My July 3 National Interest piece argued that Iran stands to waste a huge pile of money if they attempt to develop nuclear submarines. Iran is clearly using the subs as an excuse to lawfully boost enrichment above the current 19.75% level. They have also suggested that problems fueling their ships abroad may lead them to develop nuclear powered commercial vessels . . . I have not done the math but I am suspecting these would carry enormous opportunity costs that would take years to pay off, if they can be paid off at all. Hints are already coming out that a higher level of enrichment could be in the cards–most recently, a Khamenei aide stated that if international pressure continues, Iran may move up to 56% enrichment. Western negotiators should latch on to this matter. Higher enrichment is not necessary for naval reactors–it’s merely preferable–and Iran does not have good reasons to develop nuclear vessels anyway. While we shouldn’t get too hasty and say this all means Iran really is going for the bomb, it does shred the common Iranian refrain that the purpose of the nuclear program is fully peaceful and aimed only at economic and scientific advancement. The current levels and rates of enrichment make this scarcely plausible (Iran claims it is making the 19.75% enriched uranium for, among other things, fuel for an array of yet-to-be-constructed research reactors). Higher enrichment makes Iran’s multiple goals quite clear.
On July 23, I weighed in for MENASAWorld on the accusations that the Secretary of State’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Huma Abedin, is a secret Muslim Brotherhood infiltrator. Since the strangeness of this claim was already exposed in depth by heftier writers than me, I took a different angle, arguing that with or without legions of Muslim secret agents, the United States would have opened up to the Muslim Brotherhood. Brotherhood secret agents, incidentally, are easily spotted: most will be in regular contact with a cleric about whether taking a cyanide pill during Ramadan would break the fast or whether it is unclean to use a shoe phone.
On July 31 I suggested in the National Interest that Western observers are mistakenly viewing the Syrian civil war as a war of national liberation in which the displacement of the regime will be welcomed by all sectors of society. In fact, I suggest, the fall of Damascus will merely mean that the rebels now have the upper hand in the conflict, and not that it is anywhere close to over. The mutual distaste that has sprung up between sects friendly with Assad and those friendly with the opposition will make reconciliation extremely difficult. If the rebels can drive him from the capital, Assad will retreat behind the mountains of the Syrian coast and hold off further advances by the Free Army.
It’s been a rough week in Israel. After PM Netanyahu refused to offer more than regrets for the flotilla incident after the release of an ambiguous official report, Turkey sent home Israel’s ambassador and announced plans for a range of sanctions. Meanwhile, reports have emerged that recently retired US defense secretary Robert Gates was a harsh critic of Israel behind the scenes, and that his criticisms were not met with objections by other senior officials. Either one of these events happening alone would be unsettling; the two happening in the same week surely has Israeli leaders sweating from more than just the late summer heat.
The Turkish affair comes amidst a steady deterioration of relations. The rise of the Islamist-lite AK Party in Israel’s ally was very worrisome to some Israelis (and many Turks) who see its moderate rhetoric as a mask for a darker agenda. Erdogan, Gul, and Davutoglu led the Republic away from an increasingly unfriendly Europe and towards greater influence in the Middle East, with little regard for the alignments of the factions from which they sought influence. Realists found this tactic quite familiar and thus downplayed reports of a fundamental Turkish shift even when Ankara’s stance after the flotilla incident was effectively pro-Hamas. This was a credible position—while the rhetoric flying between Turkey and Israel was heated, cooperation continued behind the scenes, including in crucial areas like security.
The zero change thesis is now becoming harder to maintain. Erdogan has promised the total suspension of all dimensions of Turkish-Israeli relations, including not just military aspects, but also trade (the latter being $3 billion per annum). Erdogan is prone to overstatement, and an anonymous official later said that the Prime Minister was only referring to a stoppage of military trade, rather than all commercial activity. However, this is still (to paraphrase another famous misspeaker in contemporary global leadership) a big deal. The falling out has now begun to damage the hard elements of the relationship—a changed Turkey is all but undeniable.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers his infamous lecture to Israeli President Shimon Peres in 2009. (Image via Monde)
Filed under Iran, Israel, Turkey
One of my coworkers told me the other day that she’s an amateur novelist, and was chagrined to find somebody impersonating her online and claiming to have written one of her books. That made me curious since I write as well, so I did a little Googling of my posts. As it turns out, my essay about FIFA forcing the Iranian women’s soccer team to forfeit because they play in conservative hijab had attracted the eye of another blogger, sports site Sportyfive. This toad, this son of a goat, this Saif al-Islam Gaddafi of the blogosphere thought it would be alright to post my content as if he had written it himself. I politely asked him the other day to properly attribute the post, and there has been no reply; if you look at his site it seems to be entirely content scraped from other sites. As a student of the Middle East, I’d be quite content with his hand getting cut off for theft, but instead I’ve alerted his domain’s host of what’s going on, and let them know that they’ll be served with a DMCA notice (you can do it from the comfort of home!) if they don’t take care of the matter.
Life lesson, kids: attribute your content. Like this:
From Sahih al Bukhari (Authentic Hadith of Bukhari), M. Muhsin Khan’s translation:
The Prophet said, “The hand should be cut off for stealing something that is worth a quarter of a Dinar or more.”
Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor of a province in modern Turkey, once witnessed a large fire in the city of Nicomedia (modern Izmit), and wrote to the emperor Trajan requesting permission to form a company of firemen, noting that he would keep it small and carefully overseen. Trajan, however, was uninterested, replying (as recounted by the historian Edward Luttwak):
We must remember that it is societies like these which have been responsible for the political disturbances in your province. If people assemble for a common purpose, whatever name we give them and for whatever reason, they soon turn into a political gathering. It is a better policy to provide [firefighting] equipment and to instruct property owners to make use of it.
Trajan successfully ruled over many parts of the modern Middle East, including virtually all of the Mediterranean states and much of Iraq. The region’s modern tyrants share their ancient predecessor’s philosophy towards civil society organizations: they are a potential source of trouble, whatever their purpose. Nobody exemplifies this better than the House of Saud, who bar all forms of political organizations and insist that the rare low-level elections they have be conducted in a “nonpartisan” fashion. Civil society–that is, all voluntary, nongovernmental, noneconomic associations of individuals, ranging from sports leagues to activist groups to knitting circles–is woefully underdeveloped in Saudi Arabia, and this is an outcome of deliberate government policy.
The Iranian women’s soccer team has dropped out of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics after being informed by FIFA officials that its players may not wear head coverings while playing, ostensibly because of the risk of “choking injuries.” It’s a ridiculous decision from a ridiculous federation–one must wonder if Sepp Blatter is stirring up confrontation with one corrupt authoritarian regime in order to distract from his own. As The Nation‘s Dave Zirin correctly points out, Mr. Blatter is hardly out to protect the safety of women:
. . . For years, human rights organizations have asked Blatter to take a stand and say something about the horrific influx of sex-slave trafficking that accompanies the arrival of the World Cup. Blatter’s cold response, “Prostitution and trafficking of women does not fall within the sphere of responsibility of an international sports federation but in that of the authorities and the lawmakers of any given country.”
However, the reaction to the decision has itself been problematic. Zirin, quoting Alyssa Rosenberg:
Filed under Iran, The West
US President Barack Obama’s recent Middle East policy speech confirmed the allegation that the Bahraini government has been bulldozing mosques:
. . . What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent. Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and the respect for the rights of minorities.
Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion . . . America will work to see that this spirit prevails -– that all faiths are respected . . . In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation. And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.
I was confident in my sources when I made my post a few days ago on the subject, but became less certain when directly challenged on the matter by Bahrainis, who assured me that this was all an opposition hoax. Obama’s confirmation, however, can be trusted–the US, with its huge numbers of personnel in Bahrain, would have abundant ability to confirm the bulldozings on its own, without the aid of the open sources I used. Obama had no reason to make these remarks if they were untrue–they would rile up the Bahraini opposition (creating further risks of instability) and anger the Bahraini government. Obama’s speech did not include any major policy changes, besides the $2 billion dollar assistance program for Egypt (an extremely sensible move), but his remarks against the Bahrainis and against America’s frenemy Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen were stronger than those of the past. The US has changed its tone on the Arab Spring, going from cautious calls for peace to open support of the protesters to an open military intervention on their behalf.
Al Jazeera is reporting that Bahrain’s government has initiated a policy of destroying Shiite mosques throughout the country. According to the main opposition party, al Wefaq (which is Shia in sect and Islamist in orientation), 28 “mosques and religious institutions” have been destroyed since the revolts began two months ago. Those conversant in Islam do not need to be reminded that this is an extraordinary step, one that will be deeply offensive to Bahrain’s Shiite majority.
According to opposition sources, at least one centuries-old mosque has been destroyed. (Image: bahrainfreedom.org)
Within the past twenty-four hours, a shocking string of sectarian incidents has broken out in Cairo, with fighting between Muslims and Coptic Christians killing at least ten and wounding about two hundred. This is an extremely unsettling incident. There has always been an element of tension between the mainstream Egyptian population and the Coptic minority, but the recent uprisings had seen poignant displays of unity. Several months prior to the revolts, a terrorist attack on a church killed 23 Copts, prompting large numbers of Muslims to assemble at churches around Egypt to serve as human shields against terror. During the revolts, the Copts returned the favor, linking arms around groups of praying Muslim demonstrators. Since the uprisings, however, there have been several incidents between the two groups that have threatened to erase the kumbaya spirit of the revolts.
A crowd gathers around a burning church in Cairo. (Al Jazeera/AFP)