Monday, March 30, 2015

30-Mar-15: Is this the time for a nice quiet sleep? The countdown to a nuclear Iran deal

Laussane, Switzerland: Iran's negotiators this week [Image Source]
The negotiations for an agreement that will curb (in some sense) Iran's nuclear program and free Iran (in some sense) from international sanctions that have squeezed its economy are, by general consensus, in their final 24 hours. 

The pressure-cooker atmosphere stems from March 31 "soft" deadline that Iran and the P5+1 group imposed on themselves in November 2014 to achieve (in some sense) a general agreement. The more detailed terms (in some sense) are to be signed off by June 2015. 

No one would purchase an apartment with this degree of uncertainty and flexibility about what was agreed. It's bizarre, and that's before we take the cataclysmic scale of the dangers into account.

Today it got meaningfully worse. The Iranians pulled what one commentator we respect calls "a last minute bait-and-switch". The background is in today's New York Times ["Iran Backs Away From Key Detail in Nuclear Deal"], but Omri Ceren sums it up better than they do. The Iranians, in his words:
bargained up their centrifuge numbers for months by saying that they'd ship out whatever material they enriched, the assumption being that who cares how much uranium they enrich to 3.5% as long as they don't have it physically available to enrich further. Now that they've ratcheted up the number of centrifuges to over 6,000, they're saying they won't ship out the material... it looks like the administration got outplayed by Persian negotiators… again.
Laussane, Switzerland: US negotiators this week [Image Source]
Jeffrey Goldberg's opinion piece below starts out referring to the Pollyannas who envisage a scenario in which the Iranians behave themselves nicely. In a different view of reality, the Iranian regime is egregiously murderous, repressive, ruthless and determined. Far from Lausanne, Switzerland, and the fancy hotels and restaurants that provide backdrop to the talks and diversion for the reporters, Iran hanged 12 more people on one day, Thursday March 27 [details here.] 

Since Hassan Rouhani, a religious cleric [see "20-Mar-15: This is how it looks when an Islamist state turns moderate"] became president in 2013, more than 1,400 Iranians have been put to death by his regime, many of them women and juveniles. Hanging in Iran is almost invariably done in public. A construction crane is the customary instrument of death. Are these incidental matters? We don't believe so, and are continually astounded at how seemingly-intelligent people base their view of the future on a conviction that the blood-soaked Iranian regime's goodwill and decency will get us there.

Everything we have seen about the Iran nuclear talks screams "catastrophically bad deal". Most people tune conclusions like that out. So we are reprinting here three exceptionally articulate and clear opinion pieces, all from the past 24 hours, as our contribution to keeping readers awake at night, at least tonight.
* * *

What to Worry About in an Iran Nuclear Deal
Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic, March 29, 2015

...The more extreme positions on both sides are distasteful. The Pollyannas who not only seem to believe that Iran should be allowed to maintain an advanced nuclear infrastructure if it promises to behave nicely, but who also believe that this nuclear accord will somehow serve to convince the Iranians to moderate their approach to their neighbors and, for instance, stop sponsoring terrorism and murdering large numbers of people in Syria (among other places), are dangerous and naïve. On the other side, those who argue that no negotiated settlement will ever be good enough to keep Iran from the nuclear threshold—that only military action would guarantee an end to the Iranian nuclear program—believe that it is wise to start an actual war now in order to prevent a theoretical one later. If you believe that we are living in 1938, and that Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia are playing the role of Czechoslovakia, then I suppose this position makes sense. I don’t think we are there, however...

Here are a few questions that have, helped by various news stories about the talks, repeatedly crossed my mind in recent days. I would prefer to see a nuclear deal struck, of course, but unsatisfactory answers to these issues would be cause for real worry:
  1. What will Saudi Arabia do in response to a deal? If the Saudis—who are already battling the Iranians on several fronts—actually head down the path toward nuclearization, then these negotiations will not have served the underlying purpose President Obama ascribed to them. The president has warned, in interviews with me and others, that a nuclear Iran would trigger a nuclear arms race across the Middle East, the world’s most volatile region. One goal of these talks is to assure the rest of the Middle East that Iran cannot achieve nuclear status. If Saudi Arabia (and Egypt and Turkey and the U.A.E.) does not believe that a deal will achieve this, then it will move on its own to counter the Persian nuclear threat.
  2. If the underground enrichment facility at Fordow—which had been hidden from Western view for several years, and which the U.S. and Europe have repeatedly said needs to be closed—is allowed to run centrifuges, even to spin germanium and other elements that cannot be used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, then doubt could legitimately be sown about the strength of this deal. Already-spinning centrifuges in a maintained, guarded, and fortified bunker can be retrofitted to handle uranium, should the Iranians choose to break their agreement. It would be better to see Fordow filled with cement, or otherwise crippled.
  3. My largest question concerns how long it would take Iran to make a deliverable weapon once it decides to go nuclear. The Iranians have never answered most of the questions put to them by the International Atomic Energy Agency about the possible military dimensions—the so-called PMDs—of their nuclear program. These questions must be answered before sanctions are even partially lifted. Otherwise, the West will never get answers.
  4. The proposed speed of sanctions relief is, of course, something to watch carefully. The Iranians want immediate sanctions relief, but the West should only agree to a stately pace of sanctions-removal, predicated on 100-percent Iranian compliance on intrusive inspections, among other issues.
  5. The largest question in my mind concerns the matter of break-out time—how long it would take for Iran, once it made a decision to violate the terms of a deal and go for full nuclearization, to actually make a deliverable weapon. The goal of the Obama administration is to make sure that it would take Iran at least a year to cross the threshold. The assumption is that a year would give the West time to devise a response—including, if necessary, a military response... On this issue, as on others, I will be listening to experts I respect. There are several, but three of the people I will be listening to carefully on this issue in particular are Gary Samore, formerly President Obama’s point man on the Iran nuclear file; David Albright, of the Institute for Science and International Security, and Olli Heinonen, a former deputy director general of the IAEA. If these three, and a handful of others, seem nervous about the details of a framework deal, should one be reached, then I'm going to be nervous as well...
                                                                                 * * *
A Bad Deal | Iran is outwitting the West in nuclear talks at Lausanne

If a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme is clinched in the coming days, it will be hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough. It will be nothing of the kind. Judging by leaks from the negotiating table, Tehran has not done enough to allay suspicions that it intends eventually to produce nuclear weapons. 

Worse, if the framework agreement is signed on the basis of current drafts it will contribute to a reckless recasting of the US position in the Middle East. Iran would be upgraded to the status of regional ally, while Israel, whose fears have been largely ignored during a year of diplomacy, would be awarded the status of regional irritant.

These are unintended consequences of the broader failure of the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East. Plainly President Obama is not actively seeking a nuclear Iran. Rather he wants to reduce the chances of the United States, or Israel, having to launch a pre-emptive attack against Tehran. The diplomatic aim of the US and its five negotiating partners, including Britain, has thus been to cap the number of centrifuges capable of enriching uranium and limit to 12 months the time Iran would need to make a bomb.

The determination to notch up at least one success in Middle East peacemaking has, however, led Mr Obama to make ill-considered concessions in the belief that Iran is acting in good faith. The original negotiating aim of the US was to disable Iran’s uranium enrichment by restricting its centrifuges to between 500 and 1,500. The draft deal emerging out of talks in Switzerland suggests that Iran will instead cut its centrifuges from 10,000 to 6,000 at the Natanz site and operate 500 more in the fortified bunker in Fordow. The Fordow machines are supposed to be dedicated to medical and scientific purposes. In return for this, and for accepting strict verification procedures, Iran can expect the lifting of sanctions.

The deal is flawed. 
  • First, the Fordow plant can be quickly switched back to enriching uranium. 
  • Second, Iran has still not come clean to the International Atomic Energy Agency about its past attempts to develop nuclear weapons. This has made it difficult to determine whether secret programmes are continuing. 
  • Third, any arrangement hinges on transparency: Iranian readiness to accept snap inspections without let or hindrance. 
  • Finally, the supposedly comprehensive deal is set to run only for ten to twelve years.
It is therefore possible that Iran has made a conscious decision to prepare for nuclear “breakout” but not to go fully nuclear until 2025. Sanctions will be lifted.Tehran will prosper and spin an ever wider web of regional alliances that challenge Saudi Arabia and Israel. Its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and its backing for the Assad regime and for the Shia militias in Iraq and the rebels in Yemen are only a foretaste of what is to come. Its clout will be increased by the knowledge of its nervous neighbours that it is on the cusp of becoming a nuclear power, and that the US is not willing to slow Iran’s ascent.

The agreement taking shape in Lausanne is based on the most generous possible reading of Iranian intentions, namely that the regime will make genuine concessions because it is desperate to be readmitted to the club of rational, benign states who crave nothing but peace in the Middle East. 

That is naive. Instead of containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, this deal may simply give Tehran carte blanche to plan a future with its own bomb.

* * *

Peace for our time: Mr. President, are you absolutely sure you’ve got this right?
David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004). He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin (1996).
Doesn't it trouble you, just a touch, Mr. President, that you might have this all wrong?

Isn't there a nagging little voice, somewhere right at the back of your mind, warning you that, maybe, just maybe, you ought to be listening seriously to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei when he calls out “Death to America,” rather than insistently tuning him out?

Do you not have the slightest fear that, when history comes to judge you, it will bracket you alongside Neville Chamberlain? “The settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace,” the British prime minister declared on September 30, 1938 — precisely 76 and a half years ago. 
This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine… We regard the agreement signed last night… as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again… I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”
Does that inane rhetoric, that tragic rhetoric, not chill you as you read it all these decades later, knowing what happened next, and as your dutiful secretary of state seeks desperately to finalize the agreement you have sought with Iran — an agreement with a regime that makes no secret of its desire to see the elimination of Israel, an agreement with a regime that is expanding its hold on country after country in our region, an agreement that falls far, far short of dismantling Iran’s nuclear program? Do you not hear a grim historical echo, and ask yourself whether you are not risking the abandonment of another small, embattled democracy, and the emboldening of another ruthless would-be superpower, motivated by another hideous ideology?

Do you not worry, not even for a moment before you close your eyes at night, that your irritation with that impossibly arrogant prime minister of Israel has skewed your judgment? Can you easily shrug off his warnings that the Iranians are tricking you? Can you dismiss his charge that you could have done better, held firmer, set the bar higher? “One of the failures, I think, of our approach in the past has been to use a lot of strong rhetoric but not follow through with the kinds of both carrots and sticks that might change the calculus of the Iranian regime,” you told this writer when we spoke in Jerusalem in 2008, before you became president. Have you not offered too many carrots, and failed to brandish a terrifying stick? Can you ignore Benjamin Netanyahu’s concerns that the Iranians will inevitably violate this agreement, and that even if those violations are detected, you, Mr. President, are now the leader of an international community that lacks the will to prevent a subsequent Iranian breakout to the bomb?

Do you not ask yourself whether you might have acted differently in 2009, when the Iranian public mustered the beginnings of an attempt to oust the ayatollahs? You failed to offer concrete assistance, and their nascent uprising was brutally suppressed. Are you not even mildly disturbed by the notion that this accord, this deal you so determinedly seek, will cement in power this ideologically and territorially rapacious regime, this regime that so bitterly represses its own people?

Mr. President, I think you are troubled, and worried, and disturbed. I think, deep down, you do hear that nagging voice. I think the dispassionate, ultra-confident manner you affect masks the doubts. I fear you have surrounded yourself with people who dare not question you with sufficient intellectual vigor. I fear that you are willfully blinding yourself to the tragedy you are about to inflict upon us all.

I hope I’m wrong. I’m not certain. But we are plainly at a historical crossroads, and I worry — how could I not? — that a grave mistake is in the offing, with profound historical consequences, for Israel, the region, the free world. And it is the certainty with which you are pursuing what seems an unfathomable course of appeasement — of an enemy that reminds us all every day, in word and deed, that it is the enemy of the free world — it is that certainty of yours that worries me most of all.

Friday, March 27, 2015

27-Mar-15: What a person can do with water is both less and more than most people think

They know most people will never bother to check the facts behind
the allegations [Image Source: A March 23, 2015 RT article]
We live in a country where water is a key enabler, and limiter, of habitation and success. Israel's approach to storing, treating, transporting, recycling and desalinating water is admired throughout the civilized world. It's a heroic aspect of Israel's unique history, and one of the most significant reasons why resource-poor postage-stamp-sized Israel does so well in so many different ways.

A Reuters syndicated report ["Fighters target vital water plants across Middle East: Red Cross"] published this past Wednesday seemed to be dealing with the way terrorists, who by definition, respect no red lines, are targeting water supply resources. "Militants", it says, using a common euphemism for terrorists, "in Syria, Iraq and Gaza have also used access to water and electricity supplies as "tactical weapons or as bargaining chips," the ICRC said in a report."

Reuters then seizes on an instance to prove the point:
Gaza's only power plant was damaged during the 2014 war between Israel and Palestinian militants. The Gaza Company for Generating Electricity said an Israeli tank shell hit the main fuel tanks, taking out almost all capacity.
Electricity is vital to the effective management of water. So if "an Israeli tank" eliminated the capacity of the regime now ruling Gaza, Israel stands behind Gaza's water crisis. Right? No, not at all right, and understanding the real reasons why Gaza is chronically out of electric power is essential to making sense of allegations like the one we just saw. (We will come back to it here another time.)

Published to coincide with World Water Day 2015 this past Sunday (March 22), a report by NGO Monitor (online here) looks closely at the exploitation of water-centric issues as part of the multidimensional political warfare campaign that target Israel. Entitled "Water Myths and Facts: NGOs and the Destructive Water Campaign Against Israel", the report illustrates a fundamental truth about anti-Israel activism, expressed by its head, Prof Gerald Steinberg:
"Water is a regional issue, and one that, with close cooperation between all parties, can ensure equitable, maximal access to clean and safe water and help create a more peaceful environment... Unfortunately, NGOs would rather politicize this issue and demonize Israel than improve Palestinian access to clean water."
Some examples of how:
  • A coalition of NGOs  and UN organizations called EWASH (the lengthy membership list is here) opposed an EU-funded desalination project in Gaza that would improve water supply to the suffering inhabitants of the teeming, Hamas-dominated region. Why? Because the project would "accommodate the occupation" and "legitimize Israeli actions." Let the Gazans stay thirsty.
  • Constant and widespread repetition of one core claim - that Israel's hostility to Hamas "prevents Gaza's children from having normal drink clean water". In reality, Gaza's water problems stem from poor maintenance of water and sewage facilities by the ruling power, Hamas. As an unabashedly terrorist organization, Hamas' terrorist infrastructure and warfare requirements chronically take precedence over investing in their people. The neglect of vital civilian infrastructures is the inescapable result. But it's actually much worse than that. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1992, the management of Gaza's water sector has been entirely in Palestinian hands, while Israel provides millions of cubic meters of water annually as those signed agreements require. The incessant Hamas rocket attacks against Israeli civilians have (astonishingly) not changed the reality that Israel continues to live up to the obligations agreed in the Oslo Accords. Even while under rocket from the people at the far end of the pipeline, Israeli water authority personnel repair and maintain the water supply to Gaza under the most stressful conditions.
  • Water gets lost in badly run systems no matter where in the world the bad management happens. This is mostly caused by leakage, spoilage, evaporation and inadequate delivery mechanisms (normally underground pipes). In the Gaza, those losses run at more than 40% of available supply. In the towns and villages under PA control, losses are around 33%. In Israel, it's less than a tenth of that.
  • Allegations are made that Mekorot, Israel's national water authority, gains from "Israeli control over a Palestinian captive market under occupation." So the claim is made that "Mekorot applies discriminatory water prices, charging Palestinians higher rates than Israelis”. (Click here to see this truthfulness-challenged assertion on the Who Profits website where it has been doing damage since 2013.) It's back-to-front wrong. The NGO-Monitor report shows how Mekorot sold water to the PA and Gaza in 2013 at a loss by honoring a set price contract to the Arabs. In reality, the price they pay is not more but in fact less than a third of what Israelis pay their own supplier. If Israel's aim is to make unjustified profits, it's an odd way to do it.
  • Another constant refrain: the Palestinian Arabs are prevented from creating a better water system because the Israelis make this hard for them. The reality, which depends on understanding treaties, agreements and opaque Palestinian Arab conduct (which most anti-Israel activists and a large part of their audience don't bother to do), is that water projects that have gotten all the necessary authorizations, including those needed from the Israeli side, and for which funding is available, routinely fail to deliver the goods because of conflict within the Palestinian Arab world, and the heavy lobbying of Palestinian sectoral interests, notably their agricultural sector.
  • And sometimes the attacks on Israel focus not on inadequate supplies of water but on too much of it. We took a close look at the beginning of March at how irresponsible, unprofessional and agenda-driven reporting from some of the world's largest creators of it can produce outrageous lies like the one claiming Israel uses an aggressive open-the-flood-gates strategy to drown the children of Gaza. It's here ["01-Mar-15: Facts, dam facts, and non-factual inventions aimed at the gullible"]
Foreign aid to the Palestinian Arabs is a notorious black hole. Somehow, the fact that they receive more money per capita than any other segment of mankind has in history keeps bumping up against their reality: photos of bedraggled mothers and children dragging gerry-cans among the rubble of bombed homes. Where did all that foreign cash go? Why do they still not have water or sewerage or reliable supplies of electric power?

Sadly, the process of painting Israel as the boogey-man of the Arab world pays dividends for the advocates of boycotts and sticking a finger in Israel's eye. The Dutch water company Vitens, the largest in its home market, canceled an agreement in December 2013 to collaborate with Mekorot. The Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry played an anti-Israel role in the affair. ACEA, an Italian water corporation, signed a co-operation agreement with Mekorot in December 2013 [source] which included provisions where Mekorot would play a role in under-resourced regions of Italy; ACEA came under heavy pressure to break it almost immediately. 

At the same time, cooperation agreements exist among, and deliver benefits to, Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians. as they should. 

But in the hands of single-minded politically-motivated NGOs, water is a weapon of mass destruction. In many respects, those anti-Israel campaigns, involving high-profile non-governmental organizations, parrot the Palestinian Authority's political agenda, and that of Hamas. In addition to EWASH, they include Al Haq, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), BADIL, Coalition of Women for Peace/Who Profits, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, United Civilians for Peace (an umbrella group comprising Dutch NGOs ICCO, Oxfam Novib, IKV Pax Christi), Cordaid) and others.

The blame game is played in creative ways by the political activists who purport to be standing up for Palestinian Arab water rights. It's effective, as we noted, until people start looking close at the facts. Israel provides significant amounts of its own water, for instance, to supply the Palestinian Arabs and not the reverse as claimed by the hostile activist NGOs. Unfortunately, the facts - as the Reuters report at the top of this post shows - are inadequate to the task of defeating fact-free or fact-light political agitation.

As with so many other aspects of the disdain and demonization that Israel experiences in international relations, what bothers the hostile side has very little to do with Palestinian suffering. What they cannot abide is Israel's success. There's a name for the sort of activism.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

26-Mar-15: Australia's rising pre-occupation with its death-cultists

A widely-publicized image from Sydney's 2012 Hyde
Park riots
 [Image Source]
Australia, host to one of the world's most congenial societies, is undergoing wrenching changes that challenge Australians' sense of who they are. Its easy-going, live-and-let-live character has been embraced and increasingly exploited by people with the darkest of motivations and religious passions. In their wake, Australia seems a nation more polarized, more dangerous and more worried than the place we used to call home.

First a statistic, via an Associated Press report today, that expresses the scale of the change.
230 jihad suspects prevented from leaving Australia | Rod McGuirk | AP | March 26, 2015 | Counterterrorism squads have prevented 230 suspected jihadis from departing Australian airports for the Middle East this month, including at least three teenage boys, officials said Wednesday... Since counterterrorism units were attached to eight Australian airports in August, 86,000 travelers have been questioned and 230 people prevented from flying on suspicion that they were headed for the battlefields of Iraq and Syria to fight with groups including Islamic State, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament. Experts disagree about why Islamic State had been so effective recruiting in Australia, which is widely regarded as a multicultural success story, with an economy in an enviable 24th straight year of continuous growth.
The London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence... center estimates that about 100 fighters came from the United States, which has more than 13 times as many people as Australia... “It is absolutely critical that the people of Australia appreciate that the death cult is reaching out to vulnerable and impressionable young people,” [Abbott] said, referring to the Islamic State group. “The death cult is reaching out, seeking effectively to brainwash people online.”
A report in today's Australian looks at a piece of the essential infrastructure that is so effectively reaping a harvest in gullible would-be Islamist foot soldiers who ache to become cannon fodder in the Arab-on-Arab slaughterhouses of the Middle East.
Online extremist propaganda is growing at an alarming rate | Sarah Martin | THE AUSTRALIAN | March 26, 2015 | A forum on extremism and social media yesterday at the Australian National University heard that Islamic State’s online promotion of its “brand and a lifestyle” was challenging the ability of authorities to respond effectively. The Australian Security Research­ Centre event heard that the growth of extremist material online was growing expon­entially faster than the ability of authorities to take it down. The government has promised a “counter-narrative” strategy and the forum was told this would include the need to undermine the intellectual arguments propagated by Islamic State, while promoting the “good story” of Australian ­society... Charles Sturt University national security lecturer Levi West, who is an expert in the use of technology in jihadist terrorism, said Islamic State had become the “market leaders” in online propaganda... The forum heard the government was taking a four-tiered approach targeting vulnerable people and community groups in an attempt to prevent high-risk individuals becoming radicalised. The strategy includes programs aimed at education, social ­inclusion and economic participation, and a focus on combating extremism online... Outlining a range of methods used to disseminate Islamic State’s message — from high production videos including militants giving “candy to kids” to how-to guides for foreign fighters — Professor West said there had been a “sudden and enormous spike” in extremist propaganda in the past year that was almost impossible to control. He said instead the government should seek to use intelligence from ­Islamic State sites, rather than shut them down.
The distribution power of the Internet and easy, anonymous access to its content, is central to the missionary strategy of the jihadists.
Islamic State launches step-by-step dossier for Aussie jihadists on how to get to frontline in Syria | Armando Cordoba | March 22, 2015 | News Corp Australia Network | The Islamic State has launched a step-by-step dossier to help would-be Australian jihadists flee the country and fight alongside the terror group. The online guide, posted to sympathisers’ social media network on March 14, includes details and advice on how to use a vast online support network on home soil and, ultimately, slip through security cracks... The new dossier, provided by an IS sympathiser, stresses the importance of contacts for foreign fighters travelling to Turkey from their country of origin. It even provides a series of ‘Useful Twitter contacts who are in IS to Private Direct message’...The dossier says that between 2012 to 2014 the most common method of crossing the border from Turkey to Syria was to enter Turkey, make contact with IS in Syria, then cross from the Bab al-Hawa and Baab al-Salaam crossing between Turkey and Syria. Now, due to heightened security in Turkey, IS fighters are directed to get a hotel room on arrival in Turkey and contact their Twitter correspondence ‘and they will together go to Sanliurfa in Turkey’...The dossier amplifies the importance IS places on the internet.
The how-to-get-to-Syria report illustrates, in passing, how those Islamism-minded would-be warriors, headed for the killing fields, become that way because of a claimed insensitivity on the part of Canberra's decision-makers:
Silma Ihram, a member of the Australian Muslim Women’s Association based in Sydney, says youths are drawn to IS because the Australian government "continues to create an us versus them" mentality... [News Corp]
Ms Ihram, born Anne Frances Beaumont, is an articulate advocate for racial tolerance and the notion that it isn't Moslems but just some angry peripheral people that give Islam a bad name. A 2006 Australian movie review called her "Erin Brockovich in a hijab". If she's right, this is all bound to end up peacefully and well, and the "them" (from that us -vs- them mentality she cites) will calm down and get on with living constructive lives. But it could all get a lot more serious if she's wrong.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

24-Mar-15: In Canadian terror prosecution, research scientist and not-quite-stateless thug are convicted

From a news report highlighting enhanced security measures that
the foiled plot is provoking in Canada [Image Source]
In Canada, two men charged with plotting to derail a passenger train travelling between Canada and the US were convicted on eight terror-related charges on Friday. Their names are Raed Jaser and Chiheb Esseghaier, and we wrote about them at the time of their arrests back in April 2013. See "22-Apr-13: Tentacles in Canada, and the Iranians are behind it according to police" and a follow-up, "28-Apr-13: Canadians learn that criminals can be saved from deportation if they persuade court they are "Palestinian""

The NPR version ("2 Men Convicted In Canada In 2013 Train Derailment Plot" | NPR | March 21, 2015) of the post-verdict report is brief to the point of laconic, avoiding mention of most of the points we raised two years ago. They write that Jaser is "of Palestinian descent" and Esseghaier is "Tunisian-born". That first descriptor is more relevant than they indicate, and points to something crazy in the way Palestinian Arabs can get away with murder (literally) via the current passion for political correctness in some quarters. The second conceals the real take-away which is that a poisonous passion for Islamist hatred, violence and showcase-scale murder is at the heart of this sequence of events.

Jaser immigrated to Canada with his parents on forged passports (as we noted here), and earned himself a criminal record as he grew to adulthood in the family's new land. Those offences, including making death threats, rendered him ineligible to become a Canadian citizen. The Canadian authorities tried to expel him, serving him with a deportation order in 2004. But in a Canadian court proceeding, Jaser's lawyer successfully argued that he could not be deported because, as a Palestinian, he was statelessSome time after that, Jaser received a pardon. Why is not clear but perhaps ought to be on the minds of Canadians today. Ditto for the fact that he was later granted permanent residency status in Canada.  

Convicted terrorist Jaser has his supporters, naturally
[Image Source]
As we said in our 2013 post, there is something startling about a criminal offender claiming to be a Palestinian as well as stateless and therefore exempt from being expelled - on the grounds that there is allegedly nowhere to send him - even when Canadian law requires it. That's something the Canadians might want to take up with the Palestinian Authority who declared themselves a state more than twenty-five years ago on November 15, 1988. Then 24 years after that, on November 29, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted to give Palestine "non-member observer State status" and PA President Mahmoud Abbas called that the "birth certificate of the reality of the state of Palestine" [source]. For the freshly convicted terrorist, that must have felt like having your cake and eating it too. 

In its report on the convictions, Associated Press [Two men convicted of terrorist plot to attack New York-Toronto train, March 21, 2015] said of the Tunisian
Esseghaier appeared unruffled as the Toronto jury found him guilty on all five terrorism charges against him. He calmly repeated that he had not participated in the trial and did not want to take part in sentencing arguments either... Esseghaier, who was pursuing a doctorate in Montreal when he was arrested in 2013, chose not to participate in his trial because he had wanted to be judged by the rules of the Qur’an. He did not cross-examine any witnesses, refused to mount a defence and frequently fell asleep in the prisoner’s box.
Bionanotechnologist and convicted (though unkempt) would-be
murderer and terrorist [Image Source
A doctorate? Yes, plus a bachelors degree in Industrial Biology and a masters in Industrial Biotechnology [source]. Plainly no idiot, this passionate and ideologically-disciplined jihad-minded terrorist's professional advancement owes a great deal to Canada and Canadian taxpayers. It's they who underwrite the Quebec-based Biosensor BioMEMS Bionanotechnology Lab at INRS (Institut national de la recherche scientifique), one of Canada’s top universities, where Esseghaier, described here as an "unkempt, stuttering Tunisian", spent his days and his plotting time. A thank-you note was not, as far as we know, part of the evidence in the trial.

And did we mention that he "is known to have travelled to Iran"? According to the RCMP, "the duo received “direction and guidance” from “al-Qaeda elements in Iran” as they scoped out railway targets in Canada in hopes of derailing a New York-bound Via passenger train".

Now try to connect that to the fierce, perhaps impenetrable, state of mind that allows an accused to fall asleep while being tried for murder and terrorism.

It might have been interesting to see some speculation in the media analysis about how accurate or not the ever-popular model of desperate, disenfranchised, under-educated losers living on the fringes of society is when figuring out who the foot-soldiers of Islamist terrorism directed at the West really are. That opportunity was not taken in this round, unfortunately.

How easily might a murderous plot like this one have succeeded? Uncovering it involved co-operation among multiple agencies (listed alphabetically) - and perhaps others too, since only Canadian bodies are named in the source which seems unlikely:
Canada Border Services AgencyCanadian federal Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSETs); Canadian Security Intelligence ServiceCN Rail; Durham Regional PoliceOntario Provincial PolicePeel Regional PoliceRoyal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP); Service de police de la Ville de MontréalSûreté du QuébecToronto Police ServiceYork Regional PoliceVia Rail Canada physical security team
When the effort required is as self-evidently large as that, reasonable people are entitled to be very thankful that worse has not already happened. The resources called for in thwarting un-noticed plotters of terrorism on a colossal scale are not something any society can take for granted. Life would of course be simpler if such people walked around with signs stuck to their foreheads announcing what they are planning to do to the rest of us. Until that becomes the case, we're doomed to perpetual watchfulness and quiet optimism as we live our lives and advance our societies.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

22-Mar-15: Secretary Kerry, does making nice to the Iranians bring us closer to curbing terror?

Kerry and Iranian negotiators ("on the sidelines of a larger negotiating
session") at the UN, September 2013 [Image Source]
Dear Secretary Kerry,

This is not the first time we are writing to you. We don't really expect a reply this time either. If we take into account personal letters hand-delivered to your office, emails, Tweets and blog posts, we have gone through quite a number of failed attempts to get your attention on a matter that, at least to us and a handful of our friends, has a distinctly non-trivial nature.

This latest try comes after a volley of messages you and your staff initiated this weekend even while you are caught up in the super-sensitive matter of negotiating with the Iranian regime over their race to get a nuclear arsenal.

We don't envy you the pressure under which you are operating. The Iranians are a handful. The stakes could hardly be higher as we in Israel - living in their crosshairs and under a constant barrage of blood-curdling threats of our impending extinction - are only too aware.

Reuters reports this morning that the Iranian regime's Supreme Leader, Khamenei, whom it accurately calls the person who has "the last word on all matters of state", spoke publicly yesterday in ways that don't sound especially respectful or peace-like. In a harangue addressed to Iranians but probably aimed at you and the Obama administration, he squeezed in enough offensive war-like ideas to test even the coolest of diplomats.
Khamanei said his side would not be "pressured into giving in to Western demands", and do not accept "imposition and bullying from America". Reuters quotes him using the actual words "Death to America" (in his native tongue, natutrally). From where we sit, that sounds like a prediction, perhaps a threat, and not mere empty rhetoric. He said the US knows that the Iranians "are not pursuing nuclear weapons. But they just use that as an excuse to pressure the Iranian people." The US' aim is to "foment instability in the Middle East", which is an extraordinary thing to say when you take into account how many jihadist organizations owe their equipment, ideology, funding and existence to the man making those charges. Then in a surreal touch, he called Western countries "arrogant". That's because of their role in slashing world oil prices in half - an economic consequence that is evidently making his job more complicated than it was when free cash was gushing out of the Iranian dirt. [All italicized quotes are taken verbatim from the Reuters report.]
The Reuters editors wrap this up by mentioning Hassan Rouhani, Iran's president. Stepping around the vitriol of his boss, Rouhani calmly says there is "nothing that cannot be resolved". For some, that will have lightened the mood. He's not called "moderate" in the world's news media for nothing.

We don't actually see much that's moderate about Rouhani. We said why in a short post here two days ago ["20-Mar-15: This is how it looks when an Islamist state turns moderate"]. The depths of his disdain for the West are there for all to see, along with the things he has learned about dealing with Western governments. One of our posts from a month ago, "16-Feb-15: The duping and the dupees", looks at how fooling other people is something Rouhani claims proudly as a talent.

Why trouble you with all this now? Because of the bizarre steps your staff appear to have taken to convey some warm-ish sentiments ("deepest condolences") on behalf of the government and all Americans to Rouhani the "moderate". His mother passed away at the age of 90 a day or two ago. Anyone who has or had a mother understands the loss.

Here's what happened next (hat-tip to Aussie Dave):

The persistent reporter ("Are you sending flowers as well? What do you hope to achieve...?") in the video is, as you probably know, the Associated Press staffer who covers the US State Department. The answers he gets from your spokesperson fall short of the quality of the questions he asks.

State Dept tweet [Source]
This rings bells with us because we and your State Department spokespeople have some history. It happens to be over terror and semantics. We wrote about it several times here on our blog. Click here for a summary. 

The abbreviated version starts with what we posted (hereon August 14, 2013: 
A persistent reporter tackled the State Department's deputy spokesperson Marie Harf... on whether the murderers being bused tonight into the waiting arms of the two Palestinian Arab regimes are (a) freedom fighters or (b) terrorists.
For most people, that's probably easy to answer. But it turns out that for the US government and its diplomatic service. it's not. After the reporter asked, a strange exchange followed. This account comes from Washington Free Beacon and from this video clip:
Persistent reporter: Do you have any thoughts or position on whether these people who are going to be released [today] are political prisoners or are they terrorists? 
State Department spokeswoman Marie HarfI do not have a position on that. 
Persistent reporter: Do you object to the Palestinians referring to them as political prisoners? 
State Department spokeswoman Marie HarfI don’t have a position on that... 
Persistent reporter: ...Most of these people [in fact all of them - TOW] have been convicted of murder, of killing people. And the Israelis are very clear on the fact that they think that these people are terrorists, even though they’re releasing them. The Palestinians say that they are political prisoners and... have instructed their ambassadors, all their representatives around the world to refer to them as freedom fighters, political prisoners. And I want to know, if you don’t have a position... if there isn’t anything that you call them, do you object to the Palestinians referring to them as freedom fighters? 
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf: The answer is, I don’t know and I will endeavor to get an answer for you on that as well. 
(As you might have guessed, the persistent reporter in the August 2013 exchange is the same one who challenged your spokesperson yesterday.)

We said then and we still believe that something seriously wrong is going on here. Marie Harf, the State Department's spokesperson, was being asked to react in your name to the release of Palestinian Arab terrorists. All of them had been convicted of murder, and all had spent years in Israeli prison cells. She was being asked to react to a letter sent to you personally by a group of Israeli families whose children had been murdered by those and other Palestinian Arab terrorists. We happen to be among those families. We helped draft and send the letter. 

That 2013 letter expressed a sense of astonishment that the United States was pressuring Israel to free homicidal convicts, not one of whom had served out the prison term to which he has been sentenced. All of them were certain to be received as triumphant heroes, congratulated for their crimes, by the Palestinian Authority's leadership and that seemed, to us, to be a massive step backwards on the road to peace. (And that of course is precisely what happened.) 

So this was about facing up to terror - recognizing it when you see it, and understanding the price of turning a blind eye to it. As bereaved families, we were not asking for condolences or sympathy from anyone. We were angry, felt a tremendous injustice was being done, wanted your assurance that you and your people actually know what terrorism is, even while you were agitating for undeserved freedom for its perpetrators. 

What we did not expect was that, many months later, Marie Harf, your mouthpiece, would still not have managed to get back to anyone on those questions posed by AP and us. An online article at the time, referring to us by name, explained how: 
Roth signed a letter sent Tuesday to Kerry asking him for a meeting. “Meet with us,” wrote Roth and 16 other family members of victims. “Let us explain why being complicit in turning the killers of our children into heroes and ‘freedom fighters’ must not be part of any policy befitting a great nation and moral exemplar like the United States...” Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for the State Department, told The Daily Beast, “We’ve received the letter today, and we’re reviewing it.” [Eli Lake, writing in The Daily Beast, August 14, 2013]
We know the August 13, 2013 letter we and our friends wrote did reach you. Marie Harf says so explicitly. It was a painful letter with a serious intent and it raised meaningful issues that are at least as relevant now, after the convicted killers were greeted as heroes back in their villages (guaranteeing more acts of terror), as they were then. Even more so, given that Iran's dedication to terrorism seems central to why we worry about their nuclear plans.

But as we noted, you and your team are still "reviewing" our letter. We followed-up numerous times. But no one from State has ever addressed what we raised. Or gotten back to us. Or even acknowledged what we said.

It's possible we over-estimated how seriously you and your staff relate to letters from bereaved Israeli victims of terror. If so, we want to respectfully remind you that those killings were in many cases directly linked to Iran and the violent extremism done by it and its clients - chief among them Hamas and Hezbollah. We will also mention that those murdered children (our daughter, for instance) were US citizens.

Now that Rouhani, coping with the grief brought on by his own mother's passing, has gotten the full benevolent attention of the US State Department in all its well-resourced splendor, it seems timely to point out again that being right or not right on terrorism has vast consequences. And dealing with the Iranians and their nuclear ambitions is about terrorism in the same way that the freeing of those Palestinian Arab killers of innocent Jews you told the government of Israel to do was about terrorism.

With tough negotiating opponents and an impending deadline, we're sure you and your team are under pressure. But having now seen the serious attention paid by State to the "moderate" Iranian in his moment of personal sadness, can we remind you that we are moderates too? Unlike the Iranians, we surely don't have "Death to America" on our lips. In fact, we don't know anyone more fervent about wishing you and your State and White House colleagues the greatest possible success in the Iran talks and in general than we are. Your success will mean everyone wins.

To us, terrorism is at the heart of those talks. Even when it's absurdly called violent extremism (the new preferred Washington euphemism), terrorism turns people's lives upside down in ways that are poorly understood outside the circle of those directly affected. It undermines basic notions of justice, embitters societies and has a painful impact on every aspect of the lives it hits. And it's hard to make the case that the civilized world is winning against it. For instance
  • The UN has never been able to agree on an international convention against terrorism because getting agreement on a definition of terror appears to be impossible. Astute observers say it never will get past this obstacle. The reasons don't need to trouble us here and now - you know them at least as well as we do. 
  • The US State Department, as we have just pointed out, squirms and twists rather than call convicted terrorists by that name. People notice this - people with a vested interest in past and future terrorism.
  • Being vague on terrorism complicates and (we say) undermines negotiations with the world's most active promoter of terror. The former head of the CIA, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said this week in a Washington Post interview that ISIS is not the biggest threat facing the United States in Iraq. Instead, it's "the Iranian-backed Shiite militias". If you reach an understanding with them in Switzerland on a nuclear deal, will that go away?
We still (barely) have hopes that Marie Harf will get your instructions to respond unambiguously to AP's Matt Lee and to us bereaved families. We are patient. But we are also puzzled. It's hard not to observe the sharp contrast between the way we, terror victims, are treated publicly by State and how you deal publicly with the Iranian arch-terrorists. And even if you remain too busy to get your spokesperson to call terrorism by its name, we're hoping you let the Iranians know the US absolutely knows what it is and who is doing it, and holds them fully accountable for it.

Frimet and Arnold Roth

Friday, March 20, 2015

20-Mar-15: A peek into how Middle East politics work in reality

Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh in a Saudi news report
: “Whoever questions the legitimacy and independence of the
Shariah justice system is either ignorant or biased.”
Sweden's current government has a well-deserved reputation for irritating people, especially in our neighbourhood. It has recently given formal recognition to a state called Palestine, the first European country to do so. It has criticized Israel in ways that make people like us think the key members of its leadership are not especially well informed; the impression we have is they follow the politically-correct herd for ideological knee-jerk reasons. They're hardly alone in that - it has become something of an international disease.

But we're not writing this to make a case against Sweden. Nor - for that matter - are we especially for them. Instead, we want to explain why what is happening to Sweden is an object lesson in how international politics work in general, and how policy in the Middle East in particular is made and conducted. It's not so pretty.

Our starting point is an article in today's Washington Post [here]. It describes how Margot Wallstrom, Sweden's Foreign Minister and a woman occasionally called strident in the media, was blocked from talking about democracy and women's rights at a gathering of the Arab League in Cairo. Who blocked her? The Saudis.
An Arab diplomat confirmed to AFP that Riyadh had stopped the Swede from making her opening speech. Wallstroem had been invited as an honorary guest to the Arab ministers’ meeting in praise of her government’s decision to recognize Palestine in October. Her canceled opening speech — published by the Swedish foreign ministry — mentioned neither Saudi Arabia nor Wallstroem’s feminist foreign policy agenda but stressed women’s and human rights. [AFP | March 9, 2015]
Swedish foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom
January 2015 [Image Source]
Sweden didn't sit on its hands. It responded by scrapping a major arms deal between Swedish industry and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This was an agreement that had been in place for a decade and was up for renewal for a further five years in May. Sweden's arms industry watched, it would be fair to say, in astonishment.

Here's why: Swedish exports to Saudi Arabia were worth $1.3 billion in 2014. The now-scrapped military arms deal delivered Saudi Arabian purchase orders to Swedish factories of $39 million last year alone.

Wallstrom had already criticized the outrageous flogging of a Saudi blogger by the name of Raif Badawi. He managed a website that
"allowed social and political debate on Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi government arrested Badawi in January 2012 on the charges of apostasy, insulting Islam and violations of Saudi laws on information technology." [source]
What's happening to Badawi is infuriating on any (non-Saudi) view. But in the realpolitik of international relations in our times, the customary thing is for such people - and the things officially done to them - to be ignored. Sweden not only did not ignore him; its foreign minister called Saudi Arabia a dictatorship, which on any reasonable view the absolute hereditary monarchy is.

From a Saudi campaign poster that cannot be viewed by women
without a male guardian's approval [Image Source]
The human rights climate in Saudi Arabia is a nightmare, to say the least.

With no real attempt to hide this, the authorities there routinely, systematically, oppress religious minorities, women and homosexuals, and imprison tens of thousands for their political views. Hangings and beatings for "crimes" that include apostasy and blasphemy are common. Two years ago, The Guardian reproduced a Saudi government King Khalid Charitable Foundation poster of a veiled female with a bruised eye, and this poignant slogan: "Saudi women can't do anything without a male guardian's permission – including see the advert".

Governments, like ordinary people, know this, obviously. But few say or do anything about it because, well, being polite to the Saudis has its own rewards. And being not nice can be very expensive.

Saudi Arabia's new and robust Swedish policy is just getting underway. And it promises to be uncomfortable for Stockholm's decision-makers. The Washington Post mentions several of the steps already taken:
  • On March 10, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Stockholm, saying it was prompted by Sweden's "interference in its internal affairs."
  • The same day, Arab League foreign ministers issued a joint statement condemning Wallstrom's statement.
  • On March 18, the United Arab Emirates recalled its ambassador to Stockholm. In doing so, it issued a media release condemning Sweden and its "strong statements".
  • Also March 18, the Swedish ambassador was called in to the UAE foreign ministry for a harangue featuring “the UAE’s extreme condemnation of the statements made by the foreign minister of Sweden to the Swedish Parliament regarding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its judicial system”, a free lesson about the need to "respect the religious and cultural specificities of countries and societies" and a warning not to "violate the principle of sovereignty upon which normal relations between states are based", and not to engage in "interference in internal affairs".
  • Yesterday (March 19, 2015) Associated Press was told by a Saudi official that his country "would no longer issue business visas to Swedish citizens or renew the current visas of Swedish citizens inside Saudi Arabia."
  • Transparently staged criticisms of Sweden and its government are now a daily occurrence in Saudi news reports: "Behind Sweden’s tirade is a hidden Western agenda to tarnish Islam", for instance, in a Saudi news channel yesterday, along with "Swedish antics condemned" and "‘Ignorant critics of KSA laws’ slammed" today.
How does this feel to the Swedes? [WaPo]:
  • "This is going to have a vast negative impact for the companies with interest in the region," Andreas Astrom, the communications director at Stockholm's Chamber of Commerce, told the Associated Press. "This is not good for Swedish business society and, in the long run, jobs in Sweden."
  • "In a very real way, this is about Sweden's credibility as a contractual partner," Carl Bildt, a former Swedish foreign minister and prime minister, told Defense News. "That credibility is important to a relatively small country like Sweden. This whole situation is unfortunate."
  • Sweden's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dag Yulin Danflet, has been telling the Saudi press that he is seeking to "contain the crisis."
  • "Swedish firms fear losing business in Arab world", the lead article in a Swedish newspaper on Wednesday.
From which it's fair to assume that at some point, when the pressure gets to the right level, when the Foreign Ministry identifies the moment when it can save face, Sweden will climb down from its tree and adjust its foreign policy pronouncements to the prevailing winds of international trade. It's much less about rights; much more about credibility as a contractual partner and supplier.

That's how foreign policy is made, and that's how the world is. All the pronouncements about principles, human rights, self-determination and over-riding humanitarian concerns can be put back where they came from. What's really important is that those "religious and cultural specificities" are given the appropriate degree of genuflection.

The editors at the Washington Post got it right; the headline on today's report, the one we quoted above, is:
Sweden stood up for human rights in Saudi Arabia. This is how Saudi Arabia is punishing Sweden.