Friday, July 16, 2010

Soccer Dad

Soccer Dad

Obama Administration Has A New Angle In Its Claim To Support Israel

Posted: 16 Jul 2010 11:26 AM PDT

The Obama administration has been working on its claim to support Israel, and truth be told--it has gotten better than this embarrassing moment during a State Department press conference back in November--when the State Department spokesperson tries desperately to point to some kind of accomplishment in Obama's efforts for Mideast peace--and keeps getting fisked on the spot by the questioner:

QUESTION: You mean you got the Israel Government to say, yes, we're willing to accept a Palestinian state? You got Netanyahu to say that, and that's his big accomplishment?

MR. KELLY: That is an accomplishment.

QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration - previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.

MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero.

MR. KELLY: I wouldn't say zero.

QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?

MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we've gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have - we have - we've had a intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look --

QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven't had any intense --

MR. KELLY: Obviously --

QUESTION: There haven't been any negotiations.

MR. KELLY: Obviously, we're not even in the red zone yet, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: I mean, we're not - but it's - we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we've accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.

QUESTION: Well, I - really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking to each other. You guys can't even get that far.

MR. KELLY: All right.

QUESTION: I'll drop it.

Since then, the Obama administration has figured out that if it is going to push a pro-Israel image, it is going to have to try a different angle, especially given the recent chill in US-Israel relations--caused in part by such things as

  • His public humiliation last March of Bejamin Netanyahu at the White House, when Obama walked out of their talks to go have dinner with his family, leaving Israel's prime minister alone for over an hour, and then refused to release even a photo of their meeting.

  • His disturbing comparison, during that "outreach" speech to the Arab world in Cairo, of the Palestinians' "daily humiliations" and "intolerable" situation to the Nazi Holocaust.

  • His administration's public demand that Israeli leaders "demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process" -- a demand Sen. Chuck Schumer labeled "terrible" and "counterproductive."

  • His continued push for closer US ties with Syria -- an ally of Iran, state sponsor of terrorism and major backer of both Hamas and Hezbollah.

  • His decision to join the farcical UN Human Rights Council -- which devotes most of its time to denouncing Israel.

So a new approach to claiming the US-Israel bond was intact was needed. We saw that approach on display last week during Obama's interview with Israeli Channel 2:

Q So that fear, the tangible fear that some Israelis have that their best ally in the world might abandon them is --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's pretty hard to square with the fact that not only have I in every speech that I've ever given talked about the unbreakable bond to Israel, not only did I describe that special relationship and condemn those who would try to drive a rift between us in Cairo in front of a Muslim audience, but if you look at our actions -- and Prime Minister Netanyahu will confirm this, and even critics I think will have to confirm that the United States under my administration has provided more security assistance to Israel than any administration in history. And we've got greater security cooperation between our two countries than at any time in our history. And the single most important threat to Israel -- Iran, and its potential possession of a nuclear weapon -- has been my number one foreign policy priority over the course of the last 18 months.

Like Kelly, Obama is not satisfied with saying things are as good as they were previously--they have to be better.

So if Obama's dedication to the future of the Jewish state cannot be illustrated by the tact he is taking in the Middle East peace process, then he will claim that his administration is the most supportive of Israel's security--ever.

And the media, which backs up Obama on his Mideast policy, is only to happy to pick up this meme and run with it.

From yesterday's Washington Post:

Despite diplomatic tensions, U.S.-Israeli security ties strengthen

This week, Israel successfully conducted a test of a new mobile missile-defense system designed to shield Israeli towns from small rockets launched from the Gaza Strip. When the "Iron Dome" system is fully deployed in the next year, about half the cost -- $205 million -- will be borne by U.S. taxpayers under a plan advanced by the Obama administration and broadly supported in Congress.

While public attention has focused on the fierce diplomatic disputes between Israel and the United States over settlement expansion in Palestinian territories, security and military ties between the two nations have grown ever closer during the Obama administration.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has worked decades in Washington, "believes we are cooperating on military-to-military relations in an unprecedented manner," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Military relations were very close during the Bush administration, but "in many ways the cooperation has been extended and perhaps enhanced in different areas" during the Obama administration, a senior Israeli official acknowledged.

We can expect to hear more of this angle--a lot more--in the months leading up to the mid-term elections, as the Obama administration will struggle to put the best possible face on its relations with Israel.

And after the November elections--all bets are off.

Hat tip: Soccer Dad

by Daled Amos

J-street memories

Posted: 16 Jul 2010 05:47 AM PDT

In late 2006, the seeds for J-Street were planted as Daled Amos observed at the time.

Apparently, part of the impetus for the project is the result of the success of three of the above groups--IPF, APN and Brit Tzedek--in killing the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which would have cut off US aid to the Palestinian Authority until it renounced terrorism and recognizes Israel.

However, as soon as J-Street saw the light of day, the New York Times was available to provide a press release news report about the new group, U.S. Jews create new lobby to temper Israel policy

Several prominent American Jews have formed a new pro-Israel lobby as an alternative to traditional organizations that, they assert, often impede progress in the Middle East because of their generally reflexive support of Israel.

Officials of the new group, called J Street, say they believe the best way to bring security and peace to Israel is to help political candidates who support that country but will occasionally question some of its policies like maintaining or expanding settlements in disputed territories.

For many who follow the intense and complex world of lobbying on Middle East issues in Washington, there is little doubt as to the role J Street hopes to play in American politics -- upsetting or at least diluting the influence of groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or Aipac, the formidable lobby that has long been the dominant voice of American Jewry with regard to United States policy in the Middle East.

Now, of course, J-Street is by no one's definition but their own, pro-Israel. As Daled Amos noted the founder were more than willing to allow the Palestinian Authority to foment terror with impunity, presumably and perversely in the cause of "peace."

So how does the New York Times report on a new pro-Israel group, that is really pro-Israel?

*crickets chirping*

Last week Bill Kristol, Noah Pollak and others announced the founding of the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) and the news was carried Jewish news organizations, Politico, which like a political gossip column and conservative/Republican websites, but no announcement in a news story in the New York Times or Washington Post. Not even the Philadelphia Inquirer has appeared to feature an article on ECI, even though the first target of ECI is Philadelphia area Representative Joe Sestak.

Given the ECI's views are more typical of American positions on the Middle East than J-Street's, for some reason or the other America's major newpapers apparently feel that they can't provide the same service that they provided provided for J-Street.

An article about J-Street in the NY Times last year asserted:

J Street has only a small fraction of the resources and membership of more established pro-Israel groups, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and it remains unclear how potent it will be in presenting itself as an alternative. Nonetheless, it has had great success in quickly becoming a major reference point in the complicated debate over President Obama's Middle East policy as well as the more emotional issue of the appropriate role for American Jews in supporting Israel.

"[Q]uick success?" "[M]ajor reference point?" Well yes, it's hard not to notice the self-satisfaction of the reporter. But is it his reporter's voice or J-Street's? Hard to tell, but it doesn't seem a stretch to believe that many in the media are rooting for J-Street and see little point in hiding their feelings.

Bazaar behavior

Posted: 16 Jul 2010 04:11 AM PDT

The New York Times reported earlier this week about protests against the Iranian government.

The Iranian government declared a sudden, two-day national holiday on Sunday and Monday, after a long-simmering dispute between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Tehran bazaar erupted last week, leaving one prominent merchant dead, according to opposition Web sites.

Shopkeepers in Tehran's traditional bazaar district called a strike last Tuesday to protest what was rumored to be a planned 70 percent rise in income taxes. The government denied the rumors, calling them a misunderstanding that resulted from a "mistake" in the way the plan was presented.

But a prominent textile trader was killed when pro-government militiamen and police officers raided the bazaar on Wednesday, demanding that shopkeepers reopen for business, opposition Web sites reported. One member of the textile merchant's guild was said to have been arrested on Wednesday after addressing a crowd and calling for the strike to continue.

This is not the first time that the government of Iran has a afout of the business class.

Now it appears that discontent has spread. The Times is now reporting:

Web sites reported that the bazaar in Isfahan was closed Thursday. In the northwestern city of Tabriz, the bazaar had been closed since Tuesday, a merchant said, and vendors said they would continue their strike to force the provincial authorities to retreat from the tax increase even if an agreement were reached in Tehran.

The traditional bazaars, a major economic institution in Iran, supported the 1979 revolution and have backed the Islamic government. Influential merchants are largely members of the conservative Islamic Coalition Party and have stood behind President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But as Iran's economic fortunes have sagged in recent years, Mr. Ahmadinejad has looked increasingly to the bazaar for new revenues. The strike and the senior merchants' reluctance to intervene to end it are widely seen as signs of the bazaar's increasing disenchantment with the president and his administration.

With everyone wondering about the possibility of an armed attack on Iran, not everyone's paying attention to the forces inside the country that may be pressuring the government.

Additionally, there may be another external effort afoot going on to undermine the government.

Then, there was the odd case of the Tinners, a Swiss family of engineers long believed to be a cog in the network of nuclear proliferators organized by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. In 2008, Urs Tinner admitted that he had been a CIA asset. And it turns out that he may have played a crucial role in an effort to sabotage Iran's nuclear program. According to The New York Times and other sources, the Tinners sold high-quality vacuum pumps to the Iranians and Libyans. The pumps are crucial for uranium enrichment because centrifuges must operate inside a vacuum seal. David Albright--the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and the author of a new history of Iran's illicit procurement of nuclear technology, Peddling Peril -- explains that, while the pumps that ended up in Iran and Libya were produced in Germany, they were also worked on by the Oak Ridge and Los Alamos laboratories. These labs, he says, modified the pumps "to bug them or to make them break down under operational conditions. If you can break the vacuum in a centrifuge cascade, you can destroy hundreds of centrifuges or thousands if you are really lucky." (A senior intelligence official confirmed Albright's information to me. It should be noted that not everyone agrees that the Tinners were the ones who sold these pumps to the Iranians and Libyans; Albright, for one, isn't sure.)

Sometimes, these operations do not end well. Ali Ashtari, a high-tech electronics vendor, was hung by Iran in 2008 after he confessed to bugging the equipment of senior Revolutionary Guard figures with viruses and GPS units provided to him by Israel. Ronen Bergman, the top intelligence reporter for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, believes that Ashtari was an "example of how someone--the Iranians claim it's the Israeli Mossad -- tried to sabotage the Iranian nuclear project by covert means, rather than an air strike." Adds Bergman, "Ashtari was executed, but other entities continue to sabotage the project."

But do sabotage efforts work? In late 2008 and early 2009, the IAEA began to see a drop in the amount of low-enriched uranium (LEU) being produced at Natanz, the facility that lies at the centre of Iran's known nuclear weapons program. In the fall of 2008, its centrifuges were producing 90 kilograms a month of LEU. By the end of the year, however, the same centrifuges were producing 70 kilograms of LEU. To be sure, that number was back up to 85 kilograms per month at the close of 2009, and it has been climbing since, to around 120 kilograms a month; but those increases came after the installation of more centrifuges -- all of which suggests that at least some of the machines were less efficient than they should be. (Ivan Oelrich, a nuclear scientist and the vice president of the strategic security program at the Federation of American Scientists, estimated in a study this year that the centrifuges are operating at 20% efficiency.)

It would be ironic - though apparently not likely - if the Iranian efforts to obtain nuclear weapons would be foiled by means other than military force.

Crossposted on Yourish.

Flotilla victory for Israel?

Posted: 16 Jul 2010 03:40 AM PDT

Rememvbering that he had considered the Israeli encounter with Hamas over the Mavi Marmara an unqualified victory,

While The NY Times and others portray this as a loss for Israel, which had to bow to world pressure, in reality this outcome would represent a victory for Israel because the most important goal of the blockade -- the inspection of all goods whether brought by land or sea to prevent military supplies -- now has international legitimacy.

To the extent there were purely consumer goods which were barred, such system was ineffective and senseless anyway, and Israel loses nothing by loosening up.

The naval blockade is not affected, which is the key because it was by sea that Iran was planning on supplying Hamas with more effective and deadly military supplies. Such supplies cannot get through on land in the quantities and size Hamas desires, although many smaller military supplies do get through smuggling tunnels.

I e-mailed Professor Jacobson, that a news item yesterday confirmed that aspect of his analysis.

If we'd known this would work out so well, maybe we would have lifted the 'blockade' sooner. It seems that not everyone in Hamastan is thrilled about Israel having lifted its 'blockade' of the Gaza Strip. In fact, the Hamas rulers themselves may want the 'blockade' back.

Professor Jacobson was thrilled:

I am not someone who tries to keep track of how many of my predictions have come true. That sort of gamesmanship by hindsight is beneath me.

And I don't try to settle scores with people who criticize me. That would be petty.

So it brings me absolutely no joy to point out that I was right, and Carl in Jerusalem was wrong, on the easing of the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

I bring this up solely to continue recording an accurate history of current events, not for any other purpose, and certainly not to gloat. My intentions are pure.

Israel Matzav still argues that there are other considerations too.

From an economic perspective, Professor Jacobson may be correct. Hamas may have been weakened. They are certainly going to lose some of their previous profits on the tunnels, but that loss may be mitigated as described below.

The main reason I argued that Israel was not the winner in the Turkish flotilla crisis was that Israel got nothing in relation to Gilad Shalit, and gave up its only leverage for Shalit's release by weakening the 'blockade' in a way that ensures that the average resident of Gaza has no incentive to advocate for Shalit's release. That result still stands.

Even from an economic perspective, Hamas got a cool $50 million in cash this week as a consolation prize for the Amalthea docking in El Arish. Will they get that kind of prize every time Israel successfully turns away a 'humanitarian aid' ship? If so, have we really won economically? How long does it take Hamas to earn $50 million from the tunnels?

I didn't mean to start this however there was also this article that gave me some encouragement. It argues that in a number of ways the end result of the flotilla incident, which was widely proclaimed a loss for Israel, was actually a loss for Hamas.

So instead of taking sides, let me just say, it's too early to tell for certain. :-) How's that for the coward's way out?

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