Archive for the ‘war’ 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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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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Iran has puzzled the global oil market by having 20 large tankers filled with crude oil. Why is Iran holding on to so much oil, given what a suppliers’ market oil is right now?

Iranian oil is not just oil. It’s very “heavy”/ “dirty” oil. Iran could coagulate strategic parts of the Persian Gulf with massive dirty oil dumps, which would not only cripple mobility of American CBGs, but would also contaminate the Sunni sheikhdoms’ water desalinization facilities.

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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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[edited and tempered a bit–EC]

I’ve wanted to talk about something that’s been simmering for a long time in my mind, namely the obvious institutional dysfunction of the West in the face of Muslim, particularly Shia, tribal fortitude.

There are two kinds of societies: unstructured, tribal societies, and structured, institutional societies. The Bush Administration’s Iraq odyssey has allowed vibrant contrast between tribal and institutional societies.

Charisma is the currency of a tribal society; money is the currency of institutional society.

In a tribe, any person’s leadership ability is contingent upon how well he husbands the lives and resources of his tribe in the face of external threats, up to and including throwing himself on the rails to save his family/ unit/ clan/ tribe. A leader’s credibility is based upon 1) his ability to forecast and surmount future threats, and 2) his perceived willingness to die for the tribe’s sake to surmount such a threat — the fact that, as he gambles with his tribe’s lives, he sees his own life no differently from lesser members of the tribe. So, tribal societies generally produce very astute gamblers as leaders.

Institutional societies produce exactly opposite leaders. People rise through institutions by public competence and private ‘politicking’ (what a tribal society would call ‘treachery’). Winning the leadership lottery of an institution is defined by strategically timed risk avoidance, whereas tribal leaders are defined by strategic risk-taking.

Institutions can attain heights of complexity and ‘sophistication,’ be it in the form of weaponry, markets, technology, art, or social ritual, which tribes can only, rarely, hope to rent. For that conceit, institutions pay a steep price. They are extremely slow to adapt to anything. Institutions can scale up intellect, but unlike tribes they cannot scale up trust. Institutions are hamstrung by internal political jockeying to a much greater extent than are tribes.

Because testosterone and charisma are pretty closely correlated, “demographic change” is never a tribal problem. Children are necessary to perpetuate and augment the tribe, and are totally encouraged. People who have difficulty producing children are accepted, but not treated as well. People obviously incapable of producing children, i.e. homosexuals, are ostracized, unless they show exceptional fighting ability/ stand up for themselves. Institutions, which put a premium on an individual’s “paying dues” of time at the expense of everything else, disproportionately produce leaders with few or no children. Institution-driven government policy overwhelmingly discounts from future investment (of which children are a big part) to the present.

Tribal leaders see much more meaning in death — or, in the case of black US tribes, very long-term imprisonment — than do institutional leaders. They know that even if their lives’ works ‘end’ in death, their sacrifice will reflect well upon their “peoples” ie their children.

Because tribal leaders are judged by their ability to defeat external challenges and encroachments on a continuous basis, and are not protected by legal or institutional formalisms, they react immediately and overwhelmingly to, for example, attempts to steal the property of the tribe.

So, institutional societies produce too many “leaders” eager to take credit for vanquishing small risks over small time horizons, and very large risks over extremely long time horizons (i.e., blame/credit cannot be fully allocated until after the leader in question is dead).

You can see where I’m going with this. The Muslim world is defined by its tribes, and the West is defined by its institutions. It would be over-dramatic to call Iraq a clash of civilizations, but it still is, sort of. Who has been winning? Iran certainly hasn’t been losing. The US seems to be holding firm, except that public support for the war has completely collapsed, and the state of the US government’s balance sheet is much worse than any agency seems to realize.

The US government really reminds me a lot of Citigroup: every agency further amortizing the future, on the assumption that, if its bets don’t pay off, every other agency will take cuts for that agency’s mistakes. In musical chairs, somebody has to lose.

I have been raised by, and have benefited from, a structural society. I would like to believe in it. However, Western institutions’ schizophrenic, ill-informed dysfunction has offered a pathetic contrast to the Iranian model. Every all-in challenge by Hezbollah has been met with pathetic procrastination by Israel, the United States, and proxy tribes seduced by Western institutional promises. Olmert’s Israel, which talks about negotiations as it’s hit by Palestinian Katyushas every day, is a particularly dramatic exposition of this, although the rest of the West suffers the same myopic affliction to lesser degrees.

Tribal elements of the West, i.e., Israeli settlers, lower echelons of the US Army Mormons, US “white trash,” and others who for all their faults are proud enough to put their flesh on the line for their homelands, nonetheless can’t help but feel that the institutions which purport to represent them only waste any lives they offer, on the altar of the Kadima/State Department cult of peace.

The “uncultured” “barbarian” tribes have been bleeding the West dry for the last five years. Western firepower is overwhelming, and could have imposed prohibitive costs on Iranian militia-style maneuvering years ago. Why hasn’t it? As if any negotiation can erase the fact that the Western empire has no clothes, and will not defend itself despite getting its teeth spattered onto Beirut’s pavement. [*]

I think Western governments’ increasingly aggressive discounting of the future is a direct byproduct of the institutionalization of Western society. Today, for example, big agribusiness is stealing $300 billion in plain sight. How is this sustainable — let alone acceptable? Is there a point at which it becomes moral to kill these people? S&P has already stated that a Fannie/Freddie bailout alone would cost $400 billion to $1.1 trillion, and would jeopardize the US’s AAA bond rating. There just isn’t the money for these expenses anymore.

Governments discount youth’s earnings in many ways. Government mandated barriers to entry are overwhelmingly protectionism for existing workers at the expense of future workers, and force youth/future workers to seek poorer alternatives. America’s gigantic intergenerational liabilities are another such tax on youth. I posit that growth of government has directly depressed Western birthrates. US native birthrates are collapsing in line with continental Europe’s, as is its growth of government. [**] There is a yawning gap between deep pessimism of Western youth, especially in the United States, and relative optimism of the 55+ crowd. The two groups are facing very different arrays of future liabilities and future payments, that’s for sure.

Maybe that’s the difference. You hear about all the rent seekers all the time, but you don’t hear as much about the ones that are rising. I don’t know. There is an awful lot of rent-seeking going on, but nobody outside the financial industry seems to have a clue about it, or what it will mean for future generations. This has really, really Never Happened Before, except in Japan, and the results were very bad–especially for birth rates.

Maybe you could say that institutions are a necessary evil for especially big societies. In any case, they are no match for the Mideast’s tribal collectives, epitomized by the extremely high-trust tribal institution Hezbollah. The West’s leaders are no match for Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah at all. Sure, there are those who might be if they had the backing of even a cohesive minority of their society, such as Petraeus, but they don’t, because there is no critical mass willing to risk as Ahmadinejad and Nasrallah are. So we continue fighting this stupid, never-ending war, losing money, face, and men all at the same time.

There’s something about the West that makes it unwilling to win wars, and I don’t know what it is.

Or, maybe I should just rename my blog “a neoconservative, mugged by doomsterism.”

[*] again, the notion of action being important now is premised upon a Republican loss in the 2008 presidential election, something approaching a foregone conclusion, which hasn’t seeped into the conventional wisdom yet.

[**] One should take into account the relatively enormous US local governments, nonprofit sector, and government contractors when arriving at a size of US government. The latter two in particular have exploded over the past eight years.

The sum total will likely surpass 40 percent of GDP this year, and will explode in an Obama Administration as opaque liabilities from the financial bailout make themselves more apparent later.

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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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When you leave US policy in the hands of the surrender monkeys at State, the result is that a few even more narcissistic clones of Strobe Talbott puff up their images as The Great Peacemakers, The Great Negotiators, the lone doves standing between us and Armageddon … while our few credible allies, be they in the Mideast, Afghanistan, Colombia, or Georgia, are surrounded and pounded.

In the latter two cases, there’s a very good case to be made that the US has no business there, and there would be obvious rationales that American ‘surrender’ would be preferable to any escalation. But in Iraq, we aren’t leaving. Iran’s involvement in anti-American insurgencies in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan are obvious to any disinterested observer. Given that the Foreign Policy Establishment has committed US credibility there; given that we won’t leave; and given a massive stock of un-utilized conventional military assets, why the F are we not bombing Iran? And if we are schizophrenic about doing that, why the F are we in the Mideast to begin with?

Walid Jumblatt, admittedly a chameleon historically, but currently an extremely pro-American tribal leader in the Mideast, is now officially “under the gun,” as poker players would say.

May 12, 2008 1904 GMT
A Stratfor source reported May 12 that militant group Hezbollah is planning to assassinate Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
After Iranian victory over Israel in Lebanon and Bush’s midterm defeat in 2006, the US pulled a huge check-raise with the surge. Iran called. With the recent operation in Sadr City, which has throttled much of the life out of the Mehdi Army, the US raised again. The ongoing Iranian coup in Lebanon, combined with Ahmadinejad’s telegraphed denunciation of al-Maliki today, indicate that Iran is going all-in.

Iranian hard-line newspapers, Jomhuri-e-Eslami and Hezbollah, said May 12 that Iraqis should oppose a strategic framework pact with the United States. The newspapers accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of caving in to U.S. demands over the agreement. Jomhuri-e-Eslami reported that the agreement would allow the United States to set up 14 military bases across Iraq, authorize a long-term U.S. military deployment, give U.S. nationals immunity in the country, and allow the U.S. military to use Iraq to launch military attacks in the Middle East. The newspaper Hezbollah reportedly said that the U.S. presence in Iraq was “captivity” and that the military would turn Iraq into a “permanent base in the Middle East.”

How Stratfor has managed to combine such bad calls with such effective screens of open-source information and official is an interesting question. We noted on many different occasions Stratfor’s systematic bias — despite overwhelming contrary evidence — towards the State Department’s worldview. Granted, geopolitical forecasting is a tough business, and you have to play the, shall we say, “constructive ambiguity” game more aggressively to protect your brand. However, the consistency of error on their part has assumed formidable dimensions.

I also agree with Mike’s suspicion that Stratfor deliberately misrepresented the implications of the NIE on behalf of the State crowd. (Stratfor ludicrously insisted that the NIE represented a “dramatic leap forward” in US-Iranian negotiations.) Regrettably, George Friedman (Stratfor CEO) has taken down his blog, where there were quite a few good morsels of informed contrary commentary, which apparently detracted from Stratfor’s brand too much as they were vindicated.

Here, we took a different view, and predicted throughout March that Iran-instigated violence would escalate due to obvious distrust between the US and Iraq — not dial down, as a result of some imagined “back-channel negotiations” which were a sucker play if anything.

On March 30, we predicted that the US-led alliance would have the initiative in steadily escalating violence with Iran. With Hezbollah’s latest forced raise, the Pentagon et al. have used that time wisely, and forced Ahmadinejad to raise — or fold.

Bush’s shrinking window of opportunity, combined with the predictability and necessity of escalation, mean that overt airstrikes on Iran are a matter of when, not if. It seems that Lebanese resistance to Hezbollah has totally disintegrated, again with the exception of Jumblatt’s besieged Druze; that probably was not expected. In any case he has committed his entire tribe against Hezbollah and he must be reinforced.

Debkafile, a good source for the IDF perspective, notes that Syria has completely withdrawn all peace feelers in light of Hezbollah’s triumph in Lebanon. As we’ve noted on this blog time and time again, Israel’s peace negotiations with Syria were ludicrous to begin with. The Assad family could never have been decoupled from Hezbollah and Teheran, and even if the Assad family were so interested, it would be safer for them to go to war with Israel, and allow Israel to smash Hezbollah, than for them to do anything about Hezbollah themselves.

Anyway, I said only yesterday that Hezbollah wanted to shatter Jumblatt under its Yemeni Druze, Talal Arslan smokescreen to neutralize Jumblatt’s much larger Kaysi Druze, the only credible anti-Hezbollah force still standing. Jumblatt’s Druze have been given the unacceptable choice of disarming or being besieged. They seem to be opting for the latter, which they should, because Walid Jumblatt will have a bullet in his brain 24 hours after “disarming.”

Iran has been badly strained by the last couple of months, and is upping the ante a couple of months two early. Once again, the Israelis are too preoccupied with their own dramas to be of any use. But we knew that ever since Olmert hung on post-August 2006. I presume America’s hawks have been waiting for this opportunity, and hope they leverage it for every overt airstrike it’s worth.

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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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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.”


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.
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 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 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.

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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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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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:


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.


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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I grow more sympathetic to “Arabist” alternatives to the current Middle East equilibrium with every passing day. Israel conspicuously wastes time and money instead of doing what it obviously needs to do to defend itself. If Israel is too weak to stand up for itself, it is not worth anybody’s time.

… Netanyahu accused the Olmert government of failing the people of Israel by tolerating the relentless attacks out of Gaza, and said the IDF knew exactly how to counter the violence but was being prevented from doing so by “a failure of the political leadership.”

The Post reported Thursday that according to assessments in Jerusalem, a major IDF incursion into the Gaza Strip to significantly weaken Hamas – similar but more difficult than Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in 2002 – would not take place until about a month or a month-and-a-half after US President George W. Bush’s planned visit here in mid-May.

By then, the last of the world’s leaders to have come here to celebrate the state’s 60th anniversary would have left. The timing would also place the incursion in the middle of summer, considered an optimal time for this type of operation.

If we didn’t already have such a copious track record of passivity from Olmert, I would have assumed this was disinformation.

It would be so horrific if world leaders decided to boycott Israel’s 60th birthday, simply because Israel decided to defend herself.

Meanwhile, global commodities markets teeter on edge. Israelis are too weak to defend themselves; it’s well known that over 1/3 of the IDF is first- or second-generation Russo-Israeli, not native Israeli. Clearly the preponderance of native Israelis doesn’t see national self-defense as particularly urgent.

The positive justifications, not to mention the opportunity costs, of American Mideast involvement are approaching their own Minsky Moment.

Olmert is not simply consigning “valuable” Israeli lives to the guillotine of global opinion. He is becoming an impediment to orderly commerce far beyond Israel’s borders and a profound drain on American resources.

The fact of the matter is that any institutional actor with a nuclear weapon does not abuse it. Iran is not going to nuke anyone. The world doesn’t look quite so threatening and insecure once you have an atomic bomb.

Israel is holding up a regional accommodation because it would then be doomed to slow extermination by incremental violence. However, it’s not so perturbed that it will actually do any heavy lifting to quash Hezbollah by itself. They are either dragging out American involvement in Iraq or lying to themselves; it’s one or the other.

Only the most feeble or complacent of peoples would tolerate such a derelict for a leader, as Israelis have of Ehud Olmert.

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