Hagel Bypasses Karzai in Afghanistan Visit with Troops
David Lerman, Eltaf Najafizada, Bloomberg News, Dec 7 2013
Sec Def Hagel made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan today and said he has no intention of meeting with Pres Karzai, who has resisted signing a security agreement to extend the US’s military presence past 2014. As US frustration with Karzai grows amid his shifting demands for completing the deal, Hagel said he saw no benefit in a session with him. Hagel told reporters after arriving at the ISAF HQ in Kabul:
There is not much I can add in a meeting with Pres Karzai to what’s already been said. I didn’t request a meeting with Pres Karzai, and I wasn’t invited to one. I don’t think pressure coming from the US, or more pressure, is going to be helpful in persuading Pres Karzai to sign. That’s not my role, to pressure presidents.
Hagel did meet with Afghan Defense Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi, and commander of the Afghan National Army General Sher Mohammad Karimi, and discussed the need for the security pact. The accord would allow for US forces to train and assist Afghanistan’s army after 2014, when most US troops will come home from a war now in its 13th year. The decision to bypass Karzai came after Susan Rice visited him late last month to urge him to back the accord. Some Afghan experts within the administration said they thought sending Rice to prod Karzai was a blunder by a White House that often acts independently of diplomatic, intelligence and military professionals. Despite the continuing US effort to erase prejudice in Afghanistan against women and people of color, it persists, and therefore being confronted by a Black USAian woman was humiliating to Karzai and may have helped stiffen his position, said three officials. In the efforts to reach the agreement, Karzai has raised objections about military operations that he says put Afghan civilians at risk. He also has suggested he may not be ready to sign the accord until after Afghanistan’s election to choose his successor in April. Hagel’s avoidance of Karzai was the clearest indication so far of the Obama administration’s frustration with the Afghan leader. Earlier this week, Jackass Kerry said Karzai could designate someone else, such as his defense minister, to sign the security agreement in his place, but Karzai rejected this. He “won’t allow” any senior Afghan officials to sign the accord until his conditions are met by US, said Fayiq Wahidi, Karzai’s deputy spokesman, in a phone interview. Karzai has set two major conditions: a complete cessation of US forces raiding Afghan homes and the start of a peace process with Taliban guerrillas, Wahidi said. In bypassing Karzai in his own homeland, Hagel delivered a “big surprise” to the Afghan leader, said Ahmad Saidi, a political and security analyst in Kabul, in a phone interview. With Karzai balking at signing the security accord, the US is now “trying to convince Karzai through dealing with his inner circle’s influential folks” to reconsider his position, Saidi said. US officials have warned in recent weeks that the lack of a deal risks undermining confidence in the Afghan government while unsettling allies. ISAF commander General Joseph Dunford told reporters in Kabul today:
We’ve seen capital flight. We’ve seen real estate prices go down.
Dunford said he will have to start planning for alternatives, including the possibility of a complete withdrawal next year, if the agreement isn’t signed by the end of this month. Dunford defended Hagel’s decision not to seek a meeting with Karzai, saying the status of the security accord “is now largely an Afghan issue.” Hagel said the Afghan defense minister told him the security agreement “would be signed in a timely manner.” He said his two-day visit, which followed a meeting in Bahrain, “was planned for the sole purpose of working with our troops, thanking our troops.” Avoiding Karzai may signal a hands-off approach toward him by the Obama administration after repeated attempts at negotiation led nowhere, said Martine van Bijlert, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network. Bijlert said:
The palace had probably expected Hagel to be the next in line trying to persuade Karzai. Not doing so sends the message that it is now really up to Karzai to decide how far he wants to take his position.
Dunford said US and ISAF forces “are not entering Afghan homes today,” except in rare instances, and always with Afghan forces taking the lead. “We respect Afghan sovereignty,” he said. He said he saw “no strong indication” that reconciliation with the Taliban is possible.
Hagel urges Afghans to sign security pact
Dan De Luce, AFP, Sep 7 2013
KABUL – Sec Def Hagel will visit US troops in Afghanistan on Sunday after appealing to Kabul to sign a long-delayed security accord allowing NATO forces to stay in the country after 2014. Hagel will travel outside the Afghan capital to greet US troops in the field a day after tensions between Washington and Afghan Pres Karzai over the stalled security pact were on full public display. Meetings with Karzai have been customary over the years for Pentagon chiefs but Hagel said Saturday after his arrival that he had no plans to meet him during his weekend visit. As Susan Rice and Jackass Kerry had already had frank discussions with Karzai urging him to sign the security agreement, Hagel said, there was no point in him merely repeating the US position. Hagel did meet the Afghan defence minister, who assured him the security agreement would be signed in “a timely manner.” Karzai was scheduled to travel to Tehran on Sunday for talks with Iran, officials said. Karzai initially endorsed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), but has since refused to sign and issued fresh demands. The security agreement sets the legal conditions to permit US and other forces to operate in the country beyond 2014. But without a signed deal, countries ready to send troops to a post-2014 training mission cannot make budget plans or secure political approval, Hagel said. Karzai has said the signature should take place after elections in April, but Hagel said that could push the timeline into mid-2014, as the polls are expected to result in a run-off vote. Eventually there will be “a cut-off point” to cancel a post-2014 mission, he said, adding that he was “not prepared to give a date on that.” He said a meeting of NATO defence ministers in February would be crucial for military planners and governments “and some answers are going to be required at that NATO ministerial.” However, he said it would not be productive for the US government to pile pressure on Karzai, and instead the sentiments of the Afghan population were what really mattered. He said:
There’s not much I can add in a meeting with Pres Karzai to what’s already been said. I don’t think pressure coming from the US, or more pressure, is going to be helpful in persuading Pres Karzai to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement.
Through a loya jirga convened by Karzai, the Afghan people had spoken “rather plainly and clearly and dramatically” in favour of the agreement, he said. Almost the entire NATO-led force of more than 70,000 is scheduled to pull out by the end of next year. Under a proposed post-2014 mission, roughly 12,000 troops, mostly US, would remain in the country to train Afghans and counter AQ-linked militants (standard mindless drivel – RB).
ha ha: the joke here is that the f-35 is an absolute dog, and once you start subtracting sensitive subsystems from it, it will become an absolute death-trap
Pentagon sees ‘significant interest’ in F-35 from Gulf
Andrea Shalal-Esa, Reuters, Dec 6 2013
WASHINGTON – Strong demand from Gulf countries for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet has prompted Washington to grapple with the thorny question about releasing the jet to the region sooner than expected, a senior US defense official said. Washington has already approved sales of the new stealth fighter to a range of allies, including Turkey, South Korea, Japan and Israel, but sales to the Gulf require a deeper review, given US policy guidelines that call for Israel to maintain a qualitative military edge in the Middle East. Talk about selling the plane to the UAE and other US allies in the Gulf came into the open during the Dubai air show last month, with potential buyers weighing whether to buy existing planes or wait for the US government to release the new radar-evading F-35. Government officials and industry experts have said they do not expect Washington to allow the sale of the F-35 to Gulf countries until around 2020, four years after Israel receives its first F-35 fighters in 2016. The senior US official said:
The interest in the new fighter initially came as a surprise to some of us in the Defense Dept. It’s coming about simply because it’s getting more mature and people are finally realizing that it’s really going to happen. We now recognize that there is significant interest there. We knew eventually we were going to have to face that question, but it’s come upon us a little sooner than we thought and we’re going to have to deal with it. Eventually we’re going to have to make a decision. We have a very structured process in place for doing that, and it takes a little bit of time. But we are going to have to make decisions on a tighter timeline than we thought.
US government officials and weapons makers have put a bigger focus on foreign arms sales in recent years as a way to offset declines in projected US military spending, and buttress the Obama administration’s drive to build partnerships and help US allies beef up their own military capacities. The US is particularly concerned about reassuring Gulf nations that Washington remains committed to Middle East security despite differences over Iran and Syria. Sec Def Hagel traveled to Bahrain this week and is expected to deliver that message during a meeting with regional defense officials on Saturday. Lockheed is building three F-35 models for the US military and eight countries that helped fund its development: Britain, Canada, Australia, Italy, Norway, Turkey, Denmark and the Netherlands. Israel and Japan have also ordered the jet, and South Korea signaled last month that it also expected to order the F-35. The $392b F-35 program has seen repeated delays and a 70% increase in costs over initial estimates, but US officials say the program is making good progress now. USAF Lt-Gen Chris Bogdan told a defense conference on Wednesday that the program had a “tragic past,” but the cost of the plane was coming down, flight testing was continuing, and most technical issues had been addressed.
no particular reason why damascus should not release 1,000 detained sunni women, if it has that many
Jihadi group demands hostage swap for abducted nuns: paper
Reuters, Dec 6 2013
BEIRUT – A Syrian rebel group calling itself “Free Qalamoun” has claimed the kidnapping of 12 nuns and said it wants to trade them for a thousand female detainees held by the government, a pan-Arab newspaper reported on Friday. Rebel spokesman Mohannad Abu al-Fidaa told a-Sharq al-Awsat:
The nuns are safe, but they will not be released until several demands have been implemented: most importantly, the release of 1,000 Syrian women held in regime prisons.
Reuters could not independently confirm the report. An official at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus said the nuns were safe but would not comment on which group had taken them. Jihadis who captured the Christian village of Maaloula north of Damascus moved the nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Thecla to the nearby town of Yabrud on Monday, according to the Vatican envoy to Syria, Mario Zenari. The Jihadis took the ancient quarter of Maaloula on Monday after heavy fighting with government troops in the Qalamoun region near the Lebanese border. Jabhat al-Nusra and other rebels are struggling for control of the Damascus-Homs highway in central Syria.
Lebanon to seek Qatar’s help over nuns seized in Syria
Lebanon Daily Star, Dec 7 2013
BEIRUT – The head of Lebanon’s General Security will head Saturday to Qatar seeking the Arab state’s assistance in the case of a group of nuns seized earlier this month in Syria. A security source said:
Maj-Gen Abbas Ibrahim will head to Qatar as part of a scheduled visit during which he will address with officials the case of the nuns, the abducted bishops and security coordination between Beirut and Doha.
In October, Doha played a key mediating role in the release of a group of Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped a year earlier in Aleppo. Earlier this week, 13 nuns were taken by Syrian rebels from their convent in the historic Syrian town of Maaloula. The rebels are believed to have taken the women to the nearby town of Yabroud, where they are reportedly staying in the home of a Christian family. In a video aired on al-Jazeera Friday, the Orthodox nuns said fierce shelling and bombardment had forced them to depart their convent in Maaloula. Several of the nuns denied that they were being held hostage. One of the nuns says in the video:
A group brought us here and protected us, and we’re very, very happy with them.
The Syrian General Revolution Commission (? – RB) on Friday denied reports that a rebel group had demanded the Syrian regime release hundreds of female detainees in exchange for the release of the nuns. In April, armed men kidnapped Aleppo’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop Paul Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim while traveling to Aleppo from the Turkish border. Efforts have been ongoing to secure their release.
hagel uses the “nothing beyond our reach” meme, but afaik has not been seen wearing the world-straddling octopus patch yet
US to maintain 35,000 troops in Gulf region: Hagel
AFP, Dec 7 2013
MANAMA – The US military is committed to maintaining its 35,000-strong force in the Gulf region regardless of a nuclear deal with Iran, US Sec Def Hagel said Saturday in Bahrain. The US has “more than 35,000 military personnel” in and around the Gulf and “will not make any adjustments to its forces in the region” as a result of the interim accord with Iran, said Hagel, according to a prepared text of a speech. In a trip designed to reassure Gulf Arab allies worried about Iran, Hagel enumerated a list of US weaponry and resources that will remain deployed in the region. He said, according to the text of the speech he planned to deliver at a security conference in Manama:
We have a ground, air, and naval presence of more than 35,000 military personnel in and immediately around the Gulf. This includes 10,000 US Army troops with tanks and Apache helicopters, roughly 40 ships at sea including an aircraft carrier battle group, missile defense systems, advanced radar,surveillance drones and warplanes that can strike at short notice. We have deployed our most advanced fighter aircraft throughout the region, including F-22s, to ensure that we can quickly respond to contingencies. Coupled with our unique munitions, no target is beyond our reach.
This last remark was an apparent reference to “bunker buster” bombs designed to penetrate deeply buried targets.
due to their vacuous libertarianism, antiwar.com columnists seldom manage to say anything as stark as this
The Hypocrisy on Mandela is Palpable
John Glaser, AntiWar.com, Dec 6 2013
Today you can watch much of the world praise the life and mourn the death of Nelson Mandela. Scores of US leaders and political pundits with platforms to reach millions of USAians are expressing admiration for Mandela today, but I have barely seen a single acknowledgement of the fact that the US strongly opposed Mandela’s struggle and strongly supported the white supremacist apartheid system in South Africa. There has been almost no mention in the mainstream that Mandela remained on the US’s terrorism watch list until 2008. Mandela spent 27 years in prison, thanks in part to the CIA assisting the apartheid regime’s secret police in his arrest. This white-washing mostly occurs on television. Cable news is especially vapid. There are a few exceptions in print/digital media. One comes from Peter Beinhart:
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan placed the ANC on the official US list of “terrorist” groups. In 1985, then-Congress crittur Dick Cheney voted againsta resolution urging that he be released from jail. In 2004, after Mandela criticized the Iraq War, an article in National Review said his “vicious anti-USAianism and support for Saddam Hussein should come as no surprise, given his long-standing dedication to communism and praise for terrorists.” As late as 2008, the ANC remained on the US terrorism watch list, thus requiring the 89-year-old Mandela to receive a special waiver from the Sec State to visit the US. In South Africa, for decades, US presidents backed apartheid in the name of anti-communism. Indeed, the language of the Cold War proved so morally corrupting that in 1981, Reagan, without irony, called South Africa’s monstrous regime “essential to the free world.”
There is an aspect of this hypocritical praise of Mandela that is mentioned even less in the media coverage of his passing. That is the uncomfortable similarity that Israel’s occupation of Palestine now has with the apartheid regime in South Africa. The Times of Israel reported last February that Alon Liel, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general and ex-ambassador to South Africa, believes Israel currently qualifies as an apartheid state.” Liel said in Jerusalem:
In the situation that exists today, until a Palestinian state is created, we are actually one state. This joint state, in the hope that the status quo is temporary, is an apartheid state.
Israel’s plan for military occupation of the West Bank and ongoing settlement construction for Israeli-only areas was compared to South African apartheid by Ariel Sharon himself, who actually used the word “bantustan” to describe the separating of Palestinians into cantons. Here is a Haaretz piece from 2003 reporting on Sharon’s reference of the Bantustans:
Sharon’s map is surprisingly similar to the plan for protectorates in South Africa in the early 1960s. Even the number of cantons is the same: 10 in the West Bank and one more in Gaza. Dr Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, notes that the South Africans only managed to create four of their 10 planned Bantustans. The Bantustan model, says Liel, was the ugliest of all the tricks used to perpetuate the apartheid regime in most of South Africa’s territory.
So the hypocrisy on Mandela isn’t just a case of an ugly past from which we’ve learned nothing and which we have erased from our collective memories. Rather, that kind of hypocrisy in US foreign policy is still going on today. One wonders how much of that history will be erased when Israeli apartheid becomes as universally opposed as South African apartheid.
i’m in the curious position of rejecting most of what f lamb says (below), but still regarding these obama statements as totally divorced from reality
Obama: Chances for Final Iran Deal 50-50 or Worse
Bradley Klapper, Darlene Superville, AP, Dec 7 2013
WASHINGTON – Obama said Saturday he believed the chances for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran are 50-50 or worse, yet defended diplomacy as the best way to prevent Tehran from acquiring atomic weapons. During a question-and-answer session with at the Brookings/Saban Centre annual forum, Obama said he wasn’t naive about the odds for a successful final agreement between world powers and Iran next year, building on the recent six-month interim deal. Obama said:
If you ask me what is the likelihood that we’re able to arrive at the end state, I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50-50, but we have to try.
The president’s remark was somewhat startling. Obama has tried to allay the fears of many Israelis and some USAians that his administration last month promised to ease economic pressure too much in return for too few Iranian concessions. The comment nevertheless pointed to the difficult talks that await as the P5+1 work toward a final pact next year. The goal is to eliminate the possibility of Iran assembling a nuclear arsenal, even if any deal might let Iran continue enriching uranium at lower levels not easily convertible into weapons-grade material. Obama said the six-month interim agreement halts and rolls back central elements of Iran’s nuclear program, compelling Tehran to eliminate higher-enriched uranium stockpiles, stop adding new centrifuges and cease work at a heavy water reactor that potentially could produce plutonium. It also provides time to see if the crisis can be averted through negotiation. Obama said:
If at the end of six months it turns out we can’t make a deal, we are no worse off.
Sanctions against Iran will be fully reinstated and even tightened if Iran doesn’t make a final agreement, he pledged. Obama’s appearance appeared directed as much at an Israeli audience as a US one. The discussion was broadcast live on Israeli television, with analysts there viewing it as an effort to patch over Obama’s public differences with Netanyahu. Obama acknowledged some “significant tactical disagreements” with Netanyahu, but said USraeli bottom-line goals were the same. Jackass Kerry promised close consultation on next steps with the Jewish state, which includes a visit to Washington this coming week by Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu’s national security adviser. Jackass said:
We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, period, not now, not ever. I am convinced that we have taken a strong first step that has made the world and Israel safer.
Echoing Obama’s effort to reach out to concerned allies, Sec Def Hagel renewed a US push for the sale of missile defense technology and other weapons systems to GCC states. In a speech Saturday in Bahrain, Hagel made clear that any final deal on Iran’s nuclear program wouldn’t end the threat posed by Iran. On Mideast peace hopes, Obama echoed an optimistic assessment provided by Jackass during a trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories this past week. He said his administration had spent much time working with Netanyahu to understand Israel’s security needs as part of any two-state solution. Obama said regarding the Israel-Palestinian negotiations:
I think it is possible over the next several months to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail but gets us to the point where everybody recognizes it’s better to move forward than move backward.
Still, he said tough decisions await both sides, including the Palestinians’ understanding a transition period will be necessary so no situation arises similar to Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip after Israel’s 2005 military pullout. He said:
The Israeli people cannot expect a replica of Gaza in the West Bank. That is unacceptable.
Obama: Iran must shut Fordo, give up making centrifuges, Palestinians must accept framework deal
DEBKAfile, Dec 7 2013
Obama addressed the Iranian nuclear and Palestinian issues in terms sympathetic to the Israeli case at the Brookings/Saban annual forum in Washington on Dec 7. On the final accord with Iran, he spoke of constraints for making sure Iran was prevented from attaining a nuclear weapon. He then called on the Palestinians to accept that the current round of talks with Israel would produce, at best, a framework accord, which could be achieved in months, without covering in full all the details of their dispute. It would also omit the Gaza Strip and a provide for a transition period before a final settlement. The negotiations now in progress would therefore only cover the West Bank, for the time being, he said. He expressed the hope that Gaza’s Hamas rulers would be inspired by the success of the Palestinian-Israeli deal and want to emulate it. This was the first time Obama had recognized that the current round of Palestinian-Israeli talks initiated by Jackass Kerry would not be able to reach a final settlement during his presidency, only at best interim agreements on some of the issues. On the nuclear question, he said Iran would have to exercise “extraordinary restraints.” For a peaceful nuclear program, he said:
They don’t need an underground enrichment plant in Fordo, certainly not a heavy water plant in Arak or centrifuges.
He did not refer directly to the military dimensions of that program, but insisted that no ideal option exists. He said:
If it were possible to halt uranium enrichment and break up Iran’s nuclear capacity by any other means we would have taken it. We therefore decided to test Iran by diplomacy.
In contrast to the Palestinian question, Obama was clear that a final and comprehensive accord must be reached in six months time to make it impossible for Iran to attain a nuclear bomb. He promised that the international community would be party to every detail of this deal and Israel would be consulted. In Obama’s view the final accord must contain four elements:
- The shutdown of the underground nuclear enrichment plant at Fordo;
- Give up the heavy water reactor under construction at Arak;
- Stop manufacturing advanced centrifuges. This was a reference to the extra-fast IR2 machines, without which the Iranians would find it difficult to enrich uranium at high speed to weapons grade.
- Permission for low-grade uranium enrichment up to the 3.5% level.
In his answers to the questions put to him by Haim Saban, Obama made an effort to accommodate some of Netanyahu’s objections and views on the two most contentious issues weighing on relations between Washington and Jerusalem: Iran and the Palestinians. This cut the ground from under Netanyahu’s leading political opponents, such as Ehud Olmert, Yuval Diskin and others, who contest his policies as needlessly antagonizing the US. At the same time, neither Tehran nor Mahmoud Abbas is likely to accept the propositions Obama presented Saturday. Iran, in particular, will certainly fume over his comment that diplomacy will not only test Iran on its nuclear intentions but may also be used to “ultimately defeat some of its other agendas in the Middle East” to which the US is opposed. He cited terrorism, subversion and threats against “our friends and allies.” Tehran may even walk away from the diplomatic process for a time in protest. Obama lowered expectations from the Palestinian-Israeli track because he had seen Jackass Kerry’s account of Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of the new US security plan when they met in Ramallah on Dec 5. In this plan, Obama said that US Marine Gen Allen had outlined security arrangements for the two sides with which he believed “Israel should be able to feel comfortable in the transition period leading up to a final settlement.” He admitted he was not sure it would be acceptable to the Palestinians.
Saban: How are you doing?
Obama: I’m good. Hello, everybody.
Saban: One of your staffers said you are in a great mood this afternoon, so…
Obama: I am.
Saban: We’re doubly blessed here. So that’s terrific. I’d like to thank you very much for being here today, Mr President. The Forum, and I personally, are honored to have you join us in this conversation. And I am personally honored that you insisted that I have this conversation with you, even though I never set foot for any conversation for 10 years. So thank you. I’m very honored. Shall we start with Iran?
Obama: We should.
Saban: Okay, good. Mr President, polls indicate that 77% of Israelis don’t believe this first nuclear deal will preclude Iran from having nuclear weapons, and they perceive this fact as an existential matter for them. What can you say to the Israeli people to address their concern?
Obama: Well, first, before I answer the question, let me say to you, Haim, thank you so much for the great work that you’ve done. I think the Saban Forum and the Saban Center has done outstanding work, and it provides us a mechanism where we don’t just scratch the surface of these issues. Obviously the challenges in the Middle East are enormous, and the work that’s being done here is terrific. So I want to also thank Strobe for hosting us here today, and all of you who are here, including some outstanding members of the Israeli government and some friends that I haven’t seen in a while. So thanks for having me. Let me start with the basic premise that I’ve said repeatedly. It is in US national security interests, not just Israel’s national interests or the region’s national security interests, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. And let’s remember where we were when I first came into office. Iran had gone from having less than 200 centrifuges to having thousands of centrifuges, in some cases more advanced centrifuges. There was a program that had advanced to the point where their breakout capacity had accelerated in ways that we had been concerned about for quite some time and, as a consequence, what I said to my team and what I said to our international partners was that we are going to have to be much more serious about how we change the cost-benefit analysis for Iran. We put in place an unprecedented regime of sanctions that has crippled Iran’s economy, cut their oil revenues by more than half, have put enormous pressure on their currency. Their economy contracted by more than 5% last year. And it is precisely because of the international sanctions and the coalition that we were able to build internationally that the Iranian people responded by saying, we need a new direction in how we interact with the international community and how we deal with this sanctions regime. And that’s what brought Pres Rouhani to power. He was not necessarily the first choice of the hard-liners inside of Iran. Now, that doesn’t mean that we should trust him or anybody else inside of Iran. This is a regime that came to power swearing opposition to USrael and to many of the values that we hold dear. But what I’ve consistently said is even as I don’t take any options off the table, what we do have to test is the possibility that we can resolve this issue diplomatically. And that is the deal that, at the first stages, we have been able to get done in Geneva, thanks to some extraordinary work by Jackass Kerry and his counterparts in the P5+1. So let’s look at exactly what we’ve done. For the first time in over a decade, we have halted advances in the Iranian nuclear program. We have not only made sure that in Fordor and Natanz that they have to stop adding additional centrifuges, we’ve also said that they’ve got to roll back their 20% advanced enrichment.
Saban: To how much?
Obama: Down to zero. So you remember when PM Netanyahu made his presentation before the UN last year?
Saban: The cartoon with the red line?
Obama: The picture of a bomb. He was referring to 20% enrichment, which the concern was if you get too much of that, you now have sufficient capacity to go ahead and create a nuclear weapon. We’re taking that down to zero. We are stopping the advancement of the Arak facility, which would provide an additional pathway, a plutonium pathway for the development of nuclear weapons. We are going to have daily inspectors in Fordo and Natanz. We’re going to have additional inspections in Arak. And as a consequence, during this six-month period, Iran cannot and will not advance its program or add additional stockpiles of advanced uranium, enriched uranium. Now, what we’ve done in exchange is kept all these sanctions in place. The architecture remains with respect to oil, with respect to finance, with respect to banking. What we’ve done is we’ve turned the spigot slightly and we’ve said, here’s maximum $7b out of the over $100b of revenue of theirs that is frozen as a consequence of our sanctions, to give us the time and the space to test whether they can move in a direction, a comprehensive, permanent agreement that would give us all assurances that they’re not producing nuclear weapons.
Saban: I understand. A quick question as it relates to the $7b, if I may.
Saban: How do we prevent those who work with us in Geneva, who have already descended on Tehran looking for deals, to cause the seven to become 70? Because we can control what we do, but what is the extent that we can control the others?
Obama: Well, Haim, this is precisely why the timing of this was right. One of the things we were always concerned about was that if we did not show good faith in trying to resolve this issue diplomatically, then the sanctions regime would begin to fray. Keep in mind that this was two years of extraordinary diplomatic work on behalf of our team to actually get the sanctions in place. They’re not just the unilateral sanctions that are created by the US. These are sanctions that are also participated in by Russia, by China, and some allies of ours like South Korea and Japan that find these sanctions very costly. But that’s precisely why they’ve become so effective. And so what we’ve said is that we do not loosen any of the core sanctions. We provide a small window through which they can access some revenue, but we can control it and it is reversible. And during the course of these six months, if and when Iran shows itself not to be abiding by this agreement, not to be negotiating in good faith, we can reverse them and tighten them even further. But here is the bottom line. Ultimately, my goal as president of the US, something that I’ve said publicly and privately and shared everywhere I’ve gone, is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But what I’ve also said is the best way for us to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is for a comprehensive, verifiable, diplomatic resolution, without taking any other options off the table if we fail to achieve that. It is important for us to test that proposition during the next six months, understanding that while we’re talking, they’re not secretly improving their position or changing circumstances on the ground inside of Iran. And if at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them. If, on the other hand, we’re able to get this deal done, then what we can achieve through a diplomatic resolution of this situation is, frankly, greater than what we could achieve with the other options that are available to us.
Saban: Let’s all hope we get there.
Saban: You have hosted Passover dinners at the White House.
Obama: I have.
Saban: And you know this famous saying, “Why is this night different than any other night?” In that context, I would like to ask you a question.
Saban: With the best intentions and all efforts, Pres Reagan vowed that Pakistan would not go nuclear. Didn’t happen. With the best intentions and all efforts, Pres Clinton vowed that North Korea won’t go nuclear. Why is this nuclear deal different than any other nuclear deal?
Obama: Well, we don’t know yet. No, we don’t know yet. I think it’s important for everybody to understand this is hard. Because the technology of the nuclear cycle, you can get off the Internet, the knowledge of creating a nuclear weapon is already out there. And Iran is a large country and it is a relatively wealthy country, and so we have to take seriously the possibility that they are going to try to get a nuclear weapon. That’s what this whole exercise is about. Having said that, if you look at the history, by the time we got an agreement with North Korea, they essentially already had a nuclear weapon. With respect to Pakistan, there was never the kind of inspection regime and international sanctions and UNSCRs that were in place. We have been able to craft an international effort and verification mechanism around the Iran nuclear program that is unprecedented and unique. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. And that’s why we have to take it seriously. But I think one of the things that I’ve repeatedly said when people ask, why should we try to negotiate with them, we can’t trust them, we’re being naïve, what I try to describe to them is not the choice between this deal and the ideal, but the choice between this deal and other alternatives. If I had an option, if we could create an option in which Iran eliminated every single nut and bolt of their nuclear program, and forswore the possibility of ever having a nuclear program, and for that matter got rid of all its military capabilities, I would take it. But –
Saban: Next question –
Obama: Sorry, Haim, I want to make sure everybody understands it. That particular option is not available. And so as a consequence, what we have to do is to make a decision as to, given the options available, what is the best way for us to assure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon. And the best way for us to assure it is to test this diplomatic path, understanding that it’s not based on trust. It’s based on what we can verify. And it also by the way does not negate the fact that Iran is engaging in a whole bunch of other behavior in the Middle East and around the world that is detrimental to USrael. And we will continue to contest their efforts where they’re engaging in terrorism, where they’re being disruptive to our friends and our allies. We will not abide by any threats to our friends and allies in the region, and we’ve made that perfectly clear. And our commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct, and they understand that. They don’t have any doubt about that. But if we can negotiate on the nuclear program in the same way that Ronald Reagan was able to negotiate with the Soviet Union even as we were still contesting them around the world, that removes one more threat, and a critical, existential threat, takes it out of their arsenal. And it allows us then to ultimately I think win them, defeat some of their agenda throughout the region without worrying that somehow it’s going to escalate or trigger a nuclear arms race in the most volatile part of the world.
Saban: Unfortunately, you’re right. It would. Tom Friedman had an interesting perspective in one of his columns. He said, “Never negotiate with Iran without some leverage and some crazy on your side. We have to out-crazy the crazies.” Do you think he has a point?
Obama: Well, Tom is a very smart observer. And I know that my friend Bibi is going to be speaking later, and if Tom wants to characterize Bibi the way you just described, that’s his –
Saban: I didn’t say that.
Obama: That’s his prerogative, that’s not my view. PM Netanyahu and I have had constant consultations on these issues throughout the last five years. And something that I think bears repeating: the US military cooperation with Israel has never been stronger. Our intelligence cooperation with Israel has never been stronger. Our support of Israel’s security has never been stronger. Whether you’re talking about Iron Dome, whether you’re talking about trying to manage the situation in Gaza a little over a year ago, across the board, our coordination on the concrete issues facing Israel’s security has never been stronger. And that’s not just my opinion. I think that’s something that can be verified. There are times where I as resident of the US am going to have different tactical perspectives than the PM of Israel, and that is understandable, because Israel cannot contract out its security. In light of the history that the people of Israel understand all too well, they have to make sure that they are making their own assessments about what they need to do to protect themselves. And we respect that. And I have said that consistently to the PM. But ultimately it is my view from a tactical perspective that we have to test out this proposition. It will make us stronger internationally, and it may possibly lead to a deal that we’ll have to show to the world, in fact, assures us that Iran is not getting a nuclear weapon. It’s not as if there’s going to be a lot of capacity to hide the ball here. We’re going to be able to make an assessment, because this will be subject to the P5+1 and the international community looking at the details of every aspect of a potential final deal, and we’re consulting with all our friends including Israel in terms of what would that end state look like. And if we can’t get there, then no deal is better than a bad deal. But presuming that it’s going to be a bad deal and, as a consequence, not even trying for a deal I think would be a dire mistake.
Saban: Well, personally I find a lot of comfort in the fact that even though USrael may have red lines in different places, we are on the same place as far as the bottom line goes.
Saban: And Iran will not have nuclear weapons. Fair to say?
Obama: Absolutely. That is more than fair.
Obama: We should.
Saban: OK. Very obedient President I have here today.
Obama: This is the Saban Forum, so you’re in charge.
Saban: I wish.
Obama: Or Cheryl is in charge.
Saban: You’re more on now, Mr President. It is Cheryl who is in charge.
Obama: That’s exactly right.
Saban: Anyway, first of all, before I ask the first question, I would be remiss if I didn’t, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your continuous effort to achieve peace in the Middle East. Thank you so very much.
Obama: I appreciate it. Thank you.
Saban: So people talk about an imposed USAian solution. We’ve heard these rumors rumbling around for a while. The US has always said it doesn’t want to impose. What would you propose?
Obama: Well, first of all, this is a challenge that we’ve been wrestling with for 60 years. And what I’ve consistently said is that the only way this is going to be resolved is if the people of Israel and the Palestinian people make a determination that their futures and the futures of their children and grandchildren will be better off with peace than with conflict. The US can be an effective facilitator of that negotiation and dialogue; we can help to bridge differences and bridge gaps. But both sides have to want to get there. And I have to commend PM Netanyahu and Pres Abbas for the courageous efforts that have led to very serious conversations over the last several months. They are not easy. But they come down to what we all know are going to be the core issues: territory, security, refugees, Jerusalem. And there are not a lot of secrets or surprises at this point. We know what the outlines of a potential agreement might look like. And the question then becomes are both sides willing to take the very tough political risks involved if their bottom lines are met. For the Palestinians, the bottom line is that they have a state of their own that is real and meaningful. For the Israelis, the bottom line is to a large extent: is the state of Israel as a Jewish state secure? And those issues have been spoken about over the last several months in these negotiations in a very serious way. And I know Tzipi Livni is here and been participating in that, and we’re very grateful for her efforts there. And I think it is possible over the next several months to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail but gets us to a point where everybody recognizes better to move forward than move backwards. Sometimes when you’re climbing up a mountain, even when it’s scary, it’s actually easier to go up than it is to go down. And I think that we’re now at a place where we can achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security. But it’s going to require some very tough decisions. One thing I have to say though is we have spent a lot of time working with PM Netanyahu and his entire team to understand from an Israeli perspective what is required for the security of Israel in such a scenario. And we, going back to what I said earlier, we understand that we can’t dictate to Israel what it needs for its security. But what we have done is to try to understand it and then see through a consultative process, are there ways that through technology, through additional ideas, we can potentially provide for that. And I assigned one of our top former generals, John Allen, who most recently headed up the entire coalition effort in Afghanistan. He’s retired now, but he was willing to take on this mission, and he’s been working to examine the entire set of challenges around security.
Saban: Has he concluded anything?
Obama: Well, he’s come up to, he has arrived at the conclusion that it is possible to create a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s core security needs. Now that’s his conclusion, but ultimately he’s not the decision-maker here. PM Netanyahu and the Israeli military and intelligence folks have to make that determination. And ultimately, the Palestinians have to also recognize that there is going to be a transition period where the Israeli people cannot expect a replica of Gaza in the West Bank. That is unacceptable. And I think we believe that we can arrive at that point where Israel was confident about that, but we’re going to have to see whether the Israelis agree and whether Pres Abbas then is willing to understand that this transition period requires some restraint on the part of the Palestinians as well. They don’t get everything that they want on day one. And that creates some political problems for Pres Abbas, as well.
Saban: Yes. Well, I’d say my next question was: what was the reaction of the PM to Gen Allen or Jackass Kerry?
Obama: Yes, ask Jackass Kerry, or ask the PM.
Obama: I don’t want to speak for him.
Saban: They won’t tell me, but, OK.
Obama: That’s probably true.
Saban: My last question: the Palestinians are two people: one in the West Bank, led by Pres Abbas that is negotiating the deal, and one in Gaza, led by Hamas that wants to eradicate Israel from the face of the Earth. Pres Abbas AFAIK says he won’t make a deal that doesn’t include Gaza, which he doesn’t control. How do we get out from this labyrinth?
Obama: Well, I think this is going to have to happen in stages. But here’s what I know from my visits to Israel, my visits to the West Bank. There are people of goodwill on both sides that recognize the status quo is not sustainable over the long term, and as a consequence, it is in the interests of both the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve this issue. There are young people, teenagers that I met both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories, that want to get out from under this history and seek a future that is fundamentally different for them. And so if in fact we can create a pathway to peace, even if initially it’s restricted to the West Bank, if there is a model where young Palestinians in Gaza are looking and seeing that in the West Bank Palestinians are able to live in dignity, with self-determination, and suddenly their economy is booming and trade is taking place because they have created an environment in which Israel is confident about its security and a lot of the old barriers to commerce and educational exchange and all that has begun to break down, that’s something that the young people of Gaza are going to want. And the pressure that will be placed for the residents of Gaza to experience that same future is something that is going to be I think overwhelmingly appealing. But that is probably going to take place during the course of some sort of transition period. And the security requirements that Israel requires will have to be met. And I think that is able, that we can accomplish that, but ultimately it’s going to be something that requires everybody to stretch out of their comfort zones. And the one thing I will say to the people of Israel is that you can be assured whoever is in the office I currently occupy, Democrat or Republican, that your security will be uppermost on our minds. That will not change. And that should not mean you let up on your vigilance in terms of wanting to look out for your own country. It does, it should give you some comfort though, that you have the most powerful nation on Earth as your closest friend and ally. And that commitment is going to be undiminished.
Saban: That was my last question.
Obama: I promised, we worked something backstage where as long as Haim’s questions weren’t too long, I’d take a couple of questions from the audience. And he was very disciplined. So let me take one or two. This gentleman right here. Why don’t you get a microphone so everybody can hear you?
Questioner: Mr President, I used to be a general in IAF intelligence, and now I am running a think tank in Tel Aviv. Looking into the future agreement with Iran, I put behind me the initial agreement, and what is really important is the final agreement. Two questions. What is the parameters that you see as a red line to ensure that Iran will be moving forward, moving backward, rolling back from the bomb as much as possible? And what is your plan B if an agreement cannot be reached?
Obama: Well, with respect to the end state, I want to be very clear there’s nothing in this agreement or document that grants Iran a right to enrich. We’ve been very clear that given its past behavior, and given existing UNSCRs and previous violations by Iran of its international obligations, that we don’t recognize such a right, and if by the way negotiations break down, there will be no additional international recognition that’s been obtained. So this deal goes away and we’re back to where we were before the Geneva agreement, subject, and Iran will continue to be subject to all the sanctions that we put in place in the past and we may seek additional ones. But I think what we have said is we can envision a comprehensive agreement that involves extraordinary constraints and verification mechanisms and intrusive inspections, but that permits Iran to have a peaceful nuclear program. Now, in terms of specifics, we know that they don’t need to have an underground, fortified facility like Fordor in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They certainly don’t need a heavy-water reactor at Arak in order to have a peaceful nuclear program. They don’t need some of the advanced centrifuges that they currently possess in order to have a limited, peaceful nuclear program. And so the question ultimately is going to be, are they prepared to roll back some of the advancements that they’ve made that would not justify, or could not be justified by simply wanting some modest, peaceful nuclear power, but frankly hint at a desire to have breakout capacity and go right to the edge of breakout capacity. And if we can move that significantly back, then that is, I think, a net win. Now, you’ll hear arguments, including potentially from the PM, that say we can’t accept any enrichment on Iranian soil, period, full stop, end of conversation, and this takes me back to the point I made earlier. One can envision an ideal world in which Iran said, we’ll destroy every element and facility and you name it, it’s all gone. I can envision a world in which Congress passed every one of my bills that I put forward. I mean, there are a lot of things that I can envision that would be wonderful. But precisely because we don’t trust the nature of the Iranian regime, I think that we have to be more realistic and ask ourselves, what puts us in a strong position to assure ourselves that Iran is not having a nuclear weapon and that we are protected? What is required to accomplish that, and how does that compare to other options that we might take? And it is my strong belief that we can envision a end state that gives us an assurance that even if they have some modest enrichment capability, it is so constrained and the inspections are so intrusive that they, as a practical matter, do not have breakout capacity. Theoretically, they might still have some. But frankly, theoretically, they will always have some, because as I said, the technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world. And they have already gone through the cycle to the point where the knowledge, we’re not going to be able to eliminate. But what we can do is eliminate the incentive for them to want to do this. And with respect to what happens if this breaks down, I won’t go into details. I will say that if we cannot get the kind of comprehensive end state that satisfies us and the world community and the P5+1, then the pressure that we’ve been applying on them and the options that I’ve made clear I can avail myself of, including a military option, is one that we would consider and prepare for. And we’ve always said that. So that does not change. But the last point I’ll make on this. When I hear people who criticize the Geneva deal say it’s got to be all or nothing, I would just remind them if it’s nothing, if we did not even try for this next six months to do this, all the breakout capacity we’re concerned about would accelerate during that six months. Arak would be further along. The advanced centrifuges would have been put in place. They’d be that much closer to breakout capacity six months from now. And that’s why I think it’s important for us to try to test this proposition. I’ll take a couple more. Yes, sir, right over here.
Questioner: Mr President, I’m an Israeli journalist from Israel Hayom daily newspaper. Mr President, I covered the negotiations with Iran, nuclear negotiations, Geneva 2009, Istanbul 2010. And I came back now from Geneva again, where you could see the big change was not only on Iran’s side, but also on the P5+1 side, meaning they were very eager to reach an agreement. Coming back from Geneva we learned, and some of us had known before, the secret talks USAia had with Iran. And we know the concern you have on the Israeli security. We’re very grateful. But how does it coincide with your secret negotiations Washington had with Tehran? Thank you.
Obama: The truth is, is, that without going into the details, there weren’t a lot of secret negotiations. Essentially what happened, and we were very clear and transparent about this, is that from the time I took office, I said we would reach out to Iran and we would let them know we’re prepared to open up a diplomatic channel. After Rouhani was elected, there was some acceleration leading up to the UNGA. You’ll recall that Rouhani was engaging in what was termed a charm offensive, right, and he was going around talking to folks. And at that point, it made sense for us to see, all right, how serious are you potentially about having these conversations. They did not get highly substantive in the first several meetings, but were much more exploring how much room in fact did they have to get something done. And then as soon as they began to get more technical, at that point, they converged with the P+1 discussions. I will say this. The fact of Rouhani’s election, it’s been said that there’s no difference between him and Ahmadinejad except that he’s more charming. I think that understates the shift in politics that took place in this election. Obviously, Rouhani is part of the Iranian establishment, and I think we have to assume that his ideology is one that is hostile to USrael. But what he also represents is the desire on the part of the Iranian people for a change of direction. And we should not underestimate or entirely dismiss a shift in how the Iranian people want to interact with the world. There’s a lot of change that’s going to be taking place in the Middle East over the next decade. And wherever we see the impulses of a people to move away from conflict, violence, and towards diplomatic resolution of conflicts, we should be ready and prepared to engage them, understanding though that ultimately it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. And we have to be vigilant about maintaining our security postures, not be naïve about the dangers that an Iranian regime pose, fight them wherever they’re engaging in terrorism or actions that are hostile to us or our allies. But we have to not constantly assume that it’s not possible for Iran, like any country, to change over time. It may not be likely. If you asked me what is the likelihood that we’re able to arrive at the end state that I was just describing earlier, I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50/50. But we have to try. Last question. And I think it’s the young lady right there.
Questioner: Mr President, I’m a reporter for Israeli Channel Two. I have been listening to your analysis of the Iranian deal, and I can only imagine a different, a slightly different analysis given by our PM Netanyahu.
Obama: I think that’s probably a good bet. That’s more than 50/50.
Questioner: Israelis are known for their understatement. And I try to imagine a conversation between you two. And he would ask you, Mr President, I see this deal as a historic mistake, which he has already stated, and I think it’s the worst deal the West could have gotten. And you would have told him, Bibi, that’s where you go wrong. What would you have told him? That’s one thing. And then, perhaps to understand the essence of your conversation, he would ask you: Mr President, is there one set of circumstances under which you will order your B-52s to strike in Iran? What would you tell him? Is there any set of circumstances in which you will order your fighter pilots to strike in Iran? What would you tell the PM?
Obama: Let me make a couple of points. Number one, obviously, the conversations between me and the PM are for me and the PM, not for an audience like this. And I will say that Bibi and I have very candid conversations, and there are occasionally significant tactical disagreements, but there is a constancy in trying to reach the same goal. And in this case, that goal is to make sure that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon. As president of the US, I don’t go around advertising the circumstances in which I order pilots to launch attacks. That I think would be bad practice. I also would say, though, that when the president of the US says that he doesn’t take any options off the table, that should be taken seriously. And I think I have a track record over the last five years that indicates that that should be taken seriously. It’s interesting. In the region, there was this interesting interpretation of what happened with respect to Syria. I said it’s a problem for Syria to have chemical weapons that it uses on its own citizens. And when we had definitive proof that it had, I indicated my willingness potentially to take military action. The fact that we ultimately did not take military action in some quarters was interpreted as: ah, you see, the president is not willing to take military action. Despite the fact that I think Mr Qaddafi would have a different view of that, or Mr bin Laden. Be that as it may, that was yesterday, what have you done for me lately? But the point is that my preference was always to resolve the issue diplomatically. And it turns out, lo and behold, that Syria now is actually removing its chemical weapons that a few months ago it denied it even possessed, and has provided a comprehensive list, and they have already begun taking these weapons out of Syria. And although that does not solve the tragic situation inside of Syria, it turns out that removing those chemical weapons will make us safer and it will make Israel safer, and it will make the Syrian people safer, and it will make the region safer. And so I do not see military action as an end unto itself. Military action is one tool that we have in a tool kit that includes diplomacy in achieving our goals, which is ultimately our security. And I think if you want to summarize the difference, in some ways, between myself and the PM on the Geneva issue, I think what this comes down to is the perception, potentially, that if we just kept on turning up the pressure, new sanctions, more sanctions, more military threats etc, that eventually Iran would cave. And what I’ve tried to explain is two points. One is that the reason the sanctions have been so effective, because we set them up in a painstaking fashion, the reason they’ve been effective is because other countries had confidence that we were not imposing sanctions just for the sake of sanctions, but we were imposing sanctions for the sake of trying to actually get Iran to the table and resolve the issue. And if the perception internationally was that we were not in good faith trying to resolve the issue diplomatically, that more than anything would actually begin to fray the edges of the sanctions regime. Point number one. And point number two, I’ve already said this before: you have to compare the approach that we’re taking now with the alternatives. The idea that Iran, given everything we know about their history, would just continue to get more and more nervous about more sanctions and military threats, and ultimately just say, okay, we give in, I think does not reflect an honest understanding of the Iranian people or the Iranian regime. And I say that, by the way I’m not just talking about the hard-liners inside of Iran. I think even the so-called moderates or reformers inside of Iran would not be able to simply say, we will cave and do exactly what the USraelis say. They are going to have to have a path in which they feel that there is a dignified resolution to this issue. That’s a political requirement of theirs, and that I suspect runs across the political spectrum. And so for us to present a door that serves our goals and our purposes but also gives them the opportunity to, in a dignified fashion, reenter the international community and change the approach that they’ve taken, at least on this narrow issue, but one that is of extraordinary importance to all of us, is an opportunity that we should grant them. All right? Well, thank you very much. I enjoyed this.
Saban: Thank you so much. Thank you, Mr President. You’ve been very generous.
this latest from f lamb is as usual chaotically unproofread and contains numerous errors and outright lies, which makes it extra interesting
Bibi and Bandar Badger Obama
Franklin Lamb, Counterpunch, Dec 6 2013
DAMASCUS – The GCC member states, along with certain Arab League countries, plus Turkey and Israel, have this past week reportedly committed themselves to raising nearly $6b to beef up the just-hatched, 7-member Islamic Front in Syria. These “best friends of USAia” want the Obama administration to sign onto a scheme to oust the Syrian government by funding, arming, training, facilitating the movement of and generally choreographing fighters of the Islamic Front. Representatives of Bandar bin Sultan reportedly told staff members on Capitol Hill recently that committing the several billions to defeat the Assad regime by supporting the IF makes fiscal sense and will cost much less than the figure tallied by the recent study by Brown University as part of its Costs of War project. According to the 2013 update of the definitive Brown study, which examined costs of the US wars in Iraq and AfPak, the total amount topped $6t. This never-before released figure includes costs of direct and indirect Congressional appropriations, lost equipment, US and foreign contractor fraud, and the cost of caring for wounded US troops and their families. Among the Islamist militia joining the new GCC-backed coalition are Aleppo’s biggest fighting force Liwa al-Tawhid, the Salafi group Ahrar al-Sham, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, which is centred around Damascus. The Kurdish Islamic Front (so wtf is that – RB) also reportedly joined the alliance. IF’s declared aim is to topple the Syrian government whatever the human and material cost and replace it with an Islamic state. Abu Firas, the new coalition’s spokesman, declared:
We now have the complete merger of the major military factions fighting in Syria (that is obvious crap and should not be reprinted without saying so – RB).
Formally announced on Nov 22, the IF includes groups from three prior umbrella organizations: the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), and the Kurdish Islamic Front (KIF). From the SIF came Ahrar al-Sham, Ansar al-Sham and Liwa al-Haqq; from the SILF, Suqour al-Sham, Liwa al-Tawhid, and Jaish al-Islam; and the KIF joined as a whole (that’s because it is a non-existent, paper organisation – RB). None of these groups has been designated by the US government as a foreign terrorist organization, so Israel argues that there is nothing holding the US back, according to an Israeli official during meeting with AIPAC and Congress this week. That official is Israel’s new National Security Advisor, Yossi Cohen. He assured key Congressional leaders that the new Islamic Front means that tens of thousands of rebels support “one policy and one military command,” and that IF is not as “insane” as the AQ-linked rebels such as Daash, Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIL (Daash is just the arabic acronym for ISIL – RB), which comprise the IF’s main rivals. AIPAC and Cohen are telling Congressional staffers and critturs that the merger of several groups into the IF is one of the war’s most important developments. While the military opposition has long been fragmented, the new umbrella organization brings seven groups and their combined force of a CIA-estimated 75,000 fighters under one command. It also links the fight in the north and the south, which will stretch loyalist forces. The Saudi-Israel team is also asking the Obama Administration to more than double the current 200/month CIA training in Turkey, Syria and Jordan, to 500/month.
What the GCC/Arab League/Israeli team is asking of their western allies, led by the US, to immediately fund the IF to the tune of $5.5b. Israeli security officials are arguing that this amount is small change compared to the $6t spent in US terrorist wars over the past decade, and that toppling the Syryan govt would truncate Iran’s growing influence in the region. While this suggestion has reportedly been dismissed by some in the Obama administration as “risible and pathetic,” Tel Aviv, the US Congressional Zionist lobby and to a lesser extent Ankara think it’s a good idea to link with the IF 7 and take their chances with AQ later. Some of the same voices are from AIPAC’s Congressional team who four years ago claimed that AQ was ‘on the ropes and will soon collapse.” They are still optimistic that if the Assad regime goes, “We can deal with the terrorists and it won’t cost $6t.” One Congress crittur who strongly agrees with AIPAC is Duncan Hunter, who recently declared, “In my heart I am a Tea Party guy,” is a sitting member of the House Armed Services committee, and believes the US should use nuclear weapons against Tehran. In a Fox TV interview this week, Hunter declared his opposition to any talks with Iran and insisted that US policy should include a “massive aerial bombardment campaign” utilizing “tactical nuclear devices” to set Iran “back a decade or two or three.”
According to sources in Aleppo and Damascus, the IF’s leadership positions have been parceled among five of the seven groups as of Dec 5. Four days after the IF was announced, it released an official charter. Much of the document’s basic architecture is similar to that put out by the SIF in January, but the new version is filled with more generalities than other militia proclamations, designed to accommodate differing ideas among member groups. Its charter calls for an Islamic state and the implementation of sharia, though it does not define exactly what that means. The IF is firmly against secularism, human legislation, civil government, and a Kurdish breakaway state. The charter states that the group will secure minority rights in post-Assad Syria based on sharia. This could mean the dhimma system, or de facto second-class citizenship for Christians and other minorities. The IF, according to Saudi officials in Lebanon, seeks to unify other rebel groups so long as they agree to acknowledge the sovereignty of God. Given this ‘moderate’ wording, some expect that the southern-based Ittihad al-Islami li-Ajnad al-Sham (obviously this is two groups whose names have been run together – RB) will join the IF. According to leading IF foreign cheerleader, the Netanyahu government, the Islamic Front gives substance to what states wanting regime change in Syria have been calling for. Aron Lund, an analyst on the Syrian conflict, described as significant the new coalition of mainstream and hard-line Islamists, excluding any AQ factions. He said recently:
It’s something that could be very important if it holds up. The IF’s formation was a response to both regime advances and the aggressive posture of Jihadis against other rebels, plus a good deal of foreign involvement, not least of which is Saudi and GCC pushing to unify the rebels.
But contrary to reports out of Occupied Palestine that the Netanyahu regime is not worried about or much interested in the crisis in Syria, given its delight that Muslims and Arabs are once more killing each other and a certain exhibited smugness in Tel Aviv that Hezbollah is losing key Mujahedin and is facing, along with Iran, its own “Vietnam experience,” there is reported (by whom? – RB) to be near-panic in Tel Aviv over Hezbollah achievements in Syria. Rather than claimed Zionist satisfaction that Hezbollah has lightened its footprint in South Lebanon by sending forces to Syria, which allows the Zionist regime to pretend to focus on the fake ‘peace process’ while in fact using it to consolidate its chokehold on the West Bank, the truth is quite different. Israel is far from complacent about what is happening in Syria and Hezbollah’s involvement. Tel Aviv knows that despite manpower losses by Hezbollah, the dominant Lebanese political party is achieving major enhancements of its forces given the fact that there is no substitute for urban battlefield experience with respect to the regeneration, reinvigoration, and rededication of the Hezbollah-led Resistance forces. Israeli officials have also stated their belief that Hezbollah is organizing enormous numbers of non-Hezbollah brigades that share one goal in common despite desperate (sic! – RB) beliefs. That sacred goal is liberating al-Quds by any and all means. A US Congressional source summarized the Obama administration’s take on this week’s assassination of a key Hezbollah commander as part of a new major Netanyahu government project to weaken Hezbollah. The assassination of Hassan Houlo Lakis on the night of Dec 3-4 is deemed in Washington to be particularly significant since Lakis was in charge of strategic files related to Israel and the Palestinians. Lakis was deeply involved in the operations of the development of drones for Hezbollah, in addition to smuggling weapons to Gaza via Egypt (To whom in Gaza? This is the most ill-judged propaganda claim for a long time – RB). He also had good relationships with the Palestinian factions in Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon (well, he would have had, wouldn’t he, if he was arming them all – RB). Lakis was known by Washington to be a highly important cadre and a second-rank Hezbollah official. According to one analyst (an illiterate, misinformed, pro-Hezbollah one, obviously of age maybe 7 or 8 – RB):
Israel appeared as if it was telling Hezbollah, come and fight me. Israel is upset over the Western-Iranian agreement. It is also upset over the new position that the West has concerning Hezbollah, whereby the West is now viewing the party as a force that opposes the Takfiris (Name one official in the West who has said this – RB). Israel’s objective behind the assassination is to lure the party into a confrontation, thus allowing Tel Aviv to tell the West that Hezbollah is still a terrorist organization.
While the White House, according to sources on the US Foreign Relations Committee, is being heavily lobbied by the US Zionist lobby and Netanyahu government to take “remedial measures” following its “catastrophic historic mistake” of defusing the Iranian nuclear issue and refusing to bomb Damascus, by investing in the new Islamic Front, doubts in Washington persist. The investment is estimated to be a total by all the partners to the tune of an estimated $5.5b, to be paid in large part by GCC/Arab League countries with US and Zionist contributions. Cash from the latter two sources will come directly and indirectly out of the pockets of US taxpayers, with Israel paying nothing. Some Washington officials and analysts are wondering if US participation would help unify notoriously hostile rebel ranks and curtail the growing power of AQ in Syria, or whether it is simply one more iteration in a basketful of pretty zany Bandar-concocted projects, to create a hierarchical revolutionary army to fight the regime alongside AQ (can none of these pretzel-brained pro-Hezbollah propagandists grasp that Bandar runs AQ – RB)? Sec Def Hagel expressed his personal suspicions this week that “the Israel-Saudi team is trying to drag the US back into a potentially deepening morass,” thus cutting short recent signs that the Obama administration feels it can live with the Assad regime until it analyses what happens if/when Geneva II happens and assesses the Syria crisis more objectively, according to one congressional staffer (who we are supposed to believe quoted this supposed Hagel bon mot to Lamb? Obviously this is invented – RB). Many among the US public also have doubts, because they had been told that their government was winding down its middle east wars in favor of rebuilding US infrastructure, roads, health care, and education. The most recent international survey released this week shows the average 15-year-old in Shanghai to be two full years ahead of the best students surveyed in Massachusetts. Recent top scores among secondary school youngsters showed that math, reading and science scores were overwhelmingly dominated by Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Japan. The US is far down the list and declining. It’s too early to say whether this latest Saudi-Israel-Arab League collaboration will fail as others have recently. But given the continuing Obama administration efforts at taking back US Middle East policy from Tel Aviv, plus the perceptible movement away from support for the Netanyahu government and growing US taxpayer angst over funding the occupation of Palestine, it just might collapse.