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Israel

Tag Archives | Israel

Ahmadinejad is Gone, and so is Ahmadinejadism!

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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's former president, speaking at the Natanz nuclear facility

Hassan Rouhani has been Iran’s president since June of last year and it is useful to examine the legacy of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's former president, speaking at the Natanz nuclear facility

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s former president, speaking at the Natanz nuclear facility

For those who have come to believe that Iran is the country dominated by anti-Semites or Holocaust-deniers, I think the most categorical response is what Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, told the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Christine Pelosi, in a Twitter exchange on September 5, 2013: “Iran never denied it [the Holocaust]. The man who did is now gone. happy new year.”

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as Iran’s president in June of 2005, neither I nor any journalist or political expert in Iran had a clear idea of what his foreign policy would be. Domestic and economic policies are not the subject of our discussions here. As time went by, it became clear that Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy was based on no single principle, but adventurism, ultra-idealism and frantic decisions that would render him a publicity stunt rather than a chief executive.

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Israel’s Two-Step Solution to African ‘Infiltrators’

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A participant in a march by asylum-seekers in Jerusalem is arrested by Israeli police on 17 December 2013. Yotam Ronen/ActiveStills

Since 2006, thousands of Africans, mostly Eritreans and Sudanese, have fled their country escaping conflict, human rights abuses and destitution.

A participant in a march by asylum-seekers in Jerusalem is arrested by Israeli police on 17 December 2013. Yotam Ronen/ActiveStills

They move to Sudanese refugee camps where many are kidnapped by traffickers and delivered to criminal gangs in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, subjecting the refugees to deplorable conditions, including torture and rape, while ransom payments are demanded from their families. The majority of those abused in the Sinai who were freed now reside in Israel. Along with those African migrants who had paid smugglers to take them to Israel, they now makeup an immigrant population of 60,000. Israel’s response to the influx of Africans has been to reinforce its siege mentality, labelling the migrants as “infiltrators” and a direct threat to the future of Israel as a Jewish state.

To maintain the state’s Jewish ethno-religious character, Israel has implemented a two-step solution to their non-Jewish African problem. The first step has been to shut down the growth of African migrants entering Israel through the Sinai Peninsula by building a 240km border fence with Egypt. The second step has been to clear Israel of those Africans already inside.

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A Kuffiya for Tony Benn, the British Warrior Who ‘Matured with Age’

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Tony Benn

Long before the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign inched slowly from the fringes of global solidarity with Palestinians to take center stage, Tony Benn had been advocating a boycott of Israel with unrestricted conviction, for years.

Tony Benn

“Britain should offer its support for this strategy by stopping all arms sales to Israel, introducing trade sanctions and a ban on all investment there together with a boycott of Israeli goods here and make it a condition for the lifting of these measures that Israel complies with these demands at once,” Benn wrote in his blog on April 19, 2002, under the title “A STATE OF PALESTINE NOW.” The ‘strategy’ of which Ben spoke was for Arafat to declare a state, and for ‘friendly nations’ to recognize it.

Yes, the title was all in caps. It was as if Benn, a principled British left wing politician, had wanted to loudly accentuate his insistence that the Palestinian people deserved their rights, freedom and sovereignty. He was as bold and courageous as any man or woman of true values and principles should always be. He remained uncompromising in matters of human rights and justice. This international warrior left a challenging space to fill when he passed away at the age of 88, on Thursday, March 13.

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Iran’s Case against Stuxnet

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Speculation has it that Iran wants to pursue legal action against the US-Israeli led Stuxnet cyberattack.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

If the rumors prove to be true, Iran’s case against the United States could give the international community a great opportunity to use the case as needed momentum towards setting official international regulations on cyberwarfare. Arguably, the Stuxnet cyberattack is an illegal act of force that violated the Charter of the United Nations, the IAEA safeguards regime, and Iranian sovereignty as well.

After the U.S.-Israeli cyberattack, Tehran took a relatively passive posture and never officially complained to international legal channels. Shortly before President Rouhani took office in Tehran, an anonymous Iranian diplomat made public that Iran’s Foreign Ministry had enough evidence to take legal steps against the United States for the Stuxnet cyberattack. If Iran takes legal action against Washington it can demand that it receive compensations for damages caused and having its sovereignty violated by an illegal act of war. A lot is at stake as Iran’s determination against the cyberattack could set boundaries for future illegal cyber behavior.

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The Wild West of Cyberwarfare

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Cyberwar transcends state boundaries. Source: Tech Week Europe

“The collective result of these kinds of (cyber) attacks could be a cyber Pearl Harbor; an attack that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life. In fact, it would paralyze and shock the nation.” – Leon Panetta

Cyberwar transcends state boundaries. Source: Tech Week Europe

During a recent speech to university students, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei urged the country’s students to prepare for cyberwar, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported last Wednesday. Calling the students “cyberwar agents” he reminded them of their special role in this particular kind of war and that Tehran is prepared for a cyber battle against the United States and Israel. Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks are believed to be a response to Israel’s Major General Aviv Kochavi, who went on record as saying, “cyber, in my modest opinion, will soon be revealed to be the biggest revolution in warfare, more than gunpowder and the utilization of air power in the last century.” These remarks are a powerful reminder of the uncertainty of future international cyberwarfare and how unregulated it is.

Over the past decade, the United States and Iran have changed the definition of traditional warfare giving the international community a glimpse into what future wars will look like. In the past decade, both countries have extensively built up their cyber arsenals launching sophisticated assaults on each other’s computer networks, banks and sensitive infrastructure. It could be argued that the United States has been more successful but Iran is catching up. It is clear that when these cyberattacks do grow in escalation they may potentially have a serious humanitarian impact. Yet, international law has not been absent in addressing the cyberwar domain. For many, cyberwar and cybersecurity is seen as still the ‘stuff’ you see in summer blockbusters and not for what it really is: serious, perplexing and scary.

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In Spite of Turmoil, Egypt and Israel have Maintained Bilateral Relations

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Israeli security forces seen patrolling the border between Egypt and Israel.  Tsafrir Abayov/FLASH90

With Al Qaeda’s presence growing in the Sinai, Egypt and Israel have stepped up joint bilateral security cooperation to deal with the threat.

Israeli security forces seen patrolling the border between Egypt and Israel. Tsafrir Abayov/FLASH90

Amidst the turmoil that has ensued throughout post-Mubarak Egypt, Al Qaeda (AQ) has established a stronghold in the Sinai from where jihadists routinely target Egypt and Israel. In turn, Egyptian and Israeli security forces have increased cooperation to address the Sinai’s security challenges, underscoring that the bilateral relationship remains intact. While in the longer term the direction of bilateral relations remains uncertain, in the near term Al Qaeda’s actions have strengthened security ties between Egypt and Israel. Al Qaeda’s actions in the Sinai and Levant have also served to enhance the likelihood that other governments in the region, such as Jordan and Turkey, will continue to cooperate with Israel on security–related issues.

An ‘Islamic Emirate’ between Egypt and Israel

Since Israel’s withdrawal from Egyptian territory in 1982, the Sinai has proven to be Egypt’s most ungovernable territory. The Mahahith Amn al-Dawla (MAD) — the highest internal security authority in Egypt — was responsible for ensuring law and order in the restive Sinai and cracking down on underground Islamist movements. Throughout Mubarak’s rule, the MAD prevented Islamist militants from successfully launching more than only a few attacks across the Egyptian-Israeli border. However, Mubarak’s fall led to the MAD’s dissolution, raising question about the Egyptian government’s capacity to effectively combat militant jihadist forces.

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The (Very) Early Beginnings of an Iranian-Israeli Detente?

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Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu and Hassan Rouhani

“If the Palestinians are happy with the solution [Israel-Palestinian negotiations] then nobody outside Palestine [including Iran] could prevent that from taking place.” – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu and Hassan Rouhani

Just the other week news broke that Iranian President Rouhani had decided to give the Dr. Sapir Hospital and Charity Center, Tehran’s Jewish Hospital, $400,000 on behalf of the government. This followed Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s remarks on Monday that “if the Palestinians are happy with the solution [an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal] then nobody outside Palestine could prevent that from taking place,” which despite some domestic backtracking was seen as a signal of Iran’s willingness to one day recognize Israel under the right conditions.

This remarkable shift in tone coming from Iran has been noted in Israel as well. According to a recent report from Al-Monitor, the recent changes in Tehran have been “inspiring great hope” in Israel’s defense establishment. So much so, it appears, that Israel defense minister Moshe Ya’alon was willing to sit in the front row of a German TV interview with Zarif – a rare sight indeed. All this follows Israeli President Shimon Peres’s recent tweet that “as far as Israel is concerned we are ready to make peace with the Iranian people, historically they have never been our enemies.”

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U.S. Aid to Lebanon, a Delicate Balance

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Outside Iran’s embassy in Beirut. The site of a car bomb explosion. Source: Mehr News Agency

In light of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and the spate of political bombings in Lebanon, contradictory objectives for US policy in Lebanon are reducing the stability of an already volatile region.

Outside Iran’s embassy in Beirut. The site of a car bomb explosion. Source: Mehr News Agency

Swinging from support for the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), to concern for Israeli security, to fear of Hezbollah, to worries over the Syrian refugee crisis, US foreign policy has rarely been more schizophrenic. “A comprehensive review of the Lebanese military aid program, along with acknowledgement of the fundamental inability of the LAF to uproot Hezbollah due to sectarian divisions, is necessary to restore consistency to the US-Lebanon relationship,” confirmed former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer in an interview for this article.

The US has in the past been the most influential consistent donor to Lebanon though a number of other nations provide it military aid such as Saudi Arabia, which recently announced an unprecedented $3 billion aid package. Aid to Lebanon is carefully balanced; too little and Hezbollah can reign freely in the southern border area adjacent to Israel, too much and Israel becomes concerned that the LAF itself will pose a threat. If Saudi aid is indeed provided to the LAF, it may tip the balance the US has been trying to maintain.

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Hamas and Hezbollah at Loggerheads over Syria

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An elderly woman crosses a street in the Bab el-Adid district of Aleppo. Fabio Bucciarelli/AFP

Born of a common struggle against Israel and nourished by common benefactors in Syria and Iran, Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah have long been natural allies despite their sectarian differences.

An elderly woman crosses a street in the Bab el-Adid district of Aleppo. Fabio Bucciarelli/AFP

Ever since the early 1990s, when Israel exiled Hamas’ leadership to Lebanon, the two groups have cultivated an alliance that has shaped the Middle East’s balance of power for decades. But the crisis in Syria has ruptured the old “axis of resistance,” with regional forces giving the two organizations opposing stakes in the conflict and bringing unprecedented tension to their relationship. While Hezbollah fighters have fought and died for Bashar al-Assad in some of the civil war’s fiercest battles, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the rebels and retreated deeper into the embrace of Sunni Islamist powers in the region.

For a time, it appeared that the partnership might be over, with Hamas calling on Hezbollah to extricate itself from Syria and Hezbollah accusing Hamas of funneling weapons and technology to Sunni jihadists. Yet the two groups appear to have looked beyond Syria’s civil war and calculated that more is to be lost than gained from a total divorce. Despite outbursts of inflammatory rhetoric, Hamas and Hezbollah have apparently agreed to disagree on Syria while maintaining a strategic partnership against Israel.

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Kasims for Qassams: Interview with Kasim Hafeez

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Kasim Hafeez. Source: Stand With Us

“In hindsight, I never actually gave a real damn about Palestine, I was just obsessed with hating Israel.” – Kasim Hafeez

Kasim Hafeez. Source: Stand With Us

When he’s not contributing articles to The Jerusalem Post or The Wall Street Journal, Danny Ayalon is tweeting updates like “just met with Kasim Hafeez, a great friend of Israel.” The Deputy Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beitenu MK isn’t flattering a zealous UJA-Federation of New York fundraising director, but praising a former Muslim radical from England – an apostate and unapologetic Zionist. You can read about Kasim Hafeez and his personal journey on his blog, or perhaps you caught his lecture over the summer during his tour of the Holy Land, ‘The Day I Stopped Hating Israel – Confessions of an ex-Radical.’

As the narrative goes, his worldviews were first challenged when he read The Case for Israel, and this mental reset eventually compelled him to reach out to Israeli advocacy groups. Where his Pakistani father laments Hitler for failing to exterminate enough Jews, Hafeez has come to appreciate Israel and other historical trivia that seem to escape the cognizance of his community – tidbits, like the revelation that Palestine never was a state or a nation, among other things.

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Much Stays the Same

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"Western Wall" in Jerusalem, Israel.  Photo: Minamie

During the last hundred years, Russia has undergone huge changes. At the beginning, it was ruled by the Czar, in an absolute monarchy with some democratic decorations, a “tyranny mitigated by inefficiency.”

“Western Wall” in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo: Minamie

After the downfall of the Czar, a liberal and equally inefficient regime ruled for a few months, when it was overthrown by the Bolshevik revolution. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” lasted for some 73 years, which means that three generations passed through the Soviet education system. That should have been enough to absorb the values of internationalism, socialism and human dignity, as taught by Karl Marx. The Soviet system imploded in 1991, leaving few political traces behind. After a few years of liberal anarchy under Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin took over. He has proved himself to be an able statesman, making Russia into a world power again. He has also instituted a new autocratic system, clamping down on democracy and human rights.

When we view these events, spanning a century, we are obliged to conclude that after undergoing all these dramatic upheavals Russia is politically more or less where it started. The difference between the realm of Czar Nicholas II and President Putin is minimal. The national aspirations, the general outlook, the regime and the status of human rights are more or less the same. What does that teach us? For me it means that there is something like a national character, which does not change easily, if at all. Revolutions, wars, disasters come and go, and the basic character of a people remain as it was.

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Twitter Diplomacy at Davos

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Pictured: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Photos: Jolanda Flubacher and RÈmy Steinegger

“We extend our hand for peace, including to the Iranian people, but today was a great occasion that was missed.” – Israeli President Shimon Peres

Pictured: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photos: Jolanda Flubacher and RÈmy Steinegger

It’s not on par with Nixon going to China, but in Davos, Switzerland, the site of the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of politicos and economic and social leaders, Iran and Israel have taken the first “baby steps” in creating a thaw in their relations.  While the moment in “Twitter diplomacy” is unlikely going to translate into direct trade or even a handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but considering how relations have been between Iran and Israel for the past several decades, it would be safe to characterize an exchange, even via Twitter, as historic.  Up until the election of Hassan Rouhani, the only exchanges between Israel and Iran were to hurl insults at one another and accuse each other of undermining the security of the other.

With Iran agreeing to the Geneva agreement and suspending uranium enrichment above 5 percent, halting the installation of centrifuges and stopping construction on a heavy-water reactor, the momentum is building for normalized or even a working relationship with the West. While Iran has argued for the past decade that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, the West has accused the Islamic Republic of operating a nuclear program for the development of nuclear-weapons capabilities. “Ingrained skepticism about the good faith of the Islamic regime remains one of the main sources that could endanger the process,” Francois Nicoullaud, France’s former ambassador to Iran, told Bloomberg. “The quality of Iran’s implementation of the Geneva agreement will reduce such obstacles.” The dilemma for the West is whether to throw away any opportunities at semi-normalized relations or build upon any opportunities that present themselves.

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The Complex Israeli: Ariel Sharon, 1928-2014

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Menachem Begin (left) meeting with Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. Photo: Saar Yaacov

In the middle of the 70s, Ariel Sharon asked me to arrange something for him – a meeting with Yasser Arafat. A few days before, the Israeli media had discovered that I was in regular contact with the leadership of the PLO, which was listed at the time as a terrorist organization.

Menachem Begin (left) meeting with Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. Photo: Saar Yaacov

I told Sharon that my PLO contacts would probably ask what he intended to propose to the Palestinians. He told me that his plan was to help the Palestinians to overthrow the Jordanian monarchy, and turn Jordan into a Palestinian state, with Arafat as its president. “What about the West Bank?” I asked. “Once Jordan becomes Palestine, there will no longer be a conflict between two peoples, but between two states. That will be much easier to resolve. We shall find some form of partition, territorial or functional, or we shall rule the territory together.”

My friends submitted the request to Arafat, who laughed it off. But he did not miss the opportunity to tell King Hussein about it. Hussein disclosed the story to a Kuwaiti newspaper, Alrai, and that’s how it came back to me. Sharon’s plan was revolutionary at the time. Almost the entire Israeli establishment – including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Defense Minister Shimon Peres – believed in the so-called “Jordanian option”: the idea that we must make peace with King Hussein. The Palestinians were either ignored or considered arch-enemies, or both.

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Saudi Arabia’s Rise in the Middle East Comes at a Cost

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Members of the Lebanese Armed Forces

Saudi Arabian interest in the Middle East is primarily focused on Iran.

Members of the Lebanese Armed Forces

Saudi leadership has stated that the Gulf Cooperation Council may acquire a nuclear deterrent should Iran acquire one. They are suggesting, however, a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) as a way to pressure Iran and also Israel to give up nuclear weapons and rely on the umbrella security provided by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, despite their reservations over the Council’s treatment of the Palestinians. The U.S. deal with Iran will shape the Iranian nuclear narrative, but if things start to fall apart, Saudi Arabia may press forward quickly to acquire a GCC bomb.

Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it will provide Lebanon with $3 billion dollars in military aid to support the Lebanese Armed Forces should not be seen as a surprise, given that it is intended to counter Iranian influence in the region. What is more significant is how it serves to emphasize the current and developing fissure between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi leadership’s willingness to adopt an independent approach to regional relations. Saudi Arabia has been vocal about its view of America’s inadequacy in dealing with Iran and Syria and is now implementing its own plan.

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Neutrality and the Peace Process

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Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama and John Kerry

A former Israeli army Chief of Staff, a man of limited intelligence, was told that a certain individual was an atheist. “Yes,” he asked, “but a Jewish atheist or a Christian atheist?”Lenin, in his Swiss exile, once inquired about the party affiliation of a newly elected member of the Duma. “Oh, he is just a fool!” his assistant asserted. Lenin answered impatiently: “A fool in favor of whom?”

Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama and John Kerry

I am tempted to pose a similar question about people touted to be neutral in our conflict: “Neutral in favor of whom?” The question came to my mind when I saw an Israeli documentary about the US intermediaries who have tried over the last 40 years or so to broker peace between the Palestinians and us. For some reason, most of them were Jews. I am sure that all of them were loyal American citizens, who would have been sincerely offended by any suggestion that they served a foreign country, such as Israel. They honestly felt themselves to be neutral in our conflict. But were they neutral? Are they? Can they be? My answer is: No, they couldn’t. Not because they were dishonest. Not because they consciously served one side. Certainly not. Perish the thought!

But for a much deeper reason. They were brought up on the narrative of one side. From childhood on, they have internalized the history and the terminology of one side (ours). They couldn’t even imagine that the other side has a different narrative, with a different terminology. This does not prevent them from being neutral. Neutral for one side. By the way, in this respect there is no great difference between American Jews and other Americans. They have generally been brought up on the same history and ideology, based on the Hebrew Bible.

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