Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

July 29, 2010

“Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty”

One week ago, Republicans in the House of Representatives introduced a resolution that would give Israel the green-light to go ahead and attack Iran militarily if it were to acquire nuclear weapons. So far, H.Res.1553, which asserts “Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty”, has been signed by 46 Congressmen or one-third of House Republicans. The resolution, spearheaded by Congressmen Gohmert of Texas, expresses:

Support for the State of Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time to protect against such an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel.

The bill goes on to lay down its argument.  First, it describes the plight of the Jewish people, the Holocaust, and their right to return to their homeland.  The “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel is stressed, as is the fact that the U.S. was the first country noble enough to accept Israel as a state.  After this historical background, which is being used as an emotional appeal, the bill proceeds to attack Iran.

The bill adopts an ethical stance, implying that the U.S. is right in acting as a police force.  It describes Iran’s history of noncompliance in regards to  sanctions against its nuclear program and also quotes some of the deplorable things President Ahmadinejad has said, such as the infamous: “Israel should be wiped off the map.”  The use of this kind of rhetoric of existential fear is meant to instill fear in the public, which would justify the use of military action against Iran.

But the one most important thing this bill is lacking, perhaps, is logic.  There is no denying Iran’s words and actions.  But how credible is Iran? If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, is it feasible to think they would use them? Even Iran is smart enough to recognize the consequences of using nuclear weapons.  It is well-known that the purpose of nuclear weapons is not actual use, but rather deterrence and international power and leverage.  Israel’s claim of self-defense is futile in this regard.  Israel probably fears Iran acquiring nuclear weapons more because it would challenge the nuclear hegemony of Israel in the region, limiting its leverage and ability to act without accountability, as well as shifting the regional balance of power in Iran’s favor.

The House Republicans who signed this bill need to think about the outcomes of what would happen if Iran was attacked militarily.  Most likely, a dangerous, regional war would erupt that would also involve the U.S.  The legitimacy of Iran’s threats need to be re-examined, as preemptive attacks on Iran could have devastating effects.  The difference between mere rhetoric and credible threats need to established.

And the U.S. needs to tone down its own use of rhetoric as well, as is evident in this resolution .  Americans need to become more aware of the attempts made by the government to make them think they are in danger, as it allows the U.S. to take any actions it deems fit in the name of security. As Abraham Lincoln once said:  “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

July 19, 2010

The Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Worst-Kept Secret in the Middle East

Several CNI interns and I attended an event entitled “The Israeli Nuclear Arsenal: Espionage, Opacity, and Future” held at the International Spy Museum here in Washington, D.C. The event was organized by  Institute for Research: Middle East Policy (IRmep) and brought together three distinguished panelists to discuss the worst-kept secret in international politics–the existence of an Israeli Nuclear Arsenal.

The panel discussion was frank and deeply informative, bringing together authors Grant F. Smith and Sasha Polakow-Sulansky, and recent CNI Radio: Jerusalem Calling guest John Mearsheimer. The topics discussed ranged from the interpretation of recently declassified documents on the role of American interests in building Israel’s nuclear arsenal to the relationship between apartheid South Africa and Israel.

Perhaps most striking was John Mearsheimer’s realistic analysis of the situation.  Mearsheimer posed four questions:

Why did Israel develop nuclear weapons?
Should Israel abandon its nuclear arsenal?
Is opacity in Israel’s best interest?
Is it in America’s best interest for Israel to have nuclear weapons?

Coming for a realist perspective, Mearsheimer argued that nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrence; he said that if he were a national security adviser to Israel in the 1950s, he would advocate that the state acquire nuclear weapons.

In regards to opacity, Mearsheimer argued that Israel is not fooling anyone with its “strategic ambiguity,” as virtually everyone is aware that Israel is a nuclear power.

The nuclear issue clearly shows a divide in interests between the U.S. and Israel.  “Israel is an albatross around our neck,” he said.  Initially, the U.S. was against Israeli nuclear proliferation in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  If Israel was a nuclear power, it would be difficult to secure a nuclear-free Middle East.

Mearsheimer is not optimistic about the future; he believes the situation will only get worse.  He believes the proximity talks are a charade and that Israel will eventually become an apartheid state.   He articulates his point further in his article in the American Conservative.

When asked by former CNI President Gene Bird what the U.S. can do to prevent another war in the region , Mearsheimer laid out what he believes the Obama strategy should have been: Obama should have appealed to the American Jewish community and emphasized that a two-state solution was in the best interest of Israel.  Instead, he picked a fight with the Israeli lobby, and consequently had to “run up the white flag,” during the recent White House meeting with Netanyahu.

While Mearsheimer’s realist perspective is intriguing and certainly feasible, the future of the conflict does not have to be as grim as he predicts.  Though his analysis of the Obama administration’s strategy and relationship with both the Israeli government and Israeli lobby is spot-on, there are some encouraging aspects of Obama’s policies, notably his willingness to address the Israeli-Arab conflict so soon in his term, unlike his predecessors.

June 17, 2010

Double Standards

Helen Thomas’ misinterpreted remarks about Jews in Palestine led to the end of her accomplished career.  Meanwhile, Senator Schumer of New York is allowed to say he supports the continued “economic strangulation” of Gaza, without anyone even blinking twice.

Schumer is a powerful politician; he is the vice-chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and the third highest ranking Democrat in the Senate.  His position in the government makes the fact that he can make such comments without press coverage or any sort of accountability is especially perturbing.

Schumer, speaking at the Orthodox Union, went on to blame the identity of Palestinians for their situation:  “Palestinian people still don’t believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution… They don’t believe in the Torah, in David.” Both of these statements are blatantly false, as most Palestinians support a two-state solution, and Muslims consider the Torah a holy book and David a prophet.  He also blames Gazans for the actions of Hamas, and states that they can only have economic advancement  “when there’s some moderation and cooperation.” (more…)

June 16, 2010

Islamic Feminism

Yesterday, I attended a conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center entitled: “Islamic Feminism and Beyond: The New Frontier.”  The term Islamic feminism is a relatively new; it started to emerge about twenty years ago.  Nevertheless, the issues and actors involved in the movement have expanded greatly and become more complex.  The main goals of Islamic feminism are women’s rights, social justice and gender equality for Muslims in the public and private spheres.  It aims to modify the patriarchal based society through means such as civic participation, employment, and literacy.

Support for Islamic feminism is drawn from many parties that include secular groups, religious groups, Muslims, and non-Muslims.  Due to such a diverse background, there are differing approaches on how to achieve the goals of Islamic feminism.  The panel of speakers was diverse as well, comprising of six women specializing in different areas.  They were each able to highlight the dynamics of feminism in their respective countries of research, allowing for interesting discussion. (more…)

June 10, 2010

Obama and Abbas Meeting

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas finally met with Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday, after his trip was delayed by the Gaza flotilla raid.  The leaders discussed Gaza as well as prospects for a Palestinian state (BBC).

Obama called the situation in Gaza “unsustainable,” and pledged $400 million dollars in aid to the region.  The proposed aid package would give $240 million towards investment in  home ownership, $75 million towards improving infrastructure, $40 million to support UNRWA’s Gaza and West Bank appeal, and $10 million dollars to enhance the Palestinian economy (Al-Jazeera).  As for the logistics of how that aid will reach the area, Obama did not give any details, but it will most likely be filtered through Israel to the PA.  He does however have more opinions on how the blockade on Gaza should be altered.  He believes the blockade should focus more on arms shipments rather than all goods and people to and from Gaza (Washington Post). (more…)

June 8, 2010

UN preparing to vote on sanctions against Iran

As early as this Wednesday, the UN could vote upon a new set of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran in order to punish it for continuing its nuclear program. As the vote approaches, US officials are confident that at least twelve states should vote for this new round of sanctions, although Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon are expected to vote against them.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk among the international community warning against sanctions. Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that the UN should be wary of passing a resolution that is too tough on Iran arguing that “This resolution should not be excessive, should not put Iran’s leadership, the Iranian people in a tricky situation that creates barriers on the way of development of Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy.” This being the case, it is still projected that Russia will vote in favor of sanctions. (more…)

Rising Jewish Extremism

In the media, extremism is often associated with the Muslim world.  Rarely is it ever associated with Jews in Israel.  However, recent events demonstrate not only how extremism is infiltrating Israel, but how such a trend threatens even more the unstable social fabric of the region.

Just today, while trying to appear as if Israel is enforcing a building freeze in the West Bank, security forces clashed with settlers in the settlement of Beit El over the demolition of an illegal structure.  About 100 teenagers tried to block the forces and threw rocks, against the advice of their rabbi. And one officer was injured.  The fact that the next generation is so unyielding in their views that they are willing to fight, even their own people, is very worrisome. (more…)

June 7, 2010

Leaders Around the World Focus their Attention on Israel

Several days after Israeli commandos raided an aid ship headed for Gaza, heads of state around the world are focusing their attention towards investigating the events of May 31 and working towards ending the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been very vocal in condemning Israeli actions after the death of several Turkish citizens, has made a statement calling for the formation of an international investigation. According to Erdogan, the acceptance of such an investigation would be the only way to better Israeli-Turkish relations. He went on to say that if Israel refused an international investigation that, “it means that they are hiding some facts.” In addition, Prime Minister Erdogan has been reported to be considering a trip to Gaza aboard a Turkish Naval vessel. While this has caused some in Israel to threaten violence at another attempt to breach the blockade, the official tone is much more moderate and IDF leaders have made statements essentially telling their colleagues to calm down. (more…)

June 3, 2010

Aftermath of the Gaza flotilla mission

Activists are returning to their respective countries and funerals are underway for the nine slain activists in Turkey, one of whom was a 19-year-old dual U.S. citizen.  However, the atmosphere of the international community continues to exhibit volatility.

More accounts of the events are pouring in as the activists return. Following the attack, Israel had created an information blackout, barring the captured activists from speaking to media in Israel, but as they return home their stories are emerging.  Bulent Yildrim, the head of the Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), said: “I took off my shirt and waved it, as a white flag. We thought they would stop after seeing the white flag, but they continued killing people.”  Norman Paech, a former German politician accounts: “The soldiers were all masked, carrying big guns and were extremely brutal.”  Haneen Zoubi, an Arab-Israeli MP claims Israeli vessels fired on her ship a few minutes before soldiers descended from helicopters.  You can also hear an account of the events from former ambassador and former CNI board member Edward Peck, here. (more…)

June 1, 2010

Update on the Gaza Flotilla

Just a few minutes ago an interview with former CNI board member and frequent host of our radio show “CNI Jerusalem Calling”, Ambassador Edward Peck, was released by ABC News, giving an insider’s account of what actually occurred between the flotilla and the Israeli navy. In the interview, Ambassador Peck recounts his experience and deportation. He mentions that he and the other people captured were kept in isolation and knew very little about what was going on. He also mentions that another US citizen, Paul Larudee, was injured and remains in an Israeli hospital.

In addition, more countries have stepped forward to condemn the Israeli actions. The EU and Russia issued a joint statement earlier today condemning Israel’s actions and use of force, even going so far as to call for an end to the blockade on Gaza. Shortly after, France joined them in calling for the release of the civilian activists being held.

Even Hamas and Fatah seem united in condemning the attacks and urging the international community to open the borders into Gaza. Today, the PA’s Interior Ministry announced that the Rafah crossing has been opened and restrictions lifted. And Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, released a statement arguing that this attack could help unify Palestinians, stating

“Israel’s crime today is an opportunity for Palestinian unity on the right national platform. It is also an opportunity for the Arab world to re-take the initiative today and to take a strong position against the Israeli bullying and to open the Rafah crossing and to end the siege once and for all.”

Could this attack provide the catalyst for re-opening negotiations between Hamas and the PA? And could it possibly push the international community to get more involved in helping the Gazans and permanently lifting the blockade?

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