Showing posts with label israel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label israel. Show all posts

Monday, October 19, 2015

Kissinger: A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse

A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse. By Henry Kissinger

With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities.

Wall Street Journal, Oct 16, 2015

The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.

That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.

ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.

Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies.

The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State. They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.

These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.

On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.

American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The U.S. is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives. The U.S. proclaims the determination to remove Mr. Assad but has been unwilling to generate effective leverage—political or military—to achieve that aim. Nor has the U.S. put forward an alternative political structure to replace Mr. Assad should his departure somehow be realized.

Russia, Iran, ISIS and various terrorist organizations have moved into this vacuum: Russia and Iran to sustain Mr. Assad; Tehran to foster imperial and jihadist designs. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, faced with the absence of an alternative political structure, favor the American objective but fear the consequence of turning Syria into another Libya.

American policy on Iran has moved to the center of its Middle East policy. The administration has insisted that it will take a stand against jihadist and imperialist designs by Iran and that it will deal sternly with violations of the nuclear agreement. But it seems also passionately committed to the quest for bringing about a reversal of the hostile, aggressive dimension of Iranian policy through historic evolution bolstered by negotiation.

The prevailing U.S. policy toward Iran is often compared by its advocates to the Nixon administration’s opening to China, which contributed, despite some domestic opposition, to the ultimate transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The comparison is not apt. The opening to China in 1971 was based on the mutual recognition by both parties that the prevention of Russian hegemony in Eurasia was in their common interest. And 42 Soviet divisions lining the Sino-Soviet border reinforced that conviction. No comparable strategic agreement exists between Washington and Tehran. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and rejected negotiations with America about nonnuclear matters. Completing his geopolitical diagnosis, Mr. Khamenei also predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.

Forty-five years ago, the expectations of China and the U.S. were symmetrical. The expectations underlying the nuclear agreement with Iran are not. Tehran will gain its principal objectives at the beginning of the implementation of the accord. America’s benefits reside in a promise of Iranian conduct over a period of time. The opening to China was based on an immediate and observable adjustment in Chinese policy, not on an expectation of a fundamental change in China’s domestic system. The optimistic hypothesis on Iran postulates that Tehran’s revolutionary fervor will dissipate as its economic and cultural interactions with the outside world increase.

American policy runs the risk of feeding suspicion rather than abating it. Its challenge is that two rigid and apocalyptic blocs are confronting each other: a Sunni bloc consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and the Shiite bloc comprising Iran, the Shiite sector of Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the Shiite south of Lebanon under Hezbollah control facing Israel, and the Houthi portion of Yemen, completing the encirclement of the Sunni world. In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be treated as your friend no longer applies. For in the contemporary Middle East, it is likely that the enemy of your enemy remains your enemy.

A great deal depends on how the parties interpret recent events. Can the disillusionment of some of our Sunni allies be mitigated? How will Iran’s leaders interpret the nuclear accord once implemented—as a near-escape from potential disaster counseling a more moderate course, returning Iran to an international order? Or as a victory in which they have achieved their essential aims against the opposition of the U.N. Security Council, having ignored American threats and, hence, as an incentive to continue Tehran’s dual approach as both a legitimate state and a nonstate movement challenging the international order?

Two-power systems are prone to confrontation, as was demonstrated in Europe in the run-up to World War I. Even with traditional weapons technology, to sustain a balance of power between two rigid blocs requires an extraordinary ability to assess the real and potential balance of forces, to understand the accumulation of nuances that might affect this balance, and to act decisively to restore it whenever it deviates from equilibrium—qualities not heretofore demanded of an America sheltered behind two great oceans.

But the current crisis is taking place in a world of nontraditional nuclear and cyber technology. As competing regional powers strive for comparable threshold capacity, the nonproliferation regime in the Middle East may crumble. If nuclear weapons become established, a catastrophic outcome is nearly inevitable. A strategy of pre-emption is inherent in the nuclear technology. The U.S. must be determined to prevent such an outcome and apply the principle of nonproliferation to all nuclear aspirants in the region.
Too much of our public debate deals with tactical expedients. What we need is a strategic concept and to establish priorities on the following principles:

• So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.

• The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.

• The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.

• As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.

• The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.

• In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.

The U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world.

Mr. Kissinger served as national-security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Why China Frets Over America's Retreat. By Daniel Blumenthal

Why China Frets Over America's Retreat. By Daniel Blumenthal
The Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2013, on page A17
Usually Chinese leaders decry Washington's foreign-policy aggression. That won't be an issue at this week's summit.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with President Obama in California at week's end, Mr. Xi will confront a new strategic reality: America in retreat. Chinese leaders normally complain that Washington is too aggressive. But what should really worry Beijing is the opposite—a bipartisan U.S. consensus for a foreign policy of retrenchment. As much as China aspires to global leadership, Beijing has neither the wherewithal nor the desire to take on the responsibilities that come with that role.

Since the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, Sino-American summitry has followed a pattern to which both countries have grown accustomed. Beijing complains of U.S. heavy-handedness. Washington complains that it shoulders all the burdens of global leadership and asks China to play a more responsible and prominent role in world affairs.

Neither country is serious while doing this minuet. At best Washington is conflicted about a greater leadership role for an authoritarian China. For its part, China has become accustomed to the benefits of a post-World War II American-led (and paid-for) global compact that includes freer markets, more peaceful international relations and more liberal governments.

The temptation to repeat this dance will be great this week. Presidents Xi and Obama will be meeting during a period of deep mutual suspicion. The downward spiral of distrust began in 2009 over escalating tensions about territory between China and its Southeast Asian neighbors, and it reached a new low when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a "pivot" toward Asia in 2011.

The pivot strategy has two pillars. The first is a positive desire to deeply embed the U.S. in all of Asia's increasingly vibrant political and economic life. The second is a reaction to growing Chinese dominance in the region, and the resulting clamor—from America's regional allies and in the U.S.—for Washington to counterbalance predatory Chinese military power.

China chose to hear only the second part of the pivot strategy, reacting to it as Cold War-style containment with Asian characteristics. Relations between the two powers have been frosty since then.

Yet if Mr. Xi examines U.S. foreign policy more closely, he will see that Beijing is worried about the wrong things. The problem is not too much American power. It is too little.

Consider recent events in Washington: Mr. Obama announced the end of the war on terror without evidence that the conflict had ended and denied leaks suggesting the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria. He ignored a new International Atomic Energy Agency report suggesting that Iran is making huge progress in developing nuclear weapons, and refused efforts to restore draconian cuts to the U.S. military budget.

In response—a few outliers notwithstanding—Congress, including Republicans, remained silent. This marked a significant shift. Once the tribune of American global leadership, much of the right now marches in foreign-policy lock step with a left that has little interest in the exercise of U.S. power. This left-right neo-isolationist alliance is a recipe for global chaos—an outcome more harmful to China than the big-footed America that China is used to complaining about.

Why? Because despite China's politically correct paeans to international institutions and multilateralism, Chinese leaders well know that international politics needs a prime actor willing to provide global public goods such as secure maritime trade, peace between great powers, nonproliferation, counterterrorism and leadership on international trade and investment.

If the U.S. abdicates its role, China is the only other nation in line for the post of prime power. Is China ready to assume primacy in the international community? The answer is no.

Granted, China is active on the world stage. Recently President Xi announced proposals for Arab-Israeli peace and a Syrian cease-fire. Once again, Beijing prodded North Korea to open up and reform its economy. But peace proposals, state visits and commercial diplomacy cannot maintain world order.

Taking the global leadership reins from the U.S. would require incurring real costs, taking big risks, using political capital and, if necessary, expending blood and treasure. If China wanted to lead the world, it would build a navy capable of protecting—rather than disrupting—sea lanes. It would contribute to the fight against terror and help to keep cyberspace an open commons for commercial transactions and the sharing of ideas. It is doing none of these things.

Think of it this way: Does China wish to anger anyone in the Middle East by taking sides in Syria or pressuring Iran? Manage the collapse of North Korea? Steward a new era of free trade? Push back al Qaeda?

Chinese leaders appear not to give much consideration to taking on these tasks, nor has Washington thought through what a world with no leader would look like. Does a global system of anti-democratic regional hegemons, spheres of influence, and exclusive trading blocs really appeal?

For all of these reasons, this could be a truly pivotal summit. As counterintuitive as it may seem, for the first time since the Soviet collapse China has an interest in America acting more, not less, assertively in foreign affairs.

Mr. Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Statements by the Parti communiste des ouvriers tunisiens/حزب العمال الشيوعي التونسي‎

Statements by the Parti communiste des ouvriers tunisiens/حزب العمال الشيوعي التونسي‎

1. Libya

PCOT: “Statement on the military intervention in Libya”
DATE: 20 March, 2011
A number of imperialist countries (France, the United States, etc.) have launched air and missile attacks on sites said to belong to Mu’amar al-Qadhafi. These attacks came after the decision of the “Security Council,” which gave the green light to initiate military operations in Libya.
The Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party is concerned that the purpose of this intervention is not the protection of the Libyan people from the oppression of Qadhafi, but instead the occupation of the country, to subjugate its people, plunder its resources and use its territory to establish military bases for the control of North Africa in order to ensure the security of the Zionist Entity and safeguard the interests of the imperialist powers in the region. France, the United States and all western countries which have launched attacks on Libya today have no interest in the triumph of the popular revolts blowing down Arab regimes, corruption and unemployment, things which long found support and backing from the colonial powers, so today we see they are quick to take the necessary precautions so as not to let things get out of hand.
The brotherly Libyan people will be able to overthrow Qadhafi, depending on their capabilities and the support of other Arab peoples (and all the revolutionary forces of the world), and are not in need foreign intervention which will only bring them more killing and destruction, as well as violations of their sovereignty and the occupation of their land and the plunder of their resources.
The Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party expresses its rejection of the military intervention and calls for their immediate halt. It also calls on all anti-imperialist forces in the Arab and Islamic world at large to move and calls on all the peoples of the world to come out in marches and demonstrations and engage in all forms of struggle in order to stop this interference.
Long live the struggle of Arab peoples for freedom, dignity and the fall of the Arab regimes and corrupt puppets. Down with the imperialist enemies of the people and the protectors of the Zionist Entity.
– The Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party, 20 March, 2011.

2. Palestine

Tunisian Union of Communist Youth: “On the Anniversary of Land Day: Let the Revolution of the Arab Peoples be a step in the direction of the liberation of Palestine”
DATE: 30 March, 2011
Let the Palestinian people be revived today, the thirty-fifth anniversary of Land Day under the obnoxious Zionist occupation and under political division, which has bedeviled Palestinian ranks and prevented success in stopping the gushing of settlements, which seek to obliterate the Arab identity of Palestinians towns and villages under the mantle of “more land and fewer Arabs”. The celebration of this anniversary in these particular circumstances mark national resistance and are a reminder of the persistence of resistance in the face of this racist [regime] which does not hesitate to use the dirtiest and most arrogant methods to swallow up the Palestinian territories. There is no doubt that the return of sovereignty to the Arab peoples, especially the Tunisians, will provide strong support for the Palestinian cause after the removal Ben Ali and Mubarak, who dedicated themselves in service of the occupation and forced their people to remain silent and easily suppressed demonstrations and campaigns [against Israel] in obedience to the racist entity to provide a good “neighborhood” and faith.
The Tunisian Union of Communist Youth salutes the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, reiterates its absolute support as it has since its establishment as an advanced and progressive site for the Palestinian national cause and:
  • That the unity of the Palestinian ranks, nation, resistance, democracy best answers and expresses the demands of the Palestinian reality, especially with the failure of successive governments to put an end to the barbaric and racist policy back up by the United States of America and employed by the regimes of the Arab countries;
  • That the Tunisian people, on the day after their glorious revolution bear more responsibility on the basis of national and humanitarian bonds to provide support for the brotherly Palestinian people in regaining their usurped land and their right to impose their sovereignty in the context of a progressive and democratic state.
Thus it emphasizes breaking all forms of normalization with the Zionist enemy and annulling all secret treaties which the previous regime spent its time on.
It calls for all the activities of the community of activists, parties, organizations, associations and personalities toward the activation of solidarity with and to publicize the Palestinian cause and to celebrate this anniversary in a manner fitting of its symbolism.
Long live the Palestinian people.
Downfall to Zionism, imperialism and reactionary Arabs.
Long live the Tunisian Revolution supporting the brotherly Palestinian people.
Immortality to the martyrs and victory to the resistance. 
– Tunisian Union of Communist Youth. Tunis, 30 March, 2011.

3. Syria

Article by Samir Hammouda: “Syria: The Pending Dictatorship…”
DATE: 1 April, 2011
The Arab masses continue to make history. Current events in Syria today developed from ideological struggle and political fact. The most notorious dictatorships, including those hide by painting themselves as “nationalist” and “resisting Zionism” also downfall by means of mass vibrations.
From its start till now the popular uprising in Syria proceeds with more than 150 martyrs and hundreds of wounded after only a few days. The martyrs and the wounded are not the result of Zionist bombing or terrorism. Instead they come from the bloody repression of the “nationalist” Syrian regime.
In that country, as in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco and Libya events are in essence repeating by similar ways, despite different specificities in this or that country, for be sure that the catastrophe is the Arab reality and true despotism for all Arab regimes.
The uprising of the masses in Syria is the result of the same underlying social, economic and political causes which shook the pillars of dictatorship in the rest of the Arab world. Syria is also a country of poverty, unemployment, regional disparities and is penetrated by liberal capitalism. In Syria, too, there is a total absence of freedoms, suppression of the opposition for the sake of maintaining sectarianism and smashing people’s most basic political, economic and cultural rights. In Syria corruption is rampant and the minority of the local bourgeoisie holds a monopoly on the country’s economy and wealth and the control of the political police has a hold on the judiciary and the throats of the citizens.
The policies and words of the Syrian regime in the face of popular protests and its suppression and distortions are of the same version know  to Arab peoples under the despotic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and other countries. If Bashar al-As’ad accused his opponents of being controlled by outsiders and the public of a tendency to drift along according to foreign schemes hostile to the country’s interests this is not the best political speech since Ben Ali and Mubarak or Qadhafi and Ali Saleh. All dictatorships, whatever their ideological dress — “nationalist” or “socialist” or “Islamic” — resort to the same outdated and false arguments to justify tyranny and the depravation of the people’s liberties as is necessary for political and social emancipation. While the Syrian regime boasts of thousands at the demonstrations of its supporters its security and military apparatus massacres and tortures its opponents. But history does not run out of lessons. Yushenko was boasting thousands at his crowds before his downfall, Ben Ali bragged of two million members in his own party a few days before fleeing.
But the popular uprising in Syria increases the taste for blood and for politics and other dimensions at the local level as in the rest of the Arab world. The Syrian regime is the last in a series of regimes that embraced the Ba’th project on the basis of Arab nationalist aspirations for unity, socialism and liberation from colonialism and Zionism. In recent decades, the Syrian regimes support has been an important component in Arab power, not only on the nationalist file, but also on the leftist and Islamist ones. This was done under the banner of “nationalism” and claiming that the Syrian regime is part of the nationalist forces that stand on the front lines of confrontation with the Zionist Entity.
We have stood on many occasions against political forces urging us to overlook the dictatorial approach of this regime on the pretext of standing against the Zionist Entity and we consider this approach opportunistic, harmful and against the development of the revolutionary movement and combativeness in the Arab world and national liberation. Patriotism and resistance to colonialism and to Zionist and imperialist plans facing us cannot be in contradiction with the people’s enjoyment of their full democratic and political freedoms, or their condition at the forefront. It is true that political freedoms alone are not sufficient to realization of national aims, but the sovereignty of the Arab peoples and the revival of the Arab world and unity in the face of imperialism will not be achieved without them. Why would democracy for the Arab peoples not antagonize the Zionist Entity if this were not a threat to its very existence?! And why has America supported and still support the tyranny of Arab regimes if these do not serve its interests and objectives?! And how can our peoples achieve unity and finally dispose of the poisons of religious conflict, sectarianism, tribalism and local infighting among their parties without citizenship and equality without democracy and the triumph of citizenship and equality without conquering discrimination based on classism, sectarianism, religion, gender or ideology?!
The failure of the Syrian regime once again confirms the failure of authoritarian regimes in achieving national goals: unity and socialism and liberation from colonialism and Zionism. If bourgeois democracy is the gateway to the dismantlement of Arab dictatorships and despotic regimes then the Arab people are not doomed to merely copy them and are instead able to overcome their shortcomings and negative aspects toward  broader and greater democracy, democracy responsive to the grassroots, national political ambitions and economic and cultural rights.
No one today can predict how events in Syria will evolve, nor the depth or extent of the preparedness of the Syrian people to topple Bashar al-As’ad yet it is certain the Syrian regime will not respond to calls for political reform for it is not in its character or interest of a single Arab dictatorship to respond to the people’s demands for freedom. The regime that represses its people and harasses its opponents does have a future or a way out of crisis and collapses by its own internal rot, the laws of its own design and by the advancement of the masses, sooner or later.
– Samir Hammouda, 1 April, 2011

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Grand Mufti on Islam, Israel and the United States

Islam, Israel and the United States. By Sheikh Ali Gomaa
Peace among the Abrahamic faiths will be built on respect and the law.
WSJ, Oct 08, 2009

America and the West have been victims of violent extremists acting in the name of Islam, the tragic events of 9/11 being only the most egregious of their attacks. Western officials and commentators are consumed by the question, "Where are the moderates?" Many, seeing only the extremism perpetuated by a radical few, despair of finding progressive and peaceful partners of standing in the Muslim world.

However, reconciling Islam with modernity has been an imperative for Muslims before it became a preoccupation for the West. In particular, the process dates back to the 19th century, when what became known as the Islamic reform movement was born in Al Azhar University in Cairo, Islam's premiere institution of learning.

At the Dar al Iftaa, Egypt's supreme body for Islamic legal edicts over which I preside, we wrestle constantly with the issue of applying Islam to the modern world. We issue thousands of fatwas or authoritative legal edicts—for example affirming the right of women to dignity, education and employment, and to hold political office, and condemning violence against them. We have upheld the right of freedom of conscience, and of freedom of expression within the bounds of common decency. We have promoted the common ground that exists between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. We have underscored that governance must be based on justice and popular sovereignty. We are committed to human liberty within the bounds of Islamic law. Nonetheless, we must make more tangible progress on these and other issues.

We unequivocally condemned violence against the innocent during Egypt's own struggle with terrorism in the 1980s and 90's, and after the heinous sin of 9/11. We continue to do so in public debates with extremists on their views of Islam, in our outreach to schools and youth organizations, in our training of students from all across the world at Egypt's theological institutions, and in our counseling of captured terrorists. As the head of the one of the foremost Islamic authorities in the world, let me restate: The murder of civilians is a crime against humanity and God punishable in this life and the next.

Yet, just as we recommit to reinforcing the values of moderation in our faith, we look to the United States to assume its responsibility for the sake of a better relationship between the West and Islam.

First, it is essential that the U.S. confront the fear and misunderstanding that has often pervaded the public discourse about Islam, especially in the media.

Second, while we must strive to reinforce the common principles that we share, we must also accept the reality of differences in our values and in our outlook. Islam and the West have distinct value systems. Respect for our differences is a foundation for coexistence, and never for conflict.

Finally, there must a true commitment to the rule of law, and to sovereign equality, as the legitimate basis for international relations. While some of the divide between Islam and the West lies in the realm of ideas, it lies mostly in the realm of politics. The violence and the aggression to which many Muslim countries have been subjected are the main sources of a deep and legitimate sense of grievance, and they must be addressed.

Israel's occupation of Palestine must be brought to an end; its continuation is an affront to the fundamental tenets of justice and freedom that we all seek to uphold. In Iraq and Afghanistan, full sovereignty and independence must be restored to their people with the withdrawal of all foreign forces. President Barack Obama's historic address to the Muslim world from Cairo on June 4 was a landmark event that opened the door to a new relationship between Islam and the West, precisely because it acknowledged these imperatives. Yet much work needs to be done by both sides.

This week in Washington I am participating in the Common Word Initiative, a group of religious leaders hosted by Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. While the focus of this initiative has been to foster dialogue between Islam and Christianity, I will call for its expansion to include representatives of all the Abrahamic faiths. The road ahead will be difficult, but we can, God willing, arrive at a more peaceful future together.

Dr. Gomaa is the Grand Mufti of Egypt.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Human Rights Watch and Palestians in Arab countries

Double Standards and Human Rights Watch. By NOAH POLLAK
The organization displays a strong bias against Israel.
WSJ, Jul 31, 2009

Over the past two weeks, Human Rights Watch has been embroiled in a controversy over a fund raiser it held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. At that gathering, Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson pledged the group would use donations to “battle . . . pro-Israel pressure groups.”

As criticism of her remark poured in, Ms. Whitson responded by saying that the complaint against her was “fundamentally a racist one.” And Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, declared that “We report on Israel. Its supporters fight back with lies and deception.”

The facts tell a different story. From 2006 to the present, Human Rights Watch’s reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict have been almost entirely devoted to condemning Israel, accusing it of human rights and international law violations, and demanding international investigations into its conduct. It has published some 87 criticisms of Israeli conduct against the Palestinians and Hezbollah, versus eight criticisms of Palestinian groups and four of Hezbollah for attacks on Israel. (It also published a small number of critiques of both Israel and Arab groups, and of intra-Palestinian fighting.)

It was during this period that more than 8,000 rockets and mortars were fired at Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza. Human Rights Watch’s response? In November 2006 it said that the Palestinian Authority “should stop giving a wink and a nod to rocket attacks.” Two years later it urged the Hamas leadership “to speak out forcefully against such [rocket] attacks . . . and bring to justice those who are found to have participated in them.”

In response to the rocket war and Hamas’s violent takeover of Gaza in June 2007, Israel imposed a partial blockade of Gaza. Human Rights Watch then published some 28 statements and reports on the blockade, accusing Israel in highly charged language of an array of war crimes and human rights violations. One report headline declared that Israel was “choking Gaza.” Human Rights Watch has never recognized the difference between Hamas’s campaign of murder against Israeli civilians and Israel’s attempt to defend those civilians. The unwillingness to distinguish between aggression and self-defense blots out a fundamental moral fact—that Hamas’s refusal to stop its attacks makes it culpable for both Israeli and Palestinian casualties.

Meanwhile, Egypt has also maintained a blockade on Gaza, although it is not even under attack from Hamas. Human Rights Watch has never singled out Egypt for criticism over its participation in the blockade.

The organization regularly calls for arms embargoes against Israel and claims it commits war crimes for using drones, artillery and cluster bombs. Yet on Israel’s northern border sits Hezbollah, which is building an arsenal of rockets to terrorize and kill Israeli civilians, and has placed that arsenal in towns and villages in hopes that Lebanese civilians will be killed if Israel attempts to defend itself. The U.N. Security Council has passed resolutions demanding Hezbollah’s disarmament and the cessation of its arms smuggling. Yet while Human Rights Watch has criticized Israel’s weapons 15 times, it has criticized Hezbollah’s twice.

In the Middle East, Human Rights Watch does not actually function as a human-rights organization. If it did, it would draw attention to the plight of Palestinians in Arab countries. In Lebanon, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are warehoused in impoverished refugee camps and denied citizenship, civil rights, and even the right to work. This has received zero coverage from the organization.

In 2007, the Lebanese Army laid siege to the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp for over three months, killing hundreds. Human Rights Watch produced two anemic press releases. At this very moment, Jordan is stripping its Palestinians of citizenship without the slightest protest from the organization. Unfortunately, Human Rights Watch seems only to care about Palestinians when they can be used to convince the world that the Jewish state is actually a criminal state.

Mr. Pollak is a graduate student in international relations at Yale University.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Conservative on Israel and Iran: After years of failed diplomacy no one will be able to call an attack precipitous

It’s Crunch Time for Israel on Iran. By JOHN BOLTON
After years of failed diplomacy no one will be able to call an attack precipitous.
WSJ, Jul 29, 2009

Legions of senior American officials have descended on Jerusalem recently, but the most important of them has been Defense Secretary Robert Gates. His central objective was to dissuade Israel from carrying out military strikes against Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities. Under the guise of counseling “patience,” Mr. Gates again conveyed President Barack Obama’s emphatic thumbs down on military force.

The public outcome of Mr. Gates’s visit appeared polite but inconclusive. Yet Iran’s progress with nuclear weapons and air defenses means Israel’s military option is declining over time. It will have to make a decision soon, and it will be no surprise if Israel strikes by year’s end. Israel’s choice could determine whether Iran obtains nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Obama’s approach to Tehran has been his “open hand,” yet his gesture has not only been ignored by Iran but deemed irrelevant as the country looks inward to resolve the aftermath of its fraudulent election. The hardliner “winner” of that election, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was recently forced to fire a deputy who once said something vaguely soothing about Israel. Clearly, negotiations with the White House are not exactly topping the Iranian agenda.

Beyond that, Mr. Obama’s negotiation strategy faces insuperable time pressure. French President Nicolas Sarkozy proclaimed that Iran must re-start negotiations with the West by September’s G-20 summit. But this means little when, with each passing day, Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile laboratories, production facilities and military bases are all churning. Israel is focused on these facts, not the illusion of “tough” diplomacy.

Israel rejects another feature of Mr. Obama’s diplomatic stance. The Israelis do not believe that progress with the Palestinians will facilitate a deal on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Though Mr. Gates and others have pressed this fanciful analysis, Israel will not be moved.

Worse, Mr. Obama has no new strategic thinking on Iran. He vaguely promises to offer the country the carrot of diplomacy—followed by an empty threat of sanctions down the road if Iran does not comply with the U.S.’s requests. This is precisely the European Union’s approach, which has failed for over six years.

There’s no reason Iran would suddenly now bow to Mr. Obama’s diplomatic efforts, especially after its embarrassing election in June. So with diplomacy out the door, how will Iran be tamed?

Mr. Gates’ mission had extraordinary significance. Israel sees the political and military landscape in a very inauspicious light. It also worries that, once ensnared in negotiations, the Obama administration will find it very hard to extricate itself. The Israelis are probably right. To prove the success of his “open hand,” Mr. Obama will declare victory for “diplomacy” even if it means little to no gains on Iran’s nuclear program.

Under the worst-case scenario, Iran will continue improving its nuclear facilities and Mr. Obama will become the first U.S. president to tie the issue of Israel’s nuclear capabilities into negotiations about Iran’s.

Israel understands that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent commitment to extend the U.S. “defense umbrella” to Israel is not a guarantee of nuclear retaliation, and that it is wholly insufficient to deter Iran from obliterating Israel if it so decides. In fact, Mrs. Clinton’s comment tacitly concedes that Iran will acquire nuclear weapons, exactly the wrong message. Since Israel, like the U.S., is well aware its missile defense system is imperfect, whatever Mr. Gates said about the “defense umbrella” will be politely ignored.

Relations between the U.S. and Israel are more strained now than at any time since the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. Mr. Gates’s message for Israel not to act on Iran, and the U.S. pressure he brought to bear, highlight the weight of Israel’s lonely burden.

Striking Iran’s nuclear program will not be precipitous or poorly thought out. Israel’s attack, if it happens, will have followed enormously difficult deliberation over terrible imponderables, and years of patiently waiting on innumerable failed diplomatic efforts. Absent Israeli action, prepare for a nuclear Iran.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

About the Settlements: The U.S. and Israel reached a clear understanding about natural growth

Hillary Is Wrong About the Settlements. By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
The U.S. and Israel reached a clear understanding about natural growth.
The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2009, p A15

Despite fervent denials by Obama administration officials, there were indeed agreements between Israel and the United States regarding the growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. As the Obama administration has made the settlements issue a major bone of contention between Israel and the U.S., it is necessary that we review the recent history.

In the spring of 2003, U.S. officials (including me) held wide-ranging discussions with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem. The "Roadmap for Peace" between Israel and the Palestinians had been written. President George W. Bush had endorsed Palestinian statehood, but only if the Palestinians eliminated terror. He had broken with Yasser Arafat, but Arafat still ruled in the Palestinian territories. Israel had defeated the intifada, so what was next?

We asked Mr. Sharon about freezing the West Bank settlements. I recall him asking, by way of reply, what did that mean for the settlers? They live there, he said, they serve in elite army units, and they marry. Should he tell them to have no more children, or move?

We discussed some approaches: Could he agree there would be no additional settlements? New construction only inside settlements, without expanding them physically? Could he agree there would be no additional land taken for settlements?

As we talked several principles emerged. The father of the settlements now agreed that limits must be placed on the settlements; more fundamentally, the old foe of the Palestinians could -- under certain conditions -- now agree to Palestinian statehood.

In June 2003, Mr. Sharon stood alongside Mr. Bush, King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas at Aqaba, Jordan, and endorsed Palestinian statehood publicly: "It is in Israel's interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state. A democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state." At the end of that year he announced his intention to pull out of the Gaza Strip.

The U.S. government supported all this, but asked Mr. Sharon for two more things. First, that he remove some West Bank settlements; we wanted Israel to show that removing them was not impossible. Second, we wanted him to pull out of Gaza totally -- including every single settlement and the "Philadelphi Strip" separating Gaza from Egypt, even though holding on to this strip would have prevented the smuggling of weapons to Hamas that was feared and has now come to pass. Mr. Sharon agreed on both counts.

These decisions were political dynamite, as Mr. Sharon had long predicted to us. In May 2004, his Likud Party rejected his plan in a referendum, handing him a resounding political defeat. In June, the Cabinet approved the withdrawal from Gaza, but only after Mr. Sharon fired two ministers and allowed two others to resign. His majority in the Knesset was now shaky.

After completing the Gaza withdrawal in August 2005, he called in November for a dissolution of the Knesset and for early elections. He also said he would leave Likud to form a new centrist party. The political and personal strain was very great. Four weeks later he suffered the first of two strokes that have left him in a coma.

Throughout, the Bush administration gave Mr. Sharon full support for his actions against terror and on final status issues. On April 14, 2004, Mr. Bush handed Mr. Sharon a letter saying that there would be no "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. Instead, the president said, "a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel."

On the major settlement blocs, Mr. Bush said, "In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949." Several previous administrations had declared all Israeli settlements beyond the "1967 borders" to be illegal. Here Mr. Bush dropped such language, referring to the 1967 borders -- correctly -- as merely the lines where the fighting stopped in 1949, and saying that in any realistic peace agreement Israel would be able to negotiate keeping those major settlements.

On settlements we also agreed on principles that would permit some continuing growth. Mr. Sharon stated these clearly in a major policy speech in December 2003: "Israel will meet all its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements."

Ariel Sharon did not invent those four principles. They emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003.

They were not secret, either. Four days after the president's letter, Mr. Sharon's Chief of Staff Dov Weissglas wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that "I wish to reconfirm the following understanding, which had been reached between us: 1. Restrictions on settlement growth: within the agreed principles of settlement activities, an effort will be made in the next few days to have a better definition of the construction line of settlements in Judea & Samaria."

Stories in the press also made it clear that there were indeed "agreed principles." On Aug. 21, 2004 the New York Times reported that "the Bush administration . . . now supports construction of new apartments in areas already built up in some settlements, as long as the expansion does not extend outward."

In recent weeks, American officials have denied that any agreement on settlements existed. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated on June 17 that "in looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility."

These statements are incorrect. Not only were there agreements, but the prime minister of Israel relied on them in undertaking a wrenching political reorientation -- the dissolution of his government, the removal of every single Israeli citizen, settlement and military position in Gaza, and the removal of four small settlements in the West Bank. This was the first time Israel had ever removed settlements outside the context of a peace treaty, and it was a major step.

It is true that there was no U.S.-Israel "memorandum of understanding," which is presumably what Mrs. Clinton means when she suggests that the "official record of the administration" contains none. But she would do well to consult documents like the Weissglas letter, or the notes of the Aqaba meeting, before suggesting that there was no meeting of the minds.

Mrs. Clinton also said there were no "enforceable" agreements. This is a strange phrase. How exactly would Israel enforce any agreement against an American decision to renege on it? Take it to the International Court in The Hague?

Regardless of what Mrs. Clinton has said, there was a bargained-for exchange. Mr. Sharon was determined to break the deadlock, withdraw from Gaza, remove settlements -- and confront his former allies on Israel's right by abandoning the "Greater Israel" position to endorse Palestinian statehood and limits on settlement growth. He asked for our support and got it, including the agreement that we would not demand a total settlement freeze.

For reasons that remain unclear, the Obama administration has decided to abandon the understandings about settlements reached by the previous administration with the Israeli government. We may be abandoning the deal now, but we cannot rewrite history and make believe it did not exist.

Mr. Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, handled Middle East affairs at the National Security Council from 2001 to 2009.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Hillary Clinton hands Netanyahu exhibit A

Hillary Clinton hands Netanyahu exhibit A. Paul Mirengoff
May 28, 2009 at 11:50 AM

The Obama administration has been relunctant to speak harshly about foreign relations. Such talk, it believes, would manifest American arrogance and be inconsistent with its twin goals of overcoming that arrogance and activating the "restart" button with the rest of the world.

But now the administration is talking tough. Unfortunately, its tough talk is directed not at Iran (which it wants to persuade), Venezuela (which it wants to engage), or North Korea (which it has wanted mainly to ignore) but at Israel.

Here's the background. The White House has made it clear that it wants Israel to halt new construction in areas outside the boundaries of its original state. Prime Minister Netanyahu has expressed his willingness to do this except with respect to construction that is part of the natural of existing settlements, e.g. the construction of new homes to accommodate population growth in a settlement.

The Israeli government asked the U.S. government to approve this exception and apparently leaked word of this request. Here is Secretary of State Clinton's response:

[President Obama] wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not 'natural growth' exceptions. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.

Gone at last is the administration's reluctance to boss other nations through "pre-conditions." When it comes to Israel, Obama is willing to dictate whether parents can build a nearby house for their grown children.

Why is Obama more willing to talk this way to our friends than to our enemies? There are two logical explanations. First, our enemies will throw these kinds of statements back in Obama's face, whereas our friends will listen politely, at a minimum. Second, for Obama Israel is an adversary, whereas Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, etc. are mere annoyances.

I favor both explanations.

A third factor is also at work here, I think (whether or to what extent it is independent of the second can be debated). The U.S. wants to topple the Israeli government. Thus, it sees value in picking a fight with it.

Netanyahu, I assume, understands this. That may be why Israel leaked word of its request for permission to build in its settlements. Either the U.S. would agree to the request (most unlikely) or it would take what most Israelis probably see as an unreasonable position, thereby enabling Netanyahu to "make his record" that his problems in getting along with the U.S. are the result of Obama's inflexibility.

Through her bossy, non-empathetic public response, Hillary Clinton has, I think, created Exhibit A for Netanyahu's record, regardless of how he responds on this particular issue.

Via Jonathan Tobin.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Netanyahu and Obama Have a Shared Interest in Iran

Netanyahu and Obama Have a Shared Interest in Iran. By R M Gerecht
The success of both men depends on stopping the mullahs from getting the bomb.
WSJ, May 18, 2009

Can the United States and its European allies peacefully prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons? And if not, would Israel try to do so militarily, even if doing so greatly angered President Barack Obama? Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington today. These questions could well make or break his premiership and Mr. Obama's presidency.

With increasing vigor and resources, the clerical regime has advanced a massive -- and until 2002 clandestine -- program for producing fissile material. It's a good bet that the Europeans have never really believed that Iran could be deterred from developing a bomb by either engagement or sanctions acceptable to all of the EU's members. Nevertheless, the Europeans have tried, offering generous trade and credit terms while psychologically stroking the Islamic Republic.

Yet as Thérèse Delpech, a leading nonproliferation expert at France's Atomic Energy Commission, warned last October at a Brookings Institution lecture, "We [the Europeans] have negotiated during five years with the Iranians . . . and we came to the conclusion that they are not interested at all in negotiating, but . . . [only] in buying time for their military program." In those five years, she also noted, Tehran never implied that if only the Americans were at the table the clerical regime would be amenable to compromise.

We shouldn't be surprised if the Israelis reach a conclusion at odds with Washington's near-consensus against pre-emptive strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities. In 1981, Jerusalem certainly surmised that a raid against Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor could make Saddam Hussein furious and that he possessed conventional and unconventional means of getting even. But they went ahead and destroyed the reactor.

The consensus in Israel is just as widespread about the correctness of last year's strike against the secret North Korean-designed reactor at Dir A-Zur in Syria -- a project that may well have had Iranian backing. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered the attack although the Bush administration opposed it. And in 1967, Israelis believed that pre-emptive action saved their nation from an Arab-initiated, multifront offensive that could have proved lethal.

For the Israelis today, Iran has become an unrivalled threat. Although anti-Semitism has been widespread in the Middle East since the 1930s, the strain among Tehran's ruling elite is akin to what European Jews observed in Austria, Germany and Russia in the early 20th century.

Americans and Europeans don't like to dwell on the problem of anti-Semitism in the region, preferring to see it as tangential to geopolitics and economics and treatable by the creation of a Palestinian state. But Israelis are acutely conscious that unrelenting anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are important factors in the Shiite Islamic Republic's increasing popularity among Arab Sunni fundamentalists -- especially in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood would probably triumph in a free election. In Iran, the anti-Jewish passion among the revolutionary elite appears to have actually increased as ordinary Iranians have soured on theocracy and state-sanctioned ideology.

Never before have the Israelis had to confront a rabidly anti-Semitic enemy with nuclear weapons and a long track record of supporting deadly killers such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Americans and Europeans can seem to Israelis all-too-nonchalant about the challenge they face -- and Western counsel to calm down and get used to the idea of mullahs with nukes doesn't sit well with a people who have already lived through the unthinkable.

The Western advice may be sage: The threat of an Israeli retaliatory nuclear strike might be a sufficient threat to discourage Tehran's mullahs from using a nuclear weapon directly, or from leveraging its protective nuclear umbrella indirectly to more aggressively support anti-Israeli jihadists. But Iran's penchant for terrorism, its extensive ties to both radical Sunnis and Shiites, its vibrant anti-Semitism, and the likelihood that Tehran will become more aggressive (as has Pakistan in Kashmir) with an atom bomb in its arsenal doesn't reinforce the case for patience and perseverance.

Consider: If Saddam Hussein had had a nuke in 1990, would George H.W. Bush have risked war? Consider as well the near certainty that ultra-Sunni Saudi Arabia will go nuclear in response to a Shiite Persian bomb. The prospect of another virulently anti-Semitic Arab state -- deeply permeated with supporters of al Qaeda -- possessing an atomic weapon cannot comfort Jerusalem. A pre-emptive strike offers Israel a chance that this nuclear contagion can be stopped.

A tidal wave of Western sanctions might convince the Israelis that the Americans and Europeans are finally serious about countering Tehran. Sanctions against Iran's importation of gasoline -- the country lacks sufficient refining capacity -- could shock the regime. The bipartisan Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, recently introduced in Congress, gives the White House the authority to make foreign companies choose between doing business with the U.S. or exporting gasoline to Iran. A European effort to cripple Iran's production and transport of liquefied gas -- an enormous future financial reservoir for Iran given its reserves -- could cause a political earthquake in Tehran. The mullahs just might suspend uranium enrichment.

But the Obama administration appears deeply conflicted about using "sticks." Is it willing to coerce the Europeans into implementing economy-strangling energy sanctions if the Europeans prove unwilling to punish Iran severely? The administration appears to be entertaining a German- and British-backed idea of allowing Tehran to proceed with uranium enrichment -- in return for which sanctions against the regime would be cancelled -- if it is "monitored." Yet even if Iran would agree to intrusive monitoring, the Israelis -- and others in the region -- would surely view such a concession as one big step closer to an Iranian bomb.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly described Iran's nuclear ambitions as "unacceptable" and warned against the threat that a nuclear-armed clerical regime poses to the world. Yet the administration has tried to keep Iran, and its Iran point man Dennis Ross, out of the headlines. One suspects that this is not because the administration is devising an all-encompassing grand bargain, but because it cannot get the clerical regime to meaningfully engage.

One can sympathize with the reluctance of this administration, like its predecessor, to confront the mullahs. But whether the Israelis strike or not, another storm is gathering in the Middle East. It could prove far more tumultuous than the earlier ones in Iraq.

Mr. Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Iran's New Target: Egypt - Cairo's desire for Mideast peace threatens Tehran's ambitions

Iran's New Target: Egypt. By ABDEL MONEM SAID ALY
Cairo's desire for Mideast peace threatens Tehran's ambitions.
WSJ, Apr 28, 2009

On April 8, Egypt announced it had uncovered a Hezbollah cell operating inside its borders. This startling pronouncement offers a rare insight into the way Iran and its proxies are manipulating Middle East politics.

According to Egyptian authorities, the cell was tasked with planning attacks against tourist sites in Sinai, conducting surveillance on strategic targets including the Suez Canal, and funneling arms and money to Hamas. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has admitted that the ringleader of the cell was indeed a member of his organization to provide "logistical support to help the Palestinian brothers in transporting ammunition and individuals."

These latest actions by an emboldened Hezbollah have been spurred on by Iran, which is seeking to further its quest for power in the Arab Middle East. In the past six months, there have been irrefutable signs of Iran's determined effort to sabotage Egypt's attempts at regional stability. At Tehran's instigation, Hamas rejected the renewal of the six-month, Egypt-brokered cease-fire last summer between it and Israel. This rejection led to the Gaza war in December. At the height of that war, Mr. Nasrallah called on the people of Egypt and its army to march on the city of Rafah to open the border to Gaza by force, a highly inflammatory appeal aimed at causing insurrection.

After the war ended, Egypt resumed its efforts to reach a long-term cease-fire. Iran pressured the Hamas leadership to resist. Cairo's ongoing effort to build a Palestinian unity government, by bringing together Fatah and Hamas, has also been undermined by intense Iranian pressure on Hamas.

Tehran sees Egypt as its greatest rival in the region, and the most formidable Arab bulwark opposing its influence. It is in this context that Hezbollah actions in Egypt should be assessed. Acting as a front for Iranian objectives, Hezbollah is tasked with distracting Egypt from the diplomatic process that will hopefully lead one day to a two-state solution in the Palestine-Israel conflict.

Egypt's persistent attempts to bring about peace in this arena and its encouragement of other Arab countries to follow its path with Israel threaten to deprive Iran of the single most potent regional issue that it can exploit to further its radical agenda. Thus Tehran seeks to undermine the prospects for this peace -- and it, along with its clients, believe the way to do this is by undermining Egypt. Similarly, Egypt's security interests in the Gulf, and its traditional role as a force for regional stability, present a clear obstacle to Iran's wider regional ambitions.

For President Barack Obama and members of his administration watching from the sidelines, the implications should be clear. A final settlement of the Palestine-Israel conflict is indispensable if the U.S. wishes to check Iran's expanding influence in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the U.S. administration will have to contend with a right-wing Israeli government that has yet to subscribe to the principle of a two-state solution in defiance of international consensus. It will also have to press Israel to halt its illegal settlement activity, which now more than ever endangers the fundamental basis for a solution.

The administration's focus on the immediate issue of Iran's nuclear program should not distract it from addressing Tehran's overall posture towards the peace process or its support for terrorism. Iran's challenge to the regional status quo is multifaceted, which is why Washington must adopt a comprehensive approach as it formulates its nascent engagement with Iran.

It is said that Mr. Obama is still weighing when and where to deliver a major speech to the Arab world. If he were to make such a speech in Cairo, it would give heart to millions in the region who want to see the peace process succeed. It would also send a firm message to Tehran that America stands with Egypt on the side of peace and stability.

Mr. Aly is director of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Short '06 Lebanon War Stokes Pentagon Debate - Leaders Divided on Whether to Focus On Conventional or Irregular Combat

Short '06 Lebanon War Stokes Pentagon Debate. ByGreg Jaffe
Leaders Divided on Whether to Focus On Conventional or Irregular Combat
Washington Post, Monday, April 6, 2009; Page A01

A war that ended three years ago and involved not a single U.S. soldier has become the subject of an increasingly heated debate inside the Pentagon, one that could alter how the U.S. military fights in the future.

When Israel and Hezbollah battled for more than a month in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the result was widely seen as a disaster for the Israeli military. Soon after the fighting ended, some military officers began to warn that the short, bloody and relatively conventional battle foreshadowed how future enemies of the United States might fight.

Since then, the Defense Department has dispatched as many as a dozen teams to interview Israeli officers who fought against Hezbollah. The Army and Marine Corps have sponsored a series of multimillion-dollar war games to test how U.S. forces might fare against a similar foe. "I've organized five major games in the last two years, and all of them have focused on Hezbollah," said Frank Hoffman, a research fellow at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico.

A big reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the U.S. military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe.

"The Lebanon war has become a bellwether," said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command. "If you are opposed to transforming the military to fight low-intensity wars, it is your bloody sheet. It's discussed in almost coded communication to indicate which side of the argument you are on."

U.S. military experts were stunned by the destruction that Hezbollah forces, using sophisticated antitank guided missiles, were able to wreak on Israeli armor columns. Unlike the guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who employed mostly hit-and-run tactics, the Hezbollah fighters held their ground against Israeli forces in battles that stretched as long as 12 hours. They were able to eavesdrop on Israeli communications and even struck an Israeli ship with a cruise missile.

"From 2000 to 2006 Hezbollah embraced a new doctrine, transforming itself from a predominantly guerrilla force into a quasi-conventional fighting force," a study by the Army's Combat Studies Institute concluded last year. Another Pentagon report warned that Hezbollah forces were "extremely well trained, especially in the uses of antitank weapons and rockets" and added: "They well understood the vulnerabilities of Israeli armor."

Many top Army officials refer to the short battle almost as a morality play that illustrates the price of focusing too much on counterinsurgency wars at the expense of conventional combat. These officers note that, before the Lebanon war, Israeli forces had been heavily involved in occupation duty in the Palestinian territories.

"The real takeaway is that you have to find the time to train for major combat operations, even if you are fighting counterinsurgency wars," said one senior military analyst who studied the Lebanon war for the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Currently, the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have prevented Army units from conducting such training.

Army generals have also latched on to the Lebanon war to build support for multibillion-dollar weapons programs that are largely irrelevant to low-intensity wars such as those fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. A 30-page internal Army briefing, prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior Pentagon civilians, recently sought to highlight how the $159 billion Future Combat Systems, a network of ground vehicles and sensors, could have been used to dispatch Hezbollah's forces quickly and with few American casualties.

"Hezbollah relies on low visibility and prepared defenses," one slide in the briefing reads. "FCS counters with sensors and robotics to maneuver out of contact."

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to stake out a firm position in this debate as soon as today, when he announces the 2010 defense budget. That document is expected to cut or sharply curtail weapons systems designed for conventional wars, and to bolster intelligence and surveillance programs designed to help track down shadowy insurgents.

"This budget moves the needle closer to irregular warfare and counterinsurgency," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "It is not an abandonment of the need to prepare for conventional conflicts. But even moving that needle is a revolutionary thing in this building."

The changes reflect the growing prominence of the military's counterinsurgency camp -- the most prominent member of which is Petraeus -- in the Pentagon. President Obama, whose strategy in Afghanistan is focused on protecting the local population and denying the Islamist radicals a safe haven, has largely backed this group.

The question facing defense leaders is whether they can afford to build a force that can prevail in a counterinsurgency fight, where the focus is on protecting the civilian population and building indigenous army and police forces, as well as a more conventional battle.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's top officer in the Pentagon, has said it is essential that the military be able to do both simultaneously. New Army doctrine, meanwhile, calls for a "full spectrum" service that is as good at rebuilding countries as it is at destroying opposing armies.

But other experts remain skeptical. "The idea that you can do it all is just wrong," said Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations. Soldiers, who are home for as little as 12 months between deployments, do not have enough time to prepare adequately for both types of wars, he said.

Biddle and other counterinsurgency advocates argue that the military should focus on winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and only then worry about what the next war will look like.

Some in this camp say that the threat posed by Hezbollah is being inflated by officers who are determined to return the Army to a more familiar past, built around preparing for conventional warfare.

Another question is whether the U.S. military is taking the proper lessons from the Israel-Hezbollah war. Its studies have focused almost exclusively on the battle in southern Lebanon and ignored Hezbollah's ongoing role in Lebanese society as a political party and humanitarian aid group. After the battle, Hezbollah forces moved in quickly with aid and reconstruction assistance.

"Even if the Israelis had done better operationally, I don't think they would have been victorious in the long run," said Andrew Exum, a former Army officer who has studied the battle from southern Lebanon. "For the Israelis, the war lasted for 34 days. We tend to forget that for Hezbollah, it is infinite."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Guardian goes to Pallywood

The Guardian goes to Pallywood, by Melanie Phillips
The Spectator, Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not to be outdone by the Ha’aretz blood libel, the Guardian today devotes a front page splash, two inside pages, three separate videos, a commentary by Seumas Milne and an editorial to what it claims is evidence from a special investigation by Clancy Chassay that Israel committed 'war crimes’ in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead by deliberately targeting civilians, using young boys as human shields and deliberately targeting ambulances and medical personnel and hospitals.

It presents these allegations as facts. It does so even though they are only allegations, unsupported by any evidence whatever. It does so even though the allegations are made by people with a proven track record of systematic lying to journalists and fabrication of stories and images. It does so even though such people either support Hamas or are controlled and schooled by Hamas to tell lies under pain of torture or death.

It does so without providing any verifiable information – full names, dates, specifics. It does so without making any mention of the extraordinary lengths to which the Israel Defence Force went in trying to avoid civilian casualties, by leafleting targeted houses to warn the inhabitants to get out and even calling them on their mobile phones to urge them to do so. It does so without acknowledging the fact that it was Hamas which used Gazan civilians as human shields – indeed, it dismisses this in a sentence by stating that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch found ‘no evidence’ that it had done so.

Hardly surprising since Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly shown themselves to be wholly partisan in the Palestinian cause and viscerally prejudiced against Israel. But aren’t Guardian reporters supposed to be journalists rather than passive conduits of NGO propaganda? In his ‘month-long investigation’, didn’t investigative reporter Clancy Chassay himself come across any of the copious evidence that Hamas used Gazan civilians as human shields – indeed, effectively used the whole civilian population as either a collective hostage or missile fodder? Did special investigative reporter Chassay manage somehow not to see this, or this, or this, or this, or this evidence that Hamas was guilty prima facie of the war crime of repeatedly using civilians as a weapon of war?

Looking at this Hamas propaganda sicked up by the Guardian (and in a pale imitation, the similarly implausible tale in today’s Independent) it is blindingly obvious that, as so often before, Hamas has chosen to deflect attention from its own war crimes – the deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians and the use of Palestinian civilians as hostages, human shields and missile fodder – by claiming that it is instead Israel that is guilty of that very behaviour. And the evidence that the Guardian has presented as fact to support this claim turns out to be at best paper-thin and at worst demonstrably ridiculous.

Take the first video, featuring the family of six who we are told were killed by an Israeli drone – whose pinpoint accuracy must have meant, says Chassay, that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in that house. But the evidence presented shows nothing of the kind. We are left with absolutely no idea why this house was targeted – whether it was actually a terrorist stronghold, whether terrorists were firing nearby, whether it was erroneous intelligence or even whether a drone was indeed responsible. There whole thing is only allegations. In addition Carl at Israelmatzav adds this intriguing observation:

By the way, the part of the video where the two girls were allegedly killed looked very familiar to me. To me, it looks remarkably like the neighborhood in which the Hilles clan lived. There are some shots of that neighborhood in the video here. Were the people in this video Fatah supporters who were set up to be killed by Hamas?

Now take the second video, in which we are told as a fact that three young brothers were used by the IDF as human shields. Again, all we have to go on is the brothers’ allegations. We see them posing self-consciously in positions replicating how the Israeli army had reportedly used them, including supposedly kneeling in front of Israeli tank positions to deter Hamas from firing.

But a moment’s thought suggests this is hardly plausible. The whole point of human shields is that they are a deterrent against attack because the other side will not want to kill civilians being used in such a way. That is undoubtedly true of the Israelis: there have been countless examples of their aborting attacks because Palestinian children were seen or suspected to be present.

But that’s the point: children and other civilians are present because Hamas use them as human shields. We know from Palestinians’ own testimony and other evidence (see above) that they deliberately kept families in houses which the IDF warned would be targeted – even putting them on the rooftops – in order that they should be killed as martyrs to the cause of destroying Israel. And as we know, they also turn their own children into human bombs for the same reason. So is it really likely that the Israelis would assume that if they used Palestinian children as human shields, Hamas would not fire at them?

Most ludicrously of all, the video shows what it solemnly states is an Israeli army magazine found in one of the destroyed houses showing a picture of one of the brothers bound and blindfolded before he said he was stripped to his underpants and used as a human shield.

Rub your eyes. Operation Cast Lead lasted from December 27 to January 18. Are we supposed to believe that the Israelis managed to publish during that time a magazine with a picture of a boy they had captured during that same operation? And then left it lying around in the rubble– miraculously without so much as a tear in its pages -- for him conveniently to find it?

The boys shown are healthy, well fed and bright-eyed. Their mother is consumed by grief as she describes what happened to them... hang on, let’s read that one again. Her children are healthy, well fed and bright-eyed. So why is she weeping as if they have all been killed? Looks suspiciously like another Hamas ‘Pallywood’ production to me.

Now let’s look at the third video which claims Israel targeted ambulances, hospitals and medical personnel. No mention that Hamas regularly hijacks ambulances, as reported here; nor that they and their NGO mouthpieces claimed medics were killed when they were in fact terrorists, as reported here:

Last week, the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian NGO, quoted statistics obtained by the Palestinian Health Ministry according to which 15 Palestinian medics were killed during the three-week operation. But, said the CLA, some of those reportedly killed were not medics, while in other cases the reports of deaths turned out to be false. One of the ‘medics’ reported dead was Anas Naim, the nephew of Hamas Health Minister Bassem Naim, who was killed during clashes with the IDF on January 4 in the Ash Sheikh Ajlin neighborhood of Gaza City.

Following the clashes, the Palestinian press reported that Naim was killed and that he was a medic with the Palestinian Red Crescent. However, an investigation by the Gaza CLA discovered numerous pictures of Naim posing holding a RPG launcher and a Kalashnikov assault rifle posted on a Hamas website. Two days earlier, on January 2, a Hamas website reported that Israel had shelled the Dabash family home in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City and that a medic, named Id Ramzan, was killed. But in a report posted on the same website several hours later, Ramzan, who was described as a member of Hamas's Civil Defense Unit, was reported to be alive and to have just conducted a live interview with Al-Aksa Television.

No mention of any of this. Instead the video presents as fact a claim by a man wearing an ambulance vest that his ambulance was struck by an Israeli tank shell containing 8000 ‘flechettes’, or small winged darts. He describes how his colleague was hit by hundreds of these flechettes -- whereupon he sank to his knees, raised his hands in the air and prayed. But my understanding is that flechette shells rip to pieces anyone they hit. So how could a man hit by a shell containing 8000 flechettes have been able to raise his hands and start praying?

What’s striking about these videos is how scrappy these claims are. So much so, in fact, that the second one seeks to shore up its case by footage from 2007, claiming to show the IDF using Palestinians as human shields on two previous occasions. But once again, these brief clips show no such thing. We see IDF soldiers going up a staircase into a building preceded by a Palestinian youth – we have no idea why, or what role the youth is playing. And we see a child sitting on the bonnet of an IDF jeep with his hand chained to the windshield – which is most likely to have been done to stop him from running away rather than using him as a human shield.

To pad out these preposterous and absurd claims, the Guardian cites the now infamous Ha’aretz allegations – which it manages to distort even further, saying that these included the admission by an Israeli soldier that an Israeli sniper had shot dead a Palestinian mother and her two children without saying a) that even Ha’aretz had said this was an accident and b) that the soldier subsequently admitted he hadn’t even been there and was merely recycling rumour and hearsay.

In his commentary, the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas mouthpiece Seumas Milne misrepresents the Ha’aretz travesty yet further still by stating:

Last week, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that a group of Israelis soldiers had admitted intentionally shooting dead an unarmed Palestinian mother and her two children, as well as an elderly Palestinian woman, in Gaza in January.

But the group of soldiers had ‘admitted’ doing no such thing. They had not ‘admitted’ doing anything themselves at all – merely reported what they had heard others say. Milne also sought to prop up the ‘human shield’ claims by dragging in other events:

Or take the case of Majdi Abed Rabbo – a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas – who described to the Independent how he was repeatedly used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers confronting armed Hamas fighters in a burned-out building in Jabalya in the Gaza strip. The fact of Israeli forces’ use of human shields is hard to gainsay, not least since there are unambiguous photographs of several cases from the West Bank in 2007, as shown in Chassay’s film.

The ‘unambiguous photographs’ are of course, as discussed above, anything but unambiguous. And as far as Majdi Abed Rabbo is concerned, once again a moment’s thought suggest this is most implausible. Since Hamas has been killing large numbers of Fatah operatives who it considers to be its deadly enemies, is it really likely that ‘a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas’ would be used by the Israelis as a human shield against Hamas?

Lazy, malicious use of partisan, uncorroborated, thin, ambiguous and on occasion demonstrably absurd allegations, with the purpose and effect of demonising and delegitimising the Israeli victims of terrorism by painting them as the terrorists and their Palestinian attackers as their victims.

In similar vein, no mention at all in the Guardian of the enormous bomb planted in a shopping mall in Haifa last Saturday evening – 100 kg of explosives packed with ball bearings -- which, had it not been defused, would most likely have killed hundreds of people.

Truly, the Guardian is an evil newspaper.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

US Completes Oil Spill Cleanup in Lebanon

USAID Completes Oil Spill Cleanup
March 17, 2009

BEIRUT, LEBANON -- The United States Agency for International Development has completed the cleanup of forty-three locations along a sixty kilometer stretch of the northern seashore from Tabarja to Enfeh. The devastation and subsequent clean-up followed the July 2006 conflict with Israel. Clean-up sites were selected in close coordination with the Lebanese Ministry of Environment. This program was part of a $230 million package provided to Lebanon from the U.S. to support humanitarian, reconstruction and security assistance following the conflict.

The $5.8 million cleanup project employed more than 220 local laborers, many of whom were fisherman who lost their livelihoods and boats, to support the cleanup using local machinery, equipment, caterers, and transporters. More than 100 fishermen’s boats were rapidly cleaned at the Byblos Port Jetty, allowing the fishermen to resume fishing quickly so they could generate income for their families. Following the cleanup, several tourist areas, marinas, hotels and beach resorts were able to resume their normal activities.

USAID’s program implementers collected approximately 1,300 cubic meters of oil-contaminated waste and more than 2,000 cubic meters of oil-contaminated sand from all locations. The Lebanese Ministry of Environment coordinated the removal of the contaminated sand from an interim storage location in Byblos to a designated area in Beirut.

USAID has worked in Lebanon since 1951 and implemented development projects to benefit Lebanese citizens. With funds from the American people, USAID creates jobs, invests in youth and protects the environment. USAID’s work reflects the strong friendship between the Lebanese and American people.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Dialogue With Lebanon's Ayatollah, Muhammad Hussein Fadhlullah

A Dialogue With Lebanon's Ayatollah. By Robert L Pollock
WSJ, Beirut, Mar 16, 2009, page A7

'I have not found in the whole long history of the Arab-Israeli conflict even one neutral American position. We used to love America in the region in the '40s. [President Woodrow] Wilson's principles [of national self-determination] represent freedom facing a Europe that was colonizing us. But America now is living a policy worse than that of British and French colonialism."

So said Muhammad Hussein Fadhlullah early one morning last week, and I suppose I should not have been surprised.

We met in a nondescript -- but heavily guarded -- office building in south Beirut. On my way there I had noticed, as in the Bekaa Valley a day earlier, numerous posters celebrating Hezbollah "martyrs." According to many, the Grand Ayatollah Fadhlullah is Hezbollah's spiritual leader. He is not actually a member of the famous Lebanese Shiite organization headed by Hassan Nasrallah. But his interpreter tells me the Israelis bombed his house during their 2006 air campaign in Lebanon. There is no doubt someone -- the CIA and the Saudis, according to a detailed account in Bob Woodward's book "Veil" -- targeted him in 1985, when a massive bomb aimed in his direction killed nearly 80 civilians in Beirut.

That, readers may recall, was not long after alleged Hezbollah suicide bombers directed by the late Imad Mugniyeh -- one of the "martyrs" celebrated in the posters -- murdered hundreds at the American Embassy and Marine barracks. And it was in the midst of the hostage crises that would define Lebanon in the minds of my own generation of Americans. Outside of the Iranian theocrats, no group did more than Hezbollah to associate Shiism, once known for its political quietism, with radicalism and terror.

And what of Mr. Fadhlullah today? The aging cleric (born 1935), sports the requisite black turban and a disarming twinkle in his eyes. He is often described as a "progressive" religious thinker because of views such as his egalitarian outlook on the role of women in Muslim society (he is online at Yet there can be little doubt the Ayatollah's views have also shaped, and been shaped by, the fragile and often violent country he has called home since the mid-1960s.

The Lebanese-born scholar Fouad Ajami draws my attention to Mr. Fadhlullah's preface to the 1984 edition of his book, "Islam and the Logic of Force": "Civilization does not mean that you face a rocket with a stick or a jet-fighter with a kite, or a warship with a sailboat. . . . One must face force with equal or superior force. If it is legitimate to defend self and land and destiny, then all means of self-defense are legitimate."

I decide to start our interview by asking what people mean when they describe him in "progressive" terms. "When man thinks," he tells me, "he should live in his own age, not think through the past . . . When I am in dialogue with anyone, I attempt to study their mind and to speak to them in the language of their mind, not to address them in the way I think but rather in the way they think. On this basis we begin this dialogue with you."

Mr. Fadhlullah tells me that though he is originally Lebanese, he was born in Najaf, Iraq, where his father was a teacher at the Hawza, or religious seminary, from which he would eventually earn his current distinction. (He holds the same rank as Iraq's Ali Sistani; Shiites recognize a small number of "grand ayatollahs" who issue religious rulings known as fatwas and serve as objects of "emulation.") He says his international upbringing shaped his way of thinking.

I ask if he thinks Iraq is better off now than it was under Saddam. Iraq had a problem with "dictatorship," he concedes. But this "dictatorship had a relationship with the former American administration," he says, pointing to Saddam's invasion of Iran and other actions that allegedly "serv[ed] the American strategy . . . Saddam Hussein was an employee of the CIA but his job was finished by the end." He accuses the Bush administration of pursuing a policy of "constructive chaos" during the occupation.

Mr. Fadhlullah's fellow Shiite scholars in Najaf have been heard to complain about such sour pronouncements, but I see no reason to belabor the point. There is a rivalry of sorts with Mr. Sistani. And when it comes to the upcoming parliamentary elections in Lebanon -- the country shook off Syrian occupation in 2005, some say inspired by Iraq -- Mr. Fadhlullah even points to the West as a good example:

"We hope that that the elections will be as free as in civilized nations. Our problem in the Arab world is that people fear their rulers and therefore fall short of changing them, whereas the natural course of things is that rulers should fear their peoples. . . . We appreciate the way elections are run in America or the West; the Americans or the Europeans are not frozen over one personality. They study the success or failure of this president or this administration, and therefore they change it from time to time."

I point out that many people associate political Shiism with Iran and a concept known as Welayat al-Faqih -- or Guardianship of the Jurist -- which has been used to justify the authoritarian regimes of the Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khameini.

"I don't believe that Welayat al-Faqih has any role in Lebanon," Mr. Fadhlullah says without hesitation. "Perhaps some Lebanese commit themselves to the policy of the Guardian Jurist, as some of them commit themselves to the policy of the Vatican [Lebanon's large Maronite community is Catholic]. My opinion is that I don't see the Guardianship of the Jurist as the definitive Islamic regime."

When a Muslim goes to vote should he care more about a cleric's opinion than anyone else's?
"He should care about his own stance . . . . The Islamic idea says: When you cast your ballot, you have to watch for God because God will hold you responsible for the results of this ballot. If the person you voted for was unjust, God will hold you accountable for participating in his injustice. . . . Hence, the Americans who voted for George Bush are responsible for all the blood shed in his wars and occupations."

That seems as good an opening as any to broach the subject of Hezbollah. Does he think it's healthy that Lebanon's Shiites are increasingly associated with such a party?

His answer, in effect, is that Hezbollah is a force for modernization: "Hezbollah is a group of Shiites who are university educated. We know that you will find at universities, whether here in Lebanon or in the West, many who agree with the thought of Hezbollah." True enough, at least as concerns attitudes toward Israel.

Then the answer gets more interesting: "We do not reject the West. But we disagree with some Western administrations. We believe that America is not the administration ruling America. America is rather the universities, the research centers and the American people. That is why we want to be friends with the American people with all their variation. I was the first Islamic figure to denounce what happened on September 11. I issued a press release after four hours saying that this affair is not acceptable by any mind, divine law or religion. What these people did was directed to the American people not to the American administration."

I can't help but interject. Hadn't he just told me the American people were in fact responsible for the actions of the leaders they voted for?

He responds that the people bear "a responsibility," but concedes they can't predict their leaders' future actions. "What I am trying to say," he continues, "is that perhaps we want to be friends with the American people to engage them in a dialogue about their choices as they engage in a dialogue about our choices. Friendship does not mean adhering to whatever your friend commits to and does. Dialogue strengthens friendship; it does not annul it."

What does the Ayatollah think of President Obama? Does he think he might improve relations between the Islamic world and the United States?

Again, an interesting answer: "I think that some of his statements show that he believes in the method of dialogue. But here is an important point: America is not ruled by a person, it is ruled by institutions. The question is what is the influence of institutions like the Congress and others on the president. Can the president, if he has private opinions, can he carry them out facing institutions and conditions challenging the administration? We, in the Arab countries or in the East, we don't have institutions. The ruler is one person or one family. Therefore the people cannot object.

"We wish that President Obama tries with all his mandate to confirm the slogans he launched while still a candidate, that he tries with all power to make the world a field of dialogue not a field of war. We don't have a problem with any American president, but our problem is with his policy that might affect our strategic interest. We love freedom, therefore we are with whoever lives with us on the basis that we are free."

But didn't George Bush say that he wanted to bring freedom and democracy to the Middle East? Was he not sincere in those words?

"Does occupation . . . ?" He pauses. "Could democracy be forced upon peoples? Does occupation represent a title of democracy for people? Democracy sets out from the free choices of peoples. Therefore President Bush managed to get America hated everywhere in the world. His policy was the mentality of war, not a humane mentality. He might have spoken about 'peace,' but he saved 'war' inside the word 'peace.' That is why he was even rejected by American public opinion."

I raise Hezbollah again. Does the Iranian-backed group have Lebanon's best interests at heart? Or does it have ambitions outside Lebanon? For whom is it working?

"I don't think that the Lebanese Hezbollah has a project beyond Lebanon. Because it does not have the capacity to do so . . . . Hezbollah emerged in Lebanon as a reaction to the recurrent Israeli aggression over decades. The Lebanese army is weak with regard to its power of deterrence. Therefore it cannot face any Israeli aggression. Hezbollah is supplementary to the Lebanese Army defending the country. If the Lebanese Army reaches a level of strength enabling it to defend the country, there would be no longer a need for the resistance."

And what about the posters, I ask? Imad Mugniyeh didn't just fight Israel, he killed a lot of Americans. Does he think the children of the neighborhood should look at the posters and think Mugniyeh is a hero?

"I think that the stage Lebanon lived [when the Americans were killed] was one without clear limitations. It is very natural that the American policy was interconnected with the Israeli policy. The stage when this took place was one of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West. Therefore the issue was not setting out from a person, but from the conflict between the East and the West, and through the political and security anarchy in Lebanon. In my own belief, this stage is no longer existent, but the problem remains that the American policy is 100% identical to the Israeli policy. We have not found an American position condemning the massacres in Palestine and particularly in Gaza. The missiles launched by the resistance were a reaction to the Israeli aggressors, who own American fighter jets that are never used but in massive warfare . . . .

"We in the region therefore consider the American policy responsible for whatever Israel does, because there is a strategic alliance between Israel and America in all the aggressions carried out by Israel. There is an impression in the Arab region, that might be controversial, that Israel is the one ruling the United States and not the other way around. America is one of the Jewish colonies."

Does the Ayatollah believe that?

"I am close," he says. "Anyway, we believe that Obama lived in a poor and disadvantaged environment. He was poor. Therefore, we might listen to some of his statements trying to alleviate taxes on the poor and impose them on the rich. We say to him: Be with the disadvantaged, be with the poor, be with the people living and seeking their humanity, and you will be the best American president in history. Be humane."

The interview is over. We pose for pictures and the Ayatollah presents me with an English translation of one of his books: "Islam: The Religion of Dialogue." He signs it for me in Arabic: "With my affection and prayers."

Mr. Pollock is the Journal's editorial features editor.