Tag Archives: Iran

Independence Day (Israel): We have reason to rejoice

by Isi Leibler

The Bible quotes Balaam describing the Jews as “a people that dwells alone and is not counted among the nations.” Alas, that aptly describes the status of the Jewish state on the 67th anniversary of its rebirth. Yet despite enormous challenges confronting us, we have every reason to celebrate.

Yes, Israel is the only country in the world whose right to exist and defend itself is continuously challenged. We have neighbors who still dream of driving us into the sea; we face an ongoing global tsunami of viral anti-Semitism; the world judges us by double standards; Israel is an oasis in a region in which primitive barbarism reigns as hundreds of thousands of people are butchered as a matter of routine.

But despite this, by any benchmark Israel unquestionably represents the greatest national success story of all time.

Exiled and scattered throughout the world for 2000 years and suffering endless cycles of persecution and mass murder climaxing with the Shoah, the Jews miraculously resurrected a nation state.

Since the late 19th century, Jewish idealists have been returning to their homeland and transforming deserts into gardens.

In 1947 the world was astonished when incredibly for a brief moment, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union unprecedentedly agreed to endorse the creation of a Jewish state.

There were only 600,000 Jews in Palestine when the State of Israel was declared. Yet against all odds and despite inadequate armaments and lack of military training, fighters from the fledgling state successfully vanquished the combined military forces of its Arab neighbors, determined to destroy us.

Victory was not achieved without painful sacrifice and 24 hours before rejoicing on Independence Day, we pay tribute to over 20,000 Jews those who gave up their lives to defend our Jewish state.

Our miniscule state enabled an ingathering of exiles from all corners of the world, providing a haven for survivors of the Shoah, refugees from Arab persecution, Jews from underdeveloped countries like Ethiopia and over a million from the former Soviet Union. Out of this melting pot Israel has created one of the most vibrant and resilient societies in the world.

Today we boast a thriving nation of over 8 million citizens and represent the largest Jewish community in the world.

Israel has become a veritable economic power house, emerging as the second largest country (after the U.S.) in high tech and startup facilities. We overcame our water problems by an extraordinary desalinization program. And now we are effectively energy self-sufficient and will even be exporting surplus gas resources.

Whilst there is room for improvement, our social welfare structure and in particular the medical system provides outstanding services for all Israeli citizens without discrimination.

Culturally, we are a pulsating country in which our ancient and sacred language has been renewed as the lingua franca for Jews coming from totally different cultures. There has been a dramatic revival of Torah learning with more Jews familiar with the texts and teachings of Judaism than at any time in our history.

Despite external threats and terror, we remain a democratic oasis in a regional cauldron of barbarism, providing the right to vote to all citizens and guaranteeing genuine freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

But the most incredible transformation is that after 2000 years as a subjugated and persecuted people, we have become a regional military superpower. The empowerment of the Jewish nation, the success of our people’s army and its ability deter the combined force of all its enemies is mind boggling. As we face tough challenges such as the threat of a nuclear Iran, even the mullahs realize that an attack on us would lead to their decimation.

Although the American people and Congress remain strongly supportive, as long as the Obama Administration remains in office, Israel may soon be denied the U.S. diplomatic umbrella at the United Nations and the Europeans may well be hatching further schemes to sanction us. Yet, it is mind boggling that our Prime Minister was invited three times to address Congress and on each occasion received standing ovations. That Winston Churchill was the only other leader honored in this manner says it all.

Lessons from our bitter history have taught us that when the chips are down, we can only rely on ourselves. We were initially perceived as the unfortunate underdogs. Today, we are accused of being too powerful. Most of us concur that if the price for being strong and independent obliges us to lose favor with confused bleeding heart liberals, so be it. The reality is that we are stronger today and better able to withstand political and military pressures than ever before.

In Europe, popular anti-Semitism has again transformed Jews into pariahs. Yet Jewish communities will always remain and Israel must encourage efforts to strengthen their Jewish identity and support their struggle against anti-Semitism. Diaspora Jews are fortunate knowing that if their world collapses, Israel provides them with a haven. But many will not wish to see their children grow up in an environment in which they feel obliged to conceal their Jewish identity and have military personnel guarding schools and synagogues. Increasing numbers are therefore likely to make aliyah or at least encourage their children to do so.

In the United States, aliyah will attract those Jews concerned about t their grandchildren remaining Jewish in an open society – where currently 80% of non-orthodox are marrying out. Committed Jews are also increasingly attracted to the the opportunity of living in a pulsating Jewish state which provides a cost-free Jewish education, in which the Hebrew language, culture and national holidays create a unique Jewish lifestyle which they can never experience in the Diaspora.

We must surely appreciate the privilege of living in a Jewish state and not facing the painful Jewish identity issues confronting our diaspora kinsmen.

So despite the challenges facing us, we should dismiss the purveyors of doom and gloom who transform self-criticism into masochism and continuously whine about our failings and reject the highly vocal fringe elements who disparage our achievements, mock Zionism and challenge the merits of statehood.

Of course, many aspects of Israeli society, as with any other, require attention. These include issues of growing inequality between rich and poor and the ongoing irritants in relationship between the state and organized religion. Not to mention the dysfunctional political system.

Alas, the dream of peace with our neighbors remains just a dream. But we should exult in the realization that we are stronger today than in the past when we overcame far greater challenges and genuinely faced annihilation.

Opinion polls indicate that we rank amongst the happiest and most contented people in the world. However many young Israelis now take Jewish statehood for granted, never having undergone the chilling experience of European Jews in the 1930s as they desperately sought entry visas to countries to avoid the impending Shoah. Nor can they appreciate the devastating impact of living in an anti-Semitic environment where Jews are considered pariahs.

Today, on our 67th anniversary, we should give thanks to the Almighty for enabling us to be the blessed Jewish generation, privileged to live in freedom in our resurrected ancient homeland. We should continually remind ourselves that our success defies rationality and by any benchmark must be deemed miraculous.

Chag Sameach.

Isi Leibler may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com

This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom

Browse more articles like this at www.wordfromjerusalem.com

 
 

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Leibler: Obama Seeks Confrontation with Israel

Originally published Oct. 30, 2014
by Isi Leibler @ wordfromjerusalem.com


 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the intensifying global pressures on Israel is to firmly reject any further territorial withdrawals that would put Israel’s security at risk, stating that “Israel will not lose hope for peace, but neither will it cling to false hope.”

He was also forthright about his intention to continue residential construction in Jerusalem, noting that “all previous Israeli governments have done so. . It is also clear to the Palestinians that these territories will remain within Israel’s borders in any deal.”

The Obama administration’s response to Israel’s confirmation that it would continue to create homes in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem was vindictive, brutal and in stark contrast to its deafening silence in relation to Palestinian incitement.

The State Department went so far as to accuse Israel of acting “illegally,” and in a manner “incompatible with the pursuit of peace”.

In an interview with American journalist Jeffery Goldberg published in The Atlantic, a senior US official referred to Prime Minister Netanyahu as “chickenshit” and described him as “the foreign leader who seems to frustrate the White House and the State Department the most”. More than Assad, Erdogan, the Iranian Ayatollah, Putin, and the ‘peace loving’ Abbas?

The curtain drop to the administration’s malice was displayed last week in the Ya’alon imbroglio. In a private conversation earlier this year, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon disparaged Secretary of State John Kerry’s behavior in relation to the peace process as “obsessive” and “messianic.” He made his remarks when Kerry was repeatedly making provocative statements against Israel and then retracting them.

As defense minister, Ya’alon is limited in what he can say publicly and the fact that he spoke off-record is irrelevant if he was subsequently quoted. But he apologized and reiterated the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Nevertheless, the White House inflated his unofficial remark totally out of proportion.

To invoke such a vendetta against the defense minister of its most important regional ally, months after the event, exposes the pettiness of the Obama administration. That Ya’alon was denied access to Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Adviser Susan Rice is problematic. But that this was leaked by State Department sources at the end of his visit was odious. To make matters even worse, the information was leaked to the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, whose publisher is engaged in a long-standing crusade to demonize Netanyahu and his government and which was the source that had initially released Ya’alon’s off-the-record comments.

Clearly, the White House regarded this as an opportunity to undermine not only Ya’alon’s standing, but the entire Netanyahu government.

This is just the latest in a series of vindictive incidents by the Obama administration because Israel has dared to reject its diktats. Nothing illustrates President Barack Obama’s contemptuous attitude toward Israel more than his directive to withhold arms to Israel during wartime because Israel had rejected Kerry’s initiative to engage Qatar as the mediator to end the Gaza hostilities.

As virtually every foreign policy initiative by Obama has proven to be disastrous, his recommendations or directives must be viewed with skepticism. After all, it is we who will have to live with the consequences.

This administration adamantly insists that the Israel-Palestine status quo is untenable. Yet it remains silent as Hamas boasts of efforts to restore its terror tunnel network; barely reacts to the mayhem in Syria and Iraq where close to a quarter million people have been butchered; ignores the Qatari funding of Hamas and other terrorist entities including the Islamic State; fails to castigate Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for enabling jihadists to traverse Turkey’s territory in order to fight in Syria, while standing by and allowing the massacre of the Kurds on his border.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas humiliated the U.S. administration by merging with Hamas without prior consultation. But the U.S. failed to criticize this move, has not responded to Abbas’ policy of ethnic cleansing by making any future Palestinian state Judenrein, nor condemned him for executing any Palestinian found selling land to an Israeli. The U.S. did not reprimand him for failing to denounce the act of terror in which a baby and a young woman were killed last week in Jerusalem. Yet when an Arab teenager was shot to death while hurling potentially lethal Molotov cocktails at Israeli automobiles, the U.S. immediately conveyed its condolences to the family and urged Israelis to initiate an investigation.

Israel, the principal regional ally of the U.S., is the only country consistently facing criticism and has become the punching bag for the inept Obama administration, even being denunciated for opposing a nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Only recently, Kerry again conveyed to an Arab audience the absurd allegation that the Arab-Israel conflict fanned ISIS and Islamic extremism. Yet the U.S. assiduously avoids condemning or responding to rogue states guilty of criminal bloodletting, out of fear of being further humiliated and exposed as lacking leadership.

It should be noted that there is a broad consensus throughout Israel that the government is justified in resisting efforts by the U.S. and others to restrict construction in its capital Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs – which were never challenged prior to the Obama administration.

There are those who question the wisdom of such an announcement at this time, but if there is one issue for which we should stand united and maintain our rights, it is construction in Jerusalem, whose development must not be dependent on endorsement from other countries.

The administration’s efforts to demean Israel’s leaders have always been counterproductive. Despite the initial media frenzy, Israelis have in such circumstances responded by rallying in support of their government. And yet, now when the house of Israel should display unity, some of our politicians are behaving irresponsibly.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni public response to the recent pathetic and mean attempt to humiliate Ya’alon implying that the fault for the breakdown in relations rests with Israel rather than with a bumbling and spiteful U.S. administration were highly inappropriate. They promote chaos and bring shame upon themselves and the government they purport to represent, conveying the mistaken impression that Israel suffers from battered wife syndrome.

It is also regrettable that, in the face of a vindictive U.S. administration, Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, failed to suspend political infighting and accused Netanyahu of being “personally responsible for the destruction of relations with the U.S.” He could have gained respect by stating unequivocally that there cannot be any limits on construction in the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem.

Yes, there is constant tension and endless recriminations bouncing between the U.S. administration and Israel. And according to Goldberg, there is now even the threat that the US “may actually withdraw diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations”.

The government has made every effort to avoid aggravating the situation but Israel is a sovereign democratic nation and there are occasions when it must reject unrealistic or dangerous demands from the U.S.

Netanyahu should be commended for his extraordinary diplomatic balancing act in withstanding the unreasonable pressure from Obama and Kerry, avoiding outright confrontations and in so doing, retaining the support of American public opinion and Congress.

Israel is a small country and its people are aware that the U.S. is crucial to their survival. But does that oblige us to forfeit our self-respect or sovereignty and fawn toward an administration that repeatedly displays its contempt and humiliates us?

We should display unity by supporting our prime minister’s policy of rejecting further territorial concessions until the Palestinian leaders separate from Hamas, engage in negotiations and display flexibility to enable us to achieve our security requirements. We will not be denied the right to construct homes in our capital or in the major settlement blocs, which will remain within Israel. We seek the support of the United States but we must retain our sovereignty.

 

 

Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at http://www.wordfromjerusalem.com.
He may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com.
This column was originally published (in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom) on October 30, 2014

 
 
 

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Stratfor: Worsening Violence in Iraq Threatens Regional Security

JUNE 11, 2014 | 1615

Courtesy, Stratfor Global Intelligence

Summary

Battles continue to rage across northern Iraq, pitting jihadist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant against Iraqi security forces and their allies. The growing reach of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has escalated an already brutal campaign in Iraq. Alarmingly quick advances by the militants across an important region of the Middle East could draw in regional powers as well as the United States.

Analysis

Using hit-and-run tactics, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as ISIL, has sought to keep Iraqi security forces dispersed and under pressure. ISIL has achieved this by striking at areas where security forces are weak and withdrawing from areas where Baghdad has concentrated its combat power. The jihadists have been working hard to improve their tradecraft by developing skill sets ranging from staging complex ambushes to using Iraqi army equipment effectively in surprise raids. ISIL has also sought to better develop its ties with local Sunni communities.

As far back as the days of al Qaeda in Iraq and its predecessor, Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad, founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, militancy has had a presence in Anbar province — and indeed in Mosul. During the Iraq War, the U.S. military considered Mosul one of the key gateways for foreign al Qaeda in Iraq fighters to enter the country. ISIL operations in Mosul and the wider Nineveh province are unsurprising. What is surprising is the degree of success that ISIL has managed to achieve in its latest offensive in the region.

ISIL Activity

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This success undoubtedly has much to do with local forces and tribes who have either facilitated ISIL or elected not to fight the group’s incursion into Mosul. In a city of almost 2 million, had ISIL received no local sympathy, it would have been unable to rout the Iraqi forces in the area with only 1,000 to 2,000 fighters. Social media contains several reports of local Sunnis welcoming ISIL forces, and even of local fighters supporting ISIL in attacks against government positions.

Furthermore, Iraqi security forces reportedly had around 10,000 personnel in and around Mosul. Despite the ferociousness of the ISIL attack, the fact that a significant portion of these forces fled — abandoning their uniforms, equipment and vehicles — indicates serious structural and morale issues within the force, which could be attributed in part to a high number of Sunni soldiers in the ranks who are unwilling to stand up to ISIL for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Having succeeded in its Mosul operations, ISIL will continue to take advantage of its momentum and push its gains at a time when the Iraqi government is scrambling to recover from significant losses. As well as taking large portions of the city, ISIL militants seized many weapons and military vehicles as well as the contents of Mosul’s central bank. They also freed several thousand prisoners from a local prison, potentially adding more fighters to their cause.

Stretching from the north of Mosul through Tikrit to the south and toward Baghdad along the Tigris River Valley, ISIL is striving to maintain a continuous line of pressure running through what is practically the northern spine of populated Iraq. The Tigris River Valley contains a number of key strategic energy areas, including the oil refinery near Baiji. Although the refinery is still under state control at this time, the areas where ISIL is operating largely match areas where al Qaeda in Iraq was active during the height of the Sunni insurrection in Iraq from 2004-2006. As opposed to a first-time assault or new offensive, ISIL’s actions speak more of a resurgence into historical areas of operations.

As well as continuing to push forward, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will largely seek to avoid stand-up fights against well-equipped and determined Iraqi army units, though they have held their ground against such forces in Al Fallujah and Ar Ramadi. The wide-ranging, mobile and rapidly dispersed ISIL forces have a key advantage when it comes to maneuvering in battle over the slower, mechanized units of the Iraqi army. While ISIL maximizes its impact against a disorganized Baghdad, the jihadist group seeks to consolidate its control over territory in heavily Sunni areas, where it has already made significant inroads with the local population. Ambitiously, these areas of control could include large portions of the north as well as Anbar Province. More realistically, it would mean greater ISIL presence in the longer term and, in some cases, direct control in Anbar and possibly other provinces such as Nineveh and Salah ad Din. Working toward this goal, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant will continue to focus on its revitalized effort to dismantle the Awakening movement, a coalition of tribal elements that was instrumental in pushing al Qaeda in Iraq out of Anbar the first time, drawing Sunni tribes back into its fold in the process.

The Iraqi army is attempting to contain the ISIL threat that is rapidly spreading into Salah ad Din and Kirkuk provinces. Iraqi forces, supported by allied tribal elements, have reportedly struck back against ISIL outside As Samarra and in Tikrit. A number of Iraqi army units are also supposedly withdrawing from Anbar province, which will further reduce pressure on ISIL-held cities there. These forces are reportedly focusing on the northern approaches to Baghdad, while the Iraqi government is attempting to pull together all reserve units capable of quickly moving to the fight. For all intents and purposes the Iraqi army is overstretched, the geographic dispersion of threats outmatching its resources. This means that Baghdad must prioritize its goals in the fight against ISIL.

Protect the Core

The most important priority for Baghdad right now is to secure its capital and oil infrastructure and begin pushing north to meet ISIL units approaching from Mosul down the Tigris River Valley. This does not mean that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant can be eradicated from these areas: Small ISIL cells will continue to operate across the region, and indeed in Baghdad itself. It does mean, however, that the Iraqi army will try to disrupt large mobile ISIL columns seeking to raid and to establish control over towns and cities. By concentrating its forces, the Iraqi army campaign in Anbar, especially around Ar Ramadi and Al Fallujah, will inevitably be at a disadvantage as it falls to a level of secondary importance. The campaign to rid Iraq of ISIL, which was never realistic so long as the jihadists held a virtual sanctuary in eastern Syria, becomes even more tenuous over the long term.

Members of the Kurdish Peshmerga force secure an area west of the northern city of Kirkuk, on June 11.

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In the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Baghdad holds a potential advantage, but one which the al-Maliki government has been loath to use so far. This advantage is a greater reliance and cooperation with the Peshmerga (Kurdish security forces) in a combined fight against the jihadists. For political reasons ranging from disputes over territory to energy resources distribution, the central government in Baghdad had sought to maximize its direct control over the north, while minimizing the Kurdish security presence beyond Kurdistan Regional Government-administered areas. With ISIL making alarming gains in the north, it is now far more possible that the central government in Iraq would seek to cooperate with the Peshmerga in a combined push on ISIL in Kirkuk and Mosul. To that end, the Iraqi parliamentary speaker reportedly mentioned the possibility of coordinating with Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani. Kurdish Peshmerga forces are reportedly mobilizing in preparation for defensive as well as offensive operations against ISIL.
 

The Bigger Picture

Beyond Iraq, a number of countries are immediately affected by ISIL. The Syrian battle space bleeds heavily into Iraq due to a porous border, accelerated by the almost total collapse of Syrian army border crossing posts. Since January, ISIL has been heavily involved in fighting with more moderate Syrian rebel factions, as well as with Jabhat al Nusra, the official al Qaeda franchise in Syria. As the fighting has worn on, ISIL has gradually released its hold in western Syria and turned its attention to the Raqqah and Deir el-Zour governorates. Deir el-Zour was particularly important for ISIL as it allowed it to maintain a direct supply link with its established presence in western and northern Iraq, especially in Anbar province. Through this supply link, ISIL has been able to transfer experienced foreign fighters and captured Syrian army equipment to Iraq, including vehicles and anti-tank guided munitions. It has also replenished its stock of ammunition and explosives, greatly aiding operations in Iraq.

The Syrian conflict is affected by the ISIL push in Iraq in two ways. The first is that the jihadists may divert large numbers of fighters from Syria to its Iraq push, which would open ISIL to more pressure in Syria. The second impact is the withdrawal of large numbers of Iraqi Shiite militants — men that have been fighting alongside the Syrian army — leaving to concentrate their efforts back home against ISIL. Such a withdrawal would be unpopular in the Syrian regime because it would take away an important source of manpower.

Regional Interest

Ankara is also watching the events in Iraq with considerable attention. Not only are Turkish citizens directly implicated in the conflict, with a number of Turks reportedly seized by ISIL militants, but the Turkish government also maintains an important stake in energy development in northern Iraq. Ankara has long been involved in politics between Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government on issues surrounding the delivery of energy. Turkey is also increasingly concerned about the growing reach of ISIL and has already clashed with militants on its border with Syria. Turkey is especially wary of the potential for attacks by ISIL — attacks that would exploit the long border that runs from the Mediterranean to Iran. While Turkey has been hesitant to directly send forces against ISIL in Syria, the fact that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant has seized large numbers of Turks — including the consulate staff from Mosul — may push Ankara to become more directly involved in the crisis.

Iran has long sustained the regime in Syria, as well as indirectly supporting al-Maliki’s government in its fight against Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq. The growing reach of ISIL, and its ever-closer presence to Iran, is sure to raise considerable anxiety in Tehran. Iran can therefore be expected to further bolster its support for al-Maliki as well as for Shiite proxies across Iraq. In supporting al Maliki’s fight, Tehran finds itself very much aligned with Washington.

The United States will avoid sending significant forces back into Iraq, but Washington will ramp up its efforts to contain the ISIL threat by delivering vital equipment such as helicopter gunships, Hellfire missiles, communications equipment, large volumes of small arms and ammunition. This assistance, coupled with a common regional interest to contain the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, will likely contain the threat to northern and western Iraq. Though Iraq’s southern energy corridor will probably be spared, the Sunni belt in central Iraq and the territories disputed between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government will face rising sectarian stress, in line with ISIL’s designs for the region.

 

Worsening Violence in Iraq Threatens Regional Security is republished with permission of Stratfor.

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Stratfor: The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War

By Reva Bhalla
Stratfor Global Intelligence

International diplomats will gather Jan. 22 in the Swiss town of Montreux to hammer out a settlement designed to end Syria’s three-year civil war. The conference, however, will be far removed from the reality on the Syrian battleground. Only days before the conference was scheduled to begin, a controversy threatened to engulf the proceedings after the United Nations invited Iran to participate, and Syrian rebel representatives successfully pushed for the offer to be rescinded. The inability to agree upon even who would be attending the negotiations is an inauspicious sign for a diplomatic effort that was never likely to prove very fruitful.

There are good reasons for deep skepticism. As Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces continue their fight to recover ground against the increasingly fratricidal rebel forces, there is little incentive for the regime, heavily backed by Iran and Russia, to concede power to its sectarian rivals at the behest of Washington, especially when the United States is already negotiating with Iran. Ali Haidar, an old classmate of al Assad’s from ophthalmology school and a long-standing member of Syria’s loyal opposition, now serving somewhat fittingly as Syria’s National Reconciliation Minister, captured the mood of the days leading up to the conference in saying “Don’t expect anything from Geneva II. Neither Geneva II, not Geneva III nor Geneva X will solve the Syrian crisis. The solution has begun and will continue through the military triumph of the state.”

Widespread pessimism over a functional power-sharing agreement to end the fighting has led to dramatic speculation that Syria is doomed either to break into sectarian statelets or, as Haidar articulated, revert to the status quo, with the Alawites regaining full control and the Sunnis forced back into submission. Both scenarios are flawed. Just as international mediators will fail to produce a power-sharing agreement at this stage of the crisis, and just as Syria’s ruling Alawite minority will face extraordinary difficulty in gluing the state back together, there is also no easy way to carve up Syria along sectarian lines. A closer inspection of the land reveals why.

The Geopolitics of Syria

Before the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement traced out an awkward assortment of nation-states in the Middle East, the name Syria was used by merchants, politicians and warriors alike to describe a stretch of land enclosed by the Taurus Mountains to the north, the Mediterranean to the west, the Sinai Peninsula to the south and the desert to the east. If you were sitting in 18th-century Paris contemplating the abundance of cotton and spices on the other side of the Mediterranean, you would know this region as the Levant — its Latin root “levare” meaning “to raise,” from where the sun would rise in the east. If you were an Arab merchant traveling the ancient caravan routes northward from the Hejaz, or modern-day Saudi Arabia, you would have referred to this territory in Arabic as Bilad al-Sham, or the “land to the left” of Islam’s holy sites on the Arabian Peninsula.

Whether viewed from the east or the west, the north or the south, Syria will always find itself in an unfortunate position surrounded by much stronger powers. The rich, fertile lands straddling Asia Minor and Europe around the Sea of Marmara to the north, the Nile River Valley to the south and the land nestled between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers to the east give rise to larger and more cohesive populations. When a power in control of these lands went roaming for riches farther afield, they inevitably came through Syria, where blood was spilled, races were intermixed, religions were negotiated and goods were traded at a frenzied and violent pace.

Consequently, only twice in Syria’s pre-modern history could this region claim to be a sovereign and independent state: during the Hellenistic Seleucid dynasty, based out of Antioch (the city of Antakya in modern-day Turkey) from 301 to 141 B.C., and during the Umayyad Caliphate, based out of Damascus, from A.D. 661 to 749. Syria was often divided or subsumed by its neighbors, too weak, internally fragmented and geographically vulnerable to stand its own ground. Such is the fate of a borderland.

Unlike the Nile Valley, Syria’s geography lacks a strong, natural binding element to overcome its internal fissures. An aspiring Syrian state not only needs a coastline to participate in sea trade and guard against sea powers, but also a cohesive hinterland to provide food and security. Syria’s rugged geography and patchwork of minority sects have generally been a major hindrance to this imperative.

Syria’s long and extremely narrow coastline abruptly transforms into a chain of mountains and plateaus. Throughout this western belt, pockets of minorities, including Alawites, Christians and Druze, have sequestered themselves, equally distrustful of outsiders from the west as they are of local rulers to the east, but ready to collaborate with whomever is most likely to guarantee their survival. The long mountain barrier then descends into broad plains along the Orontes River Valley and the Bekaa Valley before rising sharply once again along the Anti-Lebanon range, the Hawran plateau and the Jabal al-Druze mountains, providing more rugged terrain for persecuted sects to hunker down and arm themselves.

Just west of the Anti-Lebanon mountains, the Barada river flows eastward, giving rise to a desert oasis also known as Damascus. Protected from the coast by two mountain chains and long stretches of desert to the east, Damascus is essentially a fortress city and a logical place to make the capital. But for this fortress to be a capital worthy of regional respect, it needs a corridor running westward across the mountains to Mediterranean ports along the ancient Phoenician (or modern-day Lebanese) coast, as well as a northward route across the semi-arid steppes, through Homs, Hama and Idlib, to Aleppo.

The saddle of land from Damascus to the north is relatively fluid territory, making it an easier place for a homogenous population to coalesce than the rugged and often recalcitrant coastline. Aleppo sits alongside the mouth of the Fertile Crescent, a natural trade corridor between Anatolia to the north, the Mediterranean (via the Homs Gap) to the west and Damascus to the south. While Aleppo has historically been vulnerable to dominant Anatolian powers and can use its relative distance to rebel against Damascus from time to time, it remains a vital economic hub for any Damascene power.

Finally, jutting east from the Damascus core lie vast stretches of desert, forming a wasteland between Syria and Mesopotamia. This sparsely populated route has long been traveled by small, nomadic bands of men — from caravan traders to Bedouin tribesmen to contemporary jihadists — with few attachments and big ambitions.

Demography by Design

The demographics of this land have fluctuated greatly, depending on the prevailing power of the time. Christians, mostly Eastern Orthodox, formed the majority in Byzantine Syria. The Muslim conquests that followed led to a more diverse blend of religious sects, including a substantial Shiite population. Over time, a series of Sunni dynasties emanating from Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley and Asia Minor made Syria the Sunni-majority region that it is today. While Sunnis came to heavily populate the Arabian Desert and the saddle of land stretching from Damascus to Aleppo, the more protective coastal mountains were meanwhile peppered with a mosaic of minorities. The typically cult-like minorities forged fickle alliances and were always on the lookout for a more distant sea power they could align with to balance against the dominant Sunni forces of the hinterland.

The French, who had the strongest colonial links to the Levant, were masters of the minority manipulation strategy, but that approach also came with severe consequences that endure to this day. In Lebanon, the French favored Maronite Christians, who came to dominate Mediterranean sea trade out of bustling port cities such as Beirut at the expense of poorer Sunni Damascene merchants. France also plucked out a group known as the Nusayris living along the rugged Syrian coast, rebranded them as Alawites to give them religious credibility and stacked them in the Syrian military during the French mandate.

When the French mandate ended in 1943, the ingredients were already in place for major demographic and sectarian upheaval, culminating in the bloodless coup by Hafiz al Assad in 1970 that began the highly irregular Alawite reign over Syria. With the sectarian balance now tilting toward Iran and its sectarian allies, France’s current policy of supporting the Sunnis alongside Saudi Arabia against the mostly Alawite regime that the French helped create has a tinge of irony to it, but it fits within a classic balance-of-power mentality toward the region.

Setting Realistic Expectations

The delegates discussing Syria this week in Switzerland face a series of irreconcilable truths that stem from the geopolitics that have governed this land since antiquity.

The anomaly of a powerful Alawite minority ruling Syria is unlikely to be reversed anytime soon. Alawite forces are holding their ground in Damascus and steadily regaining territory in the suburbs. Lebanese militant group Hezbollah is meanwhile following its sectarian imperative to ensure the Alawites hold onto power by defending the traditional route from Damascus through the Bekaa Valley to the Lebanese coast, as well as the route through the Orontes River Valley to the Alawite Syrian coast. So long as the Alawites can hold Damascus, there is no chance of them sacrificing the economic heartland.

It is thus little wonder that Syrian forces loyal to al Assad have been on a northward offensive to retake control of Aleppo. Realizing the limits to their own military offensive, the regime will manipulate Western appeals for localized cease-fires, using a respite in the fighting to conserve its resources and make the delivery of food supplies to Aleppo contingent on rebel cooperation with the regime. In the far north and east, Kurdish forces are meanwhile busy trying to carve out their own autonomous zone against mounting constraints, but the Alawite regime is quite comfortable knowing that Kurdish separatism is more of a threat to Turkey than it is to Damascus at this point.

The fate of Lebanon and Syria remain deeply intertwined. In the mid-19th century, a bloody civil war between Druze and Maronites in the densely populated coastal mountains rapidly spread from Mount Lebanon to Damascus. This time around, the current is flowing in reverse, with the civil war in Syria now flooding Lebanon. As the Alawites continue to gain ground in Syria with aid from Iran and Hezbollah, a shadowy amalgam of Sunni jihadists backed by Saudi Arabia will become more active in Lebanon, leading to a steady stream of Sunni-Shiite attacks that will keep Mount Lebanon on edge.

The United States may be leading the ill-fated peace conference to reconstruct Syria, but it doesn’t really have any strong interests there. The depravity of the civil war itself compels the United States to show that it is doing something constructive, but Washington’s core interest for the region at the moment is to preserve and advance a negotiation with Iran. This goal sits at odds with a publicly stated U.S. goal to ensure al Assad is not part of a Syrian transition, and this point may well be one of many pieces in the developing bargain between Washington and Tehran. However, al Assad holds greater leverage so long as his main patron is in talks with the United States, the only sea power currently capable of projecting significant force in the eastern Mediterranean.

Egypt, the Nile Valley power to the south, is wholly ensnared in its own internal problems. So is Turkey, the main power to the north, which is now gripped in a public and vicious power struggle that leaves little room for Turkish adventurism in the Arab world. That leaves Saudi Arabia and Iran as the main regional powers able to directly manipulate the Syrian sectarian battleground. Iran, along with Russia, which shares an interest in preserving relations with the Alawites and thus its access to the Mediterranean, will hold the upper hand in this conflict, but the desert wasteland linking Syria to Mesopotamia is filled with bands of Sunni militants eager for Saudi backing to tie down their sectarian rivals.

And so the fighting will go on. Neither side of the sectarian divide is capable of overwhelming the other on the battlefield and both have regional backers that will fuel the fight. Iran will try to use its relative advantage to draw the Saudi royals into a negotiation, but a deeply unnerved Saudi Arabia will continue to resist as long as Sunni rebels still have enough fight in them to keep going. Fighters on the ground will regularly manipulate appeals for cease-fires spearheaded by largely disinterested outsiders, all while the war spreads deeper into Lebanon. The Syrian state will neither fragment and formalize into sectarian statelets nor reunify into a single nation under a political settlement imposed by a conference in Geneva. A mosaic of clan loyalties and the imperative to keep Damascus linked to its coastline and economic heartland — no matter what type of regime is in power in Syria — will hold this seething borderland together, however tenuously.
 
 
The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War is republished with permission of Stratfor.”
 
 

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Remarks by US President Obama to the AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4, 2012, Washington, D.C. (full text)

Text procured here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/03/04/remarks-president-aipac-policy-conference

 


 
The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
March 04, 2012

Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference

Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

11:10 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, good morning, everyone.

Rosy, thank you for your kind words.  I have never seen Rosy on the basketball court.  I’ll bet it would be a treat.  (Laughter.)  Rosy, you’ve been a dear friend of mine for a long time and a tireless advocate for the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States.  And as you complete your term as President, I salute your leadership and your commitment.  (Applause.)

I want to thank the board of directors.  As always, I’m glad to see my long-time friends in the Chicago delegation.  (Applause.)  I also want to thank the members of Congress who are with us here today, and who will be speaking to you over the next few days.  You’ve worked hard to maintain the partnership between the United States and Israel.  And I especially want to thank my close friend, and leader of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  (Applause.)

I’m glad that my outstanding young Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, is in the house.  (Applause.)  I understand that Dan is perfecting his Hebrew on his new assignment, and I appreciate his constant outreach to the Israeli people.  And I’m also pleased that we’re joined by so many Israeli officials, including Ambassador Michael Oren.  (Applause.)  And tomorrow, I’m very much looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu and his delegation back to the White House.  (Applause.)

Every time I come to AIPAC, I’m especially impressed to see so many young people here.  (Applause.)  You don’t yet get the front seats — I understand.  (Laughter.)  You have to earn that. But students from all over the country who are making their voices heard and engaging deeply in our democratic debate.  You carry with you an extraordinary legacy of more than six decades of friendship between the United States and Israel.  And you have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to make your own mark on the world.  And for inspiration, you can look to the man who preceded me on this stage, who’s being honored at this conference — my friend, President Shimon Peres.  (Applause.)

Shimon was born a world away from here, in a shtetl in what was then Poland, a few years after the end of the first world war.  But his heart was always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people.  (Applause.)  And when he was just a boy he made his journey across land and sea — toward home.

In his life, he has fought for Israel’s independence, and he has fought for peace and security.  As a member of the Haganah and a member of the Knesset, as a Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, as a Prime Minister and as President — Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today:  the Jewish state of Israel. (Applause.)  But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might — not the other way around.  (Applause.)

Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, “slings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom.”  And he has lived those values.  (Applause.)  He has taught us to ask more of ourselves, and to empathize more with our fellow human beings.  I am grateful for his life’s work and his moral example.  And I’m proud to announce that later this spring, I will invite Shimon Peres to the White House to present him with America’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  (Applause.)

In many ways, this award is a symbol of the broader ties that bind our nations.  The United States and Israel share interests, but we also share those human values that Shimon spoke about:  A commitment to human dignity.  A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God’s children.  An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can truly respond to the aspirations of citizens.

America’s Founding Fathers understood this truth, just as Israel’s founding generation did.  President Truman put it well, describing his decision to formally recognize Israel only minutes after it declared independence.  He said, “I had faith in Israel before it was established.  I believe it has a glorious future before it — as not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”

For over six decades, the American people have kept that faith.  Yes, we are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share — in security for our communities, prosperity for our people, the new frontiers of science that can light the world. But ultimately it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship.  That is why America’s commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties.  (Applause.)  In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay.  (Applause.)

AIPAC’s work continually nurtures this bond.  And because of AIPAC’s effectiveness in carrying out its mission, you can expect that over the next several days, you will hear many fine words from elected officials describing their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship.  But as you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words.  You can look at my deeds.  Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel.  At every crucial juncture — at every fork in the road — we have been there for Israel.  Every single time.  (Applause.)

Four years ago, I stood before you and said that, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct.  It is non-negotiable.”  That belief has guided my actions as President.  The fact is, my administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented.  Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer.  (Applause.)  Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust.  Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every single year.  (Applause.)  We are investing in new capabilities.  We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology — the types of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies.  And make no mistake: We will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge — because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.  (Applause.)

This isn’t just about numbers on a balance sheet.  As a senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border.  I visited with families who’ve known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot.  And that’s why, as President, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes and hospitals and schools in that town and in others.  (Applause.)  Now our assistance is expanding Israel’s defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles.  Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.

And just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we’ve been there through our diplomacy.  When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it.  (Applause.)  When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them.  (Applause.)  When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism.  (Applause.)

When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them.  When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them.  (Applause.)  When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them.  (Applause.)  And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them.  (Applause.)  So there should not be a shred of doubt by now — when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.  (Applause.)

Which is why, if during this political season — (laughter) — you hear some questions regarding my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts.  And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics.  America’s national security is too important.  Israel’s security is too important.  (Applause.)

Of course, there are those who question not my security and diplomatic commitments, but rather my administration’s ongoing pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  So let me say this:  I make no apologies for pursuing peace.  Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of peace.  Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.  I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel’s security interest.  (Applause.)

The reality that Israel faces — from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment — demands a resolution of this issue.  And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel’s founding values — because of our shared belief in self-determination, and because Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected.  (Applause.)

Of course, peace is hard to achieve.  There’s a reason why it’s remained elusive for six decades.  The upheaval and uncertainty in Israel’s neighborhood makes it that much harder — from the horrific violence raging in Syria, to the transition in Egypt.  And the division within the Palestinian leadership makes it harder still — most notably, with Hamas’s continued rejection of Israel’s very right to exist.

But as hard as it may be, we should not, and cannot, give in to cynicism or despair.  The changes taking place in the region make peace more important, not less.  And I’ve made it clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met.  (Applause.)  That’s why we continue to press Arab leaders to reach out to Israel, and will continue to support the peace treaty with Egypt.  That’s why — just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace — we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, and reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements.  (Applause.)  And that is why my administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties.  (Applause.)

As Rosy noted, last year, I stood before you and pledged that, “the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations.”  As you know, that pledge has been kept.  (Applause.)  Last September, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed that any lasting peace must acknowledge the fundamental legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns.  I said that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, our friendship with Israel is enduring, and that Israel must be recognized.  No American President has made such a clear statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time.  People usually give those speeches before audiences like this one — not before the General Assembly.  (Applause.)

And I must say, there was not a lot of applause.  (Laughter.)  But it was the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  And as a result, today there is no doubt — anywhere in the world — that the United States will insist upon Israel’s security and legitimacy.  (Applause.)  That will be true as we continue our efforts to pursue — in the pursuit of peace.  And that will be true when it comes to the issue that is such a focus for all of us today:  Iran’s nuclear program — a threat that has the potential to bring together the worst rhetoric about Israel’s destruction with the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Let’s begin with a basic truth that you all understand:  No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.  (Applause.)  And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders.

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests.  But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States.  (Applause.)

Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we’ve done so much to build.  There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization.  It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions.  It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.

And that is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  And that is what we have done.  (Applause.)

When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters.  Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world.  In the region, Iran was ascendant — increasingly popular, and extending its reach.  In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward.

And so from my very first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime:  a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t.  In fact, our policy of engagement — quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime — allowed us to rally the international community as never before, to expose Iran’s intransigence, and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.

Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before.  Some of you will recall, people predicted that Russia and China wouldn’t join us to move toward pressure.  They did.  And in 2010 the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort.  Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime.  They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011.  Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran’s Central Bank and oil exports.  But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us.  And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions.

That is where we are today — because of our work.  Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure.  And by the way, the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally — the Assad regime — is crumbling.

Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unresolved.  The effective implementation of our policy is not enough — we must accomplish our objective.  (Applause.)  And in that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy — backed by pressure — to succeed.

The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program.  Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists.  Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July — thanks to our diplomatic coordination — a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold.  (Applause.)  Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision.  They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end.

And given their history, there are, of course, no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice.  But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically.  After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons.  That’s what history tells us.

Moreover, as President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war.  (Applause.)  I have sent men and women into harm’s way.  I’ve seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who’ve come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don’t make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency.  And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.  And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically.  Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States — (applause) — just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.  (Applause.)

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.  (Applause.)  That includes all elements of American power:  A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.  (Applause.)

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  (Applause.)  And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.  (Applause.)

Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues; the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world.  Already, there is too much loose talk of war.  Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.  For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.  Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built.  Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt:  Speak softly; carry a big stick.  (Applause.)  And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.

These are challenging times.  But we’ve been through challenging times before, and the United States and Israel have come through them together.  Because of our cooperation, citizens in both our countries have benefited from the bonds that bring us together.  I’m proud to be one of those people.  In the past, I’ve shared in this forum just why those bonds are so personal for me:  the stories of a great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald, to my memories of returning there with Elie Wiesel; from sharing books with President Peres to sharing seders with my young staff in a tradition that started on the campaign trail and continues in the White House; from the countless friends I know in this room to the concept of tikkun olam that has enriched and guided my life.  (Applause.)

As Harry Truman understood, Israel’s story is one of hope. We may not agree on every single issue — no two nations do, and our democracies contain a vibrant diversity of views.  But we agree on the big things — the things that matter.  And together, we are working to build a better world — one where our people can live free from fear; one where peace is founded upon justice; one where our children can know a future that is more hopeful than the present.

There is no shortage of speeches on the friendship between the United States and Israel.  But I’m also mindful of the proverb, “A man is judged by his deeds, not his words.”  So if you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done — to stand up for Israel; to secure both of our countries; and to see that the rough waters of our time lead to a peaceful and prosperous shore.  (Applause.)

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless the people of Israel.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:42 A.M. EST

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In Jerusalem Today… Netanyahu takes his case to the (Arabic) people

During a frank one-hour open interview, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to questions from visitors to his Arabic Facebook page, freely discussing such topics as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran’s nuclear program, and what everyone hopes is the aptly-named ‘Arab Spring’.

On his administration’s efforts to pursue peace, Netanyahu said, “We are totally serious about our talks with the Palestinians: I am ready to go to Ramallah to negotiate with (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas. Moving forward with negotiations is the only way to peace, and the Israeli people want peace. We need peace, and we need a Palestinian state that will live in peace with us. I hope that Abbas will seize the opportunity.”

His comments came just days after the Palestinian delegation quit preliminary bilateral peace talks hosted by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman.

On Iran, the PM responded, “Iran is developing nuclear weapons in order to control the entire Middle East and beyond. This is a direct threat to peace.”

By most accounts, Israel is frustrated by the slow implementation of tougher international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, the purpose of which, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concedes, may not be strictly peaceful.

RiddleThe Persian Puzzle

In response to a question about Israel’s position on the Arab Spring, Netanyahu replied: “We want to see democracy in the Arab world and we hope it will happen. There are many false views about Israel in the Arab world – many Arabs are unaware that Arab Israelis sit as members of the Israeli parliament and the government and they enjoy full rights.”

“There is a misconception regarding Israel’s will to have peace,” continued Netanyahu. “This is why I’m talking to you over the Internet, and inviting you to come and visit us. Everyone who visited us in the past changed his view.”

The Israeli PM’s Arabic Facebook page has so far received over 20,000 ‘likes’.

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Europe targets Iranian oil, gold, diamonds, central bank

EU Agrees to Ban Iran Oil Imports to Target Nuclear Program

January 23, 2012, 9:32 AM EST

By Ewa Krukowska and Thomas Penny

Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) — European Union foreign ministers agreed to ban oil imports from Iran starting July 1 as part of measures to ratchet up the pressure on the Persian Gulf nation’s nuclear program, the 27-nation bloc said in a statement.

The EU will freeze assets of the Iranian central bank in Europe as well as of eight other entities and ban the trade in gold, precious metals, diamonds and petrochemical products from Iran, the EU said.

“Today’s decisions target the sources of the finance for the nuclear program, complementing already existing sanctions,” the EU said, adding that it has “banned imports of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products.”

Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulf passageway for about 20 percent of globally traded oil, if the EU and the U.S. impose stricter sanctions. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait ship crude and liquefied natural gas through the strait.

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