Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category
By George Friedman – reprinted with express permission from Stratfor
The events in Egypt have sent shock waves through Israel. The 1978 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel have been the bedrock of Israeli national security. In three of the four wars Israel fought before the accords, a catastrophic outcome for Israel was conceivable. In 1948, 1967 and 1973, credible scenarios existed in which the Israelis were defeated and the state of Israel ceased to exist. In 1973, it appeared for several days that one of those scenarios was unfolding.
The survival of Israel was no longer at stake after 1978. In the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, the various Palestinian intifadas and the wars with Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in Gaza in 2008, Israeli interests were involved, but not survival. There is a huge difference between the two. Israel had achieved a geopolitical ideal after 1978 in which it had divided and effectively made peace with two of the four Arab states that bordered it, and neutralized one of those states. The treaty with Egypt removed the threat to the Negev and the southern coastal approaches to Tel Aviv. Read the rest of this entry »
When I was in Hebrew School many years ago, I remember a spirited discussion in class about whether we should consider ourselves American Jews or Jewish Americans. I remember that someone asked the teacher – who’s side would you take if Israel and the United States were ever to become enemies. The teacher looked at the student as if he had 3 heads – America and Israel will always be friends, he stated – we have far too many common interests: culturally, militarily and politically.
Fast forward to 2010. Take a look at these videos, which illustrate far more eloquently than I can opine about the decline in official U.S. support for Israel:
First, we have vice-President Biden delivering his message:
Next we have the President’s top political adviser, David Axelrod, himself a Jew, roundly criticizing the Jewish State, presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs adding his criticism and a report that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has joined in the condemnation as well. This report is from the Al Jazeera network:
Finally, we have another take on the controversy: Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman reacting angrily to this seeming about face in U.S. policy. Interestingly, Lieberman points out that the building permits at issue were issued as part of a lengthy process and that the buildings at issue might not see the light of day for several years, if ever.
Stratfor’s George Friedman makes a compelling argument that current American policy towards Iran involves two equally unappetising options – either pursue a policy of sanctions that has been rendered ineffective by the refusal of China and Russia to participate, or to pursue military action and risk the consequences of outright failure or an indecisive outcome that would leave the region destabilized.
Friedman argues that the U.S. has previously shown itself willing to ally with an enemy of that enemy had common interests – examples he cites are Roosevelt’s agreements with Stalin and Nixon’s approach to Mao. Is such a stunning reversal of course under consideration by the Obama Administration? Friedman suggests that it just might be.
The United States apparently has reached the point where it must either accept that Iran will develop nuclear weapons at some point if it wishes, or take military action to prevent this. There is a third strategy, however: Washington can seek to redefine the Iranian question.
As we have no idea what leaders on either side are thinking, exploring this represents an exercise in geopolitical theory. Let’s begin with the two apparent stark choices.
Diplomacy vs. the Military Option
by George Friedman
This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR
The diplomatic approach consists of creating a broad coalition prepared to impose what have been called crippling sanctions on Iran. Effective sanctions must be so painful that they compel the target to change its behavior. In Tehran’s case, this could only consist of blocking Iran’s imports of gasoline. Iran imports 35 percent of the gasoline it consumes. It is not clear that a gasoline embargo would be crippling, but it is the only embargo that might work. All other forms of sanctions against Iran would be mere gestures designed to give the impression that something is being done.
The Chinese will not participate in any gasoline embargo. Beijing gets 11 percent of its oil from Iran, and it has made it clear it will continue to deliver gasoline to Iran. Moscow’s position is that Russia might consider sanctions down the road, but it hasn’t specified when, and it hasn’t specified what. The Russians are more than content seeing the U.S. bogged down in the Middle East and so are not inclined to solve American problems in the region. With the Chinese and Russians unlikely to embargo gasoline, these sanctions won’t create significant pain for Iran. Since all other sanctions are gestures, the diplomatic approach is therefore unlikely to work.
The military option has its own risks. First, its success depends on the quality of intelligence on Iran’s nuclear facilities and on the degree of hardening of those targets. Second, it requires successful air attacks. Third, it requires battle damage assessments that tell the attacker whether the strike succeeded. Fourth, it requires follow-on raids to destroy facilities that remain functional. And fifth, attacks must do more than simply set back Iran’s program a few months or even years: If the risk of a nuclear Iran is great enough to justify the risks of war, the outcome must be decisive.
Each point in this process is a potential failure point. Given the multiplicity of these points — which includes others not mentioned — failure may not be an option, but it is certainly possible.
But even if the attacks succeed, the question of what would happen the day after the attacks remains. Iran has its own counters. It has a superbly effective terrorist organization, Hezbollah, at its disposal. It has sufficient influence in Iraq to destabilize that country and force the United States to keep forces in Iraq badly needed elsewhere. And it has the ability to use mines and missiles to attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf shipping lanes for some period — driving global oil prices through the roof while the global economy is struggling to stabilize itself. Iran’s position on its nuclear program is rooted in the awareness that while it might not have assured options in the event of a military strike, it has counters that create complex and unacceptable risks. Iran therefore does not believe the United States will strike or permit Israel to strike, as the consequences would be unacceptable.
To recap, the United States either can accept a nuclear Iran or risk an attack that might fail outright, impose only a minor delay on Iran’s nuclear program or trigger extremely painful responses even if it succeeds. When neither choice is acceptable, it is necessary to find a third choice. Read the rest of this entry »
Haaretz (an Israeli newspaper) reports that an Israeli company called Innowattech, with the cooperation of the Technion University has developed a technology that turns highway traffic into electricity. The system works by installing piezoelectric materials 2 inches below the surface of the asphalt. Piezoelectric materials generate electricity in response to mechanical stress.
Project manager Lucy Edri-Azoulay stated that installing the technology on a single traffic lane stretching one kilometer would produce 200 kilowatts of electricity hour and a four lane highway with the system implemented would produce a megawatt of electricity, enough to power 2,500 households.
Unlike solar and wind technology, this piezoelectric system would not be dependent on the weather nor would it require significant infrastructure outlays.
It is certainly too bad that so much of the world spends its time figuring out new ways to isolate and castigate Israel. Arab oil producers, fat and lazy with easy money created by exploiting the finite petroleum reserves that happenstance put under their feet certainly have no interest in supporting alternative energy technologies and, in fact, they have an incentive to stop this type of development.
Energy consuming nations, however, have no excuse. Arab oil money empowers Islamist radicals and their destructive, terrorist ideologies. When their oil dries up, the Saudis and their ilk will be back herding camels within three or four generations.
Western democracies as well as eastern regimes like China would be wise to embrace the intellectual resources that Israeli society produces in endless supply.
My friend, Scott Italiaander, published this very insightful post on his blog. Despite what those on the left may think, conservatives and libertarians do not want this president to fail – especially when it comes to national security. At best, it seems that the president and his staff have far more on their plate than can be handled. At worst, they are increasingly coming off as bumbling amateurs who are foolishly appeasing our enemies at the expense of long-time allies like Israel, Poland and Honduras.
The Iranian response to the president’s desire for engagement surely must be the cause of concern in the White House.
And why has Secretary of State Clinton been so silent in the face of these very significant foreign policy challenges?
Let’s hope that the president and his advisers return to a policy of operating from strength and not from weakness.
Now – here is Scott’s take on the current state of the Obama White House:
September is proving to be a cruel month for the Transformer-in-Chief.
Early in the month Van Jones, President Obama’s czar in charge of “green jobs,” resigned after having been unmasked as an avowed Communist with Marxist ideas. Jones was fired in order to short-circuit scrutiny of Jones’ ties to Leftist front groups which in turn have ties to the President. Too late: thanks to the likes of Glenn Beck, the Jones affair opened up an avenue of inquiry into the Obama White House’s ties to radical activists and their incendiary political philosophy.
Next, Obama made his much hyped address to Congress to pitch his health care plan. The highlight of the speech was the “You Lie!” charge which earned Republican Rep. Joe Wilson a rebuke by Congress and about 2 million dollars in online contributions. But the accusation only put the spotlight on Obama’s fantastic assertions about his plan, causing the politicians to promise to remove language in the bill that Obama insisted didn’t exist in the first place. Read the rest of this entry »
Reprinted with permission
by George Friedman
During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, now-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that like all U.S. presidents, Barack Obama would face a foreign policy test early in his presidency if elected. That test is now here.
His test comprises two apparently distinct challenges, one in Afghanistan and one in Iran. While different problems, they have three elements in common. First, they involve the question of his administration’s overarching strategy in the Islamic world. Second, the problems are approaching decision points (and making no decision represents a decision here). And third, they are playing out very differently than Obama expected during the 2008 campaign.
During the campaign, Obama portrayed the Iraq war as a massive mistake diverting the United States from Afghanistan, the true center of the “war on terror.” He accordingly promised to shift the focus away from Iraq and back to Afghanistan. Obama’s views on Iran were more amorphous. He supported the doctrine that Iran should not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons, while at the same time asserted that engaging Iran was both possible and desirable. Embedded in the famous argument over whether offering talks without preconditions was appropriate (something now-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attacked him for during the Democratic primary) was the idea that the problem with Iran stemmed from Washington’s refusal to engage in talks with Tehran.
We are never impressed with campaign positions, or with the failure of the victorious candidate to live up to them. That’s the way American politics work. But in this case, these promises have created a dual crisis that Obama must make decisions about now. Read the rest of this entry »
By George Friedman
Reprinted with permission from Stratfor
Speaking of the situation in Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama said June 26, “We don’t yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what has happened inside of Iran.” On the surface that is a strange statement, since we know that with minor exceptions, the demonstrations in Tehran lost steam after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for them to end and security forces asserted themselves. By the conventional wisdom, events in Iran represent an oppressive regime crushing a popular rising. If so, it is odd that the U.S. president would raise the question of what has happened in Iran.
In reality, Obama’s point is well taken. This is because the real struggle in Iran has not yet been settled, nor was it ever about the liberalization of the regime. Rather, it has been about the role of the clergy — particularly the old-guard clergy — in Iranian life, and the future of particular personalities among this clergy.
Ahmadinejad Against the Clerical Elite
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ran his re-election campaign against the old clerical elite, charging them with corruption, luxurious living and running the state for their own benefit rather than that of the people. He particularly targeted Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an extremely senior leader, and his family. Indeed, during the demonstrations, Rafsanjani’s daughter and four other relatives were arrested, held and then released a day later.
Rafsanjani represents the class of clergy that came to power in 1979. He served as president from 1989-1997, but Ahmadinejad defeated him in 2005. Rafsanjani carries enormous clout within the system as head of the regime’s two most powerful institutions — the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between the Guardian Council and parliament, and the Assembly of Experts, whose powers include oversight of the supreme leader. Forbes has called him one of the wealthiest men in the world. Rafsanjani, in other words, remains at the heart of the post-1979 Iranian establishment.
Ahmadinejad expressly ran his recent presidential campaign against Rafsanjani, using the latter’s family’s vast wealth to discredit Rafsanjani along with many of the senior clerics who dominate the Iranian political scene. It was not the regime as such that he opposed, but the individuals who currently dominate it. Ahmadinejad wants to retain the regime, but he wants to repopulate the leadership councils with clerics who share his populist values and want to revive the ascetic foundations of the regime. The Iranian president constantly contrasts his own modest lifestyle with the opulence of the current religious leadership.
Recognizing the threat Ahmadinejad represented to him personally and to the clerical class he belongs to, Rafsanjani fired back at Ahmadinejad, accusing him of having wrecked the economy. At his side were other powerful members of the regime, including Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, who has made no secret of his antipathy toward Ahmadinejad and whose family links to the Shiite holy city of Qom give him substantial leverage. The underlying issue was about the kind of people who ought to be leading the clerical establishment. The battlefield was economic: Ahmadinejad’s charges of financial corruption versus charges of economic mismanagement leveled by Rafsanjani and others. Read the rest of this entry »
By Reva Bhalla, Lauren Goodrich and Peter Zeihan
Reprinted with express permission from Stratfor
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev reportedly will travel to Turkey in the near future to follow up a recent four-day visit by his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, to Moscow. The Turks and the Russians certainly have much to discuss.
Russia is moving aggressively to extend its influence throughout the former Soviet empire, while Turkey is rousing itself from 90 years of post-Ottoman isolation. Both are clearly ascendant powers, and it would seem logical that the more the two bump up against one other, the more likely they will gird for yet another round in their centuries-old conflict. But while that may be true down the line, the two Eurasian powers have sufficient strategic incentives to work together for now.
Russia is among the world’s most strategically vulnerable states. Its core, the Moscow region, boasts no geographic barriers to invasion. Russia must thus expand its borders to create the largest possible buffer for its core, which requires forcibly incorporating legions of minorities who do not see themselves as Russian. The Russian government estimates that about 80 percent of Russia’s approximately 140 million people are actually ethnically Russian, but this number is somewhat suspect, as many minorities define themselves based on their use of the Russian language, just as many Hispanics in the United States define themselves by their use of English as their primary language. Thus, ironically, attaining security by creating a strategic buffer creates a new chronic security problem in the form of new populations hostile t o Moscow’s rule. Read the rest of this entry »