IPS Blog

The Real Lion of Zion: Netanyahu Consolidates Power

Kadima e Likud.

Kadima e Likud.

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

The opposition party Kadima, which has the largest number of Knesset seats of any single Israeli political party, will join in a national unity government with second-seated Likud and its main partner, third-seated Yisrael Beiteinu. This creates a majority since among themselves these 3 main parties will control 70 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, and including smaller Likud coalition partners, this bloc could be up to 94 votes strong — meaning they could easy institute new Basic Laws if they chose to do so.

Earlier Likud-driven plans to move up Israel’s 2013 elections to September 4, 2012 that had been opposed by Kadima have now been “frozen,” according to Haaretz, which had actually reported yesterday that a parliamentary committee voted 12-1 in favoring of dissolving this Knesset to hold elections in September. The decision to suspend the elections apparently came overnight during inter-party talks between Kadima and Likud after that particular bill was set to go on to a further vote.

It was Likud that called for the elections, and Likud is now apparently taking the initiative to undo them, though some members of Likud deny this and lay the initiative at Mofaz’s feet — such members, it seems, hoped to trounce Kadima this fall. Is it simple politicking (the settler parties, religious and non-religious, the latter including Foreign Minister Lieberman’s own Yisrael Beiteinu, that find themselves at odds with Bibi are now suddenly less important), a move to revoke special exemptions for Haredim, settlement expansion, insurance against Obama 2012, or a means of putting Israel further on a war footing with Iran?

All of the above all possible — and as such, Bibi wins in 2012.

With Likud, the immediate effort is all about taking advantage of a beaten opposition; now only Labor and the smaller parties — Palestinian citizens of Israel, far-left and ultra-religious — remain, a most fractious and heavily outnumbered coalition. Bibi may just be the most politically insulated Prime Minister in Israeli history at this moment: “king of Israeli politics,” Haaretz just called him, grudgingly that he is, after all, “Israel’s number one politician, no doubt — by a mile.”

And for Kadima, it is about surviving to the next election. The move represents a significant departure in Kadima’s rhetoric, to say the least. At the end of March, following Tzipi Livni’s loss to Shaul Mofaz, the new head of the party told Haaretz he’d never join a government with Likud (h/t Max Blumenthal):

Yossi Veter: Would you consider joining a government should that situation arise?

Shaul Mofaz: No, Kadima under my leadership will remain in the opposition. The current government represents all that is wrong with Israel, I believe. Why should we join it? We will be a responsible opposition. Anything Netanyahu does for the benefit of Israel’s future will find our support. I want to restore an ethic of nonpartisan patriotism to Israel. I want to represent something new, like we had in the past.

But Kadima, born out of a schism within Likud in 2005, has few options otherwise if it wants to hold onto the seats it won in 2009. Elizabeth Tsurkov, from +972, and Barak Ravid of Haaretz:

In any current poll, Kadima’s power is projected to diminish by almost 2/3. Kadima wants to keep this unrepresentative Knesset in power.
— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) May 8, 2012

Reason for agreement: Mofaz was panicked by the elections, Ehud Barak also panicked and Bibi wanted to kill Labor and Yair Lapid
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) May 8, 2012

And Gregg Carlstrom at Al Jazeera:

Yet another Israel poll: Likud gets 31 seats in early elex, Labor 17, Yisrael Beiteinu 13, Atid 12, Kadima down to 10. bit.ly/JrS7r2
— Gregg Carlstrom (@glcarlstrom) May 3, 2012

Likud has found a way to have its cake — humbling Kadima — and eat it too with this deal because now, that cake is Kadima. One wonders what resurrected legislation from 2010 and 2011 on loyalty oaths, BDS, administrative detention, NGO funding, settlement subsidies or judicial appointments to the High Court will make a comeback. What foreign observers are most concerned about, of course, is not Kadima’s electoral woes, or how this all means the national service exemption “Tal Law” will be amended or annulled (a measure both Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu back), but what this unity government portends for a possible conflict with Iran. Barbara Slavin of Al-Monitor asks:

mofaz opposes #israel war on #iran; what did bibi promise him?
— Barbara Slavin (@barbaraslavin1) May 8, 2012

At the moment, we know Mofaz has been promised two explicit, and one implicit, bargains. Mofaz will become a deputy prime minister in the new government, but will be a “minister without portfolio” “in charge of the process with the Palestinians.” These offices are his explicit rewards. His implicit reward, as noted above, is getting to avoid a general election for at least one more year that his party was likely to suffer in.

Finally, for Likud there is a big immediate benefit regarding the settlements, suggests Noam Shezaif (though he notes this might only be a temporary victory for Bibi):

The final push for the new agreement was probably yesterday’s High Court ruling on the evacuation of the Ulpana neighborhood in the settlement of Beit El, built on private Palestinian land. With elections around the corner, this would have become for Netanyahu a public showdown with either the settlers or with the court – and possibly both. By postponing the elections, the prime minister has bought himself some time to deal with the crisis.

As for the foreign front, I think that Bibi has decided to hedge his bets for now on Iran by offering the bruised Kadima a way forward to survive another year in a way that insulates him from American pressure and possible domestic confrontations over his focus on Iran. Yousef Munayyer put it succinctly:

@blakehounshell its more about obama than Iran, even when its about Iran, its about Obama
— Yousef Munayyer (@YousefMunayyer) May 8, 2012

Now Netanyahu won’t have to tone down his rhetoric on Iran, which he has used to successfully dodge the question on settlements as well as (reducing) sanctions and criticizing P5+1 diplomacy. Or, perhaps far, far more importantly for his fellow Likudniks’ purposes, concern himself with any further weak Western protests over West Bank settlement expansion. At the risk of beating a dead horse — this coalition formation shows we can also say goodbye to any foreseeable future negotiations with Ramallah.

On the Obama angle, Maariv’s Ben Caspit reported earlier this week, when elections were still on, that Netanyahu had based his call for early election off of an AIPAC consensus that Obama would win reelection in 2012 (and thus, feel capable of standing up to the Prime Minister). He hardly needed AIPAC to tell him the President’s ahead in the polls, but Caspit’s effort to portrait Bibi’s mindset is illuminating:

The surprising announcement of early primaries in Likud by the party leadership fell out of the blue, [and] came three days after a quiet meeting held with AIPAC officials, who after conducting a review of U.S. polling data, advised Netanyahu that Obama would be the next president. Bibi knows he cannot campaign for reelection himself with Obama in office for a second term. This is a dangerous gamble. [But] there is great mistrust between the American President and the Israeli Prime Minister, and Netanyahu may try to do to Obama what he did during Clinton’s first term, and Obama [may try to do] to Yitzhak Shamir what George H. W. Bush did in 1992.

When referring to Clinton, the author means Netanyahu’s efforts to handicap the Oslo Accords. With Shamir, he means to say that Bibi seeks to avoid any chance of there being repeat of the “one lonely little guy” speech Bush gave when he refused to cave in to Shamir on delinking loan guarantees from a halt to settlement expansion. Netanyahu would rather not fight that fight and give his opponents at home openings against him, even though he’s almost certain to win such a fight both at home and abroad. As such, it may be that these comparisons (severely) overestimates Obama’s will to criticize the Israeli government and (slightly) overdoes Bibi’s sense of insecurity since Congress will simply not allow such scenarios to come into being.

This said, the Prime Minister would rather not have to fight such a fight when the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” gives him so much room to maneuver in the region, no matter how much he dislikes Obama. So he is playing it safe; no elections to risk losing a seat in the Knesset or having to face an irate White House. If he’s concluded Obama will win, he intends to set the tone for the President’s final term by building his coalition ahead of the actual Romney-Obama faceoff. He puts himself above the fray, and greater unity at home will translate into greater assertiveness abroad. It keeps the rhetoric red hot.

So, then, here is the $64,000, deal-or-no deal question: where does this leave newcomer Mofaz in Bibi’s kitchen cabinet? Are the scales tipped in favor of war with Mofaz’s addition to the coalition?

Not for now, at least. Mofaz opposes an attack on Iran as of this writing. And it is not clear what Mofaz’s complicity, if it were to come, would achieve for the most gung-ho boosters of an attack. The most outspoken opponents have, in any case, mainly been former national security officials, and in a way, Bibi has even preempted them with this unity government (not that some kind of reaching across the aisle seemed to be in the cards; most who’ve worn the uniform have kept quiet) — though what this means in practice has yet to be tested with respect to Iran. Again, the kitchen cabinet — this “Octet” — is reportedly still divided over an attack. It’s tempting to see a possible reorganization of the “Octet” as a prelude to a 2012 war with Iran because it ensures Barak stays on as Defense Minister and, as Larry Derfner notes, Bibi has “cleared his calendar,” and Barak earlier said this month the government had to separate Iran from “the elections” and it has done just that. At the same time, further settlement building, the revival of undemocratic legislation, even Cast Lead II seem just as, if not more, likely worst-case outcomes for 2012-3 (unless, you know, I’m dead wrong, and Mofaz, the man who would beat Bibi and never, ever, ever join a coalition does an about-face on Iran and it’s bombs away).

But even if he does not defect over Iran to the hawk, one does wonder what Mofaz is going to look forward in 2013 when elections will take place — although since they’re apparently going to get to do some election law rewriting, that question may be answered by Kadima itself! But what was promised, indeed, for the man who swore upon his election this spring that he would “replace” Netanyahu? And was a compromise on Iran policy staked out in these arrangements?

What Bibi intends to do with the time and the Knesset majority he has bought himself through 2013 remains to be seen. West Bank settlement expansion, “court packing,” sanctions on the PA, bombing Iran, perhaps even further punitive measures in Gaza? All are on firmer ground as of this week, “the putsch against war” notwithstanding.

Indeed, thanks to Kadima’s actions, “the putsch against war” may constitute the only serious challenge to Bibi’s politics right now, and that is cause for concern over the Iranian question (hopefully, the generals will not be swayed by Bibi’s efforts to influence the services with political appointees). The initiative on Iran, the settlements, the “peace process,” the national service debate and even the chance to pass new Basic Laws will stay with him for at least a year.

It’s good to be the king.

Bin Laden Grows a Conscience

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the Director of National Intelligence released a tiny sample of the documents that U.S. Special Operations Forces captured at Osama Bin Laden’s compound to the Combating Terrorist Center (CTC) at West Point for it to analyze. Still reading Letters from Abbottabad: Bin Ladin Sidelined?, we’ll single out one Focal Point™.

In contrast to Bin Ladin’s public statements that focused on the injustice of those he believed to be the “enemies” (a`da’) of Muslims, namely corrupt “apostate” Muslim rulers and their Western “overseers,” the focus of his private letters is Muslims’ suffering at the hands of his jihadi “brothers” (ikhwa). He was at pains advising [the latter] to abort domestic attacks that cause Muslim civilian casualties and instead focus on the United States, “our desired goal.”

In fact …

… High on his list of concerns was their flexible understanding of tatarrus, which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of Muslim civilians. … Bin Ladin was concerned that regional jihadi groups had expanded the meaning of a classical legal concept meant to be applied in rare circumstances and turned it from an exception into the norm. … Tatarrus refers to special circumstances when it is permissible, from an Islamic law of war perspective, for a military commander to attack enemy territory, even if the attack may result in the deaths of non-combatants, including Muslim women and children [aka] collateral damage.

“Flexible,” “expanded”? Stretching the definition to the breaking point would be more like it. The CTC report continues:

As a result, the jihadis, he worried, have lost considerable sympathy from the Muslim public; this loss was compounded when “the mistakes of the jihadis were exploited by the enemy, [further] distorting the image of the jihadis in the eyes of the umma’s general public and separating them from their popular bases.”

But, even though

… Bin Ladin largely disapproved of their conduct, he did not consider publicly dissociating … himself and al-Qa`ida from the actions of regional groups, as Adam Gadahn strongly urged the senior leadership to do.

It’s obvious that whatever compassion Bin Laden had come to evince for Muslims — infidels, including civilians, were still fair game — he was more concerned that the Muslim public would sour on the al Qaeda brand, thus imperiling the success of jihad, than he was with their actual suffering at the hands of al Qaeda’s affiliates.

The One Percent Deports Itself

The number of people renouncing their U.S. citizenship is higher than ever.

Now that new provisions in the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act have gone into effect, the feds are reining in tax dodgers living abroad. But many of these super-wealthy people who would be forced to pony up more in tax payments are choosing to sever ties with their country of birth instead.

Many of these individuals lead nomadic, season-driven lives. Their choice of where to live at any one time is based on that location’s climate, their children’s education, tax constraints, or which of their friends they want to lunch with on any particular day. When one has such a global outlook, paying taxes to something as archaic as a nation-state can be easily ignored. Bloomberg was among the first to report on this story:

About 1,780 expatriates gave up their nationality at U.S. embassies last year, up from 235 in 2008, according to Andy Sundberg, secretary of Geneva’s Overseas American Academy, citing figures from the government’s Federal Register. The embassy in Bern, the Swiss capital, redeployed staff to clear a backlog as Americans queued to relinquish their passports.

Renouncing their citizenship does not cost much to these global elites, who can achieve statelessness rather quickly:

During a 10-minute renunciation ceremony in a booth with bullet-proof glass windows, embassy staff ask exiting Americans whether they are acting voluntarily and understand the implications of giving up their passports. They pay a fee of $450 to renounce and may incur an “exit tax” on unrealized capital gains if their assets exceed $2 million or their average annual U.S. tax bill is more than $151,000 during the past five years.

The Obama administration deserves some credit for putting a scare into the expatriate tax-dodging class. But it can certainly still do more for the taxpayers facing deportation.

The number of immigrants being deported from the United States is also at an all-time high. After last year’s much-celebrated announcement of a new discretion policy by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), advocates have seen dissappointing results. ICE has reviewed 219,554 pending cases, but only 16,544 (or 7.5 percent) were identified as amenable for prosecutorial discretion as of April 16, 2012. They have only closed 2,722 cases, according to figures released by ICE (pdf).

The status quo of post-recession America shows a government that’s slighted by some of the richest members of its citizenry, while wistfully ignoring the plight of millions yearning for the full opportunity to become Americans.

The Lineup: Week of May 7-13, 2012

In this week’s OtherWords editorial package, Sarah Anderson underscores the dangers posed by Wall Street’s lightning-speed computerized trading and Donald Kaul makes the case for eating more vegetables. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. Wall Street’s Speed Freaks / Sarah Anderson
    The high-frequency trading that dominates the stock market could trigger another global financial crisis.
  2. Grassroots Victory / Carl Gibson
    A coalition of big corporations has lost a battle to nab a huge tax break.
  3. A Watered-Down Education / Wenonah Hauter
    Project WET’s supposed mission is a slap in the face to any community that has had its water muscled away by Nestle.
  4. A More Meaningful Mother’s Day Gift / Leslie Kantor
    How about giving moms a little help with the birds and the bees?
  5. Vegan Confessions / Donald Kaul
    The vegetable is a quick cure for much if not most of our health problems.
  6. Food Stamp Foolishness / Jim Hightower
    Rep. Paul Ryan’s trying to justify his abuse of the poor with religious lip service.
  7. The Pipeline from the Black Lagoon / William A. Collins
    TransCanada’s Keystone XL project is rotten.
  8. Vegan on Board / Khalil Bendib

Vegan on Board, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Vegan on Board, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Missile Defense: Ever the Fly in the Ointment of U.S.-Russia Relations

Missile defense systems against nuclear strikes are often considered “destabilizing” to the strategic balance.” On May 3, Russia’s RIA Novosti demonstrated this principle in action.

Russia does not exclude preemptive use of weapons against [NATO] missile defense systems in Europe but only as a last resort, the Russian General Staff said on Thursday at a missile defense conference in Moscow.

“The placement of new strike weapons in the south and northwest of Russia against [NATO] missile defense components … is one possible way of incapacitating the European missile defense infrastructure,” Chief of the General Staff Nikolai Makarov said.

Taking into account the “destabilizing nature of the missile defense system… the decision on the pre-emptive use of available weapons will be made during an aggravation of the situation,” he said.

Exactly why missile defense is destabilizing can be difficult to grasp (at least it was for me). After all, it only seems natural for a state to seek to protect itself against nuclear attack. Besides, how can a parry be considered as aggressive as a thrust? I once endeavored to explain in a post.

Here’s how it works. A state — Russia again — is considered vulnerable to a first, or initial, strike by the United States, during the course of which many of its surface (as opposed to those based in submarines, which are, of course, mobile) nuclear weapons would be wiped out. (This argument requires a suspension of belief that Russia would refrain from launching a counterattack on warning, that is, while the U.S. missiles were in the air, instead of waiting until they struck — still the only sure-fire method of verifying a nuclear attack.)

Russia’s retaliatory force would be further diminished if much of it was destroyed while in the air by U.S. missile defense. (This requires a suspension of belief that the day when missile defense is that effective will ever come). The crux of this theory is that since Russia knows that under this arrangement it’s going to lose missiles both on the ground and in the air it’s motivated to build more to compensate. (Why Russian missile defense isn’t considered destabilizing to America’s “deterrent” is a question seldom, if ever, raised.)

More from the RIA Novosti article:

“By 2018-2020 – that is the third and fourth phases of the deployment of the Euro-missile defense in Europe – the continent should have enough [NATO] anti-missile defense to be able to intercept part of Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarine launched ballistic missiles,” Patrushev said at an international conference on Euro-missile defense in Moscow.

At the Christian Science Monitor, Yousaff Butt backed this up.

The problem with European missile defense is that while it’s designed to counter Iran, the faster interceptors due to come online in 2018 will also be able to engage Russian warheads, upsetting this all-important perception of parity.

Though what Butt probably meant by “designed to counter Iran” was in the highly unlikely event that Iran develops missiles that could reach Europe, not to mention the nuclear weapons that would be affixed to them as warheads. Meanwhile RIA Novosti reported that NATO’s Deputy General Secretary Alexander Vershbow said:

“In fact, we have no desire at all to disturb global strategic stability,” told the conference. “Quite the contrary: NATO missile defense will be capable of intercepting only a small number of relatively unsophisticated ballistic missiles. It does not have the capability to neutralize Russian deterrence.”

Ivan Oelrich explained in the January/February issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (behind a pay wall)

Almost all independent US analysts—that is, those outside the government and the defense industry—are deeply skeptical of the feasibility of missile defenses, especially against a technically sophisticated country like Russia. To these skeptics, therefore, Russia’s position seems frustratingly irrational: Russia is letting the potential for mutually beneficial arrangements be undermined by the USA’s politically motivated pursuit of a system that will never work.

But Patrushev said:

“Our experts say other targets, which could require serious missile defense against it, do not really exist.”

The United States and NATO may act like Russia is being a drama queen about missile defense, but it knows very well that the system will never be used against Iran. Even if that were its intention, it would be years before it’s necessary to defend Europe against Iran — years of NATO missile-defense deployment acting as a burr in Russia’s saddle as well as an ongoing obstacle to disarmament. Not only is missile defense destabilizing, it’s an endless fund of misinformation between the United States and Russia.

The Arms Race Was Fed by More Than Just the Need for More and Better Nuclear Weapons

Hot on the heels of the development of nuclear weapons, strategies for dealing with them — bad pun alert! — mushroomed. Much of it emanated from the RAND Corporation, home to, as Fred Kaplan explained in The Wizards of Armageddon (Touchstone, 1983) “a small and exceptionally inbred collection of men — mostly economists and mathematicians, a few political scientists — who devoted nearly every moment of their workaday thoughts to thinking about the bomb: how to prevent nuclear war, how to fight nuclear war if it cannot be deterred.”

Specific subjects included fun stuff like first and second strikes, the always popular mutual assured destruction (MAD), launch on warning, and, finally, targeting cities versus targeting “counterforce” (the enemy’s nuclear weapons).

Daunting as that sounds, some of the concepts are deceptively simple. Or, to put it another way, they started out simple, but were worried to death in think tanks and other institutions. For example, the term deterrence, when used in international relations, just means using the threat of an attack to compel a foe to either act or refrain from acting in accordance with the deterring state’s wishes. Yet, applied to nuclear weapons, deterrence has spawned countless books, papers, and conferences.

An arms race, of course, is the principal component of deterrence: each side tries to stockpile weapons more advanced than those of its designated enemy to keep it from attacking. In the field of nuclear weapons, the arms race manifested itself as, for example, development of first, the atomic bomb, then, the exponentially more powerful hydrogen bomb; first, bombers, then intercontinental missiles.

The second element of an arms race besides maintaining a development edge over one’s enemy is building more weapons. Human nature, right? When it comes to nuclear weapons, one assumes that the perceived need to go forth and multiply is determined by how many weapons the enemy has. In fact, it’s more dependent on the number of your enemy’s targets. In the January/February issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Ivan Oelrich explained how this works (behind a pay wall).

Nuclear weapons were first aimed at cities, the centers of population and industrial production. This targeting strategy was, in part, a natural extrapolation of the mass city bombing tactics of World War II. But cities also became nuclear targets by default; with the very inaccurate early missiles, cities were the only targets big enough to hit. As accuracy, weapon numbers, and intelligence on enemy-weapon location increased, it was irresistible for both sides to target the enemy’s nuclear weapons. … The targeting of weapons inevitably led to an arms race. If cities were the only targets, then neither side needed more weapons than the other side had cities to shoot at. But once nuclear weapons became targets, each side had to have as many weapons as the other side for counterforce attacks, plus more to shoot at “value” targets like cities. When each side needed just a few more than the other, an arms race without end was on. [Emphasis added.]

One’s first impression is that attacking weapons is significantly less barbaric than attacking population centers. Alas, in practice, it doesn’t work that way. In its counterintuitiveness, switching a nation’s nuclear weapons policy away from counterforce parallels missile defense. In the first, you’re restraining yourself from taking away your enemy’s weapons. In the second, you surrender the ability to shoot down attacking warheads to keep from inciting your enemy to make more to both overwhelm your missile defense and mount a second attack if the first is thwarted.

That’s part of what makes nuclear races so lethal: the field is fraught with seeming Sophie’s Choices like that.

Will Israeli Dissent Halt the March Towards War?

Excerpted from IPS Special Project Right Web.

The threat of a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities this year appears to have substantially subsided over the past several weeks as a result of several developments, including the biting criticisms of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak voiced recently by former top national security officials.

The possibility of war seems significantly more remote than it did during the winter months, when tensions reached an all-time high. The New York Times even recently ran a front-page feature entitled “Experts Believe Iran Conflict is Less Likely.”

Judging by actual bets placed on the online trading exchange Intrade, experts believe the chances that the United States or Israel will actually launch air strikes against Iran before the end of the year have fallen by more than half since the high reached in mid-February—from just over 60 percent to about 28 percent as of early May.

That’s still a substantial percentage—about twice what it was before the latest round of Israeli saber-rattling began in November.

It’s difficult to find any close observer who believes that war clouds could not suddenly reappear, particularly if the next meeting of the so-called P5+1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) with Iran scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad should break down or be delayed.

For its part, the Barack Obama administration has shown little inclination to reduce pressure—and the threat of military action—on Tehran.

Not only has it moved more minesweepers and F-15 fighter jets into the Gulf region, but the air force also announced recently that it has deployed an undisclosed number of advanced F-22 stealth fighter-bombers to the area, specifically to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to the industry publication Aviation Week.

To read in its entirety, visit Right Web.

Jim Lobe is the Washington bureau chief of the Inter Press Service and a contributor to Right Web. He blogs at LobeLog.

Ex-Qahdafi Flunkies Debate Claims He Gave Sarkozy 50 Million Euros

Sarkozy GaddafiCross-posted from the Arabist.

The French news site Mediapart has released another document it claims shows that French President Nicholas Sarkozy and his close associates had maintained backdoor ties to the Libyan government from 2005 to 2011, including a 2005–6 agreement to allegedly funnel 50 million Euros worth of Libyan money into Sarkozy’s campaign chest.

The December 10, 2006 letter in question is said to be an official correspondence between Bashir Saleh Bashir 1, then-head of the Libyan African Investment Portfolio, the LAP and Moussa Muhammad Koussa, former head of the Mukhabarat el-Jamahiriya (the intelligence service) who in March 2011 quit his post as Foreign Minister and fled to the UK. In the letter, Moussa informs Bashir that per the results of the two men’s October 6, 2006 meeting Sarkozy’s chief of staff Brice Hortefeux and the arms dealer Ziad Takieddine, the LAP would be responsible for making payment of 50 million Euros to Sarkozy’s election campaign. The Libyan document released last week is the first new piece of evidence to be presented by the outlet since French terrorism lawyer Jean-Charles Brisard’s walking back of testimony he gave that had described alleged secret 2005 conferences between Sarkozy’s people and the Libyan regime in 2005.

The document is the latest piece of evidence reported by Mediapart in a now 10 month-long investigation into Sarkozy’s alleged ties to the deceased Libyan dictator. Jean-Charles Brisard, a French counterterrorism expert, had previously provided Mediapart with testimony from a French doctor associate of Takieddine and documentation of contacts among French Interior Ministry staffers, Takieddine and members of Qadhafi’s family, notably Saif al-Islam, former director of the Qadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation, and former military intelligence head Abdullah Senussi, who is wanted in France for his alleged role in the bombing of UTA Flight 772 in 1989. Anonymous sources told Reuters last month that the French government is very interested in winning Senussi’s extradition to them because of his contacts with French officials and defense contractors.

This October 6, 2006 meeting would have taken place a year to the day following an alleged October 6, 2005 meeting between some of the principal players in this drama. That 2005 contact reportedly took place during Sarkozy’s only known official visit to Libya. The 2005 meeting recorded by Brisard is said to be where the 50 million Euros payment was first discussed with Hortefeux, with the option of using a front company in Panama and a Swiss bank account to conceal the transactions. Mediapart did not note how it came into possession of the 2006 memo; the outlet’s 2005 sourcing come Brisard, who has since sought to distance himself from the materials of his cited by Mediapart by stating that the testimonies he has gathered “have no probative value” and that Mediapart was misrepresenting his research.

For the record, Sarkozy’s official campaign spending for the 2007 election was approximately 20 million Euros, just short of the maximum spending ceiling for candidates.

Takieddine, according to Mediapart, was the primary fixer between Sarkozy’s team, in particular Hortefeux who made the 2005 visit, as well as Claude Guéant (who replaced Hortefeux as Minister of the Interior last year) and Thierry Gaubert , Hortefeux’s predecessor and a confidant of Sarkozy’s. Takieddine reportedly sought to advance his own agenda of securing sweet deals for French firms with him as the broker through these get-togethers. Amesys, a French IT firm, has also been implicated in these dealings, having sold “Internet-interception equipment” to the Libyan government in 2007, which until early 2011 the regime used to monitor dissidents. Takieddine is thought to have helped broker this agreement, and earned a cut of US$500,000 from the deal, which after Qadhafi’s fall became hugely embarrassing for the telecommunications firm. Takeiddine also reportedly tried to make arrangements for Sakrozy’s 2005 visit by getting to discuss refitting contracts for the Libyan Air Force, now no by the UN from making orders to European defense majors, outside of the purview of the French Defense Ministry.

The arms dealer denies being present at these meetings, but says he believe that this agreement is authentic, claiming to have spoken with an irate Saif al-Islam in March 2011 about the funding and having seen documents he thought Gaubert would fear becoming public. Takeiddine says he is not sure whether the transaction actually went through or not in the end, but Saif al-Islam told him it did and actually went on TV last spring to accuse Sarkozy of “stealing” from the Libyan people.

Takieddine’s testimony is suspect, of course, because he is currently being investigated by a French court for his possible role in a scandal over kickbacks and money-laundering from the sale of warships to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia going to French politican Edouard Balladur’s 1995 presidential campaign. Sarkozy acted as Balladur’s spokesman during that campaign, and Gaubert was investigated last September over his alleged role in securing kickbacks for the 1995 campaign. Takieddine is thought to have maintained contact with the Saudis to secure further kickbacks under Sarkozy’s watch. The Pakistani ties are currently being investigated as a possible motive in a 2002 terrorist attack in Karachi that left 11 French nationals dead. This isn’t the first time key Sarkozy asosicates have come under scrutiny for alleged financial wheelings and dealings: at least two of his associates have been investigated for influence peddling.

Sarkozy denies the allegations, as do all of his associates from the Interior Ministry. It is not clear what effect this election year scandal has had on Sarkozy’s 2012 presidential campaign, but he is widely expected to lose his reelection bid to the Socialist candidate François Hollande, coming in second to him in the first round of elections. The second round of voting, and expected Sarkozy defeat, will take place on May 5–6.

Update: Moussa and Bashir (both in exile) deny they had anything to do with the document; conversely, former Libyan PM Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi (also in exile) asserts it is authentic. In Libya, the interim government that NATO helped install last year says it has not been able to verify the letter. The Sarkozy campaign has denied all allegations and is threatening to sue Mediapart. Sarkozy’s opponents have not made much of this investigation in their campaigning, instead focusing their criticism on Sarkozy’s austerity and immigration policies. The final round of the French presidential election will take place May 5-6.

1Bashir’s name, and that of other Libyan officials, have more recently come up in reports from the British press on foreign intelligence services abetting Qadhafi’s spies in keeping tabs on dissidents in the EU.

A Ditty on Newt Gingrich: The Apogee of a Would-be Nominee

Newt assured us:

I Will be the Nominee
I Will beat Mitt Rominee
I Will create a Moon Colony
I am not full of Baloney

Fortunately only the last is true
But losing you still makes us blue
We’ll miss having you to tease
We’ll miss our jokes about Tiffany’s

We’ll carry on with Barack and Mitt
But we lament that you called it quits

Question of Iran Pits Israeli Intelligence Against Meshuggeneh Fringe

Cross-posted from Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

An open clash between Israelis at a major meeting in New York City gives ample evidence of a growing divide in Israel over attacking Iran.

The tensions have been brewing under the surface for some time now, with hints of the depth of the antagonism surfacing from time to time. But just a few days ago, on April 29, 2012, in New York City, before a mostly Jewish, and mostly pro-Netanyahu audience of 1,000 attendees, the political boil was publicly lanced, and nothing Alan Dershowitz had in his bag of articulate tricks could paste over the bitter polarization that has erupted. The meeting was sponsored by the generally conservative and right wing Jerusalem Post.

The issue: Iran.

Just how nasty and deep is the split can be seen from a detailed article published in May 2 edition of the New York City-based Forward — one of America’s longest running and most prestigious Jewish newspapers. In an article entitled Explosive Dust Up Over Iran Policy, Forward journalist J.J. Goldberg exposed the Israeli internal riff over Iran in which it seemed that high-level Israeli officials ripped into one another over claims of “an Iranian threat.”

Sounded like quite the ideological slugfest that ripped the veil off of any semblance of Israeli unity concerning Iran. On the one hand, representatives of Prime Minister Netanyahu openly attacked President Obama’s Middle East policies, with, according to the Forward, “widespread cheering” from the audience. On the other hand, former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and former Mossad Director Meir Dagan attacked Netanyahu’s Iran saber rattling. Last year Dagan had publicly called Netanyahu’s war talk “stupid.” In one exchange on April 29, Dagan called Giliad Erdan, Israel’s Environmental Minister and a Netanyahu man, “a liar.” Ergan responded in kind, claiming Dagan was “threatening Israeli security.”

The Meshuggeneh Fringe vs. the Intelligence Apparatus

In one corner, the ample meshuggeneh fringe of Israeli politics — Prime Minister Netanyahu and his increasingly right-wing and religious followers, including West Bank settlers whose rhetoric has long ago approached “foaming at the mouth” levels concerning “the existential Iranian threat” to Israel. Netanyahu and company have been warning the world of the development of an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon since the early 1980s.

In the other corner, strange as it seems at first — but not so strange for those who know anything about the sober (if reactionary) assessments of the Israeli intelligence — security and military communities. Joining them is a growing element of Israeli public opinion so hammered with anti-Iranian vitriol that is something approaching a miracle that they could see through the swamp of lies and exaggerations, and actually speak out for peace. Going against the position of the Israeli prime minister, this element in Israel has been openly contradicting Netanyahu. They argue that Iran isn’t building a nuclear weapon, doesn’t have plans to build one and even it did, wouldn’t represent a threat to Israel.

The breach is nothing new in Israel where it has been discussed for months in the Israeli press; but to see controversy spill over so openly in the United States and then to be picked up by the mainstream media (the New York Times) and a publication like The Forward — this is striking.

The struggle over Iran at top of the Israeli political pyramid only reflects the tension at the grass roots. In a related development and unprecedented gesture, an Israeli posted a message on Facebook — a teacher made a public appeal — both to the people of Israel and the people of Iran — against war. The appeal struck a chord in Iran where it was read, viewed positively and widely circulated; it is circulating heavily in Israel and now around the world.

For the Israeli intelligence and security establishment, it is not Iran which poses a danger to Israeli security but Netanyahu’s rhetoric which has not only increased regional tensions but has in recent months undermined U.S.-Israeli relations, so much so, that at this year’s March 2012 AIPAC annual meeting, U.S. President Barack Obama publicly called on AIPAC — and Israel — to tone down the war talk.

In classic style, Netanyahu responded to Obama’s request by announcing more Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Territories and ratcheting up his anti-Iran rhetoric in an effort to reconstruct the anti-Iranian alliance (the U.S., Israel, Saudis and other conservative Arab Regimes). This alliance had been strained to the breaking point by the eruption of the Arab Spring which temporarily found Israel more isolated and confused in the region than it had ever been.

Looking for an Election Issue, U.S. Republicans Egg on Netanyahu

Egged on by Republicans, right-wing Zionists and neoconservatives here in the United States, Netanyahu’s anti-Iranian hysteria had reached such subjective heights, that even important elements of Israel’s own circles of power have found it necessary to call their prime minister on the carpet. Besides trying to push the United States into a war with Iran that Israel cannot in any way shape or form fight on its own, Netanyahu’s goal is to make the non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons program an election issue here in the USA. At the very least, Netanyahu reasoned, the saber rattling would force Obama to make concessions to Israel . I call it “rage management” — yell and scream enough and you might not get everything you want, but some juicy consolation prize — which did come forth in the form of bunker buster bombs to Israel and silence on the Palestinian issue.

But that wasn’t enough for Netanyahu for whom political moderation is something approaching a cardinal sin. And, with the support of the usual suspects (AIPAC, neoconservative nuts like John Bolton, and that Christian fundamentalist nut case John Hagee), Netanyahu kept up the anti-Iranian drumbeat for war. Of course he’d crossed the line of decency — and outright interfered in U.S. politics so often — and gotten away with it…that why stop now! Having let Israel off the lease for so long, it has proven to be difficult now to rein it in. Can’t blame all that on Netanyahu either.

The Republicans here in the United States whose primary campaign, pushed to the right by the likes of the Tea Party and neoconservatives, had something else in mind. As Netanyahu’s saber rattling grew louder and louder, the price of oil, always subject to political insecurity, began to rise. The bet was racheting up oil prices through fear of war would cut into the weak U.S. (and global) recovery which the Republicans and Netanyahu would help engineer. The Republican candidate — now apparently Romney — could blame the failed recovery on Obama.

Obama — Tactical Retreat From Military Confrontation

Obama understood the Republican-Likud game for the danger it is both to world peace and his re-election possibilities, given American sensitivities to rising oil prices. He acted to help defuse the situation — making it clear in his own pronouncements and those of U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, that there will be no military strike against Iran (at least until after the elections). All this challenges — at least in part — that in terms of U.S.-Israeli relations that “it is the tail wagging the dog.” The dog can wag the tail too — when it finds it necessary. While the connections/coordination between Obama and the Israeli military-intelligence community on this issue have not been openly spelled out, the fact that this is the sector that receives gobs of U.S. financial aid since 1979 and is closely coordinated with NATO plans and operations in the Middle East, might just have something to do with it.

It is not so much that the Obama Administration has changed its goal of regime change in Iran — the moral implications are of course brushed aside (again). But with the situation in Afghanistan melting daily before the world’s eyes, with tensions in Pakistan over drone strikes, Iraq in an increasingly explosive mood and Syria in a state approaching civil war, the U.S. is in no position to open up another front militarily, even if it so desired.

Of course, inching back from the brink even if it is for short-sighted election purposes — is a relief. Is it simply a breather from a policy that in the long run inextricably will lead to a military conflict, or the first step away from a policy of arrogance and lunacy that threatens to take us all down with it?

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