Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Israel's - and the Region's - Secret War with Iran/ Talking to Terrorists

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Update from AIJAC

May 22, 2009
Number 05/09 #07

Today's Update looks at some regional reactions to Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons - including alleged Israeli attempts to damage Iranian technical efforts, and the efforts by a number of Arab states to acquire their own nuclear options. Moreover, a Lebanese writer offers a particularly insightful take on the problem with "engaging" armed extremist terror groups.

First up, Israeli author and journalist Ronen Bergman reports on the successes of Israeli intelligence in recent years, especially in reportedly penetrating, exposing and possibly sabotaging Iran's nuclear weapons program, but also against Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria. However, he points out that despite these supposedly successful intelligence operations, Iran is now "storming ahead" on its bomb-building, which he says highlights the limits of what even the best intelligence efforts can achieve. For his complete discussion, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, Israeli intelligence experts say Iran's election is very unlikely to affect the nuclear bomb-building efforts.

Next up, Iranian exile author Amir Taheri assembles details about the efforts of numerous Arab countries to suddenly develop a "nuclear industry for peaceful purposes," meaning to gain a nuclear option in response to Iran. Among the countries which appear to be doing this, according to him, are Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Turkey - while Iran is offering nuclear assistance to Syria and possibly Sudan. He also documents the likely sources of regional proliferation - France, China, Pakistan and North Korea. Taheri suggests that stopping this regional nuclear arms race now needs to be an urgent priority for the Obama Administration. For his full argument, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Michael Young, opinion editor of Lebanon's Daily Star, offers an unusually insightful piece on the dangers of "engaging" armed Islamist extremists, as widely advocated by such groups as the London-based Conflicts Forum. He points out three reasons: 1. Engagement weakens moderates and helps extremists achieve their agenda among their own constituents; 2. It causes the "engagers" to adopt and help promote the narrative of the extremists in the name of making engagement work; and 3. "Engagers" attempting to be "realistic" and avoid introducing values into the debate, while Islamists cling determinedly to their values, will end up betraying their own values to serve those of the Islamists. Of course, this is a gross over-simplification of Young's complete argument. Please read that full argument from someone who should know about this issue based on the experience of his own country by clicking HERE.

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Israel's Secret War With Iran

The Mossad has stunning achievements to its credit, yet the mullahs remain a threat.


By RONEN BERGMAN

Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2009

Those who leaf through the secret files of any intelligence service know what grave mistakes bad intelligence can lead to. But they also know that sometimes even excellent intelligence doesn't change a thing.

The Israeli intelligence community is now learning this lesson the hard way. It has penetrated enemies like Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Hezbollah and Hamas. Yet despite former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's willingness to authorize highly dangerous operations based on this intelligence, and despite the unquestionable success of the operations themselves, the overall security picture remains as grim as ever.

In 2002, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed his friend and former subordinate, Gen. Meir Dagan, director of the Mossad. Gen. Dagan found the organization lacking in imagination and shying away from operational risks. Mr. Sharon, who knew Gen. Dagan from his days as head of a secret assassinations unit that acted against Fatah in the Gaza Strip during the 1970s, told the general that he wanted "a Mossad with a knife between its teeth."

Gen. Dagan transformed the Mossad from top to bottom and made the organization's sole focus Iran's nuclear project and its ties to jihadist organizations. He put tremendous pressure on his subordinates to execute as many operations as possible. Moreover, he built up ties with espionage services in Europe and the Middle East on top of Israel's long-standing relationship with the CIA.

In tandem with Gen. Dagan's Mossad revolution, other Israeli military intelligence has also made outstanding breakthroughs. The Shin-Bet (Israel's internal intelligence service), in cooperation with the military, has made huge strides in its understanding of Palestinian guerilla organizations.

The results have been tremendous. During the last four years, the uranium enrichment project in Iran was delayed by a series of apparent accidents: the disappearance of an Iranian nuclear scientist, the crash of two planes carrying cargo relating to the project, and two labs that burst into flames. In addition, an Iranian opposition group in exile published highly credible information about the details of the project, which caused Iran much embarrassment and led to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.

On July 12, 2006, thanks to precise intelligence, the Israeli Air Force destroyed almost the entire stock of Hezbollah's long-range rockets stored in underground warehouses. Hezbollah was shocked.

In July 2007, another mysterious accident occurred in a missile factory jointly operated by Iran and Syria at a Syrian site called Al-Safir. The production line -- which armed Scud missiles with warheads -- was shut down and many were killed.

In September 2007, Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor built by Syria and aided by North Korea in Dir A-Zur -- despite Syria's significant efforts to keep it a secret. With indirect authorization from a very high ranking Israeli official, the CIA published incriminating pictures obtained by Israel of the site before it was bombed. These photos convinced the world that the Syrians were indeed attempting to manufacture a nuclear bomb.

In February 2008, Hezbollah's military leader, Imad Mughniyah, was killed in Damascus. In August of that year, Gen. Mohammed Suliman, a liaison to Hamas and Hezbollah who participated in the Syrian nuclear project, was assassinated by a sniper.

In December 2008, Israel initiated operation Cast Lead, which dealt Hamas a massive blow. Most of its weapons were destroyed within days by Israeli air strikes. (Israel also knew where the Hamas leadership was hiding, but since it was in a hospital Mr. Olmert refused to authorize the strike.) In January 2009, Israeli Hermes 450 drones attacked three convoys in Sudan that were smuggling weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

These are all excellent achievements, but did they change reality? Mostly not.

The destruction of the Syrian nuclear reactor seems to have put a temporary end to President Bashar Assad's ambitions of acquiring a nuclear weapon. However, the public humiliation caused by the site's bombing did not sway him from supporting Hamas and Hezbollah and hosting terrorist organizations.

Even worse, the heads of Israeli intelligence are now losing sleep over recent information showing that attempts to delay the Iranian nuclear project have failed. Despite some technical difficulties, the Iranians are storming ahead and may possess a nuclear bomb as early as 2010. Hezbollah, although weakened by the 2006 war and Mughniyah's assassination, has become the leading political force in Lebanon.

On the southern front, despite the convoy bombings in Sudan, the trafficking of weapons and ammunition into the Gaza Strip continues. Hamas's standing among Palestinians has strengthened. And if a cease-fire is negotiated between Hamas and Israel it would be perceived as a victory for Hamas.

The bottom line is that excellent intelligence is very important, but it can only take you so far. In the end, it's the tough diplomatic and military decisions made by Israeli leaders that ensure the security of the state.

Mr. Bergman, a correspondent for the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth, is the author of the "The Secret War With Iran" (Free Press, 2008).


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THE MIDEAST NUCLEAR-ARMS SCRAMBLE

By AMIR TAHERI

 
NEW YORK POST, May 14, 2009 --

FEARS that the Obama administration intends to let Iran become a nuclear power has sent other Middle Eastern countries shopping around for partners to help them join the nuclear club.

Saudi Arabia is the latest, announcing last Sunday that it's reached an "agreement in principle" with France to develop a "nuclear industry for peaceful purposes." It becomes the third Arab country -- after Egypt and Qatar -- to seek French help in joining the nuclear club. The United Arab Emirates, which has signed a pact with the United States not to enrich uranium, is negotiating a similar deal with France.

Iraq, which in the 1970s became the first Arab country to start a nuclear program, also intends to seek a return to the nuclear club. Last month, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki set up an effort to bring together Iraq's nuclear scientists and invite those in exile to return home.

It doesn't matter that the region is awash in oil and natural gas: The Gulf Cooperation Council has set up a study group to find a fast track to nuclear power. Having spent more than $140 billion on arms purchases in the past decade, the oil-rich Arab monarchies that make up the council -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman -- and allies such as Egypt and Jordan would have little difficulty financing a massive nuclear project.

Then there's Turkey, where a debate is under way about the need to develop "an indigenous nuclear capability." Some Turks regard America as a fickle friend and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which Turkey is a founding member, as "an umbrella full of holes." Iran has been Turkey's regional rival for more than 600 years. It would be inconceivable for the Turks to sit still and accept a nuclear-armed Iran.

Having triggered the nuclear race, Iran is also playing an active role in proliferation. The Islamic Republic has signed agreements to help Syria and Venezuela achieve "nuclear capacity," and talks are under way with the Sudan for a similar accord.

If he's re-elected in June, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans a tour of Latin America shortly afterward to help left-wing regimes acquire the industrial base that the American "Great Satan" is supposed to have denied them for decades. The nuclear option will be on the agenda in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia, and he will invite Brazil to enter into joint ventures to manufacture missiles and combat aircraft.

China and Pakistan are also emerging as active players in what could become a nuclear-arms race in the Greater Middle East region.

China is negotiating with Iran to build 20 nuclear power stations over the next decade. With no international control over what happens to the spent fuel generated by those stations, Iran could end up having enough material to make hundreds of bombs as a sideline to generating electricity.

Pakistan, which has no nuclear power stations but boasts a credible arsenal of nuclear weapons, has put its military technology on the market. Having initially financed the Pakistani nuclear project, Saudi Arabia and the UAE now hope to reap the benefits in the form of a helping hand from Islamabad.

Another player in this deadly game is North Korea, which has already worked with Pakistan, Iran and Syria on a number of nuclear projects and related missile systems.

The US nuclear industry is keen on getting a chunk of a lucrative market. The deal that the US has signed with the UAE would become inoperative if the US recognizes the right of any other nation in the region to enrich uranium. That would enable the UAE to "add other dimensions" to the accords it has negotiated with France and Pakistan.

So far, President Obama hasn't shown much interest in the coming nuclear-arms race in the Middle East. Instead, he has announced his desire to reduce the US nuclear arsenal. He soon may be forced to change direction on both fronts.

Amir Taheri's latest book is "The Persian Night: Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution."

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Three reasons why it’s dangerous to talk to armed Islamists

Michael Young

The National (UAE) - May 13. 2009 7:28PM UAE / May 13. 2009 3:28PM GMT

You know an idea is making headway when The New York Times finally picks up on it. Two weeks ago the newspaper profiled Alastair Crooke, a former British spy who co-founded Conflicts Forum, a non-governmental organisation that engages in dialogue with Islamists and encourages western governments to do likewise: In this time of “engagement” in the Middle East, dialogue evidently substitutes for policy.

The head of Hamas’s political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, was also afforded space in the paper recently. His interviewers must have been charmed, for they broke a cardinal editorial rule and wrote something amusing, namely that “apart from the time restriction and the refusal to accept Israel’s existence” Mr Meshaal’s terms for peace with Israel “approximate the Arab League peace plan”. The plan’s core is Arab recognition of Israel, so someone missed a beat. Mr Meshaal did not, however, when he said that Hamas would “help” if there was “international and regional will to establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders”. Mr Meshaal’s message of accommodation was directed at the Obama administration, and not surprisingly came shortly after Bashar Assad, president of Syria and Mr Meshaal’s host in Damascus, said the US had to talk to Hamas.

Nevertheless, there are three reasons (other than Mr Assad’s backing) why engaging Islamists, particularly armed Islamists, should be viewed with caution, their words of reassurance and those of their western apologists notwithstanding.

Conflicts Forum offers a clue to the first reason: its website tells us that “encounters with political Islam – with both non-violent and armed resistance groups – lead us to conclude that Islamism is above all political”. Putting aside that the opposite of “non-violent” is “violent”, not “armed resistance groups”, we can derive considerable meaning from this statement of the obvious. Islamic doctrine little distinguishes between religion and politics, which complement each other. But for any dialogue to work, the aims of one side must somewhere be reconcilable with the aims of those on the other side of the table. How often is that the case?

For example, Hamas’s primary goal is to become the leading interlocutor on all matters related to the Palestinians. Mr Meshaal knows that once the West engages Hamas it will undermine the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, a key step in allowing Hamas to fulfil its dream of taking control of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. No wonder Mr Assad wants the US to deal with Hamas. What the movement gains, Syria and Iran gain too, as both have substantial sway over Hamas decision-making.

Is that an objective western states should help to advance? Recently the British government resumed a dialogue with Hizbollah at a moment of dangerous polarisation in Lebanon before elections in June. Forget that a dialogue existed several years ago and led nowhere; this latest step implied that Hizbollah’s Lebanese political adversaries, who are closer to positions the British government advocates, were losing ground. In fact, engaging Hizbollah made that outcome more likely. The foolish decision caused an angry reaction, irritating the US especially, which may be why the UK has now backtracked.

If Islamist movements pursue well-defined political ends, then their western interlocutors must think in the same way. Dialogue is not a strategy. Parties engage in dialogue if it advances their aims, not if it hinders them. If the ambition is to reach an “understanding” with Islamists, as Conflicts Forum claims, then it is possible that no such understanding is possible or desirable. Dialogue is not a default position towards which states or parties need to gravitate.

This leads to a second reason why engaging with armed Islamists should be viewed with caution, even scepticism. The search for common ground usually pushes engagers to adopt the mindset of the Islamists themselves, at the expense of alternative voices. This is not a case of going native. It is a case of trying too hard to make the engagement agenda work by going overboard and giving Islamists a central role in Arab political discourse, when the reality might be very different.

On its website, Conflicts Forum writes that “Islamism has emerged as the most significant indigenous political force in the region”. Maybe it has, but would Mr Crooke and his colleagues care to prove that sweeping statement, and define its implications? Islamism is doubtless significant, but there are many other forms of expression in the Arab world, political and otherwise, including a thwarted quest for democracy and modernism. By talking to armed and autocratic Islamist groups, engagers, in the name of boldness, tilt the parameters of debate away from those rejecting violence and seeking pluralism.

A third reason western interlocutors must tread carefully when dealing with Islamists is to avoid betraying their liberal values. At the heart of political realism – and the engagers are realists – is the notion that in negotiations mutual interests are best served by avoiding introducing values into the discussion. These only complicate matters, leading to an uncomfortable tendency to impose one’s own on others.

Except Islamists never compromise on values because they define their legitimacy. Hamas refuses to recognise Israel, since it considers Palestine a religious endowment. Hizbollah considers “resistance” absolute, rejecting the very principle of disarming in favour of a sovereign Lebanese state. In contrast, the engagers urge western governments to shed their principles because by not doing so they supposedly revive the spectre of neo-colonial arrogance.

So the arms must be on one side and the guilt on the other; the values on one side and a willingness to abandon them on the other; political hardball on one side and the imperative to be flexible on the other. That imbalance won’t make dialogue work, but it will surely give armed Islamists a new vitality, while silencing Arab and Muslim voices that might aspire to a liberalism the West fears to mention.

Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon

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