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Condemn Qaddafi, But Watch Iran

It’s a good bet that Sheik Hassan Nasrallah loved the Egyptian uprising. The Hezbollah coup that had just taken place in Lebanon, which scarcely rippled across American newspapers in the first place, was well and truly erased from the collective consciousness as a significant regional development. When’s the last time you read a line about the UN tribunal’s pending indictment of Hezbollah for the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and Hezbollah’s attempts to extort his son Sa’ad’s cooperation in scuppering it?

Similarly, Ahmadinejad and his mullahs are no doubt savoring the diversion of Western attention away from the embattled Iranian protesters and onto the carnage in Libya. I’d venture to speculate that President Obama, too, is relieved that the pressure is off him to call out Ahmadinejad directly in support of the Iranian citizens who continue to risk life and limb in yet another apparently futile attempt to evict their tormentors in Teheran. It is also certainly to the advantage of the Iranian nuclear program for Western eyes to be directed elsewhere.

Now, it’s entirely appropriate for the world to join together in condemnation of Qaddafi’s vile tactics. But it’s dangerous to American interests to focus exclusively on Libya and lose sight of the bigger picture. The party who stands to gain the most from turmoil across the Arab world — be it in Tunisia, which continues to show signs of resisting Islamist influence but remains vulnerable, to Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed significant net gains as a result of the popular uprising — is the Iranian regime. The threat that that regime represents increases as attention to its provocations diminishes.

Iran has already literally tested the waters by sending two warships to Syria through the Suez Canal. That move was obviously intended to provoke Israel and the US, but was also a message to Iran’s Arab enemies, particularly Saudi Arabia. Iran already has a foothold to Israel’s west in Hamastan in the Gaza Strip. Add that to Iran’s influence over Lebanon via its newly emboldened Hezbollah tentacle, its unholy alliance with Syria, and the influence it gained in Iraq following the deposing of Saddam Hussein, and you have a deeply alarming scenario for the Saudi regime.

As Michael Slackman explains in today’s New York Times, the uprisings “shredded a regional paradigm in which a trio of states aligned with the West supported engaging Israel and containing Israel’s enemies, including Hamas and Hezbollah…The pro-engagement camp of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia is now in tatters. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has been forced to resign, King Abdullah of Jordan is struggling to control discontent in his kingdom and Saudi Arabia has been left alone to face a rising challenge to its regional role.”

Ali Reza Nader, an expert in international affairs with the RAND Corporation, told the Times that the Saudis fear that “the region is ripe for Iranian exploitation. Iran has shown that it is very capable of taking advantage of regional instability.” Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, former NSC staffers, said that “If these ‘pro-American’ Arab political orders currently being challenged by significant protest movements become at all more representative of their populations, they will for sure become less enthusiastic about strategic cooperation with the United States.” Iran’s leaders, they said, see that “the regional balance is shifting, in potentially decisive ways, against their American adversary and in favor of the Islamic Republic.”

What can the US do about any of this? It can remind the region in clear language exactly what it stands for: not Jimmy Carter-esque democracy-lite (“Any of y’all are welcome! Jihadists, step right up!”) but true, pluralistic, liberal democracy that treasures every citizen, regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation — and that actively excludes parties that seek ultimately to undermine those values. It can take better advantage of its own natural resources to reduce its vulnerability to oil extortion by unsavory regimes. It can express to populations in flux — including the Palestinians — that it will not financially or in any other way support a tilt towards extremism, which in effect would be a tilt towards Iran.

Most importantly, the US must be fully prepared for further provocations by Iran and for an eventual engagement with it, either directly or via one of its proxies. One of the most shocking revelations accorded by the tumult in the Arab world was the Americans’ evident bewilderment. The almost uniformly embarrassing performances by the President and his aides during the collapse of the Mubarak regime made clear that that scenario had never been envisioned. Obama, Clinton, Panetta, Clapper, et al were playing frantic catch-up with the whole world watching. Their awkward, tentative obliviousness was observed, no doubt with warm satisfaction, by America’s enemies in Teheran. If the US is perceived to be uncertain, about either its own core beliefs or its ability to defend them at home or abroad, it will be tested. And it won’t be given a week to dither before taking a stand.

Israel On the Hot Seat

Things are starting to heat up rather abruptly for us here in Israel. Hezbollah is making noises about invading the Galilee, and two Iranian warships are said to be moving toward the Suez Canal on their way to Syria. Libya is calling on Palestinians to rise up and attack Israel. The Jordanian Foreign Minister — after recommending that a Jordanian soldier who shot and killed seven Israeli schoolgirls in 1997 be released early from prison — declared that Israel, which has a peace treaty with Jordan, is an enemy and a terrorist state.

Here’s a little thought experiment to help you understand why all this is happening all of a sudden.

Imagine you’re Sheik Hassan Nasrallah. You’ve managed to evict Sa’ad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister who refused to be extorted into cooperating with your coverup of Hezbollah’s involvement in the murder of his father, Rafik. You’ve got a Syrian-approved stooge in place as the new PM, so that’s all good. But you’re still faced with the prospect of a potentially unmanageable civil war should the pending UN tribunal indict Hezbollah members for Rafik’s assassination. The tribunal’s indictments have been filed but have not yet been made public. Leaked information strongly indicates Hezbollah will indeed be named. What to do?

Okay, now you’re the King of Jordan. Your regime, once relatively stable, is splintering out from under you. Your East Bank tribal leaders, suddenly uncowed by the sedition laws banning criticism of the royal family, have dared to state publicly that they disapprove of your Palestinian-Jordanian wife and expect you to strip her of her political role, stat. East Bankers and ex-West Bankers — i.e., Palestinian Jordanians — are attacking each other at soccer games. The East Bankers have a lock on the military and positions of influence, but the West Bankers control the country’s economy and outnumber the East Bankers. And they’re sick and tired of that “P” in their Jordanian passports, which makes them feel like second-class citizens. Thousands have gathered to make unprecedented demands for change, and your dismissal of the entire government doesn’t seem to have satisfied them. The fissures in your culture are bursting open, and you’re the one getting splattered. What to do?

Right. Now you’re Qaddafi. You’ve had your fist around Libya’s neck for forty-one years, but damn if even your citizens haven’t been affected by the revolutionary virus that’s sweeping the region. Hundreds of people poured into the streets of Benghazi today, setting fire to cars and clashing with police. In Zentan, protesters torched security headquarters and a police station. They’re chanting that they want the country’s “corrupt rulers” out, and out now. Tomorrow, Thursday, is supposed to be a Libyan “Day of Rage.” What to do?

Okay. Now you’re Ahmadinejad. The protesters keep coming, despite — or perhaps because of — the calls by your parliamentarians to have their leaders executed. You’re perfectly willing to mow them all down, but the rest of the world is watching. This doesn’t worry you particularly — indeed, you get a rather pleasant frisson from the prospect of slaughtering pro-democrats in front of the Americans and then watching them squirm their way toward a non-response — but tactically speaking, it would be as well to divert attention to an external enemy while taking care of business at home. The Americans and the Europeans seem to be less clear in their minds about the Green Revolution than they were about the Egyptian one, so it shouldn’t be difficult to distract them. Still, it’ll have to be done fast. The sooner the counterrevolution is put down, the better. What to do?

The answer in each case is the same as it has been for embattled Muslim regimes since 1948. Go on the offensive against Israel. It shuts up the populace, since you can’t very well side against your own government while it’s fighting the Little Satan. It tamps down internal divisions, since no internal squabble can compare with the endless existential fight with the Zionist colonialist imperialist oppressor. It shoves the Israeli-Palestinian problem back to the fore, enabling you to hide your countries’ problems behind it as you have done quite successfully for generations.

As of this writing, Bibi has responded verbally to the Hezbollah threat. Speaking tonight at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, he said there is no way Hezbollah will occupy the Galilee. “Anyone who hides in a bunker will stay in a bunker,” he said, referring to Nasrallah. “We have a strong army and a united nation. We tried for peace with all of our neighbors, but the army is prepared and ready to defend Israel against any enemy.”

Interestingly, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who broke the story about the Iranian warships, is under fire for having broken ranks: the Defense Ministry had apparently decided to keep a lid on the story when he started talking. Defense Minister Ehud Barak says we’re keeping an eye on the ships but declined to comment further, other than to say that we’ve alerted “friendly nations in the region.” There’s chatter in the blogosphere right now about what we might do if pressed, but so far it’s all speculation. Suffice it to say that tensions are rising in the neighborhood, and our brand-new Chief of Staff might have some serious work to do in the not-too-distant future.

“Misleading” = A Lie

Al-Jazeera’s PaliLeaks information dump was an amazingly efficient feat of political assassination. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief peace negotiator, has resigned in disgrace, and Mahmoud Abbas is on frantic defense.

Al-Jazeera knows its assorted audiences. It was rightly confident that it could rely on many Western readers not to quibble at trifles like the strange truncation of many of the documents and their peculiar dating. It also has an exceptionally pliant handmaiden in the Guardian newspaper, which has dutifully reprinted chunks of the leaks in its eagerness to fulfill one of Al-Jazeera’s political goals — namely, the destruction of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority and the empowerment of Hamas.

To that end, the Guardian’s editors got a little free with their pruning shears. A friend in England just got in touch to tell me that the paper has a correction in today’s Corrections and Clarifications column. It reads as follows:

A quote by Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former foreign minister, within a panel that formed part of the Palestine papers, was cut in a way that may have given a misleading impression.  The quote appeared as: “The Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.”

To clarify, the full quote is: “I understand the sentiments of the Palestinians when they see the settlements being built. The meaning from the Palestinian perspective is that Israel takes more land, that the Palestinian state will be impossible, the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that it is impossible, we already have the land and cannot create the state.”


My friend sent this item to me via the blog Harry’s Place. Harry clarifies:

A story which could have been presented as showing that behind closed doors, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were moving towards making the big compromises required for peace, instead was reported as a huge con trick, treason by Abbas and Erekat, and proof that Israel was intransigent and rejectionist. Evidence which showed that this was not so was ignored, and that which was reported, was systematically misrepresented.

It was, as Abbas correctly surmised, a hit job by Al Jazeera and the Guardian on the Palestinian Authority, for the benefit of Hamas.

So, here we have a quote from an Israeli minister which in its full form shows that she is fully aware of the Palestinian perspective and sensitive to their concerns. How is it presented? Falsely, as a statement that Israel in fact aims to destroy Palestinian aspirations to statehood.

I can’t help but suspect the Guardian’s editorial board and much of its readership would have a collective orgasm if Israel were destroyed. Crushing any moderate Palestinians who happen to be littering the roadway on the way to the final dust-up is really just housekeeping.

Israel and the Palestinians: Response to a Reader

Ricochet member Joseph Eagar put up the following post earlier today in the Member Feed under the title “Calling Judith Levy, Do I Have This Right?”:

Finding credible information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is nearly impossible, and this is what I’ve managed to piece together.  I wouldn’t be surprised if much of it is wrong, as the information simply isn’t there.

You have two governments, the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel.  There are two factions, Palestinian terrorists and the Jewish settler movement.  In other to make peace, both governments must suppress both factions at the same time. Thus, if Israel cracks down on the settlers the peace process is disrupted by Palestinian terrorists, while if Palestine manages to suppress its terrorists Jewish settlers will derail the peace process.

In a clever bid to solve two birds with one stone, the Israeli government built the Gaza wall; Palestinian terrorists would be kept out, and Jewish settlers would be kept in.  This would greatly simplify the peace process.  Unfortunately, the terrorists discovered rockets and the settlers found ways around it, bringing us back to stage one.

To make life even worse, the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure is maintained, run, and financed by the Israelis.   The two governments are jointly investing in new infrastructure, but until the new sewage plants, power plants, and oil fields are completed the two-state solution cannot go forward.

Is this at all close to reality?

Glad you asked, Joseph! I’ll do my best to answer.

There are three governments operating, although only the first two are formally recognized: the State of Israel, the Palestinian Authority (Fatah), and Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. The PA governs parts of the West Bank of the Jordan River and used to also co-govern Gaza, until it was forcibly evicted by Hamas in 2007. Note that after Hamas won a majority during the 2006 legislative election, it announced that it was not going to honor any previous agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel — prompting the Americans and the Europeans to institute economic sanctions and the Egyptians and Israelis to blockade Gaza. The acute suffering of the Gazan population thus dates from Hamas’s eviction of Fatah officials and the institution of an Islamist state, a kind of mini-Taliban on the Mediterranean.

Israel is a parliamentary democracy and the PA is a government of elected representatives with executive, legislative and judicial branches. (Their term limits are on the elastic side, but technically it’s a democracy.) Domestically, the Hamas government has occupied itself with the enforcement of sharia law, which it imposed on the Gazan population and enforces by means of religious police. Because its raison d’être is jihad against the Zionist entity rather than state-building, Hamas has not accomplished much in the way of social, economic or political development. This contrasts quite strikingly with the PA, where the Palestinians’ standard of living is markedly higher.

The state of affairs in Gaza is obviously exacerbated by the dual blockade, but Hamas has done everything it can to ensure that the blockade remain in place. The suffering of the Gazan population works in Hamas’s interest, since it reinforces their narrative that they are oppressed by the Israelis. Hamas, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, forces its civilians onto the front line by concealing arms and launching attacks on Israel from within population centers, forbidding civilians to evacuate even when warned in advance by Israel of coming air strikes, and so on. (Gazans have many reasons to be dissatisfied with the Hamas government, which is why Hamas was so careful to squelch any protests sympathizing with the Egyptians.)

The PA has been attempting fitfully to negotiate peace with Israel; Hamas not only refuses to consider such a thing but aspires to the total destruction of the state of Israel. Both the PA and Hamas claim jurisdiction over one another’s territories, but in practice, the territories function separately. (There is a Hamas presence on the West Bank that is a thorn in the PA’s side; there is also a Fatah presence in Gaza that has clashed with Hamas.) The PA, in an attempt to forestall unrest in the wake of the Egyptian revolution, called for early elections that would apply to both the West Bank and Gaza, but Hamas denied its authority to do so.

The PA, and occasionally Hamas, will from time to time use language for foreign audiences designed to present an image of all Palestinians as a united front, but in reality, the Fatah-based PA and Islamist Hamas are natural enemies. In the event that Israel is removed from the picture, the PA and Hamas — assuming anybody’s still standing — will not share power; they will fight it out until one of them wins.

In your question, Joseph, you’ve created a parallelism between Palestinian terrorists and Jewish settlers, and I must take issue with you there. While I understand the point you’re making — Palestinian terrorists and Jewish settlers both oppose the peace process and do what they can to disrupt it — it’s an inappropriate analogy, for the simple reason that Jewish settlers do not terrorize either the Palestinian population or the Israeli population that disagrees with them. For the most part, Israeli settlers spend their time trying to live as peacefully as possible. (The settlers of Ariel, for instance, had warm relations with their Palestinian neighbors for years, until Arafat decreed that such companionable relations should cease. He backed up that order by having Palestinian “collaborators” kneecapped and occasionally murdered.)

Now, it’s certainly true that the settlers are trying to create facts on the ground by building as much as they can, and this most definitely inhibits the peace process. There is tension on occasion between settlers and Palestinians, there is hostility, there is ugly behavior, there are even clashes. But there has only been one instance — the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre in 1994 — when a settler committed an act of full-scale, indiscriminate terrorism against Palestinian civilians, and that act was abhorred by the vast majority of settlers and by almost the entire population of Israel. Please do not conflate terrorists whose object is to kill or maim as many Israelis as possible — who teach their children that their greatest aspiration should be to grow up to become mass murderers and suicides — with settlers who want to live on their ancestral homeland, at peace (however chilly) with their neighbors. I’m a secular Israeli living inside the Green Line myself, but that kind of equivalence sticks in my craw.

That said, let’s look at your question.

The Palestinian terrorists we’re referring to are Hamas (as well as other Islamist groups based in Gaza, some of which are more extreme and threaten Hamas’s authority). The PA cannot crack down on Hamas in Gaza and Hamas is obviously not going to crack down on itself. Nobody’s going to crack down on Hamas besides Israel herself, and she does so (despite what you may have read) with extreme caution. It might help to clarify all this in your mind if you remember that Israel is trying to make peace with the PA, not Hamas. Hamas is outside the process, as it wishes to be and as it should be. It views the PA as traitors and sellouts for negotiating with Israel and will always step up to act as spoiler when it appears that progress is being made on the peace front. The settlers, for their part, view their settlement of Judea and Samaria as a race against time: they are trying to create an irrevocable Jewish presence on the homeland before the land is given away. Many settlements are indeed substantial enough and long-standing enough to have become permanent fixtures; the open question is whether their inhabitants will ultimately reside in Israel or Palestine. (The PA has said that it wants Palestine to be Judenrein, however, which complicates the peace process considerably.)

You refer to “the Gaza wall” in your question, and I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Do you mean the blockade of Gaza, which Israel and Egypt enforced in 2007 when Hamas took complete control? Or do you mean the security fence between Israel and parts of the West Bank? If the latter, you’re reading too much strategy into it. The point of the fence was simple: to put a stop to the constant stream of terrorists coming into Israel and killing people. I’m a big fan of the fence for the simple reason that it has saved countless lives. Once Arafat made the strategic decision to kick off the second intifada toward the end of 2000, Palestinians committed dozens and dozens of terrorist acts against Israeli civilians — acts that killed almost 300 citizens and wounded almost 2,000 in the three years before the fence went up. Once it was built, the number of attacks plummeted by 90%. Islamic Jihad has even admitted publicly that the fence has hampered their ability to strike Israeli civilians. The fence seems to make people break out in hives in Brussels, but over here, a lot of us think it’s swell.

You refer next to Hamas “discovering” rockets. It didn’t have to discover them: its foreign policy focus is and has always been exclusively anti-Israel jihad, and they’ll keep hitting us with whatever Iran sends them. If the rockets they shoot through the roofs of Sderot kindergartens provoke an IDF response, so much the better, from their point of view. The settlers, for their part, will build as much and as fast as they can. Their argument is simple: we gave up land for peace when we pulled out of the settlements in Gaza, and were rewarded with an even more emboldened and violent Palestinian enemy. By what logic should we make the same mistake and pull out of the settlements of the West Bank?

As to your infrastructure question: The Gaza Strip is indeed dependent on Israel for much of its electricity, water and other infrastructure requirements (although I just learned this week that it gets most of its fuel from Egypt through the smuggling tunnels). Over 70% of Gaza’s electricity is provided by power plants in Ashkelon, a city inside sovereign Israel. (Hamas regularly aims rockets towards Ashkelon, which might seem counterproductive, but remember the upside to Hamas in cranking up Gazans’ misery level.) Now, in your question, you jump from a reference to Gaza’s infrastructure to a reference to “the two governments,” but it’s not clear which two governments you’re referring to. Israel and Hamas are certainly not cooperating on new infrastructure, and the PA has shown itself dangerously (and oddly) unconcerned with infrastructure development. A recently published study indicates that over 60% of the PA’s GDP is from foreign donations. The PA has not funneled those donations into infrastructure or business development, but has used them primarily to subsidize government institutions. To all intents and purposes, the West Bank Palestinians don’t have a functioning economy. Once the donations dry up, they’re in trouble. (And when the Palestinians are in trouble, so are we.)

You suggest at the end of your question that a two-state solution can’t go forward until joint infrastructure projects are completed. I haven’t heard anything of the kind. There are lots of other reasons why the two-state solution can’t go forward — the collapse of the Israeli left following the surge in Hamas violence that resulted from the Gaza disengagement, the disillusionment on both sides about the other’s good faith, the reinforcement of Israel’s security anxieties by the turmoil in the Arab world, the possible reintroduction of a hostile front to the west coupled with the political empowerment of Hezbollah to the north, the constant flow of money and materiel to Hamas via Iran, the refusal of the PA to countenance a Jewish presence in Palestine following an agreement coupled with the settlers’ refusal to leave, the growing anxiety within the Green Line that the land-for-peace formula was never viable in the first place, the new perspective recent events have provided that show the Israeli-Palestinian problem not to be the crux of the Arab world’s concerns, and more. But I don’t think infrastructure’s the hold-up.

Joseph, that brings us to the end of your question. I hope you’re less confused than you were before you asked it. Each element can be answered at great length, and I’ve had to rein myself in a bit. Please let me know if I’ve confused more than clarified. I’ll do my best to clear up anything that might still be unclear.

Clapper Must Go

Here’s what James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, had to say about the Muslim Brotherhood at a House Intelligence Committee hearing yesterday (emphasis added):

“The term ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ … is an umbrella term for a variety of movements, in the case of Egypt, a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried Al Qaeda as a perversion of Islam. They have pursued social ends, a betterment of the political order in Egypt, et cetera. … In other countries, there are also chapters or franchises of the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally.” … He said the group fills a vacuum caused by the absence of government services, but added, “It is not necessarily with a view to promoting violence or overthrow of the state.”

John Podhoretz of Commentary was apparently as startled as I was by these remarks. He called Clapper’s assessment

one of the most reckless and irresponsible statements ever made publicly by an American official at a critical and delicate moment. If one of the key figures in the making of the administration’s foreign policy is already making excuses for the Muslim Brotherhood, the president needs to signal immediately that the United States does not view this evil and destructive force with rose-colored glasses. Hard to say how Obama can do that in a way that will be meaningful and still allow Clapper to remain in his office.

So just what the hell was this? A simple gaffe? Too detailed. A calculated sound byte intended to give the Brotherhood a false sense of security? Oh, they’re feeling secure, all right. Between this clown and CIA Director Leon Panetta getting his Mubarak intel from CNN, US intelligence is the gift that keeps on giving.

There are two possibilities, and they’re both appalling. One is that Clapper knew everything he was saying was a gross distortion of reality but said it anyway, thereby deliberately misleading the American people and giving aid and comfort to a group whose interests are completely antithetical to those of the United States. The other is that Clapper is genuinely ignorant of the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood, a thought that is just about as unnerving as can be imagined.

If it needs to be to pointed out to the Director of National Intelligence that Google is his friend, we are in a boatload of trouble, folks. I wish I was kidding.

Patience Is a Virtue: A Muslim Brotherhood Primer

Head’s up, confused Western punditocracy!

There’s a critical cultural dissonance that I suspect explains a lot of the naive foolishness being displayed by long-distance observers about the Muslim Brotherhood and its alleged shift away from a violent ideology and towards moderation.

The Western world — particularly Americans — and the Arab world have completely different ways of thinking about time. Americans think in four-year cycles, eight years on the outside. The Arab world — particularly the ideologically driven Arab world — thinks in centuries. The Muslim Brotherhood (the Ikhwan) was founded eighty-three years ago, and is continuing toward the same goals it had when it was founded. Its tactics have altered to ensure its survival, but its ultimate strategy remains the same.

How can we know that for sure? Easy. Read what they write for their own constituency. Yesterday, Palestine Media Watch released a new translation of Jihad is the Way, the final installment of a five-volume work called The Laws of Da’wa by Mustafa Mashhur. Mashhur ran the Brotherhood in Egypt from 1996 through 2002. In it, Mashhur lays out the Brotherhood’s agenda as follows:

  • The goal of Islam is global conquest and the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate: “The Islamic ummah [the international community of Muslims] can regain its power and be liberated and assume its rightful position which was intended by Allah, as the most exalted nation among men, as the leaders of humanity…you [Muslims] are the masters of the world, even if your enemies desire your degradation.”
  • The means of conquest must be jihad: “[J]ihad and preparation towards jihad are not only for the purpose of fending off assaults and attacks of Allah’s enemies from Muslims, but are also for the purpose of realizing the great task of establishing an Islamic state and strengthening the religion and spreading it around the world…there is no other option but jihad for Allah…”
  • Jihad must be waged everywhere: “Jihad for Allah is not limited to the specific region of the Islamic countries, since the Muslim homeland is one and is not divided, and the banner of Jihad has already been raised in some of its parts, and shall continue to be raised, with the help of Allah, until every inch of the land of Islam will be liberated, and the State of Islam established.”
  • It is the duty of every Muslim to wage jihad: “[Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna] felt the grave danger overshadowing the Muslims and the urgent need and obligation which Islam places on every Muslim, man and woman, to act in order to restore the Islamic Caliphate and to reestablish the Islamic state on strong foundations.”
  • Muslims must be patient: ““The Brotherhood is not rushed by youth’s enthusiasm into immature and unplanned action which will not alter the bad reality and may even harm the Islamic activity, and will benefit the people of falsehood…it is not necessary that the Muslims repel every attack or damage caused by the enemies of Allah immediately, but [only] when ability and the circumstances are fit to it.”

I call your attention particularly to that last point. Americans are eager to believe that because the Brotherhood is not using jihadist language or imagery now, its goals must have changed. If you fall in with this view, you are, quite frankly, allowing yourself to be played. Take a look, as Big Peace has done, at the different messages the Brotherhood puts forward on its English-language and Arabic-language websites. (Cute little girls play a lot better in Peoria than crossed sabers.) Consider the tactics of the Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, which has offered its Gaza constituency nothing but a culture of violence. Above all, read their own writings. They’re in full view.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been waiting for its moment since 1928. We’re talking eternity here. Come on. What’s another ten, fifteen years?

The Ayatollah Khameini Explains It All For You

Iran’s mullahs are falling all over themselves to take credit for the wave of democratic fervor sweeping Egypt. Poverty, unemployment, oppression by a corrupt government — bah! According to the Ayatollah Khameini’s Friday sermon, it was the 1979 Iranian revolution that inspired the protesters in Tahrir Square. Isn’t it obvious? (This claim contrasts quite strikingly, by the way, with the movement afoot to assign credit to George W. Bush and his Freedom Agenda for the Egyptians’ newly awakened desire for democracy. Both claims are fishy, though one much more than the other.)

The loopy suggestion that the Iranian theocracy is the guiding light for the Egyptian protesters is no doubt particularly offensive to the throngs of pro-democracy Iranians who tried in vain to wrest their country out of the hands of those same mullahs in 2009. They, not the Ayatollah Khameini and his ilk, are the true antecedents to the demonstrators in Cairo. The Iranian leadership understands this very well, and is now closely monitoring the citizenry to prevent any reignition of the Green Movement as a result of the upheaval in Egypt.

Khameini’s attempt to verbally hijack the Egyptian democratic movement for an Islamist cause had a clear purpose: to remind Islamist fellow travelers in Egypt that the situation represents a great opportunity. (He helpfully switched from Farsi to Arabic during his sermon to ensure comprehension among Egyptian listeners.) Khameini urged the Egyptian protesters not to back down “until the implementation of a popular regime based on religion” — an admirably clear instruction that should serve to remind liberal democrats abroad, eager to welcome Islamists into any future Egyptian government in the name of tolerance and inclusion, just what is at stake here.

The American government might be a little fuzzy on this premise, but the Egyptian government is not. Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told MENA (the Egyptian state news agency) that Iran has “crossed all red lines”  by purporting to “jump on Egypt’s aspirations or those of its youth.” “The political and public movements towards reform in Egypt alone will design the future of the country and not the wishes of the mullahs of Iran,” he said. “Instead of seeking to distract the Iranian people with Egypt’s political movements, the Supreme Leader should look to Iran and its people who have been aspiring to freedom from an oppressive system.”

The mullahs’ specious claim to credit provides a useful corrective. It reminds us that the Egyptian pro-democracy movement is not — yet — an Islamist movement in sheep’s clothing, but is vulnerable to such co-option and must be protected. It illuminates the divide between the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt’s homegrown fundamentalists) and the protesters themselves, whose expressed goals are primarily economic, social and political rather than jihadist.

The Brotherhood, in keeping with its shiny new image as an organization of political moderates, has decried the Iranian call to arms as a misrepresentation of the Egyptian democracy movement. That’s the kind of talk that opens doors, not death-to-Israel ranting. The Brotherhood’s canniness is already paying substantial dividends: it will almost certainly cease to be outlawed and will probably be on the ballot in the next election.

That might not seem like much — everybody’s entitled, right? — but if you want to know where it can lead, ask Sa’ad Hariri. Until very recently, he was Prime Minister of Lebanon. The militant Islamist group Hezbollah — which, by the way, is shortly to be indicted by a UN tribunal for assassinating Sa’ad’s father Rafik when he sat in the PM’s chair — muscled its way into the Lebanese government and now owns it. It didn’t take very long, either.

The Brotherhood’s success in Egypt will depend in large part on American credulousness. It is concealing its Islamist agenda behind a smokescreen of Western-friendly language, but that agenda hasn’t changed one jot. The Brotherhood’s true goals are easily found by anyone with the inclination to look. The White House and State Department appear unconvinced by the ideological link that connects Iran’s mullahs to Egypt’s Islamists. Maybe the Ayatollah Khameini can get their attention.

It’s a Dog’s Life, Being a Spy

Both the head of Mossad and the CIA are taking heat for not having seen the Mideast turmoil coming. Obama’s apparently thoroughly ticked that the CIA didn’t see either how the Tunisian uprising would end or what it would lead to in other states. I ran this by my husband, who’s a mathematician, just to see him blow a gasket. (Hey, it’s fun.)

Sure enough, he pronounced the eagerness to slam the intelligence services “complete [expletive deleted].” “If they put the odds of a revolution in Egypt at only 5% and then it happened, does that make them wrong?” he said. He then mentioned Michael Lewis’s book The Big Short, which is about people who shorted subprime and made a killing when the real estate bubble popped. The implication is that the people who did this possessed rare and admirable foresight. They did, but so did lots of other people who shorted subprime but did it too early. They got slaughtered, and nobody’s writing books about them.

Timing is everything, in other words, and getting timing right in any sphere has more to do with luck than most anything else. There are plenty of circumstances under which intelligence services should be taken to task, but not predicting a wave of revolutionary fervor that has managed to fail to burst forth for thirty years might not be one of them.

Whither the Egyptian Army?

The situation in Egypt has devolved to deadly clashes between pro- and anti-Mubarak protesters wielding broken bottles, knives, clubs, swords, whips, and petrol bombs, and there are reports of automatic weapons fire being directed at the anti-government camp. Pro-Mubarak men charged anti-government protesters last night on horseback and camelback. Haaretz is reporting five dead so far and at least 800 injured.

But there’s more going on here on than a no-holds-barred counterrevolution. Eyewitness accounts in Tahrir Square describe large numbers of pro-Mubarak demonstrators arriving on trucks and simultaneously closing off the exits. That’s a tactical approach that suggests that they were riot police in civilian clothes.

But where was the army during all this?

The army has stated that it will not fire on anti-government protesters, and we’ve seen moving images of soldiers showing their solidarity with those protesters. It’s tempting to infer — particularly as the Egyptian army is an army of conscripts, not an army of volunteers — that the army is in the anti-government camp. But when the riot police stood down over the weekend and looting swept the streets, the army did not step in to protect citizens from rampant destruction of property, theft and rape. Now, too — with the protests descending into full-scale battle — the army is doing almost nothing other than urge the protesters to disperse for their own safety. What’s going on? Whose side are they on?

Don’t count them out of the regime’s corner just yet. Remember that Mubarak is the head of the Egyptian Air Force. He’s a military man, and he can think strategically. He appears to have used the riot police quite skillfully to engineer a choice between him and total chaos. He may be using the army just as cleverly. He wants to see his just-appointed VP, General Omar Suleiman, succeed him to the presidency. It’s very much in his interest to have the people clamoring for the army to intervene.

It’s impossible to know at this point whether the original decision by the army to hold its fire against the demonstrators was an order from on high or a contravention of them, but in either case, Mubarak is fully capable of exploiting it. Mubarak remembers — as we all should — that there are a lot more Egyptians than the thousands demonstrating against him in Tahrir Square. The army’s current inaction serves Mubarak’s purpose, since it reminds the rest of Egypt’s 80-million-strong population what instability looks like.

The X-factor remains whether or not the army will help Mubarak achieve his object, which is to keep himself in place until the next election and ensure Suleiman’s succession. The odds are high that the army will fall in line. If it were inclined to break the chain of command, tanks would probably already have stormed the presidential palace.

An Alternative to ElBaradei? + Mubarak Supporters Make Some Noise

The Post is reporting that Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, could be a contender for the presidency of Egypt. This idea is reported to be coming from UN sources.

Moussa has already been Egypt’s foreign minister and was Egypt’s ambassador to the US during the first Gulf War. According to the Post, he’s got “much better name recognition inside Egypt [than does ElBaradei] and enjoys a much better relationship with Mubarak,” a point that could now prove to be a liability (although one never knows; see below). His term at the Arab League expires in two months.

And in the Never Assume department, the Post is reporting that thousands of Egyptians turned out to march in support of Mubarak last night following his announcement that he would not seek reelection. In Alexandria, clashes broke out between Mubarak supporters and anti-government protesters. In the posh Cairo neighborhood of Mohandiseen, “[s]everal thousand people outside Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque…waved Egyptian flags and carried a large printed banner with Mubarak’s face. Many passing cars honked in apparent support.”

This ain’t over till it’s over, folks.