Ray Close is from a long line of Middle East experts. From the outset of the Iraq campaign, he fearlessly organized fellow colleagues from the CIA to speak out against the misuse of intelligence. He has been a relentless campaigner to return professionalism to our intelligence community and to rebuild the firewall separating it from politics. Here is a short bio: Ray Close comes from a family with deep roots in the Middle East. He and many of his immediate relatives have been teachers, diplomats or businessmen in the Arab Middle East for four generations, since his maternal great-grandfather arrived in 1853 and began establishing schools in southern Lebanon. His father, Harold Close, was a professor and later Dean of Arts and Sciences at the American University of Beirut from 1910 until 1955. His mother's brother, Colonel William Eddy, served as the interpreter between President Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud at their historic meeting aboard a US Navy cruiser in the Suez Canal immediately following the Yalta Conference in February 1945. After graduating from Princeton University in 1951, Ray served for 26 years as a Middle East specialist with the Operations Directorate of the CIA. During his career, he served under cover as a political officer at American Embassies in Lebanon, Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. For seven years before his retirement in 1977, he was the CIA's senior representative in Saudi Arabia. Source: http://faculty-staff.ou.edu/L/Joshua.M.Landis-1/syriablog/2004/05/more-dubious-def-dept-allegations.htm
Nov 27 2012
Important!Monsieur d’Nalgar: Following is an email from Ray Close, Tuesday, November 27, 2012 5:00 PM (the photograph was added by moi)…
Reproduced below, after my personal comments, is a movie review by the much-admired critic A. O. Scott that appeared in the Sunday New York Times this past week. Featured in the write-up is a man whom I was once privileged to know and call a friend — Avraham (“Abe”) Shalom, a former head of Israel’s internal security agency known as the Shin Bet (or Beth), roughly equivalent to our FBI (as distinct from the better-known Mossad, which more closely resembles our CIA, or external intelligence service.)
Abe Shalom’s story is uniquely interesting, I believe, and so I thought I might share a few personal thoughts and observations about him with some of you who will then, I hope, decide to accept A.O. Scott’s recommendation and see the film when it comes to a theater near you.
I first met Abe in London in early 2004, several years after his resignation from the Shin Bet. Because of his notoriety and the long list of his enemies, he was living in the U.K. in exile, under an assumed name, and went nowhere without a three-man protection team of former British secret service agents. We met several times in London, always clandestinely and always arranged through a trusted third party. Through these long conversations I gained an insight into the extraordinary complexities and contradictions faced by citizens of Israel — related to me with utter frankness by a man whose life-long career as a policeman had exposed him to the good, the bad and the ugly side of life in that tormented society. Our last meeting was actually in Tel Aviv, some years after our London acquaintanceship. He had made a quick visit, under cover, to visit his wife, who was then living in a sanatorium in the Negev, suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s. Abe has now returned to Israel on a permanent basis, and is no longer living incognito — a fact that I had not known until reading the NYT movie review yesterday. Time heals most wounds, thankfully. A mutual friend, the trusted intermediary who first introduced us many years ago (a lady), wrote to me yesterday, responding to my query prompted by this week’s movie review:
Dear Ray: I last saw Abe here in Israel in June (2012). Having suffered a minor stroke last year he has slowed down tremendously but is is still of sharp mind most of the time! His vision was affected by the stroke and he is unable to read any more, which frustrates him tremendously. He featured prominently in an exhibit at the Tel Aviv Museum celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the capture and return to Israel of Adolf Eichmann, and he cooperated with a documentary about that as well. Abe was as you know seconded to Mossad for that mission because he spoke German and Spanish! I got him on a good day. We had a wonderful lunch and stroll down the beach. It was a privilege to hear his views … He despairs for Israel. I will ring him first thing tomorrow to make sure he knows of the NYT movie review, and will pass on your compliments and good wishes.
As a further introduction, and as an explanation of why Abe was living so secretively in London when I knew him, I have resurrected from my files a short article from an Israeli newspaper of November 2003, which, as you will see, is an important intelligence report in itself:
JERUSALEM, Nov 14, 2003 (AFP) – Four former heads of the Israeli Shin Beth interior security services warned in interviews published Friday of the “disastrous” consequences of Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territories.
In the interviews with the top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot published Friday, the four men accused the successive Israeli governments of carrying a large part of the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock and called for dismantling Jewish settlements.
We are heading straight to disaster if we do not give up Greater Israel,” said Avraham Shalom in reference to the expansionist project of a far-right fringe in Israel who wants the Jewish state to stretch from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Shalom, who headed the Shin Beth between 1980 and 1986, also predicted imminent disaster if “we do not recognise once and for all that there is another people which is suffering and towards which we are behaving shamefully. ”
“We are humiliating the Palestinians and they cannot tolerate it, just like we could not tolerate it if we were in their position, while we are incapable of making the slightest move to change this situation,” Shalom added.
Three of his successors were also interviewed by Yediot: Yaacov Peri (1988-1995), Karmi Gilon (1995-1996) and Ami Ayalon (1996-2000).
“We are sinking deeper each day into a bloody quagmire and are paying an increasingly heavy economic and international price,” said Peri.
For his part, Gilon emphasised that the Israeli government will not be able to indefinitely put off a direct confrontation with hardline Jewish settlers living in the Palestinian territories.
The position of the four men is in stark contrast with the policy advocated by current Shin Beth chief Avi Dichter, who opposes easing the pressure on the Palestinian population.
Now, finally, here is the NYT movie review of this past Sunday, November 25th, 2012:
Six Israeli Spymasters on a Shadowy Past and a Dark Future
By A. O. Scott, November 25, 2012
“The Gatekeepers,” a new documentary by the Israeli director Dror Moreh, consists of interviews with six men, all of them retired, most of them bald, one of them a grandfatherly type, well into his 80s, in suspenders and a plaid shirt. They reminisce about past triumphs and frustrations, but Mr. Moreh’s amazing, upsetting film, which opens Monday for a weeklong awards-qualifying run in advance of a wider release next year, is the opposite of nostalgic. It is hard to imagine a movie about the Middle East that could be more timely, more painfully urgent, more challenging to conventional wisdom on all sides of the conflict.
The six men are all surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency (also known as Shabak) whose activities and membership are closely held state secrets. Legally established in 1949 under the government of David Ben-Gurion, the organization initially focused on internal matters in a fledgling country beset by ideological divisions. Since the 1967 war, however, the biggest part of Shin Bet’s mandate has involved counterterrorism and intelligence gathering in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The Gatekeepers” is in part a history of post-’67 Israel, in which familiar events are revisited from an unusual and fascinating perspective. The leaders of Shin Bet, who answer directly to the prime minister, are not part of the country’s military command structure. Nor, because of the clandestine nature of the agency, are they visibly part of the Israeli political establishment, though they sometimes function as public scapegoats when politicians make mistakes. What is most astonishing about the interviews Mr. Moreh has recorded is how candid and critical these six spymasters are, inflecting their stories with pointed, sometimes devastating assessments of the failings of successive governments.
“I think, after retiring from this job, you become a bit of a leftist,” says Yaakov Peri, who ran Shin Bet from 1988 to 1994, during the first Intifada and the negotiations that led to the Oslo peace accords. But while it is true that Mr. Peri and his colleagues generally favor the curtailment of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are hardly doves or bleeding hearts. And their shared professional ethos of ruthless, unsentimental pragmatism is precisely what gives such force to their worries about the current state of Israeli politics.
With neither undue pride nor excessive remorse, Mr. Moreh’s interlocutors talk about the “targeted assassination” of Hamas militants, about “moderate physical pressure” applied (sometimes fatally) to Palestinian prisoners and about the other tactics that are part of the arsenal of occupation. They also confront some significant lapses, including the killing of two suspects in a 1984 bus hijacking that led to the resignation of Shin Bet director Avraham Shalom and threatened to bring down the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Later Shin Bet failed to anticipate the outbreak of the first Intifada and was unable to prevent the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Jewish extremist in 1995.
Mr. Shalom, born in Vienna in 1928 and a veteran of the 1948 War of Independence, comes across as a wise and gentle old man, though he is recalled by others as a bully and monster. He is at once a steadfast defender of Shin Bet’s tactics and an eloquent critic of a political leadership, which was unable, as Labor and Likud traded power and the country lurched from crisis to crisis, to summon the strategic vision or the moral courage necessary to bring about a lasting solution to its problems. “The future is very dark,” he concludes, lamenting the cruelty and intransigence that he sees as the legacies of more than four decades of occupation.
He is not alone in his pessimism, which is perhaps the dominant mood of Mr. Moreh’s film. The director, somewhat in the manner of Errol Morris, is an unseen and mostly unheard inquisitor, occasionally shouting a question from outside the frame or prodding his subjects when they seem coy or confused, and allowing a series of vivid portraits to emerge. The audience is absorbing a collective history but also coming to know a collection of complicated, thoughtful human beings, who are willing to share not only their war stories, but also their doubts, qualms and conflicted emotions.
Mr. Moreh intercuts the interviews with archival footage of public events and evocative recreations of more shadowy doings. The resulting film is inevitably partial — it relies entirely on those six voices, without the usual documentary chorus of opposing views or disinterested experts — but also eminently, even thrillingly fair-minded. It is guaranteed to trouble any one, left, right, center or head in the sand, with confidence or certainly in his or her own opinions. If you need reassurance or grounds for optimism about the Middle East, you will not find it here. What you will find is rare, welcome and almost unbearable clarity.
Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2012/11/27/a-wise-and-gentle-old-man/
Mar 01 2012
I think we can safely assume that every rabbi in America will instruct his congregation this Saturday along the lines of this artfully-crafted set of talking points (below). Every delegate to the AIPAC convention next week, and every member of both houses of Congress will undoubtedly receive a copy, as well. Phone calls will clog the switchboards. The author, Amos Yadlin, has very carefully constructed a set of arguments as skillfully as a lawyer might do in preparing a case for presentation to the U.S. Supreme Court. His “brief” is deliberately intended to entrap President Obama in a perfect Catch-22 dilemma, where he is presented with an impossible choice between conspicuously declining to stand in defense of the Jewish people in what they have declared to be their moment of existential peril, or committing the United States to support a course of aggressive military action that could very easily put the United States on a path to a major new war in the Middle East.
With breathtaking presumption, the recommendations in the article below are also designed to compel each of the current Republican presidential candidates to articulate with increased stridency and specificity their mindless commitments to accept without question the guidance of Israel’s extreme right-wing leadership in defining American national security imperatives in the Middle East.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the situation, as I see it, is the possibility that Barack Obama’s domestic political strategists will persuade him that the least dangerous course for him to take during this election year would be to issue an ironclad and public American assurance that if Israel refrains, at his request, from attacking Iran unilaterally at this time, the United States will, as its part of the bargain, promise to employ its own more extensive and versatile military resources to accomplish the objective at some future time if harsher economic sanctions and other non-military measures fail to dissuade the Iranian leadership from proceeding with the construction of a deliverable nuclear weapon.
Kicking the can down the road in this way would certainly evoke immediate howls of derision from Mr. Obama’s domestic political opponents, of course, but from Netanyahu’s perspective it would accomplish the important objectives of displaying his political potency and his dominance over the American president, while relieving him of pressure to launch a dangerous and costly unilateral assault on Iran. Responsibility for preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear bomb would be placed squarely and permanently on the shoulders of whatever American leader occupies the White House in the future. Not a bad deal for Bibi and for Israel, but potentially a catastrophic open-ended commitment in the eyes of the U.S. Department of Defense. (Yadlin, it should be noted, evaluates that option less favorably for his country: “Asking Israel’s leaders to abide by America’s timetable, and hence allowing Israel’s window of opportunity to be closed, is to make Washington a de facto proxy for Israel’s security — a tremendous leap of faith for Israelis faced with a looming Iranian bomb.” (AIPAC members and others of similar persuasion take careful note.)
Alternatively, I also see some risk that President Obama will decide, (over the professional objections of his own military advisers), that he must pander to the domineering Israeli Prime Minister by promising secretly that if Israel proceeds (against American advice) to attack Iran unilaterally at this time (and ostensibly without United States foreknowledge or advance approval), the U.S. would still stand ready to step in and “finish the job” if Iran had the audacity to retaliate in any effective manner. (The old wink-wink/nudge-nudge gambit, that would not remain secret for more than a week!)
The adverse effect that such a devious strategy would have on U.S. interests in Iraq, Afghanistan and the rest of the Muslim world is incalculable, of course — to say nothing of the irreparable damage that would be done to Obama’s moral authority as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient!)
What effect any choice of American strategy would actually have on Iran’s decision whether or not to proceed with construction of a deliverable nuclear weapon is impossible to judge, of course. They are probably sitting in Teheran scratching their heads, as baffled and apprehensive as we are!
In summary, I see very little chance that this administration, during this coming week’s concerted onslaught of high-pressure Israeli traveling salesmen and local political opportunists throwing red meat to AIPAC loyalists, will be courageous and imaginative enough to formulate a new and independent American policy for dealing with this extremely dangerous situation. Something considerably less than clarity is more predictable — ambiguity mixed with an embarrassing display of subservience to the leader of a foreign government. Extortion is difficult to manage with dignity under any conditions. That is what we face here, in its crudest form. Nothing less.
It would be the surrender of absolute control over our own decision-making on questions of U.S. national security policy that I see as the greatest threat to our country. That precious independence of judgment and action has never been as gravely threatened as it will be over the next few days.
Israel’s Last Chance to Strike Iran
By Amos Yadlin, February 29, 2012
On June 7, 1981, I was one of eight Israeli fighter pilots who bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak. As we sat in the briefing room listening to the army chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, before starting our planes’ engines, I recalled a conversation a week earlier when he’d asked us to voice any concerns about our mission.
We told him about the risks we foresaw: running out of fuel, Iraqi retaliation, how a strike could harm our relationship with America, and the limited impact a successful mission might have — perhaps delaying Iraq’s nuclear quest by only a few years. Listening to today’s debates about Iran, we hear the same arguments and face the same difficulties, even though we understand it is not 1981.
Shortly after we destroyed Osirak, the Israeli defense attaché in Washington was called into the Pentagon. He was expecting a rebuke. Instead, he was faced with a single question: How did you do it? The United States military had assumed that the F-16 aircraft they had provided to Israel had neither the range nor the ordnance to attack Iraq successfully. The mistake then, as now, was to underestimate Israel’s military ingenuity.
We had simply maximized fuel efficiency and used experienced pilots, trained specifically for this mission. We ejected our external fuel tanks en route to Iraq and then attacked the reactor with pinpoint accuracy from so close and such a low altitude that our unguided bombs were as accurate and effective as precision-guided munitions.
Today, Israel sees the prospect of a nuclear Iran that calls for our annihilation as an existential threat. An Israeli strike against Iran would be a last resort, if all else failed to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. That moment of decision will occur when Iran is on the verge of shielding its nuclear facilities from a successful attack — what Israel’s leaders have called the “zone of immunity.”
Some experts oppose an attack because they claim that even a successful strike would, at best, delay Iran’s nuclear program for only a short time. But their analysis is faulty. Today, almost any industrialized country can produce a nuclear weapon in four to five years — hence any successful strike would achieve a delay of only a few years.
What matters more is the campaign after the attack. When we were briefed before the Osirak raid, we were told that a successful mission would delay the Iraqi nuclear program for only three to five years. But history told a different story.
After the Osirak attack and the destruction of the Syrian reactor in 2007, the Iraqi and Syrian nuclear programs were never fully resumed. This could be the outcome in Iran, too, if military action is followed by tough sanctions, stricter international inspections and an embargo on the sale of nuclear components to Tehran. Iran, like Iraq and Syria before it, will have to recognize that the precedent for military action has been set, and can be repeated.
Others claim that an attack on the Iranian nuclear program would destabilize the region. But a nuclear Iran could lead to far worse: a regional nuclear arms race without a red phone to defuse an escalating crisis, Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf, more confident Iranian surrogates like Hezbollah and the threat of nuclear materials’ being transferred to terrorist organizations.
Ensuring that Iran does not go nuclear is the best guarantee for long-term regional stability. A nonnuclear Iran would be infinitely easier to contain than an Iran with nuclear weapons.
President Obama has said America will “use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.” Israel takes him at his word.
The problem, however, is one of time. Israel doesn’t have the safety of distance, nor do we have the United States Air Force’s advanced fleet of bombers and fighters. America could carry out an extensive air campaign using stealth technology and huge amounts of ammunition, dropping enormous payloads that are capable of hitting targets and penetrating to depths far beyond what Israel’s arsenal can achieve.
This gives America more time than Israel in determining when the moment of decision has finally been reached. And as that moment draws closer, differing timetables are becoming a source of tension.
On Monday, Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel are to meet in Washington. Of all their encounters, this could be the most critical. Asking Israel’s leaders to abide by America’s timetable, and hence allowing Israel’s window of opportunity to be closed, is to make Washington a de facto proxy for Israel’s security — a tremendous leap of faith for Israelis faced with a looming Iranian bomb. It doesn’t help when American officials warn Israel against acting without clarifying what America intends to do once its own red lines are crossed.
Mr. Obama will therefore have to shift the Israeli defense establishment’s thinking from a focus on the “zone of immunity” to a “zone of trust.” What is needed is an ironclad American assurance that if Israel refrains from acting in its own window of opportunity — and all other options have failed to halt Tehran’s nuclear quest — Washington will act to prevent a nuclear Iran while it is still within its power to do so.
I hope Mr. Obama will make this clear. If he does not, Israeli leaders may well choose to act while they still can.
Amos Yadlin, a former chief of Israeli military intelligence, is the director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction (March 1, 2012):
An earlier version of this essay misstated the date of Israel’s 1981 air strike against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. It was June 7, not July 7.
Photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking during a press statement in Bucharest, Romania, Wednesday, July 6, 2011, by Vadim Ghirda/AP. http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Israel-s-prime-minister-gets-backing-from-Romania-1454013.php or http://bit.ly/q2hCtJ or http://tinyurl.com/3zt72p9
Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2012/03/01/an-embarrassing-display-of-subservience/
Sep 18 2011
Monsieur d’Nalgar: Ray Close just forwarded the following letter, with this short introduction:
A friend of mine, a retired U.S. ambassador, sent this excellent letter to President Obama yesterday.
Straightforward common sense.
Dear Mr. President:
Just think for a minute—what would happen if the United States abstained when the Palestinian question comes before the UN Security Council in the next week or two?
The resolution would pass. The world would be stunned. The United States would enter an entirely new era in our relations with the Muslim countries of the world. The vision you outlined in Cairo for better relations with the Islamic world would take the largest step forward of your presidency. The United States would once again have regained the high moral ground we so often claim to occupy. The energies loosed by the “Arab spring” would continue to be devoted to their own domestic affairs rather than being diverted into condemning the United States. We are hypocrites when we claim to want justice for the Palestinians but we do nothing meaningful to help achieve this.
On the other hand, if the United States vetoes the Palestinian request for statehood, we will damage our position in the Islamic world—not merely the Arab World—for untold years to come. We will become the object of retribution throughout the Muslim world, and will give new energy to the lagging efforts of al-Qaida to retaliate against us. I served my country 36 years in the Foreign Service of the United States, ten assignments in ten Muslim countries. I know the power of this issue. Why would we want to give new impetus to anti-American sentiment throughout the Muslim world?
Mr. Netanyahu’s office has issued a statement saying “Peace will be achieved only through direct negotiations with Israel.” You know, and I know, that Mr. Netanyahu has no intention of concluding a just and fair peace with the Palestinian Authority. His only concern is to continue the inexorable construction of more settlements, creating more “facts on the ground” until the idea of an independent Palestinian state becomes a mere memory of a bygone era. When Israel declared its independence in 1948 it did not do so after direct negotiations with Palestine. If Israel really wants to negotiate with the Palestinians, why would negotiating with an independent Palestinian government, on an equal footing, deter it from engaging in these negotiations?
The Reagan administration launched an international information campaign under the slogan “Let Poland be Poland.” It’s time we let Palestine be Palestine.
Abstain from this upcoming vote. Just think about it.
Charles O. Cecil
U.S. Ambassador, retired
Charles O. Cecil
Ambassador to the Republic of Niger
Charles O. Cecil presented his credentials as Ambassador to the Republic of Niger on September 6, 1996. Prior to his ambassadorship, he served in Washington as Deputy Director for West African Affairs from 1995 to 1996, overseeing U.S. relations with the nine Francophone countries of West Africa. He was Deputy Chief of Mission in Abidjan before he returned to Washington.
Ambassador Cecil joined the Foreign Service and was initally assigned to Kuwait in 1966. Following Kuwait, he went to Zanzibar for 2 years as political officer. In 1971, he was posted to Beirut to study Arabic, then went to Jeddah where he served as a political-military officer. After 2 years in Jeddah, Ambassador Cecil returned to Washington as the desk officer for Saudi Arabia. He was later assigned to the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs handling arms sales and security assistance issues in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ambassador Cecil was a Congressional Fellow on the staffs of Senator William Proxmire and Congressman Jim Leach until 1980. In 1980, Ambassador Cecil returned overseas to Mali where he served as Public Affairs Officer and Deputy Chief of Mission. He then went to Muscat in 1983 as Deputy Chief of Mission. Following Muscat, he became Director of the Foreign Service Institute’s Arabic Language Field School in Tunis for 2 years. Ambassador Cecil then returned to Washington to become Deputy Director of the Office of Ecology, Health, and Conservation. And, from 1990 to 1992, he served as Senior Advisor for Environmental Affairs in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
Ambassador Cecil was born in Owensboro, Kentucky on February 13, 1940. He received a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1962, and an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University in 1964. Upon completion of his education, he served in the Air Force until 1966.
Ambassador Cecil has published articles in the Journal of Modern Affican Studies, The Middle East Journal, Our Sunday Visitor, and Aramco World.
Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/09/18/straightforward-common-sense/
Jul 26 2011
By Ran Dagoni, 21 July 11 12:13
The US House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday cut the Obama administration’s $51 billion 2012 budget request for the State Department and foreign aid by $6.4 billion, but kept unchanged the $3 billion in military aid for Israel.
Commentators say that the committee vote is a direct challenge to President Barack Obama. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is trying to limit Obama’s freedom of action in handling foreign policy and to minimize US contributions to international organizations – especially the UN. An Israeli source told “Globes” that the Foreign Affairs Committee slashed foreign aid for the Palestinians, Egypt, Lebanon, and Yemen, until the President certifies that these governments are “not directly or indirectly controlled by a foreign terrorist organization”, and eliminated military and civilian aid altogether for Pakistan, until the Secretary of State certifies Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror and the effectiveness of civilian programs.
The Republican majority in the House means that the bill will be easily passed. However, the Democratic majority in the Senate has its own version of the foreign aid and State Department budget bill. The Senate version gives Obama the freedom of action that the House is trying to take away. The joint Senate-House committee will have to reconcile the two versions, and the final version will undoubtedly remove the House clauses limiting the administration.
Bipartisan support for Israel keeps US military aid intact a year after Congress ratified the US-Israeli agreement that formalizes US aid for Israel through 2018. Under this agreement, US aid will increase by $150 million to $3 billion in fiscal year 2012, which begins on October 1, 2011. Aid will increase by another $150 million in fiscal year 2013, and stay at this level until 2018. The bill explicitly includes aid for specific programs, such as anti-missile programs.
The statement by House Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Republican – Florida) says, “The U.S.-Israel alliance is vital to the safety and security of both nations, and this bill continues Congress’s bipartisan commitment of fully funding security assistance for Israel.”
The House bill is strongly pro-Israel, in both operational measures, which stipulate funding levels for Israel, in measures against Arab states, and in declarations. The statement says, “The bill reaffirms support for Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital by requiring that Jerusalem be identified as Israel’s capital on relevant US Government documents, and requires the Executive Branch to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem by the start of 2014. It also expresses Congress’s opposition to the Arab League Boycott of Israel. The bill states that it shall be US policy to uphold the reassurances provided by the President of the United States in an April 2004 letter to the Prime Minister of Israel, which reassured US support for secure, defensible borders for Israel and for Israel’s qualitative military edge, and stated that it is unrealistic to expect negotiated final borders to parallel the pre-1967 lines.”
Other clauses stipulate as follows:
- Prohibits further security assistance to Egypt until the President certifies that the Government of Egypt is not directly or indirectly controlled by a Foreign Terrorist Organization; is fully implementing its peace treaty with Israel; and is actively destroying tunnels used to smuggle materials into Gaza.
- Prohibits further security assistance to Lebanon until the President certifies that no members of Hezbollah hold policy positions in any ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the government.
- Prohibits further security assistance to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until the President certifies that no members of Hamas hold policy positions in any ministry, agency, or instrumentality of the government; that the PA is dismantling the extremist infrastructure in Gaza and West Bank; that the PA is actively halting anti-Israel incitement; and that the PA recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news – www.globes-online.com – on July 21, 2011
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011
Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/07/26/direct-challenge/
Jun 30 2011
From one of the Arab world’s most insightful and eloquent political spokesmen — perhaps his best ever!
Rami Khouri highlights a (potentially) very significant and promising new direction being taken by some influential elements of the Palestinian national movement — one that all of us have been hoping for a very long time would eventually emerge to establish once and for all the moral and political legitimacy that their cause has frequently been unjustly denied.
The long-range double bogies of inexorable demographic imbalance and increasingly sophisticated military technology are beginning to give Israeli leaders legitimate nightmares, throwing into doubt (finally!) the efficacy of their perpetually futile security strategies of repression, collective punishment and disproportionate retaliation. But just as those realities are finally receiving the attention they deserve, along comes a dramatic and quite unexpected new element — potentially the ultimate existential threat to Israel’s ruthless domination: discovery by the Arabs of the “weapon” of peaceful and persistent non-violent political and legal confrontation, set in motion and made more potent, ironically, by “people power” emanating from the perennially disdained “Arab street”. Well, well.
Bravo, Arabs! Go for it!
A new Palestinian strategy unfolds
By Rami G. Khouri, June 29, 2011 01:02 AM
While the Arab world is experiencing a historic series of citizen revolts against nondemocratic governments, something equally significant is happening among Palestinians in their struggle with Israel and Zionism. Very slowly, almost imperceptibly, Palestinians seem to be making a strategic shift in their mode of confrontation with Israel, from occasional military attacks toward a more nonviolent and political confrontation.
This development seems to be driven by two factors: that various kinds of armed struggle against Israel, by Palestinians or Arab armies, have had little or no impact on changing Israeli policies; and, that nonviolent political protests are more in keeping with the spirit of the moment in the Arab world, where unarmed civilians openly confront their oppressors and in most cases seem to be making headway.
The signs of Palestinian political struggle, as opposed to militarism, are most visible in four dimensions or incidents these days. The first were the two days in May and June when symbolic numbers of Palestinian refugees marched to the borders of Israel to proclaim their right to return to their homes. Israeli as usual replied with gunfire, killing over a dozen Palestinians. The scene at the Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank north of Jerusalem was especially poignant, as Palestinian young men used slingshots – that great Hebrew Bible symbol – to pester the Israeli soldiers in full battle gear on the rooftops raining tear gas down on them. I suspect this is not the last time we will see unarmed Palestinian civilians march en masse in affirmation of their rights, whether in Israel, in Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands, or around the world.
The second is the flotilla of ships that is expected to set sail this week from nearby Mediterranean ports to break the Israeli siege of Gaza, even though the siege has been eased somewhat in recent months, especially since the new Egyptian government opened the Rafah crossing to a nearly normal flow of trade. The flotilla follows half a dozen others that have made the journey in the last three years with the same purpose: to challenge the Israeli sea blockade and affirm the rights of Palestinians to have normal contacts with the rest of the world.
The third sign is the Palestinian insistence on asking the U.N. General Assembly to vote this September on recognizing a Palestinian state within the borders of the lands occupied by Israel in 1967 (West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem). This move has incensed the Israeli government and its many proxies in the U.S., where a vehement campaign is underway to stop the United Nations vote from taking place.
The intensity of the Israeli and American opposition to the vote strategy is hysterical to the point of irrationality, given that a U.N. General Assembly vote in itself has very little practical value or impact in political or legal terms. Yet the Israeli response is telling of a deeper fear. What frightens the Israelis is the determination of Palestinians to use all available political means to carry on the struggle against Zionism and Israel, until Palestinian rights are achieved and Israelis and Palestinians can live in adjacent states with fully equal rights. Israel has never developed a strategy for countering a serious Arab political offensive against it, and it shows.
The fourth sign is the continued development of the global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, until it complies with its obligations under international law and conventions. Palestinian civil society launched BDS in 2005 as a strategy that allows people of conscience around the world to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice.
All four of these signs represent political actions that send a single, integrated message that finds resonance around the world: Israel’s practices against Palestinians continue to reflect a combination of criminality and impunity that are totally unacceptable, and people of conscience everywhere are taking action to force Israel, if possible, to comply with its legal obligations. The aim is for Israel to respect Palestinian rights in the same way that Israel demands respect for the rights of Jews and Israelis from the rest of the world.
Israelis and Zionists complain that this is a campaign to delegitimize Israel. That is not really accurate. The truth is that Israel and Zionism have gone a long way toward delegitimizing themselves, because of the way they deal with the Palestinians. If I were an Israeli, I would be worried, too, because this political battle cuts to the heart of the conflict between Israeli-Jewish Zionism and Palestinian Arabism.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is over a century old, but in practical terms it is starting only now. That’s because the contest is now one of clashing political and national rights facing off on a more level playing field, where justice, legality and legitimacy are the operative criteria, and, therefore, where Israel’s traditional strengths and the Palestinians’ weaknesses have little impact.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 29, 2011, on page 7.
Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/06/30/well-well/
Jun 07 2011
The cynicism of Israeli settlement policy
In case anyone has any doubts about the cynical motivation that has often inspired the Israeli Government’s practice of unofficially encouraging the establishment of settlements in occupied territory as a calculated instrument of territorial expansion:
You’ll be interested in this anecdote, I think. Coincidentally, four of the six or seven persons present at that small dinner party thirty-seven years ago had Princeton connections: Prince Saud al Faisal (Hun School and Princeton Class of 1964); Prince Turki al Faisal (Hun School, then Lawrenceville School, and briefly a member of the Princeton Class of 1967 before transferring to Georgetown University); Hal Saunders (Princeton Class of 1952) and myself (Princeton ’51). Saud is still foreign minister; Turki later served as Saudi ambassador in both London and Washington; he now heads a policy research center in Riyadh.
Personal note to the file, dated April 1975 (written shortly after the assassination of King Faisal the month before):
I was the CIA Station Chief in Saudi Arabia from 1970 to 1977. During the height of Henry Kissinger’s campaign of intensive “shuttle diplomacy” following the end of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Secretary of State made frequent visits to Riyadh to brief King Faisal. On one of those visits, while he and the king were conferring at the royal diwan, a small group of us met for dinner at the home of a senior Saudi royal counselor, Shaikh Kamal Adham, the king’s brother-in-law. Present were two of the king’s sons, Saud al Faisal (now Foreign Minister) and Turki al Faisal (now head of the Saudi foreign intelligence service). The only other American present besides myself was Harold (“Hal”) Saunders, at that time the senior advisor on Middle East Affairs attached to the NSC. (Hal later succeeded Joe Sisco as Assistant Secretary of State for NEA, and now heads the Kettering Foundation.)
After dinner, Hal Saunders produced a large scale map of the Golan Heights, and invited us all to gather around him while he told us about the progress of negotiations in that sector. Hal started by pointing out the latest Israeli proposal for the location of the ceasefire line that was to separate Israeli and Syrian forces. It had been prominently delineated on the map with a green felt-tip pen. After Hal explained that the line had been drawn personally by Moshe Dayan at meetings in Jerusalem on the previous day, he pointed out the location of various Israeli settlements that had been established on Syrian territory since the end of the Six-Day War in June, 1967, which the Israelis insisted would have to be on their side of the new demarcation line.
Hal then told us of an exchange between Henry Kissinger and Golda Meir that had taken place only a few hours before, over breakfast that very morning at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Henry had said to the Israeli Prime Minister: “Golda, it’s those God damned settlements that are causing us all the trouble”. To this, Mrs. Meir had responded: “Henry, why do you think we put them there?”
NOTE: Israeli formally annexed that part of the Golan Heights in 1981, a move that has not been recognized by any other governmental authority.
– Ray Close
Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/06/07/henry-why-do-you-think/
Jun 01 2011
This is an exceptionally constructive and illuminating appraisal of the current state of U.S. policy toward the Israel-Palestine issue, written by Henry Siegman, president of the US/Middle East Project (and presently a nonresident visiting research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, SOAS, University of London).
It is important to note that Mr. Siegman served on the executive committee of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for nearly thirty years — from 1965 to 1994 — while heading the Synagogue Council of America and then the American Jewish Congress.
– Ray Close
This article is based on a study prepared for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre (Noref) in Oslo.
How one gauges the importance or shortcomings of Barack Obama’s comments on the Israel-Palestine conflict in his speech of May 19 depends on how one understands the history of the Middle East peace process. My take on that history has always reminded me of the gallows humor that used to make the rounds in the Soviet Union: Soviet workers pretend to work, and their Kremlin rulers pretend to pay them. So it has been with the peace process: Israeli governments pretend they are seeking a two-state solution, and the United States pretends it believes them—that is, until President Obama’s latest speech on the subject. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The main agency for the promotion of this deception in the United States has been the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), whose legitimacy is based on the pretense that it speaks for the American Jewish community. It does not, for the lobby’s commitment is to Israeli governments of a certain right-wing cast.
AIPAC went into virtual hibernation during the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s because he disliked its politics and the notion that an Israeli prime minister needs AIPAC’s intercession to communicate with the US administration. The chemistry between them was so bad that Rabin encouraged the formation of a new American support group, the Israel Policy Forum.
It is not widely known that in 1988 the three major US Jewish “defense” organizations—the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League—joined in a public challenge to AIPAC (as well as to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations), charging that the policies it advocates do not always represent the views of the American Jewish community. I am familiar with the episode because I served on the executive committee of AIPAC for nearly thirty years—from 1965 to 1994—while heading the Synagogue Council of America and then the American Jewish Congress. As the New York Times reported at the time, the challenge was “politically significant because it suggests that American Jewish opinion is more diverse and, on some issues, less hard-line than the picture presented by AIPAC, which is viewed by Congress and the Administration as an authoritative spokesman for American Jews.” AIPAC managed to neutralize the challenge by promising deeper consultation with the three organizations, which of course it never did.
Today, AIPAC gives full and unqualified support to an Israeli government most of whose members deeply oppose a two-state solution. The lip service that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, pay to such an accord is a cover for their government’s overriding goal of foiling one. In fact, it is a goal that Israeli governments have pursued since 1967, when the Palestinian territories came under Israel’s control. As Aluf Benn of Haaretz noted this April:
Israeli foreign policy has, for the past 44 years, strived to prevent another repetition of this scenario [Israel’s withdrawals from territory beyond its legitimate borders, forced first by President Truman and then by President Eisenhower] through a combination of intransigence and a surrender of territories considered less vital (Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank cities, South Lebanon), in order to keep the major prizes (East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights).
Most members of Netanyahu’s government do not hide their opposition to Palestinian statehood, and they openly advocate Israel’s permanent retention of the occupied territories. Danny Danon, a Likud member and deputy speaker of the Knesset, published an op-ed in the New York Times the day before Netanyahu met with President Obama at the White House, calling on Netanyahu “to rectify the mistake we made in 1967 by failing to annex all of the West Bank.”
In a June 2009 speech, under pressure from the Obama administration, Netanyahu declared his acceptance of a two-state solution. It was a patently insincere speech, for he uttered not the slightest reproach when senior members of his own Likud Party and ministers in his government announced the formation of a thirty-nine-member Land of Israel Caucus, the largest caucus in the Knesset. The co-chair of the caucus is Ze’ev Elkin, head of the party’s parliamentary delegation. It includes the Likud’s Reuven Rivlin, Knesset speaker; Benny Begin, a member of the so-called Septet, Netanyahu’s seven-member inner security cabinet, which passes on all major government decisions; as well as several other ministers and deputy ministers in Netanyahu’s cabinet. Haaretz reported at the time that the only two Likud ministers in his government who did not support the caucus were Dan Meridor and Netanyahu himself. Only one minister, Michael Eitan, objected to it, calling the caucus a “thunderous contradiction” of Netanyahu’s declared commitment to a two-state accord.
The official goal of the caucus is to strengthen “Israel’s grasp on the entire Land of Israel.” If that’s not clear enough, Begin helpfully elaborated: “The establishment of a foreign independent sovereign state headed by the PLO in parts of the Land of Israel stands in opposition to two basic ideas that are both supported by a majority of the Knesset: the absolute historic right of the Nation of Israel to the Land of Israel and the right of the State of Israel to national security.”
Is there any question in anyone’s mind how the United States would react to the presence in Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority government of ministers who made similar claims to Palestinian rights in any part of pre-1967 Israel?
* * *
For some time now, Obama has been urged by senior foreign policy experts who served in previous administrations to abandon his efforts to revive the moribund peace process and instead present Israelis and Palestinians with an American outline of an accord. But Dennis Ross, Obama’s senior adviser on the Middle East, strongly opposed this course, as did Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations. In a recent blog post, Gelb wrote that “taking this leap [toward an American plan] without any prior indication by the two parties that they’d accept U.S. terms…would be jumping off the cliff for peace…. If this grand leap fails, U.S. credibility would virtually disappear, and the warring parties could be left without a viable intermediary. Then what?”
Critics of the proposed US initiative are certainly right about its likely rejection by this Israeli government. But they seem blindingly unaware that their question, “Then what?” is evoked far more forcefully by their insistence on returning to a process that has gone absolutely nowhere in twenty years—precisely because it has shielded Israel from outside pressures. It has left the Palestinians to the tender mercies of colonial rulers ever more intent on retaining control over a West Bank to which they have transferred, in blatant contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, more than 300,000 Israeli settlers—and that does not count the 200,000 illegal settlers in East Jerusalem.
Haaretz columnist Nehemia Shtrasler wrote recently that “Netanyahu is not ready for any agreement, any concession, any withdrawal; as far as he is concerned, it’s all the Land of Israel.” Netanyahu’s May 24 speech before the US Congress left no doubt that this is the case. Therefore, the purpose of a US peace initiative to rescue a two-state solution cannot be to obtain the acceptance of Netanyahu’s government. Its purpose, instead, must be to establish clear red lines that define the limits of US support for Israeli and Palestinian policies. Both parties need to know that neither retaining the West Bank under Israeli control nor permitting unlimited rights of return to Israel for Palestinian refugees will receive US support.
The outline of such an initiative was presented to President Obama in several letters by former senior officials, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, Frank Carlucci, William Fallon, Chuck Hagel, Lee Hamilton, Carla Hills, Nancy Kassebaum-Baker, Thomas Pickering, Brent Scowcroft, James Wolfensohn and Paul Volcker. They proposed that negotiations take place within the following parameters:
The United States will work to establish a sovereign and viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, subject only to agreed, minor and equal land swaps to take into account areas adjoining the former Green Line that are heavily populated by Israelis. Unilateral changes to the 1967 borders will not be accorded US recognition or legitimacy.
The United States will support a solution to the refugee problem on the principle of two states for two peoples; it would address the Palestinian refugees’ sense of injustice, and provide them with resettlement opportunities and financial compensation. The United States will oppose proposals that undercut the principle of two states for two peoples—such as proposals for unlimited entry of Palestinian refugees into the State of Israel.
The United States believes both states must enjoy strong security guarantees. In this context, Washington will support a nonmilitarized Palestinian state along with security mechanisms that address legitimate Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty. The United States will support the presence of a US-led multinational force to oversee security provisions and border crossings.
The United States believes Jerusalem should be home to both states’ capitals, with Jewish neighborhoods falling under Israeli sovereignty and Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty. Regarding the Old City, arrangements should provide for each side to control its holy places and to have unimpeded access by each community to them.
The United States will encourage the reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas on terms compatible with these principles and UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
The signers of these letters urged that if a US-supported plan is rejected by either side, the United States and Europe should submit it to the UN Security Council. With US and European support, the Council would surely adopt the plan. If either party refused to abide by the Council’s determination, it would be on its own. The United States would of course continue to counter threats to Israel’s security, but it would no longer provide a diplomatic shield for Israel from international criticism when it disregards US guidelines, nor would Washington discourage international efforts by Palestinians to seek legal redress.
That would help pave the way for a two-state accord—not with current Israeli leaders but with those who will replace them. The rejection of US proposals by Netanyahu’s government, and the ensuing gulf between Netanyahu and the White House that would inevitably result, will make the proposed parameters the central issue in the next Israeli elections—and likely produce a new government that will seek to repair the damage done to the Israel-US relationship by Netanyahu. It is not clear whether a majority of Israelis supports a two-state solution, but a majority does understand that without US friendship and support, Israel has no future in that part of the world.
* * *
To be sure, Washington cannot impose terms for a peace accord. But neither can the two sides impose on the United States an obligation to support policies that deeply offend American principles of justice and respect for international law and bilateral agreements—especially if the policies would damage vital US interests in the region and beyond.
Which brings me to the president’s May 19 speech. Even though what he said will not produce renewed peace talks—much less a peace agreement—it was important because it laid down certain markers:
The time to press for a peace accord is now, not some time in the indeterminate future.
Putting forward American parameters for bilateral talks is not an imposition on the parties. The parameters are essential terms of reference for successful talks.
The starting point for talks about mutually agreed-upon territorial swaps must be the 1967 lines.
A peace accord must provide credible security arrangements for both parties and “full and phased” withdrawal of Israel’s military forces from the West Bank.
Obama suggested that the parties seek agreement on border and security issues before tackling the status of Jerusalem and the rights of refugees. The danger of such a two-stage process is that Israel may have no interest in proceeding to the second stage, leaving an undivided Jerusalem in its hands and the refugee issue unaddressed. It is also hard to imagine that Palestinians will agree to borders before the status of Jerusalem has been resolved or before they know whether their state would have to accommodate all refugees who wish to return.
The fatal flaw in Obama’s proposal is that it does not state clearly that rejecting his parameters will have consequences. Indeed, he seemed to suggest the opposite when he stressed on May 19 and in his speech to AIPAC on May 22 that the ties that bind America to Israel are “unshakable” and “ironclad.” Did Obama really mean to say that Washington would continue to defend Israel against its critics if its policy was—and as everyone in Israel above the age of 6 knows already is—to prevent a Palestinian state? In those circumstances (which would clearly prevail if Avigdor Lieberman or someone of his ilk were to win the premiership in the next elections), would our “unshakable” and “ironclad” ties require us to continue providing billions in military funding to help the IDF enforce the permanent disenfranchisement and dispossession of the Palestinian people?
If that is what the president meant, what right do we have to berate Palestinians for turning to the UN—source of the two most fundamental resolutions to the peace process, 242 and 338—for adjudication of their grievances? If that is not what he meant, why didn’t he tell his AIPAC audience and Netanyahu, in the spirit of—as Obama put it in his speech before AIPAC—“real friends talk openly and honestly with one another,” that US support for Israel could not survive an Israeli government that pursues such policies?
* * *
It is generally believed that for a US president to speak truthfully to the American people about the dishonesty of this Israeli government’s peaceful pretensions is to invite a devastating loss of financial support, as well as electoral defeat. Can Obama overcome the opposition of the Israel lobby, and of a Congress so deeply beholden to that lobby, and successfully promote a US peace plan? I believe he can, particularly if he obtains the support of former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, whose deep friendship with Israel is beyond challenge. The plan is consistent with the Clinton parameters of December 2000 and with positions taken by Bush, who stressed that Israel cannot acquire any territory beyond the ‘67 lines without Palestinian consent. In a confrontation between the Israel lobby, on the one hand, and former Presidents Clinton and Bush and President Obama, on the other—who together declare their support for a peace plan they believe to be just, fair to both sides and in America’s national interest—there should be no question about who would prevail.
This is the only way the Obama administration can bring about an end to this long-running and tragic conflict, ensure the survival of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and regain the respect and trust it has lost—in the region and in much of the world—because of its mishandling of this issue. It is also the only way the administration can protect Israel from an inevitable and unstoppable wave of delegitimization that would surely follow a UN General Assembly vote recognizing the legitimacy of Palestinian statehood within the pre-1967 borders. Some Obama advisers assume that the hundreds of thousands of Arabs throughout the region who have risked their lives—and continue to do so—to regain their freedom and dignity will remain indifferent to Israel’s denial of that freedom and dignity to millions of Palestinians. That is a delusion that will bring about catastrophic consequences.
Israelis would do well to heed a warning by the sages of the Talmud: Tafasta merubah, lo tafasta! (If you try to grab it all, you risk losing it all!)
Permanent link to this article: https://levantium.com/2011/06/01/tafasta-merubah-lo-tafasta/