Israel

Right Zionists and the Collapse of Fatah

Posted by Cutler on June 15, 2007
Israel, Palestinian Authority, Right Zionists / No Comments

In some respects, the American-sponsored “Dayton Plan”–named for US security coordinator Lt.-Gen Keith Dayton–to foment factional fighting within the Palestinian “unity government,” bolster the forces of Fatah, and challenge the dominance of Hamas in Gaza seemed like the work of Right Zionist hawks in the Bush administration (i.e., Elliott Abrams at the NSC and David Wurmser in the OVP).

After all, the Hamas-Fatah “unity government” was the work of Saudi King Abdullah and it made sense to think that an assault on Abdullah’s mediation efforts would bear the finger prints of the Cheney-Bandar-Right Zionist axis.

But as that plan crumbles–with signs of White House “acquiescence“–it becomes increasingly clear that the Dayton Plan to bolster Fatah may have simply marked the most “hawkish” and cynical last gasp of the old Oslo crowd.

If so, then there will be some Right Zionist “rejectionists” who mourn neither the failure of the Palestinian “unity government” nor the US effort to destroy that unity by bolstering Fatah.

Perhaps the strongest indication of this scenario is that the collapse of Fatah in Gaza has led to all kinds of speculation that it marks the end of a two-state solution.

Consider, for example, the Los Angeles Times article by Ken Ellingwood, “Palestinian Statehood Hopes in Peril.”

The deadly factional fighting in the Gaza Strip between the militant Hamas movement and Fatah could doom the long-held Palestinian vision of uniting Gaza and the West Bank into a single independent state….

The violence has dimmed hopes that Palestinians and Israelis might someday reach an agreement for side-by-side nations…

The political crisis has propelled a debate among Palestinian intellectuals over whether Palestinians might be better served by dumping the trappings of the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, which created the enfeebled Palestinian Authority….

“One cannot exclude such a possibility: that this is the end of the two-state solution,” said Yitzhak Reiter, a fellow at Hebrew University’s Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace in Jerusalem.

So, for Right Zionist “rejectionists,” what comes after Oslo?

Right Zionist rejectionists do have a post-Oslo vision for the West Bank.  The cornerstone of that vision is the idea of Palestinian confederation with Jordan.

The Israeli Labor Party-Oslo crowd and their American allies are aware of this vision and reject it.

The great defender of the failed “Dayton Plan” was an Oslo figure, Dennis Ross.  In a June 4, 2007  Washington Post Op-Ed–“The Specter of Hamastan“–Ross championed the Dayton Plan and took aim at the idea of West Bank confederation with Jordan.

The defense of the Dayton Plan is quite clear:

If Fatah does have a plan for bolstering its forces in Gaza, it is worth supporting it by coordinating with the Israelis and Egyptians — not to produce a bloodbath in Gaza but to deter Hamas from seeking to impose itself there.

Ross also offers a more cryptic attack on a rival proposal:

Among some I heard an interesting proposal: Let’s make the West Bank work…

Let’s create understandings with Jordan and Israel for at least economic confederation and security…

Sounds good in theory, but I doubt it would work. No matter how sensible confederation between the Palestinian state and Jordan might be, at least economically, a failed state in Gaza would be a constant source of instability…

Moreover, while West Bank and Gaza Palestinians have much that divides them, they still have a common identity as Palestinians; the creation of a Palestinian state without Gaza would be an endless source of grievance and irredentism.

Ross doesn’t name any names, but this idea of “confederation with Jordan” belongs to the very same Right Zionist rejectionists who will now quietly celebrate the death of Oslo.

Meyrav Wurmser–who just happens to be married to Cheney’s top Middle East advisor, David Wurmser–is one key proponent of this position, as articulated in her July 2006 New York Sun Op-Ed, “Paradigm Shift” in which she also attacked key “Oslo” assumptions.

Assumption…: Abu Mazen is a better, more moderate a partner than Hamas…

But… Abu Mazen is not only hopelessly weak and ineffective; he also is covering for the mergence of a new Palestinian consensus around positions closer to Hamas’ than ever before. In this situation, the international community gains little from supporting Abu Mazen; he is no partner for peace…

Assumption…: Only independent Palestinian statehood will provide a permanent solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process…

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Israeli Likud Party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu offered a similar vision of a post-Oslo scenario:

Some kind of federated or confederated effort between Jordan and the Palestinians might introduce that function of security and peace.

Ken Ellingwood’s Los Angeles Times article acknowledges that there are supporters of such a scenario, but he doesn’t name names and he thinks it marginal.

Another idea that has circulated is an old one: reconnecting the West Bank to Jordan, somehow, and putting Gaza back into Egypt’s hands. But this scenario is a long shot.

The chances of this “long shot” becoming an active initiative would be far greater with the collapse of the Olmert government and the election of Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.

In the notion of a Palestinian confederation with Jordan, Right Zionists have a vision (little word from Jordan on any of this, of course).

The horrifying part is that Right Zionists have almost nothing to say about Gaza.

Is there a vision for Gaza?

It seems not.

There is plenty of alarm about Gaza.

Writing in the Weekly Standard, Meyrav Wurmser expresses deep concerns about Gaza:

Now Hamas is threatening to escalate hostilities by attacking Israel’s main electric grid in Ashkelon. The significance of this–as well as of the Palestinian civil war and Hamas’s capture of Gaza–is that Hamas, and by extension Iran, has launched a real push to take over the Palestinian areas, just as the violence in Lebanon represents Syria’s attempt to retake that country.

Similarly, Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, is reported to have recently suggested that Washington abandon all Oslo pretensions.

Washington should go one step further and announce it is no longer working to set up the conditions for Palestinian independence.

“The conditions don’t exist,” Bryen said. “This is a huge emergency.”

But what does this “huge emergency” imply for Gaza?

Silence.

There is no plan for Gaza.

Ken Ellingwood of the Los Angeles Times offers up a chilling conclusion via Gidi Grinstein, a former aide to Ehud Barak:

Israeli analyst Gidi Grinstein told Israel Radio. “The Gaza entity will be regarded as an enemy entity and be treated accordingly…

The US Loses its Civil War in Gaza

Posted by Cutler on June 14, 2007
Egypt, Iran, Israel, Palestinian Authority / 1 Comment

Back in April, amidst growing tension and factional fighting in Gaza between Fatah and Hamas, I pointed out that the US was, indirectly, a party to the conflict insofar as the Bush administration was providing support to Fatah security forces.

At that time, Haaretz reported (available via the Daily Times of Pakistan) on disagreements over US and Israeli support for Fatah.  The disagreement ostensibly concerned differing assessments of the strength of Fatah relative to Hamas.

The Americans believe that strengthening Abbas loyalists and deploying them in friction points along the north of the strip and Philadelphi route in Rafah will eventually improve the security situation.

Western officials who studied the battle near the Karni crossing last Tuesday concluded, contrary to the IDF’s assessment, that Abbas’ forces had performed well despite their losses and had succeeded in warding off a larger Hamas force. They found that Hamas had not won a decisive victory in the battles in the Strip and urged taking steps to strengthen the pro-Abbas forces…

[Israeli] Deputy Defence Minister Ephraim Sneh is the main advocate for helping to strengthen the Abbas loyalists

The IDF believes that Hamas has a considerable advantage over Fatah in the confrontation with Fatah in the Gaza Strip. “Hamas men are trained, equipped and more resolved than their Fatah counterparts, even if the latter outnumber them in weapons,” an IDF source said.

Ephraim Sneh was earlier quoted in the Washington Post, defending Israeli support for Fatah:

“The idea is to change the balance, which has been in favor of Hamas and against Fatah. With these well-trained forces, it will help right that imbalance.”

Now, Sneh appears to be have suffered a double loss.

Within the Israeli Labor Party, Sneh is closely aligned with the outgoing Defense Minister and party leader, Amir Peretz.  In the most recent Labor Party primary, Peretz backed Ami Ayalon who subsequently lost the bid for party leadership to Ehud Barak.

Will Ehud Barak endorse Sneh’s dangerous game?

Sneh’s strategy appears to be crumbling.  Hamas appears to be winning decisive victories against Sneh’s Fatah allies.

In fighting today, Hamas continued its near-complete armed takeover of the Gaza Strip and seized the southern town of Rafah, according to witnesses and security officials allied with the rival Fatah faction.

In Gaza City, two out of four key Fatah-controlled security compounds have fallen to Hamas…

Earlier, Mr Abbas ordered his best troops to strike back at Hamas Islamists as they tightened their grip on Gaza.

The decision by Mr Abbas, who is backed by the west, to commit the presidential guard came as Hamas said it captured the Gaza City security compound. Until now the US-financed presidential guard has been told to maintain a defensive posture against what appear to be coordinated attacks by Hamas.

Hamas’s seizure of the base would deal a severe blow to Fatah and Mr Abbas…

The Council on Foreign Relations, among others, is already describing the emergence of “Hamastan.”

Having helped trigger the confrontation between Fatah and Hamas, Washington is now hoping its go-to-guy in Egypt, Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman can persuade Hamas to stand down, even as victory appears imminent.  Good luck with that.

As I have previously suggested, the US has tried to exploit civil war in Gaza as part of a proxy war between the US and Iran.

It is for this reason that Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has suggested that the fall of Gaza to Hamas would have “regional implications.”

The Jerusalem Post reports that Cairo is allegedly pointing fingers at Iran.

According to the report, Cairo blamed external elements with igniting the fighting, hinting that Iran was behind the escalation in Gaza…

In an interview with the London based Al-Hayat , senior Fatah official Samir Mashharawi was more explicit in his claims that both Syria and Iran were behind Hamas’ attempted coup. In the interview, cited by Israel Radio, Mashharawi claimed that the two countries had transferred millions of Dollars to Hamas, and that the Islamic group was using the money against the Palestinians people in trying to establish a “Hamas state” in the Gaza Strip.

Is Iran rising to the challenge?  Perhaps.  Hamas certainly is.  But it was the US-backed Fatah forces who were first deployed into “friction points” to try to escalate tensions in Gaza.

That is looking increasingly like a major blunder.

In the battle between Sneh and the IDF, the defense establishment looks like the winner:

The defense establishment is to hold meetings next week in an effort to prepare recommendations for a new policy in the Gaza Strip, in the wake of what seems to a Hamas conquest of the area.

The general assessment in the Israel Defense Forces is that there is a new reality in the Strip and that Hamas has defeated Fatah in the battle for power.

Israeli political sources said Wednesday that the Hamas takeover requires that Israel reexamine its ties with the Gaza Strip, and whether it will continue its economic ties, the infrastructure links – providing of fuel and electricity from Israel.

Sneh’s US-backed plan to use Fatah forces against Hamas may have been a cynical and naive gambit, but the IDF is unlikely to adopt a softer line.

Barak may want to prop up Olmert’s government.  But a Hamas victory in Gaza will surely bolster the position of Israeli hawks, not least Likud leader Benjamin Netanhahu.

If so, then the proxy war in Gaza may quickly become a far more explosive regional civil war in the Middle East.

Putin’s Caspian Coup, Cheney’s Iran Plan

In a major coup, Russian President Putin has clinched a deal to export Central Asian gas via Russia’s preferred overland route and has almost certainly dealt a fatal blow to Vice President Cheney’s vision of a submerged Trans-Caspian pipeline that would bypass Russia.

Putin claimed his Great Game prize at a weekend meeting with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov and Kazakhstan Presdient Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Cheney had personally courted Kazakh President Nazarbayev in a bid to win support for the Trans-Caspian pipeline.  And the US had made similar overtures to Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov after the sudden death of his predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, in December 2006.

Kazakh President Nazarbayev had been slated to attend an energy summit of ex-Soviet bloc leaders meeting in Poland to discuss pipeline projects designed to bypass Russia.

Instead of bypassing Russia, Nazarbayev bypassed Cheney.

This is an enormous victory for Putin in the increasingly intense Great Power rivalry between Russia and the United States.

Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov, seemingly eager to forestall an inevitable US-led smear campaign against his authoritarian regime, has held out hope that the Russian pipeline agreement does not preclude alternatives, including the Trans-Caspian pipeline:

Turkmen ambassador to Austria Esen Aydogdyev told the Viennese daily Der Standard that ‘Turkmenistan has enough gas to export it in all directions; the project involving a trans-Caspian pipeline remains an option. The West doesn’t need to have any worries.’

Austrian oil and gas company OMV AG plays a leading role in the consortium currently planning the Nabucco natural gas pipeline and recently confirmed its commitment to the project.

Nevertheless, officials in the US and Russia appear to read the situation differently.

Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, clearly gloating, suggested that Cheney’s pipeline is now dead:

“In my view, technological, legal, and environmental risks that are involved in the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline project make it impossible to find an investor for it, unless it is viewed as a purely political project and unless it does not matter what this pipe will pump,” Khristenko told journalists in Turkmenbashi on Saturday.

Khristenko’s American counterpart, US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, appears to view the outcome as a significant setback for US efforts to help break European dependence on Russia.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Monday that a deal to pipe gas from Turkmenistan to customers in the West via Russia was bad for Europe.

Speaking at a press conference on the sidelines of an International Energy Agency meeting here, Bodman said: “It would not be good for Europe. It concentrates more natural gas to one supplier.”

Implications for Iran

Putin’s Caspian delight may have significant implications for US policy toward Iran.  Cheney had been hoping to use the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, along with the Baku-Tiblis-Ceyhan oil and Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipelines, to bypass Iran and Russia.  The gas would eventually flow to Europe through the NABUCCO pipeline.

Now, Cheney will arguably be forced to choose between “the lesser of two evils.”

From the perspective of Great Power politics, there is no question: Cheney will try to reconstruct an alliance with Iran.

The only question now may be how Cheney will rebuild ties between the US and Iran: diplomacy or regime change.  For the vice president, mere “containment” of Iran is no longer an option.  Cheney will not be likely leave office without an alliance with Iran.

One challenge, among several, is to pry Iran away from Russia.

Several weeks before the news of Putin’s Caspian coup, Nikolas K. Gvosdev–a self-proclaimed Washington “realist”–published an article in the National Interest entitled, “The Other Iran Timetable.”

Gvosdev argued that Europe needed Iranian gas for the NABUCCO pipeline:

[T]here is only so much time before Europeans will decide that Iran, which has the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas, is a critical part of ensuring their energy security. So far, the United States has been largely successful in convincing Europeans to delay proposed investments in Iran’s natural gas sector and has expressed strong disapproval of plans to connect Iran to the so-called NABUCCO pipeline (designed to bring Caspian gas via Turkey to Europe).

But NABUCCO has limits. Many Europeans are skeptical that there is enough Caspian gas to really make a difference for their consumption… In the end, I was told, for NABUCCO to make sense, it will have to include gas from Iran.

This means that sooner or later Europe’s ability to give Washington support on isolating Iran will give way to its own needs for energy….

[W]as this is a case of advising, “Whatever you do, do it quickly”—meaning that if the United States were to pursue forcible regime change the preference would be to do it sooner?… [B]y 2011 or 2013, large-scale European investment in Iran will begin no matter whether it is still the Islamic Republic or some other form of government…

Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen were once champions of engagement with Iran.  That idea seems to have collapsed after 1991.

During the middle of the 1990s, Cheney was himself a leading petro-realist, advocating direct engagement with Iran.  That idea seems to have collapsed by July 2001.

Will Cheney and the Russia hawks go wobbly on Iran now that the US appears to have lost Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan?

Will Right Zionists revert to their earlier support for an opening with Iran?  Or is Russia the “lesser of two evils” for Right Zionists, especially in light of Israeli interests in Turkmenistan and Iranian support for Hezbollah and Hamas?

Or, will Cheney and Right Zionists constitute a united front toward regime change in Iran?

Reading the Map Correctly in Israel

Posted by Cutler on May 04, 2007
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Syria / No Comments

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is under pressure for his execution of the so-called “Second Lebanese War.”  Tens of thousands of protestors rallied in Israel, calling for Olmert to resign.

The protests are politically “vague” about the substance of the critique of Olmert, but insofar as Netanyahu and his Right Zionist allies are highly critical of Olmert’s execution of the war, the protests may bolster the case against Olmert.

Back in 2006, I wrote several posts describing Right Zionist dismay (here and here) with Olmert’s “cautious” execution of the battle in Lebanon.

The most “candid” Right Zionist critique of Olmert, however, comes from Meyrav Wurmser of the Hudson Institute who–along with her husband, David Wurmser–is part of the “family” of Right Zionists allied with Cheney.  In an extraordinary December 2006 interview, Meyrav Wurmser was very explicit about Right Zionist frustration with Olmert:

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Hizbullah defeated Israel in the war. This is the first war Israel lost,” Dr. Wurmser declares…

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Is this a popular stance in the [US] administration, that Israel lost the war?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “Yes, there is no doubt. It’s not something one can argue about it. There is a lot of anger at Israel.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: What caused the anger?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “I know this will annoy many of your readers… But the anger is over the fact that Israel did not fight against the Syrians. Instead of Israel fighting against Hizbullah, many parts of the American administration believe that Israel should have fought against the real enemy, which is Syria and not Hizbullah.”

YITZHAK BENHORIN: Did the administration expect Israel to attack Syria?

MEYRAV WURMSER: “They hoped Israel would do it. You cannot come to another country and order it to launch a war, but there was hope, and more than hope, that Israel would do the right thing. It would have served both the American and Israeli interests.

The neocons are responsible for the fact that Israel got a lot of time and space… They believed that Israel should be allowed to win. A great part of it was the thought that Israel should fight against the real enemy, the one backing Hizbullah. It was obvious that it is impossible to fight directly against Iran, but the thought was that its strategic and important ally should be hit.”

“It is difficult for Iran to export its Shiite revolution without joining Syria, which is the last nationalistic Arab country. If Israel had hit Syria, it would have been such a harsh blow for Iran, that it would have weakened it and changes the strategic map in the Middle East.

“The final outcome is that Israel did not do it. It fought the wrong war and lost. Instead of a strategic war that would serve Israel’s objectives, as well as the US objectives in Iraq. If Syria had been defeated, the rebellion in Iraq would have ended”…

“No one would have stopped you. It was an American interest. They would have applauded you. Think why you received so much time and space to operate. Rice was in the region and Israel embarrassed her with Qana, and still Israel got more time. Why aren’t they reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?

Now, is this Likudnik critique of Olmert shared by organizers of the anti-Olmert rallies?

No.

It is instructive to note that the rally has been attacked from both the Israeli  “Left” and “far-Right.”  If the far-Right is to be believed, the rally is–like the rebellion by Olmert’s own Foreign Minister, Tsipi Livni–part of a centrist effort to get Olmert out as Prime Minister, but to salvage the Kadima-led coalition government and preempt calls for new elections.

Why?  Because new elections could well result in the election of Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu.

If Cheney is going to have another pass at war against Syria this summer, then the clock is ticking for snap elections.

The Israeli Labor party will be under pressure to quit the Kadima-led government, but it appears to be scrambling to find a way to forestall demands for a fresh election any time soon.  This may become increasingly difficult, however, if Olmert survives in office until late May when Labor party primaries may force the leadership to split with Kadima.  The Economist explains:

Though the Labour primary is an internal vote among party members, from whom Mr Peretz has more support than among the public, most bets are on Ehud Barak, a former prime minister and army chief of staff, or Ami Ayalon, an ex-admiral and domestic intelligence chief. Mr Ayalon has already said he will pull Labour out of the coalition if he wins, almost certainly forcing an election. If, on the other hand, Mr Barak gets in, his dilemma will be whether to stay on as defence minister and share the flak with Mr Olmert, or risk an election race against the right-wing Likud party.

Cheney has a (Right Zionist) plan for the Middle East.  Act II of that plan was supposed to begin last summer.  It failed.

If Netanyahu is restored to office, Cheney may find himself with allies “reading the map correctly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”

Needless to say, the clock is ticking.

Or, from the perspective of Right Zionists like Michael Ledeen, “Faster, please.”

From Russia (To Israel) With Love

Posted by Cutler on April 19, 2007
Great Power Rivalry, Israel, Right Zionists / No Comments

One of the central assumptions behind discussions of the domestic political influence within the US of the “Israel Lobby” is that the power must be grounded in domestic lobbying because there is no coherent strategic rationale that justifies the “special relationship” between the US and Israeli.

One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests… Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’…

Without minimizing the importance of domestic politics, there may be more to say about the strategic significance of Israel.

Consider the role of oil.

In a region that is home to enormous oil reserves, why favor a country that has almost no energy of its own?

Because much of the geopolitics of oil is about oil transport.

Consider, for example, an October 2006 report by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Israel has one main operational oil pipeline, known as the “Trans-Israel Pipeline” or the “Tipline,” built in 1968 to ship Iranian oil from the southern Red Sea port of Eilat to the northern Mediterranean port of Ashkelon, as a gateway to Europe. The pipeline went into disuse after relations with Iran soured in 1979. The 152-mile pipeline has a reported current capacity of 1-1.2 million bbl/d (having been expanded from 400,000 bbl/d) and 18 million barrels of storage capacity….

During 2003, the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC) modified the pipeline to reverse flows on the 42-inch line, to facilitate Russian Caspian petroleum exports to Far East. In October 2003, it was first reported that Swiss trader Glencore would ship 1.2 million barrels of Kazakh CPC Blend crude and 600,000 barrels of sour Russian Urals through the line as an alternative to the Suez Canal, which can accommodate only smaller, “Suezmax” tankers. In July 2006, Israel also signed and agreement with the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) to import and transport Azeri Light Crude through the pipeline.

That brief EIA narrative raises a whole host of interesting questions.

Who, for example, might harbor the dream of restoring the original direction of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline as an Iranian-Israeli route that reaches Europe but bypasses Arab oil?

Who dreams of bypassing the Suez canal?

Who dreams of oil, loaded onto VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers) in the Red Sea for shipment to markets in Asia?

Note, too, the possibility that the Israeli pipeline route might get tangled up in the Great Power rivalry between the United States and Russia.

After all, the Azerbaijan oil that flows through the BTC pipeline is specifically designed to bypass Russian influence in the transportation of Caspian Sea oil.

But Russia is making its own play for the Israeli route, also via Turkey.

Black Sea ministers… faced conflicts over competing pipeline projects, such as Russia’s plans to expand its Blue Stream gas pipeline through Turkey to Israel and possibly Europe, which would rival the planned [US-backed] Nabucco pipeline.

One might even imagine Israel being wooed by Russia and the US.

As it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end.


Abdullah’s Chance and His Critics

Posted by Cutler on March 23, 2007
Arab League, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Saudi King Abdullah is making news with a proposal to revive his 2002 “peace plan” at an Arab League summit set to begin Riyadh on March 28.

In Thomas Friedman’s latest New York Times column, “Abdullah’s Chance,” he wonders aloud whether Saudi Arabia is becoming “the new Egypt.”

Friedman is understandably delighted by the news.  After all, Friedman had a hand in the 2002 peace plan.  At a minimum, he broke the story in his 2002 column, “An Intriguing Signal From the Saudi Crown Prince.”  But, as Friedman immodestly suggested in a radio interview on Tom Ashbrook’s NPR program, “On Point,” he deserves even more credit:

“I’m the guy who, you know, came up with the Abdullah peace plan in an interview with the King of Saudi Arabia” (19:40).

As the initiative comes back into focus, it might be worth situating the place of this scheme within the context of ongoing factional battles in Washington, Saudi Arabia, and Israel.

The Abdullah peace plan is properly understood as a diplomatic centerpiece for an “axis” that includes James Baker’s “Right Arabists” in Washington, the “Faisal” faction in Riyadh, and the center-right Kadima crowd in Tel Aviv.

Likely critics of such a plan might include a “rejectionist” axis, led by Vice President Cheney and his “Right Zionist” allies in Washington, the old “Fahd” faction–including Prince Bandar–in Riyadh, and the Likud party in Tel Aviv.

As Eli Lake reports in the Right Zionist New York Sun, Likudniks are already speaking out:

While that appears to be the view of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, other players within the government have been critical of Mr. Olmert’s seeming embrace of the Saudi initiative. In an interview yesterday with the Arutz Sheva news service, a leading Likud member of the Knesset, Yuval Steinitz, attacked the prime minister. “When you mention the other side’s plan and add ‘all is open for negotiation,’ it means that you are not going to stand firm on defensible borders in the Golan Heights or in Judea and Samaria,” he said.

A former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations under Prime Minister Netanyahu, Dore Gold, said: “Those who believe that redividing Jerusalem by advancing the Saudi plan will lower the flames of radical Islamic rage have absolutely no idea of what they are dealing with. Any proposal to give the Hamas government the hope of taking over Jerusalem will shoot up jihadism in the region by giving new hope to Al Qaeda affiliates that Jerusalem is within their grasp.”

The factional “shoe” has yet to drop in Washington.  But it will.  For all the talk of “departing hawks,” Secretary of State Rice is not out of the factional woods just yet.

No word yet from Riyadh, but maybe it would be useful to recall a little-noticed source of vehement dissent that arose when the “Abdullah plan” was first aired back in 2002.

Remember that famous Saudi “hawk”–Nawaf Obaidi–who made news with a Washington Post essay that threatened dramatic Saudi action to thwart Iranian regional ambitions?  In a recent post, I speculated that there might be reasons to link Obaidi to the Bandar crowd.

If so, then it might make sense to recall an extraordinary earlier Op-Ed by Nawaf Obaidi–”
The Israeli Flag in Riyadh?“–published in the Washington Post on March 2, 2002.

Considering the hushed tones of Saudi factionalism, this essay reads like a sweeping broadside against the man who would soon become King!

Will there be an Israeli Embassy next door to the Saudi royal court? Not any time soon.

The recent announcement by Crown Prince Abdullah that Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 borders… reveals the courage and vision of the Saudi leader.  However, to assume that the Saudi crown prince can dictate such an important policy is to gravely misunderstand the situation on the ground. In the Saudi kingdom, consensus is the coin of the realm, and in this case, consensus is going to be extremely difficult to come by.

Saudi Arabia has never been a one-man show, although pundits and policymakers in the West often paint it as a monolithic state. Through nearly a century of existence, leadership has been exercised by balancing the various centers of power in the kingdom: the senior Saudi princes, religious leaders and the public. No one institution has the authority to implement a policy as important as recognizing Israel…

Even if Crown Prince Abdullah is able to gain the support of a majority of the senior leadership of the royal family, opposition among the religious establishment and on the street is deep-seated and adamant. Since the announcement, reaction in the kingdom has wavered between astonishment and dismay…

Disgruntled religious extremists have a history of violence in the kingdom, and their ranks will only grow if the leadership is seen as abandoning long-held Saudi values. Thus, the royal family will be extremely careful about adopting any policy that widens the gap between themselves and their people…

For this reason, it is worth considering the wisdom of the manner in which this proposal was presented… Announcing it over dinner, without any details and to a journalist who is a longtime Saudi critic, only undermined any chance for broad-based Saudi and Arab consensus.

There are lots of flattering words thrown in along the way, but this certainly reads like a shot across the bow.

Does this mean that a possible Obaidi-Bandar faction in Riyadh is actually more hostile to Israel than the Abdullah faction?  No.  Absolutely not.

But it does mean that such a faction likely remains mistrustful of Adbullah’s “one-man show” and that they–along with their rejectionist allies in Washington and Tel Aviv–have a very different vision of the roadmap to a “new” Middle East.

Hersh’s Redirection

Posted by Cutler on March 14, 2007
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

In his most recent New Yorker article, “The Redirection,” Seymour Hersh tries to make some sense out of US efforts to build a US-Saudi-Israeli alliance against Iran.  In some respects, the essay runs along the same lines as my own effort to trace the lines of such a redirection in a ZNet article, “The Devil Wears Persian.”

Hersh also gives a nod to the possibility that the “shift” may be championed by factions within the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel but this theme remains relatively underdeveloped and the refusal to take factionalism more seriously tends to trouble his narrative.

Hersh pins the US strategy on Cheney, Right Zionist Elliott Abrams, and Zalmay Khalilzad.  He sees John Negroponte as a critic and hedges on the role of Condoleezza Rice:

The key players behind the redirection are Vice-President Dick Cheney, the deputy national-security adviser Elliott Abrams, the departing Ambassador to Iraq (and nominee for United Nations Ambassador), Zalmay Khalilzad, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi national-security adviser. While Rice has been deeply involved in shaping the public policy, former and current officials said that the clandestine side has been guided by Cheney…

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings…

[T]he echoes of Iran-Contra were a factor in Negroponte’s decision to resign from the National Intelligence directorship and accept a sub-Cabinet position of Deputy Secretary of State.

On Saudi factionalism, Hersh reiterates some of the themes that have been developed in previous posts (here, here, and here)–including the idea that Prince Bandar is the a figure of any such new alignment.  But Hersh hedges his bets on the depths of the Saudi schism:

The Administration’s effort to diminish Iranian authority in the Middle East has relied heavily on Saudi Arabia and on Prince Bandar, the Saudi national-security adviser. Bandar served as the Ambassador to the United States for twenty-two years, until 2005, and has maintained a friendship with President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. In his new post, he continues to meet privately with them. Senior White House officials have made several visits to Saudi Arabia recently, some of them not disclosed…

In a royal family rife with competition, Bandar has, over the years, built a power base that relies largely on his close relationship with the U.S., which is crucial to the Saudis. Bandar was succeeded as Ambassador by Prince Turki al-Faisal; Turki resigned after eighteen months and was replaced by Adel A. al-Jubeir, a bureaucrat who has worked with Bandar. A former Saudi diplomat told me that during Turki’s tenure he became aware of private meetings involving Bandar and senior White House officials, including Cheney and Abrams. “I assume Turki was not happy with that,” the Saudi said. But, he added, “I don’t think that Bandar is going off on his own.” Although Turki dislikes Bandar, the Saudi said, he shared his goal of challenging the spread of Shiite power in the Middle East.

I think the Turki-Bandar split runs deeper than a personality dispute.  The Turki faction is more dovish on Iran and more hawkish on Israel and, in a US context, the Turki faction is closer to Baker than Cheney.

There are some unruly problems that disrupt Hersh’s attempts to craft a coherent narrative.  Hersh takes up the Saudi-Israeli element of the redirection, but he can’t entirely square the circle:

The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations…

In the past year, the Saudis, the Israelis, and the Bush Administration have developed a series of informal understandings about their new strategic direction… Israel would be assured that its security was paramount and that Washington and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states shared its concern about Iran…

[T]he Saudis would urge Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian party that has received support from Iran, to curtail its anti-Israeli aggression and to begin serious talks about sharing leadership with Fatah, the more secular Palestinian group. (In February, the Saudis brokered a deal at Mecca between the two factions. However, Israel and the U.S. have expressed dissatisfaction with the terms.)

Isn’t it possible that the Saudi brokered deal at Mecca between Hamas and Fatah represented more of a triumph for one faction than another?  If the Mecca deal was part of a US initiative, it seems strange that the US was not only dissatisfied with the terms, as Hersh suggests, but was also reportedly caught by surprise by the deal.

There are certainly signs of renewed interest in some quarters for an Israeli-Saudi accord but to judge from the headlines, Prince Turki seems unlikely to emerge as a leading source of such enthusiasm.  Right Zionists are not exactly dancing in the streets.

Hersh’s article focuses well-deserved attention on Saudi involvement in Lebanon, although even here I think he understates the conflict between Bandar’s hawkish approach toward Hezbollah and the Turki faction’s quest for reconciliation in Lebanon.

The biggest question is what a new US-Saudi-Israeli strategic alignment would mean for Iraq.  Hersh’s whole analysis of the “redirection” begins with the question of Iraq:

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy.

But Hersh is actually weakest in his attempt to link the “redirection” to the politics of Iraq.  As Hersh suggests, the US initially aligned itself with Iraqi Shiites and marginalized Iraqi Sunnis.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites….

Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq’s Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

One peculiarity in this story: neoconservative ideologues appear, in Hersh’s telling, at the center of both the move toward Iraqi Shiites and a pro-Sunni redirection designed to counteract the “distress” the pro-Shiite tilt has caused.

Is the assumption that neoconservatives have been distressed by empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority?  I see no sign of that distress, in part because Right Zionists close to Cheney have always argued–and continue to argue–that the empowerment of the Iraqi Shiite majority could provide a pro-American balance to both Sunni extremists (including the Turki faction in Saudi Arabia!) and Shiite extremists in Iran.

One might expect that a pro-Saudi tilt in US policy would require rollback of Shiite political dominance in Iraq and the containment of Iran.  This might, in fact, reflect the goals of the Baker-Turki factions.

The restoration of Sunni Arab political power (through an anti-Shiite coup, etc.), however, is decidedly not on the agenda of “neo-conservative ideologues.”  Neither, it seems, is a crackdown on Moqtada al-Sadr.

Hersh knows that the signs of “redirection” in Iraq do not appear to include a retreat from Shiite power.

The Administration’s new policy for containing Iran seems to complicate its strategy for winning the war in Iraq. Patrick Clawson, an expert on Iran and the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued, however, that closer ties between the United States and moderate or even radical Sunnis could put “fear” into the government of Prime Minister Maliki and “make him worry that the Sunnis could actually win” the civil war there. Clawson said that this might give Maliki an incentive to coöperate with the United States in suppressing radical Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Even so, for the moment, the U.S. remains dependent on the coöperation of Iraqi Shiite leaders. The Mahdi Army may be openly hostile to American interests, but other Shiite militias are counted as U.S. allies. Both Moqtada al-Sadr and the White House back Maliki. A memorandum written late last year by Stephen Hadley, the national-security adviser, suggested that the Administration try to separate Maliki from his more radical Shiite allies by building his base among moderate Sunnis and Kurds, but so far the trends have been in the opposite direction. As the Iraqi Army continues to founder in its confrontations with insurgents, the power of the Shiite militias has steadily increased.

If Hersh knows why “the trends have been in the opposite direction” of those implicit in his sense of the redirection, he isn’t saying.

The Baker and the Turki faction are “irreconcilables” when it comes to Shiite power in Iraq, even as they seek to retain but contain the incumbent regime in Iran.  For this crowd, the “trends” in Iraq continue in the wrong direction.

Hersh, however, may be missing a key piece of the puzzle.  The faction behind the redirection–Cheney, his Right Zionist allies, and Bandar–are very hawkish about the Iranian regime but remain quite hopeful about relations with  Iraqi Shiites, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani.

The evidence for this is quite clear in the case of Cheney’s Right Zionist allies, if not in the case of Cheney himself.

On the Bandar front, the evidence remains murky.  There are, however, some tantalizing clues.

Exhibit A: Nawaf Obaid.

Recall that Obaid made headlines with a November 29, 2006 Washington Post Op-Ed, “Stepping Into Iraq” that seemed to threaten Saudi action to thwart Iranian influence in Iraq.  Obaid was fired by Turki after the publication of the Op-Ed.

Does Nawaf Obaid represent Bandar’s views?  That remains a speculative proposition.  Nevertheless, Obaid did appear to suggest that his views had some base of support in Saudi Arabia, if not “the Saudi leadership”:

Over the past year, a chorus of voices has called for Saudi Arabia to protect the Sunni community in Iraq and thwart Iranian influence there. Senior Iraqi tribal and religious figures, along with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and other Arab and Muslim countries, have petitioned the Saudi leadership to provide Iraqi Sunnis with weapons and financial support. Moreover, domestic pressure to intervene is intense. Major Saudi tribal confederations, which have extremely close historical and communal ties with their counterparts in Iraq, are demanding action. They are supported by a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions who are eager to see the kingdom play a more muscular role in the region.

Is Bandar part of “a new generation of Saudi royals in strategic government positions”?  Is Secretary-General of the Saudi National Security Council a strategic position?

In any event, Obaid’s Op-Ed was actually a condensed version of a larger report–“Meeting the Challenge of a Fragmented Iraq: A Saudi Perspective“–published in connection with his time as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Obaid’s report is long and complex and deserves to be read in full.  Nevertheless, the relevant point in the context of Saudi relations with Iranian and Iraqi Shiites is that the report is, as one might predict, extremely hawkish about the pernicious influence of Iran in Iraq.  The chief recommendations in the report concern preparing for a “worst case scenario” in which Saudi Arabia must aggressively “counter meddling by Iran.”

At the same time, the report includes a very important recommendation that was not part of Obaid’s Washington Post Op-Ed: “Extend a State Invitation to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

It is also important for the Saudi leadership to open a meaningful discussion with Grand Ayotollah Ali al- Sistani by extending an invitation to him to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Such an overture would send a strong positive message – both within the Kingdom and in the region at large – regarding Saudi Arabia’s position vis-à-vis the Shi’ite community. It would also demonstrate that the Kingdom recognizes Ayatollah al-Sistani’s authority and respects those who regard him as the leading Shi’ite Arab cleric. Ayatollah Sistani is not only the foremost religious figure for Iraqi Shi’ites, but his influence in Iraq’s political sphere is equally as important. An official state visit to Saudi Arabia would reassure the Iraqi Shi’ite community that the Saudi leadership fully acknowledges that they are critical to establishing stability in the country.

Prince Bandar meets David Wurmser.  Welcome to Cheney’s world.

The Ice in Rice

Posted by Cutler on February 17, 2007
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

To my knowledge, nobody has explicitly linked the Saudi-brokered “unity government” deal between Fatah and Hamas to Saudi royal factionalism.  And I’ve seen no news reports to suggest that any royals have criticized the deal.

Give it time.

The US response to the deal–signaled by Secretary of State Rice in comments earlier this week as she departed for the region–was quite icy.

This is not a White House initiative sponsored by the office of the Vice President.  These are not Cheney’s Saudis.  These are Baker’s Saudi’s.

The unity deal between Fatah and Hamas appears to mark a major victory for “unreconstructed,” Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.   By some accounts, Saudi King Abdullah appears to neither to have pressed for nor received many “pro-Zionist” concessions from Hamas, least of all the recognition of Israel or the renunciation of violence as a tool in the struggle.  Others suggest Hamas may have given a nod toward implicit recognition.

Overall, the Mecca agreement appears to represent a successful Saudi effort to undermine the Bush administration’s Fatah-backed war against the Hamas government.

Regional reconciliation is, in essence, a Baker/Abdullah initiative.  And it aims to include all players–including Putin–in the classic Right Arabist collaborative initiative.

Regional rivalry is the Cheney plan.

So, has Cheney lost his Saudi’s?  Or are they just laying low and deferring to Abdullah for the moment.

The Cheney plan provides for a “regional realignment” that explicitly links the US, Israel and the Saudis in confrontational alliance to battle Iran and Syria via proxy wars within the Palestinian Authority (support for Mahmoud Abbas in a civil war with Hamas), Lebanon (support for Fouad Siniora in a civil war with Hezbollah), and Iraq (support for a campaign against alleged Iranian influence), if not support for an outright military confrontation against Iran itself.

So far, the Saudis royal family appears to be trying to hold together amidst US pressure to pick a side.

How long will that last with Cheney working overtime to cultivate Saudi allies?

The Fog of Factional War

Posted by Cutler on December 11, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Russia / No Comments

The New York Times is scrambling to make sense of the failed Realist coup that was supposed to accompany the publication of James Baker’s Iraq Study Group report.

One early Times effort pitted Condoleezza Rice as the leader of the anti-Baker faction.

More recently, the Times tries out a few other approaches in an article entitled, “Report on Iraq Exposes a Divide within the G.O.P.

One approach emphasizes the role of domestic Republican politics and cites a Wesleyan colleague, Douglas Foyle:

No matter what positions they take today, all Republicans would prefer that the 2008 elections not be fought on the battleground of Iraq, said Douglas Foyle, professor of government at Wesleyan University.

“They don’t want the 2008 presidential and Congressional campaign to be about staying the course,” Professor Foyle said. “That’s where the calculus of Bush and the Republicans diverge very quickly. Everyone is thinking about the next election, and Bush doesn’t have one.”

Other voices in the article also alleged that the Baker Report is supposed to function as cover for “cut and run” Republicans:

Bill Kristol, the neoconservative editor of The Weekly Standard and a leading advocate of the decision to invade Iraq, said: “In the real world, the Baker report is now the vehicle for those Republicans who want to extricate themselves from Iraq…”

But Kristol knows that the conflict is not simply about the audacity of a lame duck and the cautiousness of those “thinking about the next election.”  As Kristol suggests, the emphasis on domestic politics only goes so far in explaining the split within the Republican party.  After all, says Kristol, one of the most prominent “rejectionists” is also the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2008, John McCain:

“McCain is articulating the strategy for victory in Iraq. Bush will have to choose, and the Republican Party will have to choose, in the very near future between Baker and McCain.”

The Times authors also seem to discard the electoral politics explanation that pits lame duck hawks against pandering doves:

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, rejected the major recommendations of the group because they did not present a formula for victory. Mr. McCain, hoping to claim the Republican mantle on national security issues, has staked out a muscular position on Iraq, calling for an immediate increase in American forces to try to bring order to Baghdad and crush the insurgency.

This leads to the second approach adopted by the New York Times article, one that emphasizes the role of ideological factionalism:

A document that many in Washington had hoped would pave the way for a bipartisan compromise on Iraq instead drew sharp condemnation from the right, with hawks saying it was a wasted effort that advocated a shameful American retreat.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page described the report as a “strategic muddle,” Richard Perle called it “absurd,” Rush Limbaugh labeled it “stupid,” and The New York Post portrayed the leaders of the group, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic member of Congress, as “surrender monkeys”…

The choice Mr. Kristol is describing reflects a longstanding Republican schism over policy and culture between ideological neoconservatives and so-called realists. Through most of the Bush administration, the neoconservatives’ idea of using American military power to advance democracy around the world prevailed, pushed along by Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld.

Of course, it is true that the so-called Neoconservatives–aka Right Zionists–have been howling about the Baker Report.

The problem with this explanation of the new factionalism, however, is that most of the actual so-called “ideological neoconservatives”–including Richard Perle–were long ago purged from the administration (if not Congress) and Right Arabists occupy key posts in the White House, the State Department, the CIA, and the military brass.

So, if the Right Zionists are pleased to observe some White House “push back” against Baker, they are cheering from the side-lines, largely in absentia.

Perhaps the only meaningful exceptions–now that Bolton is gone–are Elliottt Abrams and a Right Zionist named David Wurmser.  The key to Wurmser’s protected status, if there is any, is that he works in the Office of the Vice President.

But Cheney himself doesn’t exactly fit the profile of an “ideological neoconservative”–least of all on the basis of the skewed definition offered up by the Times (“using military power to advance democracy around the world”).  Just check out Cheney in Kazakhstan to appreciate the gap.  Cheney is hardly a promoter of democracy for its own sake; not quite a “true believer.”  And, historically at least, not a particularly reliable Right Zionist.

Cheney is the leader of the rejectionist faction.  But to what end?

The new factionalism is only indirectly about the Gulf, although it is about energy politics.  The key split increasingly looks like a battle between competing approaches to Russia, with Iran, Iraq, and Israel hanging in the balance.

Israel, Iraq and the Elections

Posted by Cutler on November 08, 2006
Dem Zionists, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists / No Comments

Were the midterm elections a referendum on the Right Zionist (aka “neocon”) war in Iraq?

Maybe. But as I’ve previously noted, the Democrats not particularly reliable opponents of Right Zionist policies in Iraq. The most strident critics of Right Zionist war aims in Iraq continue to be Republicans–specifically, the folks I call Right Arabists.

How will the midterm elections influence these battles?

With the control of the Senate still unclear at this writing, the broad contours of power have yet to be determined. Nevertheless, some of the details are clear.

Matthew E. Berger of the Jerusalem Post has written two articles that help map the terrain. The first report is an October 26, 2006 article entitled, “Is there an ally in the House?” and the second is from November 2, 2006 entitled, “Who’s good for the Jews?”

The October article makes some important points about areas to watch, given Democratic leadership in the House:

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the minority leader who would become speaker of the House, is a strong pro-Israel supporter…

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the only Holocaust survivor in Congress, is in line to become chairman of the House International Relations Committee if the Democrats win. But some rumblings suggest other lawmakers – namely Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) – may bypass him because of Lantos’ support for the Iraq war. Privately, congressional aides say Lantos has been reassured by Pelosi that he will get the chairmanship; both men are considered strong backers of the Jewish state.

The more intriguing scenario rests on the Appropriations Committee. Rep. David Obey (D-Wisc.) is in line to chair it. He has been an occasional critic of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and their influence over Middle East policy. But at the same time, pro-Israel advocates say he has been more than willing to cede issues to his subcommittee leaders, and the new foreign operations subcommittee chair would be Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a strong, proactive Israel backer.

Among House Democrats, most of the policy differences are measured within a broad, pro-Israel consensus. I guess one might keep an eye on David Obey.

If there is real “news” from the Senate race, it requires a little digging.

The headline story is that in places like Rhode Island, Democratic challengers defeated Republican incumbents. It looks, on the surface at least, like a rejection of Bush, Cheney and the “neocon” war.

Look more closely.

Incumbent Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee was a Right Arabist critic of the Neocons.

Just to get a flavor for his views, have a look at a Providence Journal Op-Ed he published on January 20, 2004 entitled, “Foes of ‘land for peace’ Put Mideast Peace at Risk” (registration required):

IN OCTOBER, I traveled with a delegation to Iraq. While in Mosul and Baghdad, I asked about Arabic graffiti we saw scrawled here and there. The answer from our escort was “Oh, a lot of it is crazy stuff about Israel — such as ‘Israel is taking over Iraq.’ The extremists use the Palestinian cause a lot in their propaganda.”…

[I]t is logical to conclude that the “global jihad” is intensified greatly by the dispute over this land... [T]he peace process has been at a dead stop. Why is that?

Two recent events have been especially perplexing. Vice President Dick Cheney just hired as his Mideast adviser a fervent foe of “land for peace,” David Wurmser. His selection is a staggering disappointment to those of us who support the road map.

Second, there was barely a whisper of repudiation from anyone in the Bush administration when Gen. William G. Boykin was found to have appeared publicly in uniform making inflammatory statements disparaging the Islamic religion.

Back in 2002 when the Republicans took control of the Senate, Chafee also grabbed the chairmanship of a key Senate Foreign Relations committee, the Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs responsible for oversight of Iraq, Iran, etc, displacing the Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, an Iraq hawk and the ranking Republican who was then in line for the gavel.

Here is the Roll Call report from January 29, 2003 entitled “Chafee Gets Key Gavel” (no online link):

Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), the only Senate Republican to have voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, is poised to take the gavel of the Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees Middle East policy.

The Rhode Island moderate’s selection to helm the subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian affairs came as a surprise to some panel observers, who had thought as recently as last Thursday that the gavel would go to Sen. Sam Brownback (R).

It would be a mistake to overstate the importance of such a subcomittee chairmanship. But every little bit counts and the defeat of Lincoln Chafee can hardly be interpreted as a defeat for Right Zionists like David Wurmser.

California Senator Barbara Boxer is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee. We’ll see if she gets the gavel.

Where does Boxer stand on Israel?

Playing into Israel’s Hands?

Posted by Cutler on August 16, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria / 2 Comments

Can’t we all just get along? At least the “rejectionists”?

I have in mind Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Israeli Likudnik Dore Gold who find common ground in their analysis of the war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Here is an Associated Press report on Assad’s speech from Tuesday, August 15, 2006:

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad yesterday said that America’s plan for a “new Middle East” collapsed after Hezbollah’s successes in fighting against Israel…

“The result was more failure for Israel, its allies and masters,” he said.

On the same day, Dore Gold was a guest on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal (no transcript is available on-line; transcription is my own; citation is minutes and seconds into Washington Journal program). Gold was just as clear as Assad. He said Israel required a period of “tremendous introspection” and “self-criticism” because the “goals” of the campaign in Lebanon “were not reached” (40:37).

Both Assad and Gold contrasted the recent failures with with Israel’s 1982 campaign.

Assad explained,

Bashar said this war revealed the limitations of Israel’s military power.

In a 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Israeli forces surrounded Beirut within seven days of invading, he said.

“After five weeks it [Israel] was still struggling to occupy a few hundred metres.”

“From a military perspective, it [the battle] was decided in favour of the resistance [Hezbollah]. Israel has been defeated from the beginning,” Bashar said.

“They [Israelis] have become a subject of ridicule.”

Gold made a similar point, emphasizing that “air platforms” can tackle long-range missiles coming from Lebanon, but ground troops are required to deal with the “greater challenge” of short-range rockets:

In Israel’s Lebanon War of 1982, northern Israel was struck by Katusha rockets, launched not by Hezbollah but by the PLO.

At that time, Israel invaded Lebanon with three divisions and within 48 hours all Katusha rocket fire from southern Lebanon into northern Israel had been terminated” (46:32).

The blame will probably fall hardest on Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz. According to Time, Halutz was quoted on July 14th saying,

“In this day and age, with all the technology we have, there is no reason to start sending ground troops in.”

As the campaign wore on, Halutz began to change his tune. On July 21, 2006 the Jerusalem Post quoted Halutz:

You cannot plant a flag in the ground with an F-16.”

Even then, however, the Israeli Cabinet apparently rejected the call by Halutz for significant ground troops. According to a July 27 Jerusalem Post report:

[T]he security cabinet decided on Thursday against significantly widening the IDF’s operations in southern Lebanon, rejecting a recommendation by Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to escalate the offensive against Hizbullah…

As a result of the cabinet decision, the IDF said the operation in Lebanon… would retain its current format, according to which brigade and battalion-level forces – not division-level as Halutz had requestedcarry out pinpoint incursions on specific targets.

Whatever the actual source of the Israeli failure, the Syrian and Iranian victory dances are in full swing.

(Needless to say, Dore Gold is not celebrating the Israeli defeat–although his allies in the Likud party will certainly try to make political hay in Israel from the need for political “introspection” and “self-criticism” in light of the Kadima party’s responsibility for military failure.)

Assad: Playing into Israel’s Hands?

Syrian President Bashar Assad is not only celebrating victory over Israel. He is also going out of his way to snipe at other players in the region. A UPI report entitled “Assad Slams Lebanon Foes,” suggests that Assad used his speech to attack elements of the Lebanese government:

Syrian President Bashar Assad has snapped at anti-Syria Lebanese groups, accusing them of complicity with Israel in the war against Hezbollah.

In a speech Tuesday… Assad made it a point to brand as “traitors” the so-called “March 14″ gathering of multi-sectarian Lebanese groups opposed to Damascus…

Assad accused his Lebanese opponents of having encouraged Israel to wage war on pro-Syria Hezbollah in order “to boost their political stance” on the international level…

Assad… said the role of anti-Damascus groups is to salvage the Israeli governmentwhich was embarrassed by its defeat at Hezbollah’s hands.

They will do that either by provoking strife in Lebanon to move the crisis from inside Israel to the Lebanese scene or by forcing the disarmament of Hezbollah’s resistance,” Assad said.

Furthermore, the Boston Globe carries and Associated Press report that says Assad also implicitly attacked Arab regimes–like Saudi Arabia and Egypt–that criticized the initial Hezbollah raids into Israel:

In his speech, Assad lashed out at Arab regimes that criticized Hezbollah for capturing two Israeli soldiers July 12 and setting off the war. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan — all US allies — opposed Hezbollah’s actions at the start of the conflict.

We do not ask anyone to fight with us or for usBut he should at least not adopt the enemy’s views,” Assad said.

Oqab Sakr, a Lebanese analyst, said Assad’s remarks were tantamount to “a final divorce from the Arab regimes and a full marriage with Iran.”

Quite a bit is riding on whether Oqab Sakr is correct in his assertion that Assad has initiated “final divorce” proceedings from Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

It is the notion of such a divorce that leads Juan Cole to suggest that in these attacks,

Al-Asad is playing into Israel’s hands

[He] seems to want to pit Hizbullah against the reformers. But that is exactly what the Israeli hardliners were hoping for, as well.

According to the Boston Globe article, Assad has already prompted an Egyptian backlash:

A front page editorial in a state-run Egyptian newspaper derided Assad’s speech–a rare overt criticism by one Arab government of another. Al-Gomhuria daily scoffed at Assad, saying he was celebrating “a victory scored by others.”

“You should be prepared now for political and economic pressure put on you because of this speech,” it said.

Assad’s bold tone is intended to cement his earlier political victories in Lebanon–discussed in previous posts here and here.

If Assad is risking a backlash, it will not likely emerge independently from Lebanese political officials like Prime Minister Siniora or Lebanese MP Saad Hariri. They may have the will to battle Syria and disarm Hezbollah, but they almost certainly lack the power to do so.

Unless, that is, they have the support of the Saudis. Hariri and Siniora will both take their cue directly from the Saudis.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Daily Star reported that Siniora was under pressure from Hezbollah–back in January 2006–to declare that “the resistance is not a militia.”

At first, Siniora resisted.  According to the Daily Star:

A spokesperson for Premier Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Monday: “The Cabinet cannot say explicitly that Hizbullah is not a militia, because it will cause Lebanon problems with the international community.”

Shortly thereafter, however, Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Abdel-Aziz Khoja was quoted in the Daily Star as saying,

[Saudi Arabia] is proud of Hizbullah’s achievements,” adding that the “disarmament is an internal issue and should be resolved by the Lebanese.”

In almost no time, Siniora reversed himself and the Lebanese government officially declared that Hezbollah was a resistance movement, not a militia (presumably meaning it would not have to be disarmed under the terms of UN Resolution 1559). Hezbollah promptlly ended its boycott of the Lebanese government. On February 2, 2006 the BBC reported:

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora told the Lebanese parliament on Thursday that Hezbollah had always been considered a resistance movement.

“We have never called and will never call the resistance by any other name but the resistance and it is a national resistance and we will not use any other expression to describe it but national resistance,” he said.

Then, as now, Siniora will take his cue from the Saudis.

So, in turn, will the French–who seem unlikely to put much into a multinational force unless Hariri and Siniora are prepared to disarm Lebanon.

According to the Financial Times:

French officials on Tuesday insisted Paris would resist leading a bolstered international force in southern Lebanon without Lebanese government assurances that Hizbollah, the militant Shia group, would be disarmed.

Paris’ requirements were spelled out on the eve of Wednesday’s visit by Philippe Douste-Blazy, French foreign minister, to Beirut – a visit likely to prove pivotal in deciding the fate of the multinational UN force proposed to police the fragile ceasefire between Hizbollah and Israel.

Officials in Beirut made clear that the army would not clash with Hizbollah and risk provoking internal conflict. Late on Monday, Elias Murr, Lebanon’s defence minister, told the local LBC television that the army had no intention of disarming Hizbollah in the south.

He suggested that Hizbollah understood that weapons could no longer be visible in the buffer zone, but said that if troops came across missiles they would not take them away.

Much, then, depends on the Saudis. Presumably, the future of the “marriage” (between Iran and Syria, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia and Egypt, on the other) is the main topic today when the Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki meets in Jeddah today with Saudi Arabia’s King Abudullah.

Would love to be a fly on the wall for that meeting!

Status Quo Ante

Posted by Cutler on August 14, 2006
Israel, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria / No Comments

A Wall Street Journal editorial–entitled “Status Quo Ante“–sums up what I take to be the disappointment of Right Zionists.

Ever since war broke out last month on the Israeli-Lebanese frontier, the Bush Administration has said it wouldn’t tolerate a return to the “status quo ante,” in which Hezbollah behaved as a power unto itself within the Lebanese state. Yet after reading the text of the U.N. Security Council’s cease-fire resolution adopted unanimously on Friday, we’d say the “status quo ante” is nearly what we’ve got.

And perhaps worse than that, because Hezbollah has now shown it can battle Israel to a military draw. The new resolution does call for disarming Hezbollah, just as resolution 1559 previously did, but without saying who will do it. Presumably that task is intended for the Lebanese Army, which is supposed to occupy the parts of southern Lebanon from which Hezbollah launched its attacks on Israel. But Lebanon’s army is a weak force, consciously undermined over the years of Syrian occupation, and is largely Shiite. There’s reason to doubt it will be able to disarm Hezbollah’s still-powerful Shiite military.

That just about says it all. If the point of the Israeli attacks on Lebanon was to disarm Hezbollah, that goal has proven elusive and–given the state of Lebanon’s politics–looks unlikely to be met any time soon.

Yesterday’s news of an impasse in the Lebanese Cabinet (discussed in a prior post)–where Hezbollah ministers balk at any move by the government of Prime Minister Siniora to disarm Hezbollah–is an exact replica of a similar crisis that began in December 2005.

According to the Daily Star, ministers from the two Shiite factions–Amal and Hezbollah–began a boycott of the Cabinet on December 12, 2005. At that time, they reportedly demanded, as a condition for their continued participation in government, that Lebanon send a letter to the UN Security Council saying that the Lebanese government had fulfilled the conditions of UN Resolution 1559..

Lebanon’s governmental crisis faced new complications Monday, with Christian ministers refusing one of the conditions set by the Shiite ministers to return to Cabinet. Talking to The Daily Star, Tourism Minister Joseph Sarkis said his party, the Lebanese Forces, was not about to accept addressing the UN Security Council with a letter saying that the internal part of Resolution 1559 was implemented.

Resolution 1559 calls for, among other things, the disarmament of Hizbullah and Palestinian militias, but the Lebanese government had said the issue should be solved through internal dialogue.

However, addressing a letter to the UN indicating that Lebanon has fully implemented 1559 has emerged as one of the main demands of the ministers of Hizbullah and the Amal Movement to end their 15-day-long boycott of Cabinet meetings and to resume their duties.

At first, Prime Minister Siniora dug in his heals–at least in part to appease UN Security Council–especially, the United States. According to the Daily Star:

A spokesperson for Premier Fouad Siniora told The Daily Star Monday: “The Cabinet cannot say explicitly that Hizbullah is not a militia, because it will cause Lebanon problems with the international community.”

The spokesperson said that: “Such a statement would mean that UN resolution 1559 had already been implemented and thus put Lebanon in a state of confrontation with the Security Council.”

It was at this moment that the Saudis and Syrians met in January 2006 to try to patch things up.

At first, Siniora balked when the Saudis began to push accomodation with Syria and Hezbollah. According to a Daily Star article (“Lebanon Cool at Saudi Plan on Syria Ties,” January 18, 2006; unavailable on-line):

The Saudi plan made public this week seeks to patch up Syrian-Lebanese differences since the February killing of a Lebanese ex-prime minister in which a U.N. probe has implicated Syrian officials. More bombings have followed the assassination.

“This (Saudi) paper does not meet Lebanese ambitions,” Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora told reporters. “We see that there are steps that need to be stressed, beginning with the security situation and the need to stop the killing machine.”…

“To be precise on this subject, these are Syrian ideas that Prince Saud al-Faisal carried, there is no Arab initiative yet,” Siniora said.

Before long, however, Siniora was recalled to Saudi Arabia for a friendly visit and quickly changed his tune. According to a Daily Star article (“Siniora Sees Primary Role for Saudis,” February 15, 2006; unavailable on-line):

During his one-day visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday to revive Arab mediation efforts, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora reiterated that Saudi Arabia “was and will still be the main support for Lebanon.” Siniora has been meeting with Arab officials such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdel-Aziz, both of whom have proposed the Arab initiative to “ease the tensions between Lebanon and Syria.”

The initiative is now being revived after it was thwarted when it was leaked last month to the leaders of the March 14 Forces, who viewed it as a “Syrian initiative that wants to restore Syria’s control on Lebanon.”

The revivial of the Saudi initiative took the wind out of any effort to disarm Hezbollah–and, not coincidentally, probably helped dull the UN investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

According to the Associated Press:

U.N. investigators had earlier implicated top Syrian and Lebanese officials in the explosion that killed Hariri and 22 others on Feb. 14, 2005. Among those linked to the killing was Brig. Gen. Assaf Shawkat, Syria’s military intelligence chief and Assad’s brother-in-law.

After the Saudi-Syrian rapprochement, the pressure on Shawkat seemed diminished. According to another Associated Press report, the UN pushed back the deadline for concluding the investigation.

Chief investigator Serge Brammertz, earlier reported to the Security Council that progress was being made but he refused to repeat accusations that top Syrian officials with links to President Bashar Assad were responsible.

It would seem that the Israeli attacks on Hezbollah have done little to change any of this.

Even the Wall Street Journal acknowledges that the Lebanese government may not have the power to disarm Hezbollah, even if it had the will to do so.

As to the will to disarm Hezbollah, that remains fragile at best. With its most recent retreat from participation in the Cabinet, Hezbollah is calling the bluff of Prime Minister Siniora.

One recent report from an Israeli source, Ynetnews, suggests some signs of political will among pro-Saudi Lebanese politicians to take on Hezbollah. But I can find no confirmation of the quotes from other news sources and it seems like slim pickings–as the analyst suggests:

We will obtain revenge against those who got Lebanon entangled,” Saad Hariri said fearlessly, while Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt accused Hizbullah of working for Iranian and Syrian interests, and not in the favor of Lebanon.

The Druze, the Sunni Muslims, some of the Maronite Christians, and maybe even some of the Shiites are lying in wait for Nasrallah,” explained Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon.

There is no doubt that they will hurl accusations at him for wreaking havoc in Lebanon, and there is no doubt that the issue of Hizbullah’s weapons will be raised.

But nonetheless, it still seems that there is no one who can disarm Hizbullah apart from Nasrallah himself. And southern Lebanon is the organization’s ‘home.’ It is reasonable to assume that it will do everything to rehabilitate and arm itself,” he added.

Only Nasrallah can disarm Nasrallah. Seems unlikely to me. How about you?

[Update…]

Just watched “Team Freedom” (Bush, Cheney, Rice) gather for a press conference to discuss the “Freedom Program” in the Middle East. Notwithstanding a lot of Right Zionist rhetoric, it was clearly a concession speech. At one point, in a response to a question about claims that Hezbollah won Bush said, “If I were Hezbollah I would claim victory, too.” Of course, he meant that everybody always tries to spin the news to their own advantage. But it was a telling statement. I don’t have a transcript yet, but there was also lots of talk about how “difficult” the battle against terror can be.

I think it might not be possible to overstate the importance of this defeat for the Bush administration. Either it marks a very new moment in US relations with Israel–and will undermine all future efforts to by Right Zionists to argue that Israel can help the US police the Middle East–or it will prompt the Bush administration to redouble its commitment to never lose again. I predict the former. This defeat is a far greater disappointment to Right Zionists than just about anything that has happened on Sistani’s watch in Iraq.

One final thought on the likelihood of anyone disarming Hezbollah now.

How about the French?

Not so much…

Here is the New York Times report:

Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, told Le Monde on Saturday that the purpose of the enlarged Unifil would not include the disarming of Hezbollah by force. “We never thought a purely military solution could resolve the problem of Hezbollah,” he said. “We are agreed on the goal, the disarmament, but for us the means are purely political.”

That is the kind of immediate backtracking from the resolution that worries the Israelis, and which they say justifies their continuing military offensive to push Hezbollah back beyond the Litani, because they do not believe that the Lebanese Army, even with Unifil, will do it.

A Foreign Ministry official pointed out that it was Mr. Douste-Blazy who, in Beirut, called Iran “a force for stability in the region” when Europe is trying, with the United States, to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.

Lebanese PM to Iran: Over the Limit

Posted by Cutler on August 13, 2006
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

There are some important signals–quite mixed right at the moment–coming from Lebanon about the balance of power in Beirut.

First, the news from Saturday, August 12th that the Lebanese Cabinet unanimously approved the UN cease-fire plan. The Associated Press reported:

Lebanon’s Cabinet accepted the U.N. cease-fire plan to halt fighting between Israel and Hezbollah fighters on Saturday, moving the deal a step closer to implementation, the prime minister said.

It was a unanimous decision, with some reservations,” Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said in announcing Lebanon’s acceptance of the resolution after a four-hour Cabinet meeting.

Hezbollah’s Mohammed Fneish, minister of hydraulic resources, said the two members of the Islamic militant group who are part of the Cabinet expressed reservations. Particular concern was raised over an article in the resolution that “gives the impression that it exonerates Israel of responsibility for the crimes” and blames Hezbollah for the monthlong war, he said.

Maybe the reservations were about the balance of responsibility and blame. But I tend to doubt it.

Today (Sunday, August 13th), Lebanese unanimity looks far more fragile and the reason seems to turn two very important and related issues: disarming hezbollah and deploying the Lebanese Army in southern Lebanon.

According to reports, Hezbollah has now dug in its heels on the all-important issue of disarmament. Here is the latest report from Reuters:

A Lebanese cabinet meeting set for Sunday has been postponed because of divisions over whether to discuss the disarmament of Hizbollah guerrillas, a government source said.

Hizbollah had some observations over … the discussion of their disarmament,” the source said…

On July 27 the cabinet approved a Lebanese seven-point plan that among other things called for weapons to remain only in the hands of Lebanese authorities…

A U.N. Security Council resolution to end fighting between Israel and Hizbollah calls for the “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than the Lebanese state.”

This has been a sticking point–especially for Hezbollah and Iran–all along.

Indeed, if anyone was looking for signs of Saudi-Iranian tension, this is the place to look.

After the July 27th seven-point plan was approved, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki arrived in Beirut for talks. According to a report in the Daily Star, Mottaki was clear about his own reservations about “initiatives proposed so far” (i.e., the Siniora seven-point plan) at that time:

“We believe that the initiatives proposed so far by the various parties to achieve a cease-fire are divided into two parts,” said Mottaki.

He added: “The first part includes a halt to the Zionist attack, and any other item which would gather a consensus from all Lebanese.”

The second part would include all the items which “do not enjoy the approval of all parties, and this would be solved through future negotiations.”

Needless to say, the disarmament of Hezbollah constitutes the central “item” for Iran that does not “enjoy the approval of all parties.”

Mottaki’s implicit criticism brought a sharp rebuke from Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora. According to Stratfor:

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki “went over the limit” in implying he had reservations about Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s seven-point plan to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Siniora told the French-language newspaper L’Orient Le Jour in an interview published Aug. 4. During his recent visit to Beirut, Mottaki had said there was no rush to discuss questions beyond an immediate cease-fire.

As I have suggested in a previous post, it is not a great stretch to consider Siniora as a Lebanese proxy of the Saudis.

Right Zionists would like nothing better than to see this split widen into a full blown conflict.

Who Killed the Cedar Revolution?

Posted by Cutler on August 11, 2006
Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

George Ball, in his canonical 1992 Right Arabist book The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement with Israel, 1947 to the Present (hereafter, PA), argues that the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon had two objectives.

At a minimum, Israel wanted to undermine the PLO as a political force in Lebanon. Likewise today, only with Hezbollah playing the role of the PLO (the distinction is mainly important because it has significant implications for the reaction of the Arab world; the PLO could rely on far greater support from Gulf Arabs than Hezbollah).

But, Ball insists, Israel’s “first objective” was accompanied by its second:

“the installation of a minority Maronite Christian government to rule over a Lebanese protectorate which would conclude a separate peace with Israel” (PA, p.120).

Ball calls this second objective the “grand design” that dates at least as far back as David Ben-Gurion’s 1948 diary entry cited by Ball:

“the weak link in the Arab coalition is Lebanon… A Christian state must be established whose southern border will be the Litani. We shall sign a treaty with it” (PA, p.120).

As regards the current situation, a very similar “dual objective” position has been outlined by Dore Gold in his July 17 brief regarding the outbreak of fighting with Hezbollah, “The Opening Round of Iran’s War Against the West.”

Gold elaborates the specifics regarding a “first objective”:

So what should be the aims of the entire Western alliance – including Israel – in the current conflict? The chief goals are: First, full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that call for the complete dismantling of Hizballah and the deployment of the Lebanese army along the Israel-Lebanon border instead. Second, the removal of all Iranian forces and equipment from Lebanese territory, along with any lingering Syrian presence.

But Gold goes on to suggest that the contours of a contemporary “grand design.”

At the same time, there is a need to recognize that this is a regional war. Iran is seeking to dominate Iraq, particularly its southern Shia areas – the provinces where British troops are deployed – and hopes to encircle both Israel and the Sunni heartland of the Arab world. Syria is Iran’s main Arab ally in this effort. There is no question that Iran’s main aim is to dominate the oil-producing areas by agitating the Shia populations of Kuwait, Bahrain, and the eastern provinces of Saudi Arabia. Defeating Iran’s opening shot in this Middle Eastern war is not just Israel’s interest, but the collective interest of the entire civilized world.

There are at least two things worth mentioning in reference to Gold’s grand design. First, unlike the 1982 Israeli invasion described by Ball–which aimed to court Lebanese Shia animosity toward Sunni and PLO political domination–the current “design” is intended to court Sunni Arab animosity toward Hezbollah, Syrian, and Iranian political domination in Lebanon.

Second, Gold’s “design” has not necessarily been adopted by the incumbent Israeli government. Gold is a Netanyahu Likudnik. Labor party Zionists like David Kimche who favor negotiations with Syria were relieved when the Likuk party–which refused to join Sharon in the formation of the “centrist” Kadima party–did relatively poorly in the most recent Israeli election.

Indeed, there are signs that the Right Zionists (neocons; US Likudniks) may be closer to power in Washington than they are in Israel. This may account for some of the recent tension between the Right Zionists in Washington and the government of Israel.

See, for example, an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “US Neocons Hoped Israel would Attack Syria.”

The White House, and in particular White House advisors who belong to the neoconservative movement, allegedly encouraged Israel to attack Syria as an expansion of its action against Hizbullah, in Lebanon. The progressive opinion and news site ConsortiumNews.com reported Monday that Israeli sources say Israel’s “leadership balked at the scheme.”

See, also, Charles Krauthammer’s criticism of the Olmert government, noted in a previous post.

War As Politics?
In his account of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, George Ball suggests,

“Israeli leaders knew that timing was of the essence. Lebanon was required to elect a new president by August 23, 1982, and the IDF had to be in Beirut before that… Israel’s problem was to find, or create, an ‘internationally recognized provocation’…” (PA, p.122).

Back in ’82, Ball reports “a terrorist group obligingly furnished Israel with at least a shadowy casus belli by shooting in the head an Israeli envoy post in London” (PA, p.123).

In 2006, the July 12 Hezbollah raid furnished the casus belli.

The Israeli response to the Hezbollah raid is not merely “disproportionate,” however. It involves ambitious goals that seek to go beyond a return to the “status quo ante,” as Secretary Rice said at the start of the crisis.

So if the Hezbollah raid was the “manifest” trigger, what was the “latent” trigger, in terms of long-term Right Zionist “grand designs”?

Can the current war be either divorced from–or worse, at odds with–an Israeli agenda for the long-term contours of Lebanese politics?

One increasingly popular view is that the Israeli military tactics have actually undermined Israel’s political objectives. This perspective finds some support in an important Newsweek article, “Now Comes the Next War.”

Soon comes its next fight—a postwar political reckoning. Whether the [Hezbollah] party emerges from the current conflict weaker or stronger—and stronger seems the answer now—it will then have to battle the country’s other political, religious and ethnic groups for the soul and identity of Lebanon…

This face-off will transcend borders, for it is a microcosm of the wider struggle in the Middle East. On one side is the American-led West and Israel, with some very quiet Arab allies; on the other is the movement to affirm an Arab-Iranian-Islamist identity…

Even now, the military clash is largely a political war of wills, deterrence and resistance, at least in Hizbullah’s view. Holding out for a month and emerging to negotiate a ceasefire represents, to many, a considerable victory. Yet within Lebanon itself, the fighting has both accelerated and camouflaged deep political tensions.

Before the war, just over half the Lebanese said they supported Hizbullah’s role as an armed resistance group that deterred Israeli attacks. Two weeks after the fighting started, more than 85 percent of Lebanese in one poll said they supported Hizbullah’s military attacks against Israel. This included 80 percent of Christians, a figure that was obviously inflated by anger against Israel for its savage attacks against all parts of Lebanon, not just Hizbullah strongholds in the south.

Joshua Landis over at Syria Comment has been quoted along similar lines in the Los Angeles Times.

The decision by President Bush not to support the Lebanese government’s plea for a cease-fire, even though that government has been backed by the United States, has dealt a further blow to public feelings about the U.S. in the region.

Members of the governing bloc in the Lebanese parliament, led by Saad Hariri, “are the most pro-American Arabs in the Middle East. They have promised, ‘America will protect us if we stand against Syria,’ ” said Joshua Landis, a Middle East expert and professor at the University of Oklahoma.

Now Israel is “blowing the hell out of them, and America isn’t taking one step to protect them,” Landis said. “The whole Arab world is going to look and see that Hariri has been sacrificed on the altar of Israeli power.…”

The most important thing to know about Saad Hariri is not that he is “the most pro-American” Arab in the Middle East, but that he is the most pro-Saudi Arab in Lebanon.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was the father of Saad Hariri. It was the murder of Rafik Hariri in February 2005 that focused a powerful spotlight on Saudi-Syrian rivalry over political and economic control of Lebanon, especially once Saudi Arabia pushed Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.

For Right Zionists, the murder of Hariri established the conditions for a dramatic realignment of Lebanese politics by prying Saudi Arabia away from Syrian and Iranian political forces in Lebanon. In the so-called “Cedar Revolution” Right Zionists hoped to establish and support an alliance between Lebanon’s pro-Saudi Sunni Arab political forces–now led by Saad Hariri and Rafik Hariri’s former aide (and current Lebanese Prime Minister) Fouad Siniora–and the traditional anti-Syrian Christian (and Druze) opposition that Israel has always courted.

If that alliance–the so-called “March 14 Forces,” named for the day in 2005 when there were huge anti-Syrian rallies in Beirut one month after Mr Hariri’s assassination–was strong and steady prior to the Israeli invasion, then it would be difficult to discern what plausible Israeli advantages might have been anticipated on the basis of the invasion.

Although it is far from certain that the invasion will in any way help the “March 14 Forces,” Israel might have had good reason to fear that prior to the Hezbollah raid, Saudi Arabia was doing everything within its power to paper over Saudi-Syrian tensions in Lebanon and to re-align pro-Saudi forces in Lebanon with pro-Syrian forces and Hezbollah.

Setting aside some fo the important details of Saudi involvement in Lebanon after the murder of Hariri, it is clear that by January 2006 a Saudi-Syrian rapprochement was in the works.

According to news reports (here and here) and commentary (esp. that of Pat Lang, here, and–for a different interpretation–that of Tony Badran, here) the deal was sealed at a meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi Kind Abdullah in January 2006.

As Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis suggested at that time,

Now, Washington will have to deal with the Kingdom. If the “kowtow” was convincing, Abdullah et al will not want their “satellite” disturbed much more.

It is into this context–not the full-flowering of the Cedar Revolution–that Israel intervened.

Will the Israeli invasion “save” the Cedar Revolution and reinvigorate Saudi-Syrian tension? It may be too early to say for sure, but the chances look increasingly slim.

Did the Israeli invasion “kill” the Cedar Revolution? No. It was already dead.

Cutler’s Blog: Back August 7th

Posted by Cutler on July 21, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon / 4 Comments

As I prepare for a two-week hiatus, I have to wonder how things will look by August 7th when Cutler’s Blog returns.

Israeli Ground troops in Lebanon: As I write, Israel appears to be preparing to send ground troops into Lebanon.  Apparently, the idea is to create a 20-mile “buffer” between Hezbollah and the Israeli border, although I just saw John Bolton on Fox News saying that 20-miles isn’t nearly enough given the reach of Hezbollah rockets.  Oh boy.

International/UN force in Lebanon: It looks like there will be an international force of some kind but it will come only after the US thinks Israel has “done all it can do” unilaterally.  I see no reason to believe, however, that such an international force will actually have a different mandate than Israeli ground troops.  The key point is that there are no major international players (apart from Syria and Iran; and possibly the Sadrist-backed government of Iraq!) who actually oppose the disarming, dismantling, and/or destruction of Hezbollah.  The French and the Saudis, in particular, want this no less than the Israelis.  There are only two reasons why the current offensive would turn from an Israeli action into a multinational force: either because Israel has completed its mission or, more likely, because the Israeli mission becomes politically unsustainable and requires the cover of multinational legitimacy.

Syria: I would not be stunned to return August 7th to a new regime in Syria.  This could happen in one of two ways: either President Bashar Al-Asad does a “Qaddafi” and switches sides (“get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit” as our President says; very unlikely, but not impossible) or he is unseated in a US-backed coup.  Let us be clear, the parties to that coup are totally in place and would essentially represent a return of the “old guard” that was marginalized in the transition from Hafez to Bashar.  The key figure in this coup would be former Syrian Vice-President Abdel-Halim KhaddamThe coup option is in such plain view to all that this may, in fact, be sufficient to move Bashar.

Iran: I expect the Iranian regime will be in power when I return (not really a daring bet).  But the Iranian regime will be on the front burner and in the hot seat for some time.  A military option–by the US or Israel–remains a low probability, but I wouldn’t be so foolish as to rule it out as a possibility with the current folks running the show in Washington and Jerusalem.  In the longer term, I continue to think that the long-term agenda–especially among Right Zionists in Washington, but also within Right Arabist circles–is regime change in Iran.  But it will take some time before anyone in the US foreign policy establishment is ready to make a serious drive in that direction.

I look forward to comparing notes August 7th… Until then, hold onto your seats!

Iraqi Shiites and Lebanon

Posted by Cutler on July 20, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The New York Times reports the big news of the Shia Crescent (or the Shia Croissant, preferred by French Canadians) that connects Iraqi politics with the crisis in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, marking a sharp break with President Bush’s position and highlighting the growing power of a Shiite Muslim identity across the Middle East.

“The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,” Mr. Maliki said at an afternoon news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, which houses the American Embassy and the seat of the Iraqi government. “I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”

So, the loss of the Iraqi Shia would surely be among the most dangerous geo-political consequence of what I have described as “Act Two” of the Bush Revolution in which the US “unites” Israeli and Arab client regimes against a common enemy, Iran.

The risk is implicit in the very idea of “dual rollback” in Iran and Iraq. The US-led attack on Iraq won Iranian acquiescence, but risked alienating Sunni Arab clients worried about an emergent “Shia Crescent” in the region.
Now, any move on Iran–and/or its ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah–may win Sunni Arab acquiescence but threatens to alienate Shiites in Iraq.

Or, at least, the most pro-Iranian Shiites in Iraq.

Right Zionist strategists who favored Shiite power in Iraq–including majority-rule elections, etc.–have repeatedly suggested that intra-Shiite rivalry between the Iraqi clerical tradition of Najaf and the revolutionary Iranian clerics in Qom would allow the US to retain an alliance with Najaf, even as it worked to undermine the Qom-backed Iranian regime.

For one example among many, see Michael Ledeen’s recent article “It’s the Terrorism, Stupid” in which he suggests:

[O]ur analysts have lost sight of the profound internal war under way within Shiite Islam, the two contending forces being the Najaf (Iraqi, traditional) and the Qom (Iranian, heretical, theocratic) versions. Tehran fears ideological enemies inspired either by democracy or by Ayatollah Sistani’s (Najaf) view of the world, which is that civil society should be governed by politicians, not mullahs.

Thus it is a mistake to assume–as it is so often–that Shiites in Iraq are automatically pro-Iranian. No matter how many times smart people such as Reuel Gerecht detail the intra-Shiite civil war, it just goes in one ear and out the other of the intelligence community and the policymakers.

Some analysts I respect quite a bit–including Swopa in a comment on this blog–have suggested that the notion of intra-Shiite rivalry is highly overrated.

This much seems clear: Maliki isn’t going to help Right Zionists exploit any intra-Shiite rivalry. How far will he go in his dissent? Would he actually try to call Iraqi Shiites onto the streets? Unclear. But his statement calling on the Arab League to step up to the plate seems to have more to do with embarrassing Arab officials than actually using his own leverage (such as it is) with Iraqi Shiites.

What about other Shiite leaders?

Sadr is an obvious candidate. He has played the anti-US insurgent before. He has aligned himself in the past with the Lebanese leadership of Hezbollah. And, as the New York Times notes, his father was very close to a revolutionary cleric in Qom, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hussein al-Haeri.

The New York Times article reports:

An Iraq-born cleric now living in the Iranian holy city of Qum, Ayatollah Kazem al-Hussein al-Haeri called in an Internet posting for Muslim warriors to support the “mujahedeen of Lebanon,” saying that “the battle is all of Islam against all of the nonbelievers,” according to a translation by the SITE Institute, which tracks Internet postings by Islamic militants.

But the affinity between Haeri and Sadr should not be overstated. Back in April of 2004 when Sadr was in full revolt, Haeri allegedly pressured him to end his uprising. He may have cut Sadr’s funding. In any event, Sadr seems to have been angered by the attempt to make him a pawn in an Iranian geostrategic game designed to curry favor with the US at that moment. The Sadrist movement in Iraq appears to have been steering his own ship since that time.

The New York Times article does mention that Sadr has had some harsh words about the Israeli attack on Lebanon:

The militant Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, whose followers play a crucial role in the government, said last Friday that Iraqis would not “sit by with folded hands” while the violence in Lebanon raged.

No uprising yet. (Indeed, given US raids on his Mahdi army, the lack of an anti-US Sadrist uprising is quite surprising). Keep an eye on this one.

Finally, there is the Grand Ayatollah Sistani. It is to Sistani that Right Zionists have always looked. He may not go out of his way to help the US strike out against Iran and Iranian proxies, but he may also try to sit out any protest.

The New York Times says Sistani has so far remained silent. The Los Angeles Times reports:

In the city of Najaf, Sadruddin Qubanchi, an influential Shiite cleric loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the highest-ranking Shiite cleric in Iraq, declared Israel’s actions unacceptable and unjustified.

Israel is conducting an armed invasion of Lebanon in every sense of the word,” Qubanchi told worshipers. “This cannot be ignored by the international community.”

Not yet a call to arms. But much will depend on Israeli action in Lebanon.

A case could be made–and Right Zionist David Wurmser has tried to make it–that Sistani would have an interest in anything that might pry Lebanese Shiites from Iranian influence.

It seems difficult to believe, however, that there is anything Israel is doing in Lebanon right now that will pry Lebanese Shiites away from Hezbollah and/or Iranian influence. [This is a somewhat different question than whether Israel will also alienate Lebanese Christians and Sunnis… also a real possibility.] Whatever else one might say about the Israeli campaign in Lebanon, it hardly looks like a war for the “hearts and minds” of Lebanese Shiites.

Place your bets…

NeoCon Anger at Bush?

Posted by Cutler on July 19, 2006
Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists / 2 Comments

I try to make sense of the news, but this one I just don’t get:

The Washington Post has published a front-page Michael Abromowitz article today entitled, “Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush’s Foreign Policy.”  The lead quote in the article goes to Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute:

“It is Topic A of every single conversation…

I don’t have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration.”

To be more specific, Abromowitz is talking about alleged neoconservative fury:

In fact, it has been Bush’s willingness to respond to criticism from the foreign policy establishment — which has long urged him to do more to pursue a more “multilateral” diplomacy in concert with allies — that has led to distress among many conservatives outside Congress, particularly the band of aggressive “neoconservatives” who four years ago were most enthusiastic about the Iraq war.

So, whence the fury at the administration?  What are we talking about here?

Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.

Iran and North Korea.  Ok.  I can see that.  There are examples of that fury coming from AEI folks like Michael Rubin.  From June.  An old story.  It makes this Abromowitz article something like an overdue profile of neoconservative (i.e., Right Zionist) anger at the Bush administration decision to make diplomatic overtures to Iran.   Like a neoconservative lamentation for Time’s declaration of the end of “Cowboy” foreign policy.

But did the neocons at the American Enterprise Institute actually express “fury” or perceive unwarranted “timidity” or “confusion” about the “urgent new” problem–“the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah”?  No way.  Not a chance.

When did Abromowitz conduct the “interviews”?  Did the Post dig up this story from the June files?

Is Abromowitz trying to makes it seem like neocons think Bush’s refusal to engage or take action in Lebanon reflects timidity and/or confusion?  If so, he is playing a game and will surely be corrected in short order by the Right Zionists.

Current Bush administration inactivity–delay in sending an envoy, refusal to call for a ceasefire, refusal to back Kofi Annan’s efforts to cobble together an international force–is not timidity but bold–if implicit–support for an extraordinarily aggressive Israeli policy in Lebanon.

Bush’s reaction to Israel’s move to destroy Hezbollah will earn him eternal plaudits from neocon pundits.  Abromowitz is blowing smoke.

The Devil Wears Persian

Posted by Cutler on July 17, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 2 Comments

In a previous post, I noted that the Hezbollah raid on Israel seemed to anger Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak almost as much as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. In subsequent days, the depth of “official” Arab hostility toward Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran has become big news.

The New York Times (“Militia Rebuked by Some Arab Countries“) and the Washington Post (“Strikes Are Called Part of a Broad Strategy“) take note of official Arab reaction to the Israeli conflict with Hezbollah.

The possibility of Arab-Iranian rivalry has not escaped the notice of Israeli officials, either. Shimon Peres had this to say on CNN’s Larry King Live as King was concluding an interview:

KING: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, always good to see you. We’ve had…

PERES: I want to say one thing, Larry. Even the Arabs, this time — thank you.

KING: Go ahead. Whatever you wanted to add.

PERES: Yes, I wanted to add that, for the first time, the Arab countries, many of them, if not most of them, are calling for Hezbollah to stop it. The Lebanese government is asking for the same. It never happened before. And we feel that we’re doing the right thing, and we shall not permit the devil to govern our destinies or our region.

KING: Shimon Peres, the former prime minister, now Israeli Deputy Prime Minister.

Wonder of wonders, the “devil” is not Arab. The “devil” is Persian.

Swopa over at Needlenose goes so far as to link the idea of a new Arab/Zionist axis against Iran to the pro-Sunni Arab tilt of US policy in Iraq.

I am not sure that Right Zionists have abandoned the hope of a regional alliance with the “Najaf” Shiites aligned with Grand Ayatollah Sistani. But that doesn’t mean they are unwilling to try to simultaneously exploit both sides of any Arab/Iranian rivalry they can find.

The Bush Revolution, Part II: A Little Something for the Arabs

In my reading of David Wurmser’s book, Tyranny’s Ally, as a kind of Right Zionist playbook, I noted that Wurmser wrote about “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. One way of looking at this “dual rollback” plan is to think of it as a two act play:

The invasion of Iraq is Act One of the Bush Revolution: Sunni Arab rule in Iraq is destroyed and the US turns to the country’s Shiite majority as a new “client.” Arab regimes are nervous and angry.

Act Two may is just beginning (please return to your seats and ignore Time magazine which seems to have mistaken the “intermission” for the end of the show).

Act Two centers on “rollback” in Iran and in this scene Arab officials presumably play a supporting role, with Israel in the lead. The second Act opens in Lebanon, although the finale is almost certainly supposed to be set in Iran.

On Lebanon:

The drama unfolding in Lebanon centers on the pivotal role of Saudi Arabia. There has been long-standing tension between Saudi Arabia and Syria over control of Lebanon. In many respects, the Saudis perceived the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as a Syrian attack on their interests in Lebanon. Hariri–like Israel and the US–wanted Syria out of Lebanon.

Today, Hariri’s son continues in his father’s footsteps. Stratfor reports:

Saad al-Hariri, current leader of Lebanon’s Sunni community, is headed to Riyadh on July 16 for talks on the building conflict between Israel and the militant Shiite Islamist group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah’s actions, which have led to the verge of a major war with Israel, threaten the interests of the al-Hariris. Saudi Arabia, as a principal behind the al-Hariri clan, is concerned about Iran’s advances deeper into the region.

The Saudis and Hariri will have to weigh the risks and advantages of allowing Israel to wage war against their common enemy, Hezbollah. Will Hariri return from Riyahd with instructions to back Hezbollah’s uprising against Israel, or to keep his mouth shut, let Israel do its work, and prepare to inherit Lebanon?

So far, he has been critical of Israel, although his language has been somewhat ambiguous. The Daily Star reports:

A clear Arab stand should be taken on this Israeli aggression against Lebanon,” [Hariri]… said Saturday. “Lebanon should not be left as a battlefield for everyone, and Israel must know that Lebanon is not a terrorist state but in fact a resisting state and that Israel is the enemy.”

The key line is that Lebanon “should not be left as a battlefield for everyone,which presumably includes Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah as much as it does Israel.

Gilbert Achcar makes the point quite well:

Israel holds hostage an entire population in a disproportionate reaction that aims at pulling the rug from under the feet of its opponents and at pressuring local forces to act against them. But if this is indeed Israel’s calculation, it could backfire, as it is possible that a military action of such a scope could lead to the exact opposite and radicalize the population more against Israel than against Hezbollah

To hold the present Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah’s action, even after this government has officially taken its distance from that action, is a demonstration of Israel’s diktat policy on the one hand, and on the other hand the indication of Israel’s determination to compel the Lebanese to enter into a state of civil war, as it tries to do with the Palestinians. In each case, Israel wants to compel one part of the local society — Fatah in Palestine and the governmental majority in Lebanonto crush Israel’s main enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, or else they be crushed themselves.

We’ll see. There is an obvious risk for Israel that its aggression will inflame the “Arab street” and force Arab “officials”–including anti-Syrian Lebanese Christians and Sunnis–to rally around Hezbollah, etc.

On Palestine (aka Jordan):

The drama unfolding in Gaza may not really have much to do with Gaza. Right Zionists may not have a particularly complex plan for Gaza. The only real plan is to divide Gaza and the West Bank and help deliver the latter to King Abdullah in Jordan.

Right Zionists are reviving the old plan–last championed by George Shultz in the late 1980s–for Jordan to take over the West Bank.

The most prominent champion of such a plan is Meyrav Wurmser–whose husband is David Wurmser (see above). Wurmser announced a “Paradigm Shift” in the New York Sun today:

We are witnessing the collapse not only of the Road Map and the Disengagement and Convergence concepts but of a paradigm which emerged in 1994 during the Oslo process. That paradigm was grounded in the idea that the best solution to the Palestinian problem was the creation of a third state along with Israel and Jordan within the League of Nations mandatory borders of interwar Palestine. Until Oslo, Jordan, Israel and the United States all publicly repeated that an independent Palestinian state was dangerous to their national interests...

From September 1970 until September 1993, it was universally understood in Jordan, in Israel and in the West that the local Palestinian issue was best subsumed under a Jordanian-Israeli condominium to isolate the issue from being exploited by broader regional forces that sought to trigger Arab-Israeli wars that were convenient diversions or vehicles for imperial ambition.

This plan has been circulating in Right Zionist circles. See, for example, the March 2003 Middle East Quarterly article, “Re-energizing a West Bank-Jordan Alliance.”

Hamas’s landslide victory in the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections is the latest sign of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) failure. The collapse of the West Bank into civil chaos and jihadist control would pose a security dilemma not only for Israel but also for Jordan. It is a scenario that increasingly occupies the Jordanian government’s strategic thinking…

King Abdullah has signaled a willingness to reengage in West Bank affairs. In the most significant Jordanian intervention in the West Bank since July 1988, Abdullah began in March 2005 to enlist new recruits for the Jordan-based and influenced Badr security forces (also known as the Palestinian Liberation Army) for possible deployment to parts of the West Bank…

Marouf al-Bakhit, at the time Jordan’s ambassador to Israel and, subsequently, the kingdom’s prime minister, elaborated that the Jordanian government hoped to play a more active role in the West Bank.[25] On the eve of Zarqawi’s attack, former prime minister Adnan Badran told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds that Jordan could no longer sit idle “with its arms crossed and watch what transpires in Palestine because it influences what happens in Jordan for better or worse”[26]

In March 2005, the Jordanian government made clear its willingness to alter the traditional peace process paradigm. On the eve of the March 2005 Arab League summit in Algiers, Jordanian foreign minister Hani al-Mulki called for a “regional approach” to Middle East peacemaking along the lines of the 1991 Madrid peace conference. This set the stage for King Abdullah’s proposal at the summit, in which he called for a broader and more creative approach.[27]

The Jordanian leadership appears increasingly willing to play a direct role…

Wishful thinking, perhaps. But not unimportant to know just what kind of “thinking” Right Zionists are doing these days…

Beirut to Baghdad

Posted by Cutler on July 13, 2006
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Right Arabists, Right Zionists / 3 Comments

The big news story of the day is the Israeli strikes against Lebanon. According to the Los Angeles Times:

Israel bombed Beirut’s airport early today and sent troops and tanks deep into Lebanon after guerrillas from the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others in a meticulously planned border raid.

It was Israel’s first major offensive in Lebanon in six years

Many in the US will join the French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, in criticizing Israel for “a disproportionate act of war” against Lebanon, especially in light of Israel’s massive, 2-week-old, ongoing offensive in Gaza sparked by a June 25 raid by Hamas.

Hamas, however, seems less focused on or surprised by Israel’s disproportionate reprisals than Hezbollah’s “heroic” border raid. According to the Kuwait Times

Hamas political bureau member Mohammad Nazzal told Reuters the capture of the two Israeli soldiers was a “heroic operation” and would help a campaign to free 1,000 Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, Israelis are also focused on Hezbollah’s border raid and they are outraged.

More surprising, however, the raid also seems to have upset Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. According to press reports,

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also indirectly criticized Syria, suggesting it disrupted his country’s attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release. Hamas was subjected to “counter-pressures by other parties, which I don’t want to name but which cut the road in front of the Egyptian mediation and led to the failure of the deal after it was about to be concluded,” Mubarak said in an interview with Egypt’s Al-Massai newspaper published yesterday.

Egyptian “attempts to mediate a deal for Shalit’s release” were undertaken at the behest of the Bush administration, specifically David Welch. Welch is the former US ambassador to Egypt and currently serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. Near Eastern Affairs is traditionally the center of Right Arabist influence in the foreign policy establishment.

In return for his cooperation, Mubarak may have looked forward to easier relations with the US and a green light from the US to position his son, Gamal, as his successor.

Welch’s deal had been rumored in Israel, but it was not popular there. According to The Forward:

[P]rior to the abduction of two more soldiers near the Lebanon border… one of Olmert’s closest allies in the Cabinet suggested that a kind of retroactive prisoner swap could be in the works.

“The release of the kidnapped soldier will be a must. The moment that Qassam rocket fire also stops, we will enter a period of quiet, at the end of which it will be possible to release prisoners as a goodwill gesture,” Israel’s internal security minister, Avi Dichter, said at a conference in Tel Aviv. “This is something that Israel has done in the past and that can serve it in the future as well.”

The remarks were relayed internationally, prompting Dichter to say he had been misunderstood and Olmert’s office to deny a deal was in the offing.

But the Welch deal was undermined by the “counter pressures” on Hamas by the “other parties” that “cut the road” out from under Welch and Mubarak.

According to Bloomberg News, Dennis Ross—a Clinton administration Middle East envoy—faulted Welch for his reliance on Mubarak.

Ross said the U.S. has put too much faith in Egypt’s ability to mediate Shalit’s release…

Rather, the U.S. needs to talk most urgently to Syria, which hosts Hamas’s leadership and facilitates Hezbollah operations. Hezbollah’s attack yesterday “is obviously part of a coordinated effort to help Hamas,” Ross said. “And now there’s a risk of a wider escalation, and the address for all of this goes back to Damascus.”

The Welch initiative in Egypt was, in essence, an “Arab” response to the end of the Hamas ceasefire and the massive Israeli response.

The opening of a second front—sparked by the Hezbollah raid—has consequences in the Middle East and in the US.

In the Middle East, it has allowed Iran and Syria to undermine Arab control of the Palestinian resistance. As luck would have it, Syrian Vice President Farouk Al-Sharaa and Iranian top nuclear diplomat Ali Larijani were together in Damascus for a press conference. Kuwait Times reports:

“When the Zionist entity attacks and slaughters the Palestinian people resistance is necessary,” Larijani said.

The Hezbollah raid also allows Iran to display some of its regional leverage amidst US attempts to isolate the Iranian regime at the UN.

In the US, the opening of a Hezbollah front shifts the factional center of gravity within the Bush administration where Welch shares the Israel/Palestine portfolio with Elliott Abrams, the Right Zionist White House as Deputy National Security Adviser.

The shift of focus toward Hezbollah moves the spotlight from Welch and his Egyptian allies to Elliott Abrams and his Israeli allies.

A spokesman for Elliott Abrams and the National Security Council put the blame squarely on Iran and Syria, gave Israel a “green light” for intervention, and made an appeal for Lebanon to cut its ties to Iran and Syria.

Reuters reports:

“We condemn in the strongest terms Hezbollah’s unprovoked attack on Israel and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers,” said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

We also hold Syria and Iran, which directly support Hezbollah, responsible for this attack and for the ensuing violence,” Jones added…”Hezbollah terrorism is not in Lebanon’s interests,” Jones said…
“This attack demonstrates that Hezbollah’s continued impunity to arm itself and carry out operations from Lebanese territory is a direct threat to the security of the Lebanese people and the sovereignty of the Lebanese government.”

As Juan Cole has suggested, Israeli intervention in Lebanon has the potential of spilling over into Iraq.

[H]ard line Shiites like the Sadr Movement and the Mahdi Army are close to Hizbullah. Israel’s wars could tip Iraq over into an unstoppable downward spiral.

A Sadrist uprising already seemed likely after US-backed raids in Sadr City last week and Israeli brutality toward the Shiites of southern Lebanon could certainly generate a response among the Shiites of southern Iraq.

If Right Zionists in the US support Israeli efforts to destroy Hamas and terrorize the population of Gaza, it does not follow that they favor a parallel track amongst the Shiites of southern Lebanon.

David Wurmser—the Right Zionist who presumably still serves as Cheney’s Middle East expert on his national security staff—had quite a bit to say about the Shiites of southern Lebanon in his 1999 book, Tyranny’s Ally:

“[A] shift of the Shi’ite center of gravity [from Iran] toward Iraq has larger, regional implications. Through intermarriage, history, and social relations, the Shi’ites of Lebanon have traditionally maintained close ties with the Shi’ites of Iraq. The Lebanese Shi’ite clerical establishment has customarily been politically quiescent, like the Iraqi Shi’ites. The Lebanese looked to Najaf’s clerics for spiritual models [until it was transformed into a regional outpost for Iranian influence]. Prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away from a defunct Iranian revolution and reacquainting them with the Iraqi Shi’ite community could significantly help to shift the region’s balance and to whittle away at Syria’s power” (TA, p.107, 110).

Do Right Zionists still hold out the hope of “prying the Lebanese Shi’ites away” from Iran?

If so (I have my doubts), much will depend on the nature of Israeli retaliation. If Israel tries to slaughter the Lebanese Shiite population, it won’t have much hope of “prying them” away from Iran or Syria.

News reports thus far (morning, July 13) are mixed. The New York Sun reported:

[Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert] immediately called up 6,000 reservists yesterday and put into effect plans for an extended incursion into southern Lebanon, which has long hosted Hezbollah terrorists. The intention appeared to be to dismantle the extensive network of terrorist bases and persuade the Beirut government to meet international calls to disarm the group once and for all.

Israeli forces went on the attack, targeting bridges, communication towers, military bunkers, and other facilities. At least two Lebanese civilians were reported to have been killed in the attacks.

On the other hand, there are reports that the most high-profile Israeli retaliation in Lebanon includes a naval blockade and a bombing campaign against Beirut’s airport, both of which serve to cut the ties that link Lebanon with Iran and Syria.

An attempt to pry Lebanese Shiites from Iran?

Good luck with that…

Qom-ic Relief

Posted by Cutler on July 03, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Zionists / 7 Comments

One of the things that first grabbed my attention about Right Zionist policy toward Iraq was their plan for exploiting various rivalries, splits, and fissures within the Gulf for the purpose of achieving a broad re-alignment of alliances in the region, especially in relation to the region’s Shiites.

By many measures, the Right Zionists are now pretty marginal players in the Bush administration Iraq policy machine (the same cannot be said of the Israel/Palestine portfolio where Elliott Abrams still serves as Deputy National Security Advisor). However, there has been–to my knowledge–no purge in the Office of the Vice President where David Wurmser presumably still serves as a top Middle East aide.

During his time at the American Enterprise Institute, Wurmser was the most articulate advocate for exploiting Sunni-Shiite rivalries (i.e., Iraqi civil war) and intra-Shiite factionalism to achieve “dual rollback” in Iraq and Iran. Wurmser’s successor at AEI, Reuel Gerecht, contintued to publish on this theme after Wurmser entered the Bush administration.

Now, Michael Ledeen has once again raised the issue in his latest article, “It’s the Terrorism, Stupid.”

[O]ur analysts have lost sight of the profound internal war under way within Shiite Islam, the two contending forces being the Najaf (Iraqi, traditional) and the Qom (Iranian, heretical, theocratic) versions. Tehran fears ideological enemies inspired either by democracy or by Ayatollah Sistani’s (Najaf) view of the world, which is that civil society should be governed by politicians, not mullahs.

Thus it is a mistake to assume–as it is so often–that Shiites in Iraq are automatically pro-Iranian. No matter how many times smart people such as Reuel Gerecht detail the intra-Shiite civil war, it just goes in one ear and out the other of the intelligence community and the policymakers.

Ledeen continues to write as an embattled outsider frustrated that Right Zionist views are ignored within the intelligence community and among policymakers. Is this merely a convenient cover for Right Zionist influence? Maybe. But a case could also be made that there are Iraq policy folks–Right Arabists–who care not one bit about intra-Shiite factionalism.

Right Arabists are far more upset about any “Shiite cresent” in the Gulf than they are about which Shiites bloc is the emergent regional force. Right Arabists in the US have long shared Saudi misgivings about rising Shiite power. This fear pre-dates the Iranian revolution.

Any distinction between Qom and Najaf (if there is one) only matters to Right Zionists who want to use Iraq’s “Najaf” Shiism to undermine Iran’s “Qom”-based Shiism and restore a pro-US, pro-Israel Iran as a strategic pillar to offset US reliance on Arab regimes.

For Ledeen (and for many fearful Right Arabists) Iranian influence in Iraq is undeniable. In this view, Iran is already fighting that intra-Shiite civil war by undermining the stability of the US-backed, Najaf-Shiite Iraqi government.

For Right Zionists, however, the key is Iraqi influence in Iran. Wurmser, Gerecht, and others have been counting on Najaf to wage war on Qom. If Ledeen sees any signs of this, he isn’t sharing them. There is only the wish for such a two-sided civil war:

[W]e are involved in a regional war that cannot be won by playing defense in Iraq alone.

Faster, please.

In other words, it is time for Sistani to take the battle to the Iranians. We’ll see, I guess.

I have mentioned in previous posts (also here) that I don’t think the Right Zionists are really all that excited about using the Nuke issue to whip up a war frenzy.

First, unlike Right Arabists who fear nukes in the hands of any Iranian regime, Right Zionists only fear nukes in the hands of an Iran that is hostile to the US.

Second, Right Zionists are primaily interested in regime change in Iran and there isn’t much about a nuke stand-off that favors regime change. If anything, it allows the Iranian regime to use “nuclear nationalism” as an anti-imperialist populist credo to consolidate domestic legitimacy.

Now, Ledeen has come right out and said it (I love it when they do that…):

We are wrongly focused on the Iranian nuclear threat, which is obviously worth worrying about, but this excessively narrow focus has distracted us from the main threat, which is terrorism. The mullahs are not going to nuke our fighters in Iraq; they are going to kill as many as they can on the ground with IEDs, suicide terrorists, and assassins. And we have given them a free hand in this murderous campaign instead of unleashing political war against them in their own country. We hear lots of talk from the president and the secretary of state, but there is no sign of the sort of aggressive support we should be giving to the forces of freedom inside Iran.

Ledeen sees “no sign” of such a campaign. Maybe there is no such US campaign. Maybe it is covert. Either way, Ledeen’s own analysis would imply that such a campaign would depend at least as much on Iraqi Shiite forces–like a fatwa from Sistani. There is, as yet, no sign of that campaign.

“Who are the Good Guys?”

Posted by Cutler on June 30, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Right Arabists, Right Zionists, Saudi Arabia / 6 Comments

In a recent dispatch, Robert Dreyfuss writes:

[I]t’s at least worth asking: Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in Iraq? Are the good guys the U.S. troops fighting to impose American hegemony in the Gulf? Are the good guys the American forces who have installed a murderous Shiite theocracy in Baghdad?…

Dreyfuss goes on to answer his own question:

[T]here’s at least as much good on their side as on ours, if not more.

Note, however, that “their side” does not simply mean the “Iraqi” side. The Iraqi side, after all, includes a “murdersous Shiite theocracy.” These, it would seem, are “not” the folks with “as much… if not more” good on their side. No, the folks with more good on their side, according to Dreyfuss, are the Baathists and former military leaders of Iraq.

That raises, once again, the question of a dialogue with the Iraqi insurgents. For the past year, off and on, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has conducted secret talks with the resistance and has openly made a distinction between Zarqawi-style jihadists and former Baathists and military men…

Still, whether one thinks the resistance fighters are good guys, or bad guys that we need to talk to, the left, the antiwar movement, and progressives don’t have to wait for Zal Khalilzad. The time for talking to Iraq’s Baath, former military leaders, and Sunni resistance forces is here.

It is commonplace to favor talks with the Baathist resistance. Even some Right Zionist have embraced the idea. See, for example a Washington Post op-ed entitled “Amnesty for Insurgents? Yes” by Charles Krauthammer.

Insurgencies can be undone by being co-opted. And that is precisely the strategy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Given that his life is literally on the line in making such judgments, one should give his view some weight.

Dreyfuss, meanwhile says nothing about the “murderous” record of the Baathists, but goes out of his way to take the moral high ground in relation to “murderous” Shiites.

Why the double standard? Why so soft on Baathists and hard on Shiites?

It is a perspective that matches perfectly with the anti-Shiite outlook of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

As I pointed out in a previous post, Right Arabists like James Akins–a regular Dreyfuss informant–are extremely hawkish about Iran.

Where is Dreyfuss on Iran? Funny you should ask. He has a new article about US policy toward Iran–“Next We Take Tehran“–in the July/August issue of Mother Jones.

Unlike his erstwhile ally James Akins, Dreyfuss remains–at present–dovish on Iran. And, in a refreshing acknowledgement that Neocons are not the only folks who make US foreign policy, Dreyfuss takes a broad brush in criticizing US policy toward Iran.

Of course, the idea of the Persian Gulf as an American lake is not exactly new. Neoconservatives, moderate conservatives, “realists” typified by Henry Kissinger and James A. Baker, and liberal internationalists in the mold of President Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, mostly agree that the Gulf ought to be owned and operated by the United States, and the idea has been a cornerstone of U.S. policy under presidents both Republican and Democratic.

At least in spirit (if not historical particulars), this is probably the best Dreyfuss line I’ve read because it represents a great break with his otherwise overly narrow focus on the Neocons. In the very next paragraph, however, Dreyfuss walks right back into that political corner of his:

But if the administration’s goals are congruent with past U.S. policy, its methods represent a radical departure. Previous administrations relied on alliances, proxy relationships with local rulers, a military presence that stayed mostly behind the scenes, and over-the-horizon forces ready to intervene in a crisis. President Bush has directly occupied two countries in the region and threatened a third. And by claiming a sweeping regional war without end against what he has referred to as “Islamofascism,” combined with an announced goal to impose U.S.-style free-market democracy in southwest Asia, he has adopted a utopian approach much closer to imperialism than to traditional balance-of-power politics.

This paragraph is a train wreck.

Are “traditional balance-of-power politics” actually so different from “imperialism”? At best, one could argue that there are tactical differences between an imperialism that operates through direct occupation and one that relies on alliances and proxy relationships with local rulers.

If this distinction actually matters to Dreyfuss, then he should be prepared to acknowledge that in the factional battles over Iraq, at least, Right Zionists always advocated–and have been criticized for advocating–reliance on indirect rule by Shiite proxy forces with a relatively “light” military presence over the horizon. By contrast, Right Arabists have always insisted that any regime change effort in Iraq would require at least 500,000 US troops and an occupation that would last years or decades.

Here, for example, is a leading Right Arabist, General Anthony Zinni, talking to Wolf Blitzer on CNN:

We made a mistake in not understanding that after our invasion there would have to be a period of occupation. As a matter of fact, friends of mine who were planners in the workup were told not to use that word. But that’s denying reality. We had to have a period, much like we had in Japan and Germany at the end of World War II, where we controlled things

But we believed that the Iraqi people could take this upon themselves right away. We did it without the kind of, again, law and order and control in there.

The “we” that made that made that alleged “mistake” were the Right Zionists. Right Zionists like Douglas Feith, however, speak of the opposite “mistake”–the one made by Right Arabists. Feith told the Washington Post:

First, the United States missed the opportunity before the war to train enough Kurds and other Iraqi exiles to assist the U.S. military, he said. “That didn’t happen in the numbers we had hoped,” he said…

Even more important, Feith said, was the reluctance among some U.S. officials to transfer power early on to an Iraqi government and dismantle the U.S. occupation authority, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), headed by Ambassador L. Paul Bremer.

Whatever the merits, for US empire, of direct occupation v. indirect rule through local proxies and/or the mistakes made, it is clear which imperial faction advocated which strategy in Iraq: Right Arabists favored US rule through direct, long-term occupation; Right Zionists favored US rule through local (Shiite and Kurdish) proxies.

Meanwhile, in the case of Iran, nobody within the foreign policy establishment has advocated direct military occupation. All of the big fights have been about three different options: peaceful diplomacy, military air strikes, or regime change led by proxy forces.

Bush administration Iran policy–like its policy toward Iraq–is based on “balance of power” politics. There is nothing new or utopian about it. What is new–and Dreyfuss won’t acknowledge–is that his old Right Arabist friends don’t talk like peaceniks about Iran.

There is a ton of unacknowledged history of Right Arabist/Right Zionist factionalism in all this. It was, after all, the Eisenhower administration–perhaps the US administration most clearly dominated by Right Arabists–that rejected the joint UK-French-Israel effort to topple an Arab nationlist leader, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Peaceniks, to be sure. But it was that same administration that gave the green light for a US-led covert operation for a coup against a Persian nationalist leader, Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.

Who are the “bad” buys on Iran policy? Do Right Zionists support regime change in Iran? You bet. Is there at least “as much” bad “if not more” on the Right Arabist side when it comes to Iran? Ask former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins.

Right Arabists as Iran Hawks

Posted by Cutler on June 28, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

Pop Quiz:

An article from the Associated Press reports the following:

A group of former senior government officials called on the Bush administration Thursday to adopt an official policy of regime change” in Iran on the grounds that the country poses a threat to U.S. security.

The Iran Policy Committee, formed a month ago in an effort to influence government policy toward Iran , said in a statement that Tehran’s Islamic government “is not likely to be turned from its threatening behavior by policies that emphasize negotiations.”…

The 30-page committee statement, released at a news conference, said that unless working with the Iranian people leads to regime change in Tehran, “the pace of nuclear weapons development might leave Washington with what the committee believes is the least desirable option of waging military strikes against Iran.”

Question: who is behind this group?
Not sure? Let me give another hint.

The “Iran Policy Committee” supports an Iranian exile-led opposition group called the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK, but sometimes called MKO). Here is a recent depiction of the group by one of its many critics:

Within the United States, MKO members tell Congressmen, their staffs, and other policymakers what they want to hear: That the MKO is the only opposition movement capable of ousting the unpopular and repressive Islamic Republic. They are slickWell-dressed and well-spoken representatives of MKO front organizations approach American writers, politicians, and pundits who are critical of the regime.

Has to be the Neocons, right? Sounds just like the Right Zionists. And the critic sounds just like a Right Arabist–could be General Zinni again, who famously slammed Chalabi and his Iraqi exile group as silk-suited, Rolex-wearing guys in London.”

Guess again.

First, the critic quoted above is none other than Right Zionist Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.

Second, the founding co-chairman of the “Iran Policy Committee”–James Akins–is about as far as you can get from a Right Zionist. James Akins is the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia and one of the deans of the Right Arabist foreign policy establishment.

What is a guy like Akins doing leading a group of Iran hawks?

In previous posts (here and here), I have noted the fact that Right Zionists are hostile to the current incumbent Iranian regime (so-called “official Iran”) but are very committed to the regional power of Iran (“eternal Iran”) as a country able to balance the power of Arab nationalism in the Gulf. More to the point, in terms of James Akins, Right Arabists are hostile to both “official Iran” and to “eteneral Iran”–that is, they are hostile to the regional power of Iran–precisely because they support Arab hegemony in the Gulf.

In the 1970s when Iran was allied with the US, it was pretty easy to distinguish between Right Arabists and Right Zionists. Right Zionists were delighted by growing Iranian regional power and the emergent triangle of US, Israeli, and Iranian relations. Right Arabists made no secret of their opposition to Iran’s growing regional power under the Shah.

Henry Kissinger was as responsible as any one person could be for the US tilt toward Iran in the early 1970s. It is over Iran and Saudi Arabia that James Akins clashed so famously with Kissinger. In an interview with 60 Minutes (discussed in Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1980), Akins claimed that Kissinger supported oil price hikes that benefited Iran over the objections of Saudi Arabia. Akins also claims (Wall Street Journal, February 4, 2004) that Kissinger gave him the boot when Akins spoke out against US plans to seize Saudi oil fields.

In April 1975, America’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, James Akins, sent a confidential cable to Washington denouncing as “criminally insane” an idea then being floated in the media: America should seize Saudi oil fields to break an Arab oil cartel and ensure a supply of cheap energy to fuel the U.S. economy.

Scoffing at the bravado of what he called America’s “New Hawks,” he warned that any attempt to take Arab oil by force would lead to world-wide fury and a protracted guerrilla war. This “could bring only disaster to the United States and to the world,” he wrote.

His 34-page cable, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, did not go down well in Washington. The idea of invading Saudi Arabia wasn’t the work of cranks but of senior policy makers. Discussion of a military strike never got beyond the preliminary planning stage, but the idea terrified the Saudis, who laid plans to booby-trap oil wells.

A few months after sending his cable, Mr. Akins was out of a job. He believes that his memo, which stoutly defended the Saudis’ right to control their oil, “was basically the cause of my being fired.”

This story has also been recounted by Robert Dreyfuss in his essay “The Thirty-Year Itch” in which Akins describes the invasion of Iraq as essentially part of this old battle:

“It’s the Kissinger plan,” says James Akins, a former U.S. diplomat. “I thought it had been killed, but it’s back.”

On the question of Iraq, Akins has been an outspoken critic of Right Zionists. No surprise here. The Saudis opposed Right Zionist plans for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraqi Shiites; so did Akins.

It is on this basis that a Right Arabist establishment figure like Akins also found common ground with Left anti-war writers like Robert Dreyfuss, a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. Interviews with Akins provided Dreyfuss with lots of juicy quotes for his extended attacks on Right Zionist policy in Iraq and Akins puffed Devil’s Game on the back jack of the book.

In “Beyond Incompetence,” I criticized Dreyfuss:

because all of his political firepower is directed at the “neocon-dominated” United States, his critique is completely neutralized in those instances where Right Arabists have managed to regain some influence over Iraq policy. Dreyfuss pins everything on the idea that Right Zionists are dominating US policy. It legitimizes his uncritical embrace of Right Arabist perspectives on Iraq.

In a December 2004 comment, for example, Dreyfuss finds evidence of considerable Right Zionist panic, expressed by “leading neocon strategist” Max Singer, that Right Arabists were winning greater influence over Iraq policy. “What world is Singer living in?” asks Dreyfuss. “The United States is supporting the Sunnis and Baathists? Course not.”

More recently, Dreyfuss has acknowledged that the balance in US policy might have shifted back toward the Right Arabists. In an article sub-titled “Bring Back the Baath,” Dreyfuss reports on “U.S.-Baath Talks.”

“What the United States ought to have done two years ago — namely, make a deal with the resistance and its core Baathist leadership — might, after all, be happening. It is unclear how far up the food chain in the Bush administration this effort goes, but it appears that a desperate Ambassador Khalilzad has realized the importance of forging ties to the Baath party… That’s all good….”

If Dreyfuss feels awkward about declaring the increasingly Right Arabist inclinations of a Republican administration “all good,” he certainly hides it well.

Dreyfuss is disarmed by his adoption of Right Arabist talking points. Nowhere is this more evident that in his coverage of Iran.

In a Nation article entitled “Still Dreaming of Tehran,” (written with Laura Rozen), Dreyfuss once again turns to his Right Arabist friends–this time, “Chas Freeman, who served as US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War and a leading foe of the neocons”–to expose Right Zionist hawkish plans for Iran.

In a way, the neocons’ Iran project is very similar to the early phase of their Iraq one. It includes a steady drumbeat of threats and warnings, Washington lobbying, a media offensive and support for exile groups–in Iran’s case a mishmash that combines supporters of Khomeini’s grandson; Reza Pahlavi, the son of the fallen Shah, and the Iranian monarchists; and the Mujaheddin e-Khalq (MEK), a 3,800-strong exile force based in Iraq.

Dreyfuss seems unaware or unconcerned that at least one of his Right Arabist friends–James Akins–is the one leading support for the Iranian MEK exile force.

Why do Right Arabists favor a group like MEK and why do Right Zionists attack the group?

A June 25, 2006 Washington Post “guide to the leading Iranian activists in town” entitled “Iran on the Potomac,” and written by Dreyfuss co-author Laura Rozen describes the MEK:

[T]he National Council of the Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, an anti-regime militant group supported for years by Saddam Hussein.

With the advent of the Iran-Iraq war, the MEK alligned itself with Iraq and integrated itself into the broader regional Arab resistance to Iranian power. In other words, the MEK is an Arab-aligned force for regime change in Iran.

Right Zionists desperately want regime change in Iran, but they oppose two hawkish Right Arabist options for achieving that change. One is the attempt–profiled in a previous post–to cultivate Arab Iranian secessionist impulses in the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzistan (previously known as “Arabistan”). The other is Right Arabist sponsorship of MEK.

Dreyfuss likes to counterpose the Neocon hawks to “the realists’ more conciliatory strategy” that favors ” a quiet dialogue with Tehran.” Quiet and conciliatory. Yep, that must be the nearly-pacifist “realists.”

The essential point, beyond assembling a map of Washington policy positions regarding Iran, is that Right Arabists can be hawks, too. Listen to the Akins group:

Iran is emerging as the primary threat against the United States and its allies: Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, continuing support for and involvement with terrorist networks, publicly-stated opposition to the Arab-Israel peace process, disruptive role in Iraq, expansionist radical ideology, and its denial of basic human rights to its own population are challenges confronting U.S. policymakers.

James Akins and his Iran Policy Committee bang war drums, champion regime change, and sponsor democracy missions just like the Right Zionists when such things serve in the interest of Right Arabist goals. They may talk like doves in debates over Iraq, but Iran is a different matter.

Right Zionists and Right Arabists are merely two rival imperialist factions within the foreign policy establishment. Those who take sides within that intra-imperialist battle are playing a “devil’s game.”

Zarqawi and Zion, Affirmed

Posted by Cutler on June 20, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 4 Comments

In a previous post–one seen by more readers than any other, thanks to the Right Zionists at Frontpage who graciously included me in their diatribe, “The Left and the Death of Zarqawi“–I argued:

At the level of ideology, Zarqawi was best understood as the perfect foil for Right Zionists like David Wurmser who think of Iraq as the front line of a regional war. Zarqawi is the mirror image of Wurmser.

I also made the following prediction:

Zarqawi may have hated Zionists, but his importance in Iraq was that he also hated Shiites. It was in the mind of Zarqawi–like the mind of Wurmser–that Zionists and Shiites were united. Right Zionists will not shed a tear for Zarqawi, but they may miss him when he is gone.

Actually, I was wrong. Right Zionists have now actually shed a tear for Zarqawi in an extraordinary June 26, 2006 Lee Smith Weekly Standard article called “Sects and Death in the Middle East.” It is a eulogy in the truest sense:

For over half a century, Arab leaders from Nasser to Nasrallah have all sounded the same note–we Arabs are in a battle to the death against Israel, the United States, the West, colonialism, etc. Zarqawi broke that pact. We Sunnis are Arabs, said Zarqawi, but you lot are Shia and we will kill you….

Zarqawi tapped into the id of the region, the violent subterranean intra-Arab hatreds that no one wants to look at very closely, neither locals nor foreigners, because the picture it paints is so dauntingly gruesome that it suggests the Middle East will be a basket case for decades to come…

Certainly not all Sunni Arabs approved of Zarqawi’s tactics, but many agreed that someone had to put the Shiites back in their place lest they misunderstand what is in store for them once the Americans leave.

Last year, Jordan’s King Abdullah famously warned of a Shiite crescent–a sphere of influence running from Iran to Lebanon–and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak has accused Shiites of being more loyal to Iran than the countries they live in. And these are the heads of the two major Arab states that are almost devoid of Shiites. Feelings run even higher elsewhere in the region. In Saudi Arabia, the mere existence of Shiites in the Eastern Province threatens not only the kingdom’s primary source of income, oil, but also the very legitimacy of Wahhabi rule. After all, as true Wahhabis, shouldn’t they be converting or killing Shiites, as the founder of the country, Ibn Saud, once insisted?

To your average Joe Sunni, then, it’s good that Osama bin Laden kills Americans. And it’s wonderful that the Palestinian groups kill Israelis. But Zarqawi was the man in the trenches who went after the heretics that Sunni Arabs all actually have to live with every day, and have successfully kept in their place for a millennium now, and don’t ever want overturning the scales…

But to downplay sectarian issues is to risk misunderstanding the real problems in Iraq. There are already scores of books and articles detailing how the Bush team screwed up the war or the postwar occupation, some written by former administration employees, others the mea culpas of self-described onetime true believers… The problem in Iraq is Iraq. More broadly speaking, it is the problem of Arab society. ..

Zarqawi is the real radical, for he exploited and illuminated the region’s oldest and deepest hatreds. And he stayed on message until it was very difficult to argue that the root causes of violence in the Middle East are colonialism, imperialism, and Zionism.

Zarqawi made it clear, if it wasn’t already, that a more “even-handed approach” toward the Israeli-Palestinian crisis will not really defuse tensions in the Middle East…

The world looks like a different place thanks to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, for without him the obtuse, the partisan, and the dishonest would still have room to talk about root causes and such stuff and reason away mass murder and sectarian fear and loathing. Zarqawi clarified things.

Wow! If the Weekly Standard had called and asked me to serve as ghost writer for a Right Zionist profile of Zarqawi, I would never have had the nerve to put it as clearly and succinctly as that! Let’s read one of those paragraphs one more time, just for fun–this time with feeling:

Zarqawi is the real radical, for he exploited and illuminated the region’s oldest and deepest hatreds. And he stayed on message until it was very difficult to argue that the root causes of violence in the Middle East are colonialism, imperialism, and Zionism.

Well, Ok then.

All Quiet on the Political Front

Posted by Cutler on June 20, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Right Arabists (so-called Realists) seem to be calling the shots at every turn and the Sunni Arab politicians in Iraq who tend to yell the loudest at the first sign of a Right Zionist tilt to Bush administration policy continue to be very quiet.

The stability of the political process looks impressive, although it will surely be tested by one or more possible scenarios.

First, the government of national unity would be tested by any serious attempt by US forces to crush the Sunni insurgency, such as the plan that AEIs Frederick Kagan presumably offered to President Bush during their recent meeting.

Juan Cole notes something like a news blackout on allegedly massive counter-insurgency operations in Baghdad and Ramadi right now. According to a New York Times report, US military officials deny that a Falluja-style assault is in the works.

Some Sunni Arab leaders have said they are worried that American forces may be preparing an offensive in Ramadi meant to wipe out the insurgent groups that have taken control of much of the city, similar to the November 2004 assault on Falluja by the Marines.

An American military official in Baghdad said on Sunday that no such offensive was planned. “We’re trying to separate the insurgents from the rest of the people,” the official said. “There are a lot of rumors flying around that people think it’s another Falluja. It’s not.”

One reason to believe these reports: Sunni Arab political leaders are, thus far, quiet. It would be difficult for them to remain so in the face of a major assault.

Second, any attempt to negotiate Constitutional changes will almost certainly re-open the sectarians wounds that have been sutured by the Maliki government.

Third, the Maliki government could be tested by more sectarian violence or intra-Shiite factionalism in Basra.

Until then, one cannot fail to notice that Iraqi politics look very calm right now. Pretty impressive, given the Haditha revelations, etc.

On Haditha: Funny how quiet imperialism becomes in the US when the Right Arabist political establishment has been restored to power and no longer has any use for the anti-war Left. Recall the extraordinary political outcry in 2004 from US political elites over Abu Ghraib during the era when Right Zionists were still running the show. Now compare that political storm to the muted themes (“clouds” and “contradictions” seem to be the watchwords at the New York Times) that have accompanied revelations about the Haditha massacre.

Where is Richard Lugar and his outrage? Silence.

Basra v. Persia, Part II

Posted by Cutler on June 15, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel / 2 Comments

Details regarding a flare up of tensions between Basra Shiites and Iran–discussed in the previous post–remain sketchy. Here are some of the media reports:

The Associated Press (via Forbes) suggests that Basra Shiites are upset because of accusations made on Iranian TV about Iraqi cleric Mahmoud al-Hassani (variously referred to as Ayatollah Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi or Shaikh Mahmud al-Sarkhi al-Hasani):

Viewers in Iran and Iraq said a talk show guest on the channel Saturday criticized Mahmoud al-Hassani, a fiercely anti-American cleric whose followers have battled in the past with U.S. and other coalition troops in Iraq. The guest, Shiite cleric Sheik Ali Kourani, said al-Hassani was not a real cleric and Israel was using him to tarnish Islam, according to the viewers.

Many of al-Hassani’s supporters took the criticism as an accusation that the cleric was an Israeli agent, Basra police Capt. Mushtaq Khazim said.

Question #1: Was Sheik Ali Kourani saying that al-Hassani was an agent of Israel, as the Basra police Capt is said to have suggested?

Such an interpretation would make it seem like Kourani was fanning the flames of anti-Zionism by accusing al-Hassani of serving “Zionist masters.” There is reason to doubt this interpretation. First, the AP report that “Israel was ‘using’ him to tarnish Islam” could have more to do with Kourani’s discomfort with al-Hassani for militantly anti-Zionist and anti-American positions that Kourani thinks gives Islam a bad name. That would be a very different thing, no? It certainly rules out the possibility that the “anti-Iranian protesters” are implicitly pro-American or pro-Israeli.

Question #2: What does the media say about Ayatollah Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi?

Not much. On April 5, 2004, a Washington Post article briefly mentions militias in Iraq that are loyal to “a mystical cleric named Sarkhi Hassani.”

The depiction of al-Hassani as “mystical” makes some sense in light of another charge allegedly levelled against him by Kourani on Iranian TV. According to a June 14, 2006 Agence France Presse report under the headline “Iraq protestors tear down Iran consulate flag in religious row” (I could not find a copy on-line; link anyone?):

The incident came after an interview on Iranian television with Islamic scholar Sheikh Ali Korani, during which he criticized al-Sarkhi for claiming to be in regular communication with the hidden imam — a messiah-like figure who will one day return and redeem the Shiite community.

Although al-Hassani’s followers deny the charge, it is one that is regularly made against mystics in many religious traditions.

According to a December 28, 2005 “Iraq Weekly Status Report” published by the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs of the U.S. State Department, al-Hassani is an “extremist Shi’a cleric” and leader of the Islamic Walaa Party (ballot number 758). The report also notes that Walaa Party members demonstrated in Karbala “and accused the United Islamic Alliance… of a host of election infractions…”

So there seems to be some tension between al-Hassani’s Walaa Party and the ruling Shiite alliance.

[Update: Juan Cole was on the case way back in October 2003 when he provided a profile of al-Hassani. He describes al-Hassani as a Sadrist.]

Question #3: Who is Shiite cleric Sheik Ali Kourani, the talk show guest whose comments sparked the demonstrations at the Iranian consulate in Basra?

Ali Kourani (also Ayatollah Ali Korani) received a burst of US media coverage in the middle of the 1990s as the representative of a new, moderate, modern trend within Iran. His specific claim to fame was as a “new wave” mullah, at least according to a May 11, 1995 Wall Street Journal report by Peter Waldman under the headline “Islamic Upheaval: Iranian Revolution Takes Another Turn, But Where Is It Going?–On the Inside, Signs Point to Greater Moderation; U.S. Still Sees Terrorism–‘New Wave’ Mullahs On-Line”:

[Y]ounger, “New Wave” mullahs, as the turbaned hackers are called, have persevered.

The spread of information will inevitably lead to a more moderate climate,” says Ali Korani, the cleric who heads the Qom project to publish the planned Encyclopedia of Islamic Law.

Some of the clergy say we’ve been hurt by being part of the government; we should return to our original role as spiritual leaders,” says Mr. Korani, the computer mullah. “Among the marjas [the most influential ayatollahs], this is the dominant view.”

Question #4: What is the relationship between Ali Kourani and the current Iranian government?

According to the Associated Press, the Iranian program appeared on a state-run channel:

Iran…has increased Arabic-language TV broadcasts in an attempt to further boost its influence in neighboring Iraq.

Al-Kawthar, which has a mix of religious and political programming, often with an anti-American tone, is the second largest Iranian station seen in Iraq, after al-Alam television.

According to the Agence France Presse report cited above, however, Iranian representatives in Iraq weren’t eager to claim Kourani:

The Iranian consulate in Karbala pointed out that its press was free and Korani was Lebanese, not Iranian, so the whole affair was not Tehran’s responsibility.

Implications: It may be too soon to say, but it looks like this whole event turns traditional Right Zionist assumptions about Shiite politics on its head. If, as I have argued in my article “Beyond Incompetence“, Right Zionists hoped that moderate Iraqi Shiites would help undermine the revolutionary Iranian regime, this case looks like the exact opposite: radical Iraqi Shiites demonstrating against political “moderates” in Iran.

Biden Time

Posted by Cutler on June 14, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / No Comments

Does Senator Joe Biden think that his party is so irrelevant that he can champion views on Iraq that seem completely contradictory without anybody knowing or caring?

Biden, in case you have missed it, has been all over the media in recent days arguing for appeasing Iraq’s Sunni Arab political forces even as he simultaneously champions regional autonomy for Iraqi Shiites and Kurds. In other words, he is essentially trying to woo Sunni Arabs and antagonize them at the same time. Along the way, he manages to support both of the visions for Iraq that have generated fierce factional antagonisms withing the Bush administration.

Here is Biden on the Jim Lehrer News Hour on PBS last night:

[E]verybody agrees three things have to happen for us to be able to leave and leave success behind, that is a stable government. You’ve got to do something about the militia, and you’ve got to purge the existing, trained Iraqis of these sectarian thugs.

Secondly, what you got to do, is you got to get the Sunnis to buy in. That’s why our ambassador did a great job getting the constitution amended before they voted on it, to provide for the opportunity to get the Sunnis to buy in by giving them a larger piece of the action.

And, three, you’ve got to keep the neighbors out.

Biden has reproduced these three bullet points on CNN, MSNBC, and in a press release.

These talking points are not particularly different from the current “Right Arabist” policies being pursued by Zalmay Khalilzad. Hence the nod to the “great job” Khalilzad is doing.These talking points are quite different, however, from Biden’s simultaneous endorsement (discussed in a previous post) of regional autonomy for Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish minorities.

JIM LEHRER: Senator Biden, what do you say to the growing number of your fellow and sister Democrats who are saying, “Hey, it’s time to set a date certain to get America out of there, get the troops out of there”? What do you say to them?

SEN. JOE BIDEN: I’m saying setting a date is not a plan. I’m not suggesting that Senator Lugar agrees with the plan I put forward, but I laid out a clear, precise plan as to how I think we should proceed, by giving more breathing room to the various sectarian groups, by sharing the oil revenue, by amending the constitution

This “clear, precise plan” is hardly the stuff of Right Arabist strategy in Iraq. Take, for example, Senator Lugar, Republican Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who appeared with Biden on the News Hour:

JIM LEHRER: Senator Lugar, are you on board for the Biden plan?…

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR: I think it should be carefully considered, but my own view is that the best option is still to try to find a unified Iraq

I think that Turks will be very nervous about Kurds heading toward more independence under those situations… quite apart from Sunnis that might hook up with Sunnis in Saudi Arabia… the Wahhabi-types that could be very dangerous for the conclusion for all of this…

Biden’s plan drew similar criticism from Anthony Cordesman in a May 9, 2006 New York Times Op-Ed entitled “Three Iraqs Would Be One Big Problem.”

[T]here is no way to divide Iraq that will not set off fights over control of oil. More than 90 percent of Iraq’s government revenues come from oil exports. The Sunni Arab west has no developed oil fields and thus would have no oil revenues…

And with Iraqi Sunnis cut out of oil money, Arab Sunni states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be forced to support them, if only to avoid having the Islamist extremists take over this part of Iraq.

Iran, of course, would compete for the Iraqi Shiites. The Kurds have no friends: Turkey, Iran and Syria would seek to destabilize the north…

[A quick detour: “The Kurds have no friends” Is it my imagination or did Anthony Cordesman just “wipe Israel off the map”? For better or worse, Israel has long aligned itself with Kurdish forces.]

Biden and Gelb responded to Cordesman’s criticism in a May 11, 2006 letter to the New York Times (subscription required):

[Cordesman] says our proposal cuts the Sunni Arabs out of oil money. But as we wrote, our plan would constitutionally guarantee Sunnis 20 percent of all oil revenues. Right now, they are guaranteed nothing.

Our suggested oil guarantee would also give Sunnis a major incentive to fight the insurgents and accept the regionalism we propose and Iraq’s constitution allows.

You will have to ask Iraqi Sunnis for yourself if they find Biden’s promise of “20 percent of all oil revenues” sufficient “incentive to fight the insurgents,” but I have yet to find any Right Arabists (including Lugar) who find in this clarification a basis for signing on to Biden’s regionalism plan.

It is worth noting, however, that Biden’s insistence here on exisiting provisions of the Iraqi constitution runs agains the grain of his News Hour praise for Khalilzad: “our ambassador did a great job getting the constitution amended before they voted on it.”

What were the changes that Khalilzad introduced days ahead of the October 2005 ratification vote? Khalilzad’s own October 12, 2005 press release is quite clear:

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad praised Iraqi political leaders for agreeing to last-minute compromises on the language of the country’s proposed constitution. The changes are aimed at forging broader consensus ahead of the October 15 constitutional referendum.

“As Iraqis prepare to vote their consciences in the coming referendum, leaders who have led the democratic process and leaders who have boycotted it have decisively settled their differences and joined together to announce, ‘Vote yes for Iraq’s constitution,’” Khalilzad said in an October 12 statement…

One agreed change would allow for the new Council of Representatives to review the document and propose changes…

This provision was important to Sunni Arab negotiators who feel that they were under-represented on the constitutional drafting committee…

Other changes include language emphasizing the unity of the Iraqi state and highlighting its ties to the Arab world.

Two new clauses state that membership in the former regime’s Ba’ath Party is not an adequate basis for referral of an individual to the courts and that the new Council of Representatives shall establish a committee to ensure that the de-Ba’athification program is carried out in a just, fair and objective manner. Sunni Arab negotiators insisted on these provisions to ensure that their constituents, many of whom were rank-and-file members of the party, are not unjustly prosecuted.

How can Biden praise Khalilzad’s constitutional amendments that won some Sunni Arab buy in only by promising the “unity of the Iraqi state” even as Biden continues to support regional autonomy?

Senator Biden: which side are you on?

At a minimum, let us pray that the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee understands that his current talking points represent two antagonistic approaches to US policy in Iraq–approaches that have hitherto appeared as mutually exclusive to the Right Zionist and Right Arabist factional forces that have battled for position since the start of the Bush administration, to say nothing of forces on the ground in Iraq and the entire Gulf region.

Tehran Tilt

Posted by Cutler on June 12, 2006
Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia / 1 Comment

What is the Bush administration up to in Iran? And what, if anything, does it have to do with the fate of Neoconservative/Right Zionist foreign policy initiatives?

The first thing to note is that “open source” (media-based) analysis of Bush administration policy toward Iran has been complicated by lots of mixed signals. It wasn’t long ago that all the chatter was about impending nuclear strikes on Iran. Remember that? It was only about two months ago that Seymour Hersh published “The Iran Plans” in the April 17, 2006 issue of the New Yorker.

Now fast forward to the June 1, 2006 New York Times report by David Sanger, “For Bush, Talks With Iran Were a Last Resort.”

After 27 years in which the United States has refused substantive talks with Iran, President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him — by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers — that he no longer had a choice…

[A]fter five years of behind-the-scenes battling within the administration, Mr. Bush finally came to a crossroads at which both sides in the debate over Iran — engagers and isolaters, and some with a foot in each camp — saw an advantage in, as one senior aide said, “seeing if they are serious.”…

But three officials who were involved in the most recent iteration of that debate said Mr. Cheney and others stepped aside
In the end, said one former official who has kept close tabs on the debate, “it came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to check off the box” of trying talks.

A little more than a week later, Right Zionist (so-called Neocon) verdicts are in. Over at the American Enterprise Institute, the reviews are quite negative. The Forward quotes AEI’s Michael Rubin:

“The administration can’t have it both ways. They can’t embrace the regime and still talk about liberty for the Iranian people,” said Iran analyst Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank widely associated with the push for regime change in Iraq. A former Pentagon official, Rubin added that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “can spout whatever platitudes she wants to spout, but at this point, when it comes to liberty and freedom, she has no credibility.”

In a Weekly Standard missive, Rubin suggests, “the Bush administration is in full retreat” even as “rich Saudi and Persian Gulf financiers work to consolidate the region as a jihadist base.”

AEI’s Michael Ledeen also seems unhappy. In his recent National Review Online column “Iran Connects the Dots,” Ledeen slams the idea of Iran diplomacy.

The intelligence community was savaged after 9/11 for its failure to connect the dots, and it would be truly embarrassing, and very dangerous, to leave the Iranian dot out there apart from the rest of the network we have uncovered and shattered. A week ago Director of National Intelligence Negroponte gave a very interesting interview to the BBC in which he reiterated what everybody knows: ‘(the Iranians) are the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the world.’

So how come we’re not going after them?

And for those who think the recent ‘we’ll-talk-if-you-stop-enrichment’ gambit was some sort of master diplomatic stroke, consider this: it turns out that the Iranians have actually increased their enrichment program.

There is no escape from the necessity of bringing down the mullahcracy, for they will keep killing our people and our friends.

It may be worth noting, however, that Reuel Marc Gerecht–also at AEI–seems not to have chimed in yet on the Rice initiative. One Gerecht missive in the Weekly Standard–published before Rice announcement of a shift toward direct talks with the Iranians–predicts that such an initiative would fail.

Even if the secretary still has strong “realist” instincts–she is, after all, a disciple of Brent Scowcroft, Bush One’s national security adviser, and she is surrounded in the State Department by foreign service officers who live to negotiate–it won’t matter. The Iranians won’t play ball.

But Gerecht also seems less certain than Rubin or Ledeen about the immediate prospects for regime change in Iran.

No matter what happens, it is long overdue for the Bush administration to get serious about building clandestine mechanisms to support Iranians who want to change their regime. This will take time and be brutally difficult. And overt democracy support to Iranians–which is the Bush administration’s current game plan–isn’t likely to draw many recruits. Most Iranians probably know that this approach is a one-way invitation to Evin prison, which isn’t the most effective place for expressing dissent. However we go about assisting the opposition, the prospects for removing the regime before it acquires nuclear weapons are slim.

Gerecht’s pessimism regarding regime change in Iran seems like a retreat from some of his earlier confidence.

And then there are prominent Neocon figures like Charles Krauthammer who–as I noted in a previous post–have been more forgiving of the Bush administration’s attempt at diplomacy.

There is probably something to the Forward headline that suggests, “Bush Overture To Iran Splits Israel, Neocons.”

The basis of any such split may center on the best way for the US to rebuild its alliance with Iran. By contrast, Right Arabists–including many who talk very tough on Iran–do not favor any serious US alliance with Iran and did not support the US tilt toward Iran during the 1970s. For reasons that I have explained in previous posts and in my ZNet article–“Beyond Incompetence: Washington’s War in Iraq“–Right Zionists favor a tilt toward Shiite power–and an assault on Sunni Arab power–in the Gulf; Right Arabists oppose such a shift.

Some “Right Zionist history” may help make the point: way back on July 19, 1988, Michael Ledeen–famous for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair–published an Op-Ed in the New York Times entitled “Let’s Talk With Iran Now” (I couldn’t find an on-line copy. Link anyone?). Here are some excerpts of his position at that time:

The United States, which should have been exploring improved relations with Iran before… should now seize the opportunity to do so. To wait might suggest to even pro-Western Iranians that a refusal to seek better relations is based on an anti-Iran animus rather than objections to specific Iranian actions.

Those Iranians who have been calling for better relations with the West have clearly been gathering strength… Among the advocates of such improved relations are two leading candidates to succeed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini: Ayatollah Hojatolislam Rafsanjani and the Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri

Yet there has been no sense of urgency among our top policymakers to design and conduct a policy toward Iran–in part because our top officials, traumatized by the Iran-contra scandal and the hearings and investigatiosn that followed, were determined to to be caught dealing with the Iranians…

Yet past mistakes should not prevent the Administration from pursuing the clear chance for a potential breakthrough in one of the more strategically sensitive areas of the world.

Same theme, again, in a February 1, 1991 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed, “Iran–Back in the Game,” as the US waged war against Iraq.

Iran is once again a player in the Great Game, even to the point of being able to contemplate territorial acquisitions of its own once Iraq has been defeated…

Iran will be seated at the table when the new Middle Eastern order is designed at war’s end, and it will not be easy for the U.S. to know how to deal with it. For there is no country in the world that American diplomats have shunned so totally, indeed avoided so compulsively, as Iran. We have done so primarily for political reasons; ever since the Iran-Contra affair, no American leader has wished to be caught talking to an Iranian, even though many recognized the many sound geopolitical reasons for dealing with Iran.

It would have been wiser to have dealt with the Iranians earlier, but we now have little choice in the matter. Our contacts will surely increase, and President Rafsanjani and company will likely sit at the postwar negotiating table, thereby producing the great historical irony that Saddam Hussein, the conqueror of Persia, will have forced us to resume sensible relations with a reemerging Iran.

You get the point. No mention of the liberty of Iranians or the mullahcracy here. The significance is not that Ledeen is caught changing his position. The reals significance is that Ledeen may not actually have changed his central goal–a US alliance with Iran.

So, the real question is why isn’t the current prospect of dialogue with Iran the culmination of Right Zionist regional ambitions? The US is, after all, contemplating a tilt toward Iran–having already empowered Shiites in Iraq. Are those real Right Zionist tears in the eyes of Rubin and Ledeen?

If so, the tears are probably shed on account of tactical, not strategic defeats.

Here is the tactical question: Any Bush administration dialogue with Iran will be with Ayatollah Hojatolislam Rafsanjani, one of the two figures Ledeen identified as an advocate of “improved relations” back in 1988. Rafsanjani successfully pushed aside the other leading figure–Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri–who now sits in Iran under house arrest. When Ledeen dismisses dialogue with Rafsanjani and advocates regime change, what he really means is that he has now taken sides within the Shiite revolution: He favors Montazeri, not Rafsanjani.

Take a look, for example, at the transcript of this Brit Hume Fox News interview with Michael Ledeen from May 1, 2002 (I couldn’t find a copy on-line. Link anyone?):

HUME: Now, we look from this country at Iran. And we see it pretty much through a glass darkly. We see these statements coming out of their leading religious figure who outranks and has more power than any of the secular leaders there. And we think, uh oh, this is getting worse over there. Is it?

LEDEEN: No, it’s getting better because the people really are in insurrection, virtual insurrection, against the regime right now. What Supreme Leader Khomeini is reacting to with all these speeches in the last couple of days is a fatwa issued by probably the most respected religious leader in the country, Ayatollah Montazeri.

HUME: Now, I’ve heard of him, the Ayatollah Montazeri, or Montazeri as we American hicks sometimes are prone to say. Is not Khomeini the ranking leader, though? Isn’t he the guy with the title?

LEDEEN: Khomeini runs the country. He runs the government.

HUME: Right. And so Montazeri has standing by virtue of what?

LEDEEN: By his religious authority and his apparent saintliness and the respect of the people. And he’s been voted by the other ayatollahs to be the grandest of the so-called grand ayatollahs. So, he sits atop that whole religious structure, even though he sits atop it at home under house arrest.

HUME: And what did he say? He said — he issued a fatwa, a religious decree, last week saying that suicide terrorism was in absolute violation of the rules of Islam and that people who practiced suicide terrorism, instead of going to heaven with the 72 virgins, would go to hell, where for all eternity they would have to repeat their suicide.

HUME: And the importance of this beyond the clerical disagreement between two mullahs?

LEDEEN: No, it’s a division within the religious authorities within the country. And Montazeri is aiming it far beyond the boundaries of Iran. He is aiming it at the Islamic world entirely.

HUME: So his word would be heard across Islam?

LEDEEN: Yes. And it was coordinated with other ayatollahs, Iranian Shiite ayatollahs living in Europe. So, it wasn’t just restricted to Iran.

HUME: We never heard a word about it here.

LEDEEN: No, it’s not reported. I mean, it was reported in one or two Iranian publications. And here and there, you can find it on the web. But it was not picked up here.

HUME: And we Americans should regard this as a consequential event because of what consequences?

LEDEEN: But it shows that the authority that’s being claimed by the tyrants in Tehran is not being enforced and that the people of Iran, including some of the most important religious leaders, are in open rebellion against that regime. And we should support them.

Next thing to look for, if the dialogue with Rafsanjani breaks down? How about talk of a budding alliance between Montazeri in Iran and Sistani in Iraq?

[Update: Ledeen’s full-throated, June 7, 2006 criticism of Bush administration “appeasement” of Iran is HERE]

A Quiet Reception for new Interior Minister Bolani

Posted by Cutler on June 09, 2006
Foreign Policy Factions, Iran, Iraq, Israel / 6 Comments

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s appointment of Jawad Bolani as Iraq’s new Interior Minister has, thus far, been received with little if any protest from politicians who might be expected to be skeptical about Bolani’s political profile.

A report by Ferry Biedermannin in the Financial Times (my favorite newspaper) appears under the headline “Infighting Ensnares New Cabinet Appointees” but the article doesn’t really support that theme.

The new ministers – Jawad Bolani at interior and Abdel Kader Jassim al-Mifarji at defence – were immediately caught up in political infighting as some politicians criticised them for being too close to the main Shia and Sunni blocs.

If “some politicians criticised” the appointment of Bolani, Biedermannin fails to deliver up money quotes that would have illustrated the claim. Biedermannin explains why some politicians might criticize Bolani:

Mr Bolani was one of the preferred choices of the dominant but divided Shia United Iraqi Alliance. The Interior Ministry is seen as particularly sensitive because of accusations that the ranks of its security forces have been infiltrated by Shia militias who have been responsible for some of the sectarian violence against Sunni.

So where are the harsh quotes from key Sunni leaders about how Bolani’s appointment will inflame sectarian tensions and push Iraq closer to civil war? There are none. Here is what Biedermannin offers, instead:

Some politicians doubted that the new ministers will be able to tackle the various sectarian groups decisively. It depended on the “strength of the minister”, in relation to the party that had supported his appointment, said Falah Naqib, who was interior minister in the brief government of Iyad Alawi in 2004. The new ministers will need at least three months before any judgment could be made, he said.

Oh, snap! Ouch! Falah Naqib is bringing the heat!… Not so much.

There is only one more quote in the whole article:

The independent Sunni member of parliament Mithal al-Alusi said he had voted for the new ministers without much enthusiasm “because Iraq needs a government”. He said he was less worried about the ministers themselves than about the likelihood that their ministries would be sectarian bastions.

That’s deep.

A quick detour about Alusi. Mithal al-Alusi is an odd duck. Basically, Iraq’s only known pro-Israel Sunni Arab politician and the object of considerable adoration from Thomas Friedman (subscription required). My favorite Alusi article is one published in the Detroit Free Press by Nancy A. Youssef of Knight Ridder under the headline “Iran now enemy No. 1, Sunnis say: Fears fhift from Israel to Shi’ite nation next door“:

Sunni Muslims have begun to ask: Is Israel really Iraq’s enemy or is it neighboring Iran?

Sunnis are often not comfortable talking openly about Israel, especially in a region where most Arabs won’t refer to it by name and blame Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians. But privately, many have said Israel has not done anything lately to harm them, but Iran has…

While campaigning for a seat in the new parliament, Mithal al Alusi called for stronger ties between Israel and Iraq, and he appears to have won. He said some Iraqis are warming to a stronger relationship with Israel, in part because they are frightened of Iran’s influence. “They are afraid of Iran’s extremist political system,” he said.

It is not hard to see why I would find this particularly interesting. It is the “pro-Sunni” mirror image of the regional “balance of power” strategy that Right Zionists developed as the rationale for de-Baathification and the empowerment of Iraq’s Shiite majority. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Is this “Plan B” for Right Zionists in case the Shiite-Israeli alliance falls through?

Anyway, returning to the new Maliki government: So far, at least, those who shorted the market in “national unity” are scrambling to cover losses. Of course, it is only one day–and a day overshadowed by the big news of Zarqawi’s death. But wouldn’t you score this a surprising victory for “national unity” politics?