Friday, June 28, 2013

Long Live the King (of Jordan)

The King of Jordan and his Palestinian wife

Jordan May Be More Resilient than People Think -Clifford D. May

A visitor to Amman, Jordan's capital, cannot help but be struck by how normal - even relaxed - Jordanians appear. Jordanians look around their neighborhood and ask themselves: "Is what we have so bad? And if we throw it away, what will replace it?"

What they have is King Abdullah II, coronated 14 years ago. The king descends from the Prophet Mohammed, and it was his clan, the Hashemites, that for a millennium served as the custodians of Mecca and Medina, Islam's holiest places, until the Saudis deposed them.

King Abdullah, 51, is a faithful Muslim, but he is decidedly not an Islamist. He does not believe it is the mission of Muslims of the 21st century to resurrect the seventh century, when a religion born in Arabia gave rise to armies that went on to conquer and colonize the lands of Christians and polytheists. He also understands that democratic institutions and habits must evolve - they cannot be imposed overnight in cultures where the power of ancient tribal allegiances trumps the power of new ideas.
The writer is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
(Israel Hayom)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Kerry in Wonderland: The Peace Crusade

Hate, Not Time, Is the Enemy of Peace -Jonathan S. Tobin

With his decision to try to rush the parties into a negotiation with no evidence of common ground for an agreement, Secretary of State Kerry is setting the region up for a blowup that could have been avoided. Instead of listening to the parties and seeing that the Palestinians are not ready to make the sort of sacrifices needed for peace, Kerry is blind to the fact that the real enemy of peace is the hate that fuels the conflict.

A failure to negotiate is bad enough, but negotiations that are doomed to failure are even worse. American diplomats should remember the last time they tried to muscle Israel and the Palestinians into an agreement at Camp David in the summer of 2000. That led to the second intifada and over a thousand slaughtered Jews and even more dead Palestinians.

What's Really Wrong with the Middle East? -Aaron David Miller

I know it comes as a shocker, but the Middle East really isn't the center of the world any more. Many in the Middle East still believe that the world sits on the edge of its collective seat 24/7 wondering what's going to happen next in their region and devising new ways to rescue them. I'm really tired of hammering the United States for not rescuing the peace process and of Arabs waiting for us to punish Israel, which too many ridiculously dismiss as either America's master or its unruly child.
The writer is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
(Foreign Policy)

The Myth of the Inevitable Jewish Minority in Israel -Jeff Jacoby

It's an old refrain, erroneous but popular: Israel must make peace with the Palestinians before high Arab birthrates turn the Jews into a minority in their own land. This ominous "demographic argument" rests on an obsolete stereotype of Arab women as baby mills, outbreeding their Jewish sisters.

In the 1960s, the fertility rate for Israeli Arabs (9.2 births per woman) soared far above that of Israeli Jews (3.4 births per woman). Within Israel, the birth rate among Muslims is now at 3.5 children per woman. It is even lower for Palestinians in the West Bank - just 2.9, according to the CIA Factbook.

The bottom line is that the 6.3 million Jews living in Israel and the West Bank represent 66% of the area's population (not including Gaza).
(Boston Globe)

The Bane of Palestinian Infighting - Kimberly Marten
  • The resignation of two Palestinian prime ministers in quick succession has left the PA leadership in limbo. But naming a new prime minister will accomplish little unless the Palestinians can also overcome the patronage, corruption and infighting in their security forces.
The writer is a professor of political science at Barnard College and acting director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.
(New York Times)



Honor and Compromise in Middle East Leadership - Harold Rhode
  • In the Middle East, leaders almost never admit that they made mistakes: doing so would bring shame on them. The Western concept of compromise - each side conceding certain points to the other side in order to come to an agreement - does not exist in the Middle East.
  • People will go to any lengths to avoid shame; they are prepared to go to jail, risk death, and even kill family members (usually females) to uphold what they perceive as their honor and that of their family. This battle to avoid shame at all costs indicates why Morsi, Erdogan, Saddam, Assad, Arafat, and Abbas can never back down.
  • Why Secretary of State Kerry and the Obama administration believe they can persuade Abbas to sign an agreement guaranteeing Israel's right to exist in any form is astonishing. It is pointless, therefore, for Western and Israeli political leaders to try to provide Middle Eastern leaders with incentives to reach compromises where, in Western eyes all sides win, but - to their fellow Arabs and Muslims - their side loses.
The writer served in the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment.
(Gatestone Institute)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Israel & Deterrence

Israel's Concept of Security -Amos Harel 

A new book by Prof. (and reserve major general) Itzhak Ben-Israel on Israel's concept of security reminds us that the principles David Ben-Gurion set in the 1950s have not changed, despite changing circumstances.

"When the General Staff meets to discuss a military operation, 80% of the discussion revolves around deterrence," he said.

Israel cannot really overcome its enemies in the long run, he added. Even the great victory of the Six-Day War provided only six months of quiet until the War of Attrition began on the Egyptian front.

"In Israel's conception of security, wars are actually rounds of violence in one long war," he said. Victory under such circumstances is "to see to it that from one round to the next the enemy's desire to return to the conflict is reduced."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Emerging Sunni Shia War

Click map for larger view

Egypt Villagers "Proud" of Killing Shiites - Haitham El-Tabei  

Residents of the Egyptian village of Abu Mussalem outside Cairo said they were "proud" of the mob lynching of four Shiite Muslims, after weeks of anti-Shiite rhetoric in the media.

Witnesses and security officials said that hundreds of residents surrounded the house of a Shiite resident after learning that a leading Shiite cleric was inside.

The mob threw firebombs at the house, hoping to set it ablaze, while chanting "Shiites are infidels." Then they stormed the house, dragged the four Shiites out and beat them to death.

"We're happy about what happened. It should have happened long ago," said teacher Mohamed Ismail, to the approving nods of residents.         


Escalating Anti-Shi'ite Rhetoric from Sunni Clerics
  • The Sunni-Shi'ite schism is emerging as one of the most influential factors shaping the Middle East. A major force driving the schism is the escalating anti-Shi'ite rhetoric from Sunni clerics who belong to different schools of thought.
  • Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, considered by many the current spiritual leader of the Sunni world, said that Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi clerics were right to consider Shi'ites as infidels, and adopted their terminology when talking about the Shi'a ("Hizbullah is the Party of Satan").
  • The meaning of this escalation is that, ideologically speaking, the fight against the Shi'a (and its representatives, Iran and Hizbullah) takes precedence over the fight against the West and Israel.
(Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center)

America sidelined, barely relevant -Charles Krauthammer

The war in Syria, started by locals, is now a regional conflict, the meeting ground of two warring blocs. On one side, the radical Shiite bloc led by Iran, which overflies Iraq to supply Bashar al-Assad and sends Hezbollah to fight for him. Behind them lies Russia, which has stationed ships offshore, provided the regime with tons of weaponry and essentially claimed Syria as a Russian protectorate.
And on the other side are the Sunni Gulf states terrified of Iranian hegemony (territorial and soon nuclear); non-Arab Turkey, now convulsed by an internal uprising; and fragile Jordan, dragged in by geography.

And behind them? No one. It’s the Spanish Civil War except that only one side — the fascists — showed up. The natural ally of what began as a spontaneous, secular, liberationist uprising in Syria was the United States. For two years, it did nothing.

President Obama’s dodge was his chemical-weapons “red line.” In a conflict requiring serious statecraft, Obama chose to practice forensics instead, earnestly agonizing over whether reported poison gas attacks reached the evidentiary standards of “CSI: Miami.”

Obama talked “chain of custody,” while Iran and Russia, hardly believing their luck, reached for regional dominance — the ayatollahs solidifying their “Shiite crescent,” Vladimir Putin seizing the opportunity to dislodge America as regional hegemon, a position the United States achieved four decades ago under Henry Kissinger.

And when finally forced to admit that his red line had been crossed — a “game changer,” Obama had gravely warned — what did he do? Promise the rebels small arms and ammunition.

That’s it? It’s meaningless: The rebels are already receiving small arms from the Gulf states.

Serious policymaking would dictate that we either do something that will alter the course of the war, or do nothing. Instead, Obama has chosen to do just enough to give the appearance of having done something.
[Washington Post]

Media Bias in the MidEast

A slideshow exploring MidEast media bias

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Syria & Egypt Are Dying Countries

Goldman gives Syria & Egypt a terminal diagnosis. 
Can they be saved with American dollars?

Syria and Egypt can't be fixed -David P. Goldman

Syria and Egypt are dying. They were dying before the Syrian civil war broke out and before the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Cairo. Syria has an insoluble civil war and Egypt has an insoluble crisis because they are dying. They are dying because they chose not to do what China did: move the better part of a billion people from rural backwardness to a modern urban economy within a generation. Mexico would have died as well, without the option to send its rural poor - fully one-fifth of its population - to the United States.

It was obvious to anyone who troubled to examine the data that Egypt could not maintain a bottomless pit in its balance of payments, created by a 50% dependency on imported food, not to mention an energy bill fed by subsidies that consumed a quarter of the national budget. It was obvious that the Syrian regime's belated attempt to modernize its agricultural sector would create a crisis as hundreds of thousands of displaced farmers gathered in slums on the outskirts of its cities.

Sometimes countries dig themselves into a hole from which they cannot extricate themselves. Third World dictators typically keep their rural population poor, isolated and illiterate, the better to maintain control. That was the policy of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party from the 1930s, which warehoused the rural poor in Stalin-modeled collective farms called ejidos occupying most of the national territory. That was also the intent of the Arab nationalist dictatorships in Egypt and Syria. The policy worked until it didn't. In Mexico, it stopped working during the debt crisis of the early 1980s, and Mexico's poor became America's problem. In Egypt and Syria, it stopped working in 2011. There is nowhere for Egyptians and Syrians to go.

Egypt remains a pre-modern society, with nearly 50% illiteracy, a 30% rate of consanguineal marriage, a 90% rate of female genital mutilation, and an un- or underemployment rate over 40%. Syria has neither enough oil nor water to maintain the bazaar economy dominated by the Assad family.

Both were disasters waiting to happen. Economics, to be sure, set the stage but did not give the cues: Syria's radical Sunnis revolted in part out of enthusiasm for the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and partly in fear of Iran's ambition to foster Shi'ite ascendancy in the region.

As malnutrition afflicts roughly a quarter of Egyptians in the World Health Organization's estimate, and the Muslim Brotherhood government waits for a bumper wheat crop that never will come, Egypt is slowly dying. Emergency loans from Qatar and Libya slowed the national necrosis but did not stop it.

This background lends an air of absurdity to the present debate over whether the West should arm Syria's Sunni rebels. American hawks like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to be sure, argue for sending arms to the Sunnis because they think it politically unwise to propose an attack on the Assad regime's master, namely Iran. The Obama administration has agreed to arm the Sunnis because it costs nothing to pre-empt Republican criticism. We have a repetition of the "dumb and dumber" consensus that prevailed during early 2011, when the Republican hawks called for intervention in Libya and the Obama administration obliged. Call it the foreign policy version of the sequel, "Dumb and Dumberer".

Even if the Sunnis could eject the Assad family from Damascus and establish a new government - which I doubt - the best case scenario would be another Egypt: a Muslim Brotherhood government presiding over a collapsed economy and sliding inevitably towards state failure. It is too late even for this kind of arrangement. Equalizing the military position of the two sides will merely increase the body count.

The only humane thing to do is to partition the country on the Yugoslav model, but that does not appear to be on the agenda of any government.
[Asia Times]

Let's Pretend We're Funding Moderates

Are these the good guys?

New Moderates: Syrian Rebels, Iranian President, and the Taliban!
-Barry Rubin, PhD

Let’s say that you feel Iran is the bigger of the two evils and that Tehran, Hizballah, and Russia cannot be allowed to have a victory in the Syrian civil war. Therefore, the United States has to supply weapons to the rebels despite the fact that they are America-hating Islamists. I can understand that argument but let’s explore the adventure that the United States and European Union is about to embark on.

The cost is the U.S. backing for the Sunni Islamist takeover of much of the Middle East.

If the United States supplies enough weapons to just keep the rebels going, that would be one thing. But American policymakers are likely to be carried away--as often happens to Americans in this situation--and to see rebel victory as the equivalent of good, the heroic freedom fighters battling for liberation...

It is surprising that it doesn't seem to bother a lot of people to support an antisemitic, anti-Christian, anti-woman, anti-gay movement that has already committed atrocities, whose leading organization also once collaborated with the Nazis, and about 20 percent of which consists of al-Qaida supporters?

Moreover, don't count the rebels out yet despite the hysteria that Assad is winning. Five weeks ago everyone claimed the rebels were winning. Moreover, while I don't want the Syrian regime to win, let's remember that two short years ago the Obama Administration was courting Syria as a potential ally, treating what was still a dreaded dictatorship as if it was one step from singing, "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Visiting U.S. officials and members of Congress became apologists for the regime. For those remembering these events, the current scene is disgusting.

Suddenly Syria became a ferocious dictatorship. It was always a ferocious dictatorship. Suddenly it became an ally of Tehran, a stance that the Obama Administration claimed two short years ago that it was going to reverse. In fact, it has been an ally of Iran for more than 30 years.

How short are memories.

Will the murder of Christians and other rebel atrocities incur any penalties on U.S. backing or not? Everyone should know that the United States cannot protect one Syrian civilian from murder and persecution by the rebels. Who is doing who a favor?

One can make the case that the Sunni Islamists, without a big source of money or arms, are less threatening than Iran. Yet that depends, too, on how Sunni Islamist policy, which largely means the Muslim Brotherhood, develop[s].

Suppose the rebels still aren’t winning. The aides and experts and advisers then explain to the White House that unless more and better weapons are sent then “our” side will lose. That can’t happen, right? It will be an even more humiliating loss to the Russians, Iranians, Hizballah, and the Syrian regime that not so long ago—just over two years ago--was Obama’s good buddy.

According to U.S. policy, there is a radical and moderate wing of the Syrian rebels, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood regime, the Turkish stealth Islamist regime, probably now the Iranian regime, and several others as well no doubt.
[The Rubin Report]

Friday, June 14, 2013

Rooting for Vile Iranian Leader

Presidential candidates in Iran,
Saeed Jalili (left) and Hassan Rouhani.

Rooting for Jalili -Daniel Pipes, PhD

Four years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a blog, "Rooting for Ahmadinejad," which explained why I wanted the worst of the candidates on Iran's election day in 2009 to win the election.

"...whoever is elected president, whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or his main opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, will have limited impact on the issue that most concerns the outside world – Iran's drive to build nuclear weapons, which Khamene'i will presumably continue apace, as he has in prior decades.

Therefore, while my heart goes out to the many Iranians who desperately want the vile Ahmadinejad out of power, my head tells me it's best that he remain in office. When Mohammed Khatami was president, his sweet words lulled many people into complacency, even as the nuclear weapons program developed on his watch. If the patterns remain unchanged, better to have a bellicose, apocalyptic, in-your-face Ahmadinejad who scares the world than a sweet-talking Mousavi who again lulls it to sleep, even as thousands of centrifuges whir away."

And so, despite myself, I am rooting for Ahmadinejad."

Following the same logic, that it's better to have an aggressive Saeed Jalili than a sweet talking Hassan Rouhani, I am, despite myself, rooting for the vile Jalili.
[National Review Online]


Israel Not "Deluding" Itself over Election -Calev Ben-David

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the world to keep pressuring Iran to curtail its nuclear program, even after Hassan Rowhani's election as president of the Islamic Republic. "Regarding the elections in Iran, we do not delude ourselves," Netanyahu told the Cabinet in Jerusalem. "The international community must not be caught up in wishful thinking and be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program."

The Israeli leader said that Iran's nuclear program is controlled by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, not Rowhani, and remains a threat to world peace.

Behind Iran's "Moderate" New Leader  -Sohrab Ahmari

So this is what democracy looks like in a theocratic dictatorship. Iran's presidential campaign season kicked off last month when an unelected body of 12 Islamic jurists disqualified more than 600 candidates. Women were automatically out; so were Iranian Christians, Jews and even Sunni Muslims. The rest were purged for possessing insufficient revolutionary zeal.

Regime loyalist Hassan Rowhani, 64, a former nuclear negotiator and security apparatchik, served for 16 years as secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. During his tenure, Rowhani led the crackdown on a 1999 student uprising and helped the regime evade Western scrutiny of its nuclear-weapons program.

During the campaign, he boasted of how during his tenure as negotiator Iran didn't suspend enrichment - on the contrary, "we completed the program." 
(Wall Street Journal)

The Regime Wanted Rowhani to Win -Avi Issacharoff

Putting aside how quickly the winner of the Iranian presidential election Hassan Rowhani was branded a "reformist" by Western media outlets, losing candidate Ali Akbar Velayati described him most accurately as a servant of the regime. The incoming president of Iran was never a reformist, and it is doubtful that his achievement was even a victory for the moderate camp in Iran. Rowhani, as opposed to the image that has been fashioned, was until recently known as part of the conservative camp in Iran. He is not one of those challenging the Islamist regime, and certainly not challenging Khamenei's rule.

"He never called himself a reformist," explains Dr. Soli Shahvar, who heads the Ezri Center for Iran and Gulf Studies at Haifa University.

"I interpret his election in one way only: The regime wanted him to win....Victory for a candidate who is perceived as more moderate yet still has the confidence of Khamenei, serves the regime."
(The Tower)

A "Pragmatic" Mullah - Bret Stephens

Hassan Rowhani is the man who chaired Iran's National Security Council between 1989 and 2005, meaning he was at the top table when Iran masterminded the 1994 bombing of the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people, and of the Khobar Towers in 1996, killing 19 U.S. airmen. He would also have been intimately familiar with the secret construction of Iran's illicit nuclear facilities in Arak, Natanz and Isfahan, which weren't publicly exposed until 2002.

Now the West is supposed to be grateful that Ahmadinejad's scowling face will be replaced by Rowhani's smiling one - a bad-cop, good-cop routine that Iran has played before.
(Wall Street Journal)

And the Winner is... Iran's Nuclear Program
- Harold Rhode
Making Rowhani the president was a brilliant strategic move for Khamenei - not just to pacify the West, by also to pacify the Iranian people
(Gatestone Institute)

Iran's Election: Victory for the Islamic Republic

The election of Hassan Rowhani may be an even bigger blessing for Khamenei and the conservative establishment who can claim renewed legitimacy over a unified Iran, amid the instability rocking Iraq, Syria and Turkey. 

Syria Could Take Iran Down

Syria is Iran's Stalingrad -Gary C. Gambill

The growing infusion of Iranian-backed Lebanese and Iraqi Shiite fighters into the Syrian civil war is causing some veteran pundits to panic. Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, warns that "Iran is beating the U.S. in Syria." Former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Elliot Abrams sees "a humiliating defeat of the United States at the hands of Iran."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Setting aside the matter of how Washington can be losing a war it is not fighting, the claim that Iran is winning is dead wrong.

The Islamic Republic's headlong intervention in Syria is akin to Nazi Germany's surge of military forces into the Battle of Stalingrad in the fall of 1942 – an operationally competent, strategic blunder of epic proportions.

[T]he Iranian surge won't prevent the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab rebels from eventually prevailing on the battlefield. Sunni Arabs have a 5-to-1 demographic edge over the minority Alawites who comprise most uniformed and paramilitary pro-regime combatants, and a 2-to-1 advantage over all of Syria's ethno-sectarian minorities combined. The rebels are strongly supported by the overwhelming majority of Arabs and Muslims worldwide who are Sunnis, and their four principal sponsors – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan – have a GDP well over twice that of Iran. Russia continues to do business with the regime, but it won't intervene decisively enough to change the math.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei could have cut his losses early on by allowing the Assad regime to die a natural death and building bridges with its successor. Such an accommodation would have greatly impaired Iran's ability to transport heavy weapons to Hezbollah, but its Lebanese proxy would still have remained Israel's deadliest security threat for years to come. Hamas, which effectively severed its alliance with Tehran as a result of the Syria conflict, would probably have kept at least one foot in the Iranian axis. Khamenei likely declined to take this path for the same reason that Hitler refused to disengage from a no-win military confrontation in Stalingrad – a deeply metaphysical confidence in ultimate victory.

This delusion will cost him a great deal more than Syria.

While Abrams insists that the United States should be working to "deter" Iran "from sending more fighters to help save Assad," he's got it all wrong. The Obama administration should copy the late Soviet General Georgy Zhukov and focus not on combating the foolhardy Iranian surge, but on exploiting the strategic and political flanks left exposed by it.
[Foreign Policy Research Institute]

Friday, June 07, 2013

Rock Stars Love Affair With Israel

Elton John

Why Rock Stars Love Israel - Liel Leibovitz

Israel is among the best places in the world for rock stars to visit.

During Justin Bieber's visit to the beach in Israel in the summer of 2011, Israel's security personnel saw that the perimeter had been breached and photographers and shrieking fans were moving in quickly. But the men trained in close-quarter combat in Gaza and Ramallah and southern Lebanon are never without contingency plans. Suddenly, an engine roared and a white scooter appeared from somewhere just by the waterline. Before the paparazzi could give chase, the scooter whisked away the boy wonder toward an undisclosed location.

For entertainers, Israel is seemingly engineered to provide performers with security. Elsewhere, the men entrusted with keeping fans and paparazzi at arm's length are hastily trained guards, maybe police. In Israel, they are veterans of the Israel Defense Forces' elite units. One security guard explains, "Everywhere they go, people try to grab them, touch them, kiss them. They need to be protected, and it's what we in Israel do best."   

Tair Kesler, an Israeli celebrity handler, has a different explanation for why artists love coming to Israel. In a nation like Israel, Kesler said, heavily burdened with existential concerns, a famous face is nice to see, but no reason to lose one's cool. "Here no one is screaming like they do abroad. It's much calmer here. We see these celebrities as people. We're less excited than other places; other places care a lot about celebrities, but here we have bigger things to worry about." This nonchalance is a major curiosity for stars.   


There's No Stopping This Song - Sigal Arbitman

When musicians come under attack by boycott groups and get cold feet about performing in Israel, Adam Shay, 37, a researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is there to encourage them. If an artist gets 600 emails saying that he's going to be killed if he performs in Israel, "he can do nothing but be frightened. Artists complain of massive attacks, to the point where their websites crash, before they perform in Israel."

"Unfortunately very few artists have the guts to get up and say, 'I got death threats, but I'm coming anyway.' Paul McCartney did it. He went to the media and said: 'I got explicit death threats, but I have no intention of surrendering. I refuse to cancel my performances in Israel.'...But most artists just don't want to deal with it. It's much easier for them to release a statement that they won't be appearing in Israel 'for reasons of conscience' rather than to say their lives are being threatened and they're frightened."

As a hard-core music fan, Shay also works to cancel the cancellations. He is full of stories about bands he succeeded in bringing to Israel despite the threats and attacks of BDS.
(Israel Hayom)

Gaza's Rat Holes

Gaza's Underground Rocket Launch Network - Elior Levy 

Senior military elements in Gaza understood after the 2009 Gaza War that rocket launchers had become very easy targets for the IDF, due to Israel's technological superiority.

Initially, they tried firing from populated areas, inside schools and even cemeteries, but relatively precise counterterrorism efforts demanded they find another solution.

So in recent years, tunnels in Gaza have been converted for use as hidden rocket launchers. When necessary, a window opens and the launcher emerges, returning immediately inside after shooting.

The conversion of tunnels made the firing of rockets more efficient, especially during the fighting in November 2012.

An intricate underground network was created, intended to preserve the ability of terrorists to fire rockets after an IDF attack, even if one tunnel is hit.
According to sources in Gaza, during the 2012 fighting there were no fatalities of men in the launch pits.

(Ynet News)

Monday, June 03, 2013

Book Review: One Came Back

The compelling new novel that completes a trilogy on Iranian sleeper cells in the United States

The Terrorist Next Door -Bruce

In this stunning, stand-alone novel, Joe Smiga completes his trilogy built around the frightening idea that Iranian terror cells are operating in the United States. 

The first installment reads like an extended episode of the Fox hit "24."  The second places the reader in the odd and discomforting position of seeing the world through the eyes of our enemies. 

One Came Back, his newest [and final] installment brings us face to face with the domestic life of a terrorist, as he contemplates returning for one final attack.  The twists and turns in this novel will amaze you.  Joe Smiga's wordsmith skills are on full display as we are taken full steam ahead into a budding romance and eventually into the bedroom of our Iranian killer.  Why does it matter that an Iranian terrorist is a sensitive lover?  You'll have to read this gem to find out. 

This is no attempt to humanize terrorists or rationalize their evil.  In fact, its normalization of terrorists leaves one chilled to the bone and unsettled. 

After digesting this novel you will feel like an old friend stopped talking to you.  You may even find yourself wishing our killer well. 

Highly recommended.
[Bruce's MidEast Soundbites]

Turkey Boils Over: Islamist Government Feels Secular Sting

Anti-government protestor waves a Turkish flag with a photo of Ataturk, the founder of the secular Turkish state. Ataturk saw Islam as holding back Turkey and created a secular revolution, now threated by an emerging Islamist dictatorship.

What Caused the Turkish Protests? -Ihsan Dagi

Protests erupted when the government sought to demolish Gezi Park in the center of Istanbul and build a shopping mall and luxurious residences.

Now Erdogan says he will build a mosque in Taksim. Trying to shift the debate from building a shopping mall in Gezi Park to the building of a mosque instead is a prime example of how religion is used to cover up and generate popular support in Turkey. The ruling party knows that as the debate revolves around Islamic symbols, it can control and rely on the support of the religious masses.

The disproportionate and indiscriminate violence used by the police under the command of the government turned an environmentalist movement into an anti-government protest.

Massive Demonstrations Shake Turkey -Barry Rubin, PhD

More than 1000 people have been injured in several days of protests in Istanbul against Turkey’s Islamist regime, involving more than 90 demonstrations, the biggest anti-Islamist protest in a decade. Hundreds more were hurt in conflicts with police in Ankara, the capital. The demonstration began as an environmental protest about the destruction of a famous Istanbul park but had spread to Ankara, too.

It all began when a small group of young people camped at a park in central Istanbul to protest Erdogan’s personal plan to build a shopping center on the site. Police raided the park just before sunrise, using tear gas, evicted the protesters, and removed their tents. Up to this point it was a normal response.

A few days later, about 30 young people returned and set up the tents again and the police once more launched a raid. This time, however, a great deal of force was used, including pepper spray. Tear gas was squirted into the faces of some young people, kicking and beating them, then burning the tents.

In response, thousands of people gathered around the square and park. The police attacked with water cannon mounted on vehicles in a major escalation. They attacked protesters, chasing them into side streets in downtown Istanbul past the many hotels and stores in the area. Those who tried non-violent sit-ins were beaten, including two members of parliament.

Protests spread all over Turkey, with participants counted in the tens of thousands. The issue now was the growing repression by the Islamist regime. Large areas were filled with pepper spray, tear gas, and the water cannons firing several times a minute. Many apartment buildings were deluged in gas.
The political implications of the protests are not clear. They are probably unlikely to shake the determination of the government. "We do not have a government, we have Tayyip Erdogan," political scientist and protester Koray Caliskan told the Reuters news agency.

Erdogan is very arrogant, has a strong base of support, and enjoys the full support of the Obama Administration. The Turkish economy is generally considered to be strong. Erdogan will have to decide whether to slow down the Islamization process—he has been clever at being patient—or perhaps will, on the contrary, speed it up claiming his regime is facing sabotage.
[The Rubin Report]


The good news in Turkey -Daniel Pipes, PhD

How to interpret the recent unrest on the streets of Istanbul and about 50 other Turkish cities? Specifically, is it comparable to the Arab uprisings over the last 2 1/2 years in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain?

On one level, they appear unrelated, for Turkey is a far more advanced country, with a democratic culture and a modern economy. But two connections — autocracy and Syria — do tie them together, suggesting that the Turkish demonstrations could have a potentially deep importance.

Erdogan is no Moammar Kadafi or Bashar Assad, and he will not massacre peaceful demonstrators, but heavy-handed police operations have reportedly led to 1,000 injured and, according to Amnesty International, two deaths. Further, the prime minister has reacted defiantly, not just insisting on his original plan for the park but announcing he can do whatever he pleases.

Erdogan is saying that having voted the AKP into office, Turks have given him authority to do anything he wants. He is the elected, unaccountable padishah. Well, the demonstrators and those hitherto eager foreign investors will have something to say about that, perhaps putting the country's China-like economic growth at risk.

Thanks to the Syrian imbroglio, Turkey has lost its enviable position of strength and popularity. If President Obama once bragged of his "close working relationship" with Erdogan, last month's White House meeting between the two showed neither the personal chemistry nor the practical results vis-a-vis Syria that Erdogan had sought.

In short, it appears that a decade of electoral calm, political stability and plentiful foreign investment has come to a halt and a new, more difficult era has begun for the AKP government. The moribund opposition parties may find their voice. The antiwar faction may feel emboldened. The secularists may be able to tap the wide unhappiness with the regime's efforts to corral citizens into becoming more (Islamically) virtuous.

This is excellent news.

Thanks to the demonstrations, we can be newly hopeful that Turkey may avoid the path it had been on, that of despotism, Islamification and increasingly rogue foreign relations. Perhaps its secular, democratic and pro-Western heritage can be revived.
[The Los Angeles Times]

Erdogan Over the Edge - Claire Berlinski

Over the past decade, Istanbul has seen a massive construction boom. Lovely old buildings have been razed by the hundreds. The protests were about a people exhausted by Istanbul's uncontrolled growth; by its relentless traffic; by the incessant noise; by massive immigration from the countryside; by predatory construction companies - widely and for good reason believed to be in bed with the government - which have, over the past decade, destroyed a great deal of the city's loveliness and cultural heritage.

But most of all, they are about a nation's fury with Prime Minister Erdogan's growing authoritarianism, symbolized by Istanbul's omnipresent police, the phalanxes of Robocops.
The writer is an American journalist who lives in Istanbul.
(City Journal)

Erdogan's Grip Weakening -Ozlem Gezer, Maximilian Popp & Oliver Trenkamp

Increasingly, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is looking like an autocratic ruler whose people are no longer willing to tolerate him. In Istanbul, people have begun whispering that the military is distributing gasmasks - but to the demonstrators rather than to the police. The message: The military supports the protests.

Turkish law prohibits Erdogan from running for another term. However, he appears to be leaning toward the model followed by Russian President Putin and is seeking to increase the powers of the Turkish presidency, preparatory to taking over the position himself in 2014.
(Der Spiegel-Germany)

Resisting by Raising a Glass -Tim Arango

After retaking Taksim Square in Istanbul after hours of ugly street battles with police officers firing tear gas this month, many of the haggard protesters cracked bottles of Efes beer and raised them in a mock toast to their prime minister, who had recently pushed through a law to curb drinking.       

Drinking is far from the only issue held up in the intense antigovernment protests that have convulsed Turkey for more than a week. But it has become closely intertwined with the broader complaints of demonstrators fighting what they see as the rising authoritarianism of the Turkish government.

It also cuts to the heart of Turkish identity, as both sides have cast it as a clash of Islamic and secular values. While protesters have held up new limits on drinking as an affront to the secular values of modern Turkey, Mr. Erdogan has said that “religion demands” curbs on drinking. He has gone so far as to implicitly refer to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey and a notoriously heavy drinker, as a “drunkard,” and in one of a series of speeches he delivered Sunday to cheering supporters, accused protesters of taking beer into mosques.
[New York Times]