Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
Blogs
 

entries tagged with: Iran

 

The year in which everything changes?

Josh LipowskyEditorial
Published: 13 September 2010
 
 

Israeli Consul Gil Lainer makes his country’s case at JCRC meeting

Optimism, underlined by caution, was the message Monday night as Gil Lainer, consul for public diplomacy at the Israeli Consulate in New York, spoke of the prospects for peace in the Mideast and the challenges facing the Israelis and Palestinians in the quest for an accord.

Lainer, a career diplomat who has held postings in Africa and the United States, addressed a rapt meeting of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey at the federation’s Paramus headquarters.

Going beyond headlines and sound bites, Lainer told of behind-the-scenes work done by Israelis to help developing countries. He cited the rapid response of medical teams to the recent earthquake devastation in Haiti, where Israel established a field hospital even before U.S. aid arrived.

He noted that Israel sent a 747 loaded with supplies even before it was known that the plane could land in Haiti.

image
Gil Lainer, Israel’s consul for public diplomacy in New York, sees signs of hope on Mideast peace. Charles Zusman

Lainer quoted from Monday’s speech by Israeli President Shimon Peres at the U.N. Millenium Development Goals Summit, where Peres noted the progress Israel has made in development, particularly in food production.

Five decades ago an Israeli farmer produced food for 15 people, but today produces enough for 120, Peres said. Peres’s message was that education and diligence lead to growth and peace, and this can work for countries around the world.

“We have so much to offer the world in so many areas,” Lainer said. Israel has been helping those in developing countries, notably Africa, for more than 50 years, he noted. Its experts have been training others, both as visitors to Israel and in their own countries, in fields such as medicine, education, agriculture, and fishery.

“We have been dealing with tikkun olam as a country for decades,” he said. But, he said, while not out to score points, Israel does not get the credit for its good works.

“We don’t ask anything in return,” he said. “We do what we do because it’s our role to give to the world, as Jews, as Israelis.”

Turning to the Palestinian issue, he cited statistics showing 9 percent GDP growth for the first half of 2010 in the west bank, where trade is blossoming and infrastructure projects are steaming ahead. While budget problems remain in the west bank, the Arab countries have not done their fair share to help out, he said.

The “numbers are amazing,” Lainer said, noting the statistics come from international, not Israeli, sources. He said they show increasing trade with Israel for the last four years, growth in tourism, and less unemployment.

“On the ground you can see the improvement, but we don’t get the international recognition I think we should get for that,” he said.

While Gaza is more problematic, being under the control of Hamas, the region still has had a 16 percent GDP growth for the period.

Concerning Gaza, he said the policy remains one of containment, but there is a much freer flow of goods into the area than before. While in the past there was a list of only what could go through, now the much shorter list just says what can’t, notably weapons.

Even cars are now legally imported, where before they were smuggled in, he said. This is hurting Hamas, which used to profit from the illegal trade, Lainer said.

On the peace talks, “there are serious people on both sides,” but serious compromises must be made. “The process has started again, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

He pointed to reports that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, had dined at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu’s house. “When you read more about what they ate than what they talked about, that’s a good sign,” he said.

He acknowledged that easing travel has brought more terror attacks, but also said that the security barrier is working and better training and enforcement by Palestinian police are having their effect.

Key, he said, is the realization by the Palestinians that peace is the only viable way forward. Palestinian Authority President Abbas is a hard-liner, but he is making a genuine effort toward peace, Lainer said.

On the negative side, the fate of Gilad Shalit, the Israel soldier captured by Hamas in 2006, is still unknown, and rocket attacks from Gaza have not stopped. “I haven’t seen any international condemnation of this,” he said.

Iran remains a threat, not only to Israel, but to the region and the world, he said. “We should not take our eyes off the ball,” he said. “A nuclear Iran is a threat to everyone.”

Israel would like to see stronger sanctions against Iran and condemnation from the world community, he said. Iran is keeping the pressure on Israel through its proxies in Syria and Lebanon, he said. “It’s a challenge to break that link,” he said.

In response to a question, Lainer critcized Russia’s decision to sell cruise missiles to Syria, particularly since Russia has been playing a role in the Mideast peace process. “This is a serious development we’re very unhappy about,” he said.

Concerning Shalit, Lainer said his fate remains a painful issue for Israel. He hoped further negotiations and progress on peace in general would lead to a resolution.

Asked about the U.S. sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, Lainer said Arab fears in the Mideast were focused on Iran, not Israel.

Lainer concluded his talk, which stretched for more than an hour, with a plea for help on the public relations front.

“We rely on you to get the word out” on the positive role Israel plays in the world, he said.

That message was seconded by Rabbi Neal Borovitz, JCRC chairman. “Our job is to get the message out,” he said. “Fighting for the hearts and minds of the public is our responsibility.”

 
 

Israel, Iran, court, entitlements — what would a GOP Congress mean?

image

The likely prospect of Republican control of at least one chamber of Congress has triggered broad speculation about the remainder of President Obama’s time in the White House, Republican bids for the presidency in 2012 — and the very course of the nation, if not the West.

The issues that preoccupy Jewish voters and groups have a narrower cast. Nevertheless, the likelihood of a GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, along with the more remote possibility of a Republican Senate, could mean sharp turns in foreign policy and domestic spending. Here’s a glance.

Israel

The biggest Israel headlines of Barack Obama’s presidency have had to do with the renewed direct talks with the Palestinians and with the Obama-Netanyahu administrations’ tensions that preceded them.

Such tensions have informed tight congressional races, where an array of Republican candidates have pledged to stand closer by Israel and painted their opponents as pawns of a president who is cool, if not outright hostile, to Israel.

In reality, the peace talks are not likely to be affected by a switch of congressional leadership. Obama’s opposition to Israel’s settlement policy has been expressed through rhetoric and not any action. In fact, Obama’s main substantive shift has been to increase funding for Israel’s defense and enhance defense cooperation as an incentive to make concessions to the Palestinians — intensifications of the relationship a Republican Congress would likely embrace.

If there is a change, it might have more to do with politics than policy. An adversarial Congress may force the White House to tamp down public criticism of Israel ahead of 2012 presidential elections.

The single substantive policy a GOP House might influence is the massive increase in funding for the Palestinian Authority launched in the last years of the George W. Bush administration, from occasional spurts of $20 million in the early part of the decade to today’s $500 million annual expenditure, including half in direct funding.

U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the GOP whip, has suggested that continued funding could be contingent on PA recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. (See related story.)

Theoretically, putting a stop on such funding could threaten U.S.-backed programs, especially training for Palestinian security services.

In fact, such foreign policy funding confrontations in the past have rarely led to defunding. Instead the executive branch — under Democratic and Republican presidents — has dipped into approved funds to keep programs going while it works out new arrangements with Congress.

Congress also is less likely to defund programs favored by Israel. The Israeli defense establishment, while not as gung-ho as the Obama administration in praising PA nation-building, nonetheless appreciates the increase in stability in recent years brought about in part by U.S.-led financial backing for the moderate west bank government of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Still, even the congressional threat of a U.S. cutoff of funds can inhibit growth and investment.

The more substantive possibility for change on Israel is in Cantor’s pledge to remove defense funding for the nation from the overall foreign aid package and place it elsewhere — perhaps in the defense budget.

In the short run, all this means is that Israel will continue to receive $3 billion in aid annually while the Republicans attempt to gut backing for nations they do not consider reliable allies.

Pro-Israel officials, speaking on background, have said they would work hard to beat back such a proposal because of possible long-term consequences. They see aid for Israel as inextricably bound with the broader interest of countering isolationism.

These officials are concerned, too, that elevating Israel above other nations might be counterproductive in an American electorate still made up of diverse ethnic groups. They also believe that such a designation would make Israel more beholden to U.S. policy and erode its independence.

Iran

Republicans have sharply criticized Obama’s outreach to Iran and said he was too slow to apply sanctions.

Over the summer, however, Obama dialed back the outreach to the Islamic Republic and signed a sanctions bill. His Treasury Department already has intensified sanctions, particularly against Iran’s financial sector. U.S. and Israeli officials say Iran is feeling the bite.

The principal U.S.-Israel difference remains timing, or what to do when: When does Iran get the bomb — and what happens then?

Cantor, in his interview with JTA, emphasized that Obama must make it clear that a military option is on the table.

Congress, however, cannot declare war by itself, and while a flurry of resolutions and amendments pressing for greater confrontation with Iran may be in the offing, they will not affect policy — except perhaps to sharpen Obama’s rhetoric ahead of 2012.

Should Obama, however, return to a posture of engagement — this depends on the less than likely prospect of the Iranian theocracy consistently embracing diplomacy — a GOP-led Congress could inhibit the process through adversarial hearings.

Social issues: abortion,
church and state

The two Supreme Court justices more likely than not to uphold liberal social outlooks who were itching for a Democrat in the White House so they could retire — David Souter and John Paul Stevens — have done so. Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan replaced them following smooth confirmation processes.

No other such resignations are imminent. However, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who also tilts liberal in her decisions, is 77 and has battled cancer; Antonin Scalia, a reliable conservative, is 74; and so is Anthony Kennedy, the court’s swing vote who tilts right more often than not.

In case one of them retires, don’t expect the smooth transitions that characterized Obama’s first two appointments. Republicans may not control the Senate, but they will likely have a stronger filibuster in January.

Republicans now control 41 seats — one more than is needed to keep a nomination from advancing to a full vote. After Nov. 2, more among their numbers are likely to be diehard conservatives and less likely to cross the floor to break a filibuster.

They will want Obama to tailor a judge more to conservative likings under those circumstances, especially if he is replacing Scalia or Kennedy.

Earmarks

The House’s GOP caucus imposed a yearlong moratorium on its own earmarks last March. An extension is likely, Cantor said, and a GOP majority will be able to enforce a moratorium on Democrats.

That prospect concerns federations and Jewish groups that care for the elderly and infirm. Earmarks, less lovingly known as “pork,” are the funds lawmakers attach to bills in order to help their districts. Such funds have helped spur forward the Jewish Federations of North America crown project, naturally occurring retirement homes, among other programs for the elderly.

Medicare, Medicaid, and health care

No matter who wins next week, both parties have pledged cuts to entitlements like Medicare, the program that funds medical assistance for the elderly, and Medicaid, which provides medical care for the poor. Jewish groups draw on both programs to help fund assistance for the elderly and provide the Jewish poor with kosher meals.

Targeting entitlements misses the point, say Jewish professionals whose expertise is elderly care. They say the real savings come from addressing burgeoning health care costs overall and not just entitlements.

“Let’s go after health-care spending and health-care costs and see how we can make the system more effective,” said Rachel Goldberg, the director of aging policy at B’nai B’rith International, the largest Jewish sponsor of senior housing in the United States.

The Republican leader in the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), has said he will lead an effort to repeal the Obama health-care reforms passed this year by the Democratic Congress. It’s not clear that Boehner has broad party support, and he likely would not be able to override Obama’s veto of such a bill.

JTA

 
 

Berman, Ros-Lehtinen press Obama on sanctions enforcement

_JStandardWorld
Published: 03 December 2010

WASHINGTON – The top Republican and Democrat House foreign policy members called on the Obama administration to more closely scrutinize nations that do not comply with Iran sanctions.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the outgoing chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, convened a hearing Wednesday on imposing tougher sanctions on Iran.

“There seems to be no doubt that Chinese companies are pursuing energy investments and selling Iran refined petroleum,” said Berman, who initiated the expanded sanctions act passed earlier this year. “The Chinese acknowledge it. I’d like to know why we haven’t sanctioned any of the Chinese companies engaged in clearly sanctionable actions. I’m concerned that we will not be able to sustain a robust sanctions regime if we don’t impose sanctions in an even-handed manner.”

President Obama had sought and received latitude in the bill to waive sanctions against countries he deemed cooperative in otherwise isolating Iran until it suspends its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Also addressing the hearing, where top administration sanctions officials were set to testify, was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who is slated to replace Berman as committee chairwoman in the new Congress.

In addition to China, Ros-Lehtinen said Armenia and Turkey had expanded economic ties with Iran, and that Russia had offered defense assistance to Syria, an Iran ally.

“We must ensure that the tools we have are used to their maximum effectiveness, and look for new means of compelling Iran to cease activities that threaten our security, our interests and our allies,” she said.

Both Ros-Lehtinen and Berman praised countries that had recently added Iran sanctions, including Japan, South Korea and a number of Western nations.

Iran, meanwhile, has agreed to send a representative to talks next week in Geneva with the six major powers that shape the international community’s policies on the Islamic Republic: the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

WikiLeaks reveals secrets — and cluelessness

WASHINGTON – A careful reading of the WikiLeaks trove of State Department cables — which is laying bare some 250,000 secret dispatches detailing private conversations, assessments, and dealmaking of U.S. diplomats — reveals a notable if perhaps surprising pattern: how often they get things wrong.

Again and again the cables show diplomats, lawmakers, and heads of state predicting outcomes that never come to pass.

A year ago, top Israeli defense officials, in a meeting with their U.S. counterparts, set 2010 as the absolute deadline to squeeze Iran on its nuclear program. Now Israeli officials say the date is 2012.

In a 2005 assessment, the same Israeli cadre told U.S. interlocutors that the point of no return would be Iran’s ability to enrich uranium without assistance. Iran has had that capacity for years.

In January 2008, Egypt’s intelligence chief said Hamas was isolated and would not stand in the way of a peace agreement. Hamas’ continuing control of Gaza, even following the war that broke out 11 months after the Egyptian assessment, still undercuts Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In 2007, U.S. diplomats called Tzipi Livni an up-and-comer. Though now the leader of the Israeli opposition as head of the Kadima Party, Livni twice failed in bids to become Israel’s prime minister.

The same State Department cable said the Israeli military and government don’t get along — “never the twain shall meet!” But they do get along, mostly, and meet often; the lack of cooperation in 2007 was the result of the short-lived term of Amir Peretz as Israeli defense minister.

The disparities between predictions and reality reflect the on-the-fly nature of the discussions detailed in the newly revealed cables.

Ed Abington, a former U.S. consul in Jerusalem who has consulted for the Palestinian Authority, said the authors of such cables work under pressure to come up with “added value” in analysis and fill in the vacuum with chatter that might not have any basis in reality.

“You’re looking for what you can add that makes it relevant to policymakers in Washington and elsewhere — analysis, insight,” Abington told JTA. “A lot of the reporting, in hindsight, is irrelevant.”

David Makovsky, a senior analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said facts on the ground also change rapidly — a factor that helps explain how dire Israeli predictions about Iran’s imminent weapons program have dissipated, at least for now.

Part of that may be attributable to efforts by the West to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. Makovsky cited the recent success of the Stuxnet computer worm, which apparently disrupted Iranian centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium to bomb-making capacity.

Much of the material in the leaked cables offers frank U.S. assessments of everything from the temperament of foreign leaders to the shipment of arms between foes of the United States.

In late 2009, U.S. officials told their Russian counterparts that they believed North Korea had shipped missiles to Iran capable of hitting capitals in western Europe. The Russians were skeptical, but agreed that there was evidence of increased cooperation between the two rogue nations and it posed new dangers.

The cables also track increasing concern among the United States, Israel, and Western nations that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading Turkey along a path to Islamism — and beyond the point of no return of accommodation with the West.

In Cairo, U.S. diplomats told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that in meetings with Egyptian leaders, she should defer to Egyptian self-regard as the indispensable Arab state while acknowledging that the perception is long past its due date.

Tracking the cables that straddle the Bush and Obama administrations also demonstrates that on some matters policies have changed little, if at all.

Stuart Levey, the treasury undersecretary charged with enforcing Iran sanctions, reassured Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan in December 2008 that President Obama was as determined as George W. Bush to isolate Iran through sanctions. Within a few weeks, Obama would confirm the point by reappointing Levey to the job, ensuring consistency.

The leaks also show Iranian and Syrian duplicity. A 2008 memo, apparently from an Iranian source, details how Iran used the cover of the Iranian Red Crescent to smuggle officers into Lebanon in 2006 to assist in Hezbollah’s war against Israel. Syria apparently provided sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah within weeks of pledging to U.S. officials that it would not do so.

Some of those named in the leaks worried that their publication could inhibit frank dialogue.

U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) was outraged that her private exchange with Netanyahu on Iran and Palestinian issues in a 2009 meeting became public knowledge.

“If Congress has no ability to have candid conversations with foreign leaders, we won’t have some of the critical information we need to make the judgments we need to make about countries like Iran,” she told The Daily Beast.

In condemning the leaks, Clinton said Monday that they represent policymaking only in its most nascent stages. Once the heavy hitters become involved, the policy is changed. So the content of the leaked cables is not of vital importance, she argued.

“I want to make clear that our official foreign policy is not set through these messages but here in Washington,” Clinton said. “Our policy is a matter of public record, as reflected in our statements and our actions around the world.”

But the cables reveal policy discussions in blunter terms and show the inner workings of intergovernmental relationships that the parties would rather have kept private.

Saudi Arabia, for example, is shown in the cables to be beating the war drum for a U.S. attack against Iran — a stance quite different from its public posture.

In a 2008 meeting, the Saudi ambassador to United States reminds U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, about the multiple times Saudi King Abdullah called on the United States to “cut off the head of the snake” — attack Iran to stop its nuclear program.

But the message is not consistent. Other cables describe meetings in the Persian Gulf with Arab officials, including Saudis, who counsel against a strike, saying that the backlash would be incalculable.

The cables least prone to such disparity may be those that describe meetings with Israeli officials. Successive Israeli prime ministers and defense ministers all say the same things — and in the same ways that they do in briefings with reporters.

Meeting this week with Israeli reporters after WikiLeaks began publishing the cables, Netanyahu said the Israeli government takes pains to make sure the most sensitive discussions are kept private.

“It influences our work, what we do in meetings, who we bring into meetings, what we say in them, and when we narrow the meeting to two people,” he was quoted as saying by the Jerusalem Post.

The most important exchanges between the U.S. and Israeli governments are not detailed in the cables because top U.S. and Israeli political leaders speak directly to each other.

The cables leaked by WikiLeaks, about 1 percent of which have been published so far, have low secrecy classifications and were written by relatively low-level diplomats. They were stored in a computer system that more than 2 million people had clearance to access.

Newspapers reported this week that a U.S. soldier, Bradley Manning, is allegedly behind the leaks to WikiLeaks. Manning, a private, is facing trial in another leaks case.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Putting WikiLeaks to work in Iran

Josh LipowskyEditorial
Published: 03 December 2010
(tags): iran, gaza, osirak, cast lead
 
 

Obama pitches Jewish groups on START treaty ratification

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 10 December 2010

WASHINGTON – The campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear program just acquired a new deadline: the end of the 111th Congress.

The Obama administration has made a priority of ratifying the START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia before the Senate’s lame-duck session finishes at year’s end. A number of Republicans, citing what they say are weaknesses in the treaty, are balking.

The treaty, which was approved in September by the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, needs 67 senators for ratification.

News Analysis

President Obama’s overarching consideration in negotiating the treaty has been to keep two of his election promises: to reduce nuclear arms and to “reset” what had been a troubled relationship with Russia.

Another key component of the White House rationale in advancing START is further isolating Iran as a means of getting the Islamic Republic to end its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Vice President Joe Biden hosted a chat last Friday with journalists who reach constituencies that the White House is eager to win over. At the session, to which JTA was invited, top national security officials said that ratifying START was vital in keeping Russia on board on Iran.

“Once we finished in Geneva, signed the treaty in April, within a very short time we were working with the Russians on intensive sanctions against Iran in the U.N. Security Council,” said Rose Gottemoeller, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, who led negotiations with Russia.

Mike McFaul, the special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia, said that Russia not only signed on to the sanctions — the toughest yet passed by the U.N. Security Council — but also suspended the sale of the S-300 anti-missile system to Iran.

“That especially hurts Russia’s economic and geopolitical interests,” he said of the sanctions and the suspension of the S-300 sale.

“Let’s just be blunt about it because [Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev has been blunt about it,” McFaul said. “He said unlike the START treaty, which he mentioned while we were in Prague was a win-win for the United States and Russia, this sanctions resolutions is asymmetric,” but that the relationship with the United States in the long run is going to be more valuable to Russia than that relationship with Iran.

The White House and top Democratic senators have reached out to Jewish groups to support ratification. In a letter leaked to Politico, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) — both Jewish and invested with credibility on Israel and defense issues — appealed to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to openly support START.

“As a leading voice in favor of crippling sanctions on the Iranian regime, AIPAC cannot afford to stand on the sidelines as the Senate debates the New START treaty,” said the letter addressed to AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr.

The blunt appeal outraged some conservatives, who argued that it was untoward to pressure the Jewish community on a matter not directly related to Israel.

“Your letter — an effort to pressure an organization to lobby on a matter far outside its expertise and area of concern — is a disgrace,” the Emergency Committee on Israel wrote in a letter to Schumer and Levin. “We’ve rarely seen senators stoop to this kind of public bullying.”

In fact, pro-Israel leaders said, such give-and-take is par for the course in Washington and characterized the Bush administration effort in 2002 and 2003 to garner Jewish support for the Iraq War.

“Every administration from time to time with foreign policy has an interest” it wants the Jewish community to support, said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “It happens from time to time. In this case they called, we said we’d take a look. We took a look, we agreed.”

While Israel has been silent on START because it does not directly concern the country, Israeli leaders in recent months have expressed relief at the suspension of the S-300 deal. They feared that delivery would substantially inhibit the prospects of any strike aimed at disabling an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Medvedev’s announcement helped push back Israeli predictions of an imminent Iranian nuclear capability.

While AIPAC remained silent, Patrick Clawson, an Iran analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who is close to the organization, said failure to ratify START posed dangers.

“Lack of ratification of START may well lead to Russian retaliation on a variety of issues,” Clawson told JTA.

Ultimately, much of the community was on board for START: In addition to the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center, J Street, and the National Jewish Democratic Council endorsed ratification, and B’nai B’rith International said it could prove useful in isolating Iran.

The sole unequivocal voice in opposition was the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs.

“We seriously question whether Russia is serious about stopping Iran, with or without START,” JINSA said in an open letter.

JTA Wire Service

 
 

With Stuxnet delaying Iran’s bomb, is the urgency gone?

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 21 January 2011

WASHINGTON – In the wake of revelations that a computer virus may have set back Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Western groups and analysts that track the Islamic Republic are saying, “More of the same, please.”

The benefits of a nonviolent program that inhibits Iranian hegemony by keeping the country’s nuclear weapons program at bay are obvious: Better to stop Iran with cyber warfare — in this case, the Stuxnet computer virus, which reportedly caused Iran’s nuclear centrifuges to spin out of control — than actual warfare.

For those who favor engagement, the cyber attack buys more time to coax the regime in Tehran into compliance. For those who favor the stick, it allows more time to exert pressure on Iran through sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

News Analysis

Almost coincident with last weekend’s revelations — published in Sunday’s New York Times in a piece that detailed the extent of the damage caused by the virus — Meir Dagan, the outgoing head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, said that Iran likely would not have a bomb before 2015. Prior to that, Israeli assessments had predicted a weapon as early as this year.

The Stuxnet revelations, if anything, reinforce the need for a tough stance, said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. They underscore how committed Iran is to producing a bomb, he told JTA.

“It’s a reason to push down on the pedal,” said Berman, who crafted the most recent Iran sanctions law in the Congress. “Iran is still enriching uranium. It is absolutely critical we bear down with a comprehensive strategy of which sanctions is a critical part.”

Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the delay was welcome but that the prospect of new complacency in the wake of its announcement makes it more urgent than ever to maintain a posture that includes the threat of a military strike on Iran.

“No individual measure is a silver bullet,” he said. Stuxnet “set back the program but hasn’t stopped it. If you’re going to target a hard-line regime, you’ve got to have a military option on the table.”

Such a concern was behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s furious backpedaling in the wake of Dagan’s pronouncement about 2015. The Israeli leader dismissed the prediction as one of several “intelligence estimates.” Dagan, reportedly under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office, recast the deadline this week as 2014 and noted carefully that Iran is capable of surprises.

Champions of engagement also welcomed the revelations of the damage Stuxnet apparently caused to Iran’s nuclear program, seeing it as an opportunity.

“The cyber worm may have set back Iran’s nuclear program, but it is unlikely to alter its nuclear ambitions,” said Ori Nir, the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now. “In order to introduce real change, the U.S. and its international allies must change the manner in which they deal with Iran and start to comprehensively engage with Tehran.”

Hadar Susskind, the vice president for policy at J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby that advocates for U.S. pressure on Israel in talks with the Palestinians, said the news of the virus demonstrated that there are creative ways of working around military brinksmanship when it comes to Iran.

“Any nonviolent method is good,” Susskind said. “It shows we can create more time using a range of tools.”

No nation or entity has acknowledged being behind the virus, which seemed to be designed to assume control of the nervous system at Iran’s nuclear facilities and to spin the centrifuges out of control, damaging about a fifth of them. The Times, citing anonymous sources, suggested that it was a U.S.-led venture with Israel’s cooperation. Germany and Britain also may have been involved, though perhaps unwittingly.

Mark Fitzpatrick, the director of the nonproliferation and disarmament program at the London-based International Institute of International Studies, said it was critical not to regard the virus as a “deus ex machina” that would allow the world to shunt aside considerations of Iran’s ambitions.

“Any solution to the Iranian crisis will require the use of a range of tools, including tougher sanctions, tighter export controls, a containment and deterrence posture, and a readiness to talk,” he said. “Stuxnet obviously provides some breathing space by extending the timeline for Iran to get a bomb. It would be nice if it also gave Iranians a sense of futility that their enrichment efforts are not going to give them a bomb anytime soon.”

That’s not likely to happen, according to Geneive Abdo, the director of the Washington-based National Security Network’s Inside Iran project. Iran’s leadership is susceptible to popular Iranian support for its nuclear program.

Because of public opinion, she said, “They’re very careful that they’re not compromising on this issue.”

If anything, Abdo said, the revelations will prod the regime to become more recalcitrant when it comes to major compromises, like shutting down enrichment entirely. Iran has tended to harden its line when it is weak.

Instead, she said, Western powers might press for compromise on smaller issues like a broader regime of U.N. inspections. Western powers are scheduled to meet this weekend in Istanbul with Iran to discuss its nuclear program.

“The West should use this breathing space to try and convince Iran to agree to more verification,” Abdo said. Citing her sources inside Iran, she said, “The Iranians are more fearful that more damage is on the way, so that’s an incentive to compromise to some degree.”

Indeed, Iran last week invited representatives of major powers to tour its enrichment plant in Natanz to see that Iran is limiting itself to civilian-level nuclear power. The major powers — including the United States, Russia, the European Union, and China — declined, saying that the only inspections they would sanction would be by qualified inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog.

Dagan’s prediction and the Stuxnet leaks may have been timed precisely to pressure Iran to expand such inspections ahead of this weekend’s talks, said Trita Parsi, the director of the National Iranian American Council and the author of a number of books on Iran-Israel relations.

“The Obama administration has changed the metrics,” Parsi said.

“We’re not talking about the LEU count,” he said, referring to Iran’s burgeoning supply of low-enriched uranium, which had worried the West. “We’re talking about the centrifuges that have been destroyed. Shifting the conversation to Stuxnet puts you in a stronger position.”

Domestically, Parsi said, the revelations also may pay off as the White House fends off demands from Congress that it ratchet up pressure on Iran, including through the military option.

Berman’s outlook suggested that was not likely.

“Let me know when Iran certifiably suspends enrichment and allows inspections, throughout all its territory, and then we can have a conversation about sanctions,” he said. “Having that military option on the table is an important part of achieving that goal and affecting their calculations.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Which Mideast autocracy will be next?

image
Algerian protesters face off against riot police in the capital city of Algiers on Monday. magharebia/Creative Commons

With popular uprisings having toppled two Arab dictators in the space of just a few weeks and unrest reverberating across the Middle East, are other regimes likely to fall, too?

Nearly everywhere in the region, autocratic leaders seem to be on the defensive. Using carrots or sticks, and sometimes both, they’re struggling to curb growing protest movements.

In Jordan two weeks ago, amid spreading protests, King Abdullah II dismissed his prime minister and cabinet, promising reforms. In the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, police countered protesters’ “Day of Rage” this week with rubber bullets and tear gas, while the king tried to defuse opposition by promising a $2,650 payment of “appreciation” to every Bahraini family. In Kuwait, too, the ruling emir announced cash grants to every citizen.

In Iran this week, government forces used violence to block demonstrators from massing in main squares, despite Tehran’s rhetorical support for the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. In Yemen and Algeria, protesters and police battled in the streets. In the west bank, the Palestinian Authority announced that it would hold long-overdue parliamentary and presidential elections by September, and this week the PA prime minister dismissed his cabinet.

Long a mostly impotent force in Arab politics, the Arab street suddenly has discovered its power, and it’s ushering in change from Tunis to Amman — not to mention fraying nerves in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

“Activists in other countries are trying to use the example of Egypt and Tunisia to mobilize large numbers of people to the streets,” said David Siddhartha Patel, a political scientist at Cornell University.

Despite the spreading protests, experts cautioned against predicting the collapse of additional regimes. While the Arab street has drawn lessons from Egypt and Tunisia, so have their autocratic rulers.

“Will people demonstrate and protest? Yes,” said Barry Rubin, an Israeli scholar at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center’s program of Global Research in International Affairs. “Will people overthrow governments? I think the answer is no.”

In Israel, the sudden change in Egypt has ignited a sharp debate along partisan lines about lessons to be learned and the efficacy of peacemaking with the Arab world.

“The right wing says you cannot really negotiate agreements with Arabs because the agreements will not be kept because their states are not stable,” said retired Israeli Brig.-Gen Shlomo Brom, an expert on Arab politics at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “The left will say, the lesson is that because of the instability of the Middle East, we should be interested in minimizing friction between us and the Arab world by having ongoing negotiations for peace.”

The calculus for every country is different, and the elements that made for the success of Egypt’s uprising were a uniquely combustible combination that may not transfer elsewhere.

High unemployment, a yawning rich-poor gap, widespread government corruption, and deteriorating quality-of-life metrics made Hosni Mubarak almost universally despised in his country, uniting Islamists and secularists in opposition. Egypt faced a looming succession crisis that undermined the legitimacy of the 82-year-old president, who wanted to hand over power to his son, Gamal.

Once the protests began in earnest, Egypt’s government, which receives $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid, was subject to American pressure on how to confront the demonstrators. Perhaps most significant, the Egyptian army opted to side with the protesters over the regime, declining to use violence against the people and essentially turning what had begun as a popular uprising into a military coup.

That stands in stark contrast to Iran, which put down mass protests a year and a half ago following the disputed re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The key state security forces did the government’s bidding at the time, and with gusto: They beat and shot demonstrators, jailed dissenters, and executed organizers.

This time, the regime is making sure that mass protests never materialize by choking off main arteries leading to central squares, deploying hundreds of riot officers, and banning marches in solidarity with the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

Already pariahs in the West, Tehran’s rulers have little to hold them back from unleashing the full might of their security apparatus to stay in power.

Syria and Iran have another card to play when it comes to staunching opposition.

“Their anti-U.S. and anti-Israel posture lends them the claim that whoever rises against them are agents of the U.S. and Israel,” Dorraj said. “This was not available to Mubarak.”

Jordan, the only Arab country besides Egypt to have a peace treaty with Israel, is seen to be in a more vulnerable position. Its ruler hails from a minority group in a country whose population is mostly Palestinian. In recent weeks, even the native Jordanian tribes in the minority that compose the king’s traditional power base went public with charges of corruption against Abdullah’s wife, Queen Rania. Also, the painful domestic effects of the global economic crisis have increased popular discontent in Jordan.

As protests — a recurring presence in the kingdom — gained steam following the unrest in Egypt, Abdullah moved quickly to announce political reforms, firing his government and installing a new, conservative cabinet designed to placate Jordan’s powerful tribes. The moves, and the king’s relative popularity compared with Mubarak in Egypt, weigh in Abdullah’s favor.

“Here we see a difference between Jordan on the one hand and Iran and Syria on the other: Jordan made some concessions, where the governments of Iran and Syria will not give an inch,” Rubin observed.

“In Jordan, it’s different from Egypt and Tunisia — everybody likes the king,” Faisal Al-Rfouh, a former Jordanian culture minister and now a professor of political science at the University of Jordan, told JTA in an interview from Amman.

Perhaps the Middle Eastern country most vulnerable to revolution is Yemen, which like Mubarak’s Egypt is plagued by high poverty, unemployment, discontent with the regime led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Long ravaged by internal conflicts, Yemen is seen as a key front in the war against al-Qaeda and terrorism. If Saleh goes, it’s not clear that Yemen’s government will remain allied with the West against Islamic extremism.

“There is one lesson we can learn from the Tunisian and Egyptian cases,” Brom said. “That is that nobody is immune and there are strong limitations to our ability to make forecasts.”

JTA Wire Service

 
 

Local leaders get behind state resolution demanding stronger Iran sanctions

Pressure urged against energy companies seeking ‘loopholes’

New Jersey’s State Senate last Wednesday unanimously approved a measure urging the federal government to take stronger action in imposing and enforcing sanctions against Iran.

The resolution urges better enforcement of “current United States sanctions against investment [in Iran] by energy companies” and suggests that the federal government take “additional steps” to put pressure on Iran.

Acknowledging that the resolution, which parallels a bill that passed in the state Assembly last month, is largely symbolic, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-37) told the Standard that she hopes and expects the federal government will take notice.

“When a state legislature makes a statement it hopefully does and should carry weight,” she said.

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, told the Standard that he contacted New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3), one of the bill’s prime sponsors, and urged its passage with help from the Stop Iran Now Task Force, a coalition of mostly New Jersey-based non-profit, academic, and faith organizations dedicated to stopping the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“It’s so easy with all the budget debates and negotiations to have the issue of Iran bypassed and it’s very important that we keep it on the front burner,” Toporek said.

In advocating the bill’s passage, the Stop Iran Now Task Force, of which the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Northern New Jersey is a member, sees itself as a leader and hopes other organizations and state legislatures will follow, according to Joy Kurland, director of the JCRC-NNJ. The resolution stresses compliance on the part of American business, she added.

“The whole idea is to ensure there are no loopholes allowing U.S. companies indirectly to invest in Iran’s energy sector.”

Weinberg echoed Kurland’s concern about U.S. businesses that have found “loopholes” to avoid sanctions.

“We are living in an America today with some real economic problems and a large unemployment rate, and if we’ve got U.S. companies trying to find loopholes around the sanctions it is doubly morally bad,” she said.

While the bill itself does not specifically mention any U.S. businesses, it includes calls for “limiting [Iran’s] access to refined petroleum products” and for “sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran.”

Kurland cited the Iran Business Registry of United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), a non-profit organization of business leaders, attorneys, and academics dedicated to preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons, for information on companies that continue to do business with the Islamic Republic (www.unitedagainstnucleariran.com). According to the site, U.S. companies that continue to do business with Iran include Honeywell, Intel Corporation, and Tyson Foods, to name a few.

Text within the resolution stipulates “the Legislature hereby urges the United States government to implement additional sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and financial divestment against Iran.”

 
 
 
Page 4 of 5 pages « First  <  2 3 4 5 >
 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31