King Salmon, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, is going to need a big mop this year. During the part of the Hajj where “Satan” is stoned by the Muslim faithful, stones and curses are thrown at a stone walls meant to represent Satan and usually he loses and most people would expect without arms or legs he could never win. Any Satanic victory in Mecca must be very embarrassing. The stampeding that has so far killed over 700 pilgrims is the worst in 25 years according to AP and the worst disaster since the 2006 loss of just under 350 people. So, how is it that the worse angel prevails? The Saudi Kingdom has been knocking down and paving over anything that is UNESCO worthy to build shopping malls and five star hotels, perhaps in the hopes of renaming the place Mecca Disney but it seems they may be lacking in crowd control. Perhaps, the Saudis should consider building more hospitals. There’s no reason why Islam’s holiest place has to seem more like an oversized European football/soccer stadium. There is only one good way to reduce the problems during the Hajj and that is to reduce the number of people. There are only three ways to reduce the number of people, either charge more and make everything more expensive, decide on a manageable number and limit visits to that number or let people trample each other to death. Option three is getting ugly. I wish my Jewish readers l’shana tova and my Muslim readers an easy, reflective fast – Eid mubarak.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Quick, what’s the second holiest site in Islam? The malls outside of Mecca, after that it’s Medina. What’s the third holiest site in Islam, if you thought the answer is Jerusalem, you’d be wrong. There are several reasons why, "And thereafter We said to the Children of Israel: ‘Dwell securely in the Promised Land.' And when the last warning will come to pass, We will gather you together in a mingled crowd." (Qur'an, Sura 17:104, "The Night Journey") This is significant, because Islam’s prophet not only said that Israel belongs to the Jews, he did so as part of his “Night Journey” where he dreamed his soul had come to Jerusalem. While Jerusalem should be and is a sight that Muslims find holy, it is not an Islamic holy place as the rise of Islam did not confer holiness on this sight but recognized what predated the Muslim religion and the holiness of the people who had built and lost two temples there. Such a statement may seem extreme and against Islam but considering the controversy at the holy site there is no equitable solution while ignoring inequity. To simply be kind to a narrative supported by people who defy the Qur'an makes no sense. Later, the Ottoman’s in a fit of war against the Crusaders built the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque complex in ironic defiance of the Qur'an. There’s no need to see the Ottomans as any better or worse than the European crusaders who would likely build a Church over the ruins of the Temple and whom the Ottoman’s were competing with, but to Jews they were ultimately a pair of nest stealers. So fast-forward several hundred years of Ottoman, British, and Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem and there’s quite a mess. For hundreds of years Muslims have prevented the free access of Jews to Jerusalem and Israel. Allowing the Waqf to administer the holy site has continued much of that failure. The Waqf could be replaced or reformed but Jews need to exercise their rights, right now.
For Muslims, there is nothing to fear from Jewish prayers, if there were any justice in the world, all the nations and religions of the world that bless themselves by Abraham would be allowed to pray there. Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Baha’i, Christians, Mormons and anyone else who has a hankering to commune with God in a historic setting. No one but Muslims are allowed in Mecca, this is a pure “we’re right” zone and there is something to be said for all the prayer and ritual that goes on and creates a sense of inter-Muslim brotherhood. I don’t think anyone else is quite so exclusive but I doubt there are too many Muslims and Jews in Vatican City or attending Church in Salt Lake City but Jerusalem should be an opportunity for Muslims and all Abrahamic faiths to find a similar brotherhood with each other. Wouldn’t that be great for everyone, including Muslims? Instead,Mahmoud Abbas, determined to show himself the least amongst God’s children and pharaonic in his certitude, said of Jews: “They have no right to desecrate [Al Aqsa & Church of the Holy Sepulchre] them with their filthy feet.” Meanwhile, Palestinians wait outside the complex with piles of rocks at the ready to prey on any Jews who might want to pray at their holy sight. Prime Minister Netanyahu is ready to answer violence with violence and with the Arab violence proving to be unrelenting, following the death of Alexander Levlovitz events could get grim. Since there has been nearly a year since the shooting of Yehuda Glick by religious terrorists, the Prime Minister has been too slow to act and now must act midway in a avalanche of violence. While there are a lot of competing territorial claims on Israel’s capital and holy sights, a long Muslim tradition at Israel’s holiest sight that must be taken into consideration, yet what right can Muslims possibly claim to any part of Jerusalem if they don’t believe God is for everybody? Palestinians cannot be instigators of religious violence and claim Jerusalem at the same time, they’ll have to choose or notice that they have already chosen. The Palestinians have been so inhospitable and violent, I doubt God wants to hang out there anymore but many people still do. Instead of having that traditional Middle Eastern contest of who can do the most damage, the Palestinians and Israelis should have that other traditional contest Middle Easterners are known for -- who can be most welcoming host. Racism, sectarianism, these are the isms that have come to define the Waqf’s administration of the Holy Sites. Time has come for people who want to just pray to take over for the “religious people.” There is no reason, except for mundane, petty, Earthly ones, why Muslims, Jews, Christians and anyone else who wants to join in can’t pray side-by-side anywhere in Jerusalem.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
50 intelligence analysts for Centcom have formally complained that reports on Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria and ISIS have been “altered” to show the UN winning the war. In context of the last two administrations, this is huge problem. We now have two administrations from two different parties with very different views on how to deal with the Middle East pressing intelligence into supporting policy initiatives with favorable intelligence. The Obama administration is cultivating yes men like the previous Bush administration did and there will be consequences. If the US public is surprised by a sudden display of strength of either ISIS or Al Qaeda (Nursa Front) then the US public will be reminded of Vietnam which will deeply complicate US security and regional stability going forward. More importantly, US intelligence now has a bipartisan and therefore systemic problem. The office of the President can now be seen as untrustworthy with intelligence, therefore some new form of congressional oversight will be necessary. The Eric Snowden story centered on leaking state secrets, suggesting the government was withholding information from the world, the CENTCOM issue is that of a government lying to itself and the public. In addition, Congress is reviewing the nuclear agreement with Iran which at its core relies on US expertise and US intelligence to make certain the treaty will prevent Iran from having a nuclear bomb and now the public will have to wonder if that too is the product of senior level yes men. While there will always be a certain amount of spin and pandering in public reports based on intelligence by the party in power, government must have a way to get the most objective facts possible and the public cannot tolerate institutionalized self-deception in the executive branch, especially when that intelligence can affect US forces under fire.
Friday, September 4, 2015
Hopefully King Salmon packed a decent after shave and some breath mints as he jetted off to Washington. Salman Aldosary knows a man on a honey moon when he sees one, “By choosing the United States to be the destination of his first visit since acceding to the Saudi throne, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman Bin Abdulaziz has dismissed speculation that the honeymoon between Washington and Riyadh was coming to an end.” This sounds like the official Saudi line, perhaps to keep that old flame Iran at bay in article “King Salman in Washington” appearing in Asharq Al-Awsat. A message of stability is important when the parents are fighting and considering the changes and disruption caused by Iran in the Persian Gulf there’s a lot of fighting. Yemen has become a Saudi war right in their own backdoor, Iran is about to become an even greater force for destabilization as the sanctions peel off with no replacement policy to keep Iran at bay. Meanwhile, the Saudis have a plan to starve Iran, Russian and those fracking US frackers of money by keeping the price of oil low. Meanwhile, Tom Friedman reminds the world of Saudi Arabia’s radical underbelly but the truth is that Saudi Arabia may be in a bit of midlife crisis, women can’t drive but they can no vote. What you vote for in an absolute monarchy is unclear to me but at least Women are on equal footing the men on this problem and I do mean equal footing.
The US under President Obama has pretty much nailed the coffin shut in Riyadh’s interests, Iraq has become more or less an Iranian client state, the US did not support moderates in Syria so it looks like the civil war will only produce radicalism, and now Iran is set to be a bigger and more aggressive problem for the entire Middle East. On the other hand, the US should be relatively pleased with Saudi Arabia, the oil over supply really helped the US with both Iran and Russia, the Saudi’s increasing acceptance of Israel may help make peace more likely and the possible Saudi interest in a Kurdish state could really help stabilize the region in the long run. But like in any honeymoon in Saudi Arabia, we don’t really know what kind of man Salmon is yet, he may prove inconsistent and he reason to be upset but like any such honeymoon, it is not that uncommon for it to get rough towards the end. All we really know is that two world leaders feel the need to pose together and that does say something about the health of the alliance. Salmon’s message will inevitably be, even the happiest of marriages face considerable stress and need absolute cooperation when the house is on fire and the Saudi Arabia isn’t seeing much cooperation from us but like a good bride our president says just be patient. I think the world not just King Salmon needs to know how the US will deal with Iran going forward.
Thursday, September 3, 2015
Photo from Ma'an's article
Five American students, mistaken for settlers were attacked in Hebron with a petrol bomb and rocks. A Palestinian man provided shelter until police arrived. The two young men were given first aid for light wounds. The vehicle was torched. I would have loved to know if the man who provided shelter also thought the two young men were settlers. According to Ma’an it was five students and the person who assisted was Fayez Abu Hamdiyeh and that he understood they were settlers. Bravo Abu Hamdiyeh, you are a hero. The headlines tell the real story of the Middle East, Agence France Presse was responsible for the article in The Daily Star of Lebanon, “Palestinians attack US tourists mistaken as settlers” and Ma’an’s headline is “Palestinian local rescues, shelters US tourists attacked in Hebron.” The Palestinians have always wanted to paint the settlers as aggressors and Palestinians as just minding their own business in Judea and Samaria but the fact is there are good and bad actors on both sides. Also overlooked in this story is that the students were attacked for looking Jewish, the presumption is they were mistaken for being settlers because they are Jewish but the attackers may simply have wanted to pressure Jews of any type from visiting the Tomb of the Patriarchs and their status as settlers may have been irrelevant despire Abu Hamdiyeh mistaking them for settlers. Abu Hamdiyeh has probably risked his life or at least his safety by helping these tourists and so far all he has to show for it is a cheap headline from Ma’an so they can avoid mentioning the attack by Palestinians in the headline.
Wide reports of the world’s second most unsupreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is pushing the deal to a parliament that is a big rubber stamp outside the President’s jurisdiction. To put this in a venn diagram, imagine parliament facing away from the President and Rouhani facing away from Parliament and then imagine they are both helpless in the groping embrace of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and you’ve got a perfect picture of how Iranian “democracy” works. Yet, the Supreme leader is a big believer in representative democracy but not a fan as his actions demonstrate.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is carefully following our politics, which to be fair is a American “reality television” and it’s not coincidental that the IRGC hints that it is going along as mentioned in my tweet, the IRGC is saying nuclear weapons are unnecessary for Iran’s defense, a true statement that suggests they can only be aggressive weapons for the terror state. While the Ayatollah has fallen short of endorsing the deal, he’s also fallen short of being critical but has allowed rumors to come out stating both positions. Apparently a holy leader cannot stand for anything before he knows what America is going to do. Benjamin Netanyahu, frequently accused having no more backbone than the polls allow is fearless of US policy choices and American voters, rather he ultimately trusts democracy even when it errors but not our Supreme Leader in Iran. He’s too fragile a creature to suffer the humiliation of a vote contradicting his desires. There's no reason for Iran to keep Rouhani and Mohammad Javad Zarif out prison if the holy despot didn't like the deal. Even an ordinary despot could milk a US no vote against the Iran deal into a year’s supply but not supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran is a far more fragile than the supporters and critics of the Iran Nuclear Deal are giving credit for. Just look at the tiptoeing this supreme autocratic does for something he wants.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Israel seemingly doesn’t want nations to know for certain whether it has nuclear weapons so that it is not pressured to join the NPT, this called nuclear ambiguity perhaps it should be called nuclear flirtation. Israel still faces the possibility of being wiped out by the combined conventional forces of all of its neighbors, diminished by 1979 peace accord with Egypt and the 1994 accord with Jordan is not eliminated. While Israel is gaining some integration into the larger Middle East as necessitated by Iran and ISIS, the pendulum could swing the other way if local populations do not learn to embrace their Jewish neighbor in the Levant. NATO faced a similar problem in Europe against the numerically superior Soviets. Nuclear deterrence, perhaps the greatest of Asymmetric warfare tactics was first established by Western Allies against the Soviets, only later by the Israelis against Arab States. Despite the similarities with deterrence, nuclear ambiguity harms the idea of nuclear deterrent policy as lampooned in Dr. Stangelove, “Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a secret! Why didn't you tell the world, EH?” This ersatz deterrence policy has its origins in the Nixon administration and may have been suggested by Henry Kissinger to the Israelis for preventing US embarrassment and keeping the NPT out of the picture. The advantage of ambiguity is that it implies two things, nuclear weapons will be used against overwhelming force in a first strike and their purpose is ultimately defensive because Israel can’t threaten with something they don’t claim to have. We only really know this because Israel has never launched a nuclear missile and because the existential problem of needing to deter an entire region as ebbed but not disappeared. Israel could be perceived as a mad dog willing to use a WMD for its own glory but experience has dispelled what even at the time was an unrealistic possibility the need to deter the region from all out war remains palpable. Talk of a nuclear arms race by Middle Eastern nations is a direct result of Iran’s recent nuclear project, not Israel’s mature one.
Iran could be said to have fashioned its own ambiguity, Ayatollah Khamenei allegedly issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons stating such weapons were against Islam. The Washington Post, Nov 27th, 2013 “Did Iran’s supreme leader issue a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons” suggested that Iran had no problem with producing chemical weapons but was unable to find any written text of the alleged fatwa. More importantly a Fatwa, especially as posed by a Supreme Leader is arbitrary. Having and using nuclear weapons is against Islam only for as long as the Ayatollah says it is. Iran’s recent Reaganesque statements that it will achieve peace through power while unveiling a new Fateh 313 ballistic missile that represents progress on being able to deliver a nuke, President Rouhani stated, "If a country does not have power and independence, it cannot seek real peace." The problem is Iran does have real power in its ability to project force into Syria, Gaza, the Golan, Iraq and Yemen nor is Iran in any danger of not surviving a conflict with any nation or nations. Iraq was unable to conquer Iran when Iran was in a very weak post-revolutionary position and Iraq was at the apex of its military power. Like China and Russia, The US and its allies have not attempted to invade Iran and topple the government and has no plans to do, nor would such an invasion likely to be successful as supply lines would be very strained and Iran would have a large, highly motivated population to strike a relatively exposed US with.
Israel has threatened many times to attack Iran because of its nuclear weapons program and has been presumed to be behind a series of assassinations of nuclear scientists, deploying malware against centrifuge productions but Israel has been circumspect in only wanting to attack the nuclear program. Iran is a general threat against the Jewish State and the region yet Israeli rhetoric does not pay Iran back in kind. Israel in conventional warfare has limited itself to the proxies of Iran and Syria rather than engage directly the source of terrorism. The Iranian nuclear program threatens Israel, obviously Israel's actions and rhetoric are highly antagonistic even if the antagonism is justifiable and outweighed by Iranian threats.
One reason for the antagonism, beyond the infiltration of Israeli territories with Iranian sponsored terror groups Islamic Jihad and for some time, Hamas in addition to their proxy Hezbollah in Syria, is Iran continuously threatens to “wipe Israel off the map.” More ominously, Iran claimed that Israel could be destroyed in 9 minutes with missiles as translated by MEMRI and reported in by Dudi Cohen for ynetnews but the implication would have to be such devastating missile strikes would need to be nuclear.
Worse still, Iran has a considerable track records for endangering civilians and policies for killing civilians through its proxies. Both Hezbollah and Hamas have Iranian sponsored doctrines which make targets of enemy civilian populations as well domestic civilian populations by embedding military operatives in civilian areas. There is little room to doubt that Iran would have no doctrine to prevent using nuclear weapons to win a war, even one it chooses to start. Iran has also continues to support Syria militarily which uses chemical weapons against its civilians.
Iran has WMD, chemical weapons, during the Iran-Iraq, described by Global Security although those chemical weapons could be considered a counter to Iraq’s use of such weapons there was no doctrine on Iran’s part against using them. In Iran’s defense, it was catching up to an enemy using chemical weapons on the battlefield but there is no indication that these weapons turned the tide of the war for Iran, in fact the Iraqi use of superior conventional weapons and having a better trained military proved to very inadequate for invading Iran. While Iran gets called a paper tiger for failing to resupply Yemen, the real strength of the Iranian military is dug in defenses at home.
The inability to project military force well while having designs on extending Iranian influence in the region has committed Iran to a strategy of exporting revolution supported by asymmetric warfare. “Asymmetric warfare” can refer to guerrilla warfare and insurgency tactics but it has also become a fig leaf term for terrorism. A human bomb in a grocery store is an asymmetric tactic. While Iran is gaining some possibility of confidence and credibility for its Hezbollah and Iranian military forces in Syria, Iran has historically relied on terrorist tactics as both a means to inflict damage on an enemy as well as the gain the political benefit of making civilian feel endangered. The Buenos Aires bombing against the AMIA because it is Jewish by a suicide bomber proves Iran has no compunctions about killing innocent civilians for perceived gain. There is nothing in Iranian military doctrine that credibility denies using any weapon against an enemy or its civilian population. If Iran could get its hands on something better than nuclear it would and it would have no reason to use it. A terrible beauty wants to slouch its way toward Bethlehem.
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post in the Middle East by Midwest blog.