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Israel Behind The News
The best place to learn about what is REALLY happening in Israel.
The best place to learn about what is REALLY happening in Israel.


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The Pros and Cons of Attacking Syria
By David P. Goldman Fri Aug 30 2013

A Symposium

Go after the dog's master, not the dog.

Kudos to Michael Ledeen for explaining that the road to Damascus starts in Tehran. As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu explained on Aug. 25, "Assad's regime isn't acting alone. Iran, and Iran's proxy, Hezbollah, are there on the ground playing an active role assisting Syria. In fact, Assad's regime has become a full Iranian client and Syria has become Iran's testing ground.... Iran is watching and it wants to see what will be the reaction to the use of chemical weapons."

We are at war with Iran, and I have little to add to Michael's excellent summary. As he reiterates, we have been at war with Iran for decades. The only distinction is that Iran knows this and the Obama administration pretends it's not happening. Because the American public is disgusted with the miserable return on our investment of 5,000 lives, 50,000 casualties, and $1 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, Republicans are too timid to push for decisive military action to stop Iran's nuclear program - although air strikes rather than ground troops would be required.

I made a similar case on March 29:

It's pointless to take potshots at Obama for failing to act on Syria. What we should say is this: "Iran is the main source of instability in the Middle East. Iran's intervention in Syria has turned the country into a slaughterhouse. By showing weakness to Iran, the Obama administration encourages its murderous activities elsewhere in the region."

I also recommend Ed "Give War a Chance" Luttwak's Aug. 25 op-ed in the New York Times, "In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins." Victory for Assad would be victory for Iran. "And if the rebels win, " Luttwak wrote, "moderate Sunnis would be politically marginalized under fundamentalist rulers." The whole region is paralyzed and ripe for destabilization. Saudi subsidies are keeping Egypt from starving, literally. "Turkey has large and restless minority populations that don't trust their own government, which itself does not trust its own army. The result has been paralysis instead of power, leaving Mr. Erdogan an impotent spectator of the civil war on his doorstep." I would add that Turkey also is at economic free-fall with its stock market down by 40% in dollar terms since April.

Luttwak argues that the U.S. should favor "an indefinite draw." Here I disagree: the chemical attack shows how easily Iran can manipulate events in Syria to suit its strategic objectives. The best solution is Yugoslav-style partition: an Alawite redoubt in the Northwest including Latakia (where Russia has its naval station), and a Sunni protectorate in the rest of the country, except for an autonomous zone for Syria's Kurds. Everyone wins except the Turks, who understandably abhor the idea of an independent Kurdish entity. Someone has to lose, though. What has Turkey done for us lately?

Obama probably will choose the worst of all possible alternatives. Daniel Pipes warns that this course of action "will also entail real dangers. Bashar al-Assad's notorious incompetence means his response cannot be anticipated. Western strikes could, among other possibilities, inadvertently lead to increased regime attacks on civilians, violence against Israel, an activation of sleeper cells in Western countries, or heightened dependence on Tehran. Surviving the strikes also permits Assad to boast that he defeated the United States. In other words, the imminent attack entails few potential benefits but many potential drawbacks. As such, it neatly encapsulates the Obama administration's failed foreign policy."

If the problems of the Middle East look intractable now, consider what they will look like if Iran can promote mass murder from under a nuclear umbrella. The hour is late. If we Republicans can't summon the courage to advance fundamental American national security issues in the midst of crisis, we will deserve the voters' contempt.

Mr. Goldman, president of Macrostrategy LLC, is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and the London Center for Policy Research.
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Obama’s Halfway Effort in Syria
By Elliott Abrams Fri Aug 30 2013

Intervening now is a good start, but our moral and strategic imperatives demand more.

As it becomes increasingly obvious that President Obama has decided to attack Syria with cruise missiles and perhaps a bit more, those of us who have been urging a stronger stand on Syria for two years should be very pleased. This is what we’ve asked for, isn’t it?

It isn’t, and I can’t muster more than one or one and a half cheers. Why not?

Two things have been notable about the Syrian civil war. First, real American security interests are at stake in Syria and have been from the start. Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah, which together have an enormous amount of American blood on their hands, have sent troops to Syria to win a war there. Russia has provided a constant flow of arms to the regime. They all consider their control of Syria important, and they are right: If they lose the control they have through Bashar Assad, their position in the entire Middle East is badly weakened - and ours is strengthened. This is a proxy war, with them on one side, and American allies - Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE - on the other. It is in the interest of the United States to win this fight, and we should want Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia to lose.

Second, there is a growing humanitarian disaster: 100,000 dead at a minimum, plus millions of refugees and displaced persons. The suffering has already spilled over into Jordan and Lebanon, with more to come.

The problem with the Obama administration’s probable reaction over the next few days is that it appears likely to address neither of these issues, and instead focus narrowly on another: Assad’s use of chemical weapons. The international taboo on such weapons should be upheld, and it is reasonable to punish Assad for his action - thereby deterring him and others in the future from using poison gas. Such an action also avoids any further humiliation of the United States with regard to the red line the president drew (and then ignored, of course, until the latest, largest, and most blatant episode).

But there are 100,000 or more dead, and that is ignored if our strikes focus narrowly on the chemical-weapons infrastructure. Most were killed by bullets or artillery; are we content to watch another 100,000 killed the same way? One need not be a supporter of the “responsibility to protect” doctrine to wonder if mass killing in this strategically important region should elicit zero response from the United States while a use of chemical weapons that kills 1,000 people elicits a military intervention.

But what about our strategic interests? If our strikes are limited to Assad’s chemical-weapons assets, we leave his war machine intact - including the air power that is one of his main advantages. We make it no less likely that our enemies - Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Assad - will win this proxy war and greatly strengthen their position in the Middle East - preserving Iran’s only ally in the region, which affords them ports in the Mediterranean and a border with Israel (via Hezbollah in Lebanon).

I’ve been in Israel this week, and found universal the sense that America is receding in the region - and seeking to recede. I know from previous travel, and many conversations with Arab leaders, that our Arab friends in the Gulf share this view. A couple dozen cruise missiles landing on chemical-weapons warehouses will not change that perception, and indeed will raise questions about our odd priorities on both the humanitarian and strategic levels.

So I give the administration some credit: It would be far worse to do nothing and prove that we have no credibility and need not be feared under any circumstances whatsoever. But the Russians and Iranians and their terrorist allies will not be defeated unless we show greater determination and greater willingness to act. For a start, the Obama administration should destroy not only Assad’s chemical stocks but his air power as well - bases, helicopters, jets. That would be the way to show American power in the Middle East is still to be reckoned with, to instill fear in our enemies, and to hearten our allies.

- Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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Privately, Israelis are worried about fallout from attack
By David Bedein Fri Aug 30 2013

CONTRARY TO THE IMPRESSION one may get from reading U.S. media, Israelis, while calm, are worried about fallout on them from any U.S.-led strike against Syria.
Israel, alas, is used to violent conflict, both within its borders and in the neighboring countries.
Perhaps this is why the entire country is calm: planning for the worst but hoping for the best.
But, privately, there is alarm.
Speaking exclusively to In the (K)now from his Israel home 04:30 GMT today, David Bedein, a former Philadelphia Bulletin columnist who now runs Behind the news in Israel Web site, made the following startling statement.
“Life as we know it in Israel will not be the same one week from now if [President] Obama launches an attack on Syria.
“If he does, there are 100,000 missiles at [Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s] disposal that will rain down on Israel.”


BUREAU CHIEF OF THE Israel Resource News Agency, Bedein has had clients such as the Los Angeles Times and other major U.S. media, who’s reporters he assists in their coverage of the Middle East.
The top story at their web site this hour is America’s Impending Defeat in Syria 
with the money quote: “... the Obama administration is bluffing.” (emphasis added)

In our conversation Bedein related the following anecdote: When a father meets a son going off to college at this time of year, the father tells the son, “Remember, you can’t get a girl half pregnant.”
“If you understand that,” he said, “you understand the whole problem with Obama.
“If Obama launches any raid [Assad] will not take it as a warning... he will take it as a violation of his security and sovereignty.”
From outward signs, there is no panic in Israel; more just a resignation that continuation of a 5,000-year-old conflict is inevitable.
As violence spins out of control in Syria and Egypt, the tiny Jewish state surrounded by those who wish to annihilate it, is watching and taking precautions.
That can be gleaned from the Jerusalem Post and a Page One story in the national edition of The New York Times on Thursday.

THE FIRST SENTENCE OF the Jerusalem Post editorial “Threatening Israel ” published Wednesday online is certainly cause for alarm.
“If Damascus is attacked, Tel Aviv will burn,” a Syrian higher-up bristled this week. Israel, in light of such statements, cannot regard the escalating situation up north with the equanimity of a detached observer,” the editorial states.
“There can be no passivity when a coterie of evil powers hurls deadly threats at Israel in the context of a struggle in which it is uninvolved.

“In a fairer existence, this alone ought to have unsettled the international community. But it is futile to expect fair-mindedness where Israel is concerned.”
It is widely believed within Israel that its interests are largely ignored by U.S. policy makers when they weigh how to respond to events in the Arab world. Israelis have good reason to believe this: history has provided much evidence.
The editorial continues:
“This is disconcertingly reminiscent of our traumatic experience during the First Gulf War. Events then were also played out beyond the Israeli context. Nonetheless, Israel suffered repeated heavy missile attacks, including 40 Scud hits. The Iraqi warheads were aimed directly and unmistakably at civilian population centers.”
This calmness in the face of mounting threats was reflected Thursday in the Page One story in the national edition of The New York Times headlined: “Amid chaos, Israelis take a stoic view.
Jodi Rudoren writes from Jerusalem:
“Israel’s leaders have convened emergency cabinet sessions in recent days and ratcheted up home-front preparations, with military reservists being called up and air-defense systems readied on Wednesday. Still, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement, “There is no reason to change daily routines.”

NETANYAHU IS, OF COURSE, absolutely correct, but that doesn’t mean preparations are not being urgently made.

In another Jerusalem post story headlined Peres: We will respond with ‘full force to any Syrian attack the subheadline reads: President says situation in Syria a “crime against humanity”
“Israel will respond with “full force” to any Syrian counter-attack, President Shimon Peres warned Thursday morning, commenting on reports emerging from radical corners of the Arab world that have threatened Israel in retaliation if the West attacks Syria.”
The Post staff -written account reports there was a special meeting at the Jerusalem District Police headquarters.
“Peres stated: “Israel is not and has not been involved in the civil war in Syria, but if they try to hurt us, we will respond with full force.”
“In an effort to calm the nation, the president dismissed violent political rhetoric directed against Israel, saying that such statements were “intended to create panic. Israel is experienced enough [in these situations] so as not to not be drawn into false propaganda.”
The perspective from Jerusalem published in The Times was only slightly different.
Rudoren writes: “With concern growing about Israel’s international isolation after Europe’s recent move to ban the financing of Jewish institutions in the occupied West Bank, some hoped that the brutality and instability in the region might create sympathy abroad for Israel’s geopolitical challenge.”
Israel seems also concerned about its isolation, but is not letting that get in the way of its preparations.
“... [M]ost of those interviewed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday said the events had intensified Israelis’ feelings of isolation. They were critical of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy, and wary of a world they believe demonizes them.
“As for the prospect of Syrian or Iranian attacks on Israel in response to an American strike - like Saddam Hussein’s sending of Scud missiles to Tel Aviv in 1991 - it seemed to generate a kind of pride in resilience.”
Rudoren’s analysis is fully supported by another report in the Jerusalem post.

ON THURSDAY, in As Syria strike looms, Israeli gas mask centers get extended opening hours the Post staff reported:
“The Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command has extended the opening hours for gas mask distribution centers to cope with the massive demand of recent days, Army Radio reported Thursday.
“Anxious Israelis have flooded the centers anticipating an attack on Israel in response to any strike by the US and its allies on Syria over the regime’s probable use of chemical weapons.
“The centers, based in Israel Postal Service offices, will now be open each day from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., but the number of centers will not increase, the radio said.”
This was a follow up to a story published the previous day. In Postal Service reports four-fold increase in gas mask inquiries among Syria attack talk Ben Hartman reports:
“As talk of a possible US-led attack on the Assad regime picked up over the weekend, the Israel Postal Authority said that on Sunday there was a four-fold increase in the number of Israelis calling to inquire about picking up gas masks over a typical week-day.”
The Israelis are tough, there is no question about that. They have proven their resilience since the post-war struggle began with the establishment of their country in 1948.
But the calculations of U.S. policy makers must take into account the potential of any military strike against Syria to have adverse unintended consequences for the Jewish state.
I hope they are paying as close attention as I am.

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U.S. Attack on Syria Won't Change Anything
By Barry Rubin Fri Aug 30 2013

Forgot about the hysteria of an impending U.S. attack on Syria. Forget about the likely self-congratulatory backslapping by policy makers and the chanting of, “USA!” by citizens. A U.S. air assault on Syria will not change anything for the benefit of U.S. interests or even for the well-being of the Syrian people.

Clearly, it will not change the regional problems, including the U.S. support for an Islamist government in Egypt, the unstable Islamist government in Tunisia, the grim expectations for a “peace process,” the constant betrayal of the United States by the Turkish government, and the Iranian nuclear race. But beyond that, it won’t change the Syrian crisis.

Would the attack determine the outcome of a Syrian civil war, either in favor of the Iranian backed government or the Islamists favored by the United States? No. Would it by itself increase the prestige and credibility of the United States in the Middle East? No.

Let’s consider the three motives for the potential Syrian attack. One, the humanitarian motive. After perhaps 100,000 people in Syria have been killed, this addresses one percent of the casualties (namely those by chemical weapons). That might be worthwhile but leaves unaddressed the 99 percent of other casualties.

Is it really true that the Syrian government somewhat, without motive, used chemical weapons? And finally, is it really humanitarian since the rebel side is likely to be equally ferocious against minorities and people it doesn’t like? The humanitarian motive, while sincere, really doesn’t amount to very much but merely tells the Syrian government the proper way in which people can be killed.

Second, what message does America’s potential attack in Syria really send? That American power, which will be limited, is not going to be sufficient to change the course of the war. So the United States will not determine who wins and that, after all, is only thing that everyone is really interested in.

The third motive is to send a message to Iran that it won’t be able to succeed in aggression. But in fact, this too can be said to send the opposite message: that in the words of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, that “the United States cannot do a damn thing.”

What are the possible outcomes of this mission? The Syrian government will not be overthrown nor saved. The fate of the civil war is going to be totally outside this operation. Perhaps it will make the outcome more likely to be a diplomatic one. But again the likelihood that Russia and Iran will agree to have its client deposed is simply unlikely.

One could argue that the attack will lead to a lower estimation of American credibility, since not much will have changed afterward, although this is not what the media will say. Imagine that the U.S. policy doesn't even have Britain on board! Obama cannot even line up America"s closest historic partner. How's that for credibility?

It is interesting to note that in confronting Saddam Hussein, the Clinton Administration attacked Iraq at least four times in 1998 alone. But of course Hussein was only overthrown six years later by a controversial decision by another administration.

What would the best beneficial outcomes for the Obama Administration be? First, that Obama will congratulate himself on his daring use of force and not backing down to anyone. But so what? Aside from the newspaper headlines and the bounces in public opinion polls, the affect will be merely psychological and domestic. In friendly capitals, it will only show that he is willing to support the Sunni Islamists and oppose the Shia ones. In enemy capitals, there will be derision of the limited means at Obama’s disposal for affecting events.

What would be the best outcome for America? That the war will go on long enough until one side wins and that side will not be the regime. But basically, the civil war is going to be fought out.

It might well be said that strategically, it would be better if Iran didn't win the victory by saving the regime, but frankly, a victory by radical Islamist rebels and al-Qaida is hardly a bargain. Don’t forget that in practice, an American intervention would not be on the side of easing the lot of Syrian civilians but on the side of an extremely oppressive and unstable future government winning.

In other words, it is not that there are no easy answers but there are no good answers.
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By Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman  Wed Aug 21 2013
Diplomats may sign treaties, but only people make peace. If true, then Secretary of State Kerry’s Middle East peace initiative-on-steroids may be doomed. Forget the thorny challenges of border-drawing, land-swaps, and water-sharing. Put aside the future of Jerusalem.
As Israelis-in the name of peace-are forced yet again to walk the gangplank by releasing terrorists who blew up their wives and children, there is scant evidence that Palestinians have made their peace with the idea of a Jewish state as their legitimate neighbor.
Consider these developments:
Even as he demands the right of return of four million Palestinians to Israel proper, President Abbas pledges that the future Palestinian state will cleanse its territory of all Jews. At his last UN General Assembly speech, Abbas-while speaking of Jesus and Mohammed-remembered to forget any reference to the 3,500-year relationship of the Jewish people to the Holy Land. Palestinain Authority representatives deny Solomon’s Temple ever existed. They are busy rebranding Jewish holy sites, like Rachel’s Tomb, as a mosque, and recently Arabs stole Mezuzot from Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs-a site venerated and used by both Jews and Muslims.
While much of the international community already treats Abbas a head of state, his core constituency is shrinking. Denouncing the PA's corruption, Sheik Jabbari, a key elder of one of Hebron’s six ruling clans, recently charged that the PA represents no more than 5 percent of West Bank residents. Meanwhile, all Palestinian factions of his own PLO, except Fatah, are refusing to take part in a committee to oversee negotiations with Israel. Two senior PA spokesmen have declared that Abbas won't sign a final peace treaty-- only a Hudna-- a temporary truce. And Abbas cannot even set foot in the Palestinians' largest community-Gaza-for fear of assassination by Hamas.
Speaking of Hamas-which tightly controls Gaza, the territory from which Israel withdrew unilaterally in 2005-it threatens any Palestinian who dares negotiate peace with the Jewish state with a death sentence, and defiantly fired new rockets into southern Israel in response to the opening round of talks in Washington. What then is Secretary Kerry’s endgame: Is Israel expected to accept a three-state solution?
Hamas’ inspiration, the Muslim Brotherhood, has again called the Holocaust “the greatest lie of the modern age and the gravest incident of organized historical international blackmail.” It may be out of power in Egypt, but it continues to foment attacks from Sinai, and is still the most dangerous anti-Semitic organization in the world.
Many Palestinian activists around the world oppose peace talks. Hundreds of prominent Palestinian individuals and NGOs from all over North America published a new Rejectionist Ultimatum aligning themselves with the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) Movement against Israel. Their purpose: not to create a Palestinian state but to destroy the Jewish one. There may be talk of peace in the air, but there is only hateful rhetoric on the ground. Addressing an annual al-Quds Day rally in Toronto, Elias Hazineh, the former president of Palestine House issued an ultimatum to Israelis: “You have to leave Jerusalem. You have to leave Palestine. We say get out or you’re dead! We give them two minutes and then we start shooting.” And on the same day, Germans heard calls from Muslims on the streets of Berlin for the destruction of the Jewish state.
All this as Israelis see their surrounding neighborhood imploding. Coup or not, no one knows what kind of Egypt will emerge from the current crisis. Bloodied Syria looks increasingly like a choice between two devils: Assad or Al Qaeda. Will Lebanon self-destruct or cave to Hezbollah? Can Jordan manage the crush of refugees from Syria? And then there is Iran. A kinder, gentler President Rouhani calls Israel “a wound” on the Muslim world, while intelligence reports confirm Iran’s pursuit of a second track, plutonium strategy for acquiring nuclear weapons.
Against this backdrop and with the Arab oil kingdoms currently uninterested in bankrolling the Palestinians, shouldn't Abbas and Company be incentivized by the U.S. promise of a $4 billion package to negotiate in good faith?
Not necessarily.
The Palestinian Authority, despite billions in aid over the years, does not appear ready to run a state for whose success or failure it would be held accountable. Better to drag out the process and drama of negotiations by which-for merely for showing up-they succeed in forcing more unilateral concessions from Israel. Why sweat the details when there are broad hints from Washington and the EU that nine months down the road Israel will be forced to capitulate even without a mutual agreement?
A month from now, Mr. Abbas will once again address the UN General Assembly. He will doubtless denounce a “Judaized Jerusalem” and “illegal Settlements” as the main obstacles to peace. But the truth is that the real stumbling block is the failure of President Abbas to tell his people in Arabic, once and for all, that the Jewish state of Israel is here to stay. Instead he retains the map and hope of a Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, while his PA continues to present terrorists as role models for their youth.
Unless and until such a mindset is deconstructed, all the American and European arm-twisting of Israel alone won’t bring peace to either people, only hasten more needless violence and suffering in a region already on the brink of a total meltdown.

Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
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By JOHN T. BENNETT  Wed Aug 21 2013

 Yemeni soldiers control vehicles Aug. 6 near Sanaa International Airport in Yemen. The United States ordered Americans to leave Yemen amid a worldwide alert linked to electronic intercepts from Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Some analysts say the Obama administration has underestimated the terror group. (Mohammed Huwais / AFP)

WASHINGTON - Reports of al-Qaida’s demise have been greatly exaggerated - and the organization’s strategic aims greatly misunderstood, security analysts said Tuesday.
The state of al-Qaida has been a central debate in Washington since the Obama administration recently temporarily closed US embassies across the Middle East due to intelligence suggesting an attack on one or more was coming.
Hawkish lawmakers and analysts say the alleged plot is proof that the Obama administration jumped the gun, beginning last year, when it claimed al-Qaida was on the decline.
These administration critics point to a May speech during which President Barack Obama said al-Qaida’s core group in Afghanistan and Pakistan “is on the path to defeat.”
“Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us,” Obama said in a much-ballyhooed speech at National Defense University in Washington. “They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They’ve not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.”
Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, during an event here Tuesday afternoon, said that is the wrong lens through which to judge al-Qaida.
“To say al-Qaida can’t do another 9/11-style attack, so they’re not a threat is wrong,” Joscelyn said, “and that ignores some of the threat streams we face today.”
An example of those alleged threats is the embassy plot, critics say. And, to them, that begs a question: How did the administration misread the strength of the Islamist group?
“So many got it wrong because we define [its strength] as terrorist threats against us or the West. That’s not their strategic goal,” Joscelyn said, calling al-Qaida’s work to attack US and Western targets a mere “tactic.”
“They define themselves as political revolutionaries who want power for themselves” and are pursuing “political power across the Middle East,” Joscelyn said. “That’s principally what they’re about and what they’re doing.”
The state and future strength of al-Qaida will influence a myriad US defense and national security policies and budget decisions, from force size to what combat hardware to buy to which platforms and troops must stay in the Middle East-North Africa region - making them unavailable for the Obama administration’s strategic “pivot” to Asia.
FDD President Clifford May said the Obama administration has adopted an “oversimplified narrative” about al-Qaida that, by definition, means its counterterrorism policies “will be flawed.”
May warned that when US and NATO troops mostly leave Afghanistan next year, “there will be a threat there.”
Where Obama sees a weakened al-Qaida core in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Joscelyn contends Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri communicates regularly not only with the organization’s most potent cell in Yemen, but also with “dozens” of al-Qaida groups and individuals “across the world.”
Joscelyn ticked off a list of al-Qaida affiliates that did not exist before 9/11, saying while “it’s not the most popular brand in the Muslim world... they’re still capable of coming forward” to plan and carry out attacks.
His list includes al-Qaida cells in Mali, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Somalia.
“We can’t just say this group isn’t al-Qaida but this group is [because] they’re supporting al-Qaida and its strategic goals,” Joscelyn said.
To that end, senior Obama aides have publicly defended their boss, pointing out that Obama’s May speech made clear he views the affiliate groups as a threat.
“What we’ve seen is the emergence of various al-Qaida affiliates. From Yemen to Iraq, from Somalia to North Africa, the threat today is more diffuse, with al-Qaida’s affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula - AQAP - the most active in plotting against our homeland,” Obama said in May.
“And while none of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11, they have continued to plot acts of terror, like the attempt to blow up an airplane on Christmas Day in 2009,” the president said. “Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror,’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”
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By Fiamma Nirenstein  Wed Aug 21 2013
IlGiornale, August 20, 2013
The Middle East can come up with just about anything, but here's one of the most outlandish: Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian dictator, ousted in February 2011 in a massive popular uprising after thirty years in power, could be set free within the week. So say his lawyers, who filed a petition for his immediate release after his acquittal on the crimes of corruption for which he was on trial. True, Mubarak had already been sentenced to 25 years for standing by as the police and armed forces went on killing sprees during the revolution that drove him out. But it seems that as he awaits his second appeal, the term of his detention has reached its limit. There are many who say that in the end, the army-backed interim government will lack the courage to release the old rais, who is the cause and original source of the current chaotic situation. It can even be supposed that the revolutionary forces of the Muslim Brotherhood and those that oppose Mubarak could unite in their anger over this enormous mockery of history.
We don't know whether it's actually possible for Mubarak to be released despite his upcoming trials and the sentences that have been imposed on him. Even so, in Morsi's brief time [in office], the Egyptian legal situation recorded a fatal clash: on one hand, the solemn judicial power accustomed to Mubarak's reverent etiquette; on the other, the new Islamist power, which opposes secular State law on the basis of Sharia law, which took power away from the judges in favor of the clerics, and which Morsi immediately chose in the name of Islam. The insult of a free Mubarak is already producing enormous shock waves: he's the walking dead, rising from the stretcher on which he lay as he attended his trial. This is a political and epistemological breakdown by the rais dressed in white, motionless, as dignified as an important corpse, deathly pale under pitch-black glasses, the golem of the Arab world into whom General Sisi, true or false, now breathes new life; moving the aching, atrophied limbs once again, he restores a body ridden with the disease that allowed it to be held in the hospital in Sharm el-Sheik rather than in jail. It's the end of the Arab Spring, its most crushing surrender.
It seems clear, even if it happens not to be true, that Sisi could not be unaware of the imminent verdict. Fragile as the legal framework may be in the midst of the nightmare world that is Egypt today, deadly clashes that yesterday led to the massacre of 25 grounded soldiers, shot one by one by Islamists from the Sinai, in the mind of the Egyptians and of the entire Middle East, the very idea that Mubarak could come back into circulation is tied up with the defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood, the historic enemy of Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. The sworn enemy of the army, its prey and its killer. It is also an umpteenth corroboration of the power of the army, which Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, the entire military have always considered their own. The armed forces are more than a state within the State: they have governed the country since 1952. Mubarak was an air force commander, and one of the reasons he's been deserted is because of his decision to shift power to his son Gamal, who committed the unforgivable offense of being a civilian. The army owns dozens of factories that produce everything from arms to food to civilian vehicles. It is the landlord of buildings, government funds that slip under the radar of international transactions. And even while distancing itself from Mubarak, determined not to share the corruption charges with him, the armed forces still belong to Mubarak. Morsi was a failed attempt.
 General Sisi is an old-fashioned fellow; he doesn't answer Obama's phone calls, isn't afraid to disagree with Europe, and explains that Egypt could not tolerate the "terrorism" of the Muslim Brotherhood and that the army was forced to take action to re-establish order. If Mubarak is freed, the historic message to the Islamists will be: your victory is out of your reach, this old man that you've condemned is absolved by us. The umpteenth sign that, in the Arab world, "democracy" is a word in search of a writer.
This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale; English copyright,The Gatestone Institute
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By Gary C. Gambill  Mon Aug 19 2013
As the Syrian civil war rages on with no end in sight, many advocates of U.S. intervention are claiming that an infusion of Western arms to carefully vetted rebel factions will help bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Though hardly the first time that tools of war have been recast as instruments of peace, this curious proposition has gained unprecedented currency across the ideological spectrum, from liberal internationalists to conservative hawks.
Unfortunately, the magic bullets theory doesn't hold much water. Arming the rebels might bring the war to a close sooner by helping "good" guys kill "bad" guys more efficiently, but there's no compelling reason to believe it will entice them to stop fighting.
The superficial logic of arms-for-peace is elegant, to be sure, rooted in the classic diplomatic axiom that a political settlement to an armed conflict is possible only when, for all relevant players, the expected utility of a negotiated peace, E[u(p)], is greater than the expected utility of continued war, E[u(w)]. There are several arguments as to how a calibrated infusion of arms into Syria will help produce this rare condition (presumably absent from the large majority of civil wars in the modern era that ended in the military defeat of one side or the other). Let's take them one at a time.
The most common arms-for-peace argument, frequently invoked by Obama administration officials, is that arming the rebels will begin shifting the balance of power away from pro-government forces and signal Western resolve to tip it further, thereby diminishing E[u(w)] for the regime, its domestic supporters, and/or its Russian and Iranian backers. "Altering the balance of power on the ground... is the only way a politically negotiated transition can become possible," writes Dennis Ross. Negotiations "will amount to little given the current power asymmetry," concurs Elizabeth O'Bagy.
However, the balance of power is not the only thing influencing E[u(w)] in the Syrian arena. For President Bashar Assad and upper echelon regime elites, Iranian patronage is increasingly a central determinant of E[u(w)], and they have very good reason to believe that Iran will continue financing and resupplying them for the foreseeable future. Even if Damascus falls, they can carry on the fight for quite some time in the coastal heights of northwestern Syria where non-Sunnis constitute a majority of the population, then go into comfortable exile in Tehran if and when continued resistance becomes untenable. Whatever their battlefield setbacks, they will be loathe to abandon Iranian protection at a time of great danger and uncertainty.
For ordinary Syrians who support and fight for the regime (mostly Alawites and other non-Sunni minorities), on the other hand, E[u(w)] is far more dependent on the anticipated outcome and costs of the conflict. However, while American sponsorship of the rebellion may sap their confidence in military victory, the perception that Washington is pulling the strings of the rebels could also raise E[u(w)] for regime supporters if they expect image-conscious American policymakers to balk at green-lighting the horrific violence sure to accompany a successful rebel push on Damascus, or if they assume that Western involvement will mitigate the political consequences of losing the war. In any case, because their E[u(p)] is very low (more on this below) and they have little independent capacity to mobilize, a diminished E[u(w)] is more likely to produce individual defection, desertion, or passivity than concerted bottom-up pressure on their leaders to change course. Lower morale among regime supporters may make it easier to overpower Assad's forces, but this alone won't open a path to peace.
A stronger case can be made that tilting the military balance will diminish E[u(w)] for Russia. However, this may not precipitate a major policy change, as Moscow is bearing few of the war's costs - its economic support for the regime is minimal,[1] while its arms sales would appear to yield a net profit. The reputational expenses of arming murderers loathed throughout the Sunni Islamic world may eventually lead Russia to cut off arms sales to Assad, but Moscow will incur these costs irrespective of whether Washington aids the rebels. In any case, there is little reason to believe that a more enlightened Russian policy will decisively change expected utility calculations for the regime as long as Iran is backing it to the hilt.
Iran, on the other hand, is directly subsidizing pro-regime forces financially (to the tune of 12.6 billion dollars so far, according to one recent estimate ) and mobilizing Iraqi and Lebanese Shiites to fight alongside them. A military escalation precipitated by an influx of Western arms will undoubtedly strain its sanctions-riddled economy. But this doesn't mean, as some interventionists maintain, that it "will most likely back down when faced with the prospect of confrontation with the United States."
There are many intervening variables that make it difficult to predict E[u(w)] for the Islamic Republic. The intense religiosity of Iranian leaders surely inflates their confidence in ultimate victory. Overt U.S. involvement in the rebel war effort may shift the military balance, but it could also serve to legitimize Iran's Syria policy as a fight against the Great Satan (or otherwise make abandoning it more politically unpalatable). Though it's difficult to imagine how continued conflict could turn out well for the Iranian regime in the long run, some commentators have suggested that it can use even a losing war in Syria to expand its influence among Shiites in the region.[2] In any case, if the past is any guide, a major change in Tehran's disposition is likely to drag far behind the changing realities that drive it. Whatever else it might achieve, an arms-for-peace strategy with this aim in mind won't produce peace anytime soon.
Of course, even a substantial reduction in E[u(w)] for one or more of the above won't matter if their E[u(p)] is demonstrably lower. For regime elites, E[u(p)] is abysmally low. Rebels have constantly reiterated that Assad and his inner circle must step down and relinquish control of the military-security apparatus at the start of any negotiated political transition. They are unwilling even to negotiate with anyone who has "blood on their hands" let alone offer them a place in the post-war order. Assad and his ilk are being asked to accept a conditional surrender, not a power-sharing arrangement of the kind that brought an end to the 1975-1990 civil war in Lebanon.
Iran's E[u(p)] is also very low. The predominantly Sunni rebels' overt sectarian discourse and frequent denunciations of the Shiite theocratic republic - even before the large influx of foreign Shiite fighters in the first half of this year - leave little doubt that Iran will lose out in any peace settlement that produces a stable post-war majoritarian government. Significantly, both the rebels and Western governments have thus far refused to allow Iranian representatives to attend prospective peace talks in Geneva. While Russia can hope to win some American-guaranteed concessions in post-war Syria in exchange for leaning on Assad (like keeping its naval base at Tartus), Iran will be left squarely in the cold.
Ordinary regime supporters are more amenable to a negotiated settlement than their leaders and foreign benefactors, but they also have deep reservations about majoritarian rule. Though Alawites have dominated Syria's Baathist state for over four decades, they and other sectarian minorities previously endured centuries of socio-political exclusion and impoverishment at the hands of Sunni rulers. Given the pronounced Islamist character of the rebellion, many understandably fear that they will be made to pay for the Assad regime's crimes. Insofar as regime supporters have the capacity to project influence over their leaders, it will not be to support a transition process that leaves them at the mercy of their adversaries.
A second family of arms-for-peace arguments hold that Western patronage of the rebels will increase E[u(p)] for the regime and/or its supporters (particularly lower echelon security personnel and civil servants). One strand of this reasoning holds that American sponsorship of the rebellion will alleviate their fears of Sunni domination and retribution by strengthening moderate rebels vis-à-vis extremists[3] and obliging the former to act more responsibly.[4] A second strand holds that equipping and supplying the rebels will unify their ranks so that they can make credible commitments to possible pro-regime interlocutors (at present, no one has the power to ensure that disparate rebel forces comply with anything).
However, it's doubtful that U.S. patronage will produce these effects in sufficient measure to generate much constituent pressure on regime leaders to stand down. While those who receive the weapons will surely pay lip service to American ideals, any Lebanese ex-warlord can tell you that building proxy forces on the basis of patronage doesn't create a culture of civic responsibility. The U.S. experience in Iraq underscores how fleeting are the returns of distributing money and power to Middle Eastern supplicants.
An influx of American arms may increase cohesion among those groups who receive them, but it will surely come at the expense of deepening antagonism between pro-Western and jihadist rebels. This would raise E[u(w)] for pro-regime actors by giving them hope that their adversaries will turn on each other if they keep up the fight long enough.
So long as the rebels have a surrender-or-die attitude toward peace with their adversaries, it's unlikely that they will find many takers. After witnessing the collapse of an eerily similar minoritarian autocracy and its violent aftermath next door in Iraq, regime supporters have little faith that an American-managed transition can protect their core interests. They will not agree to disband (or relinquish to civilian authority) their military forces until the transition process is near completion (if then), a condition that no rebel commander is today prepared to accept.
A third arms-for-peace argument posits that Western military aid will raise E[u(p)] for the rebels by giving them the strength and confidence to risk negotiating with an enemy they do not trust. The rebels are unwilling to negotiate at present "because they think that they will be bargaining from a position of relative weakness," writes Bilal Y. Saab. "We are trying to get the opposition to get involved in a negotiation with people they really don't want to negotiate with... They need an incentive," explains Reza Afshar, head of the Syria team at Britain's Foreign Office.
Far from encouraging rebels to negotiate in good faith, however, the Obama administration's decision in June to begin directly providing them with arms appears to have done the opposite. In late July, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) added new preconditions for talks, such as an advance commitment by Assad to step down and the withdrawal of foreign Shiite fighters from Syria. SNC President Ahmed Jarba now even balks at granting Assad and his family safe exit from Syria if the president gives up power.
The problem is not that the rebels lack confidence. Whatever their current circumstances, most are quite certain of prevailing over the regime in the long run, and for good reason. Syria's Sunni Arab majority, which overwhelmingly supports the rebels, is five times larger than minority Alawites who comprise the bulk of pro-regime forces. Moreover, outside powers that dwarf Russia and Iran financially and militarily are steadily increasing their support for the cause. Add to that the strong belief of most rebels that God is on their side and it appears likely that more arms will only further embolden them not to compromise.
While the Obama administration officially maintains that its paramount goal in Syria is to bring about a "political solution that ends the violence," its steadily expanding role in arming combatants isn't likely to create conditions conducive to a negotiated peace. Indeed, it could make the pursuit of peace more difficult by bolstering rebel confidence in absolute victory, deepening intra-rebel antagonisms, encouraging Iran to double down, and myriad other ways discussed above. As Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham and William Reed recently reminded us, external intervention in civil wars serves, on average, to prolong their duration.[5]
Unfortunately, there is very little the United States can do to bring about a negotiated settlement of the Syria conflict until all of the major players are willing to forgo many of their wartime objectives in favor of a compromise that salvages what is left of Syria's state institutions and economic infrastructure. If that day should ever come, the Syrian people will need a powerful neutral arbiter, not a war-weary external partisan, to provide the necessary guarantees for combatants to make credible commitments to one another.
Of course, that day may never come. All signs indicate that the burgeoning jihadist factions of the rebel alliance will stop at nothing to bring about the kind of oppressive postwar order that many regime supporters will stop at nothing to prevent - as long as that's the case, moderates will be powerless to bridge the gap. Like the large majority of civil wars in history, the conflict in Syria appears destined to endure until someone wins.
In view of this unfortunate reality, the use of American patronage to buy influence and equity in the Syrian arena may be justified. Whatever the strategic merits of aiding and abetting Syria's rebel alliance, however, we shouldn't call it peacemaking or pretend that it isn't going to be a dirty business. No matter how carefully Washington vets potential recipients, it is very likely that rebel groups receiving American arms will commit egregious human rights violations before (and probably after) the smoke clears. When the co-directors of the New York-based Campaign for Peace and Democracy, ostensibly devoted to promoting a "progressive and non-militaristic U.S. foreign policy," obliquely endorse the Obama administration's arming of Syrian rebels,[6] something has gone very wrong in the public debate in this country. Proxy warfare, as Henry Kissinger famously said of covert action, "should not be confused with missionary work."[7]

Gary C. Gambill is a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy, The National Interest, The National Post, and FPRI E-Notes. Formerly editor of Middle East Intelligence Bulletin and Mideast Monitor, Gambill is an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum.
[1] Although Western media reports often allude to Russia's "deep financial support " for Assad and there have been some statements by Syrian officials implying as much for public relations purposes, there is little evidence of Russian economic assistance aside from small amounts of humanitarian aid (ostensibly raised through religious charities) and preferential barter agreements (mainly crude oil for fuel).
[2] See Phillip Smyth, "Even if Assad loses, Iran gains from its support of Shia militias," The National (Abu Dhabi), August 12, 2013.
[3] For an eloquent elaboration of this point, see Frederic Hof, "Syria's Time Is Running Out," Foreign Policy, December 19, 2012. Hof argues that arming the rebels will ensure "that weapons go to those advocating a non-sectarian, decent political system for Syria and are denied to those seeking a sectarian outcome."
[4] Emile Hokayem, "Arm Syrian rebels to make a political solution possible," The National (Abu Dhabi), October 31, 2012. Michael Bröning, "Time to Back the Syrian National Coalition," Foreign Affairs, December 17, 2012.
[5] See Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham and William Reed, "Arming Syrian rebels may make peace elusive," The Baltimore Sun, July 11, 2013; David E. Cunningham, "Blocking Resolution: How External States Can Prolong Civil Wars," Journal of Peace Research, vol. 47 no. 2 (March 2010), pp. 115-127; Ibrahim A. Elbadawi and Nicholas Sambanis, "External Interventions and the Duration of Civil Wars," paper presented at the World Bank's Development Economic Research Group (DECRG) conference on "The Economics and Politics of Civil Conflicts," Princeton University, March 18-19, 2000.
[6] Thomas Harrison and Joanne Landy, "Syria's fate must not be decided by foreign powers or forces," Green Left Weekly, July 9, 2013. They write that they "strongly oppose" any outside diplomatic initiative that "prevents the Syrian people from overthrowing the Assad regime," and that "the democratic opponents of the Assad dictatorship have the right to get guns where they can," while bemoaning "all attempts by those who provide arms to acquire political and military influence in return."
[7] "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work." Remark in testimony to the Pike Committee in 1975.
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By David P. Goldman  Mon Aug 19 2013 It's 2015, and there is a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas), financed by Iran, wins an election on a platform demanding the expulsion of the Jews from Israel. Iran meanwhile smuggles shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to terrorist cells in Palestine that can take down civilian airlines at Ben-Gurion airport. With backing from the Egyptian military, Fatah throws out the elected Hamas government and kills larger number of Hamas supporters. What will Washington do? Given the track record of both the Obama administration and the Republican mainstream, one would expect America to denounce the use of violence against a democratically-elected government.
Such is the absurdity of both parties' stance towards Egypt: the Egyptian military is doing America's dirty work, suppressing a virulently anti-modern, anti-Semitic and anti-Western Islamist movement whose leader, Mohammed Morsi, famously referred to Israelis as "apes and pigs." It did so with the enthusiastic support of tens of millions of Egyptians who rallied in the streets in support of the military. And the American mainstream reacted with an ideological knee jerk. America's presence in the Middle East has imploded.
As it happens, Iran already is smuggling weapons via Syria to the West Bank to gain leverage against the Abbas government, as Stratfor  reports (hat tip: the Daily Alert ), including surface-to-air and anti-tank missiles. Hamas crushed Fatah in the 2006 West Bank elections parliamentary elections 74-45, and made short work of the supposedly moderate Palestinian faction when it seized power in Gaza in 2007. As Syria disintegrates, along with Iraq and Lebanon, the artificial borders of Arab states drawn first by Ottoman conquerors and revised by British and French colonial authorities will have small meaning. Palestinians caught up in the Syrian and and Lebanese conflagrations would pour into a new Palestinian state and swell the ranks of the hard-core Jihadi irredentists. Iran will continue to use Hamas as a cat's paw.
Among other things, the American response to the events in Egypt show the utter pointlessness of American security guarantees in the present negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Authority. Even in the extremely unlikely event that Mohammed Abbas chose to make peace with Israel, he would face a high probability of civil war, just as Ireland's independence leader Michael Collins did when he struck a deal with the British for an Irish "Free State" rather than a republic. Collins killed more Irishmen than the British did in the preceding independence struggle. I do not want to compare Abbas to Collins, and I do not think he has any attention of making peace with Israel. But American blundering in Egypt has closed out the option, for whoever makes peace with Israel will require a free hand with Iranian-backed rejectionists.
America forgets that it corrected the flaw in its founding by killing 30 percent of Southern men of military age during its own Civil War, so many that the Confederate Army collapsed for lack of manpower. There are numerous wars which do not end until all the young men who want to fight to the death have had the opportunity to do so. And of all of history's conflicts, none was so likely to end with this sort of demographic attrition as the present war in the Middle East. Compared to the young Arabs, Persians and Pakistanis of today, American Southerners of 1861 were models of middle-class rectitude, with the world's highest living standards and bright prospects for the future. The Europeans of 1914 stood at the cusp of modernity; one only can imagine what they might have accomplished had they not committed mutual suicide in two World Wars.
Today's Middle Eastern and South Asian Muslims have grim future prospects. The world economy has left them behind, and they cannot catch up. Egypt was at the threshold of starvation and economic collapse when the military intervened, bringing in subsidies from the Gulf monarchies. The young men of the Middle East have less to lose, perhaps, than any generation in any country in modern times. As we observe in Syria, large numbers of them will fight to the death.
America cannot bear to think about its own Civil War because the wounds are too painful; in order to reunite the country after 1865, we concocted a myth of tragic fratricide. Wilsonian idealism was born of the South's attempt to suppress its guilt for the war, I have argued in the past. That is an academic consideration now. America's credibility in the Middle East, thanks to the delusions of both parties, is broken, and it cannot be repaired within the time frame required to forestall the next stage of violence. Egypt's military and its Saudi backers are aghast at American stupidity. Israel is frustrated by America's inability to understand that Egypt's military is committed to upholding the peace treaty with Israel while the Muslim Brotherhood wants war. Both Israel and the Gulf States observe the utter fecklessness of Washington's efforts to contain Iran's nuclear weapons program.
The events of the past week have demonstrated that America's allies in the Middle East from Israel to the Persian Gulf can trust no-one in Washington-neither Barack Obama nor John McCain. Those of us in America who try to analyze events in the region will be the last to hear the news, and the value of our work will diminish over time.

Mr. Goldman, president of Macrostrategy LLC, is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and the London Center for Policy Research.
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