Category Archives: Foreign Policy

Netanyahu’s “Red-line” Speech Examined

On Friday, September 28, 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before the U.N. Security Council in New York about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses for Israel and the world. He called on the Western Allies to draw a “red-line” on Iran’s progress toward having enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon and dare them to cross it. Netanyahu believes Iran will back down in the face of this ultimatum. However, it is important to note that there is no evidence at this time that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons with their nuclear program. Iran claims it’s nuclear program is for energy and medical treatments. Iran is also a signer of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (which the U.S. and Israel are not). The last I.A.E.A report made some unsupported claims but gave no credible evidence that Iran is pursing a nuclear weapon. In this speech, Netanyahu presents evidence that Iran is a terrorist nation and that a nuclear Iran is analogous to a nuclear al Qaeda. Is this a fair comparison? Before we commit our soldiers to war with Iran, let us be sure. To this end, I will examine what I feel are the most relevant points that Netanyahu gives to support his argument. I have italicized these excerpts from Netanyahu’s speech.

First, it is important to have an accurate assessment about the state of affairs within the state of Israel itself with regard to Jewish and Arab Israelis. Netanyahu paints a slightly ingenuous picture in his speech:

“Israel stands proudly with the forces of modernity. We protect the rights of all our citizens: men and women, Jews and Arabs, Muslims and Christians – all are equal before the law.”

A 2003 study by the Israel’s own government, the Or Commission, found a “stain of discrimination” against Arab citizens of Israel in virtually all areas of society including land usage, government services, education, and employment.

Netanyahu explains that nuclear deterrence may not work with Iran:

“Militant Jihadists behave very differently from secular Marxists. There were no Soviet suicide bombers. Yet Iran produces hordes of them.”

After scouring the Internet and the authoritative book on Suicide Terrorism by Robert Pape, I have yet to find one Iranian suicide bomber. According to Robert Pape, there have been 315 suicide attacks committed by 462 suicide bombers from 1980 to 2003. Of the 315 attacks, the most attacks (76) were not even committed by Islamic fundamentalists but by a Leninist/Marxist group in Sri Lanka called the Tamil Tigers. Moreover, according to Pape, “No follower of Iranian or Iraqi Shi’ism has ever become an al Qaeda suicide terrorist (Pape, Robert. The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Kindle Edition. Location 1679).”

Netanyahu then accuses a prominent Iranian leader as advocating a nuclear first-strike on Israel.

“Just listen to Ayatollah Rafsanjani who said, I quote: ‘The use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything, however it would only harm the Islamic world.’ Rafsanjani said: ‘It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.’”

Netanyahu is referring to a sermon given by Rafsanjani, the 4th president of Iran, on December 14, 2001. Let’s look at the full context of this quote:

“If one day … Of course, that is very important. If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists’ strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality. Of course, you can see that the Americans have kept their eyes peeled and they are carefully looking for even the slightest hint that technological advances are being made by an independent Islamic country. If an independent Islamic country is thinking about acquiring other kinds of weaponry, then they will do their utmost to prevent it from acquiring them. Well, that is something that almost the entire world is discussing right now.”

When examined in full context, it becomes clear the Rafsanjani is talking about the nuclear deterrence strategy of Israel and it’s allies, not advocating a nuclear first-strike on Israel. Now, I believe this was a completely imprudent and inappropriate point to make publicly because it does beg the question of whether Iran would take advantage of this “standstill.” Nevertheless it was misinterpreted. Rafsanjani confirmed this when he discovered the misinterpretation and he even stated that no country in the region should have nuclear weapons including Iran.

“We really do not seek to build nuclear weapons and a nuclear military system. In a Friday prayer sermon in Tehran, I even once said that an atomic bomb would not benefit the occupation regime of Israel. Eventually, if one day a nuclear conflict takes place, Israel as a small country, will not be able to bear an atomic bomb. It is a small country and all its facilities would be destroyed. However, they interpreted this advice as a threat. We really believe that there should not be any nuclear weapon in the region and this is a part of the principles of our politics.”

Netanyahu also appealed to a Middle Eastern scholar to back his position that Iran could not be trusted with nuclear technology:

“There’s a great scholar of the Middle East, Prof. Bernard Lewis, who put it best. He said that for the Ayatollahs of Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent, it’s an inducement. Iran’s apocalyptic leaders believe that a medieval holy man will reappear in the wake of a devastating Holy War, thereby ensuring that their brand of radical Islam will rule the earth.”

Dr. Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, commenting on this remark in his blog, “Informed Comment, ” calls this a “shockingly ignorant and Orientalist thing to say.” Dr Cole points out that the sayings of Shiism:

“typically predict that the Twelfth Imam will arise ‘when the world is full of injustice.’ It isn’t an atomic explosion that would usher him in, but oppression and brutality.”

To be continued…


“Afghanistan-creep”, How the quest for Bin Laden turned into Nation-Building

    On September 24, 2012, the Taliban released a video that purportedly documents the training of the forces that attacked Camp Bastion, a NATO airbase in Helmand Province on September 14th. In this attack, 15 men disguised in U.S. Army uniforms breached the perimeter fence and proceeded to attack aircraft and soldiers on the airfield. Utilizing automatic weapons and grenade launchers, the attackers managed to kill 2 marines and destroy 6 fighter jets costing about 200 million dollars all together. All the attackers were killed save one.
    A NY Daily Times article suggests that the release of this video by the Taliban is meant to counter NATO claims that the Afghan insurgency is weakening due to a decrease in attacks in July and August of this year as compared with the same months in 2011. Lost in this publicity battle, is the question I often ask: “What in the world are we still doing in Afghanistan after nearly 11 years??” On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush demanded that the Taliban, a militant Islamic group ruling large parts of Afghanistan and the capital of Kabul, deliver Osama Bin Laden to U.S. authorities and close or destroy all al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. The Taliban refused to meet either of these demands. On October 7, 2001, the U.S. Forces, with U.K, Australian, and the Afghan United Front forces, attacked Afghanistan, launching air strikes against Kabul. With the benefit of hindsight, we can examine with greater objectivity the success of U.S. And NATO involvement in Afghanistan up to this point.
    First, let’s define the problem of Afghanistan: Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist group, al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attack that killed over 3,000 Americans. We have a moral right and, in fact, a moral imperative, to bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime against innocent U.S. civilians. However, Bin Laden and his terrorist group is based mainly in Afghanistan and is harbored by the Taliban, which currently rule most of Afghanistan. Now, the Taliban are not enemies of the United States, no matter how many atrocities they have committed against the Afghan people. So, we have the unenviable conundrum of trying to get at an enemy that is being harbored by a non-enemy.
Now, there are two approaches to my mind. The one approach, attack Afghanistan, is the one chosen by the Bush Administration. The other is to use convert operatives and technology to locate Bin Laden and extract him and locate the al Qaeda bases and destroy them. Whether the second would have worked better than the first, we’ll never know. However, in all fairness, the U.S. and NATO war on Afghanistan did advance the objectives of the original mission. Several if not all of al Qaeda’s bases were destroyed and Bin Laden fled Afghanistan presumably into Pakistan. However, why didn’t we stop the war in Afghanistan after destroying much of al Qaeda’s bases and after Bin Laden had fled (or at least when we thought he might have fled)? Wouldn’t that have been the time to withdraw and devote our energies toward tracking down Bin Laden? Strangely, this did not happen. No, the Bush Administration found a new cause in Afghanistan.
    Even though the Taliban have never been our stated enemy, the decision was made to drive the Taliban out of power and replace them with a democratically-elected government. Those in the business world are familiar with the term “scope-creep.” Well, as can be seen, our military leadership is not immune to this malady. In Afghanistan, scope-creep manifested itself as nation-building. And it is nation-building that keeps us in Afghanistan almost 11 years after the beginning of the war and after Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2012. It is nation-building that will keep us there indefinitely until we finally realize that nation-building is a cure worse than the disease.