JFP 1/4: Obama can't stop Israeli attack? Markets rattled by Iran tensions
Just Foreign Policy News, January 4, 2012
Obama can't stop Israeli attack? Markets rattled by Iran tensions
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1) President Obama appears to be hoping that he can avoid being caught up in a regional war started by Israel if he distances the US from any Israeli attack on Iran, writes Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service. US military leaders expressed disappointment that President Obama had not been firm enough in opposing an Israeli attack, according to veteran intelligence reporter Richard Sale. Obama responded that he "had no say over Israel" because "it is a sovereign country."
Trita Parsi says knowledgeable sources tell him Obama believes he can credibly distance himself from an Israeli attack. But Parsi believes Obama's calculation that he can convince Iran that the US has no leverage on Israel without being much tougher with Israel is not realistic. [It is shocking that anyone would think this is realistic, given that President Bush and Admiral Mullen successfully sat on Israeli threats to attack unilaterally in the past, as was widely reported at the time - JFP.]
2) Iran escalated its war of words with the US on Tuesday with a warning to Navy ships to stay out of the Strait of Hormuz, remarks that rattled commodities markets and helped send oil prices soaring, the Washington Post reports. The increasingly bellicose tone - coupled with new economic sanctions on Iran expected to take effect in the coming weeks - helped cause the price of oil to jump more than 4 percent.
3) US leaders may be indifferent to the civilian casualties caused by America's wars, but the civilian casualties are key to understanding why US war efforts end badly, writes John Tirman in the New York Times. We need to adopt reliable ways to measure the destruction our wars cause, Tirman argues.
4) The US has no interest in trying to run Persian Gulf countries, argues Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy The US has only three overriding strategic interests in the Gulf region: 1) make sure that Gulf oil and gas keeps flowing to world markets (even though the U.S. gets very little of its own energy from this region, a reduction in the global supply would send energy prices soaring), 2) discourage the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and 3) reduce the danger from anti-American terrorism. The best way to pursue these objectives is to minimize our military footprint in the region while striving to make sure that no single power dominates it and reducing incentives for anti-American terrorism or WMD proliferation. It follows that the US should be seeking to have good relations with as many states as possible -- so as to maximize its diplomatic options and resulting leverage -- and to do what it can to dampen regional tensions. If the US wants to preserve its influence in the region, it is going to have to devise a strategy for the area that is more congenial to Arab publics.
5) The march towards war with Iran reflects the demands of U.S. elites, not U.S. public opinion, argues Mark Weisbrot in Folha de São Paulo. Diplomatic efforts by countries like Brazil to help avoid war would be supported by the majority of Americans, even if they would be disliked by US elites.
6) Khaled Meshal, the exiled leader of Hamas, has expressed a willingness to work with Mahmoud Abbas in a far more accommodating way than in the past, especially in the area of using nonviolence to oppose Israel, the New York Times reports. "There is a historic development by Hamas in the last two months," asserted Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the director of a Palestinian research group in Jerusalem. "It is going through the same process as the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere. The new political Islam is practical and realistic."
7) With the Muslim Brotherhood within reach of a majority in Egypt's Parliament, the Obama administration seeks to forge closer ties with an organization once viewed as irreconcilably opposed to US interests, the New York Times reports. It would be "totally impractical" not to engage with the Brotherhood "because of U.S. security and regional interests in Egypt," a senior administration official said. On Tuesday, the administration intensified its criticism of Egypt's military rulers over raids that last week shut down 10 civil society groups, including at least 3 American-financed democracy-building groups, as part of an investigation of illicit foreign financing that has been laden with conspiratorial and anti-American rhetoric.
8) Libya's transitional government has expressed growing concern that the country could descend into civil war if its militias are not brought under control, the New York Times reports. Since Qaddafi's fall, gun battles have periodically erupted in Tripoli between rival groups from other areas of the country who poured into the city as it fell and proceeded to stake out territory last summer.
1) Obama Seeks to Distance U.S. from Israeli Attack
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Jan 3
Washington - President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are engaged in intense maneuvering over Netanyahu's aim of entangling the United States in an Israeli war against Iran.
Netanyahu is exploiting the extraordinary influence his right-wing Likud Party exercises over the Republican Party and the U.S. Congress on matters related to Israel in order to maximise the likelihood that the United States would participate in an attack on Iran.
Obama, meanwhile, appears to be hoping that he can avoid being caught up in a regional war started by Israel if he distances the United States from any Israeli attack.
New evidence surfaced in 2011 that Netanyahu has been serious about dealing a military blow to the Iranian nuclear programme. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who left his job in September 2010, revealed in his first public appearance after Mossad Jun. 2 that he, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin had been able to "block any dangerous adventure" by Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak.
The Hebrew language daily Maariv reported that those three, along with President Shimon Peres and IDF Senior Commander Gadi Eisenkrot, had vetoed a 2010 proposal by Netanyahu to attack Iran.
Dagan said he was going public because he was "afraid there is no one to stop Bibi and Barak". Dagan also said an Israeli attack on Iran could trigger a war that would "endanger the (Israeli) state's existence", indicating that his revelation was not part of a psywar campaign.
It is generally agreed that an Israeli attack can only temporarily set back the Iranian nuclear programme, at significant risk to Israel. But Netanyahu and Barak hope to draw the United States into the war to create much greater destruction and perhaps the overthrow of the Islamic regime.
In a sign that the Obama administration is worried that Netanyahu is contemplating an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta tried and failed in early October to get a commitment from Netanyahu and Barak that Israel would not launch an attack on Iran without consulting Washington first, according to both Israeli and U.S. sources cited by The Telegraph and by veteran intelligence reporter Richard Sale.
At a meeting with Obama a few weeks later, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Martin Dempsey and the new head of CENTCOM, Gen. James N. Mattis, expressed their disappointment that he had not been firm enough in opposing an Israeli attack, according to Sale.
Obama responded that he "had no say over Israel" because "it is a sovereign country."
Obama's remark seemed to indicate a desire to distance his administration from an Israeli attack on Iran. But it also made it clear that he was not going to tell Netanyahu that he would not countenance such an attack.
Trita Parsi, executive director of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), who has analysed the history of the triangular relationship involving the United States, Israel and Iran in his book "Treacherous Alliance", says knowledgeable sources tell him Obama believes he can credibly distance himself from an Israeli attack.
In a Dec. 2 talk at the Brookings Institution, while discussing the dangers of the regional conflict that would result from such an attack, Panetta said the United States "would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, sinking our ships, striking our military bases."
Panetta's statement could be interpreted as an effort to convince Iran that the Obama administration is opposed to an Israeli strike and should not be targeted by Iran in retaliation if Israel does launch an attack.
Parsi believes Obama's calculation that he can convince Iran that the United States has no leverage on Israel without being much tougher with Israel is not realistic.
"Iran most likely would decide not to target U.S. forces in the region in retaliation for an Israeli strike only if the damage from the strike were relatively limited," Parsi told IPS in an e-mail.
The Obama administration considers the newest phase of sanctions against Iran, aimed at reducing global imports of Iranian crude oil, as an alternative to an unprovoked attack by Israel. But what Netanyahu had in mind in proposing such an initiative was much more radical than the Obama administration or the European Union could accept.
When Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is closely aligned with Netanyahu's Likud Party, pushed the idea of sanctions against any financial institution that did business with Iran's Central Bank, the aim was to make it impossible for countries that import Iranian crude to continue to be able to make payments for the oil.
Dubowitz wanted virtually every country importing Iranian crude except China and India to cut off their imports. He argued that reducing the number of buyers to mainly China and India would not result in a rise in the price of oil, because Iran would have to offer discounted prices to the remaining buyers.
Global oil analysts warned, however, that such a sanctions regime could not avoid creating a spike in oil prices.
U.S. officials told Reuters Nov. 8 that sanctions on Iran's Central Bank were "not on the table". The Obama administration was warning that such sanctions would risk a steep rise in oil prices worldwide and a worsening global recession, while actually increasing Iranian oil revenues.
But Netanyahu used the power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over Congressional action related to Israel to override Obama's opposition. The Senate unanimously passed an amendment representing Netanyahu's position on sanctions focused on Iran's oil sector and the Central Bank, despite a letter from Secretary of Treasury Tim Geithner opposing it. A similar amendment was passed by the House Dec. 15.
The Obama administration acquiesced and entered into negotiations with its European allies, Saudi Arabia and the UAE on reducing imports of Iranian crude oil while trying to fill the gaps with other sources. But a number of countries, including Japan and Korea, are begging off, and the EU is insisting on protecting Greece and other vulnerable economies.
The result is likely to be a sanctions regime that reduces Iranian exports only marginally - not the "crippling sanctions" demanded by Netanyahu and Barak. Any hike in oil prices generated by sanctions against Iran's oil sector, moreover, would only hurt Obama's re- election chances.
In an interview with CNN in November, Barak warned the international community that Israel might have to make a decision on war within as little as six months, because Iran's efforts to "disperse and fortify" its nuclear facilities would soon render a strike against facilities ineffective.
Barak said he "couldn't predict" whether that point would be reached in "two quarters or three quarters or a year". The new Israeli "red line" would place the timing of an Israeli decision on whether to strike Iran right in the middle of the U.S. presidential election campaign.
Netanyahu, who makes no secret of his dislike and distrust of Obama, may hope to put Obama under maximum pressure to support Israel militarily in a war with Iran by striking during a campaign in which the Republican candidate would be accusing him of being soft on the Iranian nuclear threat.
If the Republican candidate is in a strong position to win the election, on the other hand, Netanyahu would want to wait for a new administration aligned with his belligerent posture toward Iran.
Meanwhile, the end of U.S. Air Force control over Iraqi airspace with the final U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq has eliminated what had long been regarded as a significant deterrent to Israeli attack on Iran using the shortest route.
2) Iran threatens U.S. ships, alarms oil markets
Joby Warrick and Steven Mufson, Washington Post, January 3, 2012
Iran escalated its war of words with the United States on Tuesday with a warning to Navy ships to stay out of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, remarks that rattled commodities markets and helped send oil prices soaring.
The latest in a series of provocative statements by Iranian leaders was delivered by the Iranian armed forces commander, Gen. Ataollah Salehi, who appeared to threaten a U.S. aircraft carrier that steamed out of Persian Gulf waters last week.
"We warn this ship, which is considered a threat to us, not to come back, and we do not repeat our words twice," Salehi said, according to the Iranian Students' News Agency.
The Obama administration brushed aside the threat, but the increasingly bellicose tone - coupled with new economic sanctions on Iran expected to take effect in the coming weeks - helped cause the price of oil to jump more than 4 percent during a day of upbeat economic news.
Outside Iran, the prospect of even a temporary disruption in the flow of oil from the region sent shivers through global markets. The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world's main choke points for crude oil shipments, a corridor through which an average of 17 million barrels of crude oil is shipped daily. The strait linking the world to the oil fields of Iraq, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia is also the main portal for 2.5 million barrels of Iranian oil each day.
Iran has tried to disrupt shipping in the Persian Gulf before. In 1988, it mined the waterway. After a mine blew a 21-foot-wide hole in a U.S. frigate, the United States responded with Operation Praying Mantis, its largest surface-fleet engagement since World War II. The U.S. Navy destroyed three Iranian warships, several Iranian speedboats and two oil platforms.
Many analysts say Iran is unlikely to risk another direct confrontation with the United States. But they say Iran could seek to disrupt oil supplies through indirect action, such as dispatching one of its proxy militia groups to anonymously blow up oil pipelines in neighboring Iraq. Iraq's largest fields, where international companies have been successfully boosting production, are close to the border with Iran.
Already, fears of conflict with Iran have inflated global oil prices by $5 to $10 a barrel, according to Robert McNally, an oil expert at the Rapidan Group, a Washington consulting firm. He said Tuesday's surge in crude prices was a response both to Iranian saber rattling and to upbeat economic news, which generally puts pressure on oil prices.
McNally said an "Iran premium" could grow much bigger, depending on how events unfold over the coming weeks.
3) The Forgotten Wages Of War
John Tirman, New York Times, January 3, 2012
[Tirman, executive director of the Center for International Studies at M.I.T., is the author of "The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America's Wars."]
Cambridge, Mass. - The end of the Iraq war occasioned few reflections on the scale of destruction we have wrought there. As is our habit, the discussion focused on the costs to America in blood and treasure, the false premises of the war and the continuing challenges of instability in the region. What happened to Iraqis was largely ignored. And in Libya, the recent investigation of civilian casualties during NATO's bombing campaign was the first such accounting of what many believed was a largely victimless war.
We rarely question that wars cause extensive damage, but our view of America's wars has been blind to one specific aspect of destruction: the human toll of those who live in war zones.
We tune out the voices of the victims and belittle their complaints about the midnight raids, the house-to-house searches, the checkpoints, the drone attacks, the bombs that fall on weddings instead of Al Qaeda.
Gen. Tommy R. Franks famously said during the early days of the war in Afghanistan, "We don't do body counts." But someone should. What we learn from body counts tells us much about war and those who wage it.
More than 10 years after the war in Afghanistan began, we have only the sketchiest notion of how many people have died as a consequence of the conflict. The United Nations office in Kabul assembles some figures from morgues and other sources, but they are incomplete. The same has been true for Iraq, although a number of independent efforts have been made there to account for the dead.
But such numbers, which run into the hundreds of thousands, gain scant attention. American political and military leaders, like the public, show little interest in non-American casualties.
Denial, after all, is politically convenient. Failing to consider the mortality figures, the refugees, the impoverished, the demolished hospitals and clean water systems and schools is to deny, in effect, that the war ever happened.
The American military cannot afford to be so cavalier about the dynamics of war. The consequences of how we fight wars reveals a great deal about how and why others fight us.
In Iraq, for example, the causes of the Sunni resistance were often attributed to lost social status; the role of American violence against civilians early in the conflict was rarely discussed. Yet many of the captured Iraqis said they were defending their communities by resisting the occupying forces. Roughing up, detaining or killing suspected enemy fighters - as the coalition forces did in countless operations - prompted some Iraqis to take up the gun, the I.E.D. and the suicide bomb. The more violence from the occupiers, the more ferocious their reaction.
Gen. David H. Petraeus recognized this and sought to reform Army practice. In a field manual he co-authored in 2006, he explained that when "forces fail to provide security or threaten the security of civilians, the population is likely to seek security guarantees from insurgents, militias or other armed groups. This situation can feed support for an insurgency."
In several opinion polls, Iraqis identified American forces as the primary cause of the violence besetting their country. And although the violence of war and occupation was a proximate cause of the Iraqi resistance, we have few metrics to understand its scope. WikiLeaks released military documents in October 2010 that included accounts of Iraqi fatalities, but such reports are incomplete and sometimes biased, and they reflect only what the troops actually witnessed. News media reports are similarly limited. And our political and military leaders barely consider these numbers anyway.
They dwell instead in a make-believe world of vastly less mayhem, oblivious to what actually besets the civilian population. In 2006, two separate household surveys, by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, found between 400,000 and 650,000 "excess deaths" in Iraq as a result of the war. At the time, however, the commanding general in Iraq put the number at 50,000 and President Bush had claimed in late 2005 that it was just 30,000.
If our leaders are unwilling to grasp the scale of death and social disruption, and the meaning of this chaos for the local population, then American war efforts are likely to end badly and relationships with allies will become strained, as has happened with President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan.
Mr. Karzai's repeated complaints about NATO actions that cause civilian casualties are often dismissed in the West as political posturing, but his persistence on this issue indicates how deeply it resonates with Afghans. While we dismiss it, Muslims around the world take note.
Ignoring the extent of civilian casualties and the damage they cause is a moral failing as well as a strategic blunder. We need to adopt reliable ways to measure the destruction our wars cause - an "epistemology of war," as another general, William Tecumseh Sherman, called it - to break through the collective amnesia that has gripped us.
If we do not demand a full accounting of the wages of war, future failures are all the more likely - and warranted.
4) What Iraq can teach us about Iran
Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, Tuesday, January 3, 2012 - 10:33 AM
Former Iraqi minister of trade and defense Ali A. Allawi has an interesting op-ed in today's New York Times, where he outlines the main challenges in post-occupation Iraq and maps out a broad approach for dealing with them. Not surprisingly, he is better at identifying the problems Iraq confronts than in providing ready solutions, for the simple reason that there aren't any easy answers to Iraq's current plight.
Saddam Hussein's brutalities notwithstanding, that is one reason why some of us thought invading Iraq was a foolish idea back in 2002-2003. Iraq's military power had been largely defanged by defeat in the 1990-91 Gulf War and by ten years of punishing sanctions, so it was no longer a serious threat to vital U.S. interests. Equally important, no one ever gave a plausible account of how a post-Saddam social and political order would be established, especially in light of what was known about Iraq's fractious and violent history and deep internal divisions. We had no plausible "exit strategy" going in, and it is no surprise that we are leaving a broken country behind. (That's not an argument for staying longer, by the way, because we don't know how to fix it and most Iraqis want us out).
In any case, a passage in Allawi's piece caught my eye and bears further scrutiny. Here it is: "Iraq must reimagine the Middle East, creating new economic, security and political structures that weave Middle Eastern countries closer together while peacefully accommodating the region's ethnic and religious diversity. In the American-Iranian cold war, Iraq must resist being dragged into a confrontation. We have real interests on both sides and can play an important role in mediating and even defusing that conflict."
In essence, Allawi is saying that Iraq should strive to play a balance of power game in the Middle East and Persian Gulf region, seeking good relations with all its neighbors, and adopt a creative and flexible approach to dealing with the diverse social and religious forces in the region. Such a strategy would not preclude Iraq tilting one way or the other as currents of power and interest shift, but it implies not allowing Iraq to get drawn into rigid alignments or permanent commitments that harden animosities or limit its diplomatic flexibility.
What struck me, however, was how Allawi's blueprint applies even more strongly to the United States. The United States is not a Persian Gulf state, and we have no interest in trying to run these countries. Instead, the United States has only three overriding strategic interests in the Gulf region: 1) make sure that Gulf oil and gas keeps flowing to world markets (even though the U.S. gets very little of its own energy from this region, a reduction in the global supply would send energy prices soaring), 2) discourage the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and 3) reduce the danger from anti-American terrorism. The best way to pursue these three objectives is to play balance-of-power politics ourselves: minimizing our military footprint in the region while striving to make sure that no single power dominates it and reducing incentives for anti-American terrorism or WMD proliferation.
It follows that the United States should be seeking to have good relations with as many states as possible -- so as to maximize its diplomatic options and resulting leverage -- and to do what it can to dampen regional tensions. (Note: this is also what Allawi advises Iraqis to do). From this perspective, a prolonged Cold War with Iran is in fact a policy failure (or at least not an achievement), even though avoiding one may be difficult given all that has already occurred. Our various "special relationships" in the region should be rethought as well, especially in light of the political upheavals that have been sweeping the region and rendering the future more difficult to forecast. In such circumstances, a smart great power would seek to maximize its options going forward, instead of being permanently and visibly committed to a status quo that is visibly shifting before our eyes.
And above all, the United States needs to start thinking about an approach to the region that is at least somewhat mindful of the opinions of most of its residents. We still don't know exactly how the Arab revolts of 2011 will turn out (and I'm guessing we won't know for some time), but one likely consequence will be the eventual consolidation of Arab governments that pay considerably more attention to popular sentiment than their predecessors did. Even if these regimes fall short of full democracy, their leaders can see what is happening within their societies and they are going to try to cater to public opinion to the extent that they can. Unfortunately for us, popular sentiment in much of the Arab world is decidedly hostile to the main thrust of American Middle East policy. So if the United States wants to preserve its influence in the region over the longer term, it is going to have to devise a strategy for the area that is more congenial to Arab publics, and not just a handful of ruling elites. This doesn't mean abandoning important U.S. interests, pandering to popular opinion, or giving more meaningless speeches, but it does mean thinking strategically about our long-term interests, and not just about the next election.
In short, Mr. Allawi has some sensible ideas for how Iraq should behave in the months and years ahead, but his advice may be even more applicable to Iraq's former occupier.
5) Appeal To Brazil: Please Help Stop US Government Before They Kill Again
Mark Weisbrot, Folha de São Paulo (Brazil), January 4, 2012
It is as if they learned nothing at all from the lies and imperial lust for power that dragged us into a murderous, multi-trillion dollar war with Iraq. On Friday the New York Times editorial board lauded U.S. military threats against Iran and called for "maximum economic pressure" to be brought to bear against the country. And this is America's most influential "liberal" newspaper. The right-wing hate media, which reaches an audience in the tens of millions every day, is even worse.
Iran has responded with threats of its own, to close the Strait of Hormuz – where one-fifth of the world's oil passes through-if the U.S. cuts off their oil exports. Not surprising, given that the U.S. government is trying to strangle Iran economically.
The United States' massive international diplomatic and propaganda effort may not lead immediately to war – the timing of any build-up or attack will, as with the Iraq war, be subject to electoral considerations. The problem is that these people are building the groundwork for a war that will happen when this President – or the next one-decides it is convenient. And when that time comes, it will likely be too late to stop it – that is what happened with Iraq, despite tens of millions of people taking to the streets worldwide in protest.
The march toward war is accelerating now because of the 2012 elections in the United States. The Republican presidential primary is mostly a circus, with all of the candidates except libertarian Ron Paul calling for war against Iran, and criticizing Obama for not being "tough enough." President Obama's response, since he is trying to pull votes away from the Republicans, is to appear as warlike as possible without actually provoking or starting a real war. Meanwhile the Congress, with the House controlled by Republicans and the whole legislature heavily influenced by the Israel lobby, has added even more pressure for war.
But no one should be fooled into thinking that this election-year war-mongering reflects the will of American voters. Republican presidential candidates are competing in the primary for the most right-wing, pro-war extremist voters (and campaign contributors) in the world, and Obama is following them. And the Israel lobby is following the pro-war, right-wing government of Israel. But polling data show that despite the daily brainwashing, the vast majority of Americans don't want a war with Iran.
In a 2010 detailed poll that has become more relevant recently, respondents were asked whether the U.S. should intervene in support of Israel, if Israel bombed Iran's nuclear facilities, and Iran retaliated, resulting in a war between the two countries. Fifty-six percent said no, with 38 percent saying yes.
[The poll: http://www.thechicagocouncil.org/UserFiles/File/POS_Topline%20Reports/POS%202010/Global%20Views%202010.pdf ]
Since the U.S. media does not recognize an independent civil society on foreign policy issues, the voice of the American people goes mostly unheard. And it doesn't help that the U.S. government used its muscle in the UN to appoint a compliant head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. This may explain that agency's recent change of tone to one that is more amenable to the war party.
So we appeal to Brazil and all other governments that do not want this war to help us stop it. When Brazil, together with Turkey, proposed a nuclear fuel swap arrangement for Iran in May of 2010, it temporarily put a dent in the armor of the war machine. We need more of this kind of diplomatic help.
6) As Israelis and Palestinians Talk, the Rise of a Political Islam Alters the Equation
Ethan Bronner, New York Times, January 3, 2012
Jerusalem - Israeli and Palestinian officials met in Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday, their first encounter in more than a year, and while little emerged, the meeting said a great deal about the crossroads facing the Palestinians - and the entire Middle East - as political Islam emerges as a potentially transformative force in the region.
While officials of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and the Israelis were meeting under the auspices of King Abdullah II of Jordan, who enjoys Western backing, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniya, was in Turkey dismissing the session and expressing his movement's solidarity with what he called "the Islamic spring."
A critical question is what kind of political Islam is emerging. There are indications in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, as well as within Hamas itself, that it is more pragmatic than when it was merely a force of opposition. Khaled Meshal, the exiled leader of Hamas, has expressed a willingness to work with Mr. Abbas in a far more accommodating way than in the past, especially in the area of using nonviolence to oppose Israel.
"There is a historic development by Hamas in the last two months," asserted Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the director of a Palestinian research group in Jerusalem. "It is going through the same process as the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere. The new political Islam is practical and realistic."
Israeli and American officials are skeptical of such a view. At the same time, Mr. Abdul Hadi said, the Hamas leaders in Gaza itself are less interested in accommodation with Fatah, suggesting a struggle ahead within the movement. He said that the Palestinian Authority's goal was to get Jordan's help in facing Israel, especially in the matters of borders and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This was a role played in the past by Egypt, now consumed with its own revolution. Its relations with Israel have frayed.
Nonetheless, attendance at the Jordan meeting was highly unpopular in the West Bank and Gaza, where it was viewed as caving in to Israel, which has refused to stop building settlements. Mr. Abbas, aware of the discontent, said Tuesday that he was considering "harsh measures" toward Israel if talks went nowhere by the end of the month.
7) Overtures To Egypt's Islamists Reverse Longtime U.S. Policy
David D. Kirkpatrick and Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, January 3, 2012
Cairo - With the Muslim Brotherhood pulling within reach of an outright majority in Egypt's new Parliament, the Obama administration has begun to reverse decades of mistrust and hostility as it seeks to forge closer ties with an organization once viewed as irreconcilably opposed to United States interests.
The administration's overtures - including high-level meetings in recent weeks - constitute a historic shift in a foreign policy held by successive American administrations that steadfastly supported the autocratic government of President Hosni Mubarak in part out of concern for the Brotherhood's Islamist ideology and historic ties to militants.
The shift is, on one level, an acknowledgment of the new political reality here, and indeed around the region, as Islamist groups come to power. Having won nearly half the seats contested in the first two rounds of the country's legislative elections, the Brotherhood on Tuesday entered the third and final round with a chance to extend its lead to a clear majority as the vote moved into districts long considered strongholds.
The reversal also reflects the administration's growing acceptance of the Brotherhood's repeated assurances that its lawmakers want to build a modern democracy that will respect individual freedoms, free markets and international commitments, including Egypt's treaty with Israel.
And at the same time it underscores Washington's increasing frustration with Egypt's military rulers, who have sought to carve out permanent political powers for themselves and used deadly force against protesters seeking an end to their rule.
The administration, however, has also sought to preserve its deep ties to the military rulers, who have held themselves up as potential guardians of their state's secular character. The administration has never explicitly threatened to take away the $1.3 billion a year in American military aid to Egypt, though new Congressional restrictions could force cuts.
Nevertheless, as the Brotherhood moves toward an expected showdown with the military this month over who should control the interim government - the newly elected Parliament or the ruling military council - the administration's public outreach to the Brotherhood could give the Islamic movement in Egypt important support. It could also confer greater international legitimacy on the Brotherhood.
It would be "totally impractical" not to engage with the Brotherhood "because of U.S. security and regional interests in Egypt," a senior administration official involved in shaping the new policy said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic affairs.
"There doesn't seem to me to be any other way to do it, except to engage with the party that won the election," the official said, adding, "They've been very specific about conveying a moderate message - on regional security and domestic issues, and economic issues, as well."
Some close to the administration have even called this emerging American relationship with the Brotherhood a first step toward a pattern that could take shape with the Islamist parties' coming to power around the region in the aftermath of the uprisings of the Arab Spring. Islamists have taken important roles in Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt in less than a year.
"You're certainly going to have to figure out how to deal with democratic governments that don't espouse every policy or value you have," said Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and recently joined with the ambassador to Egypt, Anne W. Patterson, for a meeting with top leaders of the Brotherhood's political party.
On Tuesday, the administration intensified its criticism of Egypt's military rulers over raids that last week shut down 10 civil society groups, including at least 3 American-financed democracy-building groups, as part of an investigation of illicit foreign financing that has been laden with conspiratorial and anti-American rhetoric.
"It is, frankly, unacceptable to us that that situation has not been returned to normal," a State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said, charging that Egypt's military rulers had broken pledges last week to top American officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.
She called the officials behind the campaign against the organizations "old Mubarak holdover types who clearly are not on the new page with the Egyptian people."
Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, argued that the United States missed chances to build ties to moderate Islamists earlier. When Mr. Mubarak jailed thousands of prominent Brotherhood members in 2005 and 2006, for example, the organization reached out to Washington.
"Now the Brotherhood knows it is in a stronger position and it is almost as if the U.S. is chasing them and they are sitting pretty," Mr. Hamid said. "But what can the U.S. do, intervene and change the election results?" he asked. "The only alternative is to be against democracy in the region."
8) Libyan Leader Warns Militias Could Create Civil War
J. David Goodman, New York Times, January 4, 2012
After deadly clashes between rival fighters in the capital this week, Libya's transitional government has expressed growing concern that the country could descend into civil war if its militias are not brought under control.
The leader of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, bluntly warned that the government faced "bitter options" as it struggles to reign in thousands of militia fighters whose ad hoc units formed during months of battles against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and have remained in the capital long after his death.
Since Colonel Qaddafi's fall, gun battles have periodically erupted in the capital, Tripoli, between rival groups from other areas of the country who poured into the city as it fell and proceeded to stake out territory last summer. The Libyan government had hoped to clear the city of these militiamen by Dec. 20.
With large numbers of fighters lingering, Mr. Jalil described the dangerous dilemma facing the country in a speech in the eastern city of Benghazi late on Tuesday. "We deal with these violations strictly and put the Libyans in a military confrontation, which we don't accept," he was quoted by Reuters as saying. "Or we split and there will be a civil war."
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