Greg Sheridan: Arab Spring makes Israeli-Palestinian settlement hopeless

Greg has been in Israel for a week, under the auspices of the Australia Israel United Kingdom Leadership Dialogue. His dispatch is among the best Middle East analysis we’ve seen recently: Territorial compromise loses ground in Arab Spring [subscription required]. To over-simplify Greg’s report: the power vacuums created by the Arab Spring have been largely filled by Islamist parties, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are in such conflict that they cannot even travel safely onto each other’s territory. This toxic brew is very unlikely to lead to a permanent settlement. Here’s an excerpt to give you the flavor:

(…) What makes me especially pessimistic about a peace deal at the moment is the interaction of two related dynamics — the unfolding of the Arab Spring and the confused mess of Palestinian politics. The Arab Spring so far has yielded bitter fruit. Across much of North Africa, elections have been held and they have shown us again that elections alone do not make democracy.

Nonetheless, elections have results and these ones have greatly strengthened Islamists and Islamist extremists. In Egypt the biggest vote went to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was backed by some of the small but rich Persian Gulf oil states. Not very far behind the Brotherhood in Egypt was the even more extreme Salafists, who were strongly backed by Saudi Arabia. The Salafists’ electoral success was extraordinary. Five minutes ago it didn’t exist as a political movement, yet it won near enough to a quarter of the votes.

But overall, all across the Middle East, the big winner is the Muslim Brotherhood. Partly as a result, the Brotherhood is in great flux internally. But on one thing the Brotherhood is absolutely clear, its constant and comprehensive demonising and delegitimising of Israel. These newly empowered forces would denounce and fatally undermine any serious Palestinian compromise with Israel.

(…) This all plays into the exceedingly dysfunctional state of Palestinian politics. The Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, rules in the West Bank. Hamas, which is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, rules Gaza. Naturally Hamas is fantastically empowered by the way the Arab Spring is unfolding. Islamism has shown itself to be the most powerful ideological and political force in the Middle East.

Read the whole thing »

Bruce Schneier on Stuxnet

Security guru Bruce Schneier has been offering careful observations on the Windows worm Stuxnet since 7 October. Bruce linked the recent NYT article today. Since Bruce did not make note of any glaring glitches in the article, I recommend reading Bruce’s 7 October article, then the NYT article:

This long New York Times article includes some interesting revelations. The article claims that Stuxnet was a joint Israeli-American project, and that its effectiveness was tested on live equipment: “Behind Dimona’s barbed wire, the experts say, Israel has spun nuclear centrifuges virtually identical to Iran’s at Natanz, where Iranian scientists are struggling to enrich uranium.”


My two previous Stuxnet posts. And an alternate theory: The Chinese did it.

Iran: Bruce Bueno de Mesquita updates his TED talk

TED asked Bruce Bueno de Mesquita to explain the Iranian negotiations. Do not miss his thoughtful answers at TED Blog – you will definitely not see any of this in big media. I have excerpted two fragments of his commentary, one on the nuance of sanctions, and then on the media frenzy over Ahmadinejad (who Bruce reckons is roughly #17 in the power ranking):

President Obama has also made reference to sanctions as a possible response to Iran developing their nuclear program further. How effective do you think US sanctions would be in this situation?

I’m going to try to answer this very precisely, because there’s a very important distinction to be made between the threat of sanctions and the enactment of sanctions. The threat of sanctions can be very effective if the Iranian leaders calculate that the cost of the concessions being asked for is smaller for them than the cost that sanctions will impose, and to avoid sanctions they will make concessions in negotiation. And so, threatening sanctions is a very good thing to do at this stage as negotiations get going. On the other hand, if the Iranian leaders calculate that the cost of the threatened sanctions when imposed is smaller than the benefits that they gain when maintaining the policy that we’re trying to change, then they’ll maintain the policy and the sanctions won’t work. And so, generally, except for calculation error, the threat of sanctions can be effective. Once sanctions are implemented, that’s a pretty good indicator that the target of the sanctions has made the calculation that they can bear the cost of the sanctions better than they can bear the consequences of making the concessions, and they won’t work. That’s a subtle distinction, but an important distinction.

It’s also important to distinguish between sanctions that are aimed at the general economy of Iran and sanctions that are leader-specific, that are aimed specifically, for example, at tying up the leadership’s access by the leadership to their money or their funds. Sanctions of the latter type, leader-specific, are more likely to get them to decide up front to make concessions, rather than pay that price. Sanctions of the other type, aimed at the general country, are more likely to either form an opposition to the regime which, if they anticipate, will produce concessions beforehand, or to consolidate support for the regime, sympathy for the regime internally, in which case they would backfire. I’ve not analyzed what the likely consequences are along those lines, but those are the questions from a strategic perspective that one would have to work out. The threat is, in any event, a good thing because the threat forces the Iranians to make these calculations and therefore to reveal, through the negotiations, whether they have concluded that the sanctions really would be costly to them or not.

Sanctions at our end are typically more or less cheap talk because they don’t really cost the United States a lot. It doesn’t cost us a lot not to buy oil from Iran since we currently don’t buy oil from Iran. So, we’re not really giving up much. And tying up their bank accounts doesn’t really cost us much. It costs a little credibility to our banks, but that’s about it. Sanctions are also more effective if they are politically costly to the people imposing the sanctions, because then it’s an announcement that they view the issues as so important that they are willing to pay a price. So far, we have not shown that.

There are also the negotiations around the three Americans who are being held by Iran at the moment.

They’re a bargaining piece on the Iranian side. They’re something that the Iranians can give up to make themselves look nice, thoughtful, considerate. And presumably they are going to try to extract something of value. It’s actually quite funny — Ann Curry of NBC interviewed (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, a week or so ago, and brought up these three alleged hikers, and he indicated that Iran was open to releasing them when the United States released several diplomats that we were holding in Iran and Iraq. She informed him that we had released those diplomats in July. He obviously didn’t know that, so he found himself in this awkward position. So now, he’s got to presumably look for something else to get.

That anecdote has an important element to it. The American media spend much too much time paying attention to Ahmadinejad. He is not a big power in Iran. Khomeini and the Supreme Council and the Guardian Council — these people are important. They’re the ones who run the show. He can’t wander very far form what they want and get away with it. Look at after he was installed, and attempted to appoint a cabinet that Khomeini didn’t like.

Please continue reading…

Seeking an Israel Palestine solution via rational-choice theory

Triggered by the desire to calibrate the value of the game theory research of Bruce Bueno De Mesquita (BDM) I found a useful review of his work by Michael Lerner. Following is a sample from the article — of BDM’s thoughts on more effective approaches to the Middle East conflict:

Recently, he’s applied his science to come up with some novel ideas on how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “In my view, it is a mistake to look for strategies that build mutual trust because it ain’t going to happen. Neither side has any reason to trust the other, for good reason,” he says. “Land for peace is an inherently flawed concept because it has a fundamental commitment problem. If I give you land on your promise of peace in the future, after you have the land, as the Israelis well know, it is very costly to take it back if you renege. You have an incentive to say, “˜You made a good step, it’s a gesture in the right direction, but I thought you were giving me more than this. I can’t give you peace just for this, it’s not enough.’ Conversely, if we have peace for land–you disarm, put down your weapons, and get rid of the threats to me and I will then give you the land–the reverse is true: I have no commitment to follow through. Once you’ve laid down your weapons, you have no threat.

Bueno de Mesquita’s answer to this dilemma, which he discussed with the former Israeli prime minister and recently elected Labor leader Ehud Barak, is a formula that guarantees mutual incentives to cooperate. “In a peaceful world, what do the Palestinians anticipate will be their main source of economic viability? Tourism. This is what their own documents say. And, of course, the Israelis make a lot of money from tourism, and that revenue is very easy to track. As a starting point requiring no trust, no mutual cooperation, I would suggest that all tourist revenue be [divided by] a fixed formula based on the current population of the region, which is roughly 40 percent Palestinian, 60 percent Israeli. The money would go automatically to each side. Now, when there is violence, tourists don’t come. So the tourist revenue is automatically responsive to the level of violence on either side for both sides. You have an accounting firm that both sides agree to, you let the U.N. do it, whatever. It’s completely self-enforcing, it requires no cooperation except the initial agreement by the Israelis that they are going to turn this part of the revenue over, on a fixed formula based on population, to some international agency, and that’s that.”

As we have learned, “incentives matter”, in foreign policy just as in economics. Surely BDM’s proposal would at least improve the possibility of future cooperation. Will it take two generations of such policies to wash away enough of the Palestinian indoctrination of their young?

BDM founded Decision Insights Incorporated in 1981 and the New York consulting firm Mesquita & Roundell in 2003, but has been consulting independently for years for clients in the private sector and for a long list of governments:

…As one of the foremost scholars of game theory–or “rational choice,” as its political-science practitioners prefer to call it–Bueno de Mesquita is at the center of a raging hullabaloo that has taken over some of the most prestigious halls of learning in this country. Exclusive, highly complex mathematically, and messianic in its certainty of universal truths, rational-choice theory is not only changing the way political science is taught, but the way it’s defined.

To verify the accuracy of his model, the CIA set up a kind of forecasting face-off that pit predictions from his model against those of Langley’s more traditional in-house intelligence analysts and area specialists. “We tested Bueno de Mesquita’s model on scores of issues that were conducted in real time–that is, the forecasts were made before the events actually happened,” says Stanley Feder, a former high-level CIA analyst. “We found the model to be accurate 90 percent of the time,” he wrote. Another study evaluating Bueno de Mesquita’s real-time forecasts of 21 policy decisions in the European community concluded that “the probability that the predicted outcome was what indeed occurred was an astounding 97 percent.” What’s more, Bueno de Mesquita’s forecasts were much more detailed than those of the more traditional analysts. “The real issue is the specificity of the accuracy,” says Feder. “We found that DI (Directorate of National Intelligence) analyses, even when they were right, were vague compared to the model’s forecasts. To use an archery metaphor, if you hit the target, that’s great. But if you hit the bull’s eye–that’s amazing.”

Lerner closes with “A sample of Bruce Bueno de Mesquita’s wilder–and most accurate–predictions”

Forecasted the second Intifada and the death of the Mideast peace process, two years before it happened.

Defied Russia specialists by predicting who would succeed Brezhnev. “The model identified Andropov, who nobody at the time even considered a possibility,” he says.

Predicted that Daniel Ortega and the Sandanistas would be voted out of office in Nicaragua, two years before it happened.

Four months before Tiananmen Square, said China’s hardliners would crack down harshly on dissidents.

Predicted France’s hair’s-breadth passage of the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty.

Predicted the exact implementation of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement between Britain and the IRA.

Predicted China’s reclaiming of Hong Kong and the exact manner the handover would take place, 12 years before it happened.

For readers interested in a deeper assessment of Bueno de Mesquita’s work, see his 17-page CV at NYU [PDF].

Bush and the “peace process”

Is there anyone on earth as habitually ill-served by their leadership as the people who inhabit the Arab world? — Andrew J. Bacevich, reviewing Six Days of War for The Financial Times, 2002.

“The United States is the enemy. The United States is the hostile force behind Israel. The United States, O Arabs, is the enemy of all peoples, the killer of life, the shedder of blood, that is preventing you from liquidating Israel.” — Voice of the Arabs radio, 1967.

“O soldiers, 300,000 fighters of the People’s Army are with you in your battle, and behind them, 100 million Arabs. . . . Strike the enemy’s settlements, turn them into dust, pave the Arab roads with the skulls of Jews.” — Hafez al- Assad, dictator of Syria, 1967.

Military historian and CFR fellow Max Boot isn’t optimistic about near-term success of the “peace process”.

…many Americans believe that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which has been raging in one form or another for 60 years, is overdue for resolution.

But if measured by the length of other tribal and territorial disputes throughout history, there is no reason to think that the Arabs and Jews will soon beat their swords into plowshares. Consider just one such conflict, pitting the Scots against the English. The divide between the two nationalities — with similar religions (first Catholic, then Protestant), ethnic origins, languages and political systems — should have been easily bridged. But the Scots and English spent centuries killing one another.

…It is instructive to contemplate the virulence and length of the English struggles with the Scots (and also the similar, more recent battles with the Irish), given that their cultural and religious differences are trivial compared to those separating Israelis and Arabs. Attempts to end such conflicts before both sides are thoroughly exhausted are likely to have no more success than the Treaty of Northampton, which was supposed to end the Anglo-Scottish dispute in 1328. The only exception is if outside powers commit massive military force to bring peace, as happened in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s. But that’s unlikely to happen in the Holy Land.

While there is plenty of evidence that most Israelis are tired of today’s war, there is little sign that their enemies are likely to give up anytime soon. Jihadists speak of their struggle to eliminate the “Zionist entity” as the work of centuries. Even if many ordinary Palestinians privately long for peace, their preferences are unlikely to prevail over those of the gunmen. Hard as it may be to accept, we have to confront the possibility that the Arab-Israeli conflict may not have a “solution,” at least not in the foreseeable future, and that trying to create one represents a triumph of hope over experience.

As it happens, I am “reading” Michael Oren’s Six Days of War for the third time [via audiobook]. The review certainly reinforces ones understanding of Arab hate – some of it natural, but much of it stoked and cultivated by Arab potentates for the past 60 years. It is possible that Israel only exists today due to the incompetence of those despots, with the aid of the Soviets. BTW, we consider Oren’s book sufficiently important that we actually keep a copy aboard Adagio.

…It is hard for rational people to understand the origins or cause of the madness of the present-day Palestinian body politic, which prefers the delusionary vision of a world without Israel to the real-world possibility of a nation sitting beside Israel. As Six Days of War demonstrates masterfully, the wellspring of that madness lies very, very deep within Arab political culture. — John Podhoretz, National Review, 2002.

Power, Faith, and Fantasy in the Middle East

Michael Totten interviews Michael B. Oren, author of “Power, Faith, and Fantasy in the Middle East”. This is an excellent introduction to the book [which I’m currently reading]. Like Oren’s “Six Days of War” this will prove to be one of the four or five most important books on the Middle East. .

MJT: When speaking of the Barbary War you used the word “jihad.” I don’t think you used that word in your book, though, did you?

Oren: No, I didn’t really have to. There was the case in 1785 where Thomas Jefferson is sent to negotiate with the envoy of the Pasha of Tripoli. Jefferson says to him that America only wants peace with the Barbary states. And he says to Jefferson “No, we want war with you. We have a holy book called the Koran which says that we have to conquer and enslave all infidel states. And the United States is an infidel state. And moreover our holy book the Koran tells us that if we are killed in the course of carrying out this war that we’ll go directly to Paradise.” So I didn’t think I even had to put the label jihadist on there. I figured that remarkable report of Jefferson’s at the Continental Congress would suffice to alert contemporary readers what Jefferson was dealing with in the Middle East.

MJT: You have taken the long view of American involvement in the Middle East perhaps more than anyone else in the world. Having done that, are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Oren: As a historian I’m optimistic. Listen, I view the war in Iraq not as a war, but as a battle in a much more protracted war. Iraq is America’s Bull Run in the war in the Middle East. It’s our first losing battle.

It is not Vietnam. You cannot withdraw from Iraq and be confident that the enemy is not going to follow you. Because the enemy is going to follow you. America can’t detach from the Middle East because the Middle East is not going to detach from America. And America’s going to have to learn to fight this fight to win in a much more prudent and effective way. And there are ways America can fight it more effectively.

MJT: What do you suggest?

Oren: I suggest America invest very heavily in intelligence and training an entire generation of service women and men to speak the languages, be conversant in the languages and the cultures of the Middle East. America has to invest much more heavily in intelligence gathering. America has to invest much more heavily in rapid response forces in the Middle East and retain them there.

America has to get involved in theology. We’ve been fighting a theology with an ideology. It doesn’t work. We have to get in the business of promoting a reformist Islam. It’s important. It’s controversial, but important.

MJT: How do we do that? Do you mean by promoting the moderates who already exist?

Oren: Well there are some moderates who exist. They don’t have any places where they can go out and speak and speak free of harm. We can help disseminate their ideas. Right now the extreme Wahhabi interpretation of Islam predominates in schools across Europe. The West has basically given up the field to these people.

Links to numerous reviews of Oren’s latest are here

Iraq: The Belmont Club has a bridge in Brooklyn for you to consider

Richard Fernandez and Mark Steyn – a powerful combination that you definitely do not want to miss:

One of the more interesting articles today is from Mark Steyn who reminds those who object to toppling Saddam Hussein just how much they hated containing him. Bottling up Saddam Hussein required parking most of the carrier fleet in the Persian Gulf and keeping large ground and air forces on his borders. Steyn writes:

“Your president has won,” Jean Chretien told ABC News in early March 2003. So there was no need to have a big ol’ war because, with 250,000 American and British troops on his borders, Saddam was “in a box.” “He won,” said Mr. Chretien of Bush. “He has created a situation where Saddam cannot do anything anymore. He has troops at the door and inspectors on the ground… You’re winning it big.” That’s easy for him to say, and committing other countries’ armies to “contain” Iraq is easy for him to do. A quarter million soldiers cannot sit in the sands of Araby twiddling their thumbs indefinitely. “Containment” is not a strategy but the absence of strategy …

And containment, as Steyn noted, didn’t mean you escaped blame. In fact the policy of containment was often equated with genocide. Yes, you read that right. Not invading Iraq was counted as genocide.

And, in place of congratulations for their brilliant “containment” of Saddam, Washington was blamed for UN sanctions and systematically starving to death a million Iraqi kids – or two million, according to which “humanitarian” agency you believe. The few Iraqi moppets who weren’t deceased suffered, according to the Nobel-winning playwright and thinker Harold Pinter, from missing genitals and/or rectums that leaked blood contaminated by depleted uranium from Anglo-American ordnance.

… The interesting thing about some of the death figures attributed by the antiwar crowd to America is that they are the sum of supposed deaths from invading Iraq and not invading it.



Michael Oren in his account of the Six Day War of 1967 describes the agony of IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin as he watched Arab armies massing at Israel’s borders without the power to strike because the Israeli cabinet was divided over whether to absorb the first blow to prove their innocence in the conflict or strike first to gain the military advantage. It’s a stark illustration that inaction has a price; that when you “give Peace a chance” you give up other chances. The containment strategy followed against Saddam Hussein and Islamic terrorism before September 11 wasn’t cost-free: it gave Saddam and Islamic fundamentalism time to plot, spy and act. It ceded the initiative to them. Mark Steyn’s retrospective and information now emerging from Saddam Hussein’s archives demonstrate that there was never any such as thing as a free lunch. A bill was always in the mail.

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East

Michael Oren’s history of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is searchable online at Amazon. This is the probably the best place to begin researching the history of the modern Middle East, as every ensuing crisis is a direct consequence of this short conflict.

Oren’s work is also available in a well-read audiobook version at Following are a few representative short reviews:

Reviewed by Eliot A. Cohen for Foreign Affairs:

This superior work of scholarship is the best account that will exist for some time of one of the pivotal wars of the twentieth century. The author has created a narrative that does its best to be dispassionate about matters that still elicit more passion than analysis, drawing on archival sources and interviews from all sides. (The Arab side, alas, is thinner than the rest, for fewer records are available.) In Oren’s telling, this conflict was produced by blunder and bravado on the Arab side, and fear and apprehension in the Israeli camp. Interested more in the political and diplomatic events than in military or societal ones, Oren nonetheless delivers a rounded tale. He constructs a gripping account that sheds light not only on the tortured politics of the region but on the broader, troubling question of how politicians may find themselves drawn into a conflict that they have neither anticipated nor desired. Other specialized volumes and works of synthesis and interpretation will appear, but this book will stand for many years.

Reviewed by Andrew J. Bacevich:

The modern Middle East emerged out of three great earthquakes that rocked the region over a period of a half century: the final collapse of the old Ottoman Empire as a result of World War I; the creation of the state of Israel in 1948; and the Six Day War of 1967. In his gripping and provocative new study, Michael Oren, an American and longtime resident of Israel, provides a fresh assessment of the last of these three, the event from which so many of today’s problems in the region are derived. The result is a book as timely as it is brilliant.

The 1967 war is an oft-told tale of high drama and great achievement. But Oren’s purpose in Six Days of War is not simply to affirm the heroic narrative to which almost all Israelis and most Americans subscribe. Basing his findings on multi-archival research, enjoying access to recently declassified documents, having himself interviewed many key political and military figures, Oren offers readers an account of the Six Day War and its origins that is rich in detail, unfailingly readable, and surprisingly even-handed. Beyond that, however, to employ a sometimes suspect term, the book qualifies as an exercise in historical revisionism: although by no means overturning the traditional narrative, the author amends our understanding of the war in ways that help illuminate the present.

Reviewed by law professor Stephen Bainbridge:

As an Army brat who spent much of his formative years in the South, I have a natural interest in military history. In our post-9/11 world, moreover, understanding what’s going on in the Middle East has become essential. The thesis of Michael Oren’s Six Days of War is that the 1967 war shaped – and continues to shape – the central problem of our age. Unlike much military history, Oren’s account focuses to a considerable extent on the diplomatic context. Events at the UN, in Washington and Moscow, as well as Tel Aviv and key Arab capitals, play a significant role. Indeed, the chapters and sections focusing on diplomacy are far easier to grasp than the battle sequences, which assume a knowledge of Middle East geography that many general readers will lack. (I found myself referring to the few maps constantly, but with frustration because many locations mentioned in the text appear on none of the maps.) Oren’s ready acceptance of the Israeli version of the USS Liberty incident will also raise some hackles with many US readers. Having said that, however, I strongly recommend this important analysis of a key turning point in recent history.

Reviewed by John Podhoretz:

Guess who spoke these words, and when: “The United States is the enemy. The United States is the hostile force behind Israel. The United States, O Arabs, is the enemy of all peoples, the killer of life, the shedder of blood, that is preventing you from liquidating Israel.”

There is only one possible choice: Osama bin Laden, of course. The hatred of America, the anti-Semitic rage at Israel, and the hortatory purple rhetoric are all typical of bin Laden’s videotaped rants. But bin Laden was actually ten years old when this speech was recited by an anonymous broadcaster on an Egyptian radio station called Voice of the Arabs.

The date was June 5, 1967. Only hours earlier, the Israeli air force had staged a preemptive strike against the Egyptian air force — destroying most of that nation’s planes, anti-aircraft weapons, and stationary missiles in 90 minutes. And yet, as Michael B. Oren relates in his masterful and thrilling new history, Six Days of War, “Egypt’s propaganda organs, radio and press, continued to boast of extraordinary victories, while according to Jordanian communiques, Israeli forces had been repulsed . . . and thirty-one Israeli planes shot down.”

This was neither wishful thinking nor mere propaganda. The problem in Cairo was that nobody dared speak the truth about what had happened. It was not until 4 p.m. that day — a full seven hours after the decimation – – that Gamel Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s dictator, was given an honest accounting. By this point, Egypt’s field marshal (who was Nasser’s oldest friend) was “either drunk or drugged or both” and issuing insanely contradictory orders. The defense minister, meanwhile, “had a bed moved into his office, then sequestered himself inside.” He would take no phone calls, nor would he respond to the knocks of his subordinates.

Reviewed by Michael Rubner:

Aftershocks of the 1967 earthquake still reverberate throughout the region 35 years later. In the absence of peace with Syria, Israel is still holding on to the Golan Heights. While Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in the wake of the 1979 peace treaty, relations between these erstwhile adversaries have never warmed up. Israel has also annexed East Jerusalem, and remains in effective control of parts of the Gaza Strip and more substantial portions of the West Bank. Although they gained a modicum of political autonomy in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo accords, the Palestinians who came under Israeli rule in 1967 are still stateless. With accounts of bloody clashes between Israelis and Palestinians dominating the daily headlines, the publication of yet another recounting of the war that reshaped the modern Middle East could not be more timely.