Offer Iran a “Moderate” Deal

When talking about Iran, U.S. political labels merely confuse Americans. Rouhani will not act moderate because he “is” moderate but because and only because the U.S. offers Iran a “moderate” deal so couched as to be of clear benefit to Iran. Continue reading

Do No Harm

Iraq is the same dictatorial disaster it was under Saddam…plus endless non-government terror. Palestinian repression is a deep stain on the integrity of America. Somalia and Afghanistan are, by comparison with their circumstances two generations ago, destroyed societies. Saudi Arabia is on a domestic knife-edge. Iran, victim of an undeclared war by the U.S., is being terrorized, marginalized, and radicalized. Ironically, Israel, “victim” of a flood of thoughtless U.S. military aid and blind support for whatever ambitious politician happens to get elected, is also being terrorized, marginalized, and radicalized. The record of U.S. intervention in the Muslim world is one of incomprehension, immorality, arrogance, and self-defeating short-sightedness. But despair not! We have new opportunities in Yemen and Syria.

As for that new opportunity, Syria, it is surely clear that there are bad guys in Syria and it is obvious that those bad guys are backed by powerful organizations. It is only logical to assume that there are also many decent people being mistreated. Obama’s pathetic philosophy notwithstanding, a Muslim does not deserve to be killed just because that Muslim happens to be an adult male. What is not clear is whether or not any “good” organizations exist and merit support.

Given the record of U.S. influence over Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, etc., it is also clear that the likelihood of Washington decision-makers correctly identifying an organization in Syria that might merit diplomatic, economic, or military support is very small.

It is no doubt useful to point out the evil being done by various Syrian politicians, though one must be careful to point out such evil regardless of which side is doing it (and few reports have such balance). But at this point, would it not be more valuable to lay out any argument that may exist to justify making a commitment to support those we think might possibly deserve our help? And if no such candidate can be identified, then the proper course of action lies elsewhere.

“Do no harm” should be the default course of action, especially for elephants. The burden of proof lies on those Westerners who presume to have the wisdom to interfere in Muslim societies and make things better.

Mideast Sectarian Threat and Opportunity

If Washington aspires to change the world and implement a positive-sum grand design, current conditions in the Mideast not only present a potentially fatal threat but also offer an unusual opportunity.

Several conclusions that, in combination, amount to both a serious warning and an opportunity for Washington seem possible to derive from the current Mideast mess without delving into endless details:

1. Bahrain is a festering sectarian problem that will, one way or the other, be addressed for it currently has lots of antagonisms without any equilibrium; 

2. The same is true of Iraq, except that more so, thanks to the vicious terror campaign al Qua’ida is apparently promoting there, a campaign that will likely not dissipate simply because most Americans want to pretend it does not exist;

3. The Syrian disaster is worse still, with sufficient bloodshed so that anything could happen and no one is likely to be immune;

4. All those problems in Shi’i Saudi Arabia not only still exist but are getting worse to the degree that Riyadh resists addressing them in a manner sympathetic to the residents;

5. U.S. military involvement in warfare in Yemen is creeping up; 

6. Iran and Israel, via Larijani’s historic offer in his interview by Christine Amanpour of a positive-sum deal on nukes and Dagan’s historic 60 Minutes interview dismissing the idea of an Israeli attack on Iran, have suddenly and publicly positioned themselves for compromise.

The Threat. Add it up and you have the following threat: if all the pieces fall wrong, and the tight linkages among the various Mideast factions make it likely that they will, all the Shi’a of the region could be up in arms simultaneously. Among other problems, that would not exactly facilitate Obama’s reelection.

The Opportunity. But this all adds up another way as well, leading to the following opportunity: a bit of U.S. initiative across the board to address Shi’i grievances might significantly reduce the likelihood of the looming sectarian disaster. It is doubtful that Washington has the capacity to solve any of the various problems, but it now does have the ability either to turn the heat up or turn it down. Of critical importance is that it has the opportunity to respond rationally to the entirely rational Iranian offer, simply by saying, “I call your bluff.” Washington has this opportunity now because the recently retired chief of Mossad Meir Dagan has just provided Washington with a very public blank check to tell Iran that “we” now admit that attacking Iran would not be the appropriate way forward, so therefore we are open to a negotiated solution that includes both nuclear transparency by Iran and national security for Iran.

Lost in a Sandstorm: Washington Tours the Muslim World

Both Tehran and Islamabad are striding undeterred down paths of foreign policy independence despite the obvious frustration of Washington decision-makers. Yet one is an “ally,” the other an “enemy,” and U.S. policy toward the two accordingly very different. That said, each seems adept at manipulating, not to mention resisting, Washington. Would the U.S. be better off changing course?

Among the various international challenges to Washington’s foreign policy goals, two loom large: the insistence of both Pakistan and Iran on following paths that place huge obstacles in Washington’s path. All sides can probably agree that the aggressively expansionist course desired by the Washington elite will, for better or worse, remain seriously impaired as long as these two independent-minded Islamic powers insist on doing what they want regardless of Washington’s desires. And while Washington’s power elite may be deeply in denial about the options it has, that it has a problem with both Iran and Pakistan it clearly recognizes and readily admits.
Resolving that problem, however, seems beyond Washington’s grasp, in part because it is already employing the two obvious alternative approaches – total hostility toward one and alliance with the other. Washington’s policy toward Tehran amounts to open economic warfare, winking at if not engaging in a campaign of covert terrorism, and the threat of an outright and unprovoked military attack. This long-standing policy is demonstrably failing. Tehran may or may not in the end offer some nuclear concession but shows no signs of playing by Washington rules. Pakistan, in contrast, gets billions in U.S. aid and a pass for its highly active nuclear weapons program, despite arguably doing fully as much to undermine Washington’s war in Afghanistan as Tehran ever did to undermine Washington’s war in IraqFollowing Tehran’s playbook from beginning to end, Islamabad appears to be right on schedule to assert its dominance over Afghanistan at least as thoroughly as Tehran has asserted its dominance over Iraq. If both hostility and amity fail to induce real cooperation, is there a third alternative, or is Washington doomed to seeing two second-rate (to be polite) powers endlessly stymie its ambitions?
The U.S. remains today deep in the midst of what has already been a lost decade in economic terms. In strategic terms, the story is equally pathetic. Iraq went from being hostile but not dangerous under Saddam to moving very much into Iran’s orbit, courtesy of the neo-cons; Afghanistan is about to deliver another defeat to the U.S.; Somalia is at least as much of a problem for the U.S. as during “Black Hawk Down” days; Israel is proving to be an increasingly dangerous “ally,” with increasingly severe problems of its own and no thought more original than Indian reservations or apartheid as a solution to the Palestinian issue; Hezbollah is riding high in Lebanon; Egypt can hardly be considered an ally any longer; Turkey has moved from client to chastising and increasingly distant friend; and Iran, which cooperated with the Bush Administration to replace the Taliban regime in late 2001, is being washed toward ever greater nuclear capability by the current of American hostility. Globally, Russia and China seem confident and unworried by endless American self-defeating belligerence. The U.S. is both poorer and less effective than it was in the year 2000, while its “Muslim problem”—its inability to figure out a way of adjusting to rising Muslim demands for respect and fairness and understanding from the U.S.-centric global political system—has changed but hardly diminished at all.
But if the U.S. is treading water, the Islamic world certainly is not. The barbarism of al Qua’ida may not be over, but it seems passé, while the Arab Spring—which promotes many “American values”—may end up presenting a greater challenge to American domination. Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey are all moving to enhance their strategic positions at U.S. expense, and it would be surprising if Egypt were not fairly soon to follow their lead.
After a lost political and economic decade, the U.S. seems paranoid, confused, and bereft of any new ideas except for those that are patently idiotic. Clearly, Washington must get its act together. But if both utter hostility (toward Iran, not to mention Palestinians and Hezbollah) and cooperation (toward Pakistan, not to mention Egypt and Turkey) have failed, what can Washington do to devise an effective policy toward the Muslim world?

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How to Attack an Ally

Shortly before the United States ended a two-month pause in missile strikes on militants in Pakistan last month, senior U.S. officials telephoned their Pakistani counterparts and told them Washington would be resuming its covert drone program despite mounting objections in Islamabad….
The strike that followed on Jan. 10, when U.S. aircraft fired missiles at a home in the North Waziristan tribal area, was the first such attack since U.S. aircraft, in a mishap that plunged bilateral ties into a tailspin, killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along remote border with Afghanistan. [Reuters 2/22/12.]


Pakistan’s military has agreed to the resumption of the United States’ drone strikes….


Even though upwards of 30 people have been killed in the new wave of strikes, there have been no protest from the Pakistan Army or politicians… [The Hindu 2/25/12.]


According to Obama, drones had “not caused a huge number of civilian casualties”….since America began drone strikes, at least 385 civilians had been executed in US-led attacks. Of those statistics, the Bureau added that around half of the dead were children under the age of 18.[RT 1/31/12.]


Up to 2,000 tribesmen gathered in Miranshah bazaar shouting “Death to America” and “Stop drone attacks in Pakistan” at the rally organized by Pakistan’s largest Islamic party, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI)….


The crowd demanded an immediate end to drone attacks and compensation for those who lost relatives or property….
 [The Daily Star 2/23/12.]

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One clue to how to devise effective policy comes from looking for possible similarities between the strikingly divergent U.S. behavior toward its Iranian adversary and its Pakistani ally. Once the question is asked, the answer is obvious: both threats and actual force lie at the core of U.S. policy toward a Muslim adversary and a Muslim ally. The similarity is hardly subtle: U.S. drones violate Iranian national territory and bomb Pakistani villages. In addition, the U.S. has been busy constructing military bases in neighboring countries that both Iran and Pakistan consider important to their own national security. Danger Room reported in December, just after the CIA was kicked out of a Pakistani drone base for slaughtering Pakistani soldiers, that “Afghanistan is going to be the new major hub for the drone war.” The ironic fact that the Pakistani action followed by days Iran’s capture of a U.S. drone trespassing over Iran only underscores the similarity in U.S. treatment of the two states: not only are both states at the pointed end of the U.S. spear but the U.S. is aggressively expanding military installations designed for offensive action throughout the region in neighboring countries. Even as the U.S. military campaign inside Afghanistan winds down, the number of U.S. military bases there is exploding. From an already enormous 400 in 2010, it has now reached 450, according to a statement by an International Security Assistance Force representative. A U.S. Air Force officer has also stated that the key airbase at Bagram is being further developed in line with a “long-term” vision. Shindand Airbase, near Herat, is less than 75 miles from the Iranian border and is used for “surveillance missions over Iran.”
In sum, Washington relies heavily upon force to get what it wants both from Muslim adversaries and Muslim allies, despite—at least in the cases of Iran and Pakistan—failing to achieve its goals with either. This suggests at least two tactical insights: 1) force can easily be counterproductive regardless of how much power one has to defeat the enemy on the battlefield, and 2) one should move delicately and coordinate exhaustively with countries whose cooperation is sought when intruding militarily into third countries that border those countries. Every country will see military moves in the territory of its neighbors as affecting its own interests. From this, one can derive the following rules regarding the design of effective tactics for dealing with the Muslim world:

Rule 1. Cooperation is more effective than force.Rule 2. When moving into a new neighborhood, talk to your new neighbors.

Another clue to how Washington might devise a more effective policy toward the Muslim world can be detected by broadening the analysis from Iran and Pakistan to include other major problem states from Washington’s perspective—e.g., Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Lebanon. Peering beneath the variation in conditions and U.S. tactics toward each state, one broad similarity in fundamental U.S. approach is apparent: in every case, Washington set its sights singlemindedly on achieving its own goals, with little regard for the perceptions, needs, or legitimate concerns of the other state. In short, Washington viewed relations with all these states as a simple zero-sum game, essentially not even bothering to ask whether or not a positive-sum outcome might be possible. Of course, creating a bigger pie is likely to take longer than gobbling up the whole small pie that now exists, but the record of the past 15 years is that gobbling up the small Iraqi or Lebanese or Somali or Afghan pie will cause a very bad case of indigestion.
The result, after an extraordinarily dangerous and expensive decade-long disaster that shows no signs of ending, has been a series of defeats for the U.S., that add up to a significant weakening of U.S. national security. The details vary widely, of course: the invasion of Iraq was enormously profitable for a long list of war-profiteering U.S. corporations, and Lebanon is unique for the smooth manner in which Hezbollah has exploited U.S./Israeli hostility to transform itself from an anti-Israeli national liberation movement into the most powerful and modern political party in the national administration. That said, the primary impacts of U.S. policy toward each country to date appear to have been the destruction of the national society, the alienation of that society from the U.S., the defeat of Washington’s policies, and the provocation of on-going social conflict. Israel’s domination of the region has not been assured, Washington’s superpower status has not been solidified, terrorist groups have not been eliminated, Islamic activists have neither been persuaded to accept the U.S.-centric global political system nor eliminated from Mideast politics, and free access to the national economies for American corporations has not been obtained, stable middle classes have not been empowered, Mideast allies have not been convinced that “Washington knows best,” other world powers have not been kept out of the region, control over Mideast oil has not been achieved, and a solid foundation for a new American empire has certainly not been constructed. It is hard to think of a single goal of any major Washington faction over the past 15 years related to the Muslim world on which significant progress has been made.
It seems that Washington is pursuing goals that simply cannot be achieved, and this suggests that a wiser course would be to seek positive-sum steps forward, i.e., incremental agreements that benefit “us” without further antagonizing “them,” or, to put it in different words, to view the other side not as an adversary but as a partner. After all, even at the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was a partner in avoiding nuclear war. Even the Democrats and Republicans agree on some things (politicians from both parties drive on the right). Positive-sum policy is endlessly fungible: there is always room for a deal on one issue regardless of whether or not one insists on fighting over something else. This suggests a third rule, related not to tactics but fundamental strategy:

Rule 3. Seek benefit, not victory.

Numerous implications deserving careful meditation would follow from the adaptation of these three rules. Focusing just on the crucial third rule, potential steps come under two basic areas: coordination and  cooperation. In the realm of coordination, Washington should be quietly coordinating its aircraft carrier tours of the Persian Gulf with Tehran, explaining to them the reasons and what would persuade Washington to halt the provocative visits. Washington should also be informing all Afghanistan’s neighbors of its military base plans and inviting both feedback and offers of a deal with any who take exception to make it clear that U.S. military moves were thoughtfully designed to induce limited behavioral shifts rather than as open-ended campaigns of aggression. 


More positively, Washington should not just explain its military initiatives but also seek opportunities for real cooperation. Working jointly with Iran to combat the illegal narcotics trade by the Taliban is one obvious positive-sum topic. A much more ambitious step would be the promotion of a Persian Gulf mutual security regime in which the U.S. would offer to oppose any offensive air attacks across the Persian Gulf in return for some package of Iranian steps toward nuclear transparency. Even more directly focusing on the core nuclear issue, the U.S. could promote technical nuclear talks designed to clarify the distinction between Iranian refinement of medical-grade and military-grade uranium, with teeth on the Iranian side and substantive military and political concessions on the U.S. side, including acknowledgement of Israeli responsibility for itself moving toward a policy of nuclear transparency. Regarding Pakistan, putting the safety of Pakistani civilians ahead of the killing of suspected enemy fighters by scandalously inaccurate drone bombers is another potential positive-sum stance: the U.S. could improve its public image and make a powerful argument that greater effort by Islamabad to arrest suspects (to be followed by U.S. pledges to respect its own standards of justice) would constitute the expected trade-off for a more carefully coordinated drone policy. The U.S. could thus simultaneously promote cooperation, seize the moral high ground, and strengthen respect for American values. The more such positive-sum steps Washington proposes, the stronger factions in Iran and Pakistan favoring cooperation with the U.S. will become.


Washington’s tactics and strategy for Mideast victory have failed to achieve the desired goals. Two tactical shifts—avoiding force and paying attention to the national security concerns of third parties—would make Washington’s policy toward the Muslim world less counterproductive, but for a real breakthrough in U.S. relations with the Muslim world, Washington must take the hard strategic step of replacing hubris with humility and must accept attainable benefit as a more rational goal than illusive victory.

The Day After Victory

Almost anything could happen were Israel to take the enormous gamble of launching an unprovoked war against Iran. Even assuming Israel were to win the instant military victory of Likudniks’ dreams, the day after that victory Israel would face a new situation replete with instability. How the new dynamics provoking that instability might interact would spell the difference between survival and destruction.

One fundamental shift that is easily predictable is that the mostly disinterested attitude toward Israel of Iranians would be transformed into long-term hatred and fear. Although Iranian politicians currently find it useful to run a propaganda war against Israel to enable them to prance the regional political stage, Iranians have, even under the Islamic Republic, mostly viewed Israel as rather removed from their core concerns: Saddam’s Iraq, the Sunni fundamentalism of the Taliban, regional Kurdish political activism, Baluchi instability along the Iranian-Pakistani border, and of course the expanding ring of U.S. military bases surrounding them. Beyond attracting desired attention to Iran’s pretensions (logical pretensions over the long run, considering its size) to regional preeminence, tension with Israel is most accurately viewed as a leadership tool for regime consolidation (a temptation hardly unknown to Netanyahu, who has played this card throughout his career). It is the extreme nature of Iranian rhetoric (in other words, the eagerness with which Tehran politicians played the game) plus the equally extreme nature of the super-sensitive Israeli response that has transformed this convenient little self-serving political game into what increasingly appears to be a deadly serious game of chicken: the testosterone is flowing.

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Long War
Israeli Defense Ministry Analyst’s View
He [Dr. Moshe Vered] rules out ideas that a quick missile war would put an end to a conflict because neither side would score a “knock-out,” and Iran does not have the capability of successfully attacking Israel with hundreds of long-range missiles.
He predicts it is more likely that if Israel initiates a pre-emptive strike, Iran will play the role of the victim and let the international community condemn Israel. At the same time, Tehran would secretly ferry troops into Syria and Lebanon, possibly through Shi’ite communities in Iraq and with the silent approval of Turkey.
The next stage in the war would be massive rocket attacks by Hamas from the south and Hizbullah from the north. Israeli military intelligence officials estimate that both terrorist organizations possess advanced missiles far beyond what were used in the 34-day-old Second Lebanon War in 2006.
With long-range weapons that could be fired from deep in Lebanon, Israel would be forced into capturing most of the country, and face a deadly and costly guerilla war. At the same time, a massive military threat from Syrian territory to the Golan Heights would require large numbers of reservists to defend the region. [Israel National News.]
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However, the testosterone is flowing mostly among members of the elite with careers at stake. The most easily predictable transformation that would result from an Israeli attack is that the Iranian people would become committed enemies of Israel for the first time…and surely remain so for at least a generation. This would fundamentally alter Israel’s long-term strategic calculus, to the point that it is hard to see how Israel could avoid permanent weakening of its security without shifts in domestic policy so revolutionary that they would erase the whole Zionist enterprise and turn Israel into a secular, bi-ethnic “Lesser Israel”.

Looking out over a somewhat shorter time frame, the question is how this highly probable transformation of Iranian society into a genuine opponent of Israel and one searching actively for revenge would interact with other dynamics that an Israeli attack would set in motion. One such dynamic would play out inside of Iraq, where, conveniently for Iran, government is already in the hands of the Shi’a. Shi’a, like every other social group, of course entertain a range of political opinions and tend, all else being equal, to prefer independence to subordination. This range of opinion is likely to shift under the impact of a groundswell of pro-Iranian opinion that can be expected to weaken those Shi’i politicians tempted to cooperate with Big Oil and Washington while strengthening those politicians comfortable working with Iran. Given an Israeli attack on Iran, in other words, everything else will not be equal. Who, in Iraq, is more likely to benefit in career terms from such a shift than the already powerful Moqtada al Sadr, perhaps the most articulate voice in opposition to the U.S.?

A year or two after an attack on Iran, Israel should anticipate the strong possibility that al Sadr would be ruling Iraq with an Iraqi-Iranian alliance in place that would dwarf the Iranian relationship with Syria. Saudis would be troubled by the rise of a militantly destabilizing Shi’i entente but at the same time have trouble opposing the unambiguous victims of Israeli aggression, thus weakening their efforts to oppose such a rise in Iranian influence.

A reenforcing loop of mutual encouragement toward increasingly extreme behavior between Iraqis and Iranians should come as no surprise. This development would shove Israel’s security predicament to a new level. Israel began with domestic Palestinians as the enemy, then added Iraq in the middle distance, and after the removal of Iraq as an enemy as the (surely intended) result of the U.S. invasion now considers distant Iran its main enemy. Each selection of a new prime adversary entailed not only greater distance but tackling a vastly stronger opponent, but an Israeli attack would do something unique: it would very possibly unify Iran and Iraq in an anti-Israeli posture.

If that were not enough, this would occur in the context of four other developments that are likely to interact significantly with the rise of a united Shi’i opposition:

  • the domestic preeminence in Lebanon of Hezbollah;
  • Arab Spring;
  • the Islamic bomb sitting in a Pakistan estranged from the U.S. by Washington’s hardline posture;
  • and a good supply of Sunni radicals looking desperately for a way to regain prominence.

While one may smirk that it would be impossible to predict anything, that is really not true. For starters, one can safely predict the occurrence of an unholy mess filled with violence. Many, many chickens would return to Israel to roost. It is not easy to imagine scenarios leading to electoral victory in an Arab country after an Israeli attack by Arab politicians counseling friendship toward Israel. Of course, Iran might make the mistake of striking out against Saudi Arabia, but baring a major Iranian error, Iran seems likely to enjoy sympathy that will lead to the regional rise of politicians who either are genuinely militant or feel they must adopt a militant position to win elections.

Add to this situation the likely situation in Israel, where an aggressive garrison state with a highly influential illegal settler faction eager to retain its ill-gotten gains now genuinely sees that “everyone is against us.” Settler terrorism to further cleanse the native population from desired areas will provoke desperate Palestinian self-defense, open the door to unemployed regional al-Qua’ida types, and push Tel Aviv further down the slippery slope of mindless reliance on force. Post-war hubris can be expected to make Israel a provocative, not conciliatory neighbor, further exacerbating whatever militant tendencies arise in Muslim societies as a direct consequence of an Israeli attack.

Thus, an Israeli attack on Iran that works can be expected to provoke rather than eliminate security concerns, in a political if not military firestorm of mutually reinforcing feedback loops in Iran, in Shi’i areas, and region-wide. Each dynamic would not only individually intensify the strategic threat to Israel but inhibit the resolution of the other threats. In other words, the reality would be far worse for Israel than a laundry list of threats would indicate. Iranian regime militancy will intensify Iranian popular militancy while both intensify Iraqi militancy. All three will intensify Palestinian militancy (compromise now probably utterly discredited). Israeli hubris will further exacerbate all the rest. Even an overwhelming Israeli military success will leave Israel facing a strategic situation both severely impaired and engulfed in a vicious cycle of rising threat.
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Analytic Rigor

Several more analytically rigorous approaches to thinking about the above-addressed question of how the situation after a militarily successful Israeli attack on Iran might play out exist, including conducting a scenario analysis, drawing causal loop diagrams, building a system dynamics model, thinking through the implications from the perspective of complexity theory, and game theory. A game theoretic analysis could start with the simple question, “Was Israel’s attack successful?” Here, we are assuming it was. Then, things get complicated fast, e.g., who makes the next move? Is it realistic to imagine that at the moment of victory Tel Aviv would immediately take the initiative by implementing some new policy? If so, options could be categorized into aggressive or conciliatory policies. If aggressive, a selected array of other actors have a turn, etc. Drawn in a tree structure, this approach organizes thinking about the exponential rise in possible outcomes, with the critical deficiency that it obscures interactions among the various underlying dynamics. Whatever the next step, it should now be clear that the article represents only the tip of the analytical iceberg facing Israeli national security strategists trying to assess the utility of going to war.

Iranian-Israeli Death Dance

In 2007 a scenario analysis of Iranian-Israeli relations suggested that the two sides would harm themselves by continuing on their confrontational course. That finding is coming true, with the harm now visible in both the domestic and foreign situations of each society. Meanwhile, the bilateral death dance continues…
With Israeli militarists firmly in control of both Israeli and U.S. Mideast policy, the Israeli-Iranian confrontation remains in endless crisis. Neither side is making any effort to create new approaches to any possible resolution so it remains impossible to determine what either side wants, intends, or would settle for. Does Tehran want to dominate the region; does it intend, when able, to take an existential risk to achieve that goal; would it settle for security and inclusion? Does Tel Aviv want to retain its military dominance and permanent suppression of the Palestinian people; does it intend to take an existential risk to maintain that dominance; would it settle for a nuclear but transparent Iran and a two-state solution? Washington will neither offer Tehran a sufficiently sincere compromise nor put sufficient pressure on Tel Aviv to determine the bottom line of either side. The only aspect of the mess that is clear is that the constant tension works to the advantage of the extremists on each side, cementing their hold on power and virtually precluding rational discussion.
The above was true in 2007, when the scenario analysis Iranian-Israeli Confrontation was done; it remains true in late 2011. Yet much has changed. Ankara has staked out rhetorical leadership of a neutral position offering Tehran great potential leverage, an opportunity of which clumsy Tehran hardliners have yet to take advantage. The Arab Spring has weakened Cairos adherence to the pro-Israel camp as well. Meanwhile, Obama has allowed Tel Aviv to obstruct his efforts to turn around U.S. ties with the Muslim world even as the U.S. position in Iraq has continued its downward course. By skillfully and remorselessly undermining Washingtons freedom of movement, Netanyahu has also steadily weakened the value of U.S. support even as he has fractured Israeli society into an increasingly violence-prone and overtly racist majority and a minority increasingly concerned about the long-term survival of Israeli democracy. The result has been to strengthen Irans regional position, weaken Israels regional position, and to enhance the risk of Israeli aggression and of Iranian militarization of its nuclear technology.

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Israeli Views of Israel

Ruth Dayan:
We built this country inch by inch, and we lost so many lives. We built public and social institutions, schools, factories. What’s going on today is awful. They’re ruining this country. I am a proud Israeli. I’ve lived through every war, endured every moment of suffering, but I never stopped believing in peace. I lost friends and family members. I’m a peacemaker, but the current Israeli government does not know how to make peace. We move from war to war, and this will never stop. I think Zionism has run its course….

And this continuous expansion of the settlements everywhere—I cannot accept it. I cannot tolerate this deteri oration in the territories and the roadblocks everywhere. And that horrible wall! It’s not right. [Daily Beast 10/30/11.]

Retired Chief of Mossad Meir Dagan:

In his first public appearance since leaving the post in September, Dagan said earlier this month that the possibility a future Israel Air Force attack on Iranian nuclear facilities was “the stupidest thing I have ever heard.”[Haaretz 6/1/11.]

We have to think about what would happen the day after. [Der Spiegel 11/8/11.]

Haaretz Commentator Gideon Levy:

The nuclear powers also ignore the fourth chapter of the treaty for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons that calls for dismantling them. They are permitted to ignore it. The world lives in peace too with the fact that 189 countries have indeed signed the treaty but that there are four, including Israel, that have not. The world has learned to live with the North Korean and Pakistani bombs even though this is a danger that is no smaller than that which Iran poses….
Israel, which has not signed the treaty, is in the same company as North Korea, Pakistan and India – that is, very dubious company. No one asks why, no one asks for what reason, not in Israel and not in the rest of the world…
There is a great deal of hypocrisy in Israel’s attitude toward the world….
Like Israel, Iran will apparently not heed the words of the world. But does Israel want in any way to resemble Iran?  [Haaretz 11/10/11.]

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It is time for another look at the alternative futures of the Iranian-Israeli confrontation.
The 2007 study offered four predictions:

Prediction #1: Co-Evolution. Iran and Israel will co-evolve: without either necessarily perceiving it, they will influence each other, revolve around each other like binary stars, each in its individual orbit but bound to the other by their mutual insistence on making the other a priority, and traveling an unseen path together. Most likely, all the while each will see only its own uniqueness; neither will perceive the increasingly significant points of similarity as their mutual adaptation subjects them to similar pressures. Judging from current trends, each will feed on the other’s hostility to the detriment of both.

Prediction #2: States of Criticality.
Potential states of criticality threatening disaster will occur. They are fundamental danger zones. A wise society will avoid them. As tensions rise and groups organize to push radical agendas, thereby making tensions rise further, it is easy to slide into the unmarked state of criticality where going one step too far leads to some sort of disaster – perhaps a tremor, perhaps the “big one.”

Prediction #3: Tipping Points. Positive feedback loops will bring to the fore dynamics that were previously insignificant, and tipping points will be reached, to general astonishment.

Prediction #4: Adaptation.
Adaptation will occur in unforeseen ways – sometimes at an unexpected location, sometimes after an unexpected delay. However it happens, Israel and Iran they will change, although our perceptions of them may not. The Israel still perceived in some quarters as a plucky pioneering movement of idealists adopted selective assassination of terrorists and then moved beyond that to assassination of opposing political leaders. Iran’s messianic Shi’ite spirit of the early 1980s has evolved into a willingness to cooperate with the U.S. vs. the Taleban in 2001 and support for the U.S.-sponsored regime in occupied Iraq today. Change is predictable; if unseen, the fault almost certainly lies in the eyes of the beholder.

Prediction #1, Co-Evolution, is supported by circumstantial evidence. The bilateral tension occupies an artificially important place in the politics of each state. Domestically, Tehran appears to have cracked down on dissidents with a degree of viciousness unusual even for Iran because of its defensiveness engendered by threats coming from Israel and its obedient superpower sponsor. Meanwhile, Israeli society is sliding steadily toward racist violence, a trend primarily the result of its colonization of the West Bank but one exacerbated by Netanyahus determination to play domestic policies off against policy toward Iran. The result is that Iranian-Israeli tensions are making both the Tehran and the Tel Aviv regimes more hardline than they would otherwise have been, thus exacerbating domestic political problems.
Concerning foreign policy, each state increasingly is finding its options limited by its addiction to extremist rhetoric and genuine security fears resulting from the Iranian-Israeli confrontation. Israeli freedom of thought and maneuver regarding its central predicament of how to deal with Palestinians is severely constrained by tensions with Iran. Iranian freedom of thought and maneuver regarding how to deal with the ring of U.S. military bases along its borders and the instability inherent in Iraqi, Pakistani, and Afghan insurgencies is similarly constrained by tensions with Israel.
In sum, Iran and Israel are co-evolving both domestically and internationally in ways that harm both of them because they have allowed themselves to become so closely linked by bilateral tensions artificially whipped up by their respective political leaders that they cannot find the freedom to focus on other arguably more fundamental and more serious problems. This evolutionary process is making each country less democratic and less secure.
Prediction #2, States of Criticality, isin early November 2011demonstrably true for a sudden state of criticality is exactly where the two states are at the moment, for no obvious reason other than the publication of yet another ambiguous IAEA report that states it cannot prove the negative (that Iran absolutely does not have any nuclear militarization plan in process). On this slim reed balances an explosion of clamor over the idea of launching the worlds first unprovoked nuclear attack.
Prediction #3, Tipping Points, has yet to be substantiated, but the occurrence of one of the predicted states of criticality suggests that the probability of a tipping point is rising.
Prediction #4, Adaptation, is more obvious on the part of the U.S. than the two primary actors. Both ruling parties in the U.S. are now firmly under Israeli influence so extreme as virtually to constitute control regarding U.S. Mideast policy. In reaction to this, however, open discussion of the long-time taboo question of whether or not the U.S.-Israeli alliance might be harming U.S. national security has now struggled into mainstream thinking, with long-term consequences yet to be discerned. In Israel, while the media discuss Israeli policy toward Iran far more profoundly and honestly than U.S. media do, groupthink has taken firm hold at the political level, leaving those Israelis concerned about Netanyahus warmongering with no political representation. Adaptation this is, albeit not in a direction likely to enhance either Israeli security or Israeli democracy. Groupthink is almost never a wise strategic course. Somewhat less visibly perhaps, from the outside, Iran too is adapting, as its domestic politics become increasingly bitter and divided. Indeed, Prediction #4 is essentially a rewording at a different level of analysis (state rather than two-state system) of Prediction #1, since the very meaning of co-evolution is that each state is not only adapting but adapting in tandem with the other.
In sum, the analysis done in 2007 made predictions that amounted to a warning that the two states would each harm themselves by failing to change course, and that warning has proven on target. The respective regimes have only themselves to blame for not heeding the warning; its accuracy supports the methodological argument that scenario analysis constitutes a useful tool for sharpening thinking about complex foreign policy dilemmas.

Do Not Mention the Israeli Threat

After the mess created globally and domestically by the U.S. campaign against Islamic independence, Washington may find the idea of a nice, clean little surgical strike too good to resist.

Americans are protesting in the streets with sufficient vigor to irritate the elite. The brutal response of police combined with the hostility of various mayors makes that pretty clear. And since the elite has, in the three years of recession and unemployment done little to rein in banks or clean up the economic mess, unless something changes, the protests seem likely to get worse.

Internationally, the U.S. is back on its heels in Iraq, which is showing a degree of independence that must be embarrassing to the imperial crowd (though it could of course be considered an achievement by a democracy that wanted to lead by example rather than brute force). Meanwhile, Israel’s diplomatic position in the world is ever so slowly crumbling, the U.S. has seen Somalia slip totally out of its grasp, the Arab Spring made the U.S. look irrelevant (even worse than being hostile), Iran’s influence is spreading, Lebanon is lost, Turkey is disenchanted, and Afghanistan is a slow-motion disaster. China sits grinning in the distance like the Cheshire Cat.

Is it possible that the President facing, simultaneous domestic and international messes that are steadily getting worse, might be tempted to surrender to the vociferous Israeli lobby and sacrifice U.S. national security to A) satisfy the demands of elite extremists ruling Israel for war against Iran to distract Israeli voters from the Palestinian issue and B) to distract U.S. voters from the combined domestic and international messes?

Is it possible that American voters will be tricked once again by the images of pinpoint bombing–this time no doubt accompanied by not-so-pinpoint mushroom clouds–into an emotional outburst of zenophobia and unearned trust in their leaders?


Iran &Israel’s Armageddon Option? [IsraCast 10/30/11.]

IAF chief must save Israel from futile attack on Iran [Haaretz 11/2/11.]

Netanyahu trying to persuade cabinet to support attack on Iran [Haaretz 11/2/11.]

Well, just consider this: in Israel, the idea of nuclear aggression against non-nuclear Iran is being loudly debated by the thinking public. In the U.S.–the country that must give permission, do most of the fighting, and pay the bill for any such insanity that may be implemented–of course no one is saying anything. Mentioning such things in public would, after all, be rude. Israel and the U.S. “share values;” the two are a “team.” So to question publicly an Israeli plan, even if promoted to meet some special agenda like getting reelected or distracting the world from Israel’s war against the Palestinian people, even if the plan may end up crippling U.S. national security, well…if we publicly discussed such a plan, we just would not be “team players.”

Obama Officially Endorses a Zero-Sum Mideast Policy

Obama rushes to maintain the Neo-Con attitude of in-your-face aggressiveness in the Mideast despite domestic unrest, withdrawal from Iraq, and a desperate search for an escape route from Afghanistan.
Washington coupled its announcement of troop withdrawal from Iraq with a surge of forward-leaning military posturing in the region that completely negates the conciliatory impression given by the withdrawal announcement. The troop withdrawal was far less than it appeared in any case, given the thousands of mercenaries and many bases that Washington will leave behind, so why the rush to assure everyone that, regardless of what any other state actually does, Washington fully intends to maintain its aggressive stance toward the region?
The troop withdrawal from Iraq could have been used as evidence that the U.S. wants friendship with all, is an international voice of reason, and is willing to be a force for moderation. Washington could have proclaimed its troop withdrawal as part of the new Arab Spring move by the region toward moderation and democracy. That was, after all, what even the Neo-Con war party claimed they wanted. Washington could have made the withdrawal the basis for a new initiative to resolve differences with Iran, noting that, We have taken the first move; now its your turn. Either way, U.S. troops are leaving, so why not take advantage of this opportunity to test the Iranians? At worst, Tehran refuses to respond, giving Washington evidence of its uncooperative attitude to buttress its hard-line stance when calling for international opposition to Tehran.
But no, Washington rushed to make it clear that it had no intention of compromising, no interest in the opinions of those with whom it disagrees. Washington thus underscored its insistence on continuing the decade-long perspective that international relations in the Mideast is zero-sum: Washington insists that its opponents suffer clear and unambiguous defeat.
That is a curious attitude for a country in retreat.
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Mercenaries:
All contractors are of course not mercenaries, i.e., hired guns, but here are the latest Washington plans for keeping military force in Iraq after military forces are withdrawn:

the State Department plans a persistent presence in Iraq of roughly 17,000 U.S.-paid workers, of which 14,000 may be contractors. On Friday, White House officials, speaking on background at a briefing for reporters, projected that 4,500 to 5,000 of these will be employed in guarding three U.S. diplomatic posts in Irbil, Basra, and Baghdad. [Center for Public Integrity’s iWatchNews 10/22/11.]

Not soldiers under the control of U.S. law and Congress, mind you, but employees of companies in it for the money. And, with an explosion of non-competed military contracts–one of the worst legacies of the Bush-Cheney years, judging from the shocking graph of such irresponsible funding that accompanies the above article–that is only getting worse, the money is surely going to be very good indeed.
But don’t take my word for it:

“After a decade of war, the government remains unable to ensure that taxpayers and warfighters are getting good value for contract dollars spent,” Dov S. Zakheim, a former Pentagon comptroller and a member of the congressionally-created Commission on Wartime Contracting, told the Senate Armed Services committee

Erdogan Off to a Slow Start in Cairo

Erdogan, who just kicked the Israeli ambassador out, arrived in Egypt, where the people just kicked out the Israeli ambassador, who reportedly fled dressed as a Muslim. Despite this perfect welcome, Erdogan fell short with a speech to the Arab League lacking creativity and a sour dose of old-style thinking from his guys back in Ankara. This is not the performance he needs if he is to become the leader of a new Mideast.
Erdogans address to the Arab League, judging from media reports, consisted of relatively moderate rhetoric empty of substance, if anything undercutting his stance as self-promoted leader of a new Mideast. Erdogan will need diplomatic creativity rather than warm air to make an impression on famously turbulent but directionless Mideast affairs. In particular, his failure to applaud Cairos demand that Israel stop violating Lebanons border seems to have been a real missed opportunity to establish common ground with an Egyptian military clearly digging its heels in.

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Behind the Rhetoric
If Erdogan omitted substance from his rhetoric in Cairo, elsewhere he was taking real action. Turkey is sending three frigates into the Eastern Mediterranean to put some constraints on Israel’s ability to write its own rules in Mediterranean international waters. The Turkish frigates will reportedly sail with orders to disable the weapons systems of any Israeli vessels encountered in international waters. It is hard to believe that Ankara would relinquish control to such a dangerous degree, but true or not, the report sends a message.  [Today’s Zaman 9/12/11.]
A separate report that Turkey has figured out a way to repair its F-16s, previously crippled by U.S.-installed software preventing them from targetting the F-16s Washington provided to Israel, purportedly adds real muscle to Ankara’s military repositioning.
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Making the reasonable point that Israel causes the trouble it faces in the Mideast, Erdogan told the Arab League on Tuesday:
Israel will break away from solitude only when it acts as a reasonable, responsible, serious and normal state. While Israel is trying to secure its legitimacy in our region on one hand, it is taking irresponsible steps which unsettle its legitimacy on the other.
Erdogan termed the creation of a Palestinian state not an option but an obligation but, judging from reports, stopped short of proposing any action to back up even those moderate words, thus leaving the door open to working with Israel toward a deal that would support secure borders for both Israelis and Palestinians.
In striking contradiction to Erdogans high moral tone concerning Palestinian desires for justice, however, Turkish Interior Minister Sahin stated the same day that Turkey could launch an incursion into Iraq to attack Kurds at any time. Both Turkey and Israel insist on marginalizing a minority, both refuse to negotiate with that portion of the minority that demands independence, and both assert the right to attack across international borders in order to subjugate that minority. The hypocrisy of Ankara simultaneously criticizing Israels illegal and unjust behavior while asserting the unilateral right of Turkey to behave undermines Erdogans laudable foreign policy project of creating and leading a responsible and moderate Mideast center. If Erdogan looks good, that is only because of the appalling level of incompetence on the part of Mideast rulers.

Turkish-Egyptian Possibilities

Does a little anti-Israeli PR from Cairo when the Egyptian government obviously needs to calm down its population really matter?

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry website reports:

On receiving the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr affirmed the importance of exerting all possible efforts to maintain stability in Lebanon and protecting it from all regional developments which might be negatively reflected on the country and the importance of excluding any political actor from the Lebanese equation

Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Counselor Amr Roushdi stated that the Minister stressed that the main guarantee for Lebanese and regional stability is the immediate halting of the daily Israeli violations of the Lebanese airspace and respecting the Lebanese sovereignty over its space and soil.

In the context of a world nearly united in favor of the recognition of a Palestinian state, the popular Egyptian calls for an end to the Egyptian-Israeli alliance, the collapse of Israeli-Turkish ties, and the utter loss of U.S. credibility as a peace broker, yes, it matters.

While it is likely that no one would anticipate immediate Egyptian military moves to protect Lebanon, the mere launching of a diplomatic initiative focusing attention on Israel’s belligerence against Lebanon changes the Mideast political environment. It says that now, suddenly, Israel no longer has the essentially unchallenged (except by Iran) right to do what it wants. (It also says that Iran no longer “owns” the issue of supporting Palestinians, something Washington should applaud.) Already on the defensive over the U.N. campaign by Palestinians for recognition of a Palestinian state and over its attack on the international delegation trying to bring aid to Gazans, Israel will now be preoccupied by a third embarrassing diplomatic battle.

Will Israeli FM Lieberman advocate support for anti-Egyptian terrorism, as he did with Turkey? (One might well wonder why Israel would want to legitimate the use of terror as a tool of state policy…) Indeed, Lieberman’s threat suggests more clearly than anything else the disarray of the Israeli government. Israel’s free ride during the post-9/11 years may be drawing to a close.

Given the obsequious attitude of Washington toward anything desired by the Israeli right, the military side of the whole issue of the Israeli campaign of Lebanese border violations seems likely to be minor, although the imminent transfer of Turkish warships to the Eastern Mediterranean with the apparent intent of protecting future popular efforts to break Israel’s Gaza Ghetto blockade raises the possibility of a future military response on behalf of Lebanon.

For now, however, the real significance of Cairo’s statement is its perfect timing in support of Erdogan. Erdogan will get off the plane today in Cairo knowing that his trip is already a success: Cairo is now publicly committed to raising the heat on Israeli transgressions of international law. Moreover, Cairo has selected an issue, very possibly after careful secret discussions with Ankara, that can only make Israel look bad and in response to which Tel Aviv probably will not be able to do much. Beating up on helpless Lebanon only accomplishes one thing: it legitimizes Hezbollah. A real friend of Israel would so inform them, but Israel’s lackeys in Washington are not, in the end, such friends.

So Tel Aviv must watch helplessly while Cairo and Ankara bask in the strong, warm sunlight on the high moral ground. After all, who can object to the integrity of international borders?

One caveat is important: the whole idea of a military alliance between Turks and Egyptians is, well, shall we just say “sensitive” and leave it at that? I mean, all that U.S. military aid in limbo, and Turkey probably does not want to be expelled from NATO (North Atlantic Treaty for Protecting Israel Organization). Then, there’s all that historical baggage…I mean, let’s just say that Cairo and Ankara do create a military alliance and do emerge supreme in the Mideast. Down the road a bit, sure, but let’s just say they do. Then what? Will the land of Nasser, the Custodian of the Three Holy Pyramids play second fiddle to the new Ottoman Empire? Will the neo-Ottomans, who used to rule Egypt, play second fiddle to an impoverished country dependent on U.S. aid?

So, over the long run, many sensitivities will need to be managed. Nevertheless, for now, even a tiny step toward serious Turkish-Egyptian military cooperation in the context of worsening relations between each and Israel constitutes a tipping point. The weakening regional position of the U.S. only underscores this. Arguments over how many centimeters down the slippery slope this carries the Mideast are beside the point. The momentum has shifted. Instead of a dominant dynamic of U.S.-Israel-Saudi control of the Mideast, one now sees the potential rise of dominance of a new dynamic: political initiative shifting to a moderate (primarily peaceful and supportive of international law) coalition with real military power and popular support that will challenge Israel’s right to play by special rules. Washington of course remains free to continue supporting everything Tel Aviv does, but only at the cost of harming U.S. national security a little bit every single time it does so.

And Erdogan? All he has to do is shake hands with Egyptian leaders, congratulate them loudly on their foresight, proclaim Ankara’s strong support, visit the pyramids, and go home. That will suffice to change the dynamics of Mideast affairs. Anything beyond that will be icing on the moderate Islamist, moderate nationalist cake.

And that raises the question of what further steps Cairo and Ankara might indeed take in the context of an Egyptian call for Israel to respect Lebanese security, a Palestinian campaign for statehood, and Ankara’s announcement that its warships will start patrolling off the coast of Israel and Lebanon.

Syria and Palestine. A strongly worded joint call for peaceful resolution of domestic conflict that lays out a set of principles to be applied equally in Syria and in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would put Cairo and Ankara nicely on the moral high ground.

Lebanon. A joint statement supporting the territorial integrity of Lebanon would be a minimal step. Joint naval patrols off Lebanon’s coast would add substance. Holding discussions on possible joint military aid to Lebanon and leaking the story to the media would go a step further. If they want to be really creative, Cairo and Ankara could announce support for the principle of the integrity of “all regional state borders,” specifically including the borders of Bahrain, Lebanon, a future Palestinian state, and the 1967 borders of Israel.

Gaza. And then, there’s Gaza. Some initiative regarding the right of Gazans to participate in international trade, fish off their coastline, receive the income from any hydrocarbons in Gazan territorial waters, and travel into Egypt is the absolute minimum that must come out of the Turkish-Egyptian summit in order to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. Whatever else the two sides do, Cairo must figure out a way to start extricating itself from its complicity in the Gaza Ghetto.

The amazing thing about Erdogan’s visit is the abundance of possibilities on the Egyptian-Turkish table.