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Savings at Davos 28, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Even in the World Economic Forum held at the exclusive Swiss resort of Davos, economies are having to be made. It is nice to know that the rich and über rich are human too, that they are feeling the economic pinch just like everyone else. Instead of taking a ride to Davos in their powerful twin engined helicopters at an extortionate 9,888 Francs for the 45 minute journey – no, no – now, they are slashing their bills and slumming it by taking the single engined helicopter at a snip of 4,900 Francs. And people say they don’t feel our pain.

The best headline 23, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Random.
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Here is perhaps the greatest headline ever written:

Former French President Chirac hospitalised after mauling by his clinically depressed poodle

Obviously, this is in a rag of a paper, which barely counts as journalism, but it’s still funny.

Joe the Plumber in Israel 12, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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What a fabulously inarticulate man.

Hezbollah’s tactics not overly applicable for Hamas 7, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Here is an excellent article discussing the vastly different situation facing Hamas in Gaza as opposed to Hezbollah in Lebanon. They explain that not only is the lay of the land crucially different, but Israel appear to have learned from their defeat against Hezbollah. (Thanks to Arabic Media Shack for the initial link).

1. Gaza, only 360 square kilometres in size, lacks the strategic depth that Hizbollah had in Lebanon. So Hamas guerrillas have much smaller and narrower areas of operations than Hizbollah guerrillas had in Lebanon, which gives Israel an advantage.

2. Hizbollah fighters are not members of government, civilian and military institutions such as the police and ministries, so Israeli jets had a limited list of targets. In Gaza they have a large number of easy targets that were hit in the first minutes of the attack, killing at least 200 Hamas members in public buildings.

3. Israel besieged Lebanon from air and sea but could never seal off land routes in and out of the country, so Hizbollah had a good supply of arms and supplies. Gaza was completely sealed off from all sides with the exception of a few tunnels that were mostly destroyed in the first two days of the attack. Now Israeli tanks have cut off Gaza City and the northern part of the Strip from its southern part and completely sealed off all entry points, so Hamas has no access to military supplies.

4. Hamas is much less able than Hizbollah to threaten the Israeli rear. While Hizbollah missile strikes hit dozens of Israeli settlements, towns and cities all over northern and central Israel and can now reach southern Israel, Hamas’s missiles can reach only up to 45km and are mostly ineffective. Missiles fired from Gaza in 2008 killed ten Israelis, while Hizbollah missile attacks on Israel in the 33-day war killed more than 100 and inflicted serious damage to property. So Hamas missile strikes will not be enough to force Israel into new ceasefire talks. Moreover, Hamas’s anti-armour capabilities seem to be ineffective against Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers.

5. Hizbollah had much better information, intelligence and counter-intelligence than Hamas. This has been made clear by Israel’s ability to hit many sensitive targets and to dominate the battlespace from the air. Hamas has failed to spring any surprises on the battlefield in the way that Hizbollah did in 2006, confusing the Israeli military command.

Bombing does not work: from the Blitz, to Tokyo to Gaza 7, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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Marc Lynch, the Professor of Political Science at GWU and the author of the long running Abu Aardvark blog comments on a talk given by the Israeli Ambassador to America . In the q and a towards the end, the Ambassador is persistently asked about Israel’s strategy in Gaza. I.e. how exactly their military force will weaken Hamas politically: what will literally happen to achieve this end.  Aside from referring to the numbers of Hamas fighters killed and their infrastructure degradation, he had no answer. Indeed, according to Lynch, he seemed to advocate the absence of a strategy as a positive step. Thus, the great unknown of how Israel actually hopes and plans to achieve their stated war goals remains something of a mystery.

This situation is somewhat reminiscent to the British and the Germans in World War Two. Both sides thought that by carpet bombing each other’s cities (Coventry and Dresden to name the most infamous examples) they would destroy the spirit and the support of the other’s population. Therefore – so the logic went – this now terrified population would thus seek to check their leaders and beseech them to seek peace or surrender. This was the prevailing theory at the time. It was, of course, proved not only to be incorrect but caused the exact opposite: it galvanised public opinion against their enemy and behind their political authorities. This kind of mistaken logic was also employed in the American fire bombings of Tokyo which killed more people than the Atomic bombs yet still did not begin to cause the Japanese population to revolt or seek the end of the war.

These examples, it seems to me, are a reasonable approximation of what it happening in Gaza and Israel. Both sides think that they can frighten their opposition into surrender. It is something of a seductive logic which initially might make sense. It ignores, however, countless other factors such as decades of built-up hate and anger and indeed, Israel’s own experiences. When suicide attacks and rocket attacks affect Israeli cities, this does not cause swathes of Israelis affected to demand that their government give up, surrender or even retreat in their policies. Exactly the same can be said about the previous Israeli attacks in Gaza and the West Bank. Indeed, support for Hamas is higher than ever. According to one Fatah local leader, ‘everyone’ in his area now supported Hamas. Vicious attacks on one’s community do not cause people to shrink away from the attackers, but they bring the population ever closer, united against a common enemy under the auspices of whatever group promises retribution.

Beaten to it again 6, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iraq, Qatar.
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I think I’ve said this before, but it really is annoying when someone says something that you wish you’d said yourself. Recently, I’ve been somewhat peeved to read JE Peterson’s excellent article on Qatar entitled ‘Qatar and the World: Branding for a Micro-State’. This perfectly sums up the situation and I simply wish that I’d coined the phrase first. But never mind.

It is a similar story of being beaten to the punch though this time in terms of predictions.  Tom Ricks over at the new Foreign Policy blogging site made a prediction that 2009 will see the first fire fight between the private armies roaming around Iraq (Blackwater etc) and Iraqi security forces. This, it seems to me, would be a good bet.

New Iranian base on the Horn 5, January 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran.
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Iran has signed an agreement with Eritrea to refurbish an oil refinery in the port town of Asseb in East African country. Iran has used this opportunity, it has been reported, to move troops, submarines and warships to Asseb. There are several implications of this.

Firstly, it shows that Iran is playing a shrewd game by seeking to diversify its dependency on refined oil products and by planning ahead regarding the potential strengthening of US sanctions. Secondly, it highlights how difficult it is to isolate Iran. Never mind the typical sanction breaking from the French, Russians or Chinese, but there are, it seems, vastly more actors to keep in mind. Thirdly, Iran now has some kind of naval force at another choke point in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. They obviously have numerous bases (including a new one as reported in Jask) by the Straits of Hormuz, but now they are poised near the Horn. Whilst the strength of the Iranian forces is not known, this merely adds to an already complex situation by creating another potential front for Iran and its potential retaliatory options. Fourthly, it increases the areas in which the US and Iranian Navy are in close proximity. Such a state of affairs is not ordinarily such a worrisome thing (though i do seem to remember an issue or two with some Revolutionary Guard speedboats…) but were some kind of conflagration to occur, then another theatre of proximity and hostility is only to be bemoaned.

In short, overall this highlights (to me, at least) the Gordian difficulties of boxing in and chastising Iran punitively. Iran is a rational, resourceful and intelligent state which can and will find ways to frustrate heavy-handed, blanket policies which don’t take into account political realities and have unrealistic expectations.