The Iranian counterrevolution: a good start

Because something is happening here
But you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?
Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man

Since Thursday, December 28, something has been happening in Iran.

Anti-regime demonstrations have broken out all over. Although the nuclear deal with the West brought huge amounts of cash into the country, instead of improving the economy it’s been used to support the war in Syria and parceled out to Hezbollah, Hamas, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, Iraqi Shiite militias, the ballistic missile program, and many other things that I don’t know about but that serve the imperial goals of the regime.

Much of the economy is controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a branch of the Iranian armed forces which is involved in both internal security for the regime and its foreign adventures. People connected with the IRGC are doing well, while those who aren’t “hooked up” are suffering from the severe inflation and unemployment that plague the rest of the nation.

There are about 125,000 members of the IRGC and it controls the basij militia with several hundred thousand additional fighters in reserve. The IRGC operates Iran’s missile and nuclear programs .

Apparently, many Iranians are tired of the corrupt regime and don’t see the point of its adventures in Syria and elsewhere. I would like to believe also that they see the regime heading for a direct collision with Israel and other regional powers, and they would prefer to avoid an unnecessary and bloody war.

Although the immediate irritants are economic, the demonstrations are strongly political and aimed at the regime. Posters of Supreme Leader Khamenei, General Qassam Solemani of the IRGC’s “Quds Force” (a sort of foreign legion), and President Rouhani have been destroyed. Chants of “death to the IRGC” and “death to the dictator” have been reported.

Is it possible that the revolutionary Islamic regime established in 1979 could be overthrown?

In 2009, the so-called “Green Revolution” – a protest against what many believed to be a rigged presidential election – was brutally put down by police and the basij militia. Then demonstrations were primarily in the capital and on behalf of a reformist candidate, not directly aimed at the regime. Today’s demonstrations are both more widespread and clearly challenge the regime. There’s no reason to think the regime would hold back in its use of violence. At least two demonstrators have reportedly been killed already.

In 2009, President Obama chose not to encourage the demonstrators. Today, President Trump has expressed his support and warned the Iranian regime against violating the protesters’ rights. But it’s not clear what actions the US could take at this point to aid them. What might really make a difference could be support from the Iranian army, which is significantly larger than the IRGC, although probably a less effective fighting force.

At this point we don’t know if the demonstrations are the beginning of a planned putsch with an organization behind them, or just a spontaneous explosion of frustration. If the latter, the regime will probably succeed in shutting them down by the escalating use of force. But if the former is the case, then regime change is a possibility.

This raises so many questions! Could Iran get a non-Islamist regime? Could it get one that is not committed to imperial conquest? Could it even dream of a democratic government?

Iran is a relatively advanced country with a well-educated population. It was at one time one of the most Westernized countries in the Middle East. The 1979 revolution imposed an atavistic, medieval regime on a people that has chafed under its rule ever since. There is certainly popular support for a counter-revolution.

The consequences in the region if the Iranian regime were replaced by one which prioritized economic development over foreign adventures would be immense. If the demonstrators got their wish and the millions sent to Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shiite militias stayed in Iran, the air would go out of Bashar al-Assad’s plan to re-conquer Syria. The best he could hope for with plenty of Russian air support would be to survive in a small enclave. The Sunni resistance to his regime would be reenergized.

Needless to say, Israel would be overjoyed. Hezbollah is Israel’s most dangerous immediate enemy, with its 150,000 rockets aimed at us. Without Iranian support, the process of disarmament, which was called for by UNSC Resolution 1701 at the end of the Second Lebanon War, but never implemented, could finally begin. Lebanon could begin to think about becoming an independent sovereign nation again, instead of a country-sized human shield for Hezbollah rocket launchers.

Subversive and murderous activity against Jews and Westerners all over the world would suffer a severe blow. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and countless other terror groups would lose their greatest source of funds for weapons and terrorism. Antisemitic propaganda would decline. Without support from a sovereign state, Hezbollah would just be another international narco-terrorism group, and the world’s police agencies could pursue it and prosecute its leaders.

Would the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda try to expand back into the vacuum? Probably. It would not be the end of terrorism or even the end of extremist Islamic terrorism. Iraq’s Shiite majority would not suddenly decide to share power with its Sunni minority, even without Iranian prodding to violent confrontation.

The Palestinians would not turn around and recognize a sovereign Jewish state in any borders, nor would the Europeans stop trying to subvert Israel for their own dark reasons. Just as all the problems of the region didn’t grow from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they aren’t all related to Iranian expansionism.

If Iran stopped exporting revolutionary Islamism, it wouldn’t create a new, more peaceful world all at once.

But what a good start it would be!

Posted in Iran | 1 Comment

Too much nuance

“Anyone who takes the approach that this is a black and white situation with a good side and a bad side clearly does not understand the conflict – nor could they have a peaceable solution in mind.” – Laura Ben-David

I took this quotation from an open letter to the singer Lorde (of whom I admit I have never heard), who recently announced that she would not perform in Israel after pressure from pro-Palestinian fans in her native New Zealand.

The letter was fine and I hope the young (21) performer reads it and pays attention. But the statement quoted above is wrong.

The conflict is “a black and white situation with a good side and a bad side.” As far as a solution, I admit that I don’t have a peaceable one in mind, but that’s because the people who have adopted the cause of the Palestinians are not going to give us one. They are preparing for war, and although we are doing our best to delay it, it’s just a matter of time.

Here is the conflict in a nutshell: Muslims cannot abide Jewish sovereignty in places that they have decided ought to be dar al islam, and that includes my country, Israel. That’s wrong, it’s racist, and it’s unnecessary.

The Palestinian Arabs, the point of the spear of the anti-Israel movement, have created a whole mythology to justify their opposition to our existence, but that’s all it is: a mythology. Their cause inflames Muslims everywhere in their genocidal racism, which they would quickly and happily implement if they weren’t afraid of us.

Laura Ben-David also said “the disputes and challenges in Israel are very real and very complex. If they were easy to solve, they would have been.” This, too, is misleading. There is one overriding reason that the conflict continues, and it isn’t complexity. It’s because various powerful outsiders have found it in their interest (real and imagined) to take the side of the racist Arab nations, and especially the Palestinian Arabs.

So for example, the disintegrating British Empire thought the Arabs would be far more useful than the Jews in protecting their routes to India and supplying them with oil. The KGB waged (and possibly its successor continues to wage) vicious psychological warfare against the Jewish state as part of the great-power conflict of the Cold War. The American State Department’s Arabists are more comfortable with their pure desert nomads than sneaky, tacky Jews. The Europeans cancel their Holocaust guilt by assuring themselves that we are, after all, as bad as the Nazis. And today, the burgeoning Iranian empire sees Israel as standing on its path to Middle-Eastern or even world domination (not to mention the dar al islam issue).

Western leftists, like the ones that bothered Lorde, are so obsessed with escaping their inescapable whiteness that the old KGB propaganda lights them right up. For those that are themselves Jewish, the pleasure in attacking the only Jewish state is at least doubled. Not only do they escape their whiteness, but they jettison their Jewishness at the same time! Two for one.

It’s always someone, isn’t it? There’s no other place in the world besides our tiny state that so many seem to care about so much. If only they didn’t.

Regarding solutions, we’ve tried agreeing to several of them, many highly disadvantageous from a strategic standpoint, but somehow, the more we talk about peace – or worse, withdraw from some place we are ‘occupying’ – the more we get war (this in itself tells us something about the simple polarity of the conflict).

So that is the story. I apologize to Laura Ben-David, whose heart is clearly in the right place, but there can be too much nuance. Not everything is so complex, not every argument has two sides that are both compelling, and conflicts do not always evaporate when you make an effort to understand both sides. Some things provide clear moral choices – and this is one of them.

Posted in Information war, Middle East politics | 1 Comment

The Obama-Hezbollah-Iran crime family

A stunning investigative report by Josh Meyer in Politico has revealed that the Obama Administration interfered with and then shut down a campaign by the Drug Enforcement Agency and other law enforcement agencies against a billion-dollar drug and weapons trafficking empire run by Hezbollah, in order to keep from damaging relations with Iran.

The campaign, dubbed Project Cassandra, was launched in 2008 after the Drug Enforcement Administration amassed evidence that Hezbollah had transformed itself from a Middle East-focused military and political organization into an international crime syndicate that some investigators believed was collecting $1 billion a year from drug and weapons trafficking, money laundering and other criminal activities.

Over the next eight years, agents working out of a top-secret DEA facility in Chantilly, Virginia, used wiretaps, undercover operations and informants to map Hezbollah’s illicit networks, with the help of 30 U.S. and foreign security agencies.

They followed cocaine shipments, some from Latin America to West Africa and on to Europe and the Middle East, and others through Venezuela and Mexico to the United States. They tracked the river of dirty cash as it was laundered by, among other tactics, buying American used cars and shipping them to Africa. And with the help of some key cooperating witnesses, the agents traced the conspiracy, they believed, to the innermost circle of Hezbollah and its state sponsors in Iran.

Sounds like precisely the sort of operation that the civilized world should be carrying out against those who want to destroy it. The administration apparently didn’t see it that way:

But as Project Cassandra reached higher into the hierarchy of the conspiracy, Obama administration officials threw an increasingly insurmountable series of roadblocks in its way, according to interviews with dozens of participants who in many cases spoke for the first time about events shrouded in secrecy, and a review of government documents and court records. When Project Cassandra leaders sought approval for some significant investigations, prosecutions, arrests and financial sanctions, officials at the Justice and Treasury departments delayed, hindered or rejected their requests.

The Justice Department declined requests by Project Cassandra and other authorities to file criminal charges against major players such as Hezbollah’s high-profile envoy to Iran, a Lebanese bank that allegedly laundered billions in alleged drug profits, and a central player in a U.S.-based cell of the Iranian paramilitary Quds force. And the State Department rejected requests to lure high-value targets to countries where they could be arrested.

“This was a policy decision, it was a systematic decision,” said David Asher, who helped establish and oversee Project Cassandra as a Defense Department illicit finance analyst. “They serially ripped apart this entire effort that was very well supported and resourced, and it was done from the top down.”

The conjecture is that this was done in order to protect the developing nuclear deal with Iran:

Asher, for one, said Obama administration officials expressed concerns to him about alienating Tehran before, during and after the Iran nuclear deal negotiations. This was, he said, part of an effort to “defang, defund and undermine the investigations that were involving Iran and Hezbollah,” he said.

“The closer we got to the [Iran deal], the more these activities went away,” Asher said. “So much of the capability, whether it was special operations, whether it was law enforcement, whether it was [Treasury] designations — even the capacity, the personnel assigned to this mission — it was assiduously drained, almost to the last drop, by the end of the Obama administration.”

There is much more. The report is well-sourced and clearly documents a consistent policy to ignore criminal and terrorist activity by Iran’s Hezbollah proxy, doubtless in response to signals from Iran.

This policy will doubtless be justified by those responsible on the grounds that the Iranian nuclear deal was of such major importance to the US that nothing could be allowed to interfere with it – assuming that they are ever called on it, which the mainstream media doesn’t seem to be interested in doing (in the US, only Fox News and conservative media have covered it, at least so far).

The nuclear deal itself was the culmination of a process that started in 2006, when James Baker and Lee Hamilton, along with a young assistant named Ben Rhodes, who would later attain great influence as a foreign policy adviser and speechwriter for Barack Obama, produced the Iraq Study Commission report. The report advised persuading Israel to give the Golan heights to Syria and Judea and Samaria to the PLO, in return for which Iran and Syria would stop helping Iraqi insurgents kill Americans.

Although further developments showed the plan to be unworkable, Obama never gave up on the idea of “engagement” (that is, siding with) Iran in the maelstrom of Mideast conflicts. In the process, he prevented Israel from destroying Iran’s nuclear program and allowed Bashar al-Assad’s survival as Syrian ruler, as well as the entry of Russia as a major player in the Syrian conflict. The nuclear deal, rather than preventing Iran from developing deliverable nuclear weapons, actually facilitated its progress and protected it from interference by Israel or anyone else. As a side benefit, it freed up billions of dollars of Iranian money that had been embargoed after the 1979 revolution, and even paid additional hundreds of millions of dollars in cash as ransom for Americans being held in Iran.

Naturally, Iran immediately used its windfall to build up its armed proxies, Hezbollah and the Iraqi Shiite militias that have done much of the fighting in Syria on behalf of Assad. It strengthened its terrorist cells in South and Central America, and almost certainly in the heart of the US.

The imprimatur placed on the deal by the UN Security Council weakened the limitation on ballistic missile development formerly in place, and Iran is spending some of its gains on missiles that can reach most of Europe, and at some point, the USA. Iranians haven’t stopped chanting “death to America,” although now the “devil” they hate is Trump.

Obama’s was the most consistently anti-Israel administration since the founding of the state of Israel, considering the deliberate insults and provocations directed at Israel’s PM, its pressure to make dangerous concessions to the Palestinians  with no reciprocity, its lack of support and even sabotage of Israel in her periodic conflicts with Hamas, its nuclear deal, and its lame-duck abstention on an anti-Israel Security Council resolution. But the administration’s spin machine argues that its policy is, in the final analysis, favorable to American interests.

It’s hard to see how. As time has passed and the weaknesses of the deal became more and more evident, as Iran has become more powerful and US influence in the region has waned, as direct threats to the US (both from Iran and from its ally North Korea) become more apparent, it is harder and harder to maintain this fiction. The revelations contained in the Politico report make it even more difficult than before. Hezbollah’s narco-terrorism has a dual purpose. It not only pays for its weapons and murderous activities, the drugs it sells rip at the fabric of our society.

I have an acquaintance, a sweet Jewish grandmother, who liked to post pictures of the Obamas on Facebook with comments about how much “class” they had. Once she even commented “I love my President!” and she would not listen to anything negative about him. She managed to “love” him while his policies were assisting  terrorists who were killing Americans in Iraq and Jews in Israel. But those things were far away.

It would be interesting to ask how she feels about him having helped to bring drugs to her grandchildren’s schools.

Posted in American politics, Middle East politics, Terrorism | 1 Comment

Truth serum for the Palestinians

It is almost as if the Trump Administration has administered a truth serum to the Palestinian leadership with its statements on Jerusalem.

When Trump declared on December 7 that the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Palestinians responded with rage. Sometimes it seems like rage is the default emotion for Palestinians where Israel is concerned, but it is not immediately obvious why Trump’s remarks were so enraging.

Trump was careful to say that the announcement did not specify the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty, which should be determined by negotiations between the parties. The Palestinians have demanded that the city be re-divided according to the “Green line,” the 1949 armistice line that separated pre-1967 Israel from the Jordanian-occupied section of the city, and Trump’s statement does not rule this out. Indeed, he said that he wished to facilitate a peace agreement that would establish permanent boundaries. What’s the problem?

Yesterday, in connection with the upcoming visit of Vice President Pence, an American official said that it would be “hard to imagine” that the Western Wall would not be part of Israel in a final settlement. This, too, provoked Palestinian fury. Abbas’ senior aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh responded that the Palestinian Authority would not accept any changes to the “borders” of “East Jerusalem.” But one has to ask: if they think there is an East Jerusalem with a “border,” what is on the other side of it?

Do the Palestinians expect that the US will say that all of Jerusalem belongs to them? Clearly not. So why the rage, the riots, the rockets  and the terrorism?

Some of the reasons are related to other things that Trump said in his speech, as well as things he did not say.

Trump recognized the historical fact that Jerusalem is “the capital the Jewish people established in ancient times.” This directly contradicts the Palestinian narrative that Jews have no history in the land before the 20th century, when they descended upon an ancient Palestinian civilization and uprooted it.

Despite the fact that the strongest possible historical and archaeological evidence exists for the traditional Western narrative of Jewish provenance in the Land of Israel, the Palestinians and other Arabs are capable of believing (perhaps simultaneously) various conflicting stories, such as that they are descended from Canaanites or Philistines. The same mental ability that allows Arabs to believe that the Mossad perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and at the same time hail them as a great victory for Islam, makes the Palestinian narrative believable to them. Only recently, with the advent of post-modern scholarship, have Westerners become capable of similar intellectual gymnastics!

Trump also said that he wished to facilitate a peace agreement that was “acceptable to both sides,” and that the US would “support a two-state solution if agreed to by both sides.” The Palestinians know that no such arrangement is possible. They know that their idea of a “two-state solution” is far different from the Israeli-accepted one of “two states for two peoples.”  Their version calls for a Palestinian Arab state in which Jews will not be welcome, alongside an Israel that will cease defining itself as a Jewish state and absorb millions of Arab “refugees,” and they know Israel will never agree to that.

In recent years, Palestinian leaders have clung to the hope that a friendly American administration and UN, with the help of anti-Israel Western European countries and perhaps Russia and China, would force Israel to accept their terms. But today, with Trump in the White House, conservative forces gaining more and more power in Europe, Russia dependent to some extent on Israel in order to achieve her goals in Syria, the Sunni Arab states viewing Israel as a savior in their struggle with Iran, Israel becoming a major economic player in the Mideast and Europe due to its gas reserves, and an overall increase in Israel’s influence throughout the world, the Palestinian project is looking harder and harder to accomplish.

This, perhaps is what Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat meant when he said that Trump’s action “destroyed all possibility of two states.” But precisely what it destroyed was the idea of imposing the Palestinian version of the two-state solution on an unwilling Israel.

Trump’s speech included a call for free access to the holy sites of all religions and the maintenance of the “status quo” at the Temple Mount. The Palestinians might pay lip service to this principle in the abstract. But if there were negotiations that specifically mentioned various sites, it is doubtful that they would agree to permit access to Jewish sites in Palestinian territory; and if they did agree, they would not allow it in practice. Today Jewish sites in Palestinian Authority-controlled Area A like Joseph’s Tomb, can only have Jewish visitors when they are accompanied by a military escort. As far as the Palestinians are concerned, there are no Jewish sites (even the Western Wall is called the al-buraq wall, referring to an event in Islamic narrative).

The denial of the Palestinian narrative, the dashing of their hopes for an imposed settlement, and  the contradiction of what they consider inviolable Islamic principles, were explicit in Trump’s speech. And now let’s look at what he did not say.

President Obama had said several times that “the Palestinians deserve a state” and made it clear that he envisioned the outcome of negotiations as including the declaration of a sovereign, contiguous Palestinian state. The Palestinians go even farther and act as though they already have a state, and that it is “under occupation.” They view the negotiations as a way to get rid of the occupying power and implement their already existing “rights.” This, incidentally, is why Palestinian supporters like to talk about the land of Israel as “Israel/Palestine.”

But Trump did not say that there is, or ought to be, a “Palestine.” It doesn’t exist today, and whether it will in the future depends on whether the two parties can agree. He said that Jerusalem was the capital of Israel (although he didn’t specify exactly how much of the city belonged to Israel), but at the same time he did not say that any part of the city was the capital of “Palestine.” The Palestinians demand reciprocity in every respect with Israel because they think they have equal national status. Clearly Trump doesn’t think so.

Previous presidents often spoke ambiguously, allowing the Palestinians to keep their equivocal usage of such concepts as “two-state solution” and their denial of obvious facts, such as that there is a legitimate sovereign state of Israel whose capital is Jerusalem. But their anger at Trump’s entirely realistic and fair declaration gives away their game.

With a few simple words, Trump pierced the veil and exposed the Palestinian doublespeak for what it is. No wonder they are enraged!

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, US-Israel Relations | 2 Comments

Trumpus Maccabeus

Thirteen Conservative rabbinical students studying in Jerusalem wrote a letter in which they criticized the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. They wrote in part,

We, a group of rabbinical students of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary write from Jerusalem to express our deep concern and unease following the current US administration’s reckless decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city outside the context of just and respectful negotiations for peace with Israel’s Palestinian neighbors. …

Though the president called for a continued hope for a two-state solution, he has done nothing to show honest dedication to advancing such a goal—or any lasting solution toward peace in the region. To validate this counterproductive move would be to normalize a political moment that continues to stretch itself far beyond the bounds of what is normal.

The Torah frames this entry into and possession of the land of Israel as contingent upon actions that are born of a collective memory of oppression. We recite our plight in Egypt, our generations of suffering, and our responsibility to all of God’s creations as guidelines for governance. As we reside in the ancient, holy, and beautiful land of Israel, we are commanded, year after year, to remember that we are but tenants of God’s eternal domain and have the crucial responsibility to uphold the dignity of every person who resides in our midst. As temporary and permanent residents of Jerusalem and as future rabbis, we expect the Jewish state to govern with this holy mandate of equality and humanity for all peoples in mind. We therefore envision a Judaism, a generation of American rabbinic leadership, and a State of Israel that heeds the cries of our Palestinian brothers and sisters who currently live with neither a path to citizenship nor self-determination.

My immediate thought was that students with such an obviously limited understanding of Jewish history, both ancient and recent, who aren’t cognizant of the reasons that there hasn’t been (and will not be) a “two-state solution,” and who hear the cries of their “Palestinian brothers and sisters” more loudly than those of their Jewish ones who are being stabbed on the street in the Jerusalem that they claim to love so much, should find another line of work than being rabbis.

However, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Recently a scroll dating to c. 165 BCE was uncovered by archaeologists sifting through rubble removed from illegal excavations by the waqf on the Temple Mount. Until the development of advanced computer imaging techniques, it was unreadable. But scientists at Bar-Ilan University in Jerusalem have recently announced that they have succeeded to decipher much of it. It sheds light on the controversies of the period, which it turns out were not so different from ours. Without further ado, I present some of the text, which I’ve translated into English:

We, students of the Hellenistic school of the priesthood of the Holy Temple write from Jerusalem to express our deep concern and unease following the Maccabee Administration’s reckless decision to cleanse and rededicate the Temple, without first holding just and respectful negotiations with our Greek neighbors.

Of course Yehuda Maccabee calls for a negotiated settlement with Antiochus, but he just went in and kicked the Greeks out, with no consideration for their humanity and right of self-determination. Would it have been so terrible to have a small altar to Zeus in one corner of the Temple? We have the obligation to uphold the dignity of every person who resides in our midst, even if it’s their custom to slaughter pigs on our altar.

As temporary and permanent residents of Jerusalem, we expect the Jewish state to govern with this holy mandate of equality and humanity for all peoples in mind. We therefore envision a Judaism and a State of Judah that heeds the cries of our Seleucid brothers and sisters who currently live without the ability to fulfill their religious obligations with pigs.

In addition, as everyone knows, the Maccabee program is impractical. Where, for instance, do they think are they going to get the oil to light the Menorah for eight days of sacrifices?

Posted in American Jews, Israel and Palestinian Arabs | 2 Comments