Monthly Archives: August 2012

US Scholars: Designate Israeli Extremists as Terrorists

By: Laura Rozen

Amid a rising spate of Jewish extremist violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank, two prominent US Middle East scholars are urging the United States to officially designate as terrorists those Israeli extremists who perpetrate terrorist violence against Palestinian civilians, Israeli citizens and even moderate elements of the settler movement.

The US, “much like Israel…, should consider designating individuals involved in acts of violence against Palestinians as terrorists,” Daniel Byman and Natan Sachs, researchers at the Brookings Institution Saban Center, wrote in the current issue of Foreign Afffairs.

“Such a designation would allow US authorities to prevent Americans from sending them funding and would be a way to support those Israelis seeking to combat the rise of extremism,” they continue.

Israeli leaders unusually forcefully condemned “as hate crimes” and “terror” an attempted lynching of Palestinian youths by a mob of Israeli teenagers in West Jerusalem’s Zion Square last week. Israeli authorities arrested seven Israeli teenagers suspected in the attack, which came on the same day a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Palestinian taxi near the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin, in which five members of a Palestinian family and the driver were burned.

“We unequivocally condemn racist violence and urge the police and law enforcement community to act expeditiously to bring the perpetrators to justice,” said Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The hate crimes which were carried out against Arabs over the weekend in the West Bank and Jerusalem are intolerable and must be dealt with using a heavy hand,”Israeli Vice Premier Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, from Israel’s ruling Likud party, said on August 19.  “These are acts of terror with all that implies and are against Jewish ethics and values and are first and foremost an educational and moral failing.”

Such language from Israeli leaders to condemn Jewish extremist violence ”is a game-changer in terms of the discourse,” veteran Israeli peace activist Daniel Seidemann wrote in an analysis posted by the Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg. “It’s not only the ‘Arabists’ at State that call this terror, this is from our deputy prime minister, who is not about to get a prize from B’Tselem (Israel’s most prominent human rights group).”

“Calling these acts ‘terrorism’ is very important,” Foreign Affairs’ co-author Sachs said in a press call organized by the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday. “It represents a break between the mainstream right and this violent fringe. More and more settler leaders see this as a stain on their own political cap.”

Sachs said that while the Israeli leaders’ forceful denunciation of the violence is encouraging, more vigilance and legal tools are needed to protect Palestinian civilians, especially amid the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“With the peace process in a stalemate, Israel’s control of the West Bank is not likely to end soon, and the government cannot ignore the persistent settler violence by claiming that the settlement issue will soon be resolved as part of a peace deal,” Byman and Sachs wrote in Foreign Affairs.

“In arguing that Israeli and American authorities should designate these as acts of terrorism, we are joining Israeli officials — generals, the vice premier, to describe these attacks,” Sachs said.

“Designating individuals as terrorists means a host of legal [tools] come into play,” Sachs explained. “That means legally US citizens would be forbidden from funding these organizations,” thus reducing financial and ideological support for extremists whose acts of destabilizing violence are aimed at intimidating and thwarting the legitimacy of the Israeli state and the Palestinian authority.

The State Department has listed acts of Jewish extremist violence in its annual terrorism reports going back to 2008, but has not formally designated perpetrators, such as the so-called “price tag” gang, as terrorists.

On Wednesday, the State Department joined Israel leaders in harshly condemning the Israeli teenagers’ attacks on Palestinian youths, which left a Palestinian teenager, Jamal Julani, in a coma for two days.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms the senseless act of hate and violence committed against a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem on August 17,” The State Department said. “We wish victim Jamal Julani a speedy recovery.” 

“Discriminatory acts of violence undermine and discredit efforts toward peace and security between Israelis and Palestinians,” the State Department statement continued. “We welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu’s unequivocal condemnation of racism and violence and his call for a full police investigation. The perpetrators of this hateful crime must be held to account.”

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Iran confident Israel won’t launch ‘stupid’ attack


Iran on Tuesday said it is dismissing Israeli threats of an imminent attack against it, explaining that even some Israeli officials realised such a “stupid” act would provoke “very severe consequences.”

“In our calculations, we aren’t taking these claims very seriously because we see them as hollow and baseless,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in a weekly briefing.

“Even if some officials in the illegitimate regime (Israel) want to carry out such a stupid action, there are those inside (the Israeli government) who won’t allow it because they know they would suffer very severe consequences from such an act,” he said.

Iran’s defence minister, General Ahmad Vahidi, was quoted by the ISNA news agency saying that Israel “definitely doesn’t have what it takes to endure Iran’s might and will.”

He called the Israeli threats “a sign of weakness” by “brainless leaders.”

The comments were a response to bellicose rhetoric from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak in recent days suggesting they were thinking more seriously of military action against Iranian nuclear facilities.

“We are determined to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear (armed), and all the options are on the table. When we say it, we mean it,” Barak told Israeli radio last Thursday.

Israeli media have underlined the threat, reporting that a decision could be made within weeks. They have also highlighted opposition to the idea by current and former Israeli military officials.

The United States has recently multiplied visits by top officials to Israel in what appears to be an attempt to dissuade the Jewish state from targeting the Islamic republic.

“We continue to believe there is time and space for diplomacy,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.

Israel insists that Iran is on the point of developing nuclear weapons, and says it reserves the right to act to prevent that.

The Jewish state has in the past launched air strikes to destroy nuclear facilities in Iraq and, reportedly, in Syria to protect its own regional nuclear weapons monopoly, whose existence it refuses to officially confirm.

Iran says its nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful, civilian uses.

In the past couple of years it has ramped up uranium enrichment to a level just a few steps short of military-grade fissile material, saying those stocks are needed to create medical isotopes. It has also refused UN nuclear inspectors access to suspect military installations.

Renewed negotiations between Iran and the five top UN Security Council powers, plus Germany, have taken place this year. They have been downgraded after it became clear they were in an impasse, but not ended.

In the meantime, Iran is suffering from increasingly tough US and EU economic sanctions that have crippled its all-important oil exports.

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Russia, Iran reject foreign intervention in Syrian crisis


Russia and Iran confirmed Friday their principal position that theSyrian crisis must be settled with no foreign intervention.

During a meeting between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and his visiting Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir- Abdollahian, both sides also urged the end to violence in the crisis-torn Syria, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“The two sides highlighted the necessity to stop bloodshed and violence in that country, whatever it originates from, with no delay to settle the intra-Syria problems by the Syrians themselves with no outside involvement,” the ministry said in a statement.

The two diplomats also urged “consolidated international efforts” for a peaceful settlement to the 17-month Syrian crisis based on UN-Arab League joint special envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan and the Geneva agreements that envisage a Syrian-led transition, the ministry said.

The meeting was initiated by the Iranian diplomat, who said Iran “condemns foreign intervention” in the Syrian crisis.

“We believe the situation in Syria cannot be settled by military means. The settlement must be political,” Amir- Abdollahian said.

He also regretted that “some countries” attempted to undermine Annan’s six-point peace plan.

Annan’s widely accepted plan calls for the withdrawal of heavy weapons and troops from populated areas, a daily halt of fighting for the delivery of humanitarian aid and treatment of the injured, and talks between the government and opposition.

Annan, who assumed his current post about five months ago, said in Geneva on Thursday that he was disappointed over the lack of progress in the Syrian peace process and that he would step down after his current mandate expires on Aug. 31.

Russia on Friday expressed “deep regret” at Annan’s resignation and urged that a successor be found quickly.

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LA Times: Experts Say There’s No Imminent Threat of a Nuclear Iran

The US and Israel are not concerned with some imaginary weapons program, but rather with regime change

Contrary to hyperbolic rhetoric and threats of preemptive attack from the US and Israel, experts still agree there is no imminent prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran,reports the Los Angeles Times.

As has been known for several years but only rarely acknowledged in the mainstream press, US intelligence has concluded that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program and has so far demonstrated no intention of starting one. Recent visits to by Obama administration officials and the Romney campaign have renewed Israeli claims that ‘the window is closing’ on blocking an Iranian nuclear weapon.

“This is a window that has been closing for 15 years now, and it’s always imminently about to close,” Jamal Abdi, policy director for the National Iranian American Council told the Los Angeles Times.

“I don’t see any particular breakthroughs in the Iranian program,” says Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, a nonproliferation scholar at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. “It’s been on a pretty steady course,” and “there is technically no urgency to” prepare for an attack on Iran.

“According to the U.S. intelligence community, the Iranian leadership hasn’t even made the decision to weaponize their program,” said Alireza Nader, senior policy analyst on Iran for Rand Corp. “They’ve been creating the technical know-how and the infrastructure, but they haven’t made that decision, and there is much more time than the Israelis portray there to be.”

While most of the coverage of the debate on Iran fails to emphasize the complete lack of a weapons program or of any real security threat to the US, some reports have covered this. In February the New York Times ran a front page story entitled “U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb.” It reported: “Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.”

Again in March, they reported “top administration officials have said that Iran still has not decided to pursue a weapon, reflecting the intelligence community’s secret analysis.” Another in the Los Angeles Times was similarly headlined, “U.S. does not believe Iran is trying to build nuclear bomb.”

The pundits and politicians engage in systematic threat inflation on Iran. Their primary aim is to undermine the regime; they’re not concerned about some imaginary nuclear weapons program.

Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, says Israeli bluster is not all talk, necessarily. ”I don’t think Israel is bluffing entirely. There is an element of exaggerating its readiness to act and likelihood of winning. But many advisors to Prime Minister Netanyahu are saying that if he waits six or eight months, they may end up unable to do anything significant in terms of damage” to nuclear facilities that Iran has been moving underground to protect them from airstrikes,  he said.

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Netanyahu to Panetta: Time running out on peaceful Iran solution

In Jerusalem, Netanyahu tells US defense secretary ‘sanctions, diplomacy have yet had any impact on Tehran’s nuclear weapons program’


“Iran is the foremost sponsor of terrorism, and everything must be done to keep Iran, the world’s most dangerous regime, from developing the world’s most dangerous weapons,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Wednesday.

During the meeting in Jerusalem, the Israeli premier said the US’s strong bi-partisan message of support for Israel is “deeply appreciated” at a time of “great instability in our region.”

“Today we’ll have the opportunity to discuss the many challenges facing our region and no challenge is greater than stopping Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” the PM told Panetta.

“You recently said that sanctions on Iran are having a big impact on the Iranian economy and that is correct. And I’m sure that the recent sanctions advanced by the President and the Congress will have an even greater impact on Iran’s economy.

“But unfortunately, it’s also true that neither sanctions nor diplomacy have yet had any impact on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. America and Israel have also made clear that all options are on the table.

“You yourself said a few months ago that when all else fails, America will act. But these declarations have also not yet convinced the Iranians to stop their program. However forceful our statements, they have not convinced Iran that we are serious about stopping them,” Netanyahu said during the meeting.

“Right now the Iranian regime believes that the international community does not have the will to stop its nuclear program. This must change and it must change quickly, because time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out,” the PM argued.

Panetta, for his part, reiterated that the United States stand by Israel and is committed to its security, and that “all options,” including military force, are possible. “We will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period,” he stressed.

Later, Panetta met President Shimon Peres, who said he favors a peaceful resolution to the nuclear crisis but stressed that Iran must be made aware that a military option exists.

The US defense secretary assured Peres that the US would not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Earlier Wednesday, at an Israeli defense site south of Tel Aviv, Panetta stood beside Defense Minister Ehud Barak to declare that the Obama administration is serious about the possibility of eventually resorting to military force against Iran. But he said all non-military measures must be exhausted first.

Barak sounded as unconvinced as the prime minister, saying he appreciated US support but added that the probability of international sanctions ever compelling Iran to give up its nuclear program is “extremely low.”

Netanyahu’s and Barack’s statements, taken together, dramatized the growing strains in US-Israeli relations over what strategy to pursue with Iran.

Tehran has said repeatedly that its nuclear work is for civilian energy uses only, but suspicions that the Islamic republic will use enriched uranium for nuclear weapons have resulted in international sanctions and saber-rattling from Israel, which perceives a nuclear Iran as an existential threat. The United States has discouraged Israel from a unilateral, pre-emptive military strike on Iran.

The Panetta visit to Israel comes just days after US Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney met with top Israeli officials about Iran and other issues and said that if he becomes president, he will “honor” whatever Israel decides to do about Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Romney has accused the Obama administration of being too soft on Iran and of not providing sufficient support to Israel.

Netanyahu told Israeli Channel 2 TV on Tuesday that despite reservations about an Iranian attack among former Israeli security officials and Israel’s current army chief, the country’s political leadership would make the final decision on any attack.

“I see an ayatollah regime that declares what it has championed: to destroy us,” Netanyahu said. “It’s working to destroy us, it’s preparing nuclear weapons to destroy us. … If it is up to me, I won’t let that happen.”

With “matters that have to do with our destiny, with our very existence, we do not put our faith in the hands of others, even our best of friends,” Netanyahu said, hinting that Israel might act alone despite American misgivings.

Netanyahu said both Romney and Obama have said “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

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Putin thinks Cameron conned him over Libya. He won’t allow that to happen again with Syria

Vladimir Putin, the newly restored president of Russia, is visiting Britain for the first time in seven years. And he’s over here not primarily for reasons of diplomacy, but to see the Olympics. That alone tells you something about the state of his relations with the West. Putin will meet David Cameron today and the two leaders will certainly discuss Syria. The Prime Minister will no doubt try to convince his guest that Russia’s continuing support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime is futile and self-defeating, as well as being immoral.

But my bet is that this will continue to be the diplomatic equivalent of banging your head against a brick wall. Putin’s stance on Syria has ceased to be merely a calculation of national interest, based on the value of arms exports to Assad and the importance of his country as a base for Russian influence in the Middle East.

Instead, you can sense how Russia’s position has become almost a matter of personal dignity for Putin. In blunt terms, he thinks the West cheated him over Libya last year. In his mind, Russia acted out of genuine humanitarian concern by allowing the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. Then Britain and France turned this into a de facto campaign of regime change that duly overthrew Gaddafi. What was billed as a humanitarian intervention ended up with a convenient outcome that favoured Western strategic interests. Russia’s then president, Dmitry Medvedev, was supremely naïve to have believed otherwise. Or at least that’s how Putin would see things.

That makes him doubly determined to make sure that nothing similar takes place over Syria. Putin thinks that Russia was fooled once, and he will not allow that to happen again. Would anything lead him to reconsider? The only possibility I can imagine is that if events on the ground in Syria were to become even more awful, with the fighting escalating to the point where Assad’s downfall really was imminent. Then Russia would be confronted with the futility of trying to stave off the absolutely inevitable. Unless and until that moment arrives, Putin will probably remain implacable.

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