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Archive for the ‘geopolitics’ Category

As noted here time and again, Iran has nothing to lose by waiting out the end of George Bush’s term.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said May 29 that Iran thinks U.S. voters want to change the foreign policies of President George W. Bush, and he said that the present U.S. presidential campaigns make that clear, The Associated Press reported. Mottaki, who would not endorse a candidate, said that foreign policy would play an important part in the election of the next U.S. president.

Iran could not have had a better March-May. A rumored Israeli Gaza offensive, against Iran’s proxy Hamas, failed to materialize. Hezbollah, staked by Iran, was forced to go all-in in Lebanon, won, and has returned to a defensive crouch.

Mottaki’s announcement is a signal to Ahmadinejad’s domestic foes that Iraq is worth waiting for for a little while longer. He happens to be right.

US econo-political analysis is divided into two camps. The “mainstream” camp sees US growth figures as credible, and takes at face value the idea that the US, by sheer economic vitality, has avoided a recession. This school views US inflation as temporary. It views 10/90 “right track/wrong track” numbers as merely a dubious poll, a product of stampeding pessimism, spawned by the media’s sensationalizing of US malaise. This group has faith in government and banking institutions, and little faith in consumers’ ability to assess or predict their own behavior. Curiously, this group is also disproportionately Republican and “free-market.” It does not see much potential for an economic- or inflation-driven political upheaval in November 2008.

The “cynics,” e.g., Bill Gross, Mish Shedlock, and John Williams, trust consumers’ perceptions over the government’s. Cynics argue that consumers are telling the truth when they say how pessimistic they are, and trace the dissonance between official and consumer perceptions to vagaries of BLS unemployment and inflation accounting–a story flogged to death here, and much more persuasively on other sites.

The cynics see much higher potential for political upheaval in November 2008.

Apparently, so does Iran.

Bush Administration policy vis-a-vis Iran/Iraq usually means dialing up tensions over Iranian nukes and weapons supplies into Iraq, bringing up aircraft carriers, launching large operations against Iran’s Mehdi Army Iraqi proxy, slapping sanctions on Iranian banks, using its own militias to incinerate strategic people inside Iran, etc.

After Hezbollah routed the US alliance in Lebanon (followed by an abrupt end to the US/Iraqi crackdown on Sadr in Baghdad) one would assume that the Bush Administration policy of “we’d like to talk, but we’re happy to pull the trigger too” attitude has lost credibility. Iran is quietly leveraging its gains by edging the US out of Iraq:

May 29, 2008 1419 GMT
Senior Iraqi official Sa’ad Javad Qandil told Alalam television May 29 that a draft of an agreement to extend U.S. troops in Iraq beyond 2008 was problematic, especially any condition that would allow the U.S. to establish a military base there.

Predictably, Qandil is a member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Teheran’s “mainstream” Iraq proxy (the Mehdi Army is, most of the time, its militant proxy). Hezbollah’s unanswered victory in Lebanon has ramifications across the entire region, not so much in the eyes of Americans as in the eyes of Arabs who were reminded, once again, that the personal bonds between Ahmadinejad and militia leaders can result in very quick and decisive action when Teheran’s interest are threatened.

Anyway, Iran hasn’t been deterred by US tough talk in the past, and there’s less reason than ever to think that louder tough talk will change Iran’s behavior at all. Lebanon has changed the game.

I would repeat my “sh*t or get off the pot” mantra about the US and Iran, but the US has backed down one too many times. I’m beginning to believe we should throw the Saudis the keys as soon as possible, to hedge against a probably adverse US election outcome while it’s still possible.

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During a somewhat heated argument with some Jewish friends over Israel’s recent backstabbing of the US, a national security hobbyist recommended the following article as a defense of recent Israeli policy. Phrases which jumped out at me are highlighted in bold.

Hizbollah’s Increased Strength: Risks and Opportunities for Israel, INSS Insight No. 57, May 26, 2008
Shalom, Zaki

One tangible aftermath of the Second Lebanon War and the agreement that concluded it is an increase in Hizbollah’s strength. [… …]

Since the end of the Second Lebanon War, Hizbollah has succeeded in rehabilitating its forces to a great extent. According to various reports, Hizbollah today has tens of thousands of missiles, some of them long range, and is capable of inflicting very serious damaged deep into Israel. Thus, the risks involved in Hizbollah taking control of Lebanon are quite apparent. Less apparent are the pluses that may emerge from this process.

[Hezbollah didn’t “rehabilitate” anything. Its victory in 2006 did not even require a full Hezbollah mobilization. 10,000 IDF soldiers were defeated by 3,000 Hezbollah fighters. At most 184 Hezbollah fighters were killed in the war — much less than the “at least 450” bandied about by Israeli propaganda.]

[…]

… For many years Lebanon has been ruled by moderate, pro-West leaders. This leadership views Hizbollah as a bitter and hostile rival, and it too is interested in clipping the organization’s wings. At the same time, Lebanese leaders are afraid of a confrontation, and in practice allow Hizbollah to operate against Israel in a “bloodletting” effort, while stressing their inability to restrain the organization. When Israel responds against Lebanon, the Lebanese leadership uses its good relations with Western countries, in particular the United States and the moderate Arab countries, to exert pressure on Israel not to harm it.

This phenomenon was evidenced in prominent fashion on July 12, 2006. In a Cabinet discussion held after the serious consequences of that day’s Hizbollah operation became clear, then-Chief of Staff Dan Halutz proposed attacking infrastructure installations in Lebanon, including electric plants, oil refineries, and water sources. His suggestion was supported by a number of ministers. However, the senior political echelon, and in particular the prime minister, defense minister, and minister of foreign affairs, vetoed the idea. The reason: unequivocal clarifications received by Israel that very same day from senior levels in the American administration and the British government to the effect that Israel must refrain from damaging Lebanese targets [1] because this might undermine the stability of the pro-Western government headed by Fouad Siniora. Consequently, the proposal was shelved.

We lack adequate tools to assess whether that proposal, if implemented, would have generated an essentially different outcome from the events of July-August 2006. Nonetheless, it is clear that an American-British veto of this option stemmed from the fact that the official government in Lebanon was pro-Western and enjoyed the support of the United States. The fact that Israel was not able to exercise the option to attack Lebanon represents a significant constraint on Israel’s freedom to maneuver.

Should Hizbollah in fact take control of Lebanon, Israel’s options of maneuvering vis-à-vis Hizbollah are significantly increased. It will become clear to all sides that no international element will get involved to protect Hizbollah from Israeli attacks. Obviously, this does not mean that Israel would necessarily attack Lebanon’s infrastructure should Hizbollah cast down the gauntlet. Beyond international constraints, the Israeli leadership also has to contend with a set of legal and normative, value-based constraints and restrictions that would make it very difficult indeed for Israel to take steps against civilian infrastructure.[2] This has become clear in Israel’s refraining from damaging the electrical and fuel infrastructures of the Gaza Strip under Hamas control. At the same time, there is no doubt that Hizbollah’s taking control of Lebanon would expand Israel’s ability to maneuver vis-à-vis Lebanon in case of another armed conflict, at least from the international perspective.

From Israel’s own perspective, Hizbollah is first and foremost a body representing a military threat against Israel. However, Hizbollah is also a powerful body with economic and financial assets, and an organization with far-reaching political ambitions. Therefore, in any military confrontation with Israel, if Hizbollah holds the reins of leadership it would conclude that there is nothing stopping Israel from severely damaging its assets. The very awareness of this fact, i.e., that there would not be anyone trying to delimit Israel’s scope of action in terms of damaging Lebanon, may cause it to refrain from a confrontation with Israel.

Beyond this, one may speculate that Hizbollah’s taking control of Lebanon will bring about a new awareness on the part of various international elements of the “Iranian threat.” To date, the concerns of the international community regarding Iran have focused on its intention to develop nuclear capabilities. Hizbollah’s taking control of Lebanon would bring the danger inherent in Iran into sharper relief, not only regarding the nuclear question but also vis-à-vis the stability of other pro-Western regimes in the region, chief among them Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf states. Such a development might very well match the interests of the State of Israel.

[1] Not only is this immaterial (for reasons which I will soon explain), but it’s also an audacious exaggeration.

Very few people know the exact phrasing of the back-channel US request/ demand/ recommendation/ “directive” on the scope of Israel’s operations. [Since when was Israel a shackled vassal to US/UK politics?] One would think that collateral damage to Lebanon was of secondary importance to winning the war.

More importantly, however, Lebanon 2006 was an Israeli tactical, strategic, intellectual and logistical catastrophe, from top to bottom. Had Hezbollah’s military bandwidth been stretched by the conflict, a Western “veto” of strikes on Hezbollah assets such as power generators, etc., could have borne culpability.

However, Hezbollah’s capabilities were not remotely stretched. Hezbollah didn’t even call up its own reserves!

The US Army has at least one detailed dissection of Israel’s Second Lebanon War, by Matt Matthews of the US Army Combined Arms Center. It could be that politics could have obscured the mention of retrospectively adverse US “directives” in an Army study. That isn’t consistent with Army practice, but I will concede it for the sake of argument.

[2] is long-hand for, “We base our policy on what others think of us, not on what we believe best for our country; and anyway, our culture just doesn’t let us win wars anymore.” “One may speculate” that Israel has completely lost its martial vigor as well as touch with reality. But Nasrallah’s and Ahmadinejad’s vindication is no matter of speculation.

Without further ado, here’s a representative US Army assessment of Lebanon 2006:

[p. 25-26]

… Brigadier General Shimon Naveh’s Systemic Operational Design (SOD) was a tool intended to help IDF commanders plan their campaigns. Naveh founded the IDF’s Operational Theory Research Institute (OTRI) in 1995. After years of work by Naveh and other intellectuals within the OTRI, SOD attempted to provide commanders with the aptitude necessary “to think critically, systemically and methodologically about 25 war fighting.” The design focused “on the concept of the ‘enemy’ and provides operational commanders with tools to conceptualize both their enemies and themselves for the purpose of designing suitable campaigns,” wrote a former OTRI member.38

Canadian Army officer L. Craig Dalton, who interviewed Naveh in 2006, described SOD as an “intellectual exercise that draws on the creative vision, experience, intuition, and judgment of commanders to provide a framework for the development of detailed operational plans.”39 For this new design, Naveh drew heavily on terminology from “post modern French philosophy, literary theory, architecture and psychology.” An IDF general explained SOD in the following way:

This space that you look at, this room that you look at, is nothing but your interpretation of it. Now, you can stretch the boundaries of your interpretation, but not in an unlimited fashion, after all, it must be bound by physics, as it contains buildings and alleys. The question is, how do you interpret the alley? Do you interpret the alley as a place, like every architect and every town planner does, to walk through, or do you interpret the alley as a place forbidden to walk through? This depends only on interpretation. We interpreted the alley as a place forbidden to walk through, and the window as a place forbidden to look through, because a weapon awaits us in the alley, and a booby trap awaits us behind the doors. This is because the enemy interprets space in a traditional, classical manner, and I do not want to obey this interpretation and fall into his trap. Not only do I not want to fall into his traps, I want to surprise him! This is the essence of war. I need to win. I need to emerge from an unexpected place. . . . This is why we opted for the methodology of moving through walls. . . . Like a worm that eats its way forward, emerging at points and then disappearing.40

For the IDF, the major problem with SOD was the new terminology and methodology. Not every officer in the IDF had the time or the inclination to study postmodern French philosophy. It was questionable whether the majority of IDF officers would grasp a design that Naveh proclaimed was “not intended for ordinary mortals.”41 Many IDF officers thought the entire program elitist, while others could not understand why the old system of simple orders and terminology was being replaced by a design that few could understand.42

After several alterations and revisions, the new IDF doctrine was endorsed and signed by the new Chief of the IDF General Staff, Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, in April 2006. Halutz was the fi rst IAF officer ever appointed Chief of the IDF General Staff. On the first page of the document, Halutz wrote, “Familiarity with and use of the concept of operation are the key to our success in warfare, in which the only option available is victory. Therefore, the commanding offi cers of the IDF must understand, assimilate and implement what is written there when they call their forces into action and prepare them for their goal.”43 It is possible that not even Halutz understood the new doctrine he endorsed and signed. Naveh explained that the “core of this document is the theory of SOD.”

[p. 37]

Halutz convinced Olmert and Peretz that Israel should strike back against Hezbollah and the Lebanese central government with a substantial air campaign. The plan was not designed to directly or fully crush Hezbollah’s capabilities but to produce “effects” that would force Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon and cause them to disarm.14 Halutz proposed an immense air strike against “symbolic” Lebanese targets and Hezbollah’s military resources. The plan also called for targeted strikes against Hezbollah’s military and political leadership. “His idea,” Naveh stated, “was that . . . we hit all these targets [and] Hezbollah will collapse as a military organization. No one really believed that the Lebanese government was in position to really pressure Hezbollah. The idea was that Hezbollah would give up and then everybody would go home happy. Again, the idea was to change something in the equation; to change the conditions by forcing them to become political and abandon the military option.”15 Hezbollah, however, had prepared for an effects-based campaign, and the Lebanese government was too weak and incapable of challenging Hezbollah. There was simply no lever to pull that would cause Hezbollah to crumple.16

While some Israeli politicians and IDF officers were skeptical of Halutz’s campaign plan, he failed to effectively address or present their doubts to Olmert and Peretz. The Winograd Report maintains Halutz did not reveal substantial deficiencies in the ground forces that may well thwart the success of their mission. Furthermore, he did not adequately address the fact that the military’s own assessment indicated ground operations would most likely be warranted.17

The stage was now set to reveal to the world what one Israeli writer described as “a witches brew of high tech fantasies and basic unpreparedness.”18 …

[p. 45]

… A general on Hulutz’s staff told a reporter on 22 July that “The goal is not necessarily to eliminate every Hezbollah rocket. What we must do is disrupt the military logic of Hezbollah. I would say that this is still not a matter of days away.” Many ground commanders were stunned by the remark and questioned the true aims of the war.10

On the same day the IDF reserve forces were called to duty, Israel was forced to request an emergency resupply of precision-guided missiles from the United States. In 10 days, the IAF had used up most of its high-tech munitions, and yet, this huge expenditure of weaponry did little to change Hezbollah’s “military logic” or its fighting capability. Mossad was already gathering information to leak to the press on 28 July, indicating “Hezbollah had not suffered a significant degradation in its military capabilities, and that the organization might be able to carry on the conflict for several months.”11

… Hezbollah Secretary- Undeterred by the failure of the air campaign and stiff Hezbollah resistance, Halutz and his staff continued efforts to secure a “consciousness of victory” and to deliver to Hezbollah a “cognitive perception of defeat.” …General Nasrallah had delivered his well-known victory speech in Bint Jbeil after the 2000 Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Halutz asserted that capturing the town would prove symbolic and “create a spectacle of victory.” This “spectacle of victory” was undoubtedly designed to effect the cognitive perception of Hezbollah. In the end, however, the battle for Bint Jbeil would have a great deal more effect on the Israeli public’s perception of the IDF’s professionalism and judgment.13 …

… Halutz ordered Adams to “conquer Bint Jbeil” with just one battalion. Adam was infuriated and quickly reminded his commander that “the casbah [old quarter] of Bint Jbail alone contained more than 5,000 houses. And you want me to send in one battalion?” …

[p. 50]

By 5 August, the IDF had approximately 10,000 soldiers in southern Lebanon. In three weeks of war, the ground forces managed to penetrate no farther than four miles. Remarkably, the border zone remained unsecured, as were the towns of Maroun al Ras and Bint Jbeil.34 Yet, the entire Hezbollah force south of the Litani consisted of only 3,000 fighters. Unlike the IDF, Hezbollah did not call on its sizable reserve forces and chose to fight the entire war south of the Litani with its original force of 3,000 men.35 For Israel and the IDF, there was still no “spectacle of victory” or any sign of Hezbollah’s impending defeat. …

… Knowing full well that the war would be over in days and the old border reestablished, Olmert and Peretz made the decision to expand the 52 war effort by ordering their divisions north to the Litani. It was perhaps one of the most bizarre episodes of the war. While the reasoning for the offensive maneuver remains clouded, the move was clearly not designed to annihilate Hezbollah. Ron Tira was certain that “at no point was an order given to systemically and comprehensively deal with the rockets or Hezbollah.”40 It would appear that the IDF was still following Halutz’s “raid” strategy, albeit this time with divisions instead of battalions and brigades.41 Senior IDF officers would later state that the operation was designed as a “Battle of Awareness against Hizbollah.” Others thought the operation was designed as “a kind of show designed to demonstrate to Hizbollah who is the Boss.”42

I’m guessing that my long-term readers have been driven to nausea from my endless ruminations on Lebanon. However, this will go a long way to explaining future US policy shifts away from Israel.

The INSS is presumably a respected and connected part of the Israeli nonprofit think-tank apparatus. While Dan “Derrida” Halutz may have been thrown on his sword, the intellectual arrogance exemplified by Halutz continues to rule Israeli strategy in Halutz’s stead. Not only that, but Israeli commentators (beyond this one) have the chutzpah to blame the United States for such dereliction!

In other news, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah today gave his blessing to “all the resistance fighters in Iraq.” Including, presumably, al Qaeda.

Here’s to Israel.

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Hezbollah’s coup was formalized with Gen. Michel Suleiman’s election today as president of Lebanon. Suleiman directly disobeyed Fouad Siniora’s orders to put down the Hezbollah coup. Siniora and Hariri are finished politically. Druzes and Maronites associated with the pro-Western majority leaders of their factions face dhimmitude and gradual tribal exile.

Western media may, for a time, parrot Jerusalem’s jaw-dropping chutzpah and insist that Hezbollah was weakened by this confrontation. Liberals, unfortunately, often invent ludicrous ex post facto justifications for refusing to stand up to hostile force.

Didn’t kill enough looters in Iraq immediately after the occupation? “Well, the occupation would have been so much more dysfunctional otherwise!”

Positive results of the surge? “That was because the mixed neighborhoods were already totally cleansed anyway, there was no more cleansing to be done!” [Uh. OK.]

Bill Richardson’s hilarious Darfur negotiations broke down immediately after he left? “You don’t know that! He got them to promise a cease-fire–even you would admit that’s better than nothing, right?” [No, because it makes us look naively stupid, as well as impotent.]

No progress on North Korean nukes? “Bush’s “appeasenik” North Korea policy was so much more successful than the Iraq quagmire!” [Actually, it was a combination of NK bluffing the whole way, combined with the threat of fatal Chinese sanctions for significant misbehavior, that are bringing in North Korea from the cold.]

Iran runs the Middle East since we consistently backed down from confronting them? [“splutter… peace process … Palestinians … splutter splutter”]

No doubt, liberals will issue similar pacifism-queered ex post propaganda convincing themselves that, really, Hezbollah lost the world by winning Lebanon. The 101st Appeaseniks must bridge the gap between their relentless egomania and the reality that their cult of peace has, once again, proven an embarrassing failure.

However, a lot of us understand what happened. Israel shirked its near-term obligations for much more extinction a few years down the road. American warships were directly off the Lebanese coast, ready to provide electronic support to Israeli columns.

Mainstream Israeli political coverage is no more predictive than American political coverage. It’s a long-running soap opera in which the best bet — at all times — is against the mainstream media consensus.

The drama of Olmert’s latest trial apparently involves piddling amounts of money transferred between a US Jewish financier, Morris Talansky, and Olmert himself. Presumably this represents an attempted power grab by pro-Likud elements within the Israeli prosecutorial apparatus. More importantly, though, the trial doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

It’s one thing for Americans, who are so far away from these tribal feuds, to be ignorant of foreign affairs. Israelis, however, seem no less, if not far more naive about prospects for peace than their American counterparts, judging by the popularity of Tzipi Livni’s born-again pacifism. It says a lot about how insulated many Israelis are from Israeli “crises” which inundate Western media.

In any case, in the United States, money talks — more than ever. Israel has less of it than ever, the Arabs more. The neoconservatives lost public credibility years ago, but at this point, they’ve lost credibility with everyone. The Arabists will be running the show from here on out.

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via

Sunday night, May 11, the Israeli army was poised to strike Hizballah. The Shiite militia was winding up its takeover of West Beirut and battling pro-government forces in the North. When he opened the regular cabinet meeting Sunday, May 11, prime minister Ehud Olmert had already received the go-ahead from Washington for a military strike to halt the Hizballah advance. The message said that President George W. Bush would not call off his visit to Israel to attend its 60th anniversary celebrations and would arrive as planned Wednesday, May 14 – even if the Israeli army was still fighting in Lebanon and Hizballah struck back against Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion airport.

American intelligence estimated that Hizballah was capable of retaliating against northern Israel at the rate of 600 missiles a day.

Olmert, defense minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Tzipi Lvini, the only ministers in the picture, decided not to intervene in Lebanon’s civil conflict. Iran’s surrogate army consequently waltzed unchecked to its second victory in two years over the United States and Israel.

DEBKAfile’s US and military sources disclose the arguments Washington marshaled to persuade Israel to go ahead: Hizballah, after its electronic trackers had learned from the Israel army’s communication and telephone networks that not a single troop or tank was on the move, took the calculated risk of transferring more than 5,000 armed men from the South to secure the capture of West Beirut.

This presented a rare moment to take Hizballah by surprise, Washington maintained. The plan outlined in Washington was for the Israeli Air force to bombard Hizballah’s positions in the South, the West and southern Beirut. This would give the pro-government Christian, Sunni and Druze forces the opening for a counter-attack. Israeli tanks would simultaneously drive into the South and head towards Beirut in two columns.

1. The western column would take the Tyre-Sidon-Damour-Beirut coastal highway.

2. The eastern column would press north through Nabatiya, Jezzine, Ain Zchalta and Alei.

Sunday night, Olmert called Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora and his allies, the Sunni majority leader Saad Hariri, head of the mainline Druze party Walid Jumblatt and Christian Phalanges chief Samir Geagea and informed them there would be no Israeli strike against Hizballah. Jerusalem would not come to their aid.

According to American sources, the pro-Western front in Beirut collapsed then and there, leaving Hizballah a free path to victory. The recriminations from Washington sharpened day by day and peaked with President Bush’s arrival in Israel.

Our sources report that, behind the protestations of undying American friendship and camaraderie shown in public by the US president, prime minister and Shimon Peres, Bush and his senior aides bitterly reprimanded Israel for its passivity in taking up the military challenge and crushing an avowed enemy in Lebanon.

While the president was busy with ceremonies and speeches, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley took Israeli officials to task. Hadley in particular bluntly blamed Israel for the downfall of the pro-Western government bloc in Beirut and its surrender to the pro-Iranian, Pro-Syrian Hizballah. If Israeli forces had struck Hizballah gunmen wile on the move, he said, Hassan Nasrallah would not have seized Beirut and brought the pro-government militias to their knees.

One US official said straight out to Olmert and Barak: For two years, you didn’t raise a finger when Hizballah took delivery of quantities of weapons, including missiles, from Iran and Syria. You did not interfere with Hizballah’s military buildup in southern Lebanon then or its capture of Beirut now.

IDF generals who were present at these conversations reported they have never seen American officials so angry or outspoken. Israel’s original blunder, they said, was its intelligence misreading of Hizballah’s first belligerent moves on May 4. At that point, Israel’s government military heads decided not to interfere, after judging those moves to be unthreatening.

The Americans similarly criticizes Israel for letting Hamas get away with its daily rocket and missile attacks on Israel civilians year after year. A blow to Hizballah would have deterred Hamas from exercising blackmail tactics for a ceasefire. In Sharm el-Sheikh Sunday, May 18, President Bush called on Middle East countries to confront Hamas and isolate terror-sponsors Iran and Syria.

Familiar fecklessness, indeed. We now know what the “miscalculation” was — the pro-Western Lebanese banked on Israel to back them up. But no: Olmert has an election to win. If Lebanese Sunni and Druze, and American soldiers in Iraq, need to die because because Jewish boys are just too precious… well, that’s the problem of the goyim, not the Jews, right? This will not be forgotten.

At least Rice doesn’t have her head as deep in the sand as I thought.

Either Israel knifed us–big time–or the Israeli government’s corrosive dereliction, entitlement mentality , and serial incompetence have infected the core of their intelligence apparatus.

Oh, yeah–it also shows whom Bush was really referring to in his “appeasement” speech last week. Definitely not Obama, probably not Carter, absolutely Olmert.

I guess the Israeli media is too stupid and/or sycophantic to point out that “inconvenient truth.” A democracy at face value only, indeed.

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Was just reading Drudge’s OBAMA REAX, where Obama interpreted Bush’s “those who talk, appease” comment as a gutshot at Obama.

My initial reaction, having spent way too much time studying that part of the world, was that Bush’s comment was almost certainly aimed at Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Shimon Peres — not Obama. General election foreign policy rhetoric, as we have seen, has nothing to do with reality. There’s no way to know whether or not Obama’s an “appeaser” until he actually starts making decisions.

Olmert, on the other hand, has made a slew of appeasing decisions, long after it became screamingly obvious that Israel’s most rational response was a heavy-handed one. The Arabs are furious that the Israelis, given such an obvious opportunity to maul any and every of Iran’s proxies in the region, has repeatedly squandered them.

Considering that Bush’s speech was to the Knesset, in light of mounting Hamas and Hezbollah provocations, it’s fairly clear that Bush was referring to Olmert, not Obama.

Update: here’s the quote in full.

In a speech to Israel’s Knesset, Bush said that “some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along … We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

Responding with a statement, the Obama campaign seized on Bush’s remarks even as it was unclear to whom Bush was referring.

“It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 6Oth anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack,” Obama said in the statement. “George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.”

The White House said Bush’s comment wasn’t a reference to Obama.

“It is not,” press secretary Dana Perino told reporters in Israel. “I would think that all of you who cover these issues and have for a long time have known that there are many who have suggested these types of negotiations with people that the president, President Bush, thinks that we should not talk to. I understand when you’re running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you. That is not always true. And it is not true in this case.”

Obama’s definitely not the sole reference here. It gives Olmert some weasel room to help him save face, and probably is a secondary jab at Obama, but I am sure Olmert is the primary reference.

Score a rare point for the White House. Not that I expect the “reality-based community” to bother figuring it out.

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12:03  US Senate OKs amendment to halt strategic petroleum reserve fill;
amendment passes by veto-proof margin – DJ [Dow Jones]

This is part of larger choreography. … If the Democrats are attempting to freelance, the CIA could easily bust an attempted Senate veto override given how ‘dirty’ so many senators are.

The end result of this will be either a busted congressional override attempt, which would be a very hawkish signal, or the direct onset of a Mideastern war (i.e. the SPR has been filled up to the extent planned in preparation).

Note that oil has strengthened significantly today, concomitant with dollar strengthening. The oil market is not interpreting this implied reduction in demand very bearishly.

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The Olmert government cannot do anything other than spin. This is beyond pathetic.

… Yadlin said Israel must be prepared for a new state of affairs. “Hizbullah’s use of arms inside Lebanon is a different sort of message. We need to be realistic, but there is no need for hysteria.”

He said Hizbullah had exposed a weakness because it had violated the 1989 Taif Agreement – an Arab blueprint for freeing Lebanon from foreign influence. …

Got that? In overthrowing Siniora, Hezbollah showed weakness.

In other news, Walid Jumblatt, the only pro-West leader whose movement comported itself remotely well, is staring at a lonely capitulation while Israel — and to a lesser extent everyone else — spins dizzying illusions of some kind of “interim government” that isn’t a Hezbollah puppet.

May 11, 2008 1554 GMT

Fighting broke out in Lebanon on May 11 between pro-government supporters of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Shiite gunmen, The Associated Press reported, citing security officials. The clashes, which began at about 2 p.m. local time, took place in the central mountains near Beirut and involved rocket and machine gun fire. Jumblatt has urged his supporters to lay down their arms, Iran’s PressTV reported, adding that heavy gunfire and explosions have been heard in Mount Lebanon and south of Beirut.

Assuming regional factors stay more or less constant, Hezbollah’s next move is to install its puppet Yemeni Druze militias in place of Walid Jumblat, the pro-Western leader of the Kaysi Druze. The Druze are the only ones who are willing to put everything on the line to stand up to Hezbollah (apparently believing in reincarnation , so Hezbollah needs to further fracture them. It will do that by moving on Jumblatt’s territory under the superficial aegis of backing the Yemeni Druze.

May 11, 2008 1423 GMT
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai warned May 11 that recent violence in Lebanon might strengthen armed groups that are supported by Iran, Agence France-Presse reported, citing Israeli public radio. Vilnai said the biggest concern for Israel is that armed groups backed by Iran will take control of the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, and that the two regions’ fates are connected. Israel does not plan to intervene in Lebanon, but it must “keep its eyes open,” Vilnai added.
Lebanese government supporters exchanged rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire with opposition supporters early May 11 in the Tebaneh neighborhood of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, The Associated Press reported, citing security officials. The fighting calmed down when Lebanese soldiers began deploying, but the clashes left one person dead, bringing the death toll from violence in Lebanon to 38 since May 6. In the Bekaa valley, government and opposition supporters clashed in several villages. Government supporters blocked the road leading to the main border crossing with Syria, in retaliation for opposition supporters’ blocking of the road to the airport.

Memo to Matan Vilnai: Iran already controls Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Hello!
Hezbollah was able to do all this for one reason and one reason only: Israel’s failure in 2006.
Iran will now wait and gauge the US reaction to Iran’s latest bogus offer for negotiations–
May 11, 2008 1614 GMT
If conditions are right, Iran might consider resuming talks with the United States on Iraqi security, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported May 11, citing a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry.
–the commencement of which would maintain the status quo of defeat through the remainder of Bush’s presidency, and ratify Iran’s conquest of Gaza, Lebanon, and Shia Iraq.

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Hezbollah’s Beirut victory has inflicted a major black eye upon the credibility of the West. Once again, Hassan Nasrallah went all-in, and won, a showdown with the US/ Saudi/ Israeli/ Egyptian axis.

The latest strife began when the Sunni-led government found cameras in trash cans at the end of Beirut International Airport’s main runway, to film all aircraft entering and leaving the “country.” The government fired the chief of airport security and declared Hezbollah’s private telecom network to be a threat to national security.

Five days later, the suspect general’s authority over airport security has been reinstated; the Hezbollah telecom network has been declared off-limits to anybody, including the central government; Gen. Suleiman has sided with Syria and Hezbollah; and the pro-Western coalition, especially Saad al-Hariri’s Future Movement (tayyar al-mustaqbal), have been exposed as impotent.

The Sunni front miscalculated. Either the coalition counted upon Suleiman to declare a state of emergency and arrest Hezbollah’s assault on Beirut, or the coalition counted upon Israel to step in in the event of Syrian involvement — in which case the Israelis sold out their Lebanese allies, presumably to repay the Syrians for assassinating Mughniyah effecting a divorce with Teheran.

(The only reason I am bringing that theory up again is because Nasrallah was sidelined by Teheran after 2006, because his instigation of the war against Israel aggrandized Nasrallah at Teheran’s expense. The fashionable theories of Mughniyah’s assassination are that 1) the Saudis did it, through Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or 2) Shia Lebanese nationalists — Nasrallah –, and Syrian nationalists — Asef Shawkat — collaborated to kill Mughniyah, and so limit Iranian encroachment upon both Lebanon and Syria. It doesn’t make very much sense that Iran would be happy with Nasrallah seizing the limelight once again.)

However, we can be almost certain that the Saudis were the ones responsible for Mughniyah’s death, judging from the public source information that, for example, the car that incinerated Mughniyah was owned by a Syrian woman seduced by the Saudi embassy attache.

Anyway, there still seems to be significant coordination between Hezbollah and Damascus, credible open sources’ words to the contrary. The Mughniyah conspirators in Syria are all dead or under house arrest. The integrity of Damascus’s networks is definitely under question, but the iron Shia triangle of Damascus, Hezbollah and Teheran is essentially intact.

Meanwhile, where was the Olmert regime? Lying about progress of peace negotiations in an effort to justify giving more Israeli land to people who hate Israel, to extricate itself from a deepening mire of corruption and public contempt. Israel couldn’t have dived into Lebanon to save Hariri et al, but Olmert’s fecklessness has been plain for all to see. Israeli media are still talking about the most recent charges against Olmert even more so their allies’ disintegration in Beirut.

The US/Arab/Israel axis is huddling now. Hezbollah is “magnanimously” backing down from its conquests, probably hoping that this audacious move will not provoke a broader retaliation from the Arab powers.

Hezbollah’s Beirut victory is to Hariri, Jumblatt and Siniora what Hezbollah’s 2006 victory was to the IDF. It was a devastating blow to a previously credible institution(s). Hezbollah needs to be smashed. Iraq is untenable unless Teheran’s proxies are mauled. If there is no retaliation, the Hariri government will be utterly devoid of credibility. Lebanon will fall to Hezbollah and Hezbollah’s victory will be complete.

And don’t think this doesn’t have ramifications all over the region, either. The Shiite-controlled central government of Iraq signed a sudden cease-fire with al-Sadr yesterday. Iran spoke very loudly and clearly yesterday, and its puppets in the ISCI and in Baghdad were the first to hear it.

This should be an interesting week.

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Lebanon

Oil hopped past $126 today, which is all the more remarkable considering that if you measure oil in terms of the weaker USD from 3-5 weeks ago, oil would be over $130/barrel.

Israel appears to have given Syria the warning that if so much as a single truck crosses Syria into Lebanon, Israel and Syria will be at war.

Meanwhile, in keeping with the US strategy of throttling Iranian proxies all over the Middle East, the US is planning to choke Sadr City, the headquarters of the Mehdi Army, presumably with the help of local Sunni troops.

Unfortunately, it appears that the pro-Saudi/pro-US elements in Lebanon have been completely ‘faced’ by Hezbollah.

The “Saudi axis” of Christian and Sunni Lebanese apparently counted far too much upon the loyalty of Lebanese Gen. Michel Suleiman, commander of the Lebanese army, who, far from stopping any Hezbollah advance in Lebanon, essentially ratified it. Hezbollah has made a show of handing conquered neighborhoods over to the Lebanese army, which has essentially ratified Hezbollah’s conquests, rather than neutralized them.

Saad Hariri’s media outlets have been shut down by Hezbollah, and kept off the air by the army. Walid Jumblatt and Saad Hariri are essentially Hezbollah hostages, besieged in their homes.

Hariri, Jumblatt and Siniora were apparently given the green light to move against Hezbollah and Amal after Syria received word to Stay Out, Or Else from Israel. So they moved against Hezbollah’s crucial, expensive and clandestine telecommunications network as a threat to the state, and were given a pretext in the form of spy cameras which monitored all aircraft arriving and landing from Beirut’s main airport.

The Saudi axis had spent weeks conferring with their foreign patrons and they had to have known what other dominoes would fall after this initial move. How did they screw up so badly?

Once again, when the rubber hit the road, Mideastern Sunnis (and Christians in this case) were completely outfoxed, outmaneuvered and outfought by the Shiites. Once again the stereotype that “Arabs can’t fight for sh*t” has been woefully ratified.

Escalation is now required to keep Lebanon falling under de facto Iranian control–unless this was planned as a first stage by the Mideastern Sunnis, Israelis, Egyptians and Americans, much akin to the Israelis’ logic to let the other side make the first major move in 1973, to muster international support. Saudis and Kuwaitis are leaving the country, which doesn’t bode well for any resolution. The pro-Western militias are not standing down. A few hours ago I didn’t think the Hezbollah steamroll could possibly have been accounted for by the pro-Western Lebanese but I have to rescind that assessment.

I have observed in post after post that Syria will never divorce from Hezbollah or Shiite Lebanon, regardless of whatever pieces of paper it gives to the sad-sack Olmert/Barak/Livni government in Israel. In this case, they somehow kept control of Suleiman after the West thought that he was leaning to us.

Again, it’s stupefying to me how, given that Hezbollah’s basic plan was public information as of last November, they managed to roll the pro-Western Lebanese so easily.

If Siniora resigns, as he appears poised to do, the wafer-thin Christian/Sunni/Druze majority could elect a new PM without the participation of Hezbollah, triggering a true civil war, but at least buying some time for the pro-Western militias to regroup. The pro-Western militias are apparently “on the move” in organized fashion, which buttresses the “round two” hypothesis.

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Iraq’s Sunnis ask the Egyptians and Arabs to help them “save the Iraqi people from the Iranian occupation of Iraq.”

Drumroll.

May 7, 2008 1740 GMT
An Iraqi Sunni delegation met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit in Cairo on May 7 in an effort to urge Arab countries to “save Iraq and its people” against the “Iranian occupation” of Iraq, Agence France-Presse reported, citing Sheikh Majid Abdel Razzak al-Ali Suleiman, the leader of the Iraqi Dulaim tribe.
Also,
May 7, 2008 1730 GMT
Afghan police and security officers arrested two Iranian men, in two separate incidents, suspected of spying around Afghan and NATO military installations, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported May 7. One of the suspects was captured at the Iranian border attempting to enter Zarang. He reportedly was carrying photographs and documents indicating his involvement with militants. Another suspect was detained in the southeastern region of Afghanistan near the border of Pakistan. Afghan authorities believe he was preparing information pertaining to a possible attack on Afghan and NATO security forces.

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It seems like the latest (American-triggered?) Olmert scandal will be fatal to Olmert. Which is fortunate, because the US has some serious Iran escalations to do, if it hopes to retain a meaningful stake in Iraq’s future.

Faster, please.

After another day of rampant rumors concerning the latest criminal investigation into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, members of the prime minister’s own party openly criticized Kadima’s top man on Tuesday and called for his resignation – in order to save the future of the party.Party members said they were waiting for a dominant figure to stand up and take the reins, and named Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz as possible successors, noting that even if they did not serve as prime minister, they could help redirect the party and refocus its energies on critical subjects.

So far, however, Kadima’s top leadership has refrained from making any statements on Olmert’s investigation, and no Kadima ministers have made any moves toward taking the lead inside the party.

Only Absorption Minister Ya’acov Edri has addressed the investigation at all. Speaking Monday during a fiery Knesset discussion in which the opposition challenged Olmert’s diplomatic policy, Edri expressed his confidence in Olmert’s abilities as prime minister and his certainty that Olmert could continue his participation in negotiations even while the investigation was under way.

But within the Kadima rank and file, Olmert’s standing seemed much less certain. Kadima MK Ze’ev Elkin blasted the prime minister for focusing on his “secretive” diplomatic negotiations rather than on the gagged investigation.

“Peace isn’t something you smuggle in under cover of darkness and isn’t carried out through spin doctors. Rather, real peace is carried out in broad daylight and not hidden under gag orders,” Elkin said in an interview with Army Radio. “Kadima must come to its senses and pick a new leader.”

Elkin accused Olmert of bringing the party – and the country – to a dead end, a charge echoed by fellow party member MK Marina Solodkin.

Solodkin added that Olmert, together with Vice Premier Haim Ramon and a handful of others, had hijacked Kadima, originally a “center-right-liberal party” and made it into a “center-left party.” While she emphasized that she did not want to make judgments regarding the current investigation, Solodkin said Olmert had caused significant damage to the government by bringing in people with poor political – and ethical – reputations.

“I don’t want to judge the personal element involved, but the political element is serious enough. To appoint people like Avraham Hirschson and Shula Zaken was a political error,” she explained. “And he hasn’t apologized for these things. There has been no regret, no apology. All the people with whom he has chosen to surround himself, the spins cast around about the final Winograd Report, and the negotiations with Syria are all too much for the people who are really concerned about our existence.”

But Solodkin said it was perhaps this latest investigation that would tip the balance against a politician who had managed to maintain a heavy Teflon coating during earlier scandals.

“This is one investigation too many – public norms in a functional country don’t allow a prime minister whose finance minister is a thief and criminal of the worst proportions, and whose personal assistant is suspected of the worst types of corruption. Either we are a banana republic and we must write that in big letters, or we must expect a change.”

I can’t find any recent public opinion polls on Tzipi Livni. Can someone please tell me that she is not popular anymore? How does a Likud/Yisrael Beteinu centric coalition stack up against Labor, Likud and Meretz?

We need to get Olmert out of the way. There’s a lot of “work” to be done in Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, and not much time left to do it.

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Oil

Oil popped 3 percent and is making new highs, even as the tactical asset managers dumped commodities en masse in the past 2 weeks.

Judging from the pattern of leaks, it seems that the entire US security establishment to the right of State (from the very moderate CIA all the way to Petraeus) has agreed upon an Iran airstrike. Maybe oil is reflecting this; Iran has called off all negotiations while the US throttles its Sadrite proxies, all the leaks have been made in all the right places, and the more “dovish” American officers have at the same time said that they really, really don’t want a full-blown war with Iran, to “contain” an escalation’s impact upon commodities markets as much as possible.

The groundwork has been laid several times before, including February/March 2007, and later in August-November 2007, although strategic leaks and minor Iranian concessions stalled it each time.

I have been arguing for a long time that Iran is simply stalling for time until after the 2008 elections, and that its various stop-start negotiations and concessions are not in good faith. It seems like most of the US security establishment has arrived at such a consensus.

Israel is the only problem; Olmert has basically pawned Israel’s longer-run strategic interest. Ratcheting up the pressure on Ahmadinejad would be a great way to screw Olmert, as well as serving the US interest in Iraq.

By the way … I still think it’s a great time to buy gold miners (if you ignored me when I said to buy while gold was at $1020, then $920, and now $870)

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I can barely find anything about the Muslim Brotherhood’s May 4 strike in Egypt so I assume that Mubarak’s measures to jack up wages 30 percent fizzled the strike.

And what do you know, the *next day* Mubarak proposes a 35 percent increase in fuel prices.

The Egyptian parliament’s ruling party proposed May 5 large increases on Monday in fuel and cigarette prices and in vehicle licence fees as a means of paying for the costs of President Hosni Mubarak’s recent proposal for public-sector pay raises, Reuters reported. In the proposal, the price of 90 octane fuel would rise 35 percent.

This story isn’t over … Egypt is going to spawn a lot of problems for us in the next few years.

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I love this guy: A Jewish MK who has self-respect! Surely I am hallucinating?

“The Arab Mks are the representatives of terror organizations in the Knesset,” Lieberman accused. “Today in the Knesset there is a coalition of defeatists and fifth columnists. Those sitting here (the Arab MKs) are representatives of terror organizations.”

“The fact that an Israeli member of Knesset presents himself in Qatar as a Palestinian, preaches against Israel and says that it is racist proves that the 30’s and the period leading up to the Shoah [Holocaust] haven’t taught us a thing,” Lieberman said. “This is a syndrome of the Weimar Republic.”

Lieberman’s speech was interrupted several times by Arab MKs and Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On. The former minister of strategic affairs, however, was unfazed, saying that “After the election, God willing, we will form a government in which we will hold the Defense portfolio, and then you will experience a new Middle East.”

The latest leaks from Israeli prosecutors indicate that the latest investigation against Olmert will probably eliminate him. That’s very fortunate for Israel. We need somebody reliable in charge of Israel who does not experience narcissism-instigated hallucinations of Middle East kumbaya, and who will be willing to destroy Hamas and throttle Hezbollah.

Peace deals between Israel and former enemies have only been effected by credible right-wingers (Menachem Begin; Ariel Sharon would have, but a coma aborted his attempt). Olmert is far left, and has no credibility whatsoever. He will be stopped.

The question is whether he can be stopped before summer, which is the last realistic opportunity for the United States and Israel to improve their bargaining position viz Iran ahead of an Obama presidency.

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The Times of London is known to be the sieve of choice for neoconservative news leaks. Given all the concentration of firepower in the Persian Gulf recently, as well as the crackdowns on al-Sadr, and the fact that Bush wants to scare Iran off to some extent before he leaves office, some kind of surgical airstrike on Iran would make sense.

From
May 4, 2008

United States is drawing up plans to strike on Iranian insurgency camp

President George W Bush is known to be determined that he should not hand over what he sees as “the Iran problem” to his successor. A limited attack on a training camp may give an impression of tough action, while at the same time being something that both Gates and the US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, could accept.

The US military is drawing up plans for a “surgical strike” against an insurgent training camp inside Iran if Republican Guards continue with attempts to destabilise Iraq, western intelligence sources said last week. One source said the Americans were growing increasingly angry at the involvement of the Guards’ special-operations Quds force inside Iraq, training Shi’ite militias and smuggling weapons into the country.

Despite a belligerent stance by Vice-President Dick Cheney, the administration has put plans for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities on the back burner since Robert Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as defence secretary in 2006, the sources said.

However, US commanders are increasingly concerned by Iranian interference in Iraq and are determined that recent successes by joint Iraqi and US forces in the southern port city of Basra should not be reversed by the Quds Force.

“If the situation in Basra goes back to what it was like before, America is likely to blame Iran and carry out a surgical strike on a militant training camp across the border in Khuzestan,” said one source, referring to a frontier province.

They acknowledged Iran was unlikely to cease involvement in Iraq and that, however limited a US attack might be, the fighting could escalate.

Although American defence chiefs are firmly opposed to any attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, they believe a raid on one of the camps training Shi’ite militiamen would deliver a powerful message to Tehran.

British officials believe the US military tends to overestimate the effect of the Iranian involvement in Iraq.

But they say there is little doubt that the Revolutionary Guard exercises significant influence over splinter groups of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, who were the main targets of recent operations in Basra.

The CBS television network reported last week that plans were being drawn up for an attack on Iran, citing an officer who blamed the “increasingly hostile role” Iran was playing in Iraq.

The American news reports were unclear about the precise target of such an action and referred to Iran’s nuclear facilities as the likely objective.

According to the intelligence sources there will not be an attack on Iran’s nuclear capacity. “The Pentagon is not keen on that at all. If an attack happens it will be on a training camp to send a clear message to Iran not to interfere.”

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via

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s situation is serious and problematic, and it is doubtful that he will be able to continue to serve as prime minister, a senior law enforcement official was quoted by Channel 1 as saying on Friday, after Olmert was questioned under caution by police over what are believed to be new suspicions against him.

The probe began at 10 a.m. and ended around 11:30 a.m.

Olmert was questioned under caution, indicating that police believed their interrogation could result in an indictment.

A court-placed gag-order still prevents the public from knowing the reasons for Friday’s probe. However it was believed that the questioning dealt with new suspicions against him.

Olmert’s office said the questions dealt with donations raised by an American citizen between 1999 and 2002, before Olmert became prime minister. The money was meant to fund elections for the mayorship of Jerusalem and primaries in Olmert’s former political party, Likud.

Media outlets speculated Friday morning that Olmert’s expedited interrogation may be due to police fearing Olmert and his secretary of 30 years Shula Zaken corroborated their testimony.

Zaken had been questioned in the same case on Tuesday.

Prior to Thursday’s surprise summons, Olmert had been scheduled to be interrogated only in several months.

The interrogation, a special procedure about which Olmert was notified only 48 hours in advance, was approved by Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz.

A statement by the prime minister’s office said “The prime minister answered all of the investigators’ questions on the subject, and will continue to cooperate with all legal authorities to the extent he is required to do so.”

It added that Olmert “is convinced that with the discovery of the truth in the police investigation, the suspicions against him will dissipate.”

On Friday morning, several MKs sharply reacted to the news of the possiblity of yet another investigation against Olmert.

The prime minister should suspend himself immediately, Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich told Israel Radio.

“Olmert is stuck up to his neck in investigations. We cannot have a prime minister who is serially investigated by police. He is plainly corrupt even without [the public] waiting for a conviction.

“In the entire world there was never yet a precedent of a prime minister against whom so many investigations were held,” Yacimovich said.

Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On echoed Yacimovich, also saying that Olmert should suspend himself.

She said it was apparent that Olmert did not know how to take personal responsibility and that Mazuz should “show him the way” and advise him to suspend himself.

Likud lawmaker Gideon Saar called on the Labor party to quit the Olmert-led government of “serial suspects”.

“Olmert is the most-investigated prime minister in the history of Israel, and he is surrounded by people whose are related to the greatest number of criminal affairs in the history of Israel,” he said.

Yoel Hasson, a Kadima lawmaker, came to Olmert’s defense.

“From past experiences, we know that all the investigations started with a lot of noise and ended with nothing,” he said. “The political system should not get hysterical and take brash political actions that will unsettle the government.”

The IDF, Likud, and other Israeli political institutions not debilitated by chronic Jew-guilt will hopefully expedite Olmert’s political elimination. However, the fact that Labor sounds like it’s supporting the prosecution suggests that the move is just more jostling between Kadima and Labor for leadership of Israel’s left wing, and is irrelevant to Israel’s political future.

Israel is giving away the Golan Heights, probably retreating from Lebanon, allowing Hamas six months to rearm. In return, Israel is … giving free food and fuel to the Palestinians; … not getting back Gilad Schalit; … not touching Hezbollah; … and … yes, that’s pretty much it.

And Israel will be surprised when Obama throws them overboard in favor of Teheran in 2009.

Remarkable, really.

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via

… In Washington, nuclear experts were puzzled by the timing and quality of the evidence released by the Bush administration. Democrats suggested hardliners around Dick Cheney, the vice-president, had forced the issue to try to wreck the talks with Kim.

However, there is a more persuasive argument. Analysts in Seoul see the American disclosures as a sly way to keep the negotiations alive. Kim had refused to make a “full declaration” of his nuclear programme by a December 31 deadline; now, in effect, the CIA has done it for him. “The revelation was a highly orchestrated one,” commented The Korea Herald, adding that it “enabled” Pyongyang to “make its declaration without losing face”.

One indication is that Christopher Hill, the US State Department negotiator, flew to Singapore for an unusual session with his North Korean counterparts shortly before the United States went public. “There must have been some sort of secret agreement or deal,” said Taewoo Kim, of the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul.

Last year Hill persuaded the White House that the talks offered a realistic chance to accomplish a peace treaty formally ending the 1950-3 Korean war, in which more than 50,000 Americans died. His critics, such as John Bolton, the former United Nations ambassador, say North Korea has a long recidivist history of selling missiles and unconventional weapons to unstable Middle Eastern regimes such as Syria, Iran and Libya.

Whatever the truth, even by the standards of North Korean politics the atomic intrigue half a world away – with its multinational cast of spies, scientists, diplomats and airmen – makes an exotic story.

The alliance between the two clan dictatorships in Damascus and Pyongyang is more than 35 years old. In another tunnel, this one under Mount Myohang, the North Koreans have kept as a museum piece the Kalashnikov assault rifle and pistols sent as gifts from President Hafez al-Assad of Syria to Kim Il-sung in the early years of their friendship.

Today North Korea and Syria are ruled by the sons of their 20th-century dictators – Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father in 2000 and Kim Jong-il took over in 1994. They inherited a hatred of America and a fondness for authoritarian family rule.

Syria possesses the biggest missile arsenal and the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the Middle East, built up over the past two decades with arms bought from North Korea.

North Korea, which detonated a nuclear device in October 2006, has become pivotal to Syria’s plans to enhance and upgrade its weapons.

Syria’s liquid-fuelled Scud-C missiles depend on “essential foreign aid and assistance, primarily from North Korean entities”, said the CIA in a report to the US Congress in 2004.

Diplomats based in Pyongyang have said they now believe reports that about a dozen Syrian technicians were killed in an explosion and train crash at Ryongchon, North Korea, on April 22, 2004. North Korea blamed a technical mishap, but there were rumours of an assassination attempt on Kim, whose special train had passed through the station en route to China some hours earlier.

No independently verified cause of the disaster was made known. However, teams of military personnel wearing protective suits were seen removing debris from the section of the train in which the Syrians were travelling, according to a detailed report quoting military sources which appeared on May 7, 2004, in the Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.

The technicians were said to be from Syria’s Centre D’Etudes et de Recherche Scientifique, a body known to be engaged in military technology.

Their bodies were flown home by a Syrian military cargo aircraft which was spotted on May 1, 2004 at Pyongyang. There was speculation among military attachés that the Syrians were transporting unconventional weapons, the paper said at the time. Diplomats said the Sankei Shimbun report was now believed to be accurate.

Last year Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that dozens of Iranian engineers and Syrians were killed on July 23 attempting to load a chemical warhead containing the nerve gases VX and sarin onto a Scud missile at a plant in Syria.

The Scuds and warheads are of North Korean design and possibly manufacture. Some analysts think North Korean scientists were helping the Syrians to attach air-burst chemical warheads to the missiles.

Syria possesses more than 100 Scud-C and ScudD missiles which it bought from North Korea in the past 15 years. In the 1990s it added cluster warheads to the Scud-Cs that experts believe are intended for chemical weapons.

Like North Korea, Syria has an extensive chemical weapons programme including sarin, VX and mustard gas, according to researchers at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute in California.

The Scud-C is strategically worrying to Israel because Syria has deployed it with one launcher for every two missiles. The normal ratio is one to 10. The conclusion: Syria’s missiles are set up for a devastating first strike.

Since 2004 there have been a series of leaks designed to suggest that Syria has renewed its interest in atomic weapons, a claim denied by Damascus.

In December 2006 the Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Siyasa, quoted European intelligence sources in Brussels as saying that Syria was engaged in an advanced nuclear programme in its northeastern Hasakah province.

It also quoted British security sources as identifying the man heading the programme as Major Maher Assad, brother of the president and commander of the Republican Guard.

Early last year foreign diplomats had noticed an increase in political and military visits between Syria and North Korea. They received reports of Syrian passengers on flights from Beijing to Pyongyang, almost the only air route into the country. They also spotted Middle Eastern businessmen using trains between North Korea and the industrial cities of northeast China.

Then there were clues in the official media. On August 14 Rim Kyongman, the North Korean minister of foreign trade, was in Syria to sign a protocol on “cooperation in trade and science and technology”. His delegation held the fifth meeting of a “joint economic committee” with its Syrian counterpart. No details were disclosed.

Initially, the conclusion of diplomats was that the deal involved North Korean ballistic missiles, maintenance for the existing Syrian arsenal and engineering expertise for building silos and bunkers against air attack. Now it is known that Israeli intelligence interpreted the meeting as the last piece in a nuclear jigsaw; a conclusion that Israel shared with President George W Bush.

For years the United States and Israel saw North Korean weapons sales to the Middle East as purely a source of revenue – apart from seafood, minerals and timber, North Korea is impoverished and has little else to sell. The nuclear threat in Syria was also believed to be dormant, as Damascus appeared to rely on a chemical first-strike as an unconventional deterrent.

In a period of detente, the United States and its allies concurred when China sold a 30kw nuclear reactor to Syria in 1998 under international controls.

Then, in 2003, American intelligence officials believe that Syria recruited Iraqi scientists who had fled after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Like other countries in the region, Syria renewed its pursuit of nuclear research.

The calculus changed for good after North Korea tested a nuclear bomb in 2006 and admitted to a plutonium stockpile sufficient for 10 more.

The danger to Israel is multiplied by the triangular relationship between North Korea, Syria and Iran. Syria has served as a conduit for the transport to Iran of an estimated £50m of missile components and technology sent by sea from North Korea to the Syrian port of Tartous, diplomats said.

They say Damascus and Tehran have set up a £125m joint venture to build missiles in Syria with North Korean and Chinese technical help. North Korean military engineers have worked on hardened silos and tunnels for the project near the cities of Hama and Aleppo.

Israel also noted reports from Pyongyang that Syrian and Iranian observers were present at missile test firings by the North Korean military last summer and were given valuable experimental data. Israeli sources said last week that Iran was informed “in every detail” about the nuclear reactor and had sent technicians to the site.

Such was the background against which Israel took its decision to strike. Two signals from the North Koreans in the aftermath showed that the bombs hit home.

On September 10, four days after the raid, Kim sent a personal message of congratulations to Assad on the Syrian dictator’s 42nd birthday.

“The excellent friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries are steadily growing stronger even under the complicated international situation,” Kim said.

The next day, in a message that went largely unnoticed, the North Koreans condemned the Israeli action as “illegal” and “a very dangerous provocation”.

Just days later a top Syrian official, Saeed Elias Daoud, director of the ruling Syrian Arab Ba’ath party, boarded a Russian-made vintage jet belonging to the North Korean airline, Air Koryo, for the short flight from Beijing.

Daoud brought counsel and sympathy from Assad, whose father Hafez was famed as a strategic gambler with a talent for brinkmanship.

Now Kim is waiting to see if his own gamble has paid off.

Additional reporting: Sarah Baxter in Washington

Interesting ….

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April 25, 2008 1511 GMT
At least one shot has been fired at an Iranian vessel from a ship contracted by the U.S Military Sealift Command, Reuters reported April 25, citing a U.S. military official. No other details were immediately available.
Additionally, Debkafile (yes yes, I know) reports that Hamas’s number two has been killed in Damascus by a hit and run. The Saudis seem to be the ones with the most ins into Syria, in which case this would show them doing their fair share of the heavy lifting.
These “confrontations,” by the way, happen a lot. What’s revealing is which ones get played up, and why.

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I generally agree with Stratfor’s take on the issue.

… it would appear that the United States briefed deliberately against Israeli wishes. Certainly, the Israelis didn’t participate in the process. One answer could be that the United States is unhappy about Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s moves on Syria and wants to derail them.

… there are two plausible answers to today’s show. One is to increase pressure on North Korea. The second is to derail any Israeli-Syrian peace process. The problem is that it’s hard to see why North Korea is going to be moved by the official declaration of what Washington has been saying from the beginning. The second is hard to believe because it would assume that U.S.-Israeli relations had deteriorated to the point that the U.S. had to use this as a lever. That’s tough to believe.

The senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, said afterward the briefing, “This administration has no credibility on North Korea. A lot of us are beginning to become concerned that the administration is moving away from getting a solid policy solution to ‘let’s make a deal.’”

So that seems to undermine the prep for strike theory. That leaves tension between the United States and Israel as the last standing theory. Not a good theory, but the last standing one.

The CIA is once again trotting out its “high confidence” and “low confidence” howlers. For example:

Nevertheless, top US intelligence officials who briefed reporters said they had only low confidence for the conclusion that the nuclear facility was meant for weapons development, partly because it had no reprocessing facility, which would be needed to enrich nuclear material for use in a bomb. The officials said they had high confidence, however, in the judgment that North Korea had aided Syria with its nuclear program.

That sounds like a pretty blatant way of saying, “We’re trying to turn the screws on North Korea here, not Syria.”

The White House spun it differently:

The strike on Sept. 6, 2007, ripped open the structure and revealed even more evidence to spy satellites: reinforced concrete walls that echoed the design of the Yongbyon reactor. After the attack, Syria erected a new building over the site.

“This cover-up only served to reinforce our confidence that this reactor was not intended for peaceful activities,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said. “The Syrian regime must come clean before the world regarding its illicit nuclear activities.”

The White House also used its statement as an opportunity to denounce the nuclear activities of Iran, which it says is a threat to the stability of the Middle East. Perino said the world must take further action, beginning with full implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

It almost seems as if the CIA is putting pressure on North Korea to come cleaner in negotiations, while the White House is using the event to retrench their hawkish position against Syria and Iran.

I would also guess that most, if not all of the American administration is pissed off at Olmert, who threw away a lot of US-Israeli leverage to buttress his shambolic political position:

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s reported gestures to Syria have harmed Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the battle between the two men over votes from the center-left in the next general election, a senior Labor official said Thursday.

Syria was the only issue that had allowed Barak to differentiate himself from Olmert, who had positioned himself to the Left of Barak on the Palestinian issue but had refrained from pursuing the Syrian track until recently, and even told the haredi newspaper Mishpacha, “As long as I am prime minister, the Golan will stay in our hands.”

Barak had been seen as the government’s main proponent of talks with Damascus until this week’s reports.

“Olmert knows he cannot get votes from the center-right of the political map, so he is trying to prove to people between Meretz and Labor that he is the hope for reaching peace with both the Palestinians and Syria,” the senior Labor official said. “There is no doubt that this move helped Olmert and hurt Barak politically.”

In March, Barak and his loyalists discussed running on the Syrian issue in the next election to highlight the differences between him and Olmert.

“Focusing on Syria shows people who think that Olmert leads the peace camp that Barak is willing to take a risk for peace that Olmert is not,” a Barak supporter said following those deliberations last month. “It also reminds people that the man who took a risk for peace with [Palestinian Authority head Yasser] Arafat was Barak, not Olmert.”

In the same deliberations, Barak and his loyalists said that the other possible issue that could differentiate Olmert from Barak would be if Barak would come out in support of releasing Fatah terrorist Marwan Barghouti from prison.

Barak’s close ally, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, has championed Barghouti’s release, but Barak has refrained from speaking on the issue because of the sensitivity of his job as defense minister and because he did not want to be seen as undermining the diplomatic process with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

It is possible that the likelihood of Barak eventually endorsing Barghouti’s release increased when Olmert took away Barak’s advantage on the Syrian issue. …

This is exactly the kind of duplicitous narcissism that has so damaged Israeli credibility over the past two years.

It appears that Olmert got absolutely nothing concrete for giving away the Golan Heights. He cost the United States leverage in its own negotiations with Iran over Iraq, while Iran reconstitutes the Mehdi Army as a super-Hezbollah in southern Iraq.

Saudi Arabia, not Israel, has been at the forefront of the American axis in the Middle East, assassinating anti-American clergymen in Syria and southwestern Iran, funneling money to the Iraqi Sunni militias, and so on. Sure, it’s in their own interests even more than it’s in ours, but the point is that the Saudi royal family can be relied upon to act in their rational long-term interest. That makes them effective and reliable. Israel clearly is not capable of that.

Olmert has taken out still more equity on America’s mortgage in the Middle East to pander to the Jews who apparently hate themselves the most (the Israeli left). My guess is that the CIA and the Bush Administration are in general agreement, that the Israelis’ recent behavior merits punishment, and the heretofore State Department -dominated approach towards North Korea needs less carrot and more stick. The difference in their tones reflects which parts of this hearing the two factions are more eager to exploit: the CIA is not as hawkish as Bush is regarding Syria and Iran (hence the CIA’s muted reaction to the report’s implications for Syria, especially compared to Perino’s), but more so regarding North Korea.

Both want to make Olmert look like the POS he is.

Meanwhile, Ehud Barak, whom Israelis allowed to throw away territory in a land for peace deal eight short years ago, is now mulling the release of Marwan Barghouti, a major Palestinian terrorist.

Pathetic.

The Obama administration will not give a rat’s ass about Israel. At the rate Olmert is going, I just might vote for Obama.

Update: Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought the timing of Ben-Ami Kadish’s arrest was related to Israel’s recent foreign-policy freelancing (although again there are multiple interpretations as to exactly what behavior Washington is trying to punish; there’s also an argument that the arrest was designed to influence the trial of two AIPAC lobbyists held on spying charges).

Kadish was apparently one of many Mossad “sayanim” (Jews living in Gentile lands who lead ordinary lives, except when their services are called upon by the Mossad. (e.g., if a Mossad agent needed to pose as an electronics vendor, he would call upon the services of a sayan who sold electronics to temporarily put his inventory at the Mossad’s disposal.)) Kadish’s “indiscretions” were known by US authorities for at least three years. There was a reason he was arrested now.

This also demonstrates the magnitude of (justified) hostility to Israel in some security circles, tarred and feathered as “anti-Semitism” by the usual suspects. The Israelis horribly abused American trust during the 1980’s, and in all likelihood still do so — exacerbated, perhaps, by the domestic weakness of the Bush Administration.

This is yet another balloon payment Israel will pay after November 2008, especially in light of such dismal returns on American security investment in Israel in the past three years, Olmert’s current mercenary positioning, and the fact that Israel will never come clean about its espionage against the United States.

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One handy way

of measuring Mideastern tensions is the average distance of all US carrier battle groups from the 5th Fleet Area of Responsibility (the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea).

That number is at its lowest in years, fwiw (and plunged very steeply over the past 7 days). This will coincide with Congressional hearings on Syria’s alleged plutonium reactor which the Israelis bombed last September.

I suspect that, if the details are mentioned, we will also learn that the Israelis fried Syrian radars with EMP bombs. Thousands of Israeli satellite TV systems were somewhat damaged on the date of the strike and well afterwards. Considering that the Israelis didn’t nuke the targeted site, the disruption almost certainly came from EMP detonations of Syrian radar installations next on the Israel-Syria border.

Syria wants to cut a deal very badly. The question is whether Iran/Hezbollah will allow the Assad family to live long enough to act so obviously against Teheran’s interests. My guess is not.

Update: Stratfor notes:

Analysis

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem held a press conference in Tehran on April 23 with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, during which al-Moallem stated, “if Israel is serious and wants peace, nothing will stop the renewal of peace talks.” … At this point, it is still unclear what exactly the Iranians are calculating.

Kudos to Stratfor for noting and extrapolating upon the fact that Iran is tacitly signing off on this announcement.

As I see it, Israel and Iran have zero — zero — common ground that would not entail prohibitive unilateral disarmament as a first step. Eg, Iran would have to throw Hezbollah overboard, which it won’t, because it has invested a mind-boggling amount of money, expertise and credibility in Hezbollah. Hamas is much more expendable from Iran’s perspective, rather like the Golan Heights for Israel.

Assuming that, one can only conclude that Iran and Syria are trying to head off the likelihood of war. Congressional hearings in the next couple of days will probably reveal that Israel preemptively bombed a Syrian nuclear reactor last September, laying bare the necessity to confront Syria/ Iran/ Hezbollah. Iran seems to be preempting that news with a peace offer that almost certainly is not in good faith.

The al-Maliki/ ISCI crackdown on al-Sadr appears to have been motivated by Iran, as well. Iran seems to have consolidated its power in Iraq under one major aegis (ISCI) at Sadr’s expense.

As for the Israelis, perhaps Olmert is buckling as he already has; or perhaps Olmert figures he can play along for another week or so, and if something happens, he can always tell his center-left constituency, “Gosh, you know, we worked so hard for peace, and we almost got there, but those damned [whoevers] walked out on us at the last minute.” Or something.

Whatever.

What an inscrutable part of the world.

I just know that American assets in, and on the periphery of, the “Iran AOR” (the 5th fleet AOR) are not concentrating as if peace is just around the corner.

It’s been a long time since the US has had more than one carrier battle group stationed in the 5th AOR. Right now, the Harry S Truman and Abraham Lincoln carrier battle groups are both there. A Marine expeditionary strike force has arrived in the 5th AOR from the east, while a different ESG remains positioned off the coast of Lebanon. The Nimitz and Kitty Hawk are both around the Philippines; the Kitty Hawk was supposed to be heading for Hong Kong for a port call, but it is sailing well clear of Hong Kong.

Anyway, that makes 2 CBGs and 2 ESGs in the 5th AOR, with another 2 CBGS only a few days away.. while Petraeus has replaced Fallon at Centcom and Congress will be told about an Israeli strike on a Syrian reactor.

Secdef Gates had unusually biting words for Iran, as well.

Asked if Petraeus’s elevation signaled a hardening U.S. position toward Iran, Gates said there was no disagreement among senior commanders — including Fallon — about the need to confront Iran over its conduct in Iraq.

View of Iran

“General Odierno and General Petraeus and Admiral Fallon were all in exactly the same position when it came to their views of Iranian interference inside Iraq,” Gates said. “And it is a hard position, because what the Iranians are doing is killing American servicemen and women inside Iraq.”

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