On Thursday dissident Republican activists in Northern Ireland announced the creation of a new organization that they are calling the IRA from the merger of three smaller organizations: the Real IRA, the largest of the various dissident groups; Republican Action Against Drugs, a republican vigilante group in Derry; and a group of independent republican activists who have carried out a number of terror attacks in the last decade. But most analysts seem to feel that by centralizing the new group simply presents a juicier target for counter-intelligence efforts. Why is this?
Monday, July 30, 2012
Friday, July 27, 2012
Aaron David Miller, a respected State Dept. Middle East veteran recently wrote a column for Real Clear Politics in which he predicted a tumultuous second term for the Israel-U.S. relationship if Obama is reelected. He referred back to another column, this time for the LA Times in which he noted that Obama had an emotionless relationship with the Jewish state.
But is a close emotional tie with Israel necessarily beneficial for a president who wants to play mediator? Let's examine the historical record of presidents since Nixon became involved in the Mideast peacemaking business (or is a racket?) in 1969.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Israeli Arabist/Mizrakhan Barry Rubin only a few short months ago pooh-poohed any talk of Assad being overthrown. Rubin was not a great friend of the Assad regime. In his book The Truth About Syria he claimed that Hafiz al-Assad in addition to being a brutal dictator never wanted peace with Israel. He has now conceded that his overthrow is a distinct possibility. If it occurs, it will have ramifications for its neighbors and internally as well. Rubin deals with the internal ramifications. Dov Zackheim a former senior defense official in the Bush 43 administration, discusses the effects on Iraq. Mainly he links it to the fortunes of senior Shia politician Nouri al-Maliki, who became one of the most successful Iraqi politicians after the fall of Saddam. Here is an opinion piece by Thomas Friedman comparing Syria to Iraq. I think it is safe to say that it is meant as a warning.
Romney is now behaving like a typical politician and being wise after the fact. He and his acolytes are criticizing Obama for not being more involved in calling for Assad's fall. Expect this to be about as sophisticated as the foreign policy discussion will get over the next few months. Romney has decided to stay on message and his message is the economy and jobs. Everything else for him is a distraction.
I'm not a fan of intervening in internal Arab power struggles for several reasons. First, we usually lack the detailed knowledge of the players to be able to make meaningful predictions about both their chances of success and their policies once they get in power. Second, we have a tendency to see Arab culture, which is a very different culture from Western culture--at best like Western medieval culture overlaid with the non-democratic regimes of Central and Eastern Europe from the mid-20th century, and expect outcomes based on Western values and rules of the game rather than on indigenous ones. Third, we have few real interests tying us to these countries. Our main interest is the flow of oil, which is also in the interest of the rulers in the region. In 2002-03 I supported the war in Iraq because I believed that Saddam Hussein, based on his actions, possessed chemical and possibly biological weapons. I also expected the Bush administration to devote proper resources to the war and not try to win it on the cheap. They learned nothing from Hitler's mistakes nor from Vietnam.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Yesterday it was announced that former Justice Minister Tzakhi Hanegbi is leading a group of seven Kadima MKs back into the Likud. Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised them bribes in the form of offices. These bribes will be expensive, but Netanyahu probably figures that it will be worth the cost--which is being footed by the taxpayers--in order to destroy Kadima before the next elections. Netanyahu has been plotting the destruction of the party and attempting to arrange just such a major defection at least since the end of 2009 when rumors first surfaced in the Israeli press.
Saturday, July 21, 2012
With last week's bombing at the National Security Headquarters in Damascus that killed four leading figures in the Ba'athist regime, many commentators and other observers are now writing the obituary for the House of Assad that began 42 years ago this November. While I would be very worried if I were sitting in the presidential palace in Damascus, the regime is not necessarily over yet. The Islamic Republic of Iran, Syria's patron, suffered various grievous attacks from the Mujahideen al-Khalk (People's Holy Warriors and the Fedayeen al-Khalk (People's Sacrificers) during its first two years in power before it turned the corner.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
It was announced by Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz yesterday that he was pulling out of the coaliton after Prime Minister Netanyahu caved in to the ultra-Orthodox parties and rejected the findings of the Plesner Commission on military service. When Mofaz agreed to go into the coalition just over two months ago it was for the purpose of finding a solution to draft dodging by the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) section and to implement electoral reform. The two issues are related. It is Israel's present proportional representation list system with its low (2%) entry barrier that allows the ultra-Orthodox to blackmail those mainstream secular parties competing to form the government into giving their voters special status. When Kadima entered the coalition the Knesset was debating a bill for new elections.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Back in 1986 William Quandt, who had served as Jimmy Carter's Middle East specialist on the National Security Council, wrote in his book Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics that presidents have basically five years to work on Middle East peace, provided that they are reelected. In their first term presidents spend the first term acquiring expertise about the area and learning the ropes and their last year running for reelection. In their second term--for those lucky enough to have one--they have the first three years because in their last year they are a lame duck. Quandt based his calculations on his experience in the Carter administration and his academic observations of the Johnson and Nixon-Ford administrations. I agreed with this when I read it and I still do some 26 years later. Obama has already used up his first two of five years. What will he do in his remaining three?
Monday, July 16, 2012
Every summer in Northern Ireland is the marching season when the three main Protestant marching orders (the Orange Order, the Apprentice Boys, the Royal Black Institution) hold parades to commemorate important events from the past. The most important of those three orders by far is the Orange Order (every Northern Ireland premier between 1922 and 1972 was a member) and the most important parade is held annually on July 12th to commemorate King William of Orange's victory over the forces of King James II in the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 that guaranteed Protestantism in the United Kingdom and also kept Catholicism as a minority religion. The Orange Order was founded in 1795 to fight the Defenders, a Catholic organization, for control of areas in Ulster. What happens on the Twelfth is a good barometer of the atmospherics in the peace process and ethnic relations in the province.
Last week a committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Levy Committee, to look into the future of the West Bank made its recommendation. Not surprisingly considering the composition of the governing coalition made up mainly of parties from the secular Right and religious Right, the committee did not recommend either leaving the territory or ending settlement, but rather argued that the occupation does not exist. This was straight out of Neo-Revisionist ideology. The argument is that because Israel conquered Judea and Samaria i.e. the West Bank from Jordan in 1967 and only two countries (Britain and Pakistan) had recognized Jordan's annexation of the West Bank in 1950, then Israel has as much right to the West Bank as the Palestinians who rejected the 1947 partition plan. The trouble with this logic is if one thief steals from another thief that does not make him the legal owner under the law.