December 20, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for January 12, 2012


1) Who is killing the nuclear scientists in Iran?

The New York Times reported, Iran Reports Killing of Nuclear Scientist in ‘Terrorist’ Blast (via memeorandum):

The semiofficial Fars news agency, which has close links to the powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, said the Wednesday bombing resembled the methods used in attacks in November 2010 against two other nuclear specialists — Majid Shahriari, who was killed, and Fereydoon Abbasi, who survived and is now in charge of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.

Almost exactly two years ago in January 2010, a physics professor, Massoud Ali Mohammadi, was also assassinated in Tehran.

Iran blamed Israel and the United States for the attacks in 2010, and the latest killing is bound to deepen an embattled mood in Tehran as the country’s divided leaders approach parliamentary elections in March. News of the blast emerged quickly on Iran’s state-run media.

The Times has followed up with Adversaries of Iran Said to Be Stepping Up Covert Actions:

Neither Israeli nor American officials will discuss the covert campaign in any detail, leaving some uncertainty about the perpetrators and their purpose. For instance, Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he believed that at least some of the murdered scientists might have been killed by the Iranian government. Some of them had shown sympathy for the Iranian opposition, he said, and not all appeared to have been high-ranking experts.

“I think there is reason to doubt the idea that all the hits have been carried out by Israel,” Mr. Sadjadpour said. “It’s very puzzling that Iranian nuclear scientists, whose movements are likely carefully monitored by the state, can be executed in broad daylight, sometimes in rush-hour traffic, and their culprits never found.”

However:

A more common view, however, is expressed by Patrick Clawson, director of the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I often get asked when Israel might attack Iran,” Mr. Clawson said. “I say, ‘Two years ago.’ ”

Mr. Clawson said the covert campaign was far preferable to overt airstrikes by Israel or the United States on suspected Iranian nuclear sites. “Sabotage and assassination is the way to go, if you can do it,” he said. “It doesn’t provoke a nationalist reaction in Iran, which could strengthen the regime. And it allows Iran to climb down if it decides the cost of pursuing a nuclear weapon is too high.”

Clawson is a sober analyst, however he doesn't address Sadjapour's doubts. There doesn't appear to be any evidence that Israel has been behind these attacks and reporting such is reporting speculation. Unless you're Richard Silverstein. Silverstein's latest conspiracy was unsurprisingly picked up by Iran's Fars news agency. Michael Rubin, for his part, citing internal Iranian sources, contradicts Silverstein's assertion that the assassinations are having no effect.

Going back a few weeks, analysts Michael Ledeen and J.E. Dyer have expressed doubts that a foreign government was behind the attacks. Here's Ledeen:

Before we get to the whys and wherefores, a bit of detail: the huge detonation at Karaj, which, as I have explained, surprised the attackers and distorted our understanding. The operation was aimed at the Revolutionary Guards Corps, specifically at General Hassan Tehrani Moghadam, who was both the architect of the national missile program and one of the nastiest officials in that legendarily nasty organization. The attackers did not know that there was a large quantity of rocket fuel on the base that day (which was the reason Moghadam was there). The special fuel came from North Korea, and it was supposed to double tne range of Iran’s missiles. The explosion that killed Moghadam and scores of his comrades ignited the rocket fuel, with dramatic results. To date, 377 dead have been reported to the supreme leader’s office. Among the dead are the attackers–they couldn’t escape the big explosion–and at least four North Korean officials, who were there for the celebration.

The attackers came from the internal opposition, and so far as I know they had no ties to any foreign anything, not a foreign intelligence service, not a foreign military organization, not a foreign government.

Of course, as always with things Iranians, you’ve got to caveat what you think you know. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been misinformed. But, on the other hand, I’ve been a lonely voice for quite a while, saying that the opposition (call it the Green Movement, for lack of an updated logo) would become more violent, that the movement was, if anything, more powerful than it was at the time of the big demonstrations a year and two years ago, and that the regime was full of opposition sympathizers and collaborators.

Dyer wrote:

I would not, however, conclude that it was done by a Western government agency. There are two reasons for this, both of which I mentioned on Monday. First, the UCF at Esfahan is simply not a priority target in the nuclear network. It is important, yes, but not worth hitting before anything else – and not worth sending Iranian internal security to high warble over. Hitting this target , by itself, just doesn’t justify the blowback. Western governments make their targeting decisions based on criteria that would put the Esfahan UCF several notches down the list of things that need to be struck in November 2011. It’s a workhorse facility in the fissile-material production network, and it’s already done what needs to be done to assemble an arsenal of multiple weapons. Uranium conversion is also “mastered technology”; Iran can reconstitute it relatively quickly.

(Notably, the series of explosion at IRGC/government facilities to date has not systematically targeted the critical nodes of the nuclear network. From a step back, it doesn’t look like an organized campaign to take the network down.)

Ledeen relies on inside sources (though he acknowledges that they may not be reliable) and Dyer observed the pattern of the attacks. Both are speculating but appear to be better informed than the sources used in the New York Times.

2) The accurate part of Tom's statement is bad enough

The other day, I quoted an Egyptian source about a speech Thomas Friedman gave at the American University in Cairo. Yisrael Medad did too at the Jerusalem Post. Now Friedman has written to say that he was misquoted.

The original quotes include:

Friedman said that the Islamist sweeping the vote in the latest parliamentary elections was normal and expected. "For decades, Egyptians were missing the Arab nationalist, and most importantly, an authentic political alternative during Mubarak's rule, now they finally found it represented in the 83-year-old Islamist group of the Muslim Brotherhood," Friedman said. "The Muslim Brotherhood is legitimate, authentic, progressive alternative. Only faced by the four-month old liberals, they had to win," he added…

…"We now have a Congress that’s trying to find a legal framework for bribery, this tells you how money ruined our politics," Friedman explained.

Friedman explains:

The quote attributed to me by the Egyptian daily is completely mangled. I was asked by an audience member to give my assessment of the liberal's performance in the Egyptian election. What I actually said, which the reporter, clearly not an English speaker, did not get, was that it was no surprise that the Muslim Brotherhood did so well in this first election because for the last 30 years Mubarak had cleared out all the political space between himself and the Brotherhood so that he was able to come to Washington and say to successive U.S. Presidents that "It is either me or them.'' I said that what the Egyptian elections produced, for the first time, were legitimate, authentic, liberal, secular, nationalist, progressive alternatives to the Muslim Brotherhood and now the Brotherhood would have to compete with such alternatives — for the first time. I then said, given the fact that the liberals had only four months to organize their parties and that the Brotherhood had been in politics for 83 years, that I thought the liberals had done amazingly well. By the way, there were many cameras filming all of this, so it is easy enough to verify.

I would also note that this is a point I have made many times before in my writings — in precisely those words — that what was missing in Arab politics was a legitimate, progressive alternative to both the official parties and the Islamists. I would also note that in my previous NYT column from I Cairo, I wrote: "…the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist Al Nour Party — just crushed the secular liberals, who actually sparked the rebellion here, in the free Egyptian parliamentary elections, winning some 65 percent of the seats. To not be worried about the theocratic, antipluralistic, anti-women’s-rights, xenophobic strands in these Islamist parties is to be recklessly naïve.''

I will grant Friedman that the syntax in the Egyptian report is muddled supporting his claim that he was misquoted. I find the last sentence quoted here ("To not be worried …") unconvincing, as Friedman himself wrote a column yesterday telling us not to be worried about the Islamists.

Friedman concludes:

Mr. Medad, you asked aloud whether I could have said what I was quoted saying? I am glad you asked it aloud. I just wish you had asked me first before publishing this blog on your site. I am in the phone book.

(The original source has now been corrected)
I could without Friedman's pretense of being offended. His quote about the American political system being hopelessly corrupt is awful. Elsewhere he's quoted as calling Rick Santorum and extremist. These are extremely problematic. Barry Rubin explains:

The second thing that disgusts me is Friedman’s attempts to win applause by sucking up to his Egyptian audience. He tells them that the U.S. Congress is profoundly corrupt. Aside from demeaning his own country and civilization, the signal that statement sends is: Hey, democracy doesn’t really work!

And what does an Egyptian audience think of when it hears this line about money ruling? Not insider stock-trading but rather the old Arab assertion that the Zionist lobby directs U.S. policy, that’s what.

If Friedman actually was knowledgeable on the Middle East he would have understood the message he is conveying and have avoided such statements. Oh, wait, Friedman himself has made such a charge, saying that the Jewish lobby bought Congress’s enthusiastic reception of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, being saved from accusations of antisemitism only because he is the son of Jewish parents.

“Money will kill your democracy like it did ours,” said Friedman. So Egypt is now a democracy but America isn’t? And, again, who do Arab ideologues identify with using “money” to control politics? Answer: Not Tony Rezko.

Friedman calls Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum an example of an American extremist. This tells Egyptians: We have no right to criticize you! You now have leaders who openly call for genocide against Jews. Well, we have people who don’t favor gay marriage!

Friedman's idea that money has somehow fatally corrupted the American system, is beyond absurd. The idea that people with interests should be able to lobby the government is part of the process. What Friedman doesn't like is that his ideas and interests are being ignored. As someone recently observed what really upsets Friedman is that people don't heed his brilliant ideas.

Maybe Tom was misquoted about the Muslim Brotherhood being "progressive," but what he did say and did own up to, is pretty bad.

3) Getting back on the bicycle

In his op-ed, How to unfreeze a Mideast stalemate, Dennis Ross quotes Dan Merridor comparing negotiations to riding a bicycle. Part of Ross's argument is:

What could demonstrate to the Palestinians that the occupation is receding? Examples are not hard to come by. Since the interim agreement of the Oslo process was finalized in 1995, the West Bank has been divided into non-contiguous areas known as A, B and C — with the Palestinians having putative control in Area A and Israel retaining overall responsibility in the two other areas. From the fall of 1995 to the spring of 2002, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) largely stayed out of Area A, which constitutes about 18 percent of the territory and includes all the major cities in the West Bank. According to the Oslo agreements, the Palestinians are to have civil and security responsibility in this area.

But in 2002, at the height of the second intifada and the horrendous suicide bombings that Palestinians were executing in Israel, the IDF began operating in Area A again to try to stop the attacks. Though the intifada ended in 2005 and Palestinian security forces have been generally effective in preventing terror attacks, the IDF still carries out periodic incursions into Palestinian cities to reinforce local security efforts. This grates on Palestinians, reminding them who remains in control.

So, one meaningful step would be either to stop all such incursions in Area A or, if there are continuing security concerns, to phase them out based on the security situation. Gabi Ashkenazi, former chief of staff of the IDF, has consistently said that “as the Palestinians do more on security, we will do less.” A gradual ending of incursions in Area A would certainly be consistent with that axiom.

Ross acknowledges that Operation Defensive Shield was necessary to stop the "Aqsa intifada," so why does he assume that current incursions into Area A are not warranted? Ross writes that Israel needs "…to validate those Palestinian leaders, such as Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who believe in nonviolence and coexistence." But as Lenny Ben David writes in a letter to the Washington Post:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently embraced a terrorist who, using the Internet, enticed a 16-year-old Israeli boy to the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he was tortured and killed. Palestinian camps, squares and schools are still being named for terrorists who killed Israeli civilians. What message does the Israeli public take from that?

I could add that despite his commitment to nonviolence, Abbas is still seeking a unity agreement with Hamas, which remains committed to Israel's destruction.

If Ross doesn't see all this, it's because as he writes early on, "… I know that Abbas and Netanyahu carry the weight of their peoples’
history and mythology, and face enormous political constraints." This is the arrogance of a peace processor talking. He knows how to make peace; it's the people who actually have to make peace who are hostage to their "mythologies;" if only they saw things as clearly as he does!

Every since Barack Obama became President, Mahmoud Abbas has been waiting for Obama to pressure Netanyahu into stopping building in all settlements. Over this time as Jackson Diehl has documented, Netanyahu has taken steps to mollify the administration. What makes Ross think that his suggestions will do any more to get Abbas back to the table? Surely Ross who was in the administration until the end of last year has seen the same things Diehl has, why do his ways to unfreeze negotiations only require that Israel offer "validation" to the Palestinians and not the other way around?

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.