Posts Tagged ‘Barak’


This article was published at LobeLog

Well, here it is, the day after. The Israeli elections are over, but the form of the next government is not at all clear. Most likely, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Beiteinu party

Next to the polling station, photo by Yossi Gurvitz

Next to the polling station, photo by Yossi Gurvitz

will form a government with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party being the main partner. This is by far the most likely scenario, though others possibilities exist, even a million-to-one long shot that Lapid could form a government. Labor is likely to be leading the opposition, unless Lapid surprises everyone and stays out of a Netanyahu-led government.

The new Knesset will be somewhat less tilted to the right than the last one, but this is not likely to make a big difference in terms of Israel’s approach to the Palestinians. Indeed, in some ways, it might serve Netanyahu to have a friendlier face in Lapid to cover policies that might be slightly different rhetorically but essentially the same on the ground. More than anything else, the shift in government is going to be felt domestically, in terms of greater attention to civic and economic issues. Indeed, no Israeli election in my memory compares to this one for the dominance of domestic over security issues.

Given that there’s still more to see before the full ramifications of the election are known, I’ll engage here with a few winners and losers. (more…)

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This article was published at Alternet.

The former head of Israel’s General Security Service, commonly known as the Shin Bet, has caused quite a stir with an interview that roasts Prime Minister Benjamin

Former Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin

Former Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin

Netanyahu alive. Yuval Diskin paints a disturbing picture of Netanyahu as a leader who, far more than most, is motivated by personal political gain rather than by strategy. Cynically, and one might even say appropriately, most of us routinely ascribe such motives to most politicians, but Diskin’s point is that Netanyahu leans much more toward this motivation than most.

When one considers the amount of power an Israeli Prime Minister holds, and the impact Israeli actions have on world events, having someone like the man Diskin describes in that office is alarming even while it explains much about why, even for Middle East affairs, the current status quo is so bleak. But here in the United States, it should also give us pause as we consider who this man is that our Congress, led by the Israel Lobby, is so enthralled with.

Diskin describes all the other Prime Ministers he worked under since Menachem Begin as ultimately being driven by their view of Israel’s best interests. He does not suggest they were immune to personal interest, but that when it came to the really crucial security decisions, it was not their primary motivation. But Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak, are different, says Diskin: “Unfortunately the feeling that I have, and that many senior security officials have, is that when we talk about Netanyahu and Barak, that with them the personal, opportunistic and current interests, are the thing that take precedence over anything else.  And I emphasize that I am reflecting here something that not only I feel, but also many of the colleagues at my level with whom I spoke.” Whether Diskin’s assessment of historical Israeli leadership is on target, the fact remains that he obviously sees a huge difference in the extent to which personal gain motivates the current government’s top decision-makers. (more…)

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My latest piece at LobeLog asks whether the announcement of a joint list between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu means that we’re a step closer to an attack on Iran. I believe the answer is no, but we’re certainly not farther away either.

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This article originally appeared at LobeLog, which is a treasure trove of valuable foreign policy analysis. I hope you will check the site out, I’m sure you’ll find it worth your while. 

Headlines today featured news of a spike in oil prices based on fears of an Israeli strike on Iran. That fear is based on last week’s major uptick in Israeli rhetoric — mostly from Defense Minister Ehud Barak — which was geared toward goading the United States into military action against Iran. While tension has indeed risen, Israel’s tactics could backfire.

Netanyahu and Barak

The most recent surge of tension began with an“anonymous” leak, widely believed to have come from Barak, stating that the US had a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that showed Iran to be a greater threat than previously believed. Barak then told Israeli Radio that there was a new report, perhaps not a NIE, which brought the US assessment closer to “ours.”

The “ours” Barak referred to was that of himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose assessment differs not only from the Obama Administration’s, but also from Israel’s own military and intelligence establishment. Netanyahu and Barak’s take also differs from Israeli public opinion about the threat Iran poses. In a poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 10 and announced earlier today (Hebrew only), only 23% of Israelis support a strike on Iran, while 46% oppose it.

But Netanyahu and Barak had indeed attempted to sway public opinion. The day after Barak’s statements, Israeli headlines were devoted to a possible strike on Iran. Netanyahu also proceeded to rekindle Holocaust fears and another article appeared in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, with an anonymous “decision maker” — almost certainly Barak again — warning about the unspeakable consequences of a nuclear Iran and urging action.

It’s no surprise that markets are reacting with fear to all of this, but what can we make of recent events with a more sober eye? For one, Netanyahu and Barak are growing more concerned about the potential for an attack on Iran — something they want very badly. They are also now playing a much higher-stakes political game in order to get Iran attacked.

As Ha’aretz editor-in-chief Aluf Benn points out, Netanyahu and Barak have been screaming hysterically about Iran while other world leaders haven’t been all that concerned about their complaints. Israeli rhetoric has been escalating steadily for years now, but there are good reasons to believe that there will not be an Israeli attack. First, there is serious internal opposition. Second, Israel isn’t likely to strike Iran because it doesn’t have, by itself, the capacity to destroy or substantially set back the Iranian nuclear program. In other words, Israel can’t make the minimal gains required to justify the risks and consequences of taking on Iran alone. (more…)

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In my latest piece for Babylon Times, hosted by Souciant, I examine the responses to the terrorist attack near Eilat and the subsequent Israeli incursions into Gaza and Egypt. The title says a lot: Ready Aim Failure: Bibi blows it, again.

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When I’ve spoken at public gatherings, one of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked has been about Iran and its nuclear program. I’ve followed this issue very closely since the early 1990s and since 2001, my answer has been the same, and everything that’s happened since has bolstered my view of this issue.

In my view, Iran certainly has worked to develop a nuclear weapons capacity. It is almost unfathomable that they wouldn’t do so.

This is the sort of propaganda we have gotten too used to regarding a nuclear Iran. How much concern is really warranted?

The incentives are massive. It starts with the hostility the country faces, justified or not, from two major nuclear powers, the United States and Israel. An Iranian nuke would also change the regional balance of power, breaking Israel’s Middle Eastern monopoly on nuclear weapons.

But it doesn’t end there. The Iranian neighborhood outside of the Mideast is a heavily nuclear one, including Pakistan, which borders Iran, India, which has an unsteady standoff with Pakistan, as well as Russia and China. There’s no immediate threat to Iran there, but there has been in the past, particularly from the USSR, and could be again someday. Things change.

And what are the disincentives? Well, they’re significant enough that Iran pursued its nuclear program clandestinely. It includes tension with Europe, which Iran desperately needs as a trading partner, and in the past it included the potential for a nuclear race with Iraq.

But the disincentives do not include an American or Israeli attack. This I have maintained for a decade and nothing has dissuaded me from that view.

True enough, there are significant forces in both the US and Israel that want to launch an attack on Iran. But they have largely been reduced to saber-rattling by the logistical difficulties and the regional ramifications of such an attack. Cooler heads, even among those who would like to attack Iran if the risks and consequences were not so dire, have prevailed.

It is also the case that anyone familiar with Iran knows that, despite its repressive theocracy and its deliberately provocative and offensive President, the country is not an irrational actor. They’ve never launched an aggressive war, and their very real support for radical Islamic groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, though often exaggerated, is based on a clear political calculus.

Those well-versed in Iran know they are not seeking a weapon which, once they have it, will be launched against Israel. Indeed, Israel knows this very well, as Ehud Barak himself recently confirmed. But the fear mongering, in both the US and Israel, is politically useful and Israel is indeed very worried that their nuclear monopoly will be broken. So are the Saudis, who, like Israel, would have a much more serious opponent to deal with in a nuclear Iran.

The issue remains alive, however, despite the fact that successive National Intelligence Estimates in the US, as well as other reports from international bodies have consistently stated that, despite Iran’s less than total cooperation with inspections, the conclusion is that Iran halted its active development of a nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has not resumed it since. (more…)

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The announcement today of a deal for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas certainly caused a great stir. It’s worth examining what it means.

Is This For Real?

That’s the first question to be asked and only the coming days will provide an answer, but the early indications are that it seems like this will finally happen. The announcement of the deal was met with no small amount of cynicism, as these agreements have been said to be coming about in the past, but have always evaporated over some dispute or other.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (left) and PA President Mahmoud Abbas

This has a different feel. Probably the biggest reason for that is the proposed vote in the UN in September on recognition of Palestinian statehood. The proposition is problematic, even for supportive countries, as long as the Palestinians themselves are split. Also, while Egypt has been the broker of these agreements in the past, this time the Mubarak regime, and particularly his aide Omar Suleiman, are not involved. The new faces may have had ideas that the former mediators would not have broached. Finally, the Arab Spring has unleashed a wave of democracy. Neither of the Palestinian factions want to wait until such a thing happens in their own territory. But more importantly, the increasing weight of Arab public opinion will be a boon to the Palestinian cause, both in new Arab regimes and in the current ones that survive. A unified Palestinian government will be in a much better position to take advantage of that.

The deal apparently will mean a sharing of power between Hamas and Fatah in the broader PA government, while getting around the question of control of security forces (which has been the main sticking point in previous attempts at an agreement) by keeping the status quo, where Hamas will control security in Gaza, Fatah in the West Bank. Ultimately the PA will be reconstituted by elections within a year.

If this does happen, it’s a game-changer. The changes are not entirely predictable; nothing ever is, especially in this conflict. But there is no doubt that it will mean changes for the Palestinian Authority and will present new dilemmas for Israel and the United States, as well as the larger Middle East and the international community in general. (more…)

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