Posts Tagged ‘Iran’


Lunch with the FT: Tony Blair

By Philip Stephens

Published: September 10 2010 18:54 | Last updated: September 10 2010 18:54

An illustration of Tony BlairI had hoped I might meet Tony Blair at one of London’s more bustling venues – mainly, I confess, because I wanted to measure the reaction of the throng. But the rules of Lunch with the FT leave the choice with the guest. So, after a certain amount of cloak and daggery, insisted upon by the police protection officers who still accompany him everywhere, I arrive at Blair’s local Italian, Locanda Locatelli.

It is one of those restaurants comfortable with celebrity. On a weekday lunchtime most tables seem to be occupied by business types but Madonna is said to be among the evening regulars. Our corner booth offers a panoramic view of polished wood, fabric wall coverings and soft leather banquettes. A head or two turns discreetly as Blair enters. No one is impolite enough to stare.

Britain’s former prime minister presents a conundrum. His memoir has invited torrents of invective from enemies (critics is much too soft a word) among metropolitan elites. Yet copies of A Journey are flying off the shelves as “real people” open their wallets to read Blair’s version of events. He did, after all, win three elections and put Britain back on the international stage. Then again, he also stood shoulder to shoulder with George W Bush in Iraq.

I am getting ahead of myself. The Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli is around the corner from Blair’s central London home. Its proprietor-chef Giorgio Locatelli, I will discover, is an exquisite cook. But first I concentrate on my guest. Blue suit, white shirt and no tie (I had worn one for the occasion), he is visibly at ease. The slings and arrows of media outrage don’t seem to have left any scars. He has just cancelled a signing at a bookstore in London because of promised disruption by protesters. But he’s still getting all those clicks on Amazon.

It cannot feel very nice, though, to have people call you a war criminal? Blair doesn’t blink. “I’ve always had a, I mean truthfully, a better relationship with the country than with the media because the media divides into a left and right of a pretty traditional sort. And the left always regard me as not sufficiently left and the right hate me because I win. Or I won.”

The style of, and reaction to, the book mirrors the division of opinion between liberal intelligentsia and voters. It’s racy. In places, it badly mangles the English language; the colloquialisms sometimes slip into cringe-making confessionals. We really don’t need to know about that night of unbridled passion with his wife Cherie. The book is everything, in other words, that the chatterati don’t like about Blair.

Yet it carries the reader along. There is plenty about politics and policy – more than in many political memoirs. He is way ahead on some things – particularly on what progressive politicians have to do to adapt to change; and, to my mind, profoundly mistaken on others, as in his reading of the struggle against violent Islamism. But A Journey reads as a story, not a chore.

“I wanted to write it in a different way and I wanted to write it in a way that is more open.” It was time for someone to explain that politicians are also human beings. “One of the worst things happening in politics today is this assault on politicians when they get … they do something that’s wrong or people think it wrong, or whatever, and yet no one actually sees it from the other side.”

He warms to the theme. “If you’re not careful what happens is your political leaders have to be all sort of buttoned up; meanwhile they’re subject to a degree of intrusion that in times gone by was completely unknown. I think it’s therefore quite helpful … to understand that they are human beings and to understand things from their point of view.” That’s why he has now owned up to the inner fears that had often lain behind the apparently supreme confidence.

There is more to this than artifice dressed up as candour, or indeed the desire to speak directly to people over the head of a hostile media. He thinks he has something important to say about the tumultuous pace of change in the world, the west’s response to the rise of Asia, the future of centre-left politics.

“I want people to read me unmediated rather than mediated because I think if they read it they will at least understand what I’m trying to say and it’s very much a book that’s prospective in a sense, because a lot of what I’m saying … is about where are we now and where we need to be.”

As we talk I am nibbling on Parmesan-infused grissini and picking small pieces from a basket of freshly baked bread. Blair resists the temptation. He likes to keep in shape. I have long abandoned such fantasies. Meanly, I take private satisfaction that the price he pays for keeping his weight down is to look his age.

The antipasti arrive. Blair has the salad of broad beans, rocket and ewe cheese. I hesitate before opting for the green bean salad with potato and truffle. The truffle always tips it. Mine is scrumptious. His salad likewise, says Blair. The plates go back scraped clean to Locatelli’s kitchen. “Local Italian” no longer seems an apt description of the cuisine on offer here.

We are sticking to sparkling water – a cue to tease my guest. He has admitted that as prime minister he fretted that an habitual whisky or gin followed by a couple of glasses of wine (sometimes even half a bottle!) over dinner left him close to the edge of alcohol dependency.

Guffaws all round. “All my friends have been saying it was quite the most pathetic and sad admission they’d ever come across. John Reid’s [a former cabinet colleague] comment was the best. Did you hear that? He said, ‘Where I come from in Glasgow they give more than that to the budgie.’”

There are moments in the book when Blair sounds almost melancholic. Politics, he explains, is lived backwards. Leaders are at their most powerful when they are least practised. Time brings experience but it also drains political capital.

He would have stayed on as prime minister had Gordon Brown, his chancellor and bitter rival, not forced the timing of his departure. Yet he bridles at the idea that he is now a lost soul. “That’s true … I do say [I would have stayed] because I have the confidence to say it – without actually spending my life desperately troubled I’m not still there.” So he has gotten over not being prime minister? Yes. “I really don’t miss it. The only time I missed it was during the global financial crisis.” Ah yes, that would have been a moment for him to stride the world stage again. As it was, Brown got quite a lot of credit.

But, he says, “I’m happy to go out there doing the things I’m doing … I’m fascinated by the Middle East peace process and I want to work on it. And my faith foundation is now operating in 15 different countries, I’ve got the Africa governance initiative, that’s operating in three African countries.” Then, of course, there are the speeches, the advisory work for a bank and the consultancy contracts for Tony Blair Associates.

Once during the lunch I think I off-balance him. I remind him that Peter Mandelson, a co-conspirator in the modernisation of his party, had once observed that New Labour was “intensely relaxed” about people becoming “filthy rich”. So how does Blair feel about living in private jets? Hasn’t he been seduced by the bling?

This evokes a pained frown. Most of his time, he protests, is spent on unpaid work – the role of Middle East envoy that a few days earlier had taken him to Barack Obama’s White House, his faith foundation, the work on governance in Africa and the rest. The speeches and the consultancy pay the bills for the pro bono.

“I would have been happy to carry on with being prime minister; I’ve been in public service for 25 years. I would have been happy taking the European job and going on a European salary … I’d be happy to go back to a public service job one day but if I don’t I’ve got the ability to make money, and I make it, and I provide for my family and I can do the things that I believe in doing.” The proceeds of the book – something upwards of £4m – have been pledged to a military charity helping the casualties of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stuffy people like me are troubled by the idea of former prime ministers trading off their political careers. But Blair has a point. The flip-side of political leaders getting younger is that they retire in their prime. Can we really insist that fit fifty-somethings disappear into retirement or accept a cap on their earnings?

In any event, I don’t think the money is the motivation. What Blair really wants is to remain at the centre of things; to be a player. Wealth is an adjunct.

By now, we are finishing our main courses. I have opted for the day’s special – a sublime ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. Blair nods approvingly at his char-grilled squid with chilli and garlic. Trying to trip him up reminds me why he was so good. When he was prime minister I used to see quite a lot of him. Before each encounter I would tell myself that this time I would not be bamboozled. Maddeningly, 20 minutes into the conversation, I would be thinking “Well, maybe he’s right after all.”

Blair told visitors to Downing Street what they wanted to hear – sometimes, as he admits in the book – bending the truth to that aim. I remember a colleague remarking that he “always believed what he said at the moment he said it”. So, you could add, did the visitors.

His gift, though, is about more than charm and the emotional intuition of a natural communicator. The big thing about Blair is that he knows how to frame an argument. Most politicians get lost in the foothills of tactics. He has a strategic brain – a view of the world – and the self-belief to follow it through.

The self-belief bit, of course, turned out to be his weakness as well as his strength. I would like to say that when the conversation turned to Iraq, I succeeded in pushing Blair up against a wall until he repented. I didn’t. Partly because I was ambivalent about the war at the time – I always thought getting rid of Saddam Hussein was rather a good thing. And partly because I deprecate the implicit assumption of many of the anti-war crowd that the world would be such a great place if Iraq and Iran were still fighting themselves to a standstill.

In any event he has heard the charges too many times to change his answers now: “We acted on the information that we had at the time; we also acted with a certain sense of urgency after September 11. I think people forget that.”

Yes, of course, he regrets the loss and damaged lives of the war but he is not going to say he regrets the decision to go to war. “We used to have a policy of supporting Saddam, to be a brake on Iran, and look what happened: it didn’t work, in the same way we actually armed some of the Mujahaddin in order to take on the Russians – it didn’t work, let’s learn the lesson.”

You could say Iraq tested to destruction his doctrine of liberal interventionism. On the other hand, are we to conclude that everything will be hunky-dory if only we leave the tyrants alone?

We opt for coffee rather than dessert, but it comes with a small selection of home-made sorbets and petit fours. This time I consider my waistline and stick, like Blair, with the sorbet.

Time is passing. Blair’s account of his titanic struggle with Gordon Brown grabbed even more headlines than Iraq. Some consider his description of his former colleague to be overly harsh; others wonder why he admits that, as prime minister, he did not feel strong enough to sack him.

The only point he makes now is that the struggle was more about the direction of the New Labour government than about who should be prime minister. “I think you need to make it clear there was a policy disagreement. People used to write this whole relationship up as if it was just a personal spat about a job – it wasn’t for me at all,” he says.

Our chef stands by the front desk as we leave. It’s my first lunch with a politician for a long time where the food has left a real impression. Usually it gets in the way.

Back in the office I pick up The New York Times to read the columnist Maureen Dowd’s take on the memoir. It seems I had been lunching with a delusional maniac. The thought occurs that perhaps I should have carted him off to Guantánamo. That’s the thing, though, about Blair. He awakens in many liberals the unhinged rage that Barack Obama draws from America’s Tea Party crowd. What to do, though, about all those people who are buying – even enjoying – his book?

Philip Stephens is the FT’s chief political commentator

…………………………………………..

Locanda Locatelli

8 Seymour Street, London W1

Contribution to charity £1

Bottle sparkling water £3.50

Broad beans, rocket and ewe cheese salad £9.50

Green bean salad, potato and black truffle £16.50

Char-grilled squid, chilli and garlic £28

Ravioli with ricotta and spinach £12.50

Espresso x 2 £5

An assortment of sorbets and petit fours (on the house)

Total (including optional service) £90

…………………………………………..

How successful has Blair been as Middle East envoy?

Of the many jobs and functions that Tony Blair has taken on since leaving 10 Downing Street, only one has provided the former British leader with any kind of international clout: his role as Middle East envoy, writes Tobias Buck.

Qadoura Mousa, Tony Blair and Silvan Shalom
Blair with Jenin governor Qadoura Mousa, left, and Israeli vice prime minister Silvan Shalom, 2009

Blair was appointed representative of the Middle East Quartet – the US, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia – almost immediately on leaving office in 2007. The post meant returning to a region where he is remembered, above all, for his role in the deeply unpopular invasion of Iraq in 2003. At the time, a number of analysts and diplomats cautioned that this association made him an improbable figure to advance peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours. That concern was gradually dispelled once Blair set up his office in Jerusalem’s famous American Colony Hotel. He made an early impression on his Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors, who noted both his dedication and easy-going charm (a rare commodity in Middle Eastern political circles).

More importantly, it soon became clear that Blair had not arrived with the intention of remaking the Middle East. He was, in fact, never supposed to play the role of peacemaker: his Quartet mandate spells out clearly that his primary task is to help improve the governance of the Palestinian territories and boost the Palestinian economy. According to his advisers, this was the mandate Blair himself wanted, believing that economic growth and good governance were a crucial – and previously overlooked – part of the strategy to end decades of bloody conflict.

What it means in practice is that Blair has been engaged above all in unglamorous aspects of Middle East politics: persuading Israel to lift a checkpoint in the West Bank; getting the Israeli army to approve the shipment of sewage pipes to the Gaza Strip; or calling on Gulf sheikhs to increase their funding for the Palestinian Authority.

There is no doubt that both the Palestinian economy and the quality of Palestinian governance have improved drastically since Blair entered the arena. However, many observers say most of the credit for the recent upswing goes to Salam Fayyad, the US-educated economist who serves as Palestinian prime minister. Blair has certainly contributed, in his role as a facilitator and mediator between the two sides, to the economic and political improvements in the West Bank but it is not easy to quantify how influential his actions have been.

“It is hard to say,” replied one senior adviser to the Palestinian Authority when asked about Blair’s contribution. “Many people work on many issues, but every word helps. Blair has tried his best to be successful but it is not always easy.”

Tobias Buck is the FT’s Jerusalem bureau chief

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Fidel: ‘Cuban Model Doesn’t Even Work For Us Anymore’

By Jeffrey Goldberg
There were many odd things about my recent Havana stopover (apart from the dolphin show, which I’ll get to shortly), but one of the most unusual was Fidel Castro’s level of self-reflection. I only have limited experience with Communist autocrats (I have more experience with non-Communist autocrats) but it seemed truly striking that Castro was willing to admit that he misplayed his hand at a crucial moment in the Cuban Missile Crisis (you can read about what he said toward the end of my previous post – but he said, in so many words, that he regrets asking Khruschev to nuke the U.S.).

Even more striking was something he said at lunch on the day of our first meeting. We were seated around a smallish table; Castro, his wife, Dalia, his son; Antonio; Randy Alonso, a major figure in the government-run media; and Julia Sweig, the friend I brought with me to make sure, among other things, that I didn’t say anything too stupid (Julia is a leading Latin American scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations). I initially was mainly interested in watching Fidel eat – it was a combination of digestive problems that conspired to nearly kill him, and so I thought I would do a bit of gastrointestinal Kremlinology and keep a careful eye on what he took in (for the record, he ingested small amounts of fish and salad, and quite a bit of bread dipped in olive oil, as well as a glass of red wine). But during the generally lighthearted conversation (we had just spent three hours talking about Iran and the Middle East), I asked him if he believed the Cuban model was still something worth exporting.

“The Cuban model doesn’t even work for us anymore,” he said.

This struck me as the mother of all Emily Litella moments. Did the leader of the Revolution just say, in essence, “Never mind”?

I asked Julia to interpret this stunning statement for me. She said, “He wasn’t rejecting the ideas of the Revolution. I took it to be an acknowledgment that under ‘the Cuban model’ the state has much too big a role in the economic life of the country.”

Julia pointed out that one effect of such a sentiment might be to create space for his brother, Raul, who is now president, to enact the necessary reforms in the face of what will surely be push-back from orthodox communists within the Party and the bureaucracy. Raul Castro is already loosening the state’s hold on the economy. He recently announced, in fact, that small businesses can now operate and that foreign investors could now buy Cuban real estate. (The joke of this new announcement, of course, is that Americans are not allowed to invest in Cuba, not because of Cuban policy, but because of American policy. In other words, Cuba is beginning to adopt the sort of economic ideas that America has long-demanded it adopt, but Americans are not allowed to participate in this free-market experiment because of our government’s hypocritical and stupidly self-defeating embargo policy. We’ll regret this, of course, when Cubans partner with Europeans and Brazilians to buy up all the best hotels).

But I digress. Toward the end of this long, relaxed lunch, Fidel proved to us that he was truly semi-retired. The next day was Monday, when maximum leaders are expected to be busy single-handedly managing their economies, throwing dissidents into prison, and the like. But Fidel’s calendar was open. He asked us, “Would you like to go the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”

I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly. (This happened a number of times during my visit). “The dolphin show?”

“The dolphins are very intelligent animals,” Castro said.

I noted that we had a meeting scheduled for the next morning, with Adela Dworin, the president of Cuba’s Jewish community.

“Bring her,” Fidel said.

Someone at the table mentioned that the aquarium was closed on Mondays. Fidel said, “It will be open tomorrow.”

And so it was.

Late the next morning, after collecting Adela at the synagogue, we met Fidel on the steps of the dolphin house. He kissed Dworin, not incidentally in front of the cameras (another message for Ahmadinejad, perhaps). We went together into a large, blue-lit room that faces a massive, glass-enclosed dolphin tank. Fidel explained, at length, that the Havana Aquarium’s dolphin show was the best dolphin show in the world, “completely unique,” in fact, because it is an underwater show. Three human divers enter the water, without breathing equipment, and perform intricate acrobatics with the dolphins. “Do you like dolphins?” Fidel asked me.

“I like dolphins a lot,” I said.

Fidel called over Guillermo Garcia, the director of the aquarium (every employee of the aquarium, of course, showed up for work — “voluntarily,” I was told) and told him to sit with us.

“Goldberg,” Fidel said, “ask him questions about dolphins.”

“What kind of questions?” I asked.

“You’re a journalist, ask good questions,” he said, and then interrupted himself. “He doesn’t know much about dolphins anyway,” he said, pointing to Garcia. He’s actually a nuclear physicist.”

“You are?” I asked.

“Yes,” Garcia said, somewhat apologetically.

“Why are you running the aquarium?” I asked.

“We put him here to keep him from building nuclear bombs!” Fidel said, and then cracked-up laughing.

“In Cuba, we would only use nuclear power for peaceful means,” Garcia said, earnestly.

“I didn’t think I was in Iran,” I answered.

Fidel pointed to the small rug under the special swivel chair his bodyguards bring along for him.

“It’s Persian!” he said, and laughed again. Then he said, “Goldberg, ask your questions about dolphins.”

Now on the spot, I turned to Garcia and asked, “How much do the dolphins weigh?”

They weigh between 100 and 150 kilograms, he said.

“How do you train the dolphins to do what they do?” I asked.

“That’s a good question,” Fidel said.

Garcia called over one of the aquarium’s veterinarians to help answer the question. Her name was Celia. A few minutes later, Antonio Castro told me her last name: Guevara.

“You’re Che’s daughter?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“And you’re a dolphin veterinarian?”

“I take care of all the inhabitants of the aquarium,” she said.

“Che liked animals very much,” Antonio Castro said.

It was time for the show to start. The lights dimmed, and the divers entered the water. Without describing it overly much, I will say that once again, and to my surprise, I found myself agreeing with Fidel: The aquarium in Havana puts on a fantastic dolphin show, the best I’ve ever seen, and as the father of three children, I’ve seen a lot of dolphin shows. I will also say this: I’ve never seen someone enjoy a dolphin show as much as Fidel Castro enjoyed the dolphin show.

In the next installment, I will deal with such issues as the American embargo, the status of religion in Cuba, the plight of political dissidents, and economic reform. For now, I leave you with this image from our day at the aquarium (I’m in the low chair; Che’s daughter is behind me, with the short, blondish hair; Fidel is the guy who looks like Fidel if Fidel shopped at L.L. Bean):

fidel and goldberg.jpg

This article available online at:
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/09/fidel-cuban-model-doesnt-even-work-for-us-anymore/62602/

Fidel: ‘Cuban Model Doesn’t Even Work For Us Anymore’ – International – The Atlantic

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Fidel to Ahmadinejad: ‘Stop Slandering the Jews’

By Jeffrey Goldberg
The Atlantic
(This is Part I of a report on my recent visit to Havana. I hope to post Part II tomorrow. And I also hope to be publishing a more comprehensive article about this subject in a forthcoming print edition of The Atlantic.)
A couple of weeks ago, while I was on vacation, my cell phone rang; it was Jorge Bolanos, the head of the Cuban Interest Section (we of course don’t have diplomatic relations with Cuba) in Washington. “I have a message for you from Fidel,” he said. This made me sit up straight. “He has read your Atlantic article about Iran and Israel. He invites you to Havana on Sunday to discuss the article.” I am always eager, of course, to interact with readers of The Atlantic, so I called a friend at the Council on Foreign Relations, Julia Sweig, who is a preeminent expert on Cuba and Latin America: “Road trip,” I said.

I quickly departed the People’s Republic of Martha’s Vineyard for Fidel’s more tropical socialist island paradise. Despite the self-defeating American ban on travel to Cuba, both Julia and I, as journalists and researchers, qualified for a State Department exemption. The charter flight from Miami was bursting with Cuban-Americans carrying flat-screen televisions and computers for their technologically-bereft families. Fifty minutes after take-off, we arrived at the mostly-empty Jose Marti International Airport. Fidel’s people met us on the tarmac (despite giving up his formal role as commandante en jefe after falling ill several years ago, Fidel still has many people). We were soon deposited at a “protocol house” in a government compound whose architecture reminded me of the gated communities of Boca Raton. The only other guest in this vast enclosure was the president of Guinea-Bissau.

I was aware that Castro had become preoccupied with the threat of a military confrontation in the Middle East between Iran and the U.S. (and Israel, the country he calls its Middle East “gendarme”). Since emerging from his medically induced, four-year purdah early this summer (various gastrointestinal maladies had combined to nearly kill him), the 84-year-old Castro has spoken mainly about the catastrophic threat of what he sees as an inevitable war.

I was curious to know why he saw conflict as unavoidable, and I wondered, of course, if personal experience – the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 that nearly caused the annihilation of most of humanity – informed his belief that a conflict between America and Iran would escalate into nuclear war.  I was even more curious, however, to get a glimpse of the great man. Few people had seen him since he fell ill in 2006, and the state of his health has been a subject of much speculation. There were questions, too, about the role he plays now in governing Cuba; he formally handed off power to his younger brother, Raul, two years ago, but it was not clear how many strings Fidel still pulled.

The morning after our arrival in Havana, Julia and I were driven to a nearby convention center, and escorted upstairs, to a large and spare office. A frail and aged Fidel stood to greet us. He was wearing a red shirt, sweatpants, and black New Balance sneakers. The room was crowded with officials and family: His wife, Dalia, and son Antonio, as well as an Interior Ministry general, a translator, a doctor and several bodyguards, all of whom appeared to have been recruited from the Cuban national wrestling team. Two of these bodyguards held Castro at the elbow.

We shook hands, and he greeted Julia warmly; they have known each other for more than twenty years. Fidel lowered himself gently into his seat, and we began a conversation that would continue, in fits and starts, for three days. His body may be frail, but his mind is acute, his energy level is high, and not only that: the late-stage Fidel Castro turns out to possess something of a self-deprecating sense of humor. When I asked him, over lunch, to answer what I’ve come to think of as the Christopher Hitchens question – has your illness caused you to change your mind about the existence of God? – he answered, “Sorry, I’m still a dialectical materialist.” (This is funnier if you are, like me, an ex-self-defined socialist.) At another point, he showed us a series of recent photographs taken of him, one of which portrayed him with a fierce expression. “This was how my face looked when I was angry with Khruschev,” he said. 

Castro opened our initial meeting by telling me that he read the recent Atlantic article carefully, and that it confirmed his view that Israel and America were moving precipitously and gratuitously toward confrontation with Iran. This interpretation was not surprising, of course: Castro is the grandfather of global anti-Americanism, and he has been a severe critic of Israel. His message to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, he said, was simple: Israel will only have security if it gives up its nuclear arsenal, and the rest of the world’s nuclear powers will only have security if they, too, give up their weapons. Global and simultaneous nuclear disarmament is, of course, a worthy goal, but it is not, in the short term, realistic. 

Castro’s message to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, was not so abstract, however. Over the course of this first, five-hour discussion, Castro repeatedly returned to his excoriation of anti-Semitism. He criticized Ahmadinejad for denying the Holocaust and explained why the Iranian government would better serve the cause of peace by acknowledging the “unique” history of anti-Semitism and trying to understand why Israelis fear for their existence.

 
He began this discussion by describing his own, first encounters with anti-Semitism, as a small boy. “I remember when I was a boy – a long time ago – when I was five or six years old and I lived in the countryside,” he said, “and I remember Good Friday. What was the atmosphere a child breathed? `Be quiet, God is dead.’ God died every year between Thursday and Saturday of Holy Week, and it made a profound impression on everyone. What happened? They would say, `The Jews killed God.’ They blamed the Jews for killing God! Do you realize this?”

He went on, “Well, I didn’t know what a Jew was. I knew of a bird that was a called a ‘Jew,’ and so for me the Jews were those birds.  These birds had big noses. I don’t even know why they were called that. That’s what I remember. This is how ignorant the entire population was.”

He said the Iranian government should understand the consequences of theological anti-Semitism. “This went on for maybe two thousand years,” he said. “I don’t think anyone has been slandered more than the Jews. I would say much more than the Muslims. They have been slandered much more than the Muslims because they are blamed and slandered for everything. No one blames the Muslims for anything.” The Iranian government should understand that the Jews “were expelled from their land, persecuted and mistreated all over the world, as the ones who killed God. In my judgment here’s what happened to them: Reverse selection. What’s reverse selection? Over 2,000 years they were subjected to terrible persecution and then to the pogroms. One might have assumed that they would have disappeared; I think their culture and religion kept them together as a nation.” He continued: “The Jews have lived an existence that is much harder than ours. There is nothing that compares to the Holocaust.” I asked him if he would tell Ahmadinejad what he was telling me. “I am saying this so you can communicate it,” he answered.

Castro went on to analyze the conflict between Israel and Iran. He said he understood Iranian fears of Israeli-American aggression and he added that, in his view, American sanctions and Israeli threats will not dissuade the Iranian leadership from pursuing nuclear weapons. “This problem is not going to get resolved, because the Iranians are not going to back down in the face of threats. That’s my opinion,” he said. He then noted that, unlike Cuba, Iran is a “profoundly religious country,” and he said that religious leaders are less apt to compromise. He noted that even secular Cuba has resisted various American demands over the past 50 years.

We returned repeatedly in this first conversation to Castro’s fear that a confrontation between the West and Iran could escalate into a nuclear conflict. “The Iranian capacity to inflict damage is not appreciated,” he said. “Men think they can control themselves but Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war.” I asked him if this fear was informed by his own experiences during the 1962 missile crisis, when the Soviet Union and the U.S. nearly went to war other over the presence of nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba (missiles installed at the invitation, of course, of Fidel Castro). I mentioned to Castro the letter he wrote to Khruschev, the Soviet premier, at the height of the crisis, in which he recommended that the Soviets consider launching a nuclear strike against the U.S. if the Americans attack Cuba. “That would be the time to think about liquidating such a danger forever through a legal right of self-defense,” Castro wrote at the time.

I asked him, “At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the U.S. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?” He answered: “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it all.”

I was surprised to hear Castro express such doubts about his own behavior in the missile crisis – and I was, I admit, also surprised to hear him express such sympathy for Jews, and for Israel’s right to exist (which he endorsed unequivocally). 

After this first meeting, I asked Julia to explain the meaning of Castro’s invitation to me, and of his message to Ahmadinejad. “Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him,” she said. “Matters of war, peace and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he’s really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views. He has time on his hands now that he didn’t expect to have. And he’s revisiting history, and revisiting his own history.”

There is a great deal more to report from this conversation, and from subsequent conversations, which I will do in posts to follow. But I will begin the next post on this subject by describing one of the stranger days I have experienced, a day which began with a simple question from Fidel: “Would you like to go to the aquarium with me to see the dolphin show?”

This article available online at:
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/09/fidel-to-ahmadinejad-stop-slandering-the-jews/62566/

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Fidel to Ahmadinejad: ‘Stop Slandering the Jews’ – International – The Atlantic


First, it is very important to understand that militant activity in Afghanistan is nothing new. It has existed there for centuries 



Militancy and the U.S. Drawdown in Afghanistan
September 2, 2010
 

By Scott Stewart The drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100830_iraqs_security_forces_after_us_withdrawal?fn=9717046652> has served to shift attention toward Afghanistan, where the United States has been increasing its troop strength in hopes of forming conditions conducive to a political settlement. This is similar to the way it used the 2007 surge in Iraq to help reach a negotiated settlement with the Sunni insurgents that eventually set the stage for withdrawal there. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the Taliban at this point do not feel the pressure <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100830_afghanistan_why_taliban_are_winning?fn=1217046690> required for them to capitulate or negotiate and therefore continue to follow their strategy of surviving and waiting for the coalition forces to depart so that they can again make a move to assume control over Afghanistan. Indeed, with the United States having set a deadline of July 2011 to begin the drawdown of combat forces in Afghanistan — and with many of its NATO allies withdrawing sooner — the Taliban can sense that the end is near. As they wait expectantly for the departure of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Afghanistan, a look at the history of militancy in Afghanistan provides a bit of a preview of what could follow the U.S. withdrawal.

A Tradition of Militancy
First, it is very important to understand that militant activity in Afghanistan is nothing new. It has existed there for centuries <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100212_border_playbill_militant_actors_afghanpakistani_frontier?fn=8817046654> , driven by a number of factors. One of the primary factors is the country’s geography. Because of its rugged and remote terrain, it is very difficult for a foreign power (or even an indigenous government in Kabul) to enforce its writ on many parts of the country. A second, closely related factor is culture. Many of the tribes in Afghanistan have traditionally been warrior societies that live in the mountains, disconnected from Kabul because of geography, and tend to exercise autonomous rule that breeds independence and suspicion of the central government. A third factor is ethnicity. There is no real Afghan national identity. Rather, the country is a patchwork of Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and other ethnicities that tend also to be segregated by geography. Finally, there is religion. While Afghanistan is a predominantly Muslim country, there is a significant Shiite minority as well as a large Sufi presence in the country. The hardcore Deobandi Taliban are not very tolerant of the Shia or Sufis, and they can also be harsh toward more moderate Sunnis who do things such as send their daughters to school, trim their beards, listen to music and watch movies.

(click here to enlarge image)
<http://web.stratfor.com/images/maps/Afghan_Pakistan_ethnic_800.jpg?fn=2617046671> Any of these forces on its own would pose challenges to peace, stability and centralized governance, but together they pose a daunting problem and result in near-constant strife in Afghanistan. Because of this environment, it is quite easy for outside forces to stir up militancy in Afghanistan. One tried-and-true method is to play to the independent spirit of the Afghans and encourage them to rise up against the foreign powers that have attempted to control the country. We saw this executed to perfection in the 1800s during the Great Game between the British and the Russians for control of Afghanistan. This tool was also used after the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and it has been used again in recent years following the 2001 U.S. invasion of the country. The Taliban are clearly being used by competing outside powers against the United States (more on this later). But driving out an invading power is not the only thing that will lead to militancy and violence in Afghanistan. The ethnic, cultural and religious differences mentioned above and even things like grazing or water rights and tribal blood feuds can also lead to violence. Moreover, these factors can (and have been) used by outside powers to either disrupt the peace in Afghanistan or exert control over the country via a proxy (such as Pakistan’s use of the Taliban movement). Militant activity in Afghanistan is, therefore, not just the result of an outside invasion. Rather, it has been a near constant throughout the history of the region, and it will likely continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

Foreign Influence
When we consider the history of outside manipulation in Afghanistan, it becomes clear that such manipulation has long been an important factor in the country and will continue to be so after the United States and the rest of the ISAF withdraw. There are a number of countries that have an interest in Afghanistan and that will seek to exert some control over what the post-invasion country looks like.

  • The United States does not want the country to revert to being a refuge for al Qaeda and other transnational jihadist groups. At the end of the day, this is the real U.S. national interest in Afghanistan. It is not counterinsurgency or building democracy or anything else.
  • Russia does not want the Taliban to return to power. The Russians view the Taliban as a disease that can infect and erode their sphere of influence in countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and then move on to pose a threat to Russian control in the predominately Muslim regions of the Caucasus. This is why the Russians were so active in supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban regime. There are reports, though, that the Russians have been aiding the Taliban in an effort to keep the United States tied down in Afghanistan, since as long as the United States is distracted there it has less latitude <http://www.stratfor.com/russias_window_opportunity?fn=1217046642> to counter Russian activity elsewhere.
  • On the other side of that equation, Pakistan helped foster the creation of the Pashtun Taliban organization and then used the organization as a tool to exert its influence in Afghanistan. Facing enemies on its borders with India and Iran, Pakistan must control Afghanistan in order to have strategic depth <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100316_afghanistan_campaign_part_3_pakistani_strategy?fn=1117046681> and ensure that it will not be forced to defend itself along its northwest as well. While the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban and the threat it poses to Pakistan will alter Islamabad’s strategy somewhat — and Pakistan has indeed been recalculating its use of militant proxies <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/pakistan_new_phase_militant_proxy_saga?fn=5017046637> — Pakistan will try hard to ensure that the regime in Kabul is pro-Pakistani.

  • This is exactly why India wants to play a big part in Afghanistan — to deny Pakistan that strategic depth. In the past, India worked with Russia and Iran to support the Northern Alliance and keep the Taliban from total domination of the country. Indications are that the Indians are teaming up with the Russians and Iranians once again.

  • Iran also has an interest in the future of Afghanistan and has worked to cultivate certain factions of the Taliban by providing them with shelter, weapons and training. The Iranians also have been strongly opposed to the Taliban and have supported anti-Taliban militants, particularly those from the Shiite Hazara people. When the Taliban captured Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998, they killed 11 Iranian diplomats and journalists. Iran does not want the Taliban to become too powerful, but it will use them as a tool to hurt the United States. Iran will also attempt to install a pro-Iranian government in Kabul or, at the very least, try to thwart efforts by the Pakistanis and Americans to exert control over the country.

A History of Death and Violence It may seem counterintuitive, but following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the casualties from militancy in the country declined considerably. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies Armed Conflict Database, the fatalities due to armed conflict in Afghanistan fell from an estimated 10,000 a year prior to the invasion to 4,000 in 2002 and 1,000 by 2004. Even as the Taliban began to regroup in 2005 and the number of fatalities began to move upward, by 2009 (the last year for which the institute offers data) the total was only 7,140, still well-under the pre-invasion death tolls (though admittedly far greater than at the ebb of the insurgency in 2004). Still, even with death tolls rising, the U.S. invasion has not produced anywhere near the estimated 1 million deaths that resulted during the Soviet occupation. The Soviets and their Afghan allies were not concerned about conducting a hearts-and-minds campaign. Indeed, their efforts were more akin to a scorched-earth strategy complete with attacks directed against the population. This strategy also resulted in millions of refugees fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan and Iran and badly disrupted the tribal structure in much of Afghanistan. This massive disruption of the societal structure helped lead to a state of widespread anarchy that later led many Afghans to see the Taliban as saviors.  Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the communist government in Kabul was able to survive for three more years, backed heavily with Soviet arms, but these years were again marked by heavy casualties. When the communist government fell in 1992, the warlords who had opposed the government attempted to form a power-sharing agreement to govern Afghanistan, but all the factions could not reach a consensus and another civil war broke out, this time among the various anti-communist Afghan warlords vying for control of the country. During this period, Kabul was repeatedly shelled and the bloodshed continued. Neither the Soviet departure nor the fall of the communist regime ended the carnage. With the rise of the Taliban, the violence began to diminish in many parts of the country, though the fighting remained fierce and tens of thousands of people were killed as the Taliban tried to exert control over the country. The Taliban were still engaged in a protracted and bloody civil war against the Northern Alliance when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001. During the initial invasion, very few U.S. troops were actually on the ground. The United States used the Northern Alliance as the main ground-force element, along with U.S. air power and special operations forces, and was able to remove the Taliban from power in short order. It is important to remember that the Taliban was never really defeated on the battlefield. Once they realized that they were no match for U.S. air power in a conventional war, they declined battle and faded away to launch their insurgency. Today, the forces collectively referred to as the Taliban in Afghanistan are not all part of one hierarchical organization under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar. Although Mullah Omar is the dominant force and is without peer among Afghan insurgent leaders, there are a number of local and regional militant commanders who are fighting against the U.S. occupation beside the Taliban and who have post-U.S. occupation interests that diverge from those of the Taliban. Such groups are opportunists rather than hardcore Taliban and they might fight against Mullah Omar’s Taliban if he and his militants come to power in Kabul, especially if an outside power manipulates, funds and arms them — and outside powers will certainly be seeking to do so. The United States has tried to peel away the more independent factions from the wider Taliban “movement” but has had little success, mainly because the faction leaders see that the United States is going to disengage and that the Taliban will be a force to be reckoned with in the aftermath. Once U.S. and ISAF forces withdraw from Afghanistan, then, it is quite likely that Afghanistan will again fall into a period of civil war, as the Taliban attempt to defeat the Karzai government, as the United States tries to support it and as other outside powers such as Pakistan, Russia and Iran try to gain influence through their proxies in the country. The only thing that can really prevent this civil war from occurring is a total defeat of the Taliban and other militants in the country or some sort of political settlement. With the sheer size of the Taliban and its many factions, and the fact that many factions are receiving shelter and support from patrons in Pakistan and Iran, it is simply not possible for the U.S. military to completely destroy them before the Americans begin to withdraw next summer. This will result in a tremendous amount of pressure on the Americans to find a political solution to the problem. At this time, the Taliban simply don’t feel pressured to come to the negotiating table — especially with the U.S. drawdown in sight. And even if a political settlement is somehow reached, not everyone will be pleased with it. Certainly, the outside manipulation in Afghanistan will continue, as will the fighting, as it has for centuries. 


Militancy and the U.S. Drawdown in Afghanistan


 “This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR ” 


— The MasterBlog http://the-masterblog.blogspot.com


An excellent intelligence assessment from Stratfor. 


I completely agree: If the world – and notably the Middle Eastern countries – wants to contain Iran, this is the way to go forward.




Rethinking American Options on Iran http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100830_rethinking_american_options_iran

August 31, 2010 | 0856 GMT

By George Friedman

 Public discussion of potential attacks on Iran’s nuclear development sites is surging again. This has happened before. On several occasions, leaks about potential airstrikes have created an atmosphere of impending war. These leaks normally coincided with diplomatic initiatives and were designed to intimidate the Iranians and facilitate a settlement favorable to the United States and Israel. These initiatives have failed in the past. It is therefore reasonable to associate the current avalanche of reports with the imposition of sanctions and view it as an attempt to increase the pressure on Iran and either force a policy shift or take advantage of divisions within the regime.

My first instinct is to dismiss the war talk as simply another round of psychological warfare against Iran, this time originating with Israel. Most of the reports indicate that Israel is on the verge of attacking Iran. From a psychological-warfare standpoint, this sets up the good-cop/bad-cop routine. The Israelis play the mad dog barely restrained by the more sober Americans, who urge the Iranians through intermediaries to make concessions and head off a war. As I said, we have been here before several times, and this hasn’t worked.

The worst sin of intelligence is complacency, the belief that simply because something has happened (or has not happened) several times before it is not going to happen this time. But each episode must be considered carefully in its own light and preconceptions from previous episodes must be banished. Indeed, the previous episodes might well have been intended to lull the Iranians into complacency themselves. Paradoxically, the very existence of another round of war talk could be intended to convince the Iranians that war is distant while covert war preparations take place. An attack may be in the offing, but the public displays neither confirm nor deny that possibility.

The Evolving Iranian Assessment
STRATFOR has gone through three phases in its evaluation of the possibility of war. The first, which was in place until July 2009, held that while Iran was working toward a nuclear weapon, its progress could not be judged by its accumulation of enriched uranium. While that would give you an underground explosion, the creation of a weapon required sophisticated technologies for ruggedizing and miniaturizing the device, along with a very reliable delivery system. In our view, Iran might be nearing a testable device but it was far from a deliverable weapon <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/nuclear_weapons_devices_and_deliverable_warheads?fn=1317026187> . Therefore, we dismissed war talk and argued that there was no meaningful pressure for an attack on Iran.

We modified this view somewhat in July 2009, after the Iranian elections and the demonstrations. While we dismissed the significance of the demonstrations, we noted close collaboration developing between Russia and Iran. That meant there could be no effective sanctions against Iran, so stalling for time in order for sanctions to work had no value. Therefore, the possibility of a strike increased.

But then Russian support stalled as well, and we turned back to our analysis, adding to it an evaluation of potential Iranian responses to any air attack. We noted three potential counters: activating Shiite militant groups (most notably Hezbollah), creating chaos in Iraq and blocking the Strait of Hormuz <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20091004_iran_and_strait_hormuz_part_1_strategy_deterrence?fn=1717026185> , through which 45 percent of global oil exports travel. Of the three Iranian counters, the last was the real “nuclear option.” Interfering with the supply of oil from the Persian Gulf would raise oil prices stunningly and would certainly abort the tepid global economic recovery. Iran would have the option of plunging the world into a global recession or worse.

There has been debate over whether Iran would choose to do the latter or whether the U.S. Navy could rapidly clear mines <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20091006_iran_and_strait_hormuz_part_3_psychology_naval_mines?fn=3417026171> . It is hard to imagine how an Iranian government could survive air attacks without countering them in some way. It is also a painful lesson of history that the confidence of any military force cannot be a guide to its performance. At the very least, there is a possibility that the Iranians could block the Strait of Hormuz, and that means the possibility of devastating global economic consequences. That is a massive risk for the United States to take, against an unknown probability of successful Iranian action. In our mind, it was not a risk that the United States could take, especially when added to the other Iranian counters. Therefore, we did not think the United States would strike.

Certainly, we did not believe that the Israelis would strike Iran alone. First, the Israelis are much less likely to succeed than the Americans would be, given the size of their force and their distance from Iran (not to mention the fact that they would have to traverse either Turkish, Iraqi or Saudi airspace). More important, Israel lacks the ability to mitigate any consequences. Any Israeli attack would have to be coordinated with the United States so that the United States could alert and deploy its counter-mine, anti-submarine and missile-suppression assets. For Israel to act without giving the United States time to mitigate the Hormuz option would put Israel in the position of triggering a global economic crisis. The political consequences of that would not be manageable by Israel. Therefore, we found an Israeli strike against Iran without U.S. involvement difficult to imagine.

The Current Evaluation
Our current view is that the accumulation of enough enriched uranium to build a weapon does not mean that the Iranians are anywhere close to having a weapon. Moreover, the risks inherent in an airstrike on its nuclear facilities outstrip the benefits (and even that assumes that the entire nuclear industry is destroyed in one fell swoop — an unsure outcome at best). It also assumes the absence of other necessary technologies. Assumptions of U.S. prowess against mines might be faulty, and so, too, could my assumption about weapon development. The calculus becomes murky, and one would expect all governments involved to be waffling.

There is, of course, a massive additional issue. Apart from the direct actions that Iran might make, there is the fact that the destruction of its nuclear capability would not solve the underlying strategic challenge that Iran poses. It has the largest military force in the Persian Gulf, absent the United States. The United States is in the process of withdrawing from Iraq, which would further diminish the ability of the United States to contain Iran. Therefore, a surgical strike on Iran’s nuclear capability combined with the continuing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq would create a profound strategic crisis in the Persian Gulf.

The country most concerned about Iran is not Israel, but Saudi Arabia. The Saudis recall the result of the last strategic imbalance in the region, when Iraq, following its armistice with Iran, proceeded to invade Kuwait, opening the possibility that its next intention was to seize the northeastern oil fields of Saudi Arabia. In that case, the United States intervened. Given that the United States is now withdrawing from Iraq, intervention following withdrawal would be politically difficult unless the threat to the United States was clear. More important, the Iranians might not give the Saudis the present Saddam Hussein gave them by seizing Kuwait and then halting. They might continue. They certainly have the military capacity to try.

In a real sense, the Iranians would not have to execute such a military operation in order to gain the benefits. The simple imbalance of forces would compel the Saudis and others in the Persian Gulf to seek a political accommodation with the Iranians. Strategic domination of the Persian Gulf does not necessarily require military occupation — as the Americans have abundantly demonstrated over the past 40 years. It merely requires the ability to carry out those operations.

The Saudis, therefore, have been far quieter — and far more urgent — than the Israelis in asking the United States to do something about the Iranians. The Saudis certainly do not want the United States to leave Iraq. They want the Americans there as a blocking force protecting Saudi Arabia but not positioned on Saudi soil. They obviously are not happy about Iran’s nuclear efforts, but the Saudis see the conventional and nuclear threat as a single entity. The collapse of the Iran-Iraq balance of power has left the Arabian Peninsula in a precarious position.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia did an interesting thing a few weeks ago. He visited Lebanon personally and in the company of the president of Syria. The Syrian and Saudi regimes are not normally friendly, given different ideologies, Syria’s close relationship with Iran and their divergent interests in Lebanon. But there they were together, meeting with the Lebanese government and giving not very subtle warnings to Hezbollah <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100827_lebanon_syrias_plan_preempt_iran_and_hezbollah?fn=8617026155> . Saudi influence and money and the threat of Iran jeopardizing the Saudi regime by excessive adventurism seems to have created an anti-Hezbollah dynamic in Lebanon. Hezbollah is suddenly finding many of its supposed allies cooperating with some of its certain enemies. The threat of a Hezbollah response to an airstrike on Iran seems to be mitigated somewhat.

Eliminating Iranian Leverage In Hormuz
I said that there were three counters. One was Hezbollah, which is the least potent of the three from the American perspective. The other two are Iraq and Hormuz. If the Iraqis were able to form a government that boxed in pro-Iranian factions in a manner similar to how Hezbollah is being tentatively contained, then the second Iranian counter would be weakened. That would “just” leave the major issue — Hormuz.

The problem with Hormuz is that the United States cannot tolerate any risk there. The only way to control that risk is to destroy Iranian naval capability before airstrikes on nuclear targets take place. Since many of the Iranian mine layers would be small boats, this would mean an extensive air campaign and special operations forces raids against Iranian ports designed to destroy anything that could lay mines, along with any and all potential mine-storage facilities, anti-ship missile emplacements, submarines and aircraft. Put simply, any piece of infrastructure within a few miles of any port would need to be eliminated. The risk to Hormuz cannot be eliminated after the attack on nuclear sites. It must be eliminated before an attack on the nuclear sites. And the damage must be overwhelming.

There are two benefits to this strategy. First, the nuclear facilities aren’t going anywhere. It is the facilities that are producing the enriched uranium and other parts of the weapon that must be destroyed more than any uranium that has already been enriched. And the vast bulk of those facilities will remain where they are even if there is an attack on Iran’s maritime capabilities. Key personnel would undoubtedly escape, but considering that within minutes of the first American strike anywhere in Iran a mass evacuation of key scientists would be under way anyway, there is little appreciable difference between a first strike against nuclear sites and a first strike against maritime targets. (U.S. air assets are good, but even the United States cannot strike 100-plus targets simultaneously.)

Second, the counter-nuclear strategy wouldn’t deal with the more fundamental problem of Iran’s conventional military power. This opening gambit would necessarily attack Iran’s command-and-control, air-defense and offensive air capabilities as well as maritime capabilities. This would sequence with an attack on the nuclear capabilities and could be extended into a prolonged air campaign targeting Iran’s ground forces.

The United States is very good at gaining command of the air and attacking conventional military capabilities (see Yugoslavia in 1999). Its strategic air capability is massive and, unlike most of the U.S. military, underutilized. The United States also has substantial air forces deployed around Iran, along with special operations forces teams trained in penetration, evasion and targeting, and satellite surveillance. Far from the less-than-rewarding task of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, going after Iran would be the kind of war the United States excels at fighting. No conventional land invasion, no boots-on-the-ground occupation, just a very thorough bombing campaign. If regime change happens as a consequence, great, but that is not the primary goal. Defanging the Iranian state is.

It is also the only type of operation that could destroy the nuclear capabilities (and then some) while preventing an Iranian response. It would devastate Iran’s conventional military forces, eliminating the near-term threat to the Arabian Peninsula. Such an attack, properly executed, would be the worst-case scenario for Iran and, in my view, the only way an extended air campaign against nuclear facilities could be safely executed.

Just as Iran’s domination of the Persian Gulf rests on its ability to conduct military operations, not on its actually conducting the operations, the reverse is also true. It is the capacity and apparent will to conduct broadened military operations against Iran that can shape Iranian calculations and decision-making. So long as the only threat is to Iran’s nuclear facilities, its conventional forces remain intact and its counter options remain viable, Iran will not shift its strategy. Once its counter options are shut down and its conventional forces are put at risk, Iran must draw up another calculus.

In this scenario, Israel is a marginal player. The United States is the only significant actor, and it might not strike Iran simply over the nuclear issue. That’s not a major U.S. problem. But the continuing withdrawal from Iraq and Iran’s conventional forces are very much an American problem. Destroying Iran’s nuclear capability is merely an added benefit.

Given the Saudi intervention in Lebanese politics, this scenario now requires a radical change in Iraq, one in which a government would be quickly formed and Iranian influence quickly curtailed. Interestingly, we have heard recent comments by administration officials asserting that Iranian influence has, in fact, been dramatically reduced. At present, such a reduction is not obvious to us, but the first step of shifting perceptions tends to be propaganda. If such a reduction became real, then the two lesser Iranian counter moves would be blocked and the U.S. offensive option would become more viable.

Internal Tension in Tehran
At this point, we would expect to see the Iranians recalculating their position, with some of the clerical leadership using the shifting sands of Lebanon against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Indeed, there have been many indications of internal stress, not between the mythical democratic masses and the elite, but within the elite itself. This past weekend the Iranian speaker of the house attacked Ahmadinejad’s handling of special emissaries. For what purpose we don’t yet know, but the internal tension is growing.

The Iranians are not concerned about the sanctions. The destruction of their nuclear capacity would, from their point of view, be a pity. But the destruction of large amounts of their conventional forces would threaten not only their goals in the wider Islamic world but also their stability at home. That would be unacceptable and would require a shift in their general strategy.

From the Iranian point of view — and from ours — Washington’s intentions are opaque. But when we consider the Obama administration’s stated need to withdraw from Iraq, Saudi pressure on the United States not to withdraw while Iran remains a threat, Saudi moves against Hezbollah to split Syria from Iran and Israeli pressure on the United States to deal with nuclear weapons, the pieces for a new American strategy are emerging from the mist. Certainly the Iranians appear to be nervous. And the threat of a new strategy might just be enough to move the Iranians off dead center. If they don’t, logic would dictate the consideration of a broader treatment of the military problem posed by Iran.

Rethinking American Options on Iran  is republished with permission of STRATFOR.”



Egypt intercepts shipment of 190 anti-aircraft missiles
By JPOST.COM STAFF
28/08/2010
Authorities uncover large weapons cache hidden in Sinai, reportedly destined for smuggling into Gaza; more ammunition and explosives seized in Rafah.
Egyptian authorities intercepted a shipment of at least 190 anti-aircraft missiles in Sinai probably destined for Gaza on Saturday, Palestinian news Agency Maan reported.

According to the report, the Egyptian police raided several storage areas in the area and discovered the secret cache hidden in a remote region in the center of the peninsula.

RELATED:
IAF targets smuggling tunnels in Gaza
Hamas reopens smuggling tunnels

In addition to the anti-aircraft missiles, rockets and other ammunition were seized, as well as a large supply of illegal drugs.

Reports also stated that authorities raided several locations in Rafah, where they found more stores of explosives and weapons.

Earlier on Saturday Kuwaiti newspaper Alrai reported that Syria’s military is on high alert for an Israeli attack on Hizbullah weapons depots located in the country.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a tough blockade of Gaza since Hamas seized power in June 2007, and the hundreds of tunnels in the Rafah area are the main entry point for many basic items, as well as weapons.

The Gaza-Egypt border sits at the northeastern tip of Sinai.

At the beginning of August, the Israeli Air Force struck a tunnel used to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip as a retaliation for a Kassam rocket fired into Israel which struck near Sderot.

Egypt intercepts shipment of 190 anti-aircraft missiles


More Than 5 Reasons Why Israel Won’t Strike Iran Anytime Soon

by Judith Miller
Fox News
August 19, 2010

http://www.judithmiller.com/7860/israel-wont-strike-iran

History sometimes repeats itself in the Middle East, but not always. Twice before, Israel has attacked Arab nuclear reactors before they were loaded with the fuel rods that could have produced plutonium Pu 239 for an atomic bomb. Both strikes against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 and Syria’s North Korean-built reactor in 2007 were surprise attacks. In neither case did Israel receive Washington’s blessing. In the case of Iraq, Israel didn’t even warn its close friend, Ronald Reagan, in advance.

This pattern has led two former Bush administration officials – John Bolton and Michael Anton — and a very well-connected journalist to warn that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear installations soon if sanctions fail and Washington does not strike.

Jeffrey Goldberg argues in the Atlantic that Israelis think such a determination is likely to be made by spring of 2011. Bolton added fuel to the nuclear fire this week, so to speak, by arguing that if Israel does not strike before Russia is scheduled to load nuclear fuel rods at Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr this Saturday, it will lose the chance to stop Bushehr. Attacking a nuclear plant once it has gone “critical,” warns Anton, would risk the release of a radioactive plume that might kill civilians and poison surrounding areas, causing what he calls in what is surely the week’s understatement “a P.R. uproar.”

No one really knows what Israel’s military and political elite or President Obama, for that matter, intends to do about Iran next year, after sanctions have a chance to bite.

Avner Cohen, whose new book “The Worst Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb,” is being published in October, tells me that “any pretense to predict or even to assess the likelihood of war against Iran is really the pretense of knowing something we truly do not know.” He fears, as I do, that a confrontation with Iran might start inadvertently, over a non-nuclear issue.

But I also doubt that Israel is likely to move against Bushehr before it goes critical — or anytime soon, for that matter.

First, and not foremost, Israel and America are both far more concerned about Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities than the Bushehr reactor. Why? Because Moscow is not only supplying, but charged with removing the spent, or used fuel rods at Bushehr and getting them out of Iran. This agreement, plus monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog, gives some modest assurance that the reactor’s nuclear fuel won’t be secretly diverted to make a bomb.

Also, as Anton notes, even if Iran manages to divert some spent fuel, it’s not clear Teheran has the technology, or the capability, to extract plutonium from spent reactor fuel rods for a bomb.

No, this is not perfect. Russia’s behavior, too, leaves much ground for suspicion. But altogether, it suggests that Bushehr is not as grave a danger as Iran’s dogged determination to develop an independent fuel cycle with a nuclear enrichment capability at existing and planned new facilities, despite more than a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions warning it not to do so.

For better or worse, the Obama administration does not see the Bushehr reactor as a grave proliferation risk. In fact, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week, the administration agreed not to oppose Russian help to Bushehr to help secure Russia’s vote for the latest round of U.N. sanctions in June.

Second, attacking Iranian nuclear facilities is obviously a far tougher military challenge – to say nothing of the likely political ramifications — than demolishing a single nuclear reactor in Iraq or Syria. Iran’s facilities, as we have been repeatedly told, are widely dispersed, buried, and hidden.

Third, Iran has the ability to strike back – using its proxy, Hezbollah to Israel’s north, and Iranian-assisted Hamas in Gaza, to Israel’s south. Nor would such retaliation likely be directed solely at Israel. Hezbollah has long tentacles and has previously struck in South America, Europe, and even Egypt. As American intelligence agencies have also warned, it also has a network of agents and supporters inside the United States.

Fourth, the Obama administration thinks that its sanctions, though nowhere nearly as tough as those imposed against Iraq, are already hurting Iran. Even Iranian economists complain that sanctions are making it more expensive and difficult for Iran to do business abroad, modernize its nuclear and oil sectors, and attract foreign investment. No one knows, however, whether sanctions will bite sufficiently to change Iranian behavior.

Fifth, Israeli leaders still suspect that Washington will strike Iran so that it doesn’t have to, when and if it becomes clear that Iran is not changing its nuclear policies. This may be a false hope. Many Obama officials agree with Robert Kaplan, who argues, also in The Atlantic, that containing a nuclear Iran is the least-bad of all the bad policy options available.

Finally, putting aside the wisdom (or dangerous folly) of such a military strike, conservatives and liberals alike tend to agree, Israeli military action against Iran before Washington concludes that its sanctions policy is not working IS likely to poison already tense U.S.-Israel relations, which as John Bolton acknowledges, “are more strained now than at any time since the 1956.”

A rupture with the U.S. may not be an existential threat. But as Anton writes, “it would be dire enough that it’s not worth risking unless the consequences of inaction truly are existential. That’s a hard and unenviable call to have to make.”

For all these reasons, history may not repeat itself in the Middle East. Israel may not strike Iran as it did Iraq and Syria.

But other indicators suggest an increasingly perilous Middle East, with or without such Israeli military action. The Arab-Israeli peace process appears deadlocked. America’s withdrawal from Iraq and its losses so far in Afghanistan create the perception throughout the region, rightly or wrongly, of American weakness and exhaustion.

Israel is being subjected to a fierce campaign to delegitimize its right to exist.

And Iran, after the failure of its Green Revolution, is in ever more dangerous hands. As Gary Sick, whose website hosts a fierce debate about Gulf policy, wrote recently, Iran increasingly resembles “the corporatist states of southern and eastern Europe in the 1920’s and 1930’s that we call fascist.”

Yes, things do change in the Middle East, but as Atlantic editor James Bennet warned in the introduction to his dueling articles on what to do about Iran, “in fits and starts,” and since the collapse of the Oslo peace talks over a decade ago, not for the better.

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