The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

On Aafia Siddiqui’s conviction

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Pakistani protesters burn effigies of US President Obama and former Pakistani President Musharraf in Multan (PHOTO: REUTERS)

It was bound to create controversy and outrage in a country fixated with Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. The sentencing of the Pakistani neuroscientist — dubbed the ‘Grey Lady of Bagram,’ the ‘daughter of Pakistan’ and ‘Prisoner 650′ by her supporters — in a New York court on Thursday has riled many in Pakistan, including the government that had campaigned for her release.

But other than the typical and expected anti-U.S. comments made by Aafia Siddiqui’s supporters, anger was directed at the Pakistani government. On Thursday night, Siddiqui’s sister Fauzia addressed a press conference minutes after the ruling (86 years imprisonment on seven counts) and said it was a “slap on the face of our rulers and every leader of the Muslim world” and that she had been reassured by government officials that Aafia would be repatriated. She accused the Pakistani government of “selling Aafia out repeatedly.”

It is an ironic state of affairs. The Pakistani government, which had reportedly paid $2 million for Siddiqui’s legal defense, made her into a folk hero of sorts and regularly communicated with her family, is now taking the heat. Politicians appeared instantly on television channels to denounce the government for not acting in time to ‘save the daughter of Pakistan.’ Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told Pakistan’s upper house of parliament that the government was trying to initiate an extradition treaty for Aafia Siddiqui’s release. “We did not spare any effort,” Gilani claimed, and said “Dr. Aafia is the daughter of the nation. We fought for her and we will fight politically to bring her back.”

Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani said in an e-mail interview, “We have made sincere efforts to help her legally and diplomatically and will continue to do so. We understand Fauzia Siddiqui’s grief but it is sheer fantasy to believe that Aafia’s imprisonment is because of the Pakistani government’s inaction or that the Pakistani government could somehow spring her from prison in the U.S. In over two years since her reported arrest in Ghazni, the government of Pakistan has sought but not received evidence from those issuing statements on her behalf that could disprove the U.S. government’s version of events.”

Fauzia Siddiqui said in an interview with Dawn News that she had been fooled by Amb. Haqqani and alleged that he had told her he privately met with the judge presiding over the case.

Aafia’s comments before her sentencing were a mix of confusion and conspiracies. According to Al Jazeera English, “She disputed her lawyer’s claim that she is mentally unfit to stay on trial, then went on to talk about her dreams and the symbolism of her dreams, genetic testing, her belief that Israel is behind the attacks of September 11, 2001, and that Israel was plotting with her prison warden to attack the United States.” She claimed she was not being mistreated and appealed to her supporters to not turn to violence. Fauzia repeated Aafia’s call for calm, but also said that she had been forced to make a statement saying she was not mistreated and invoked gory visions. “Have you forgotten the hearings when she would appear covered in blood, her face would be swollen and (her body) would bear marks of being hit by rifles?”

And so the sentencing was used — as most volatile incidents are — to stage public protests countrywide.

Members of civil society and the religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing Islami Jamiat Talaba clashed with the police in Karachi and Islamabad. Their aim was to protest outside the U.S. consulate and embassy in the respective cities. On Thursday night, protestors in Peshawar burned tires and stomped on posters of former U.S. President George W. Bush.

Political parties rarely call for protests after suicide bombings, but the Jamaat-e-Islami called for countrywide protests shortly after Aafia’s sentencing. Breathless condemnations of the sentencing came in almost instantly from political parties. A high-level meeting was chaired by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Friday evening to form a committee on Aafia’s repatriation.

While Pakistani leaders have often been accused of dragging their feet on the issues that matter — be it condemning terrorist acts, clamping down on militant activities or ensuring transparent flood relief efforts — Aafia Siddiqui’s sentencing has kick started everyone into action.

The millions displaced by the floods in Pakistan, thousands languishing in jail awaiting trial and the countless women who are victims of honor killings, mistreatment in jails and discrimination will not see anyone rallying for their cause. Not acting swiftly to help them — who should also be dubbed daughters of Pakistan and supported by politicians — is the real injustice. Instead, the focus continues to be on the woman with the explosive purse, an illustrious past, a dubious story and now, an 86-year sentence.

This post was originally published on Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel blog here.

Other stories I’ve done on Aafia Siddiqui’s case:

WikiLeaks: Aafia Siddiqui’s incriminating purse – The Express Tribune

Not a daughter of Pakistan – AfPak Channel

Written by Saba Imtiaz

September 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Crisis in Silwan – Is this the Third Intifada?

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The Old City of Jerusalem saw fresh violence yesterday, sparked by the killing of a Palestinian man (later revised to two Palestinians dead when a second succumbed to his wounds)  in the largely Arab Silwan district of occupied East Jerusalem. Palestinians took to the streets and the resulting clashes with police left at least 10 Israelis, including a policeman, and 2 Palestinians wounded, though figures are still not concrete. Here are a few reports of the incident, where the details are, as usual, contested.

The UAE’s Gulf News reports:

Israeli authorities said the guard, who provided government-funded protection for a small Jewish colony in the Silwan district, opened fire on dozens of Palestinians who had blocked and stoned his car before dawn.

“It was his life or theirs,” said Ariel Rosenberg, spokesman for Israel’s Construction and Housing Ministry.

Israel’s Ha’aretz reports:

The security guard told police that he was driving through the town alone and stopped at a gas station, despite the guidelines which forbade him from stopping in the local stations. The guard added that he feared that he would be abducted after several Palestinians blocked his car.

Palestinian News Agency Ma’an reports:

Director of the Wad Hilwa Information Center Jawwad Siyam said an Israeli security guard opened fire at the four men, who were driving through the area at 5 a.m., chasing them down an alley. One of the injured remains in critical condition, the director said.

Israel National Police spokeswoman Loba Samri told reporters at the scene that Sarhan was known for participating in protests and demonstrators, offering a different account of the events leading to his death.

Samri said the guard had crashed his car in the area after which the four began pelting him with stones near one of the local settlers’ homes. The guard then opened fire, killing one, she said.

Israel’s Jerusalem Post reports:

The guard, fearing for his life, allegedly opened fire with his personal firearm at a group of rock throwers and killed a resident. Police found two knives and screwdriver on the body of the victim, who had a previous criminal history and was known to police.

The stark contrast in the reporting is obvious, as usual, and a further reminder of how difficult it is to know the truth during these conflicts when reading reports by the major media outlets. As Daniel Siedemann and Lara Friedman write for Americans for Peace Now:

This account raises immediate questions, including the most obvious one: why was he going alone, in the wee hours of the morning, to a small Palestinian gas station in this area – something that according to press reports his own security protocols forbid?  His account is also challenged by reports from Palestinians on the ground that the guard actively pursued and only then shot the Palestinians who allegedly threw stones – an account that contradicts the claim that the use of lethal force was in self-defense.

Journalist Joseph Dana was at the scene throughout and was very informative via Twitter. Dana also has a lengthy report up at Electronic Intifada about the incident:

“At 3:30 or 4am I heard some noise outside of my window,” Silwan resident Abdallah Rajmi told me as we stood on a narrow street in the middle of a battle between young Palestinian stone throwers and Israeli occupation forces from the Border Police. “I thought it was a simple drunken fight but then I heard a lot of noise coming from the people involved and my neighbors began waking up.”

Silwan is a neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem, near the walled Old City, and is the target of an ongoing Israeli government plan to demolish dozens of Palestinian homes and replace them with Israeli settlements and a Jewish-themed park.

Rajmi recalled the events as tear gas and rocks were being thrown from both sides onto the alley where we were standing. “At this point I went to my roof to see what was happening and I saw three settler guards with ‘small weapons’ approach a group of young Palestinian men,” referring sarcastically to the guards’ large Uzi assault riles. “The guards began shooting the men and everyone in Silwan woke up.”

At this point, we had to move to the entrance of Rajmi’s house because a storm of rocks started to rain down on us and the Border Police began to use rubber-coated steel bullets.

Dana continues to describe the situation in the aftermath of the killing:

This situation continued for five hours throughout Silwan. Pockets of stone-throwing here and there while tear gas covered the whole village as a form of collective punishment. Eventually, the funeral march began with calls of “God is great!” and every resident of Silwan came to the street to join the procession. As the funeral march wound its way through the narrow streets, people began attacking every settler house, car or bit of infrastructure in its path. Eventually, at the entrance of Silwan right next to the entrance to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, and the “City of David” settler complex, the crowd exploded with rage and full-scale destruction began. Windows were smashed in the front of the City of David building and Israeli Border Police cars were flipped over and set on fire.

As the group moved closer to the al-Aqsa compound, a number of public buses from the Israeli company Egged were on the road. Angry Silwan residents expressed their frustration and began to destroy every window and surface of the buses possible. At one point, people entered the buses in order to rip out their seats. This happened while the bus driver was still inside. The procession reached the al-Aqsa compound and the tension died down but news agencies are now reporting that stone throwing from the al-Aqsa compound plateau began when the funeral was over and Israeli troops had entered the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

Philip Weiss’ account can be read at Mondoweiss.

Incidents like this should not be taken lightly This has the potential of sparking a serious crisis. It’s precisely relatively small incidents like this that build up into huge snowballs of violence and spark intifadas. The West Bank, particularly occupied East Jerusalem and the Old City, are dangerous powder kegs and serious steps need to be taken to preserve some modicum of peace. Siedemann and Friedman once again on what those steps should be:

The government needs to communicate clearly with Israeli security forces on the ground in Silwan and make clear to their commanders that their goal must be to contain the event with minimal confrontation, and that use of force must be truly used only as a last resort.

Israeli security forces on the ground must intervene to ensure that Silwan settlers and their supporters (and their security personnel) do not act on the ground to increase tensions, particularly in light of this evening’s Erev Sukkot celebrations at the Western Wall and in the Silwan settlements (the eve of the Sukkot is a major celebration).

The Prime Minster’s office should go out swiftly and on the record expressing regret over the loss of life, and assuring a prompt impartial investigation.  Given recent actions of the Israeli Police leadership and the Attorney General in Silwan, this cannot be another routine investigation and cannot be left in either of their hands.  Rather, this must be an impartial, independent investigation will be genuine and address the fears and concerns of the Palestinian residents.

Jerusalem is still on high alert with checkpoints set up in several neighbourhoods, particularly around the Old City, as well as Al-Isawiya, and the Shu’fat refugee camp, where clashes had spread the night before. The Israeli presence in Silwan is also testament to how seriously the situation is being taken and what sort of force the Israelis intend to use.

”]A continuation of protests and possible rioting is predicted in Jerusalem tonight, Joseph Dana will once again be there, as will journalist Lisa Goldman and they will hopefully keep us updated via Twitter. Follow them here and here.

Written by alexlobov

September 24, 2010 at 3:32 am

A quick take on today’s Afghanistan elections

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This piece was originally published at Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, as part of a collection of quick takes by experts, titled “Perspectives on Afghanistan’s Parliamentary Elections”

With Afghanistan’s September 18th parliamentary vote fast approaching, the media has been overflowing with stories about how the poll will once again be compromised by a deteriorating security situation and widespread electoral fraud. This is rightly a cause for concern, but it also isn’t surprising, nor is it likely to have a great deal of impact on the near future of Hamid Karzai’s government or the ISAF campaign.

The flaws in last year’s ballot were widely reported, are considered to be deep rooted, and if the Obama administration’s current discussions on how best to manage corruption in Afghanistan are any indicator, these pervasive problems are not likely to go away any time soon. Also, with the Taliban and other insurgent groups emboldened by an increasingly nervy domestic polity in the U.S. and a strategic focus on reconciliation, any hopes that the ballot would not face interference from insurgents would be dreadfully misguided.

The real question is, what does this mean for reality on the ground? The answer is: not much. While corruption, particularly in the electoral process, could very well be damaging to Afghanistan’s democratic future, for now it is something that both the Afghan people and the international community have to live with. Also, while security is of course paramount to the success of any public ballot, there is no indicator that insurgent groups are capable of derailing the entire process. As long as attacks and security fears are limited, although regrettable, they will not cause the electoral project to be abandoned, even if they mean that voter turnout will also be limited.

At this point, hopes aren’t high and all parties are concerned with maintaining the status quo. As long as both corruption and violence are kept in relative check, the elections will still serve as a moderate PR victory and the country will continue on its present course.

Note: for a lengthier analysis, read Negah Rahmani’s guest post from yesterday.

Written by alexlobov

September 18, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Afghanistan: The Burden of Democracy

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This is a guest post by Negah Rahmani, the writer can be contacted here.

The run-up to Afghanistan’s parliamentary election, held this Saturday 18th of September, has been reported internationally and has highlighted widespread inadequacies in the country’s government and its electoral system. When compared to the media frenzy that surrounded the country’s presidential elections last August, reporting this year has been diminished and focused on the many problems facing the ballot. Last year’s coverage of the elections, their importance to the reconstruction of the country, the significance of the act of voting to the population (especially women) and all such niceties were replaced by reporting of fraud allegations and corruption charges – systemic failures at every level – much the same as last year.

So why have the parliamentary elections not received the same level and type of attention? Is it a case of what FP’s Haring-Smith calls Afghanistan’s groundhog day or an overwhelming sense and realisation that maybe Afghanistan is a lost cause? And in the face of this systemic corruption can the international community be forgiven for perhaps not caring as much?

Firstly, A recent report by The Centre for American Progress conducted an in-depth analysis of the governance issues facing Afghanistan. The report concluded, that above all else, the country’s extremely centralised governing structure is in need of the most urgent reform. Karzai’s legal and constitutional powers make Afghanistan, “in theory, fiscally and administratively one of the most centralised countries in the world.” This amount of power has created a patronage system where Karzai flexes his influence through appointment of more than 1000 government officials at all levels of government with little public input. The paper reports, “Karzai appoints all national line ministry heads, the attorney general, Supreme Court members, the National Security Directorate Intelligence Head, provincial police chiefs and the national Bank chief.” Alongside this, Karzai appoints all members of the Upper House of parliament. In this system, all roads lead to Karzai, personal loyalties and patronage dictate electoral results and policy reform. This has set the tone for the corrupt system not only to be born but also to evolve, ensuring that those in power stay in power.

While the CAP report calls for more public input, some observers think that might just be the problem. Afghanistan’s constitution calls for several separate rounds of elections. Presidential elections (held last August), parliamentary elections to elect 249 members to the Lower House of Parliament (Wolesi Jirga) as well as provincial and council level elections. However, in the case of Afghanistan the elections are out of sync. As Haring-Smith writes, “there is an election nominally scheduled every year between now and 2027, except 2012.” In this cycle Afghans will be going to the polls every year for more than a decade. The Economist reported last year that over the next 17 years there will be 11 elections held in Afghanistan. And this is without the district-council elections being held on a separate cycle, as is proposed. In a country where the concept of democracy and voting are new to most people, this system can very quickly create voter fatigue. Reports from the ground already reflect this sentiment. The financial and security burden that these elections create is yet another concern with an estimated cost of $150 million for each election to take place. Afghans, officials and candidates face harsh conditions, in some cases risk their lives to cast their vote. They might not think it worthwhile the 12th year in a row.

These aspects are but a few that form part of a deeply flawed  system which has helped create the corrupt environment in which these elections will be held. A retrospective report on the extent of the fraud and poll manipulation of the 2009 presidential elections warns that although fraud will still be as rampant as last time, it will be less blatant. The report by Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) states that those responsible for the electoral fraud in 2009 have learnt from their experiences and will be more sophisticated in manipulating results. The report points out key systemic flaws which allow such rampant fraud to take place. In particular, the absence of a coherent voter registration list means that people register multiple times. Provinces such as Khost and Paktika recorded registration equalling 140% of the population last time. The report further adds that the problem of multiple registrations is well-known yet little has been done to create an alternative system.  Perhaps more disheartening is policy reforms which further engrain and enforce corrupt and centralised processes. Since the last elections, new laws have brought the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), the UN’s election watchdog, under Karzai’s control. The new laws enable Karzai to appoint all five commission members while the UN can select two representatives. The new measures will curtail the role that the ECC plays in monitoring and investigating fraud allegations.

Under these circumstances the international community’s disinterest with the elections is understandable and not just restricted to the media. The international agencies and organisations involved in Afghanistan have scaled down their election monitoring activities considerably. According to reports by The Guardian, the UN has evacuated one third of its international workforce in Afghanistan out of fear of violence and attacks by the Taliban. The EU has cut its previous 120-strong observation team down to just seven and the Asian Network for Fair Elections down from 74 to 30. Although the results of the elections won’t be announced for a while, fraud allegations have already started pouring out. In these circumstances international observers can be of little relevance where they cannot effectively prevent or monitor fraud. If the forecasts are anything to go by these elections will not only be a further blow to the country’s aspirations for reconstructing a functioning democratic state but will also further affirm international sentiment that little has been achieved in Afghanistan.

Negah Rahmani is a student at the Monash Asia Institute undertaking a Masters in Asian Studies with a focus on Afghanistan and women’s rights.

Written by alexlobov

September 17, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Iranian diplomat resigns in Finland

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Former Iranian diplomat Hossein Alizadeh

It is being reported that Iranian diplomat Hossein Alizadeh, who told Reuters that he was number two in Finland, has resigned in protest of the brutality of the regime and is now considering claiming political asylum in Finland. This would make him the second diplomat to have defected since last year’s disputed election sparked widespread protests.

Iran’s Press TV is reporting that the country’s Foreign Ministry denies that Alizadeh was employed as a diplomat at the time and that, in fact, his mission had officially ended in August.

Reuters has a quote:

“I have resigned definitively in protest — I am no longer an Iranian diplomat,” Alizadeh said by telephone from Finland.

Alizadeh’s resignation was announced by the Green Wave movement, founded by Paris-based Iranian exile Amir Hossein Jahanchahi. It is unclear at this stage whether Alizadeh with join the movement, but it does appear that he intends to be a dissident. He reportedly also said the following:

“I don’t consider myself any more a diplomat standing beside a brutal Iranian regime,” Mr Alizadeh said.

”I have let the embassy know that I have resigned from my job and … I’m not any more a diplomat.

”I am a political dissident.”

Mr Alizadeh said he was considering what to do next but had not applied for political asylum. [The Age]

While of course this news is not earth-shattering, it is interesting to consider it as part of how the protest movement is taking shape since the disputed election. It appears that, if anything, it has definitely emboldened a lot more people, both within Iran and within the diaspora, to air their grievances, speak out and become dissidents. This will probably accelerate internal repression, this movement definitely does not have the strength to change that, certainly not in the near future.

Written by alexlobov

September 12, 2010 at 5:40 pm

The Cordoba Initiative and Islamophobia

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Iam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Initiative

This is a guest post by Negah Rahmani, the writer can be contacted here.

The recent debate over the Cordoba Initiative, or ‘The Ground Zero Mosque’ as it is more popularly known has become yet another ‘with us or against us’ style argument in America. The proposed Islamic cultural centre two blocks from the Ground Zero site has led to heated debates, rallies and political ramifications. What started out as a simple question about the appropriateness of the proposed location has brought to light a multitude of issues and deep-seated racial and religious tensions.

Firstly, if you conduct a very basic Google search with the keywords of ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ a total of 59,900,000 hits come up. The keywords of ‘Cordoba Initiative’ bring up 3,670,000 hits. The difference is immense. Even more so if you take into consideration that the proposed project is not a mosque but a cultural centre and it is not actually on Ground Zero. The Cordoba Initiative proposes to build a centre to enhance Muslim-West and interfaith relations in America and a mosque already exists close to the site. This trend of inaccurate reference to the project has sensationalised and polarised the entire debate leaving little room for meaningful discussion. Under these circumstances people have two sides to choose from with almost no middle ground.

The initial anti-mosque sentiment has now led to a spate of anti-Islamic rhetoric across America. At the forefront of this movement has been the group Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) headed by Pamela Geller. The group has been a major force in the organisation of rallies against the construction of the centre. SIAO claims to be a human rights organisation fighting for religious liberty and individual rights. Besides being a major force behind the anti-mosque movement SIAO has launched campaigns to further their cause. Their recent ad campaign on a fleet of taxis and buses refers Muslims to LeaveislamSafely.com, a SIAO webpage detailing how Muslims (it is targeted at young Muslims, especially girls) can safely leave their faith. The organisation seems to be advocating to stop Islam taking over the US and is frantically trying to stop Sharia Law from coming into effect in the US judicial system.

Besides SIAO’s organised, and seemingly well-financed, anti-Islam campaign, other groups and individuals have also used the mosque debate to express anti-Islamic sentiment all over the country. A Florida church’s plan to hold a ‘Burn a Koran Day’ on September 11th(ed: this has been cancelled, thankfully), as well as the recent assault on a Muslim taxi driver in New York all create a grim picture. The construction of mosques and religious centres have led to communities up in arms all over the country from California to Wisconsin to Tennessee. Reporting on these incidents Laurie Goldstein of the New York Times writes that communities before protested against the construction of mosques under the guise of increased noise and traffic. Now, the gloves have come off and communities all around America are openly protesting against Islam itself. The Cordoba project, it seems has unleashed a deep Islamophobia that runs strongly all over the USA.

And this has had ramifications for people all the way up to the top. Chris Cilliza from the Washington Post writes that a recent Pew survey found 18% of participants thought Obama to be a Muslim. This is significantly higher than the 2009 figure of 11%. What’s more interesting, he writes: “there was a strong linkage between those who wrongly believe Obama is a Muslim and those who disapprove of the job he is doing as president.” Two thirds of the 41% who disapprove of Obama think him to be a Muslim. So in short, the more Americans think Obama is a Muslim, the lower his popularity. A Newsweek Poll recorded 31% of respondents who believed Obama to be a sympathiser of Islamic fundamentalists and their efforts to spread Islamic law around the world. Added to this, a recent survey conducted by The Economist/YouGov found 27.7% of respondents to view the religion of Islam very unfavourably and a further 27.7% somewhat unfavourably. That is a total of 54.4% who perceived Islam in a negative light. In light of these findings the question remains, what role have the Republicans played in adding fuel to this fire and how will it affect the mid-term election results?  It has forced Obama to backpedal on his strong support for the mosque and has Democrats worried. So if the debate is being fuelled for political ends, are the American public opposed to the mosque being exploited? And how much wisdom is there in prioritising short-term political gains over long-lasting implications which will be felt all around the world?

Of course there are many more sides to this story and many voices to be heard. There have been calls to just move the proposed site to a less-offensive location. And then there are those like Newt Gingrich who call for the construction of synagogues and churches in Saudi Arabia as a precursor to the construction of the Cordoba project. Well it is easy to poke a hole through that argument. Freedoms of expression and religion (not to say that of private property) are what distinguish the US from the Middle East. America has been very willing and ready to afford itself a moral and ethical high ground based on these freedoms. And this is why they’re the right people to be invading Iraq and Afghanistan, or so we were told: to spread such (universal) ideals of freedoms and equality, right?

However, the core of the issue remains, this is no longer a widespread protest against the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”, but rather an expression of an Islamophobic current that is clearly alive and well in America. Daisy Khan, the wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, sums up the aspirations of the Islamic community and the Cordoba project and states, “we Muslims are really fed up being defined by the actions of the extremists.” She goes on to add that the centre is much needed to project an image of the Muslim community as majority peaceful, law-abiding citizens and good Americans. In the face of such strong Islamophobia, this redefinition of the Muslim community in the public eye is desperately needed. Given the polarisation of this topic, it will be interesting to see how the project and debate proceed. Will the Muslims who support it be considered as fundamentalists and bad Americans? Will they fall victim to more racial attacks and will there be a campaign of guilt-by-association to hinder the progress of this project? Will they abandon it under this immense pressure and, if so what does that say about the land of the free and equal?

Negah Rahmani is a student at the Monash Asia Institute undertaking a Masters in Asian Studies with a focus on Afghanistan and women’s rights.

Written by alexlobov

September 12, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Lebanon in the event of an Iran strike

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This piece was originally published at NOW!Lebanon, titled “Lebanon in the event of an Iran strike

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of discussion in US foreign policy circles about the potential for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. Much of this discussion has been focused around Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy and alarmist cover story for The Atlantic Magazine about the likelihood of such a strike happening within the next 12 months. However, no discussion of an Israeli, or indeed American, strike on Iran can ignore the unavoidable involvement of Lebanon, and the subsequent impact on the country.

Goldberg interviewed around “forty current and past Israeli decision-makers” as background for his piece, but many of them remain anonymous, and those who are named appear to contribute little different to what we already knew: Israel considers Iran an “existential threat” and is very worried, and all options are always on the table, some of them more likely than others. Thus, the motivation of Goldberg’s sources must be better understood. Why would Israeli decision makers be telling Jeffrey Goldberg that there’s a good chance of an Israeli strike on Iran? Because they understand Goldberg’s influence in Washington, and they want to mainstream the idea of not only an Israeli strike, but a potentially pre-emptive one from the US. This story has already had a broad ripple effect in the political media ecosystem, having been expanded into a fully-fledged debate on The Atlantic website and picked up by other outlets and blogs alike. This process helps an idea gain a legitimacy it didn’t have before the original big story dropped.

While, of course, such a story alone cannot be blamed for a military strike, in many ways, this process is reminiscent of similar discussions in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq war, during which Jeffrey Goldberg played a remarkably similar role. In 2010, the potentially disastrous consequences of such a strike by the US, many of which would also eventuate in the case of an Israeli one, cannot be easily dismissed, and some are even mentioned by Goldberg himself: a closing of the Straits of Hormuz; a massive spike in the price of oil, exacerbating the global recession; destabilisation of the Gulf region; deadly reprisals from Iranian-sponsored terrorist outfits abroad; a nail in the coffin for the Iranian “Green Movement;” and a shoring up of sympathy for Iran’s regime internationally. Most alarmingly, Iran’s actual pursuit of nuclear-weapons capacity, both the details and progress of it, are still in doubt. A strike would, much as it did with Israel’s strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, impel Iran’s regime to redouble its efforts to reach such a capacity.

The consequences of a strike on Iran for the fragile détente between Israel and Hezbollah are unpredictable at best and a powder keg at worst. “Israel or the United States cannot just bomb Iran and (expect) things to continue normally,” Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, told Reuters in March. “Any attack on Iran could ignite the whole region and the assailant will pay a heavy price whether it’s Israel or the United States.”

Cross-border rocket reprisals from Hamas and Hezbollah are widely expected in the case of a strike on Iran, but the extent of the potential conflict cannot be precisely anticipated. Many analysts already believe that the next war between Israel and Hezbollah is a matter of when, not if, and there are plenty of potential excuses for war already. One major cause for concern is the exploration of Tamarand Leviathan,two recently-discovered gas fields that could, as estimated by the US partner in exploration Noble Energy, contain up to 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. The maritime boundary between Israel and Lebanon is not well defined, and Beirut has also taken steps to begin off-shore exploration. Natural resources aside, Hezbollah’s steady rearmament since 2006 and Israel’s continued manned overflights over Lebanese territory, both in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, are reason enough for a major conflict to be sparked by either side.

Concerning Hezbollah’s rearmament, as noted by Daniel Kurtzer in his July report for the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, the party has improved both the quantity and quality of its weaponry since 2006, although it is unclear exactly by how much. Since Gabi Ashkenazi’s ascendancy to IDF chief of staff, Israel has also maintained that it is far more prepared today to fight a war with Hezbollah than in previous years. As repeatedly noted in Kurtzer’s report, Israel has not only levelled at Hezbollah the as-yet-unproven charge of acquiring Scud missiles from Syria, but also prepared for it, as well as the strategic threat from Syrian M-600 rockets or even advanced surface-to-air missiles, such as the S-300, which Israel considers a “red line.”

What this indicates is that Israel takes the threat from Hezbollah very seriously, and would be keeping this threat in mind in accompaniment to any potential strike on Iran.

If Goldberg’s story, particularly its many statements from Israeli officials, is to be viewed largely as an Israeli PR exercise, then Israel probably wishes to allow time for the off chance that the Obama administration will conduct a US strike on Iran, something Israel almost certainly prefers. The administration is in no hurry. As reported in the New York Times last week, administration officials believe that there is roughly a year before Iran achieves “breakout” nuclear capacity, or the time it would take to convert low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade.  Iran’s distance from real nuclear-weapons capacity, and Israel’s current wariness of an immediate military conflict with Hezbollah indicate that a strike would likely occur toward the end of Goldberg’s proposed 12-month window, if at all.

No mistake should be made about the consequences for Lebanon. Benjamin Netanyahu has already made it clear that, as a result of Hezbollah’s inclusion in Lebanon’s cabinet, the whole country would be held responsible for attacks on Israel. This is an apparent extension of Israel’s supposed “Dahiyeh Doctrine” to cover not only southern Lebanon but the country’s institutions and infrastructure on a national level, bringing with it alarming possibilities stemming from Israel’s destruction of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

Obama does not have the stomach for the initiation of another major conflict, but only time will tell whether Israel is prepared to put aside concerns of a complicated entanglement with Hezbollah, along with the other host of issues mentioned above, and actually execute a strike on Iran unilaterally. The possibility for unmitigated disaster is great, and hopefully cooler heads will prevail.

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