The move by the Palestinian leadership to go to the UN and ask what’s due to them is pretty understandable, to say the least. Israel under Netanyahu has worked very hard at becoming an international pariah, and this seems to be the only way left to get them back at the negotiating table. And apart from the US and a couple of European countries, the majority of governments in the world seem to support this move.
And not only that: populations across the globe, including in the US, support the Palestinians on the matter of statehood, this new BBC poll shows. So there should really be no discussion about this. If Obama really wants to tap into the Arab Spring, and wishes to improve the relationship between the West and the Arab world, he won’t let the US unilaterally block the Palestinians from more international recognition that is wanted by a majority of UN members. But with the Israel lobby as big as it is in Washington, that is probably not going to happen…
As debate continues over whether the Palestinians should ask for a UN resolution recognising Palestine as an independent state, a new global poll for BBC World Service reveals that, in all 19 countries surveyed, more citizens would prefer to see their government vote to support the resolution than vote against it – although only by a modest margin in many countries.
The poll of 20,446 citizens conducted by GlobeScan shows that, while the public is five to two in favour, with three undecided, in only nine countries is there an outright majority of citizens in support of recognizing Palestine as a state.
Across the countries surveyed 49 per cent back the resolution, while 21 per cent say their government should oppose it, and a large proportion (30%) either say that it depends, that their government should abstain, or that they do not know what their government should do.
Support for recognition is strongest in Egypt, where 90 per cent are in favour and only nine per cent opposed. But there is also majority support in the other three predominantly Muslim countries polled – Turkey (60% support, 19% oppose), Pakistan (52% support, 12% oppose) and Indonesia (51% support,16% oppose). Chinese people are the second most likely overall to favour their government voting for recognition of a Palestinian state, with 56 per cent in support, and just nine per cent opposed.
In terms of countries with a higher level of opposition, Americans (45% support, 36% oppose) and Indians (32% support, 25% opposed, with many undecided) are the most likely to prefer that their government vote against recognizing Palestine, along with Filipinos (56% support vs 36% oppose) and Brazilians (41% support vs 26% oppose).
Sharp is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, who in 1973 published a book about methods of non-violent revolution called The Politics of Nonviolent Action. In the book (which I didn’t read), Sharp presents an analysis of the state as a power complex designed to keep citizens subservient, through a variety of political and administrative institutions (courts, policy, regulatory bodies) and cultural norms (religion, leadership cult, moral norms).
If that doesn’t sound too original (think Foucault and every theorist concerned with despotism and state power since Hobbes), what’s special about Sharp is that he presents a whole list of possible methods of nonviolent resistance. From boycotts to strikes, to using colors, to sit-ins, to empowering women and children, to employing peaceful symbols, Sharp seems to draw on methods and techniques of protest and revolution from Louis Blanqui to Gandhi to the New Left.
Now, I’m a bit hesitant to say that this person was “the brain” behind all those complex revolutions, and have the idea that Sharp’s influence is exaggerated a bit much by Western commentators (like as usual at the NYT). Yet, his ideas have been denounced by dictators ranging from Hugo Chavez to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Sharp’s other important book From Dictatorship to Democracy, moreover, seems to have influenced civic youth movements from Serbia (during the overthrow of Milosevic) to Ukraine to Belarus, who again are said to have taught nonviolent revolutionary skills to each other and to the Arab youth protesters.
So anyway, check the trailer below, interesting stuff!
HOW TO START A REVOLUTION is a new documentary film revealing how one man’s work has helped millions of people achieve freedom in the face of oppression and tyranny.
Gene Sharp is a shy, modest and little-known man. But his work has inspired a generation of people to challenge dictators through non-violent action in a tidal wave of revolutionary spirit and reform that has swept from Eastern Europe, though Asia and to the Middle East and North Africa.
18 months ago we started work on this feature-length documentary. Through the candid and intimate testimony of the people responsible for non-violent revolutions our film seeks to tell the story of how people power can be used topple dictators.
To make this film our director (Ruaridh Arrow pictured above) slept overnight in Tahrir Square in Cairo at the height of the February revolution. He’s met the leaders of the Syrian pro-democracy movement and the people responsible for overthrowing dictators in Serbia and Ukraine. He has spent time with Gene and his colleagues as they spread their message of effective non-violent revolution.
The film reveals how the leaders of an uprising in one country train the participants in the next and how social media now threatens dictators and tyrants around the world in ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago.
Not only is this documentary an important film of record of the civil uprisings that have shaken the world in the last decade but we also hope it will help inspire future pro-democracy movements develop their strategies for non-violent revolution in the face of apparently overwhelming odds.
Recently I’ve become pretty disappointed with the New York Times, and this has all to do with their response to the Bin Laden killing. Their reporting was jingoistic, even nationalistic, up to the point of being an uncritical cheering of actions of a president clearly violating international and domestic law. When such things happen, one’s reminded that the NYT is basically nothing but an establishment newspaper that will never really be a truly critical government watchdog (and think about their refusal to call the Bush torture methods what they are: torture).
That aside, however, sometimes they have articles that remind why despite of that the NYT, in terms of the technical craft of journalism, is still undisputedly the best newspaper in the world. Maybe not the most critical, but at least the one with the ability to write huge pieces full of insight and a broad scope, sometimes even being almost literary in style.
The piece below, about the aftermath of the Arab Spring revolutions, is such an article. It covers the countries that have recently witnessed revolutions or failed attempts at making them, and how the legacy of that is now threatened by internal disputes based on old ethnic and religious divisions. It’s a very sad story actually, about the promise of a new national identity and citizenship versus ancient hatreds, and one can only hope that the great civic protests of 2011 will not have been in vain.
The revolutions and revolts in the Arab world, playing out over just a few months across two continents, have proved so inspirational to so many because they offer a new sense of national identity built on the idea of citizenship.
But in the past weeks, the specter of divisions — religion in Egypt, fundamentalism in Tunisia, sect in Syria and Bahrain, clan in Libya — has threatened uprisings that once seemed to promise to resolve questions that have vexed the Arab world since the colonialism era.
From the fetid alleys of Imbaba, the Cairo neighborhood where Muslims and Christians have fought street battles, to the Syrian countryside, where a particularly deadly crackdown has raised fears of sectarian score-settling, the question of identity may help determine whether the Arab Spring flowers or withers. Can the revolts forge alternative ways to cope with the Arab world’s variety of clans, sects, ethnicities and religions?
The old examples have been largely of failure: the rule of strongmen in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Yemen; a fragile equilibrium of fractious communities in Lebanon and Iraq; the repressive paternalism of the Persian Gulf, where oil revenues are used to buy loyalty.
“I think the revolutions in a way, in a distant way, are hoping to retrieve” this sense of national identity, said Sadiq al-Azm, a prominent Syrian intellectual living in Beirut.
“The costs otherwise would be disintegration, strife and civil war,” Mr. Azm said. “And this was very clear in Iraq.”
In an arc of revolts and revolution, that idea of a broader citizenship is being tested as the enforced silence of repression gives way to the cacophony of diversity. Security and stability were the justification that strongmen in the Arab world offered for repression, often with the sanction of the United States; the essence of the protests in the Arab Spring is that people can imagine an alternative.
But even activists admit that the region so far has no model that enshrines diversity and tolerance without breaking down along more divisive identities.
In Tunisia, a relatively homogenous country with a well-educated population, fault lines have emerged between the secular-minded coasts and the more religious and traditional inland.
The tensions shook the nascent revolution there this month when a former interim interior minister, Farhat Rajhi, suggested in an online interview that the coastal elite, long dominant in the government, would never accept an electoral victory by Tunisia’s Islamist party, Ennahda, which draws most of its support inland.
“Politics was in the hands of the people of the coast since the start of Tunisia,” Mr. Rajhi said. “If the situation is reversed now, they are not ready to give up ruling.” He warned that Tunisian officials from the old government were preparing a military coup if the Islamists won elections in July. “If Ennahda rules, there will be a military regime.”
In response, protesters poured back out into the streets of Tunis for four days of demonstrations calling for a new revolution. The police beat them back with batons and tear gas, arrested more than 200 protesters and imposed a curfew on the city.
In Cairo, the sense of national identity that surged at the moment of revolution — when hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths celebrated in Tahrir Square with chants of “Hold your head high, you are an Egyptian”— has given way to a week of religious violence pitting the Coptic Christian minority against their Muslim neighbors, reflecting long-smoldering tensions that an authoritarian state may have muted, or let fester.
At a rally this month in Tahrir Square to call for unity, Coptic Christians were conspicuously absent, thousands of them gathering nearby for a rally of their own. And even among some Muslims at the unity rally, suspicions were pronounced.
“As Muslims, our sheiks are always telling us to be good to Christians, but we don’t think that is happening on the other side,” said Ibrahim Sakr, 56, a chemistry professor, who asserted that Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the population, still consider themselves “the original” Egyptians because their presence predates Islam.
In Libya, supporters of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi acknowledge that his government banks on fears of clan rivalries and possible partition to stay in power in a country with deep regional differences.
Officials say that the large extended clans of the west that contribute most of the soldiers to Colonel Qaddafi’s forces will never accept any revolution arising from the east, no matter what promises the rebels make about universal citizenship in a democratic Libya with its capital still in the western city of Tripoli.
The rebels say the revolution can forge a new identity.
“Qaddafi looks at Libya as west and east and north and south,” said Jadella Shalwee, a Libyan from Tobruk who visited Tahrir Square last weekend in a pilgrimage of sorts. “But this revolt has canceled all that. This is about a new beginning,” he said, contending that Colonel Qaddafi’s only supporters were “his cousins and his family.”
“Fear” is what Gamal Abdel Gawad, the director of the Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, called it — the way that autocrats win support because people “are even more scared of their fellow citizens.”
Nowhere is that perhaps truer than in Syria, with a sweeping revolt against four decades of rule by one family and a worsening of tensions among a Sunni Muslim majority and minorities of Christians and heterodox Muslims, the Alawites.
Mohsen, a young Alawite in Syria, recounted a slogan that he believes, rightly or not, was chanted at some of the protests there: “Christians to Beirut and the Alawites to the coffin.”
“Every week that passes,” he lamented, speaking by telephone from Damascus, the Syrian capital, “the worse the sectarian feelings get.”
The example of Iraq comes up often in conversations in Damascus, as does the civil war in Lebanon. The departure of Jews, who once formed a vibrant community in Syria, remains part of the collective memory, illustrating the tenuousness of diversity. Syria’s ostensibly secular government, having always relied on Alawite strength, denounces the prospect of sectarian differences while, its critics say, fanning the flames. The oft-voiced formula is, by now, familiar: after us, the deluge.
“My Alawite friends want me to support the regime, and they feel if it’s gone, our community will be finished,” said Mohsen, the young Alawite in Damascus, who asked that only his first name be used because he feared reprisal. “My Sunni friends want me to be against the regime, but I feel conflicted. We want freedom, but freedom with stability and security.”
That he used the mantra of years of Arab authoritarianism suggested that people still, in the words of one human rights activist, remain “hostage to the lack of possibilities” in states that, with few exceptions, have failed to come up with a sense of self that transcends the many divides.
“This started becoming a self-fulfilling myth,” said Mr. Azm, the Syrian intellectual.
“It was either our martial law or the martial law of the Islamists,” he added. “The third option was to divide the country into ethnicities, sects and so on.”
Despite a wave of repression, crackdown and civil war, hope and optimism still pervade the region, even in places like Syria, the setting of one of the most withering waves of violence. There, residents often speak of a wall of fear crumbling. Across the Arab world, there is a renewed sense of a collective destiny that echoes the headiest days of Arab nationalism in the 1950s and ’60s and perhaps even transcends it.
President Obama, in his speech on Thursday about the changes in the Arab world, spoke directly to that feeling. “Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else. But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore.”
But no less pronounced are the old fears of zero-sum power, where one side wins and the other inevitably loses. From a Coptic Christian in Cairo to an Alawite farmer in Syria, discussions about the future are posed in terms of survival. Differences in Lebanon, a country that celebrates and laments the diversity of its 18 religious communities, are so pronounced that even soccer teams have a sectarian affiliation.
In Beirut, wrecked by a war over the country’s identity and so far sheltered from the gusts of change, activists have staged a small sit-in for two months to call for something different, in a plea that resonates across the Arab world.
The Square of Change, the protesters there have nicknamed it, and their demand is blunt: Citizenship that unites, not divides.
“We are not ‘we’ yet,” complained Tony Daoud, one of the activists. “What do we mean when we say ‘we’? ‘We’ as what? As a religion, as a sect, as human beings?”
If Obama can get us out of Iraq, and if he can use his good offices to keep the pressure on the Egyptian military to lighten up, and if he can support the likely UN declaration of a Palestinian state in September, the US will be in the most favorable position in the Arab world it has had since 1956. And he would go down in history as one of the great presidents.
If he tries to stay in Iraq and he takes a stand against Palestine, he risks provoking further anti-American violence. He can be not just the president who killed Bin Laden, but the president who killed the pretexts for radical violence against the US. He can promote the waving of the American flag in major Arab cities. And that would be a defeat and humiliation for Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda more profound than any they could have dreamed.
Add to that, on the domestic level, the pushing through of universal healthcare, hopefully a recovery of the economy, and the legalization of marihuana (just kidding), and you have a pretty succesful president. To use an understatement.
Now to end the Bush-Cheney legal architecture for counterterrorism.
- Edit: Of course there’s still the absurdly high public debt and deficit, which did multiply under this president.
Stuff like this gets the historian in me very excited. The Guardian has a cool, interactive, quasi-3D timeline about the events in the Arab world ever since the Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 20, 2010. Scroll joyfully along everything that happened since then, like on a rollercoaster.
I’m thinking about how to expand this… Moving images, documents, links, connections. And imagine such a thing for other historical events, like the French or Russian revolutions.
After mass demonstrations (and weeks of mass demonstrations before that), the regime of President Saleh is crumbling from within: the second most important man of the country, General Mohsen, has defected and is joining the protesters, taking large sections of the army with him. Ambassadors around the world are standing down, and the French – apparently the French have something to make up for, being very busy rebranding themselves as at the forefront of revolutions – have said the departure of President Saleh is ‘inevitable’.
After 32 years in power Yemen‘s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, looks destined to become the next Arab leader to be toppled as 11 military commanders, including a senior general, defected from the regime, promising to protect anti-government protesters in the capital.
General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a long-time confidant of the president and head of the Yemeni army in the country’s north-west, announced he would support “the peaceful revolution” by sending soldiers under his command to protect the thousands gathered in the capital demanding for Saleh to step down.
“According to what I’m feeling, and according to the feelings of my partner commanders and soldiers … I announce our support and our peaceful backing to the youth revolution,” Ali Mohsen said via a video statement released before noon.
Ali Mohsen’s pledge opened the floodgates to a stream of defections from the regime. Scores of ambassadors, regional governors, editors of government newspapers, prominent businessmen and senior members of the ruling party are among those who have either quit or announced their allegiance to protesters in the past few hours.
Within hours, seven Yemeni ambassadors – to Japan, Syria, the Czech Republic, Jordan, China, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait – announced they were standing down.
“The regime is crumbling, there is very little support left for the president now,” said Mohammed al-Naqeeb, head of the ruling party in Aden who resigned this afternoon.
Minutes after Ali Mohsen’s defection, tanks belonging to the republican guards, an elite force led by the president’s son Ahmed Ali, rolled into the streets of Sana’a, setting the stage for a standoff between defectors and loyalists.
Republican guard tanks took up a strategic location across the city at Saleh’s residence, the ministry of defence and at the central bank. Meanwhile, tanks of Ali Mohsen’s 1st armoured division took positions elsewhere in the city.
At first protesters gathered at Sana’a University were unsure what to make of the general’s pledge, with many fearing an increased military presence might mean further attacks.
But confusion soon gave way to jubilation as hundreds of soldiers from the 1st armoured division arrived on foot, greeted by protesters who kissed them and hoisted them onto their shoulders.
Soon a line of policemen, soldiers, and businessmen had formed each waiting their turn to step up onto a huge stage and announce their resignations to a roaring crowd of thousands.
“We’ve bought you a birthday present ya Ali, it’s a plane ticket to Saudi,” shouted Haeman Saeed, a leading Yemeni businessman after announcing his resignation from the ruling party.
“The army are with you,” roared Abdallah al-Qahdi, a senior military general from Aden who was fired from his position last week for refusing to put down a peaceful demonstration.
Al-Qahdi said many regime insiders had been waiting for someone like Ali Mohsen to lead the way, and he expected most of the army to have defected by nightfall.
The outcome remains unclear. Analysts say there may soon be a violent standoff within the military between those who have defected and the significant portions of the army still under the president’s control.
“Unfortunately the president and his sons still have control over powerful sections of the military including the republican guard and the air force,” said Yemeni political analyst Abdul Irayani.
“We are all praying that Saleh leaves quickly and quietly to prevent the situation deteriorating rapidly.”
Others suggest the resignations may have been negotiated behind the scenes.
“I believe this is a step towards a transitional military government in Yemen,” said Abdullah Al-Faqih, a professor at Sana’a University.
The president asked the cabinet to serve as a caretaker government until he forms a new administration.
Piling further pressure on Saleh, the country’s most powerful tribal confederation also called on him to step down.
Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar, the leader of Hashed, which includes Saleh’s tribe, issued a statement on Sunday asking the president to respond to the people’s demands and leave peacefully. It was co-signed by several religious leaders.
Ali Mohsen is between 50 and 60 years old, and is generally perceived to be the second most powerful man in Yemen.
Most reports indicate Ali Mohsen is the cousin of Saleh’s two half-brothers, although there is much confusion on this matter, with some claims that he is himself a half-brother to Saleh.
It’s gone a bit unnoticed because of the catastrophic events in Japan, but just a few days ago, Saudi Arabia actually invaded the tiny country of Bahrain. The Sunni Bahraini Al-Khalifa royal house called in the help of their religious brethren from across the border to suppress the Shiite majority in the country. In other words, the despots of one country are invited to squash the nascent democratization of another country. Iraq, Kuwait anyone?
And it’s not just symbolic: Saudi Arabian troops and tanks are sweeping the streets of Bahrain’s capital Manama, causing casualties and destruction. Isn’t this about as big an event as the civil war in Libya?
I am old enough to remember the days when the entire world stopped dead in its tracks as one Middle East autocracy invaded a tiny neighboring state, and the US corralled a massive coalition to repel it. From that moment on, because in part of the threat Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait posed to the Saudi oil fields, the US was far more deeply enmeshed in the Middle East’s military and political equation than ever before.
Now fast forward to a thousand troops with tanks streaming over the causeway that connects Saudi Arabia with Bahrain. Now, obviously this is different in as much as the Sunni Bahrainian royalty invited the troops to come in to protect them from the protests of the Shiite majority. But to my mind, that makes it just as bad. A military from one Sunni country has invaded another to suppress democracy, because it might reflect, for the first time, the wishes of the Shiite majority, rather than Sunni despots.
This strikes me as more significant regionally than Libya’s internal revolts. Since when does the international community stand by as one country’s military invades another and kills some of its citizens? The answer is a pretty simple one: when the invading country controls 25 percent of the world’s oil supply.
- Update: – Update: Mr. Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, the Libyan Permanent Representative, who broke from Gaddafi days ago, speaks in the video below during Security Council Meeting on the situation in Libya. It is quite good.
Al Jazeera is also reporting that the US is in the process of finalizing a package of sanctions as well. I will echo the concerns raised below that sanctions are likely to have little if any effect on a man that: 1) already massacring the country’s citizens; 2) is promising to fight to the death; and, 3) is demonstrating he has next to grip on reality.
In better news, the UAE will deliver two plane loads of humanitarian aid to Libya, following on the heels of Qatar who have already sent a plane load.
And, UK officials are “contacting senior Libya figures directly to persuade them to desert Muammar Gaddafi or face trial alongside him for crimes against humanity” according to the Guardian.
- Update: The Gaddafis continue to replicate the Mubaraks. Saif Gaddafi had apparently chimed in today ahead of his father’s speech (see above and below) in an on air interview with CNN-Turk saying:
Breaking news out of Tripoli today where Ghadaffi has just made an unexpected public appearance in Green Square reportdely speaking to supporters and announcing he will be arming his civilian supporters to slaughter protestors.
“We can defeat any aggression if necessary and arm the people,” Gaddafi said, in footage that was aired Libyan state television on Friday.
“You, the youth, be comfortable… dance, sing, stay up all night,” he said.
His last speech, on Thursday evening, had been made by phone, leading to speculation about his physical condition.
The footage aired on Friday, however, showed the leader standing above the square, waving his fist as he spoke.
His speech came even as thousands of protesters against his regime across Libya focused their attention on the capital on Friday afternoon, following the midday prayer.
As demonstrators in Tripoli took to the street, security forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, reportedly began firing on them. At least six had been killed, according to the Associated Press news agency.
There was heavy gun fire in various Tripoli districts including Fashloum, Ashour, Jumhouria and Souq Al, sources told Al Jazeera.
“The security forces fired indiscriminately on the demonstrators,” said a resident of one of the capital’s eastern suburbs that has seen previous clashes between opponents of the regime and its remaining loyalists.
“There were deaths in the streets of Sug al-Jomaa,” the resident said.
The death toll since violence began remains unclear, though on Thursday Francois Zimeray, France’s top human rights official, said it could be as high as 2,000 people killed.
So, on a day when we are seeing the largest pro-democracy protests yet turnout in both Bahrain and Yemen, Western governments continue to be weak-kneed in their commitment to the ensuring the spread or democracy or their willingness to impede the violation of human rights, failing to take action to address the ongoing massacre and crimes against humanity taking place in Libya.
Elsewhere, Paul Wolfowitz enters the fray. While clearly hardly an expert in democratic transition – his Iraq clusterf*ck rages on today with reports that protests against the supposedly democratic government which has also taken to firing on its own citizens – does have at least one thing right. Sanctions, as being threatened by Germany, as well as admonishments are useless at this point. With no further ado, the Wolf on what to do:
The international community—to include the Obama administration—that is so concerned about the United States acting “unilaterally,” waits four days before even holding a meeting of the Security Council, while the Libyan people cry out desperately for help. Multilateral action takes much longer, so it should be organized earlier. The UN Security Council needs to do more today than just pass hortatory resolutions or impose sanctions that will have no immediate effect.
In a small vignette of what is happening in Libya: after Qaddafi’s chief of protocol came out against the regime, his house was raided and his daughter, the mother of three children, was seized and disappeared.
From everything we can tell, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi was serious when he warned that Libya would go back to the stone age, that the regime would fight to the last bullet and there would be nothing left. The regime seems determined to destroy the country before it goes down.
More public statements, or even the imposition of sanctions, are of absolutely no use at this point. Much more urgent action is needed. The United States should be seeking U.N. approval for:
— Recognition of a provisional authority in liberated areas (or even a Provisional Government of Free Libya if the Libyans can organize a credible one), initially in Benghazi in the east and Misurata in the west, which seem to be liberated, although are still under threat of air attack;
— Provision by member countries, including specifically Egypt and Tunisia, of any support requested by these provisional authorities;
— Imposition of a NATO-supported “no fly” zone over Libya to halt further bombing by Qaddafi’s forces;
— Urgent supply of food and medical supplies to any point in Libya that is accessible by road or by military transport aircraft;
— Provision of arms to the provisional authorities.
When there are so many things that could be done to help the unbelievably brave Libyan people—without any risk to American lives—it is shameful to be sitting on our hands. If that is not reason enough to act, then we should be thinking about the terrible reputation the United States is acquiring, by its inaction, among the Libyan people and throughout the region. It will stay with us for a long time.
Now Wolfowitz has never been a fan of the UN and would gladly take up any opportunity to criticize it, but I think he is criticism in this instance is well founded. He also takes his digs at the current administration which I think is both to be expected and fair. And none of what happening now in any ways his own and the Bush administrations own failings. A number of his suggestions are good and in line with the suggestions we posted a few days ago from the Libya Outreach Group.
That said I am highly skeptical of the suggestion of arming a provisional authority. Again, look at the mess that led to in Iraq and Afghanistan. Arming a provisional authority would demand America choose who to arm, and in effect the next Libyan government. That has disaster written all over it. Instead, I would be much happier to see the West, via the security counsel stick to the Libya Outreach requests of deploying peace-keeping forces. Here is the group’s lists again:
1. Establishing a no-fly zone to prevent Gaddafi from using the air-force against the Libyan people.
2. Calling on the United Nations Security Council to take decisive action and invoke Chapter 7 to stop the massacre of innocent civilians, and deployment of International Peace-keeping troops.
3. Facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid and relief supplies such as medicine, blood, food, and other basic provisions to the people of Libya.
4. Freezing the international assets of the Gaddafi family as well as senior officials.
5. Indicting Gaddafi for crimes against humanity and trying him in the International Criminal Court.
6. The immediate deployment of U.N. troops to confirm reports of crimes against humanity.
One of the better analyses I have read of the Egyptian Revolution thus far can be found in the New Statesman. In the European and American media, there’s been an awful lot of concern about the role of islamists in and after the uprising. Earlier on, we’ve pointed to differing interpretations of the Muslim Brotherhood as either a democracy-minded middle class institution, or as a fundamentalist conservative organization (the truth is probably that they have different wings). On the American right, in particular, ‘Iran’ has been frequently invoked to actually denounce protesters, and voice support for the Mubarak regime.
Olivier Roy in the New Statesman, however, paints a picture of a young generation that is not so affected with the political islamism of their fathers. Even though they might shout ‘Allah akbar’, what they want is basic democratic rights and liberties (and work). They’re pluralistic, individualistic, and connected through social media. A particularly interesting analysis, I find, is that, true, Middle Eastern countries have in past decades experienced a process of islamization, but this has effectively pulled the angle out of islamist political movements. Islam has been de-politicized. This puts a different perspective on organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as on the sympathy among the young for fundamentalist dictatorships like Iran’s (which is non-existent).
Thus, the bipolar divide that is often drawn in Western media between the old secular regimes and chaos or islamism (only to be curbed by the military, or an Atatürk-like despot) may be incorrect, and the reason may be the young. I don’t know to which extent this is wishful thinking, but either way: read this article! In addition to giving this persuasive view of the young, it’s also amazing in its breadth and depth of analysis of Middle Eastern society at large.
In Europe, the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have been interpreted using a model that is more than 30 years old: the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Commentators have been expecting to see Islamist groups – the Muslim Brotherhood and their local equivalents – either at the head of the movement or lying in wait, ready to seize power. But the discretion of the Muslim Brotherhood has surprised and disconcerted them: where have the Islamists gone?
Look at those involved in the uprisings, and it is clear that we are dealing with a post-Islamist generation. For them, the great revolutionary movements of the 1970s and 1980s are ancient history, their parents’ affair. The members of this young generation aren’t interested in ideology: their slogans are pragmatic and concrete – “Erhal!” or “Go now!”. Unlike their predecessors in Algeria in the 1980s, they make no appeal to Islam; rather, they are rejecting corrupt dictatorships and calling for democracy. This is not to say that the demonstrators are secular; but they are operating in a secular political space, and they do not see in Islam an ideology capable of creating a better world.
This generation is pluralist, undoubtedly because it is also individualist. Sociological studies show that it is better educated than previous generations, better informed, often with access to modern means of communication that allow individuals to connect with one another without the mediation of political parties – which in any case are banned. These young people know that Islamist regimes have become dictatorships; neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia holds any fascination for them. Indeed, those who have been demonstrating in Egypt are the same kinds of people as those who poured on to the streets to oppose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. (For propaganda reasons, the regime in Tehran has declared its support for the opposition movement in Egypt, though this is little more than a settling of scores with Hosni Mubarak.) Many of them are religious believers, but they keep their faith separate from their political demands. In this sense, the movement is “secular”. Religious observance has been individualised.
It is a mistake, therefore, to link the re-Islamisation that has taken place in the Arab world over the past 30 years with political radicalism. If Arab societies are more visibly Islamic than they were 30 or 40 years ago, what explains the absence of Islamic slogans from the current demonstrations? The paradox of Islamisation is that it has largely depoliticised Islam. Social and cultural re-Islamisation – the wearing of the hijab and niqab, an increase in the number of mosques, the proliferation of preachers and Muslim television channels – has happened without the intervention of militant Islamists and has in fact opened up a “religious market”, over which no one enjoys a monopoly. In short, the Islamists have lost the stranglehold on religious expression in the public sphere that they enjoyed in the 1980s.
What has been perceived in the west as a great, green wave of re-Islamisation is in fact nothing but a trivialisation of Islam: everything has become Islamic, from fast food to women’s fashion. The forms and structures of piety, however, have become individualised, so now one constructs one’s own faith, seeking out the preacher who speaks of self-realisation, such as the Egyptian Amr Khaled, and abandoning all interest in the utopia of an Islamic state.
[The Islamist political movements] have also learned lessons from Turkey, where Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AK party have succeeded in reconciling democracy, electoral success, economic development and national independence with the promotion of values that are, if not Islamic, at least “authentic”.
However, the embourgeoisement of the Islamists is at the same time an asset for democracy, because it pushes them towards reconciliation and compromise, and into alliances with other political forces. It is no longer a question, therefore, of attempting to establish whether or not dictatorships are the most effective bulwark against Islamism; Islamists have become players in the democratic game. Naturally, they will try to exert control over public morality, but, lacking the kind of repressive apparatus that exists in Iran, or a religious police on the Saudi model, they will have to reckon with a demand for liberty that doesn’t stop with the right to elect a parliament.
So. This is world history. The Egyptian Revolution is, in my view, now on par with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Ever since decolonization, the Middle East has been ruled by a series of secular autocratic regimes. These have been varying in levels of despotism and violence, but Egypt’s – the most populous and culturally the most influential Middle Eastern country - has not been the softest. Let’s not forget, moreover, that these regimes have been pillars of Western and especially US policy for decades. This is what fueled the islamist Iranian Revolution, and now the democratic Egyptian Revolution. For the first time (well, actually not, Tunisia was first), an Arab people stands up and en masse removes a dictator. That is news on a dizzying magnitude, and utterly unthinkable just two weeks ago.
While a jubilant mood on Tahrir Square and the streets of Cairo and Alexandria because of the removal of a dictator by masses of peaceful protesters, led by the young, is now in order, let’s not forget that this is not over. This is essentially a military coup. The army leadership - led by the torturer and chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman – is now in full control of the country, and one might wonder how eager they are to quickly relinguish that power. The military has huge political and economic interests in Egypt. So as Mark noted yesterday, a vigilant eye must be kept on the process of constitutional reform. The state of emergency must be lifted, a real dialogue with the opposition (liberal as well as islamist) must be opened, and open and fair democratic elections are in order.
A historian’s note though. Mubarak’s thirty-year regime has effected an almost total eradication of anything resembling a civil society in Egypt. The middle and lower classes (constituting the vast bulk of Egypt’s population) have no organizations representing them; no labor unions, no interest associations, no political parties, almost nothing. There is only the Muslim Brotherhood – a very dedicated, highly organized minority. And Facebook. In my view, a democracy cannot properly function without a vibrant and stable civil society; unorganized people are prone to manipulation by populists, and may even slid into violence caused by old rifts (witness Iraq). So, I’m very concerned about how a post-Mubarak Egypt will develop. Democratization is more than just quick elections (we can also see that in Iraq). What is needed are organizing principles within Egyptian society. But that takes time.
A glimmer of hope though: the organizing of these protests, albeit informal, has shown signs of being highly coordinated and effective. Maybe from this, like in East Germany post-1989, something can grow…
So, while this is huge and fantastic – we’re not there yet!
While, I’d say, European media have mostly reported on the Egypt mass demonstrations in a carefully positive frame, on the American right the standard tone has mostly been that of concern and caution (or just a downright rejection of protesters as ‘rioters’). The Mubarak regime has been an ally of the US in the past thirty years, primarily because of the peace treaty with Israel. Now, with the possibility of regime change, that peace treaty might to some extent be up in the air. Views among the Egyptian public on Israel are very negative, and one of the main opposition groups – the Muslim Brotherhood – that may become part of a ruling coalition is no friend of the country either. So, Fox News and the once-esteemed Senator John McCain have already denounced the Muslim Brotherhood as ‘terrorists’ on par with Al Qaeda, and are claiming this Egyptian revolution is becoming another 1979 Iran.
But to which extent is this really true? Historically, the Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest islamic fundamentalist organization in the modern world; and its conservative wing nowadays opposes the ‘Zionist entity’ and the West, as well as the Egyptian political system. According to other commentators, however, the Brotherhood is a ‘middle class institution’ consisting of lawyers and engineers that aims to combine Islam with democracy.
Either way, Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast has a good, insightful piece on the character of the Muslim Brotherhood, the actual likelihood of the organization gaining too much power, and the consequences of a possible democratic regime change to Egypt’s relations with Israel. Basically – and I agree – is that, like in the case of Turkey where a moderate Islamist party is also in power, it would expose Israel to harsher criticism of its treatment of the Gazan people. Not entirely unfair, I’d say. Also, the blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip would from Egypt’s side probably be lifted. All in all, it may mean that the stalwart Netanyahu government may become a little more sensitive to Middle Eastern public opinion regarding the way it treats Palestinians. Would that be all bad?
Obviously, a theocracy that abrogated Egypt’s peace treaty with the Jewish state would be bad for Israel, period. But that is unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood is not al Qaeda: It abandoned violence decades ago, and declared that it would pursue its Islamist vision through the democratic process, which has earned it scorn among Bin Laden types. Nor is the Brotherhood akin to the regime in Iran: When Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tried to appropriate the Egyptian protests last week, the Brotherhood shot him down, declaring that it “regards the revolution as the Egyptian People’s Revolution not an Islamic Revolution” and insisting that “The Egyptian people’s revolution includes Muslims, Christians and [is] from all sects and political” tendencies. In the words of George Washington University’s Nathan Brown, an expert on Brotherhood movements across the Middle East, “These parties definitely reject the Iranian model…Their slogan is, ‘We seek participation, not domination.’ The idea of creating an Islamic state does not seem to be anywhere near their agenda.”
Could this all be an elaborate ruse? Might the Brotherhood act differently if it gained absolute power? Sure, but it’s hard to foresee a scenario in which that happens. For one thing, the best estimates, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Stephen Cook, are that the Brotherhood would win perhaps 20 percent of the vote in a free election, which means it would have to govern in coalition. What’s more, the Egyptian officer corps, which avowedly opposes an Islamic state, will likely wield power behind the scenes in any future government. And while the Brotherhood takes an ambiguous position on Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel–it opposes it but says it will abide by the will of the Egyptian people—the Egyptian army has little interest in returning to war footing with a vastly stronger Israel. Already, Mohammed ElBaradei, the closest thing the Egyptian protest movement has to a leader, has called the peace treaty with Israel “rock solid.”
But Egypt doesn’t have to abrogate the peace treaty to cause the Israeli government problems. Ever since 2006, when Hamas won the freest election in Palestinian history, Egypt, Israel and the United States have colluded to enforce a blockade meant to undermine the group’s control of the Gaza Strip. A more accountable Egyptian government might no longer do that, partly because Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood, but mostly because a policy of impoverishing the people of Gaza has little appeal among Egyptian voters. It’s easy to imagine a newly democratic government of Egypt adopting a policy akin to the one adopted by the newly democratic government of Turkey. The Turkish government hasn’t severed ties with Israel, but it does harshly criticize Israel’s policies, especially in Gaza, partly because Turkey’s ruling party has Islamist tendencies, but mostly because that is what the Turkish people want.
Which bring us back to the question: Is this bad for Israel? Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC certainly think so, since they believe that what’s best for Israel is for its government to be free to pursue its current policies with as little external criticism as possible. I disagree. For several years now, Israel has pursued a policy designed, according to Israeli officials, to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse.” (The quote comes courtesy of the recent Wikileaks document dump). The impact on the Gazan people has been horrendous, but Hamas is doing fine, for the same basic reason that Fidel Castro has done fine for the last 60 years: The blockade allows Hamas to completely control Gaza’s economy and blame its own repression and mismanagement on the American-Zionist bogeyman. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad govern in the West Bank without the democratic legitimacy they would likely need to sell a peace treaty to the Palestinian people.
All of which is to say: a shift in U.S. and Israeli policy towards Hamas is long overdue. The organization has been basically observing a de-facto cease-fire for two years now, and in the last year its two top leaders, Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniya, have both said Hamas would accept a two-state deal if the Palestinian people endorse it in a referendum. That doesn’t mean Hamas isn’t vile in many ways, but it does mean that Israel and America are better off allowing the Palestinians to create a democratically legitimate, national unity government that includes Hamas than continuing their current, immoral, failed policy. If a more democratic Egyptian government makes that policy harder to sustain, it may be doing Israel a favor.
The Middle East’s tectonic plates are shifting. For a long time, countries like Turkey and Egypt were ruled by men more interested in pleasing the United States than their own people, and as a result, they shielded Israel from their people’s anger. Now more of that anger will find its way into the corridors of power. The Israeli and American Jewish right will see this as further evidence that all the world hates Jews, and that Israel has no choice but to turn further in on itself. But that would be a terrible mistake. More than ever in the months and years to come, Israelis and American Jews must distinguish hatred of Israel’s policies from hatred of Israel’s very existence. The Turkish government, after all, has maintained diplomatic ties with Israel even as it excoriates Israel’s policies in Gaza. ElBaradei this week reaffirmed Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel even as he negotiates the formation of a government that could well challenge Israel’s policy in Gaza.
Instead of trying to prop up a dying autocratic order, what Israel desperately needs is to begin competing for Middle Eastern public opinion, something American power and Arab tyranny have kept it from having to do. And really competing means reassessing policies like the Gaza blockade, which create deep—and understandable—rage in Cairo and Istanbul without making Israel safer. It is ironic that Israel, the Middle East’s most vibrant democracy, seems so uncomfortable in a democratizing Middle East. But at root, that discomfort stems from Israel’s own profoundly anti-democratic policies in the West Bank and Gaza. In an increasingly democratic, increasingly post-American Middle East, the costs of those policies will only continue to rise. Israel must somehow find the will to change them, while it can still do so on its own terms, not only because of what is happening in Tahrir Square, but because the next Tahrir Square could be in Ramallah or East Jerusalem. After all, as Haaretz’s Akiva Eldar recently noted, Palestinian kids use Facebook too.
Multiple sources have just confirmed that Tahrir, or Liberation Square, in Cairo has been filled with a million protesters, like demonstrators had hoped. So the genie definitely is out of the bottle, and this seems to be the culmination of the events of the past six days.
The military leadership has stated that it will not fire on protesters; the new vice president Omar Suleiman has indicated that he wants to talk about constitutional reforms; but Mubarak shows no signs of giving up (even though Turkey and the US seem to be giving up on him, and in Jordan King Abdullah has dismissed his government). Mohamed Al Baradei, meanwhile, is being pitched by Western media as a figurehead of the opposition, but the question is to which extent this conforms to street reality. And the question is: how does the Muslim Brotherhood fit into this?
As of 4:10 pm local time, the protests in Cairo and other major cities in Egypt continue, even after the night curfew has started. Multiple deaths have been reported today and some have been recorded on video. Mubarak has ordered the military to join the riot police in Cairo. He is about to make a statement on Egyptian television.
One of the most important revelations from the WikiLeaks classified diplomatic cable publication is possibly that, as we blogged about earlier, not only Israel is urging the U.S. to go military on Iran before it acquires nuclear weaponry, but so do Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. For the Sunni leaders of these states, the prospect of the Shiite republic having an atom bomb must be awful.
And not only that: the sense is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, this might set off a Middle East arms race, with other states scrambling to arm themselves as well. On the other hand: imagine the prospect of either Israel unilaterally attacking Iran, or the US engaging in its third war against an Islamic state in a decade.
Yet since, whether we like it or not, a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities by either Israel or the US is increasingly in the air (the war drums are already being beaten by American conservatives), this is pretty consequential information.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to leaked US diplomatic cables that describe how other Arab allies have secretly agitated for military action against Tehran.
The revelations, in secret memos from US embassies across the Middle East, expose behind-the-scenes pressures in the scramble to contain the Islamic Republic, which the US, Arab states and Israel suspect is close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities has hitherto been viewed as a desperate last resort that could ignite a far wider war.
The Saudi king was recorded as having “frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme”, one cable stated. “He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake,” the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah’s meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.
The cables also highlight Israel’s anxiety to preserve its regional nuclear monopoly, its readiness to go it alone against Iran – and its unstinting attempts to influence American policy. The defence minister, Ehud Barak, estimated in June 2009 that there was a window of “between six and 18 months from now in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable”. After that, Barak said, “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.”
The leaked US cables also reveal that:
• Officials in Jordan and Bahrain have openly called for Iran’s nuclear programme to be stopped by any means, including military.
• Leaders in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt referred to Iran as “evil”, an “existential threat” and a power that “is going to take us to war”.
• Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, warned in February that if diplomatic efforts failed, “we risk nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, war prompted by an Israeli strike, or both”.
[In] a meeting with Italy’s foreign minister earlier this year, Gates said time was running out. If Iran were allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, the US and its allies would face a different world in four to five years, with a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. King Abdullah had warned the Americans that if Iran developed nuclear weapons “everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia”.
No US ally is keener on military action than Israel, and officials there have repeatedly warned that time is running out. “If the Iranians continue to protect and harden their nuclear sites, it will be more difficult to target and damage them,” the US embassy reported Israeli defence officials as saying in November 2009.
It’s on: despite a cyberattack on their website just hours ago, WikiLeaks has published more than 250,000 classified diplomatic cables from American embassies around the globe. In major newspapers, there’s now talk about a worldwide diplomatic crisis.
What’s in it is, well, huge and encompassing, with lots and lots of information on countless international matters.
The United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis today, with the leaking to the Guardian and other international media of more than 250,000 classified cables from its embassies, many sent as recently as February this year.
At the start of a series of daily extracts from the US embassy cables – many of which are designated “secret” – the Guardian can disclose that Arab leaders are privately urging an air strike on Iran and that US officials have been instructed to spy on the UN’s leadership.
These two revelations alone would be likely to reverberate around the world. But the secret dispatches which were obtained by WikiLeaks, the whistlebowers’ website, also reveal Washington’s evaluation of many other highly sensitive international issues.
These include a major shift in relations between China and North Korea, Pakistan’s growing instability and details of clandestine US efforts to combat al-Qaida in Yemen.
Among scores of other disclosures that are likely to cause uproar, the cables detail:
• Grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme
• Alleged links between the Russian government and organised crime.
• Devastating criticism of the UK’s military operations in Afghanistan.
• Claims of inappropriate behaviour by a member of the British royal family.
The US has particularly intimate dealings with Britain, and some of the dispatches from the London embassy in Grosvenor Square will make uncomfortable reading in Whitehall and Westminster. They range from serious political criticisms of David Cameron to requests for specific intelligence about individual MPs.
The cache of cables contains specific allegations of corruption and against foreign leaders, as well as harsh criticism by US embassy staff of their host governments, from tiny islands in the Caribbean to China and Russia.
The material includes a reference to Vladimir Putin as an “alpha-dog”, Hamid Karzai as being “driven by paranoia” and Angela Merkel allegedly “avoids risk and is rarely creative”. There is also a comparison between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
The cables name countries involved in financing terror groups, and describe a near “environmental disaster” last year over a rogue shipment of enriched uranium. They disclose technical details of secret US-Russian nuclear missile negotiations in Geneva, and include a profile of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who they say is accompanied everywhere by a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
The electronic archive of embassy dispatches from around the world was allegedly downloaded by a US soldier earlier this year and passed to WikiLeaks. Assange made them available to the Guardian and four other newspapers: the New York Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, Le Monde in France and El País in Spain. All five plan to publish extracts from the most significant cables, but have decided neither to “dump” the entire dataset into the public domain, nor to publish names that would endanger innocent individuals. WikiLeaks says that, contrary to the state department’s fears, it also initially intends to post only limited cable extracts, and to redact identities.
The cables published today reveal how the US uses its embassies as part of a global espionage network, with diplomats tasked to obtain not just information from the people they meet, but personal details, such as frequent flyer numbers, credit card details and even DNA material.
Classified “human intelligence directives” issued in the name of Hillary Clinton or her predecessor, Condoleeza Rice, instruct officials to gather information on military installations, weapons markings, vehicle details of political leaders as well as iris scans, fingerprints and DNA.
The most controversial target was the leadership of the United Nations. That directive requested the specification of telecoms and IT systems used by top UN officials and their staff and details of “private VIP networks used for official communication, to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys”.
They are classified at various levels up to “SECRET NOFORN” [no foreigners]. More than 11,000 are marked secret, while around 9,000 of the cables are marked noforn. The embassies which sent most cables were Ankara, Baghdad, Amman, Kuwait and Tokyo.
Jeffrey Goldberg, an American-Israeli journalist writing primarily for The Atlantic, has a huge article in the September 2010 edition of the magazine about a looming foreign policy question: the possibility of a military attack by Israel on the nuclear facilities of Iran. The article can be read here.
It’s based on interviews with 40 past and present Israeli decision makers, as well as American and Arab officials since March 2009. While of course in the Netherlands, no media outlet has paid any attention at all to this very important article, in the U.S. it has unleashed a debate. No surprise: according to the article, there is consensus among the policy makers Goldberg spoke to that there is a more than 50 percent chance of Israel attacking Iran by July 2011.
How this is, what consequences this might have for Middle East (and global) politics, but also what the ramifications of a nuclearized Iran could be, is explored in-depth in the article. Because the latter possibility is what probably no one wants; yet the consequences of Israel taking military action are grave. It will shake up Middle Eastern politics by igniting retaliation actions, for example by the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, and possibly a complete regional war (which will make Afghanistan look like a minor problem in Obama’s hands), with all the human, social and economic misery that entails; it might solidify the Iranian theocratic regime; it could drastically raise oil prices and havoc the world economy; and in general, it will make so much more problematic the position of Israel in the Middle East, not to mention the standing of the US in the Islamic world.
On the other hand, consider the possible ramifications of Iran acquiring nuclear weaponry. Not only does a large segment of the Israeli governing elite and population view this as an ‘existential threat’ comparable to the Holocaust (if you take some of the anti-Semitic and violent rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad literally, that is not such a overblown thought; on the other hand, the chances of Iran actually using it on, for example, Tel Aviv are probably slim); it would in the first place indisputably raise Iran’s raw geopolitical power, thus drastically altering the balance of power in the region. Arab regimes would feel threatened (maybe sparking an arms race) and militant groups supported by Iran like Hezbollah would feel empowered under a nuclear umbrella. It would also mean a possibly fatal blow to international nuclear non-proliferation efforts (led by Obama), and a huge slap in the face of the United Nations and the IAEA.
The US, EU and UN currently have sanctions in place, as Iran has repeatedly ignored Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium, and keeps building nuclear reactors. A May 2010 report by IAEA inspectors (who are denied access to facilities) indicated that the country currently has enough nuclear fuel to, when enriched, make two nuclear weapons. According to Goldberg’s article, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a NATO meeting in June that “most intelligence estimates” predict that Iran is a few years away from building a nuclear weapon. So, like with Iraq at the time, the question of whether they are pursuing nuclear weaponry is open – but they’re not doing themselves a favour by not cooperating with the international community, and regularly threatening Israel with annihilation. The Obama administration has called the nuclear program “a threat” to the region and has consistently not ruled out the option of a military strike against the reactors, but in all probability are not very keen on doing so.
So that leaves the question what Israel’s gonna do… Which is what Goldberg’s article is about.
Yet, Goldberg is not without his critics. This especially has to do with a 2002 article in The New Yorker, in which he wrote that Iraq’s nuclear program posed ‘a significant threat’ to the US, and went into ‘evidence’ that Saddam Hussein had close connections with Al Qaeda… In short, almost exactly the message he seems to have now. According to Robert Wright as the NYT Opinionator blog, this article is remembered “on the left” as a “monument to consequential wrongness”. Goldberg also supported the Iraq war. This leads blogger Glenn Greenwald (in a rather ad hominem piece, I have to say) to point out that in his current article, Goldberg paints the 1981 Israeli strike against the Osirak reactor in Iraq as a succesful effort to halt that country’s nuclear program, while in his previous article, he constructed it as unsuccesful, leading Saddam to double his efforts – making Goldberg a propagandist for military action against Iran. Greenwald asserts that it is the 1981 strike against the Osirak reactor that led Iraq to pursue a nuclear program.
In short, Goldberg is accused of trying to shift the debate with this huge piece; of making the prospect of a military strike against Iran seem inevitable, of making it a question who is going to undertake it, rather then whether it should be undertaken. Critics like Greenwald assume a warmongering neoconservative agenda behind his writings. Goldberg, again, is to some extend defended by writers like The Atlantic‘s James Fallows and TIME’s Joe Klein, who are saying he is just trying to expose the Israeli government’s thinking.
Personally, I’m not sure; while definitely more an attempt at in-depth, resource material rich journalism rather than “propaganda”, I do think the article leans towards an understanding of Israel, and too much of a closed case against Iran (and the possibility of a military strike). The best way to form an opinion, however, is to read it yourself; because whatever you may think of it, it’s definitely the most consequential piece on this looming crisis you’ll read in a while.
For the Obama administration, the prospect of a nuclearized Iran is dismal to contemplate— it would create major new national-security challenges and crush the president’s dream of ending nuclear proliferation. But the view from Jerusalem is still more dire: a nuclearized Iran represents, among other things, a threat to Israel’s very existence. In the gap between Washington’s and Jerusalem’s views of Iran lies the question: who, if anyone, will stop Iran before it goes nuclear, and how? As Washington and Jerusalem study each other intensely, here’s an inside look at the strategic calculations on both sides—and at how, if things remain on the current course, an Israeli air strike will unfold.
It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons.It is also possible that Iran’s reform-minded Green Movement will somehow replace the mullah-led regime, or at least discover the means to temper the regime’s ideological extremism. It is possible, as well, that “foiling operations” conducted by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western powers—programs designed to subvert the Iranian nuclear effort through sabotage and, on occasion, the carefully engineered disappearances of nuclear scientists—will have hindered Iran’s progress in some significant way. It is also possible that President Obama, who has said on more than a few occasions that he finds the prospect of a nuclear Iran “unacceptable,” will order a military strike against the country’s main weapons and uranium-enrichment facilities.
But none of these things—least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran—seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft.
When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel—regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program—they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.