Friday, November 22, 2019

From Ian:

Melanie Phillips: Negotiation in a war of extermination is no solution but surrender
And bang on cue, in response to this latest U.S. attempt to get the Palestinians to accept they have no option but to negotiate, they have threatened more violence. Of course: their aim of destroying Israel is non-negotiable.

So the Palestinian Authority has announced it is considering “recommendations to strengthen…home front and the popular resistance,” and “demanded” that “the masses of the Palestinian people in the homeland and everywhere act in order to thwart the plot to eliminate the Palestinian cause.”

As Palestinian Media Watch has reported, at the recent Fatah Conference for Popular Resistance Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah deputy, Mahmoud al Aloul, explained that “resistance” is “constant and ongoing,” and that it ”shouldn’t be stopped or postponed” for the sake of “an agreement [or] negotiations.” Only combined with “resistance,” said al-Aloul, would negotiations with Israel be successful.

If President Trump really believes that he can pull off the “deal of the century” between Israel and the Palestinians, he is wrong. Pursuing a negotiated deal as the solution to a war of extermination is a category error.

Trump’s bold, pro-Israel acts in stating the settlements are not illegal, as well as both recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israel’s annexation of the Golan, should not blind us to the wider and persistent mistake.

The only way to end the Arab war of extermination is to call out the Palestinians on their fundamental lies and to treat them not as statesmen-in-waiting but as international pariahs.

Only when the United States does that will we be able to say that truth and justice in the Middle East are finally being upheld.
Bret Stephens (NYTs):Israel's Settlements Are Not the Principal Obstacle to Peace with the Palestinians
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there are a number of outmoded beliefs: That the conflict can be solved by returning to the status quo ante 1967. That peace between Israel and the Arab states hinges on delivering a Palestinian state. And that settlement construction is the principal obstacle to peace. This is all nonsense.

The pan-Arab campaign to "liberate" Palestine began two decades before Israel controlled an inch of Gaza or the West Bank. Relations with much of the Arab world have flourished in recent years, not on account of any progress on the Palestinian front, but because Arab states see Israel as a capable ally against an imperialist Iran.

As for settlements, Israel withdrew all of its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005. The result was more war, not less. It would be worse than useless to demand that Israelis repeat the experiment on a much larger scale.

As a matter of survival, Israel requires that a Palestinian state have neither the ambition nor the means to devote itself to Israel's destruction. The core problem with the past half-century of failed peacemaking efforts has been the facile assumption that meeting the need for two states would ultimately fulfill Israel's requirement for security. The lesson of experience has been the opposite.

The administration's ruling on settlements cleans out some of the cobwebs under which thinking about the conflict has moldered. Peace, if it comes, will not be the result of a legal argument over the Geneva Convention. It will happen when a new generation of Palestinian leaders dedicate themselves to building up the institutions of a decent state rather than attacking those of their neighbor.
Caroline B. Glick: The reign of the prosecution
After Mandelblit made his primetime announcement, Netanyahu pledged to fight for his freedom and for the restoration of Israeli democracy and the rule of law. In his speech Thursday night, he made an impassioned appeal to his “decent” political rivals to join him in this fight.

If any politicians doubt that Netanyahu’s struggle is their struggle, they should look no further than the prosecution’s announcement last week that it was opening a review, ahead of a criminal probe – of Gantz’s role in the so-called “Fifth Dimension Affair.” The Fifth Dimension was a start-up Gantz headed. Its sale for $14 million allegedly violated standard procedures.

Maybe Gantz did nothing wrong. But then, Netanyahu is being indicted for crimes that don’t actually exist. So it doesn’t matter. The message is clear. Every politician is at the mercy of the prosecutors. Fall out of line, and you will become a criminal suspect before you can say, “prosecutorial abuse.”

It’s certainly true that the left shares the prosecutors’ hatred of Netanyahu. Blue and White exists to destroy him. But all the leftist politicians – and Liberman – who are celebrating today need to understand that the Netanyahu they love to hate is their best friend and defender today. If Netanyahu is found guilty of crimes that were invented for the purpose of destroying him, then their goose will be cooked along with his.

Politicians may make us happy or sad, frustrated or infuriated. But today, in post-democratic Israel it hardly matters. Netanyahu called last night for an “investigation of the investigators.” Unless our elected officials join forces to heed his call, they – and the voters who elected them -- will never be relevant again.

Debunking the Latest Claptrap on American Policy and Israeli Settlements
Maybe George W. Bush, who followed Clinton, fell under the Hansell memo’s spell? In 2004, Bush wrote Israel’s then prime minister, Ariel Sharon, a cautiously worded letter that set out his views on the settlements. “We welcome the disengagement plan you have prepared,” Bush wrote, “under which Israel would withdraw certain military installations and all settlements from Gaza, and withdraw certain military installations and settlements in the West Bank.” These steps, the letter continues, will “make a real contribution towards peace.”

Notably, the Bush letter was careful to state that only certain West Bank settlements would be dismantled; elsewhere, Bush speaks of Israel withdrawing from “parts” of the West Bank. To any reasonable reader, this sounds pretty close to stating outright that some, if not many, Israeli settlements in the West Bank were in fact regarded by the United States as future Israeli sovereign territory.

Which brings us to Obama. In December of 2016, after Donald Trump stunned Hillary Clinton and won the presidency, the 44th president instructed his ambassador to the United Nations to abstain on a Security Council resolution that stated that Israeli settlements had “no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” The abstention stung; it was, ironically, the first time in—drumroll please—40 years that the Security Council was able to pass a resolution critical of the settlements, all previous attempts having been blocked by a succession of American presidents from both parties.

Let’s be generous here once again, and say that the Obama administration believed all Israeli settlements anywhere in the West Bank to be illegal but hid this belief from Israel, the Palestinians and the American public, and the UN Security Council for eight years—until the very month before he left the White House. It’s possible, right? But do some simple math, and you’ll see that even then, “Settlements are Illegal” was U.S. policy for, at best, ten years: Eight under Obama, and two under Carter. That’s not a monolithic stretch lasting four decades; that’s just two left-wing Democrats breaking with established bi-partisan consensus for, at most, ten out of the past 40 years.

You’re free to like President Trump or dislike him. You’re free to consider his latest Middle East policy move to be a welcome bit of truth-telling, or a political maneuver to help Bibi, or a rash and potentially ruinous bit of grandstanding aimed at evangelical voters in the US. But one thing is abundantly clear: By promoting the false narrative about the president reversing 40 years of American policy, it is Trump’s credulous critics who are using their ignorance of history to push a radical viewpoint that was widely and repeatedly rejected by actual US policy makers for the vast majority of the past four decades.
Trump must reject the myth of ‘occupied Palestine’
International law derives from treaty and custom, and many scholars look to the Fourth Geneva Convention in making the case that the territories are occupied. This was the path taken in the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) advisory opinion on Israel’s security barrier. Curiously, however, the treaty neither defines occupation nor expands the scope of which territories qualify for such designation. The ICJ’s reading of the treaty is therefore beyond creative. It’s outright dishonest.

Perhaps sensing the deficiencies in the court’s reasoning, Judge Awn al-Khasawneh issued a concurring opinion grounded in customary international law. Such laws emerge when a sufficient number of states continuously adhere to an unwritten norm because they deem adherence legally obligatory. Noting the longstanding international consensus, as seen through a multitude of United Nations resolutions against Israel, Judge al-Khasawneh deemed the disputed territories occupied.

But there’s a problem with this line of reasoning: It only tells us what customary norms emerged after Israel acquired the territory. It does not inform us as to the law at the time of Israel’s acquisition. In other words, Judge al-Khasawneh seemingly imposed an ex post facto law on Israel, something unconscionable in modern jurisprudence.

Besides, changes in customary international law cannot be imposed on states against their will. Even if custom now deems places like the disputed territory eligible for occupation, Israel is a persistent objector, a state that has opted out of a customary obligation.

While an argument could be made that Israel might have initially considered otherwise, as it briefly issued a military proclamation applying the humanitarian laws of occupation to the disputed territories, its position ultimately solidified that the territories were not occupied.

As last week’s ECJ decision exemplifies, the idea that the disputed territories are occupied is still taken as gospel. A closer look at the region’s history and relevant international law, however, casts significant doubt on this dogma. And without an occupation, the legal case against the settlements collapses.

Previously, the Trump administration stopped referring to the territories as occupied in State Department documents, but leading official Michael Kozak indicated that there was no official shift in policy. With Secretary Pompeo’s Monday announcement, it’s time to make things official: “Occupied Palestine” is a myth.
Daniel Gordis: Asking the Wrong Question about the Occupation
The examples abound, but the point is clear. We Stand Divided does not blame our complex and fraught relationship primarily on the occupation, so if a book can be born in sin, it is, as far as Shulevitz is concerned. And therefore, even accuracy can be cast overboard in the drive to “take it down.”

Needless to say, Shulevitz has no suggestion as to how Israelis can end the occupation without endangering their children. Yet she feels comfortable speaking about “the abuses” of Israel’s foreign policy; obviously, as she lives in New York, the specter of the West Bank turning into Gaza isn’t her problem. I will confess that, particularly this week when Israeli parents had to comfort their distraught children who had run time and again to bomb shelters and had to try desperately to sleep there on the concrete, it felt to me fundamentally immoral for her to suggest that we should endanger our children in Israel so she can assuage her conscience in Manhattan.

That immorality aside, her complete misread of Israeli society is astounding. Because Shulevitz, like many American Jews, cannot abide Israel’s militarism, she retains hope that a “a new Israeli government may reverse the previous one’s extremely right-wing foreign policies.” Yet that simply illustrates how thin is her understanding of Israel’s politics and its people. As I argued in the Times not long ago, a Gantz government is not likely to change Israel’s foreign policy almost at all; if anything, Netanyahu has been quite war averse, and Gantz might well not be. If Shulevitz knew more about Israel, she would know that the occupation has not been a campaign issue in any of Israel’s recent elections — even for the left-leaning parties. Is that because Israelis by the millions are morally calloused and need American progressives to teach them ethical thinking? Or is it, perhaps, because while American progressives are embarrassed by Israel, Israelis are largely proud of their country, and before anything else, they will do whatever is required for it — and them — to survive?

These, then, are the questions we must ask ourselves. Can Israelis learn to see in American Judaism an extraordinary project that has in many ways succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination, that has brought feminism to Judaism, pluralism to Jewish discourse, creativity to Jewish ritual and much more? And can American Jews come to see Israel for the extraordinary success that it is, recognizing that though they might well wish reality was otherwise, Israel’s job is not to satisfy an American-style progressive quest for virtuousness, but rather, to be a haven for the Jewish people, to survive and to perpetuate what is without question the greatest revival of Jewish national, cultural and intellectual life that the Jewish people has witnessed in 2,000 years?
Britain Urges Israel to Halt Settlement Expansion, in Contrast to US
Britain urged Israel to halt its “counterproductive” settlement expansion on Thursday, saying it was illegal under international law.

The Foreign Office reiterated its position on the settlements after the United States on Monday effectively backed Israel’s right to build settlements in the West Bank.

“The position of the UK on settlements is clear,” it said in a statement. “They are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace, and threaten the viability of a two-state solution. We urge Israel to halt its counterproductive settlement expansion.”

David Singer: Israel, Jordan and Egypt Must Hop on Trump Bandwagon to Peace
The right of Jews to live in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) for the purposes of reconstituting the Jewish National Home there has been enshrined in international law under article 6 of the 1922 Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the 1945 United Nations Charter.

The United Nations, the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have denied the legitimacy of these Jewish claims – emboldening the Arabs to claim 100% of these territories. Pompeo’s statement has quashed the Arabs’ claims.

One roadblock still remaining requires Trump to identify the Arab interlocutors prepared to stand up and negotiate with Israel on Trump’s plan. Pompeo has given the PLO one last opportunity to join the negotiations with Israel.

“The United States encourages the Israelis and the Palestinians to resolve the status of Israeli settlements in the West Bank in any final status negotiations.”

The PLO had already unequivocally refused to negotiate on Trump’s plan – and will continue to do so.Trump should focus on Jordan and Egypt -the last two Arab States to have occupied Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and Gaza respectively between 1948 and 1967 – to fill the void.

Israel needs a new Government within the next 21 days or face another expensive and debilitating election in March 2020 – just as Trump is bidding for re-election - when he might consider it inopportune to release his plan.

Israel, Jordan and Egypt must hop on the Trump bandwagon now.

‘True leadership shines bright’: PM’s Israel honour
AUSTRALIA’S commitment to Israel “remains as firm today as it was 70 years ago if not even stronger”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in Sydney last night (Thursday) as he accepted the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Jerusalem Prize.

Addressing a packed room of politicians, Jewish leaders and communal identities, Morrison blasted the United Nations for allowing antisemitism to “seep into its deliberations – all under the language of human rights”.

“We are not buying that, my government is not buying that, our government is not buying that,” Morrison asserted.
Photo: Giselle Haber

The Prime Minister also condemned the rise of antisemitism across Australia, noting, “We can’t pretend it is not happening here – it is.

“It is shameful, absolutely shameful, these incidents just have no place in Australia. But yet it persists and that is why we must remain so vigilant about these things.”

Morrison added, “We know the character of our friend Israel and we stand with our friends and under this government we’ve set up trade and defence office in west Jerusalem to deepen our ties on trade and defence industries.”

Blue and White demands that Netanyahu drop ministries
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must resign from his other portfolios immediately, Blue and White wrote in a letter to him and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Friday.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz wrote on Facebook soon after, in light of Netanyahu facing corruption charges, that he trusts the legal authorities to do its job without fear.

The faction’s letter came the day after Mandelblit announced Netanyahu’s indictment on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Ministers who are not the prime minister must resign if they are indicted.

“On the basis of a Supreme Court decision, a minister who has been indicted may not continue to hold office,” the party wrote. “Therefore, it is imperative that you vacate the ministerial positions you hold in the government of Israel.”

Netanyahu is currently Health Minister, Diaspora Affairs Minister, Agriculture and Labor and Social Services Minister. He holds the first portfolio while UTJ leader Ya’acov Litzman is a deputy minister with the power of a minister, for ideological reasons. The other ministries belonged to MKs who resigned or were fired during the interim government that has been in place for almost a year.
Right-wing bloc pushes support for Netanyahu: Innocent until proven guilty
Foreign Minister Israel Katz and other members of the right-wing bloc expressed support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his indictment on Friday.

"Israel is a lawful state and the presumption of innocence applies for every person, especially for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israeli patriot, who sacrificed and acted all his life for the security of the State of Israel and the strengthening of its position in the
world," said Katz.

The foreign minister stressed that even Likud's political rivals should internalize that as long as there is no legal decision disqualifying Netanyahu as prime minister, he is permitted to continue in his position.

Katz added that "only the public and their representatives in the Knesset are the ones who control in a democratic way who leads the State of Israel in this challenging and risky period."

National Union MK Bezalel Smotrich warned in a tweet on Friday that if the people of Israel don't take to the streets and don't give "political power to the one who will prevent this legal crisis," then they will "wake up very quickly to an overpowering, violent and dangerous judicial dictatorship."
Thousands to spend Shabbat in Hebron commemorating purchase of Cave of Patriarchs
Thousands of people flocked to Hebron on Friday to spend Shabbat at the Cave of the Patriarchs.

The Torah portion that will be read on Saturday in synagogues all over the world, Chayei Sarah, describes how Abraham purchased the cave as a burial plot for his wife Sarah. As described in the Bible, also Abraham himself, as well as Isaac, Jacob, Rebeccah and Leah are buried there, making it one of the holiest sites in Judaism, but also in Islam. Located in the heart of Hebron’s Old Town, the monument houses both Jewish sanctuaries of worship and the Ibrahimi mosque.

Several events are scheduled for the weekend.

According to a statement by Israeli police, tens of thousands of people are expected to visit the site over Shabbat. For this reason, special security arrangements have been implemented by Israel’s security forces.

“On the very site where the Jewish patriarch Abraham offered food and drink to wayfarers from an open tent in the hot desert sun, Chabad of Hebron will do its best to live up to his example when it hosts a record crowd of 6,000 at its annual Shabbat Chayei Sarah mega-gathering beginning Friday at sundown,” the Chassidic movement Chabad Lubavitch said in a statement.
Report: Israel Jammed Russian Pantsir Air Defense Systems during Syria Airstrikes
There is a logical explanation for the Syrian anti-air defense systems’ failure to repel the Israeli airstrikes earlier this week, and for the complete inaction of the Russian S-400 Triumph missile systems. A key reason is radar jamming by Israel, which has been confirmed by video footage showing Pantsir guided missiles simply self-detonating without hitting their targets. The video has been published by the Russian Telegram channel Gallifreyan Technology.

Israel’s Defense Ministry has not made an official comment on the matter. However, it is noteworthy that the Israeli Air Force used Delilah cruise missiles, which are designed for combat against radar systems and contain radar jamming devices, which lends credibility to the theory.

According to data from several sources, at least eight cruise missiles were fired against targets in the region of the Syrian capital. Of these, only two were shot down, which demonstrated the extremely poor effectiveness of the anti-air defense systems.
NGO to Israeli gov.: Withhold additional NIS 241m. in terror money from PA
Palestinian Media Watch is calling on the Israeli government to deduct an additional 241 million shekels from the tax money it transfers to the Palestinian Authority each month.

On November 18, the NGO released an updated report documenting the minimum amount of money the PA is paying to families of dead terrorists. The numbers, which PMW’s head of legal strategies, Maurice Hirsch, described as “complex to calculate,” show that the families of at least 14,300 dead terrorists are receiving month stipends of a minimum of NIS 1,400 per month. When added to one-time grants, the total payments in 2018 were at least 241 million NIS - the equivalent of $64.4 million.

The government, before heading to elections in December 2018, passed what is known as the Pay-for-Slay law and committed to deduct from tax transfer to the PA the amount of its payments to terrorist prisoners and families of dead or wounded terrorists.

In February 2019, the government deducted 502 NIS, the amount the PA paid to terrorist prisoners. However, no announcement has been made since then regarding the sum paid to the families.
PMW: Fatah puts bullet into logo to celebrate Arafat's terror legacy
Abbas: Palestinians are "still continuing the path” of Arafat and terrorist murderers - “heroic Martyrs who sacrificed for Allah and for the liberation of Palestine”

On the anniversary of the death of former PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, the Fatah Movement once again revealed the essence of its character and emphasized the movement’s adherence to Arafat’s legacy of violence and terror.

On its official Facebook page, Fatah posted an image with a logo for the 15th anniversary of Arafat’s death. The logo (marked by red circle below) displays the number “15” with a bullet as the digit “1”.

The use of a bullet in the logo and the focus on Arafat’s legacy of violence and terror is not surprising. Fatah is careful never to portray Arafat as a man of peace – (and rightfully so) – and never reminds the Palestinian public that he did in fact receive the Nobel Peace Prize for signing the Oslo Peace Accords with Israel. Fatah never promotes photos or footage from any of Arafat’s negotiations with Israel or his signing of the peace treaty at the White House in 1993, but only promotes the image of Arafat as a man of war.
Can Hamas Be Tamed?
Israel's policy toward Hamas has been one which minimizes the sticks and maximizes the carrots for keeping the peace. Yet any carrots offered to Hamas will be used to enhance its military capabilities in the future.

Rest assured that as the welfare of Gaza's population improves, Hamas will dig more and deeper tunnels and storage centers within Gaza itself, improve the firepower and payloads of its missiles, and try to dig offensive tunnels into Israel.

This means scuttling the visions of those who argue that Israeli sticks should be accompanied by a Marshall Plan of goodies to improve the welfare of Gaza's inhabitants.

That only worked after Germany and Japan were totally defeated and a mutual threat to the Western alliance, the Soviet Union, emerged.
Organizers of Gaza marches said discussing reducing their frequency
The committee responsible for organizing weekly protests in the border region between Israel and the Gaza Strip is discussing whether to reduce the frequency of the demonstrations, a Lebanese newspaper reported on Friday, citing a source in the body.

The report in the pro-Hezbollah al-Akhbar comes after the High Commission for the March of Return and Breaking the Siege, which includes representatives of Gaza-based terror groups and political factions, canceled both last week’s and this Friday’s protests in the border area.

There is a discussion about “rolling back the marches to once a month or during national occasions,” the source in the High Commission told al-Akhbar, noting a decision on the matter had not been made yet.

The source added that the Palestinian factions in Gaza reached a consensus to cancel this Friday’s protest “in light of information that indicates the occupation will aim to break the conditions of the Al-Quds Brigades regarding targeting demonstrators,” adding that it would do so “to provoke, embarrass and push Islamic Jihad to respond and enter a new confrontation, which [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will use as a lifeline.”
Hiding in Plain Sight: Hezbollah's Campaign Against UNIFIL
Southern Lebanon is Hizbullah's main area of military deployment against Israel. Its current arsenal is estimated to include 130,000 rockets, attack drones, coast-to-sea missiles, and surface-to-air missiles. This firepower, exceeding that of most states, is augmented by offensive infantry units.

The UNIFIL mandate is to help the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) become the only military force south of the Litani River. Yet UN reports describe numerous incidents in which UNIFIL suffered restrictions of its movement or violence against its troops.

In November 2018, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reported that on August 4, "20 individuals in civilian clothes stopped a four-vehicle UNIFIL patrol in the village of Majdal Zun, allegedly because the peacekeepers were taking photographs. During the course of the incident, several individuals broke windows of the patrol vehicles with hammers, shot at two of the vehicles as they sought to disengage and poured gasoline on a vehicle, setting it ablaze."

"Some individuals assaulted the peacekeepers, punching and beating the patrol commander with sticks as he attempted to mediate the situation and kicking and dragging another peacekeeper while he was on the ground. Individuals also pointed weapons at the UNIFIL personnel, including at close range, snatching their weapons or demanding that they be handed over."

Lebanon delays trial of Lebanese-American accused of collaborating with Israel
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said Thursday a court session in the case of a Lebanese-American accused of dealing with Israel had been postponed because of his illness.

The Lebanese news agency said Thursday’s session of Amer Fakhoury in the southern market town of Nabatiyeh was postponed until December 5.

Lebanon and Israel have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948. Fakhoury had worked as a senior warden at the Khiam Prison in southern Lebanon that was run by an Israeli-backed militia, known as the South Lebanon Army.

He was detained after returning to his native Lebanon from the US in September and has been accused of engaging in the torture and killing of Lebanese citizens, The Daily Star reported.

Outside the courthouse in Nabatiyeh, a stronghold of the militant Hezbollah group, scores of people, including former Khiam prison detainees, gathered outside the building known as Palace of Justice.
To Prevent the Rebirth of Islamic State, the U.S. Must Constrain Iran
In a speech given the day after the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—the “caliph” of Islamic State (IS)—President Trump stated that Iran had been “right there” in fighting the Sunni terrorist group, along with its allies Syria and Russia. The comment echoed a common refrain of the Obama administration; in fact, the former president proposed in his 2014 letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that Washington and Tehran join forces against IS, their common enemy. While Iranian troops and proxy militias did occasionally fight IS, writes Tzvi Kahn, partnering with Iran would have been the equivalent of “hiring the arsonist to put out the fire.”

Iran’s efforts to achieve hegemony in the Middle East have entailed the brutal suppression of Sunni Arab populations. In Syria, the relentless atrocities of the Assad regime reflected those of IS itself. In Iraq, a pro-Tehran government marginalized Sunni Arabs and persecuted their leaders. So long as Iran’s expansionist policies remain unchecked, terrorists like Baghdadi will exploit the Sunni-Shiite conflicts that Tehran specializes in fueling.

It didn’t have to be this way. After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iran-backed Shiite forces began to infiltrate and co-opt the new [Iraqi] government, enabling Tehran to exert substantial influence in Baghdad. In response to the massacres of Shiites by Sunni insurgents, [Iran-backed] Shiite militias unleashed death squads of their own and planted roadside bombs that killed hundreds of U.S. soldiers. Fortunately, the surge of U.S. forces in 2007, coupled with a new counterinsurgency strategy, gave Iraq a second chance to overcome its divisions. But the Obama administration’s hasty withdrawal of troops in 2011 reversed this progress, resulting in another downward spiral of sectarianism.

The U.S. completed its exit from Iraq only months after the onset of Syria’s civil war, which not only created another haven exploited by IS but also spurred Iran’s military intervention to save the Assad regime. Iran opposed IS in Syria but was more concerned with other rebel groups, both secular and Islamist, that posed a more immediate threat to Assad. Meanwhile, Assad’s brutality—about which Iran had no qualms—led Syria’s Sunni population to cooperate with IS and other extremists as a desperate means of self-preservation. . . .
Obscuring Iranian Aggression to Defend the Failure of the Obama Administration’s Middle East Policy
In a recent essay for the magazine Foreign Affairs, Robert Malley, who served as one of Barack Obama’s senior Middle East advisers, outlines the dangers he perceives in the Trump administration’s current policies toward the region. The thrust of his argument is that only by lifting sanctions on Iran, punishing Israel, and abandoning Sunni Arab allies can Washington reduce the dangers of a major war. To make his case, he systematically tries to downplay the undeniable dangers posed by the Islamic Republic, and shift the blame for regional disorders onto those countries, like Israel, that have tried to contain it. Tony Badran dissects Malley’s claims:

Because the Iranian role throughout the region is so obvious and bloody, Malley can’t deny it directly. Instead, he uses the passive voice, open-ended questions, and lawyerly weasel words to open up as much space as possible in the reader’s mind for deniability and doubt, while refusing to answer the questions he raises—because the answers that would best suit his larger argument are simply false. “Iran almost certainly helps the Houthis and Iraqi Shiite militias, but does it control them? The People’s Protection Units, a movement of Kurdish fighters in Syria, are affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey, but do they follow its command?” [Malley asks].

According to Malley, “local struggles” might attract Iranian support. [Conflating cause and effect], he’s obscuring the plain fact that Iran has deliberately dedicated forces and resources to its regionwide expansionist program dating back to the first days of the Islamic Revolution. As such, Malley sagely opines, in Lebanon, “Hizballah may be focused on power and politics.” Malley’s phrase rules out nothing, and is therefore entirely meaningless—but it presumably sounds better than “Hizballah runs a sectarian army deployed in multiple theaters under Tehran’s command, with an arsenal of over 150,000 missiles pointed at Israel.”

Malley’s tactic of muddying the waters also extends to Iran itself. “Even in seemingly well-structured states, the locus of decision-making has become opaque. In Iran, the government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the military force created in parallel to the regular military that answers directly to the country’s supreme leader, at times seem to go their separate ways. Whether this reflects a conscious division of labor or an actual tug of war is a matter of debate, as is the question of who exactly pulls the strings.”
Iran’s internet blackout the first to effectively isolate a whole nation
Internet connectivity is trickling back in Iran after the government shut down access to the rest of the world for more than four days in response to unrest apparently triggered by a gasoline price hike.

The shutdown across a nation of 80 million people was the first to effectively isolate a modern, highly developed domestic network, experts say. That makes it a milestone in efforts by authoritarian governments to censor online communications.

Other governments — such as Ethiopia’s — have imposed longer internet shutdowns. And Russia is exerting more central control over its internet. But nothing to date equals Iran’s shutdown in logistical complexity, the experts say.

“There is a desperate move to control all information in the country and to ensure that the government has a monopoly on information,” said Adrian Shahbaz, research director for technology and democracy at Freedom House, a watchdog group.

Despite the open nature of the internet, a combination of technical measures and political pressure in repressive states can isolate large populations from free-flowing information.
Pompeo asks for videos from Iran protests as internet begins to return
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Iranians on Thursday to send photos and other information documenting repression amid ongoing protests, while vowing to sanction “abuses” by the Islamic republic.

Demonstrations erupted in sanctions-hit Iran last Friday, hours after the price of gasoline spiked by as much as 200 percent.

Unrest spread to scores of urban centers, during which protesters attacked police stations, torched petrol pumps and looted shops.

“I have asked the Iranian protesters to send us their videos, photos and information documenting the regime’s crackdown on protesters,” Pompeo tweeted.

“The US will expose and sanction the abuses,” he added.

A near-total internet shutdown has made obtaining information on bloodshed difficult. Officials have confirmed five deaths, but Amnesty International has said the real death toll could be well over 100.

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