Les anglonautes

About | Search | Vocapedia | Learning | Podcasts | Videos | History | Arts | Science | Translate

 Previous Home Up Next


History > 2012 > USA > International (VII)





the father of an eight-year-old girl who was fatally wounded

along with his son Hamed (sitting at left on background),

cries while being treated in a local hospital

in a rebel-controlled area of Aleppo on October 31, 2012.



Javier Manzano/AFP/Getty Images


Boston Globe > Big Picture > Syria conflict intensifies

November 5, 2012
















The Need for U.S.-Iran Talks


November 12, 2012
The New York Times



MITT Romney used the word “peace” or “peaceful” a dozen times in the last presidential debate, as if he’d been communing with the ghosts of John Lennon and Mohandas Gandhi. But the American people were not fooled. In re-electing Barack Obama, they voted for peace and against a third war in a Muslim nation in little over a decade.

Americans are tired of their trillion-dollar wars. A recent survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 67 percent of Americans believe the Iraq war was not worth it, 69 percent think the United States is no safer from terrorism as a result of the Afghan war, and 71 percent say the Iraq experience should make the country more cautious about using force [pdf].

The risk was real that Romney — surrounded by hawks like the former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, beholden to the casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and prodded by his friend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — might take the United States to war in Iran. Certainly, any chance of a diplomatic resolution of the crisis caused by Iran’s nuclear program would have receded for the foreseeable future.

Armed conflict with Iran in 2013 is still possible. If a reminder were needed, Iran’s firing shots earlier this month at a U.S. drone provided it. Israel is impatient with the steady progression of Iranian enrichment. Obama, while opposed to war and largely impervious to Netanyahu’s clumsy prodding, has said he will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon. There is no more immediate strategic challenge for the re-elected president.

The question of whether the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace or for a breakthrough with Iran should be the first diplomatic priority for Obama’s second term amounts to a no-brainer. It’s Iran, stupid. (There are no good options in Syria and — as with most Middle Eastern issues — American noncommunication with Iran on the matter is unhelpful. Iran’s constructive role in the 2001 Bonn conference on Afghanistan is too often forgotten.)

War with Iran would be devastating, to a Middle East in transition, to U.S. interests from Afghanistan to Egypt, and to the global economy. The time available for averting conflict is limited. Israel-Palestine, by contrast, is a draining confrontation but not today the potential spark to a conflagration; nor does it offer any new encouraging elements; nor is it likely that Netanyahu, if re-elected next year, would cease using Iran as a diversion from serious engagement with the Palestinians, who are divided in crippling ways they and the United States are reluctant to address.

But do any new avenues with Iran exist? Is there any political space for them? During Obama’s first term Republican machismo prevailed on many fronts. Demonization of Iran was a never-ending source of rhetorical inspiration. Democrats were not far behind.

Diplomacy is in urgent need of resurrection. It is becoming a lost art in an age of declamation. During a recent conversation, William Luers, a former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela and the director of The Iran Project, and Stephen Heintz, the president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, told me they avoid the phrase “diplomatic solution” in conversations about Iran on Capitol Hill. Instead they say “political solution.” Diplomacy just sounds too wimpy.

But, as they well know, diplomacy with Iran is needed. Diplomacy involves accepting that in order to get what you want you have to give something. The key question is: “What do I want to get out of my rival and what do I have to give to get it?”

Pressure alone, in the form of sanctions, is not going to stop Iran’s nuclear program. At some point, as with Nixon’s bold breakthrough with China, undertaken against furious protests (just as vehement as Aipac would be on talks with Iran), the questions must be asked: “What do we want, what do they want, and what do we both want?” Areas of overlapping interest must be developed.

This will take unusual courage from Obama — and more good sense from an economically squeezed Islamic Republic than normally emanates from Tehran. Still, Obama is now a second-term president. He is freer — and the macho school of foreign policy is weaker. He must develop, through a special envoy, a direct line of communication with Tehran. Iranian-American trauma, now decades old, is inseparable from the nuclear crisis.

What do we want from Iran? Open up all its nuclear facilities, get rid of all its 20 percent enriched uranium, end all threats to Israel, stop rampant human rights abuses, changed policies on Hamas and Hezbollah, a constructive approach to Syria. What can we offer? Lift some sanctions, stop a range of covert actions, take regime change off the table, put the right to limited enrichment (up to 5 percent) on the table, and address the regional role of Iran.

A creative diplomat could juggle the above and work to build confidence through phased tradeoffs. But first Obama must get beyond the conventional wisdom on Iran, think big, act bold, ignore the visceral Iran-haters and stop believing coercion alone is the answer.

    The Need for U.S.-Iran Talks, NYT, 12.11.2012,






The Foreign Policy Agenda


November 11, 2012
The New York Times


National security didn’t play heavily in the presidential election. But President Obama’s legacy, and the country’s future, will be shaped as much by the foreign policy and defense decisions he makes over the next four years as by those on the domestic side.

One of Mr. Obama’s singular contributions has been his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. It is a lofty goal that won’t be achieved in his second term, or maybe for years after that. But it offers a framework for reducing America’s stockpile and for arguing credibly that other countries should follow suit.

In 2010, Mr. Obama won Senate ratification of a treaty with Russia that makes modest cuts in deployed long-range nuclear weapons. It is time to pursue further reductions in those deployed systems, and to seek cuts in warheads held in reserve and in short-range nuclear weapons, where Moscow has a big advantage. Nuclear arms are one area in which the ability of Washington and Moscow to work together is essential. If Mr. Obama can draw the other nuclear powers, including China, Pakistan, India and Israel, into the discussions and persuade the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, so much the better.

The end of the campaign season might reduce the dangerous partisan posturing over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency are to resume talks next month, but any diplomatic solution will at some point require direct negotiations between Washington and Tehran. Meanwhile, international sanctions, which have seriously damaged Iran’s economy, need to be rigorously enforced and strengthened.

American military commanders are expected to recommend a timetable soon for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan. After a decade of American blood spilled there, President Obama should declare that the schedule will be dictated only by the security of the troops, and the withdrawal should take no more than a year.

Mr. Obama’s policies have severely weakened Al Qaeda, but extremism is growing in many regions, like North Africa and Pakistan. Dealing with that challenge will likely become harder, as will the choices Mr. Obama must make. For one thing, he will have to examine whether the expanding use of drones is the right approach.

As for the Arab Spring countries, Mr. Obama has been wise to recognize that Washington cannot dictate their democratic evolutions. But he should be more engaged, offering more assistance to Islamic leaders who need to build their economies quickly while reminding them that American support will be calibrated based on their commitment to human rights and the rule of law.

He should continue to resist calls for American military intervention in Syria, but he should search for ways to keep fortifying the opposition in that civil war, especially since the factions there now seem to be unifying.

Many are pessimistic that anything can be done about an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal as long as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in office and Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas. It would be a mistake for Mr. Obama to cross this challenge off his list. He needs to keep seeking openings to promote the two-state solution.

Mr. Obama is expected to use his second term to deepen engagement with Asia to protect American military interests and ensure American access to economic opportunities in that region. This could be a challenge given the coming change of leadership in Beijing.

It is an inexhaustible list. Mr. Obama put major new or controversial initiatives on hold this year while the campaign was under way. Now he has two years before another election season impedes his ability to get things done. He needs to decide on his priorities and act while he has the political space and capital to do so.

    The Foreign Policy Agenda, NYT, 11.11.2012,






Tunisia Battles Over Pulpits,

and Revolt’s Legacy


November 11, 2012
The New York Times


KAIROUAN, Tunisia — On the Friday after Tunisia’s president fell, Mohamed al-Khelif mounted the pulpit of this city’s historic Grand Mosque to deliver a full-throttle attack on the country’s corrupt culture, to condemn its close ties with the West and to demand that a new constitution implement Shariah, or Islamic law.

“They’ve slaughtered Islam!” thundered Dr. Khelif, whom the ousted government had barred from preaching for 20 years. “Whoever fights Islam and implements Western plans becomes in the eyes of Western politicians a blessed leader and a reformer, even if he was the most criminal leader with the dirtiest hands.”

Mosques across Tunisia blazed with similar sermons that day and, indeed, every Friday since, in what has become the battle of the pulpit, a heated competition to define Tunisia’s religious and political identity.

Revolution freed the country’s estimated 5,000 officially sanctioned mosques from the rigid controls of the previous government, which appointed every prayer leader and issued lists of acceptable topics for their Friday sermons.

That system pushed a moderate, apolitical model of Islam that avoided confronting a dictator. When the system collapsed last year, ultraconservative Salafis seized control of up to 500 mosques by government estimates. The government, a proponent of a more temperate political Islam, says it has since wrested back control of all but 70 of the mosques, but acknowledges it has not yet routed the extremists nor thwarted their agenda.

“Before, the state suffocated religion — they controlled the imams, the sermons, the mosques,” said Sheik Tai’eb al-Ghozzi, the Friday Prayer leader at the Grand Mosque here. “Now everything is out of control — the situation is better but needs control.”

To this day, Salafi clerics like Dr. Khelif, who espouse the most puritanical, most orthodox interpretation of Islam, hammer on favorite themes that include putting Islamic law into effect immediately, veiling women, outlawing alcohol, shunning the West and joining the jihad in Syria. Democracy, they insist, is not compatible with Islam.

“If the majority is ignorant of religious instruction, then they are against God,” said Sheik Khatib al-Idrissi, 60, considered the spiritual guide of all Tunisian Salafis. “If the majority is corrupt, how can we accept them? Truth is in the governance of God.”

The battle for Tunisia’s mosques is one front in a broader struggle, as pockets of extremism take hold across the region. Freshly minted Islamic governments largely triumphed over their often fractious, secular rivals in postrevolutionary elections. But those new governments are locked in fierce, sometimes violent, competition with the more hard-line wing of the Islamic political movements over how much of the faith can mix with democracy, over the very building blocks of religious identity. That competition is especially significant in Tunisia, once the most secular of the Arab nations, with a large educated middle class and close ties to Europe.

The Arab Spring began in Tunisia, and its ability to reconcile faith and governance may well serve as a barometer for the region.

Some analysts link the assertive Tunisian Salafi movement to what they consider a worrying spread of violent extremism across North Africa — including an affiliate of Al Qaeda seizing control of northern Mali; a murderous attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya; a growing jihadi force facing Israel in the Sinai; and a mob looting an American school and parts of the United States Embassy in Tunis.

Senior government officials said the various groups share an ideology and are in contact with one another, suggesting that while they are scattered and do not coordinate their operations, they reinforce one another’s agendas. There have been several episodes of jihadists caught smuggling small arms from Libya to Mali or Algeria across Tunisia, for example, including two small trucks packed with Kalashnikovs and some manner of shoulder-fired missiles or grenades in June, said Ali Laarayedh, the interior minister.

President Moncef Marzouki and several ministers blamed the domestic spread of Islamic extremism on the ousted government, saying it created a vacuum by gutting traditional religious education over the past 50 years. Mr. Marzouki estimated that the number of violent extremists was only about 3,000, but he acknowledged that they were a growing menace to national security.

Aside from a few “zealous” leaders, most are misguided youths, said Mr. Laarayedh, the interior minister. Critics find their potential for violence unsettling, and repeated episodes — security forces shot dead a young Salafi in a confrontation last week — play havoc with the image of a country dependent on tourism.

The government, dominated by the Renaissance Party, is struggling to contain the problem without resorting to the brutal methods of the toppled dictatorship. It has jailed about 800 Salafis, said Samir Dilou, the human rights minister, and arrests of those advocating violence accelerated after protesters looted the American Embassy compound on Sept. 14 in response to a video mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

The word Salafi encompasses a broad spectrum of Sunni fundamentalists whose common goal is resurrecting Islam as practiced by the Prophet Muhammad when he founded the faith in the seventh century. Salafis range from peaceful proselytizers to those who spread Islam by force.

In Kairouan, 100 miles south of Tunis, Salafis control 5 of the city’s 35 mosques, said Sheik Ghozzi, the Grand Mosque’s prayer leader.

“The Salafis find themselves empowered because they have not faced any resistance from the government,” said Sheik Ghozzi, 70, a slight man wearing a short-cropped gray robe. Without a “strict” reaction, along with dialogue, they will become “a danger to the state,” he said.

The Grand Mosque, a sandstone citadel, reflects the martial origins of Kairouan, the capital of the first Muslim army to capture North Africa. It is Tunisia’s oldest mosque.

Sheik Ghozzi and other critics accuse the extremists of pushing a far less tolerant version of Islam than that long practiced in Tunisia. Salafi prayer leaders recruit young men to die fighting in Syria, he said, although Islam forbids killing other Muslims.

Salafis repeatedly try to chase tourists from the Grand Mosque; have threatened to level the popular shrine of Sidi Sahbi, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad buried here, although so far they have only fought with worshipers trying to pray there; and imported Saudi Arabian clerics who demanded that Tunisians confront the West. At some mosques, traditional prayer leaders were threatened with beatings or even death if they did not leave, Sheik Ghozzi said. In others, the locks were changed to bar them.

In a few towns, the struggle degenerated into brawls with sticks and fists. The Salafists have also enforced Islamic law on their own. In Sidi Bouzeit this September, a group of about 70 Salafists sacked the only hotel in town that sold alcohol, shattering its outdoor fountains by heaving full cases of beer into them.

“They want their own imams who use their words, who speak their language,” Sheik Ghozzi said. “They want someone who calls for jihad, who tells them to go fight in other countries, who curses the Shiites and who calls on them to go out to defend the Koran by force.”

It was worshipers who asked Dr. Khelif not to return after that first Friday, Sheik Ghozzi said.

But Dr. Khelif, 60, a pediatrician and the son of a famous Grand Mosque imam, said only misguided Tunisians consider his preaching somehow foreign.

“Islam is the Islam that was revealed to the prophet — it was not Islam revealed to my father or any other Tunisian father,” he said, speaking in his clinic, pictures of the Grand Mosque mingled on the walls with Walt Disney characters. Dr. Khelif, who has grown a long, shaggy white beard and assumed the duties of prayer speaker at another mosque since the revolution, denied that any Salafi preachers occupied mosques by force. Worshipers are free to pray elsewhere, he noted.

In a show of strength, the Salafi movement organized a huge rally at the Grand Mosque last May, drawing tens of thousands of followers from around Tunisia who voiced frustration at the slow pace of applying Islamic law.

But Nourredine Khadmi, the minister of religious affairs, said that his ministry was in the process of evaluating potential new imams and that he had appointed some 2,000 imams since January. “By winter, everything will be stable,” he said in an interview, though last spring he predicted it would be by August.

“It is a difficult problem to resolve,” said Abdelfattah Mouru, a Renaissance Party founder and himself the victim of several physical attacks by young Salafis. “You need either public opinion or a public force. You cannot dispatch the police into the mosques to put them in order, it is impossible, it is both immoral and against the religion.”

In Tunis in October, five men set fire to the shrine of Leila Manoubia, a 13th-century saint. Young Tunisian women wrote their names on the walls if they wanted to get married or pregnant. Salafis condemn such prayers as idolatry, although who attacked the shrine remains unconfirmed.

“I want Tunisia to be a place where a woman can wear a veil or not, where we can pray or not,” said Asma Ahmadi, 34, who said she started visiting the shrine at age 15 and considers it as much about tradition as religion.

“They are trying to break the mystical balance between tradition and religion in Tunisia,” she said. “They are trying to burn our identity to replace it with something we don’t know.”

    Tunisia Battles Over Pulpits, and Revolt’s Legacy, NYT, 11.11.2012,






Israel Strikes at Syria Again

in Response to Mortar Attacks


November 12, 2012
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — Israeli tanks made a direct hit on Syrian artillery units on Monday, the army said, responding to mortar fire that fell near an army post in the Israeli-held Golan Heights.

It was the second consecutive day that Israel confronted fire along its border with Syria. On Sunday, a mortar shell crashed in from Syria, prompting Israel to respond with what its military described as “a warning shot” at a Syrian position across the frontier for the first time in 39 years.

On Monday, a military spokesman said that a mortar shell hit an open area in the vicinity of an Israeli army post in the central Golan Heights but caused no damage or casualties. In response, Israeli soldiers fired tank shells toward the source of the fire, hitting Syrian mobile artillery units, the spokesman said.

“The difference is that we confirmed a direct hit this time,” the spokesman said, comparing Monday’s exchange to the events on Sunday, when a stray Syrian mortar shell hit an Israeli military post in the Golan Heights. “Yesterday it was a warning shot. Today we fired toward the source of the fire.”

Syrian government forces are battling armed rebels on the other side of the Israeli-Syrian armistice line, which has been in place for decades.

The direct strike by Israel on Syria’s artillery unit was another example of how the conflict in Syria has escalated by spilling into neighboring countries. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have poured out of the country, with more than 408,000 in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq now registered with the United Nations. Shells fired from Syria have killed civilians in Lebanon, and in one episode last month, Islamic extremists attacked Jordanian soldiers on the border with Syria, killing a corporal.

On Monday, a Syrian MIG-25 jet bombed the rebel-held town of Ras al-Ain a few yards from the Turkish border, killing civilians, Syrian witnesses said. Five Turkish civilians were killed in October when a Syrian shell landed in Akcakale, another border town about 75 miles west of Ceylanpinar, an act that prompted the Turkish Parliament to revise engagement rules and allow the military to retaliate in case of a direct threat from the border region.

Israeli military officials have made it clear that Israel has no desire to get involved in the fighting in Syria. Israel had already filed complaints with the United Nations observer force that monitors the armistice agreement reached between the Israeli and Syrian forces after the 1973 war, and the United Nations has warned that the spreading violence could jeopardize the cease-fire between the two countries.

“We hope they get the message this time,” Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said on Israeli television on Sunday, referring to the missile fired at a Syrian mortar battery.

Israel also confronted fire along another one of its border areas on Sunday, when from morning through nightfall more than 50 rockets fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza struck southern Israel. The first heavy barrage came as residents of this rocket-battered town near the Gaza border were getting up to go to work and school.

The prospect of violence flaring with Syria and with militants in Gaza meant that after years of relative quiet along the country’s borders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself tested on two fronts. Under increasing pressure and with Israelis scheduled to go to the polls in January, the nation’s leaders are talking tough and threatening broader action.

“The world needs to understand that Israel will not sit idly by in the face of attempts to attack us,” Mr. Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday morning. “We are prepared to intensify the response.”

But on Sunday, while Israel viewed the fire from Syria as unintentional, though still unacceptable, the rockets from Gaza were deliberately aimed at population centers. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Palestinian coastal enclave, has claimed credit for participating in several recent rounds of rocket fire.

The latest surge began on Saturday when Palestinian militants fired an antitank missile at an Israeli military jeep patrolling Israel’s increasingly volatile border with Gaza, wounding four soldiers. Four Palestinian civilians were killed when Israel returned fire with tank or artillery shells, prompting new rocket fire against southern Israel. At least one Palestinian militant from a rocket-launching squad was killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Responding to years of rocket attacks, Israel carried out a three-week offensive against the militant groups in Gaza in the winter of 2008-9, resulting in an informal and shaky cease-fire. After three civilians were wounded by shrapnel in the Sderot area early Sunday, Silvan Shalom, a vice prime minister from Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party, said that Israel was “not eager” to embark on another major ground operation in Gaza, but that the military was prepared to act. Yisrael Katz, another Likud minister, called for the liquidation of the Hamas leadership in Gaza and said that Israel should stop supplying the enclave with water, electricity, food and fuel.

In a statement, the defense minister, Ehud Barak, said that the military had been “evaluating a host of options for harsher responses against Hamas and the other terror organizations in Gaza” and that “it is Hamas that will pay the heavy price, a price that will be painful.”

Jodi Rudoren contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

    Israel Strikes at Syria Again in Response to Mortar Attacks, NYT, 12.11.2012,






Iran, Saying Aircraft Trespassed,

Confirms Drone Shooting Episode


November 9, 2012
The New York Times


TEHRAN — Iran’s defense minister on Friday confirmed that Iranian warplanes had fired shots at an American drone last week but said they had taken the action after the unmanned aircraft had entered Iranian airspace.

The assertions by the defense minister, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, were the first acknowledgment from Iran that the episode had happened. He spoke less than 24 hours after the Pentagon first disclosed the shooting, involving two Iranian jet fighters and the American aircraft, a Predator surveillance drone based in Kuwait, during what American officials described as a routine surveillance mission on Nov. 1 in international airspace over the Persian Gulf.

It was the first time that Iranian aircraft have been known to fire at an American drone, one of the many ways that the United States has sought to monitor developments in Iran over more than three decades of estrangement between the two countries. The United States said it had protested the shooting via the United States interests section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, and had warned the Iranians that the drone flights would continue.

The American officials said the Predator had been flying 16 nautical miles off the Iranian coast. General Vahidi did not specify where the episode took place, but his assertion that it was in Iranian airspace presented a possible new complication to quiet diplomatic efforts by both countries to engage in direct talks following President Obama’s re-election.

General Vahidi’s version of events also differed with the Pentagon version in another way: He said the two Iranian planes, which the Pentagon had identified as Russian-made Su-25 jets known as Frogfoots, belonged to the Iranian Air Force. The Americans had said the two planes were under the command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, whose activities are routinely more aggressive than the conventional Air Force.

General Vahidi, whose account was reported by the Iranian Labor News Agency and other media outlets, said that last week an unidentified plane had entered Iranian airspace over its waters in the Persian Gulf. He said the intruder had been “forced to escape,” after action by Iran’s air force.

It is unclear why Iranian officials had kept the episode a secret. It also is unclear, from the Iranian account, whether the warplanes had sought to down the drone and missed, or had fired warning shots to chase it away.

A lawmaker, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Iran’s parliament, also said the American aircraft had trespassed.

“Early last week, a U.S. drone which had violated Iran’s airspace received a decisive response by the armed forces that were stationed in the region,” he said in a Friday interview with the Young Journalist Club, an Iranian semiofficial news agency.

Mr. Jokar said the drone had been on a spying mission. “The U.S. drone entered our country’s airspace with an aim to gather information because there is no other justification,” he said.

The Predator’s sensor technology is so sophisticated that it could have monitored activities in Iran from the distance cited by the Pentagon officials in their account.

The Iranian firing on the aircraft had been completely legal, Mr. Jokar said. “Any violation against Iran’s airspace, territorial waters and land will receive a strong response by the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.

Earlier on Friday, Iranian state television ran “breaking news” banners during regular programming saying that the country will confront any foreign aircraft violating its airspace. But there was no specific reference to the Predator drone.

“Iran pledges ‘firm response to any air, ground and sea aggression’ ” and “Iran says will confront any foreign aircraft violating its airspace,” one news item on a ticker read. A presenter for state television’s English language channel Press TV said that Iran was making this statement “in the face of threats of military action, from Israel mainly.”

Two commanders also gave interviews on Friday stressing Iran’s right to defend itself. “Defenders of the Islamic Republic of Iran will give a decisive response to any air, land and naval attacks,” the deputy commander of Iran’s armed forces, Massoud Jazayeri, told the Fars News Agency, which is headed by a former officer of the Revolutionary Guards.

“If any foreign flying objects enter our country’s airspace, the armed forces will confront them,” he said.

Another officer, the commander of the Khatam al-Anbiya Air Defense Base, told the state Islamic Republic News Agency his forces are capable of countering “all threats.”


Rick Gladstone contributed reporting from New York.

    Iran, Saying Aircraft Trespassed, Confirms Drone Shooting Episode, NYT, 9.11.2012,






Syrian Refugee Flow Escalates Sharply


November 9, 2012
The New York Times


GENEVA — Eleven thousand Syrians have fled to neighboring countries in the last 24 hours — 9,000 of them into Turkey alone — because of the civil war, United Nations refugee agency officials said on Friday, warning that violence in Syria and the humanitarian crisis were escalating.

The latest surge of refugees, which also included 1,000 Syrians reaching Lebanon and 1,000 into Jordan, took the number who have registered with the United Nations to more than 408,000, said Panos Moumtzis, the refugee agency official who is coordinating the response. The true total of those fleeing the conflict is much higher because many refugees have had not registered, Mr. Moumtzis said.

The majority of registered refugees have sought haven in Turkey, which borders northern Syria and is an enclave for the rebels fighting to topple the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition group based in Britain with a network of contacts in Syria, said it had counted at least 8,000 Syrians entering Turkey overnight.

Among those who arrived in Turkey early Friday through a crossing in Hatay’s Reyhanli township were 26 Syrian Army defectors, including 2 generals and 11 colonels, the semiofficial Anatolian News Agency of Turkey reported.

The surge in refugees fleeing the conflict came as agencies of the United Nations and other groups met donor governments in Geneva to report on the crisis and appealed for a greater financial support.

“There is more violence, more humanitarian suffering, more displacement and more losses,” said Radhouane Nouicer, the refugee agency’s Damascus-based coordinator.

The United Nations estimates that more than 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance across Syria — including 1.2 million displaced by the conflict — were conservative, he said.

The United States will provide $34 million in additional aid to Syrians affected by conflict, bringing the total provided by the United States to $165 million, the American diplomatic mission in Geneva said in an announcement distributed at the donor meeting.

Groups that track the violence reported widespread attacks on Friday. A car bomb exploded in front of city hall in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiya, killing and wounding a number of people, the Local Coordination Committees, a collection of activist organizations across Syria, said. The group and another opposition organization said there were a number of other attacks attributed to the government forces, including attacks by warplanes, on the southern districts of the capital and a number of other suburbs.

In eastern Syria near the city of Deir al-Zour, another insurgency battleground, activists said fighters of Free Syrian Army, the main rebel fighting group, were locked in major combat with government forces, particularly in the al-Kouria area.

“Today there was a massacre in al-Kouria, in the suburbs, because the Free Syrian Army is besieging the location of the artillery which is shelling the surrounding villages,” said Omar Abu Layla, a Syrian activist in Deir al-Zour, reached through Skype. He added that warplanes were overhead.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported rebels and government forces fought in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, while the towns of Zamalka and Sabka were shelled. More than 20 men from Mr. Assad’s forces were killed and wounded when a fighter from the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group that Western officials say has links to Al Qaeda, blew up a military checkpoint near the Damascus suburb of Ein Tarma. At least 17 people were killed when the town of al-Kurieh was shelled, according to antigovernment activists.

The Syrian Observatory also said that many civilians fled the town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkey border after fierce fighting between government forces and rebels. Those leaving joined an outflow of displaced people that is estimated to have reached about 20,000 from that area alone.


Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Hatay, Turkey;

Hania Mourtada from Beirut, Lebanon; and Christine Hauser from New York.

    Syrian Refugee Flow Escalates Sharply, NYT, 9.11.2012,






Missteps by Rebels Erode Their Support Among Syrians


November 8, 2012
The New York Times


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria’s rebel fighters — who have long staked claim to the moral high ground for battling dictatorship — are losing crucial support from a public increasingly disgusted by the actions of some rebels, including poorly planned missions, senseless destruction, criminal behavior and the coldblooded killing of prisoners.

The shift in mood presents more than just a public relations problem for the loosely knit militants of the Free Syrian Army, who rely on their supporters to survive the government’s superior firepower. A dampening of that support undermines the rebels’ ability to fight and win what has become a devastating war of attrition, perpetuating the violence that has left nearly 40,000 dead, hundreds of thousands in refugee camps and more than a million forced from their homes.

The rebel shortcomings have been compounded by changes in the opposition, from a force of civilians and defected soldiers who took up arms after the government used lethal force on peaceful protesters to one that is increasingly seeded with extremist jihadis. That radicalization has divided the fighters’ supporters and made Western nations more reluctant to give rebels the arms that might help break the intensifying deadlock. Instead, foreign leaders are struggling to find indirect ways to help oust Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

And now arrogance and missteps are draining enthusiasm from some of the fighters’ core supporters.

“They were supposed to be the people on whom we depend to build a civil society,” lamented a civilian activist in Saraqib, a northern town where rebels were videotaped executing a group of unarmed Syrian soldiers, an act the United Nations has declared a likely war crime.

An activist in Aleppo, Ahmed, who like some of the others who were interviewed gave only one name for security reasons, said he had begged rebels not to camp in a neighborhood telecommunications office. But they did, and government attacks knocked out phone service.

One fighter shot into the air when customers at a bakery did not let him cut into a long line for bread, Ahmed recalled. Another, he said, was enraged when a man washing his car accidentally splashed him. “He shot at him,” Ahmed said. “But thank God he wasn’t a good shot, so the guy wasn’t hurt.”

Twenty months into what is now a civil war, both supporters and opponents of the government are trapped in a darkening mood of despair, revulsion and fear that neither side can end the conflict. In recent months, both sides adopted more brutal — even desperate — methods to try to break the stalemate, but they achieved merely a new version of deadlock. To many Syrians, the extreme violence seems all the more pointless for the lack of results.

The most significant shift is among the rebels’ supporters, who chant slogans not only condemning the government but also criticizing the rebels.

“The people want the reform of the Free Syrian Army,” crowds have called out. “We love you. Correct your path.”

Small acts of petty humiliation and atrocities like executions have led many more Syrians to believe that some rebels are as depraved as the government they fight. The activist from Saraqib said he saw rebels force government soldiers from a milk factory, then destroy it, even though residents needed the milk and had good relations with the owner.

“They shelled the factory and stole everything,” the activist said. “Those are repulsive acts.”

Even some of the uprising’s staunchest supporters are beginning to fear that Syria’s sufferings — lost lives, fraying social fabric, destroyed heritage — are for naught.

“We thought freedom was so near,” said a fighter calling himself Abu Ahmed, his voice catching with grief as he spoke via Skype last month from Maarat al-Noaman, a strategic town on the Aleppo-Damascus highway. Hours earlier, a rebel victory there ended in disaster, as government airstrikes pulverized civilians returning to what they thought was safety.

“This shows it was a big lie,” Abu Ahmed said of the dream of self-government that he said had inspired him to lead a small rebel fighting group from his nearby village, Sinbol. “We cannot reach it. We can’t even think of democracy — we will be sad for years. We are losing victims from both sides.”

A chain of calamities has fueled disgust and frustration on all sides, dozens of interviews with Syrians show.

In July, a rebel bombing killed four senior officials in a heavily guarded Damascus building, bringing new insecurity to government supporters. The rebels’ growing use of large bombs that kill bystanders spurred concerns on both sides.

Poorly executed rebel offensives brought harsh consequences. In September, rebels launched an offensive in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, an ancient town that stood for centuries as the proud legacy of all Syrians. The fighting failed to achieve the turning point the rebels had promised.

The government, trying to curb soldiers’ defections and reduce the strain on the military, kept more forces on bases and turned to air power and artillery, flattening neighborhoods with abandon. But the change in strategy did not restore control or security.

After seeing a rebel bombing and small-arms attack on a downtown Damascus government building, a chauffeur for a wealthy businessman complained that conspicuous security measures made him “live in fear” — without being effective.

“I want someone from the government to answer me,” he said. “The government cannot protect its key military and security buildings, so how can it protect us and run the country?”

Even within Mr. Assad’s most solid base, his minority Alawite sect, discontent spilled over last month in a clash that began in a coffee shop in the president’s ancestral village, Qardaha. Some were shaken recently by heavy casualties in the disproportionately Alawite military and militias, according to Fadi Saad, who runs a Facebook page called Alawites in the Syrian Revolution.

On the rebel side, the Aleppo battle catalyzed simmering frustrations among civilian activists who feel dominated by gunmen. One Aleppo activist said she met with fighters to suggest ways to cut government supply routes without destroying the city, to no avail. “You risked the lives of the people for what?” the activist asked. “The Free Syrian Army is just cutting the nails of the regime. We want results.”

Nominal leaders of the Free Syrian Army say they embrace ethical standards, contend that the government commits the vast majority of abuses and blame rogue groups for bad rebel behavior.

But that did not ease the disgust after last week’s video. It shows men writhing on the ground, staring up and screaming in terror. Rebels stand over them, shouting a cacophony of orders and insults. They move like a gang, not a military unit, jostling and crowding, kicking prisoners, forcing them into a pile. Suddenly, automatic weapons fire drowns out the noise. Puffs of dust rise from the pile, now still.

“All the ugly stuff the regime practiced, the F.S.A. is copying,” Anna, a finance worker in Damascus, said of recent behavior.

She blamed the government for making society abusive, but she said the rebels were no better. “They are ignorant people with weapons,” she said.

In Maarat al-Noaman after the airstrikes, the disappointed fighter, Abu Ahmed, said Syrians would weep to see destruction in the city of “our famous poet and philosopher,” Abu al-Alaa al-Ma’arri.

The poet, a skeptic and rationalist born in the 10th century and buried in the town, wrote often of disillusion, and of the fallibility of would-be heroes: “How many times have our feet trodden beneath the dust / A brow of the arrogant, a skull of the debonair?”

Abu Ahmed said he found the town’s mosaic museum looted and littered first by soldiers, then by rebels. “I saw bodies of both rebels and regime forces, I saw beer bottles,” he said. “Honestly, honestly, words are stuck in my mouth.”


Hala Droubi contributed reporting from Beirut,

and an employee of The New York Times from Aleppo and Damascus, Syria.

    Missteps by Rebels Erode Their Support Among Syrians, NYT, 8.11.2012,






An Array of Relationships for Obama

to Strengthen and Redefine


November 7, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — If history is any guide, President Obama will cast his eye abroad over the next four years, hoping to put an imprint on the world that matches the sweeping domestic programs of his first term. From Iran and Russia to China and the Middle East, there are plenty of opportunities, but also perils, for a leader seeking a statesman’s legacy.

Many of the issues Mr. Obama will have no choice but to address. For months, decisions on a number of festering problem areas have been deferred by administration officials until after the election. And yet as Richard M. Nixon did in opening ties to China or Ronald Reagan in embracing arms control, Mr. Obama could see the foreign policy arena as a place to achieve something more lasting in a second term than crisis management and more satisfying than the gridlock that has bedeviled his domestic initiatives.

Atop Mr. Obama’s list, administration officials and foreign policy experts agree, is a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program. The United States is likely to engage the Iranian government in direct negotiations in the next few months, officials said, in what would be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to head off a military strike on its nuclear facilities.

Officials insist they have not set a date for talks nor do they know if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has blessed them. But with Iran’s centrifuges spinning and Israel threatening its own strike, the clock is ticking, and it may put pressure on the Iranians to make a deal, particularly between now and Iran’s presidential elections next June.

“If they can achieve something during that period, it would create a new dynamic and create a very promising opening,” said Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, an advocacy group based in Washington that favors diplomacy.

While Mr. Obama can scarcely hope for something as seminal as President Nixon’s famous journey to Beijing, experts say he has the chance to forge a new relationship with China that takes into account its rising economic might.

Last year, the president articulated a “strategic pivot” from the Middle East to China and Asia. Critics said there was less to the initiative than met the eye. But with four more years, Mr. Obama could put meat on the bones of an ambitious, if incomplete, policy.

To be credible in Asia, experts said, the United States will need a robust military presence from the Yellow Sea to the South China Sea. But unless the White House and Congress strike a fiscal deal, the Pentagon will face deep budget cuts, depriving it of the ability to project such power. The challenge will be to assert a big role without precipitating a clash with Beijing. “It’s going to have to be very deft and subtle in its implementation because there’s going to be pushback from the Chinese,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state who teaches at Harvard.

There may also be an opening for Mr. Obama with Russia on one of his most cherished issues: nuclear nonproliferation. Among the most intriguing congratulatory telegrams the president received this week was from President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who had taken a bristling tone toward the United States for much of the last year. On Wednesday, Mr. Putin and his surrogates signaled a willingness to make deals with the United States.

In his infamous remark to then-President Dmitri A. Medvedev last March, picked up by an open microphone, Mr. Obama promised “flexibility” after the election on a missile defense system based in Europe — a concession Mr. Putin, who succeeded Mr. Medvedev last May, has long sought. In Washington, a government review group has been quietly preparing strategic arms-reductions proposals.

“It’s teed up for the president to make the decision,” said Steven Pifer, director of the Arms Control Initiative at the Brookings Institution. “If you think about what his legacy would be, this is something he would like to leave behind.”

For Mr. Obama, the Middle East is generally less a landscape for bold new initiatives than a place for triage. On situations as varied as the crackdown in Syria and the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, the president will have to fight to keep intact even the vestiges of the overture he made to the Islamic world early in his presidency.

But other unfinished business remains there — not least Mr. Obama’s frustrated efforts to broker a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. But several experts expressed doubt that the president would thrust himself again into the role of Middle East peacemaker.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has had a fraught relationship with Mr. Obama, seems likely to stay in power with a right-wing government.

“Because he got his fingers burned and was outmaneuvered by Netanyahu, he will wait to see the outcome in the Israeli election,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel.

Mr. Obama will not be able to avoid one issue. Over American and Israeli objections, the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, is likely to petition for nonstate membership in the United Nations next month — a step he had put off for the election. If the United Nations were to grant that, it would cause Congress to cut off aid not only to the Palestinian Authority but also to the United Nations.

“He doesn’t have an easy way to head off this vote,” said Mr. Indyk, one of the authors of a book about Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, “Bending History.” “But if Obama sends a message to Abu Mazen that he is going to reinvigorate the peace process, this could give Abu Mazen a way to climb down from the tree he’s in.”


Ellen Barry contributed reporting from Moscow, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

    An Array of Relationships for Obama to Strengthen and Redefine, NYT, 7.11.2012,






Netanyahu Rushes to Repair Damage With Obama


November 7, 2012
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — Over the past several years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has on several occasions confronted or even undercut President Obama, taking his message directly to the Israel-friendly United States Congress, challenging Mr. Obama’s appeal to the Arab world, and seeming this fall to support his opponent, Mitt Romney.

Mr. Netanyahu woke up Wednesday to find not only that his Republican friend had lost, but also that many Israelis were questioning whether he had risked their collective relationship with Washington.

“This has not been a very good morning for Netanyahu,” a deputy prime minister, Eli Yishai of the religious Shas Party, told journalists in Eilat.

The prime minister, facing his own re-election fight on Jan. 22, did not directly acknowledge any missteps, but he rushed to repair the relationship. He called the American ambassador to his office for a ceremonial hug. He issued a damage-control statement declaring the bond between the two nations “rock solid.” He put out word to leaders of his Likud Party whose congratulatory messages had included criticism of Mr. Obama that they should stop.

Mr. Netanyahu still maintains strong ties to members of Congress, particularly Republicans, and to other influential Americans. But his strained relationship with Mr. Obama may prove more than a temporary political headache. Israeli leaders and analysts are concerned that the prime minister has hampered his ability to influence Washington on vital policy matters, particularly the Iranian nuclear threat and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In practical terms, Jerusalem is worried that Washington will agree to direct talks with Tehran, and go easier on the Palestinian Authority’s quest this month for upgraded status in the United Nations.

“Netanyahu backed the wrong horse,” Mitchell Barak, a pollster and strategist, said at a morning gathering of Americans watching the election results here. “Whoever is elected prime minister is going to have to handle the U.S.-Israel relationship, and we all know Netanyahu is not the right guy.”

Mr. Obama’s re-election seemed to embolden Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister who has spent the past few years battling corruption charges, making it more likely that he will forge a comeback that he hopes can unite and expand Israel’s center-left bloc.

“Given what Netanyahu had done these recent months, the question is: Does our prime minister still have a friend in the White House?” Mr. Olmert asked at a meeting with Jewish leaders in New York. “I am not certain of this, and this might be very significant to us at critical points.”

Few believe that Mr. Obama will act to punish Mr. Netanyahu, but their notoriously tense relationship, made worse in recent months not only by the Romney question but also by Mr. Netanyahu’s hard-line position on Iran, could hurt efforts to coordinate priorities. And freed from electoral concerns, the second-term president may prove likelier to pursue his own path without worry about backlash from Washington’s powerful and wealthy pro-Israel lobby.

“I would be surprised if he were more rather than less forthcoming in dealing with Israel,” Bob Zelnick, a former Middle East correspondent for ABC News who now teaches at Boston University, said of Mr. Obama. “My sense is that he both dislikes and distrusts Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that he is more likely to use his new momentum to settling scores than to settling issues.”

On Iran, the immediate concern here is that a White House pursuit of bilateral talks would stretch out the timetable for diplomacy even as Mr. Netanyahu’s famous “red line” for halting Iran’s capability to develop a nuclear weapon closes in. On Wednesday, one member of the inner circle of Iran’s ruling system said such talks — the subject of an October article in The New York Times — are “not a taboo,” though another said it was a “big mistake” for Washington to think it could “blackmail” Iran into relations.

Several analysts said Mr. Obama was loath to take on a new Middle East military operation; indeed, one of the biggest applause lines in his victory speech was his declaration that “a decade of war is ending.”

Regarding the Palestinians, Israeli officials had been counting on the Obama administration to forcefully oppose the United Nations bid — as it did last year — and to chastise those countries that support it. But Palestinian leaders seemed unworried on Wednesday, making the bid for nonmember state status in the General Assembly a central focus of their congratulations.

“We will not retract,” said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. “We hope President Obama will even support this move.”

Regardless of how he handles the United Nations effort, Mr. Obama is unlikely to pursue the peace process more broadly in the early part of his second term, given the turmoil across the Middle East and internal divisions among the Palestinians.

“I think he recognizes the importance of this issue — he would be a fool not to,” said Diana Buttu, a political analyst and former Palestinian Authority official based in Ramallah, in the West Bank. “But when it comes to the priority list of issues he will have to deal with, I’m just not certain that this is going to be No. 1 or even No. 10 on that list.”

Ehud Barak, the defense minister who shared a close partnership with Mr. Netanyahu for much of the last four years but has tried to distinguish himself on Iran and other issues as elections approach, since he leads the separate Independence Party, congratulated Mr. Obama nearly an hour ahead of Mr. Netanyahu, and followed up by e-mailing reporters photographs and video of himself with the newly re-elected president.

“Even if there were certain kinds of bumps on the road in recent years, we should be able to move beyond it,” Mr. Barak said in an interview. “There is nothing better to mend any scar or grudge from the past than making better achievements in the present and the future.”


Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Amsterdam,

and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.

    Netanyahu Rushes to Repair Damage With Obama, NYT, 7.11.2012,






Netanyahu Says He’d Go It Alone on Striking Iran


November 5, 2012
The New York Times


JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday reiterated his willingness to attack the Iranian nuclear program without support from Washington or the world, returning to an aggressive posture that he had largely abandoned since his United Nations speech in September.

“When David Ben-Gurion declared the foundation of the state of Israel, was it done with American approval?” Mr. Netanyahu asked in an interview broadcast on Israel’s Channel 2 on Monday night. “When Levi Eshkol was forced to act in order to loosen the siege before 1967, was it done with the Americans’ support?

“If someone sits here as the prime minister of Israel and he can’t take action on matters that are cardinal to the existence of this country, its future and its security, and he is totally dependent on receiving approval from others, then he is not worthy of leading,” Mr. Netanyahu added. “I can make these decisions.”

Though American officials, including President Obama, have always acknowledged that Israel ultimately has the right to decide how to defend itself, Mr. Netanyahu’s tough tone and timing — on the eve of the American presidential election — are sure to reignite rifts with Washington over how best to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.

As has been the case over the past two years, however, it is impossible to know whether his hawkish words are harbingers of deeds or part of a strategic campaign to scare nations into increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran.

“I am not eager to go to war,” Mr. Netanyahu said in the seven-minute interview. “I have been creating very heavy pressure, and part of this pressure comes from the knowledge some of the most powerful nations in the world have that we are serious. This isn’t a show, this is not false.”

Besides the creation of diplomatic tensions if Israel were to act alone against Washington’s wishes, there is a more practical concern: the Israeli military lacks the capacity to penetrate all of Iran’s underground nuclear facilities, and thus could most likely only delay the potential development of a nuclear weapon by a few years. The United States has bunker-busting bombs that could do far more damage.

The interview was broadcast on “Fact,” a program often compared to “60 Minutes,” at the end of an hourlong documentary on Israeli decision making regarding Iran over the past decade. The program highlighted the opposition of Israel’s own security establishment to a unilateral strike, saying that Mr. Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak, ordered the Israel Defense Forces to prepare for an imminent operation in 2010 but were rebuffed by the chiefs of their military and international intelligence service.

Among those interviewed was Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister currently contemplating a political comeback. He accused Mr. Netanyahu of “spitting in the face” of Mr. Obama and “doing anything possible to stop him from being elected president of the United States,” a harsh critique in a country that regards safeguarding its special relationship with Washington as a sacred priority.

“What’s all this talk, that we will decide alone on our fate and that we won’t take anybody else into consideration?” said Mr. Olmert, who is expected to make Mr. Netanyahu’s relationship with Mr. Obama a mainstay of his campaign if he runs. “Can someone please explain to me with which airplanes we will attack if we decide to attack alone, against the opinion of others — airplanes that we built here in Israel? With which bombs will we bomb, bombs that we made by ourselves? With which special technologies will we do it, those that we made by ourselves or those that we received from other sources?”

But when shown a video of Mr. Olmert’s retort, Mr. Netanyahu was not cowed. “If what I just heard is that on this matter which threatens our very existence, we should just say, we should just hand the keys over to the Americans and tell them, ‘You decide whether or not to destroy this project, which threatens our very existence,’ well, that’s one possible approach, but it’s not my approach,” he said. “My approach is that if we can have others take care of it, or if we can get to a point where no one has to, that’s fine; but if we have no choice and we find ourselves with our backs against the wall, then we will do what we have to do in order to defend ourselves.”

After years in which Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak pursued the Iranian threat in close partnership, the prime minister now seems virtually alone in his defiant stance, as other leaders attempt to distinguish their positions ahead of Israeli elections on Jan. 22. While Mr. Netanyahu said in his Sept. 27 speech at the United Nations that the critical moment for preventing Iran from developing a weapon would most likely come next spring, Mr. Barak last week pushed the timetable back further, and offered a new explanation of Israel’s reduced sense of urgency.

The crux of Mr. Barak’s argument, made in an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph, was based on reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the most recent in August, showing that Iran had 189 kilograms, about 416 pounds, of uranium enriched to the 20 percent level — from which it could relatively easily be further enriched to weapons grade. Roughly half of that was diverted to civilian use in a form that could not be easily turned into bomb fuel. But Iran has continued production and by most estimates, at current rates, would have roughly a bomb’s worth by next summer.

That “allows contemplating delaying the moment of truth by 8 to 10 months,” Mr. Barak said.

But several high-ranking Israeli officials and analysts said that Mr. Barak’s explanation was overly simplistic. While the diversion was clearly a factor, they said, it was not a new development: the nuclear agency had reported a similar transfer of enriched uranium in May, and that had hardly cooled the rhetoric of either Mr. Barak or Mr. Netanyahu through the summer. And both men have long warned of secret centrifuges that could be spinning without outside knowledge, enabling rapid replenishment of the enriched stockpile.

“Netanyahu backed away because he was getting the message that he was going too far and this could do damage, this was not helpful either to Israel or to stopping Iran,” said Emily Landau, an Iran expert at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “It might be easier for Barak to now say that it’s because of the technical issue, but it’s not a real issue. Relations with the United States is a much more substantial, real issue, but it’s more difficult to give that as your explanation.”

Graham Allison, a Harvard professor of government who specializes in international security, called Mr. Barak’s statement “kind of a convenient excuse,” adding that “the reason they really blinked” was that the prime minister was unable to convince a majority of his cabinet of the wisdom of acting alone.

“The big phenomenon here is what I’ve called the revolt of the Israeli security barons,” Mr. Allison said. “I can’t think of a prior Israeli government or an analogous case anywhere where there’s such a clear gap between a prime minister on one hand and his security establishment on the other.”

    Netanyahu Says He’d Go It Alone on Striking Iran, NYT, 5.11.2012,






Palestinians at the U.N., Again


November 4, 2012
The New York Times


With peace negotiations at an impasse since 2008 and unlikely to resume any time soon, the Palestinians have only one diplomatic card left — their status at the United Nations — and once again they are trying to play it.

Last year, the Palestinian Authority toyed with submitting an application for full United Nations membership, but backed off in the face of overwhelming opposition from the United States and Israel. Instead, it won membership in an affiliate, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, where Washington does not have veto power.

Now the Palestinians plan to seek admission as a ‘nonmember’ observer state in the General Assembly. The 193-member Assembly is dominated by developing nations that are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and are expected to approve the application next month.

It is not a move that will do anyone any good. It will not change facts on the ground, and it will come at a cost. After last year’s initiative, Israel withheld millions of dollars in tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority; the United States halted funding for Unesco, and Congress is withholding $495 million in assistance for the Palestinians, the State Department says. Both countries are likely to react the same way again, although there is a danger in bankrupting the Palestinian Authority, which has begun to build the institutions of a state, including a police force, that also contribute to Israel’s security.

Israel and the United States say unilateral moves like these by the Palestinians violate the 1993 Oslo accords, which were intended to pave the way to a “final status agreement” within five years. And it is clear that a negotiated deal is the only way to ensure the creation of a viable Palestinian state and guarantee Israel’s security.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has refused to make any serious compromises, and the two-state solution seems to have a diminishing chance of ever happening. Mr. Netanyahu’s recent decision to jointly field a slate of candidates with the ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu Party in parliamentary elections in January suggests his approach could become even more hard-line.

Whatever chance exists of a new American peace initiative after the election is likely to vanish if Mitt Romney wins; at a private fund-raising event, he said the Arab-Israeli conflict was “going to remain an unsolved problem” and seemed unconcerned about it.

Israel, the United States, the Palestinians and the entire region will pay a high price if Israel merely settles more firmly into the role of occupier over a growing Palestinian population that is left indefinitely without any hope of statehood and self-rule.

    Palestinians at the U.N., Again, 4.11.2012,






C.I.A. Played Major Role Fighting Militants in Libya Attack


November 1, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Security officers from the C.I.A. played a pivotal role in combating militants who attacked the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, deploying a rescue party from a secret base in the city, sending reinforcements from Tripoli, and organizing an armed Libyan military convoy to escort the surviving Americans to hastily chartered planes that whisked them out of the country, senior intelligence officials said Thursday.

The account given by the senior officials, who did not want to be identified, provided the most detailed description to date of the C.I.A.’s role in Benghazi, a covert presence that appears to have been much more significant than publicly disclosed.

Within 25 minutes of being alerted to the attack against the diplomatic mission, half a dozen C.I.A. officers raced there from their base about a mile away, enlisting the help of a handful of Libyan militia fighters as they went. Arriving at the mission about 25 minutes after that, the C.I.A. officers joined State Department security agents in a futile search through heavy smoke and enemy fire for Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens before evacuating the mission’s personnel to the apparent safety of their base, which American officials have called an annex to the mission. Mr. Stevens was one of four Americans killed in the attack.

A four-hour lull in the fighting beginning shortly after midnight seemed to suggest that the worst was over. An unarmed military drone that the C.I.A. took control of to map possible escape routes relayed reassuring images to Tripoli and Washington. But just before dawn, and soon after a C.I.A.-led team of reinforcements, including two military commandos, arrived from Tripoli, a brief but deadly mortar attack surprised the Americans. Two of the C.IA. security officers who were defending the base from a rooftop were killed.

“The officers on the ground in Benghazi responded to the situation on the night of 11 and 12 September as quickly and as effectively as possible,” one of the senior intelligence officials told reporters.

Thursday’s briefing for reporters was intended to refute reports, including one by Fox News last Friday, that the C.I.A.’s chain of command had blocked the officers on the ground from responding to the mission’s calls for help.

“There were no orders to anybody to stand down in providing support,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of continuing investigations by the State Department and the F.B.I.

At a time when the circumstances surrounding the attack on the Benghazi compound have emerged as a major political issue, with Republicans criticizing the Obama administration’s handling of the episode, the senior official also sought to rebut reports that C.I.A. requests for support from the Pentagon that night had gone unheeded.

In fact, the official said, the military diverted a Predator drone from a reconnaissance mission in Darnah, 90 miles away, in time to oversee the mission’s evacuation. The two commandos, based at the embassy in Tripoli, joined the reinforcements. And a military transport plane flew the wounded Americans and Mr. Stevens’s body out of Libya.

Despite the new details, many questions surrounding the attack remain unanswered, including why the State Department did not increase security at the mission amid a stream of diplomatic and intelligence reports that indicated that the security situation in Benghazi and around Libya had deteriorated sharply since the United States reopened its embassy in Tripoli last year.

By underscoring the C.I.A.’s previously unpublicized role in mobilizing the evacuation effort, the officials seemed to be implicitly questioning the State Department’s security arrangements in Benghazi, a focus of three Congressional inquiries into the attack on the mission.

The senior officials also shed new light on the C.I.A.’s role in Libya.

Within months of the start of the Libyan revolution in February 2011, the agency began building a meaningful but covert presence in Benghazi, a locus of the rebel efforts to oust the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

The C.I.A.’s surveillance targets in Benghazi and eastern Libya included Ansar al-Shariah, a militia that some have blamed for the attack on the mission, as well as suspected members of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in North Africa, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

American intelligence operatives also helped State Department contractors and Libyan officials in tracking shoulder-fired missiles taken from the former Libyan Army arsenals, American officials said.

The C.I.A.’s security officers played a new role on Sept. 11, carrying out an informal agreement with the mission to come to its aid in an emergency. One of the senior intelligence officials provided an hour-by-hour chronology of the agency’s role during the attack.

Around 9:40 p.m. local time, the C.I.A. base received the first of several calls from the mission saying it was under attack. During the 25 minutes between the first call and when the officers rolled out the door, half a dozen security officers were readying their gear and weapons, while the base chief called several Libyan militias, seeking fighters with heavy weaponry to defend the mission. His appeals failed.

Over the next 25 minutes, C.I.A. officers approached the walled diplomatic compound, tried to secure heavy weapons, and made their way onto the compound itself in the face of enemy fire.

At 11:11 p.m., the Predator drone arrived over the mission compound. Within 20 minutes, all United States personnel, except for Mr. Stevens, whom the American security officers could not find in the chaos, left the mission, coming under fire as they did.

The Americans retreated safely to the C.I.A. annex, where over the next 90 minutes they came under sporadic small-arms fire and rocket-propelled-grenade attacks. The State Department and C.I.A. officers returned fire and the assailants melted away.

About this same time, the reinforcements arrived at the Benghazi airport from Tripoli. Learning that the attacks at the annex had stopped, the team turned its attention to finding Mr. Stevens. But learning that he was at a Benghazi hospital, almost certainly dead, and that the security situation at the hospital was uncertain, the reinforcements headed to the annex.

They arrived shortly after 5 a.m., just before mortar rounds began to hit the annex. That attack, 11 minutes long, killed two men, whom the senior intelligence officials identified for the first time Thursday as C.I.A. security officers, Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, former members of the Navy SEALs. Until now the men had been publicly identified as State Department contract security officers.

Less than an hour later, a convoy of 50 heavily armed trucks from Libyan military intelligence arrived to help evacuate all American personnel from the annex to the Benghazi airport.

    C.I.A. Played Major Role Fighting Militants in Libya Attack, NYT, 1.11.2012,




home Up