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On Prisoner X and the Dubai debacle 15, February 2013

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, The Emirates, The Gulf.
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Haaretz

The Prisoner X case in Israel is interesting for a few reasons.

Firstly, Bibi’s reaction to try to block Israeli papers from reporting on this incident smacks of the most pointless Mubarak-esque finger-in-the-dam mentality. We just do not live in that kind of world anymore. Instructing Israeli papers to ignore the incident as the story flies around the world is not only utterly futile but creates the impression that he has not learned anything from regional events. Was there any chance that this story would not have broken in Israel eventually?

Secondly, quoting the hugely reliable Kuwaiti press (…) the New York Times speculates that the reason Prisoner X was in such unusual custody was because he was involved in the Dubai assassination incident back in 2010. Apparently he was in the process of disclosing Mossad’s involvement and was thus arrested and incarcerated in this way such was the potential fall out were he to (or because he already had) disclose(d) information about Mossad’s involvement.

I have never quite understood this incident. How the Dubai authorities and countless op-eds across this part of the world mocked the Mossad for this ‘failure’ of an operation has never made sense to me. Around 20 Mossad agents waltzed into Dubai through its key international airport hub, sauntered to the hotel in question, mingled around, went to the room, killed the chap, wandered away, leisurely returned to the airport and skipped merrily through Dubai International Airport once more. How this is not a catastrophic and embarrassing failure for Dubai’s police force and domestic intelligence service I just don’t know.

OK, the suspects were caught on camera and I am sure they hoped it would be assumed that the chap died of natural causes but what does it matter? They killed him with ease and escaped with not so much as a murmur from Dubai’s authorities. So many congratulations to the Dubai police for putting together such a riveting series of pictures, better luck next time with – you know – actually catching them and stopping the assassination, perhaps?

And what do the Israelis care as to the embarrassment of this incident? It shows the impunity with which they can operate across the Middle East and their resolve in assassinating key leaders. I’m sure they were at least half pleased when the whole thing broke.

So to me, at least, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that Prisoner X received such special treatment over this incident. I assumed that he had something to do with leaking Israeli nuclear secrets and this still seems the most likely thing to me, but I suppose we’ll never know.

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On Qatar and Hamas in Gaza 26, October 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Qatar.
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The following article appeared on ForeignPolicy.com

A deeply contrarian streak has taken hold in Qatar these days. Insulated by U.S. security guarantees, eager to use its burgeoning fiscal reserves, and propelled by its elites’ reformist zeal, Doha continues to exert a disproportionate influence on regional politics. Emir Hamad bin Khalifah Al Thani’s latest move was a dramatic visit to the Gaza Strip, becoming the first head of state to visit the Palestinian territory since Hamas wrested control of it in 2007.

Unlike some of its less imaginative Arab rivals, Qatar saw Hamas’s regional isolation as an opportunity rather than a problem. Despite its alliance with the United States, Doha has been nurturing its ties with the Palestinian Islamist group for some time: Its worst kept secret is that Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s leader, has had a house there for many years and has been increasingly seen in Doha since Hamas was forced to leave Syria in early 2012. Doha has also opened its pocketbook to Hamas, pledging $250 million in February — a gift that was increased to $400 million upon the emir’s visit.

The injection of funds, however, is not the most important aspect of Sheikh Hamad’s trip. By breaking Hamas’s regional isolation and explicitly recognizing its rule over Gaza, Doha has strengthened the militant group’s hand against its Palestinian rivals. An official from the Palestinian Authority, which is in charge of the West Bank, begrudgingly welcomed the visit while noting that “no one should deal with Gaza as a separate entity from the Palestinian territories and from the Palestinian Authority.”

Unlike the Palestinian Authority, Israel felt no need to soften its criticism. An Israeli spokesman carped bitterly about the emir’s trip, saying that the emir was “throwing peace under a bus.”

The visit further highlights Israel’s loss of influence with Qatar. Relations between the two countries warmed with the opening of an Israeli trade office in Doha in 1996 (reputedly close to Meshal’s house) as the two sides looked to ship Qatari gas to Israel, with Enron acting as the intermediary. The deal failed, however, and relations ebbed and flowed until December 2008, when Qatar cut ties in protest of Israel’s offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Rumors that Doha was attempting to restart relations were finally put to rest with a leaked memo from Israel’s Foreign Ministry labelling Qatar as a “leading activist” against Israel, decisively cutting whatever informal relations remained.

The Iranian angle

Iran, with whom Qatar maintains cordial official relations, joins Israel and the Palestinian Authority in an unlikely triumvirate watching proceedings in Gaza with glum resignation. Tehran officials are doubtlessly looking back nostalgically to happier times only a few years back, when their proxy Hezbollah all but defeated the Zionist Entity — winning Iran no small degree of Arab support for its material support to the Lebanese militant organization.Back then, Hamas was also still ensconced in Iran’s camp, and Syria was a stable ally that appeared to be gradually increasing its influence in the Middle East.

Indeed, while Israel and the Palestinian Authority may view Qatar’s embrace of Hamas with chagrin, it is Iran that is the central loser in this drama. The emir’s visit is part of a larger Qatari policy to unseat and reorient crucial Iranian allies around the Middle East — and by extension, amputate a long-used, effective limb of Iranian foreign policy. This is a remarkably forthright policy, for Iran will not — and cannot — take it lying down.

This new policy is most evident in Syria, where Qatar is explicitly and unashamedly supporting the 19-month insurgency with money, equipment, and at the very least light weaponry — little less than a declaration of war against President Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s core ally.

But Qatar’s new activism is also apparent in Gaza, where Doha has likely decided to take action precisely because of Hamas’s break from Iran. When Tehran stopped sending money to Hamas after the group failed to publically support Iran’s embattled ally in Syria, Qatar saw an opportunity to split the Palestinian group from its long-time sponsor. While its $400 million donation is earmarked for humanitarian development, not only is such support fungible, but there are doubtless other financial arrangements being made between Qatar and Hamas on this trip — further strengthening the ties between the Palestinian Islamist movement and Doha.

This move will, of course, catalyze another round of speculation that Qatar is supporting the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Arab world. That Qatar’s supports the Brotherhood is not in doubt — indeed, it hardly tries to conceal its efforts at engaging with the Islamist movement in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and now with Hamas, another Brotherhood offshoot. Yet Qatar is not nefariously trying to replace the Shia Crescent with a Brotherhood Banana, curving from Syria through Gaza, Egypt, and on to Libya and Tunisia. Doha is much more pragmatic and less Machiavellian than that: It is leveraging its relations where they exist, and looking to bolster popular, effective, moderate Muslim parties with whom it has relations.

Qatar’s vanguard role in weakening a key plank of Iranian foreign policy indicates that Doha must feel deeply secure with its relationship with Tehran, for it would hardly undertake such aggressive moves if it felt imminently threatened. Indeed, there is an obvious flashpoint between the two regional powers: Qatar and Iran share the world’s largest gas field, which has been responsible forQatar’s recent spike in wealth. Traditionally, this has meant that Qatar treated Iran with a great deal of respect. Relations were carefully improved in the 1990s as the field was being developed, as Doha sought to avoid an escalation after numerous instances of Iran attacking and stealing equipment from unmanned Qatari gas rigs.

Today, Qatar’s relations with Iran are as pleasant as ever on the surface. However, the fact that Qatar is overturning one of the key tenets of its foreign policy by antagonizing Iran is a surprising and forthright move by the Qatari elite, which clearly does not accept conventional limits on what is and what is not possible in the Middle East.

On the notion of Israel attacking Iran 4, April 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Iran, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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On 24 April an article in Jane’s Defence Weekly based on intelligence sources claimed that Iran is only two years away from producing an atomic bomb. However, there is no need to start building a shelter yet as this article was written on 24 April 1984. Need it be stated that Iran – unlike Israel that obtained its first bomb sometime around the mid 1960s – did not obtain a nuclear weapon in 1986.  This example is highlighted not to mock Jane’s typically erudite analysis but to note that for decades it has been claimed that Iran has been near production of a nuclear weapon.

In the same year, US Senator Alan Cranston said Iran would have nuclear weapons by 1991; in 1992 Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that 1995-1997 was the right time-frame; Shimon Peres in 1992 plumbed for 1999; a 1992 House Republican Research Committee claimed that there was a ‘98 percent certainty that Iran already had all (or virtually all) of the components required for two or three operational nuclear weapons.’; a 1995 report quoting US and Israeli officials goes for the millennium as the date; in 1997 sources noted that the date had been pushed back to 2007-2009; in 2005 Israel’s Defence Minister warned that a ‘point of no return’ would be passed within two years[1]; in 2007 Mossad went for 2009 as the magical date[2]; in 2009 it was predicted that Iran would be “nuclear-equipped” within one year; and Meir Dagan the former head of Mossad recently suggested that 2015 is the nearest viable date.[3]

The more recent predictions often bypass the US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran stating ‘with high confidence’ that Iran had given up on its nuclear weapon programme in 2003; a notion confirmed in 2009 by a US Senate Foreign Relations Committee reports stating that ‘there is no sign that Iran’s leaders have ordered up a bomb.’[4]

While there is most certainly a significant amount of troubling contradictions and concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, many of which found a voice in a damning 2011 IEAE report on the topic, nevertheless, one might expect more scepticism to be shown on this topic that is typically found in the political discourse regarding leaders who have been consistently wrong for decades.

Indeed, there seems to be something of a drum-beat for war building. However, such considerations often ignore the basic concerns of whether Israel could effectively attack Iran; a key piece of information for the debate. If Israel cannot, or if the consequences of an attack would be so dire as to retard Israel’s strategic position, then the questions concerning Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon are rendered moot.

Options

While Israel’s gamut of ICBMs launched either from Israel or their Dolphin Class submarines could be useful to destroy Iran’s anti-aircraft capability, without being armed with tactical nuclear warheads, they are unlikely to be able to degrade significantly hardened targets.

Insertion of special force teams is unlikely given the risks involved with deploying them in sufficient number, the fact that they could only carry what they land with, and the fact that many of the nuclear facilities in Iran lie far inland. The only plausible way to attack Iran’s facilities, therefore, is through air strikes.

Tactically

Attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities would be no ‘surgical strike’ such as Israel conducted in 1991 on the Osirak facility in Iraq, or more recently against secret Syrian facilities in 2007. As Israeli threats have increased, Iran has reacted accordingly and dispersed and hardened its facilities. Today there are at least seventeen known Nuclear facilities, perhaps twelve of which ‘would have to be struck to seriously damage Iran’s nuclear program….some of which is buried deep underground…the new plant at Fordow, for example, is believed to be buried 260 feet under granite.’[5]

There are real concerns as to whether Israel has the weapons to seriously damage such facilities. In 2009 America sold Israel 55 GBU-28 bunker-busting bombs weighing over two thousand two hundred kilograms.[6] Since, however, America has designed a far larger Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP), weighing in at nearly fourteen thousand kilograms, which can only be delivered by the B-2 stealth aircraft which Israel does not possess.[7] Moreover, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta does not even think that these MOP weapons will be sufficient to guarantee the destruction of certain Iranian sites, namely the Fordow enrichment plant.

Whatever the ordinance, delivering the bombs would be difficult. Over one hundred aircraft would be needed to attack the multiple targets. Avoiding Iranian air defences, while not state-of-the-art and even if many could be destroyed in advance, would still be a concern and would likely take up yet more fuel. This is a key concern given that such a journey would push the Israeli F-15s and F-16s outwith their capabilities requiring air-to-air refuelling from Israel’s fleet of seven air tankers. This vastly complicates the mission not only in terms of where the tankers would loiter, but they would certainly need their own fleet of fighter aircraft protecting them further complicating the mission.

The question of over flight is equally vexatious. There are essentially three likely flight plans. The northern path follows the Mediterranean, cutting across five hundred miles of Turkey, then flying hundreds of miles into Iran itself before returning the same way. The central route crosses two hundred miles of Jordan, four hundred miles of Iraq, and several hundred miles within Iran itself. The southern route would cover nearly five hundred miles of Saudi Arabia, three hundred miles of Iraq before getting to the Iranian border.

While Israeli planes took the Turkish route in 2007 when attacking Syria, not only have bilateral relations deteriorated significantly since, but Turkey are believed to have upgraded their radar systems and there is little mood within Turkey to allow this to happen again.

Route two through Jordan and Iraq is technically feasible. While Iraq has no Air Force about which to be concerned and Jordan’s proximity to Israel renders intercepting Israeli aircraft almost impossible, cutting through Jordan in particular could be a diplomatic disaster. Jordan is one of two countries with a peace treaty with Israel and the only Arab bordering country with whom Israel have workable relations. Moreover, such an act, highlighting the impotence of the Jordanian Government and stimulating rumours that the elite consented to the Israeli attack, could potentially ignite the tinder-box that is Jordan today. The last thing that Israel want is for another unpredictable popular-led revote to take place on its borders.

Option three too is far from idea. Saudi Arabia certainly have the capability to intercept Israeli planes with Air Force bases on the north west, north east, and eastern borders with capable F-15s. This means that Saudi Arabia would have to concent to the Israeli action; a deeply difficult decision to make in these revolting times where populism and strong religious trends are wafting around the region, none of which factors would easily forgive such an act, even if it were to weaken Iran. Moreover, acquiescing to Israel’s attack would leave Saudi Arabia itself open to an Iranian retaliatory strike.

Certainly, some combination of, for example, Israeli submarine-launched missiles disabling parts of Iran’s air defences, some agreement could be made with, say, Saudi Arabia for unimpeded air passage, and Israel could indeed destroy numerous facilities in Iran. However, overall, it seems beyond the Israeli capability to launch a sustained campaign against Iran and one that could offer a high degree of certainty that critical facilities could be destroyed entirely.

Legally & Internationally

There is little debate that such an attack, without a resolution from the United Nations Security Council, would be wholly illegal.[8] The retort that it is an option of last resort – a pre-emptive attack – would find no legal favour. Indeed, nor is that surprising given the complete lack of proof that Iran will imminently obtain such weapons and then launch them immediately against Israel.

The notion of Iran attacking Israel with nuclear weapons and thereby assuring the sure destruction of its major cities in an assured nuclear retaliation by Israel is nothing less than preposterous, no matter what offensive and threatening quotes Ahmadinajad comes out with. Indeed, why people seem to distrust most things politicians say in the West but believe wholeheartedly whatever nonsense Ahmadinajad comes out with is baffling.

Consequences

One of the key lessons from the attack on Iraq’s nuclear facilities in 1981 is that such a ‘pre-emptive’ attack may counter intuitively actually speed up a country’s desire to obtain nuclear weapons. Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence College and formerly of Harvard University, who has studied and written on the Osikark attack extensively, noted that before the attack ‘Iraq’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability was both directionless and disorganized.’[9]

Subsequently, the evidence suggests, the regime became convinced of the need to vigorously and single-mindedly pursue such a weapon to the extent that, as the author of a 2005 study on the case notes, ‘the Iraqi nuclear program increased from a program of 400 scientists and $400 million to one of 7,000 scientists and $10 billion’ after the attack.[10]

One certainly needs to be cautious in pursuing policy by analogy, but there is little reason to think that an attack on Iran would not have the same consequences. While there is undoubted ambiguity at the moment as to whether Iran is actually trying to obtain weapons – remembering the 2003 US Intelligence Estimate but also the damning 2011 IAEA report – were Iran to be attacked, pursuance of an Iranian bomb would likely be a fervent, central goal of the Iranian regime for obvious existential security reasons.

Moreover, exactly as occurred in Iraq, the Iranian regime would likely be even more clandestine about their project, burying it further literally and metaphorically underground and away from international inspection. Certainly, it would be false to say that Iran is compliant with international regulations at present, but ceteris paribus they could be much worse.

Indeed, the notion that such an attack would – at best – only set back the programme, should it exist, is powerful. Former Vice-Chairman of the America Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright noted that the intellectual capital would remain even if the facilities were destroyed and
‘they’d just build it back.’[11]

The more direct consequences of an Israeli strike are potentially harrowing. From the potential radioactive fallout wafting across the Gulf to population centres or to the oil fields in eastern Arabia to the thousands of casualties incumbent in any such large-scale attack, the human cost would be high. Internally, the Iranian regime, which has still not recovered from the 2009 election fiasco in which it was widely discredited, would be galvanised in power for the Iranians have their own version of the Israeli mantra of keshe’yorim shotkim (‘silence when shooting’).

Iran would clearly retaliate. Though Hamas has distanced itself from an automatic retaliation, Hezbollah in Lebanon would surely launch a barrage of rockets into Israel. Indeed, the commonly held notion is that there are 200,000 missiles aimed at Israel at any one time.[12] Iranian agents abroad – as incapable as they seem to be at times – may well target Israelis or Western targets; Iran would likely seek to close down the Strait of Hormuz, potentially spiralling the conflict significantly wider; or if Iran feels that America was complicit, it could retaliate against US bases in the Gulf, hitting Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, and Kuwait.

The key corollary of all of these events and a certainty no matter the Iranian retaliation is a prodigious oil price spike, a profound shock for the teetering global economy, and the spectre of recession or depression as a direct economic consequence. Such scenarios are hardly scaremongering, not even unlikely; indeed, for the afore mentioned consequences, it is but a matter of degree.

Experts

Taking all these issues into consideration have been a raft of high-level military and governmental officials from both America and Israel.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has echoed many of the above conclusions, specifically arguing that attacking Iran would:

‘simply delay it [obtaining a bomb]…Of greater concern…are the unintended consequences, which would be that ultimately it would have a backlash and the regime that is weak now…would suddenly be able to re-establish itself…able to get support in the region, and …instead of being isolated would get the greater support in a region that right now views it as a pariah.”[13]

Michael V. Hayden, a former director of the CIA, bluntly noted that ‘airstrikes capable of seriously setting back Iran’s nuclear program were “beyond the capacity” of Israel’.[14] He continued to note that overall the Israelis ‘only have the ability to make this worse.’[15] Admiral William Fallon, former commander of US Central Command, suggested that ‘No one I am aware of thinks that there is a positive outcome from a military strike’[16] while General Martin Dempsey, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that a strike against Iran was ‘premature’.[17]

Former Mossad Chief of nine years, Meir Dagan, has spoken out on several occasions on this topic, offering a logical, educated, and damning case for the attack on Iran,[18] but more recently plainly summed up the notion as ‘a stupid idea’. [19] Another former Mossad Chief Ephraim Halevy cautioned that a strike could be devastating for the Middle East for a century and that Iran is ‘far from posing an existential threat to Israel’, refuting one of Netanyahu’s fundamental arguments.[20] Former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Lt-Gen Amnon Lipkin-Shahak repudiated what may seem to be received wisdom noting that ‘it is quite clear that much if not all of the IDF…leadership do not support military action at this point.’[21]

A plurality of opinions

Certainly, there are several other high-level officials who argue the opposite. But at the very least the fact that the US Secretary of Defence, several high-ranking intelligence and military officials,  and two former Mossad Directors appear to have serious and rational concerns over the viability and the sense of an Israeli attack on Iran, is a serious cause for concern. These non-political actors, without an obvious political axe to grind [though one may cast aspersions at Meir Dagan] and aware of the intelligence that most are not privy to, pour scorn on many of the key arguments of those proposing or seeking such an action. Also, lest one forget, none are running for elected position in the foreseeable future.

This plurality of opinion and the profoundly concerning history of those adamant that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in two, three or five years time, means that the case for Israel attacking Iran is less than certain, while an examination of the technical possibilities questions whether such an attack is even possible. And surely if one is engaging in such a policy with such profound implications, it would seem to be sensible if not mandatory that a high burden of proof is required. As yet there is – unequivocally – no such consensus.


[1] Ewen MacAskill, ‘Iran nears nuclear ‘point of no return’ The Guardian (27 January 2005)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/jan/27/politics.iran

[2] Angus Hohenboken, Iran will soon post N-threat, says Israel’ The Australian (31 January 2009)  http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/israel-iran-will-soon-pose-n-threat/story-e6frg6tx-1111118716317

[3] An excellent round of these dates can be found in Christian Science Monitor. Scott Peterson, ‘Imminenet Iran nuclear threat? I timeline of warnings since 1979’ Christian Science Monitor (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/1108/Imminent-Iran-nuclear-threat-A-timeline-of-warnings-since-1979/Earliest-warnings-1979-84

[4] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/1108/Imminent-Iran-nuclear-threat-A-timeline-of-warnings-since-1979/Israel-s-one-year-timeframe-disproved-2010-11

[5] Eric Margolis, ‘A radioactive situation’ The National Interest (24 February 2012)  http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/radioactive-situation-6566

[6] Eli Lake ‘Inside Obama’s Israel bomb sale’ Newsweek (25 September 2011) http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/09/25/obama-arms-israel.html

[7] Tony Capaccio, B-2 bomber gets Boeing’s new 30,000 pound bunker buster bomb’ Bloomberg (15 November 2011) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-14/30-000-pound-bunker-buster-bomb-now-ready.html

[8] Bruce Ackerman, ‘The legal case against attacking Iran’ Los Angeles Times  (5 March 2012) (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-ackerman-attacking-iran-would-be-illegal-20120305,0,4429323.story

[9] Quoted in Colin Kahl, ‘Before attacking Iran, Israel should learn from its 1981 strike on Iraq’ The Washington Post  (2 March 2012) http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/an-israeli-attack-against-iran-would-backfire–just-like-israels-1981-strike-on-iraq/2012/02/28/gIQATOMFnR_story.html

[10] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/an-israeli-attack-against-iran-would-backfire–just-like-israels-1981-strike-on-iraq/2012/02/28/gIQATOMFnR_story_2.html

[11] Geoff Dyer, ‘Israel faces resistance over Iran strike’ The Financial Times (28 February 2012) http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fd386d8e-6161-11e1-8a8e-00144feabdc0.html

[12] Amos Harel, ‘Some 200,000 missiles aimed consistently at Israel, top IDF officer says’ Haaretz (2 February 2012) http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/some-200-000-missiles-aimed-consistently-at-israel-top-idf-officer-says-1.410584

[13] Remarks by Secretary of Defence Leon E Panetta at the Saban Centre US Department of Defence (News Transcript) 2 December 2011  http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=4937

[14] Elizabeth Bulmiller, ‘Iran raid seen as a huge task for Israeli jets’ New York Times (19 February 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/20/world/middleeast/iran-raid-seen-as-complex-task-for-israeli-military.html?ref=elisabethbumiller

[15] http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fd386d8e-6161-11e1-8a8e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1oWtKPOHn

[16] Patrick Buchanan ‘Will Bibi break Obama?’ CNS News (2 March 2012) http://cnsnews.com/node/519217

[17] http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/fd386d8e-6161-11e1-8a8e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1oWtKPOHn

[18] Amos Harel, ‘Former Mossad chief: Israeli attack on Iran must be stopped to avert catastrophe’ Haaretz(1 December 2011) http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/former-mossad-chief-israeli-attack-on-iran-must-be-stopped-to-avert-catastrophe-1.399046

[19] Isabel Kershner, ‘Israeli strike on Iran would be ‘stupid’, ex-spy chief says New York Times (8 May 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/world/middleeast/09israel.html

[20] Yoav Zitun, ‘Iran far from posing existential threat’ Y Net News (11 April 2011)  http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4143909,00.html

[21] ‘Israel’s military leaders warm against Iran attack’ The Independent (2 February 2012) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israels-military-leaders-warn-against-iran-attack-6298102.html?printService=print

Jewish court sentences dog to death by stoning 18, June 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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In Jerusalem, a rabbinical court has condemned a dog to death by stoning for fear that…wait for it…it is the reincarnation of a lawyer who insulted its judges twenty years ago; clearly the logical conclusion for a stray dog that refuses to leave one particular area.

Better still, one of the judges apparently asked local children to carry out the sentence, according to the BBC. Empowering and educational at the same time.

I write this just in case anyone was ever in any doubt: there are crazies on both sides.

Update

While I still firmly maintain that there are crazies on both sides, it seems that this example is not true.

Qatar mediation for Shalit? 16, May 2011

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The French satirical and investigative magazine Le Canard Enchaine (like the UK’s Private Eye) reports that the Qatari Prime Minister has, on numerous occasions in recent years, spoken to Israeli President Netanyahu while in Paris about trying to obtain the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israel soldier kidnapped in 2006 by Hamas.

Though unconfirmed, such mediation would be wholly in keeping with Qatar’s profile. Not only have they sought to reestablish relations with Israel on numerous occasions but this type of role is made for Qatar: where they have, more than practically any other Arab states, relations on both sides of the fence and they are also removed enough from the conflict not to be embroiled. To my mind, this kind of example, if indeed it is the case, highlights Qatar’s erudite and mature foreign policy.

I come from the UK where I grew up with the IRA occasionally blowing up chunks of London, Manchester and Northern Ireland. The notion of sitting down with Gerry Adams and his murdering ilk, or indeed hearing his voice without being dubbed on the television, is profoundly disturbing, but needs to be done.

Qatar to sell gas to Israel ‘below cost price’? 7, May 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Qatar.
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There have been various rumblings recently that Qatar will soon be selling gas to Israel. Partly to make up for any lack of gas coming from Egypt and partly because Qatar have been trying to sell gas to Israel for decades.

One of the more alarmist stories, so to speak, notes that Qatar may well be selling gas to Israel soon “below cost price”. If a deal like this comes to fruition, many will suggest that Qatar is doing this under US pressure. Indeed, this would make sense. However, I’m not so sure. Not only are US-Qatari relations getting significantly better now by themselves; not only does Qatar not really need good US relations (indeed, it’s managed perfectly well with poor American relations for years now) but Qatar has on many on occasion sought independently to resuscitate its relations with Israel.

After the Israeli trade office closed after Operation Cast Lead, there have been at least two Qatari gambits to Israeli to solicit them to reopen it in return for access to Gaza for humanitarian goods. Both were rejected by Israel.

So why does Qatar seemingly so often seek Israeli support, particularly when it, at the very least, causes friction within the GCC and with Qatar and Iran?

– It’s the right thing to do. I’ve talked about this before, but there is something of a belligerent, bloody-minded streak to Qatar’s foreign policy. Despite the apparent drawbacks of a policy, if Qatar’s elite genuinely thinks that it is the right thing to do then, ceteris paribus, it will be done. To my mind, restarting relations with Israel is a sensible, mature and intelligent thing to do.

– Limelight. Many a time have I prattled on about this. Qatar courts international public opinion frequently and with great success. Interestingly, in such a case, they are clearly not courting Arab public opinion, the majority of which would – presumably – be against such normalisation. Hence, they are therefore playing to the Western crowd, to some degree, with this policy.

– Business. Israel is the best run and most advanced economy in the Middle East. If it’s true that Qatar is using its gas as a loss-leader (which I doubt…) then someone must, to my mind, have their eye on a larger trading prize, so to speak, with Israel.

On the Al Jazeera Israel-Palestine leaks 24, January 2011

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When I tell people that I am doing a PhD and researching generally on bits and pieces to do with the Middle East, more often than not, if they have any interest in the topic as a whole, I will be asked about Israel and Palestine. Will a peaceful solution ever be found? Don’t I think that Arafat/Sharon is the greatest/most evil man ever? And so on.

Without fail I immediately declare my ignorance on the topic. Though I know a good deal about the history of the conflict and probably far more than ‘the average person’, when it comes to the personality politics of those involved today I cannot pretend to be an expert.  I quite simply do not have the time or inclination to delve into the minutiae of this Herculeanly complex topic. It takes all my time as it is to keep on top of what is going on in the Gulf.

(I note that I am relatively alone in this desire not to wax intellectually on topics on which I would not consider myself well enough informed: witness the amazing burgeoning of Tunisian experts in recent weeks).

With this disclaimer in mind, I feel compelled to make a few comments on Al Jazeera’s Palestinian paper leaks.

– While clearly newsworthy and interesting, it seems rather mean spirited of Al Jazeera to publish these documents. No, indeed, one could hardly expect them to have them and not publish, but still, it has put the Palestinian leadership is a wickedly difficult situation.

– Only one half (the Palestinian half) of story has been leaked. There are no facts from Israel’s side of things.

– These papers will seriously damage the Palestinian Authority and strengthen Hamas.

– No one whatsoever ought to be surprised to see that the PA made concessions. This is what negotiations are all about. Not that this will placate those living in squalor in chunks of Palestine, clinging to notions – fed scurrilously by Hamas et al – that ‘one day’ all of Palestine and Jerusalem will be returned to Arab control and Israel will…err…magically dissappear.

– The release highlights Israel in a highly negative light: manifestly the stronger power, constantly pushing the PA for more and more  concessions (which they get) but none of which are enough. Having said this, one must be aware of point 2: this is only half the story. Don’t misunderstand me, I think that this is overall an accurate picture: Israel in the clear ascendancy, bullying the PA. Also, one must not forget that this is Israel’s ‘job’: to push as hard and as far in negotiations as they can. They can hardly be blamed for this.

– It is only because these documents came through Al Jazeera – a news organisation that I trust (the only one in the Middle East) – that I believe these documents. Ordinarily, they present such a devastating picture for one half of an issue (the PA half) and even come with revelations about British spies (hmm…), that I’d dismiss them out of hand.

 

 

Shin Bet ‘Jewish Division’ head exposed 8, October 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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This video shows a high-ranking member of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service. The 17-year old Israeli who took this video and posted it on YouTube has been arrested as it is illegal to reveal and publicise such information.

Avigdor Arieli, the head of Shin Bet’s ‘Jewish Division’, lives in a settlement in the West Bank and his role it to monitor extreme right-wing Israeli settlers. Haaretz reports that his identity, despite being officially a secret, is well-known in the area.

As the sage Michael Dunn notes,

if the hardline settlers are out to get him, he must be doing something right.

Hat tip: Mideasti

 

 

Yemen sacks chess team after Israeli match 22, September 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Yemen.
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Yemeni authorities sacked their national chess team after it emerged that they played a match against Israeli opposition at the recent world championships in Belarus. What a mature decision.

Settlement iPhone app 22, September 2010

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NPR reports that the activist group Peace Now has released an app for the iPhone that tracks Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Useful…perhaps.