what keeps me up at night… is actually poverty and unemployment and the economic crisis.” But he didn’t go into detail about what this situation may bring to Jordan and his rule.  If King Abdullah is not successful in maintaining the peace in his country, we could expect a ripple effect on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he takes action to keep the plague away from his country.

Shalit’s Release and Other Symptoms


    When astrophysicists investigate the stars they rarely get to witness an event. Sometimes the events are too slow or two fast, but often they do not possess the right tools to give them a clear vision of the object. Despite the limitations, the worlds’ scientists have still made far reaching discoveries. The method they employ is looking at the effect on the other objects. For example by investigating the path of visible surrounding stars they can estimate where gravity is applied and therefore can determine whether there is  star hidden from view or an event such as a supernova has taken place that distorted the expected alignment.

    The Middle East is not so different in this respect. Many of the events are not witnessed, since there is no free press and certainly no access to private meetings between the leaders. Therefore, to decipher what is going on behind the false facade, one must look at the events around and extrapolate the root cause.

    Perhaps the most significant event to take place this week was the agreement of Hamas to release the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in return for the release of some 1000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Shalit has been in Hamas’ custody for over five years and talks have never progressed to the stage of release. There have been many reports about the negotiations and the involved parties, such as the German negotiator, however always resulting in a breakdown and both sides blaming the other.

    So what has changed this time? Certainly not the negotiation terms, but it seems that everything else that is happening around. Israel published a strong stance on not releasing any prisoners who have been convicted for murder of Israelis. This was most likely a negotiation tactic, as Hamas would not be able to politically afford releasing Shalit without getting in return some of their prisoners, who have been convicted for life, however Israel did not release prominent figures such as Baragouti and Saadat, who could become key people back in Gaza or the West Bank. Hamas, no doubt, was pushing very hard to release those prisoners, but decided to give up this claim. There has also been a dispute on how many prisoners would be banished from the Palestinian territories, reportedly this was a major dispute in the last round of talks, it is apparent now that Israel conceded slightly, but not gave away that demand.

    The events of the negotiation are directly related to Asad’s rule. Since the Arab Spring reached Syria, Asad’s status has been grossly undermined. The two major factors that are contributing to him staying in power are the fact that most of his generals are still in support of him, unlike in Egypt or Libya, where the close generals turned on their leader, which marked the end, and that Russia and China have been protecting him from any veto in the UN, which would result in a possible NATO attack or more likely sanctions imposed on the regime globally (rather than just US and EU currently).

    Asad’s undermining has consequently damaged Hamas’ status, which he supports heavily. Hamas’ leadership sits in Syria and enjoys freedom of movement as well as an open route used to coordinate support from Iran. The price Hamas pays for Asad’s patronage is unequivocally supporting his regime. This support has already backfired, when Hamas organized for Palestinian refugees to flood the Israeli border in order to create a distraction from the internal Syrian conflict. This unfortunately for Hamas and Asad led to many Palestinian deaths, which in return caused an uprising and subsequently violence between Syria’s army and the Palestinians. So much so, that Hamas in Gaza openly criticized Asad, a gesture that was not well received by its strategic ally Iran.

    Had things stayed as they are Hamas would have probably still been playing the stalling game in regards to Shalit’s release, since time actually was on their side. In Israel the government was under increasing pressure to release Shalit with various gestures aimed to remind the politicians that he is still in captivity. This pressure played straight into Hamas’ hands, who were seen by the Arab world as defiant to Israel, while playing psychological warfare on the Israeli public, by publicizing paintings of Shalit in captivity and often making reference to the government’s reluctance to progress the deal. However, this week Hamas has decided to end this episode and play their most powerful card in the pack. A very likely reason could be that Hamas is seeing the end of their operation in Damascus and are now seeking to boost their support and legitimacy before they find a different regime that would allow them to operate from its territory. If this assumption turns out to be true, then it is definitely a sign of Asad’s regime volatility and vote of no confidence from the Hamas’s leadership.

    Although less in the limelight, but also significant was the reported tensions within the Lebanese coalition, mainly between Hezbollah and Jumblatt, as reported by local Lebanese newspapers. Jumblatt is the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), which is secular and mainly representing the Druzes ethnicity in Lebanon. The party’s ideology is in great conflict with the religious Syrian supported party Hezbollah, which is why it was a shock to learn that Jumblatt lent his support to Hezbollah, when they voted Saad Hariri’s government out of power, after his insistence of supporting the UN’s investigation of the assassination of his father (STL).

    Jumblatt starting to make demands on Hezbollah is a clear indication of his belief that their position has been significantly damaged. Other than the pending UN investigation, which will no doubt have some consequences in the international community and internally, the most likely reason would be a weakening of the Syrian government, who currently supplies them with arms, which has made them effectively stronger than Lebanon’s national army.

    These symptoms both show a significant shift away from Asad’s rule and it is leaving less and less doubt that Asad’s time is limited. One of his officers, Colonel Riyad El-Asad, has already started an opposition army and it seems that it is only a matter time until senior officers would follow suit. What is not surprising is that Asad keeps fighting and will do so until the end. Considering he is of the Alawaite faction, which is a clear minority in a predominantly Sunni country, means that the Alawaites are likely to lose their status for a long period of time (nothing is forever in the Middle East) and the tactics used by his father, to violently crush down on any attempt of revolt, cannot be done internally and quietly as in the past, since now every person with a phone can easily upload uncensored images to the web.

    Perhaps only a frivolous man would put a timeline on Asad’s fate, but a reasonable one would predict his demise. The next steps to watch out for is for more allies distancing themselves from Asad and more army personnel defecting or turning against him, but until that happens, we will keep getting reports about tenths of opposition demonstrators being killed almost on a daily basis.

What’s So Bad About A UN Recognition Of Palestine


    The columnist community of the written media have been dealing excessively with the Palestinian bid for recognition in the UN. Many of them, as a the reputable magazine  The Economist support the application and believe that the expected US veto in the Security Council is the wrong move.

    In Israel, too, some prominent left wing Israelis support the recognition of Palestinian state, however, despite the similarities in some reasoning there are some core differences to ones stated in The Economist. At the heart of the justifications in The Economist is the claim that there is already a Palestinian country de facto, after all both statements of Netanyahu and Obama call for a two state solution, so why oppose and risk the inevitable violence following a failed Palestinian statehood application? The Israeli supporters on the other hand, claim that with the advantages of having a UN recognized State come responsibilities, which may consequently stop the violence by Hamas in Gaza as well as bring the return of the kidnapped soldier Shalit held by Hamas.

Other diplomats around Europe would also like to see the solution come to an end, especially now with the emergence of the Arab Spring, as in their opinion brokering a deal in the Middle East could put Europe back in the center, as well as impede the extremist Muslim movement at home.

    The Palestinians on their part though are not united behind the decision. Hamas is opposed to the move, mainly because of being excluded from the process and probably the uncertainty that would be created, if the recognition is successful. Hamas are also very aware of the political price they would have to pay if after everything that the people of Gaza have been through as a result of their extreme policies, it is the moderate Fatah government in the West Bank that accomplishes this historic achievement.

While the media is already reporting which countries have announced support to the application, which countries are still dithering and which oppose the move, the content of the proposal has not yet been exposed. The expected solution formula is most probably the talked about proposal, in which there would be two states based on the 1967 border lines with agreed land swaps. However one of the elements of the negotiations is to agree the finer details of the land swaps. It is not known at this point what land swaps are in the proposal if any, however it is safe to assume that the Abbas is not going to draw something that would put Palestinian in a disadvantage and likely to assume that the Palestinians would benefit more from his output than the Israelis. The border is merely one topic of dispute, as the negotiations between the countries are also around Jerusalem, the water supplies, the right to return of the refugees around the world, the accepted Palestinian army configuration in the new Palestinian state, as well as other logistic and security issues that Israel would demand to be adequately addressed.

    Needless to say the automatic majority achieved by the Palestinians before providing any content, already shows the downside of the UN decision system, as the expectation would be at least that every country would read the proposal carefully and consider whether it would have a good influence on the Palestinians and the region or not.

    The Israeli government is very much opposed to the proposal. The reasons are numerous from the uncertainty the move brings to the obvious impact of having to deal with a UN recognized Palestinian state. The Palestinians are already enjoying wide support by the different voting blocks in the UN comprised mainly of African and Arab countries, this situation may get worse for Israel, if the Palestinians are allowed to sit on committees and claim to be heard in places like the Hague’s International Court. Whether the court would proves to be fair or biased, like the different committees in the UN, is to be seen, however it is almost certain that the Israeli government would have to spend significant effort in defending itself for actions it sees as necessary security measures.

    Another aspect troubling the Israeli government in this application is the apparent loss in the political arena. To understand this concept one has to look at the negotiations as a process rather than the immediate future. Up until 1967 Israel’s biggest problems have been external, they fought the Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis Jordanians…etc. However, since 1967 the problems have become mainly internal. The Palestinian settlement dispute was transferred from a Jordanian and Egyptian problem to an Israeli one and with the lack of any official army to surrender, despite military superiority, Israel has been fighting a losing battle. Israel has been continuously giving up land and slowly withdrawing as its public is weary of fighting and a greater divide is created, in which, some people turn to the left, wishing to get on with their lives and hope for the other side to do the same, once their declared goals are achieved, while others turn to the right, as they want to see more force and determination in bringing this conflict to an end.

    The Palestinians on the other hand are playing a different and much slower game. It is embedded in every Palestinian child that a Palestinian state will be achieved however long it takes (this fact is entirely visible through various surveys done or studies conducted looking at the culture in schools, mosques and TV).  From a Palestinian point of view, a state could be achieved by an overtime demographic change, military means or simple small scale terrorism causing erosion to Israel. While Israel can control the flames of the conflict to a degree, they cannot reach closure and (despite various claims) ethnic cleansing is not an option at their disposal. Therefore, the only means of pressure Israel can apply on the Palestinians is by a gradual increase of settlements, which is eating into their land, if they stall. In the same way that terrorist activity is counter-productive to a peace process, but is seen as a mean to apply pressure, Settlements are also a mean to apply pressure albeit a more humane one that could be easily reversed (this is one of the reasons as to why Netanyahu rejected an additional freeze of building settlements, worrying that it might become a given expectation).

   Judging on the way the UN is operating Israel’s concerns are probably valid, as the UN various committees have shown so much biased and corrupt voting that more UN intervention in the region could only be bad news for Israel.

    In trying to understand the conflict and the possible resolution it would probably make sense to turn back to the words of Golda Meir former Prime Minister of Israel, as she reflected on her time in power in September 1974:

I asked this question multiple times like a parrot and no one has answered [about] when they say that if we move to the 67 lines things will be OK. Gentlemen, where were we situated in 67? Did we not stand behind the 67 [border] lines? Why then was there a war. After 56 the “Kadesh Operation” following torments of 4.5 months in the UN, we behaved like good boys. We evacuated Sinai, we evacuated Sharam El Sheik, Gaza, everything, so? What happened? Why was there a war on the 67 borders? So this formula of peace in exchange for land, it sounds pretty, I think people that say it surely believe in it, but it is not true. This isn’t what it is about. It is very possible that we will still need to fight in the future, since I don’t believe that you can buy peace with territories. You can buy peace when the Arabs, or the Arab leaders will reach the conclusion that we cannot be terminated and they need to live with us

The statement above supports the theory that it is not the land swaps that would create peace, nor is it the recognition of a Palestinian state. True peace would come only when both sides come to truly accept each other. Unfortunately until there is a change of mindset in the Middle East by all countries about having a Jewish State in the region, or countries like Iran actively promoting hatred against Israel on political as well religious grounds the chances of anything moving in a positive direction are depressingly slim.

Turkey the New Regional Bully


    Many of us have had a chance at school to see a bully fighting. Most of the fights of a bully are pretty short lived, as most people would prefer not to stand up and either avoid them all together or take a token beating and hope that it would be the end of it. However every now and then there is something a little different in the form of a victim that does not play by the rules. Sometimes the victim refuses to give up and it seems that the beatings are ineffective, as they keep getting back up and would not submit or show the expected respect towards the bully. In the latter example, most of the bystanders wonder why the victim is not doing the smart thing and playing by the rules, rather than potentially harming themselves even more. Currently the same playground behaviour could be seen on a country level with Turkey playing the part of the bully and Israel the victim.

    There are plenty of theories behind Turkey’s new foreign policy. One theory claims that the PM Erdogan and his Foreign Minister Davutoglu are strict Muslims and believe that their policy towards Israel and Syria is a result of being good Muslims, reaching out for their fellow Sunnis.  Another theory is that in order for the government to gain domestic support, they use the lowest common denominator, which is sympathy to the Palestinians by invoking anti-Israel feelings and focusing on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Another theory is that Turkey has realized that they are not going to be part of the exclusive EU club and have turned their attention to regional dominance.

    As often in politics the answer is not simple and not one dimensional as some of the mainstream media often like to portray, in order to make their message easy to understand. In fact, reality lays somewhere between all the theories.

    When the crisis between Turkey and Israel increased in the beginning of 2011, some Israeli Media speculated that this is merely the AKP’s election strategy to collect votes and the attitude towards Israel would gradually improve following the imminent victory (AKP needed not just to win the election, rather gather a great enough majority to push some constitutional changes). Needless to say, this turned out to be a wrong assumption, as the relationship is deteriorating at its fastest pace following the AKP’s victory.

    The second theory regarding the EU turning away from Turkey is not an invalid point, as it is factually true. However with the Euro suffering a financial crisis, Turkey could be only grateful for not getting into this sick bed previously, where their investment would go towards stabilizing the PIGS countries’ economies (especially hated Greece) as well as other countries bound to go into crisis. So in reality, not entering the EU could be spun to the public as a victory of good economics and clever forecasting and the advantage of seeing the EU when it is at a low point, could be leveraged to join under even better conditions.

    The third theory implies that Turkey is trying to become a regional leader. Once again the theory consist of true facts, however the actions in the political arena are not fully supportive of the theory. It is true that Israel bashing is an easy target to gain acceptance in the Middle East and because of Muslim doctrine, any country with a Muslim community would always find followers that disagree with the concept of a Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East. However any country wishing to truly become a regional leader, must maintain a relationship with the West and currently this relationship goes through Israel as well as the USA. Iran is a perfect example of a country with a powerful army, influence in many Middle East countries, but that has been blacklisted by the West and therefore finding it difficult to turn its influence to official state relations and become a policy maker in the region.

    So what is behind Turkey’s changes of policy?

    Since winning the elections the AKP has had a disastrous result to their foreign policy. The leading guide for the Turkish policy has been making friends with all their regional neighbours. Turkey declared that it seeks to have all the countries onside, avoiding any conflict. However, reality could not be further from this aspiration. Despite a very lenient attitude towards Iran regarding the nuclear program in early 2010, which enraged the USA as well as Saudi Arabia and UAE, Turkey and Iran are not seeing eye to eye over the response to the crisis in Syria and Iran as a result has given Turkey the cold shoulder.

    Syria, which was the cause of the conflict between Iran and Turkey has also changed its tune very quickly about Turkey. Despite the new Turkish closeness, after snubbing Israel, it completely ignored Turkey’s requests to reform and cease the violence and even made things worse by the impact of the refugees on Turkey. In the last week, Turkey’s foreign minister referred to Asad publicly as a liar, who cannot be trusted. This left Turkey without a military ally and made it realize that it did not have as much as influence as it may have thought.

    However, Iran and Syria were not the only disasters to Turkey’s policy, the long running dispute with Greece over North Cypress has not improved, rather reignited over Greece’s oil exploration in waters, which Turkey does not recognize as Greek. The situation has become so volatile that Turkey has threatened to send war ships over to territorial waters, once Cypress starts searching for natural resources. 

    During Erodgan’s reign the claim of genocide to the Armenian people by the Ottoman empire during WW1 has been brought up again, just adding more to the government headache and causing potential tension for the roughly 50, 000 Armenian citizens in Turkey.

    Domestically Turkey has not done too well either, while Erdogan tried to reach out to the Kurds in the country, or at least declared reaching out as his policy, it was still illegal for some Kurdish candidates to run for office, which amongst other reasons caused the conflict to intensify manifesting itself by repeated attacks by the Kurds militant groups on the Turkish army and resulting in Turkey bombing the Kurdish posts in Turkey as well as North Iraq and there doesn’t seem to be an end to this uprising.

    Besides quarrelling with nearly all of its neighbours, Turkey has just recently threatened to freeze its relationship with the EU, if it goes ahead to appoint Cypress as the temporary president of the EU. There is still not much detail on the way in which the relationship would be frozen, however, losing more European tourists as well as trade suffering would not be well received in Turkey.

    In Turkey, the opposition has also increased the pressure, claiming that the AKP’s foreign policy is a complete disaster and the country is slowly becoming isolated despite its goal to get along with everyone. The current government knows that in order to stay in the ring until things get better, it needs to fight back and restore its dominance. The one powerful punch it could give, in order to restore its dignity amongst the Arab world and its home voters was to demand an apology from Israel and show that it still calls the shots in the Middle East. However, despite all chances and everything Israel has to lose, it refused to capitulate. And if that wasn’t enough, the Palmer report has mainly sided with Israel claiming their blockade of Gaza is legal and that they have the right to intercept any ship trying to break it.

    Since Israel’s refusal Turkey has lost complete control, which is the part where the bully understands that the game has changed and he does not have the upper hand. Turkey has since kicked out the Israeli ambassador, declared the UN report (commissioned by the Secretary General) as wrong and irrelevant. It added that the next flotilla would be escorted by Turkish warships, which is just short of declaring war on a NATO partner country. After little impact, Turkey also declared that it intends to cut government and military trade with Israel, as well as support the Palestinians cause in the UN, take Israel to the Human Rights Court in the Hague over its conduct during the flotilla and plan an official visit to Gaza.

    Sadly for the Turkish government, so far its threats have failed to make a real impact on Israel and get the desired result, which would be a change of the Israeli government to a more leftist one. Israel has been embroiled in its own “Spring”, which saw continuous demonstration and 400,000 people go out to the street to demand economic reform. As a result, the Israeli media has dedicated most of its coverage to the protests and the protesters themselves vowed not to let external influences quiet their voice, some going as far as blaming Netanyahu as playing up the crisis with Turkey to create a distraction.

    The question that remains is how far the Turkish government would go to reach its goal of making Israel submit and whether it would succeed in doing so before it gets labelled as unreasonable and dangerous.

The Palmer Report


    The Palmer report is finally out after weeks of delay allowing the Israelis to reach an agreement with the Turks, who insisted that Israel apologizes for the killing of their civilians in the Flotilla in 2010 and compensates the families financially.

    Unlike previous reports such as the Goldstone report, the Palmer report was conducted under the sponsorship of the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, rather than the Human Rights Council, which has been accused by Israel, the US and even Goldstone himself amongst others of bias against Israel. This very important fact enabled Israel to cooperate fully rather than to confiscate it under the claim that it has no mandate.

    The report itself is a 105 pages document, which bases its findings on the two independent investigations done by Turkey and Israel, as well as examining independent evidence. As expected the two investigations varied significantly on some fundamental points. For example the Turkish government claims that the blockade on Gaza is illegal, because it does not follow the naval agreement protocol as well as, the fact that Gaza does not qualify as an international conflict. The Israelis on the other hand, claim that it is an international conflict between two governments and that it has followed the correct protocol in enforcing the blockade.

    Other points of dispute are: the validity of Israel to board the ships in order to stop them, whether this was a humanitarian mission or publicity stunt as well as whether the ships changed their course to Egypt after the Israeli navy warnings. Both reports included their interpretation of the events and one could see that both reports were written with an agenda.

    Israel in general should be quite pleased with the report, as it clearly determines that the blockade over Gaza is a defence measure and therefore legal. The report also examines the timelines and events and determines that there is no reason to believe that the naval blockade is tied together with the land restriction of transferring goods and furthermore, does not appear to be a collective punishment measure, as it corresponds with security events, rather than political moves. Basing their facts on communication prior to the boats leaving and throughout the journey, the report determines that there is no reason to believe that publicity was not a main goal of IHH and accordingly that the boats did or would change their destination to Egypt.

    Turkey on the other hand did not come off the report lightly. The report did recognize that the government advised the IHH people not to risk themselves by travelling to Gaza and trying to break the blockade, however the report found that they did not do enough to stop them.

    While it was determined that Israel had the right to defend the blockade, Israel was criticized harshly for the planning of the operation. One of the main points was Israel’s failure to reassess the situation after the military’s speed boats sailing alongside the Mavi Marmara were attacked by projectiles. The panel examining the facts believed that more could have been done to stop the ship from continuing prior to boarding it with soldiers. The other main criticism was that once the soldiers were on board there was excess violence used., since some of the dead were injured from shots from close range as well as in their back.

    The conclusion of the report is that this encounter should have never happened in the first place. It blamed the IHH of being reckless in trying to break the blockade as well as for organized violence and intentions of publicity rather than practicality of supplying aid into Gaza. For example the report argued that the Mavi Marmara was too big for the Gaza port, which meant that had it reached Gaza, the goods would have had to be offloaded onto smaller boats out at sea, this would be much less practical than delivering the goods by land via Egypt. Another conclusion was that Israel did use excess force and should therefore express regret and pay financial compensation to the families of the dead.

    While this report is probably the least damning report about Israel to come out of the UN in the last 30 years, there is still a sense amongst Israelis that it was watered down, in order not to vilify Turkey as well as leave an opening for a Turkish-Israeli reconciliation. For example the report does not recognize that during battle there is always room for errors and uncertainty, which does not fall under anyone’s responsibility, nor did they consider that some of the dead were shot in the back or from close range as a result of the intense combat. It is not unreasonable to believe that one soldier seeing a fellow soldier attacked and in danger next to him, would shoot the attackers to prevent harm to the soldier, this shot is more likely to be to the back rather than the front and it is not any less valid or necessary if it is taken from close range.

    However despite the watering down that may or may have not been applied, the report had not managed to make things better between Turkey and Israel. The Israeli government after long considerations of the impact of a cold relationship with Turkey, decided not to apologize to the Turkish government and not to compensate the families of the dead. Israel did, express regret about the deaths, but was adamant about its right to protect itself and enforce the blockade. Furthermore, the report was only due to come out on the 2nd of September, however, it was leaked to the media a day earlier and as a result Turkey has called a press conference, in which it accused Israel of leaking the report and declared a list of measures it would take against Israel. Some of these measures include downgrading the diplomatic relationship between the countries, stopping the military cooperation, supporting the Palestinian state vote in the UN and aiding Turkish citizens wishing to sue Israel in the international court of law. It must be said that most of these actions, while not official, were already happening in practice since the Flotilla in 2010.

    Interestingly, despite the report being produced by the UN, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu has already said that he does not recognize the report’s conclusions as valid. These statements, while harsh, are probably a comforting point to Israel, since it seems that Turkey is not being reasonable and had Israel apologized as requested, it would have made little difference to the already deteriorating relationship. It will also be interesting to see the choices Turkey makes, as it seems like its position in the Middle East is quickly being compromised with Syria’s regime being toppled, shortly after tightening their relationship, the Kurdish community carrying out more daring operations and as a result reprisals from the Turkish army killing hundreds drawing some criticism and Iran suffering economic difficulties, as China is slowly moving to the US’s side and reducing its trade with it.

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