3 August 2014

Gaza Fighting Intensifies as Cease-Fire Falls Apart

By JODI RUDOREN and ISABEL KERSHNER
AUG. 1, 2014
 
Israeli officials said Second Lt. Hadar Goldin was abducted; two other soldiers were killed.

JERUSALEM — Palestinian militants sprang from the ground and confronted Israeli soldiers Friday morning, as they have repeatedly in recent days. This time, Israeli officials said, one exploded a suicide belt while another unleashed machine-gun fire. This time, two Israeli soldiers were killed and the militants apparently escaped with a third.

The attack, at the start of what was supposed to be a 72-hour pause in the fighting, escalated the deadly 25-day battle between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist faction that dominates the Gaza Strip.

Israel said the attack, from under a house near the southern border town of Rafah, took place at 9:20 a.m., soon after the 8 a.m. onset of the temporary truce secured by the Obama administration and the United Nations, whose leaders squarely blamed the breakdown on Hamas.Continue reading the main story

Hamas’s account was confused. One leader was quoted claiming responsibility for the soldier’s capture, then backtracked. Others contended that the clash unfolded at 7 a.m., before the cease-fire, although Palestinian reports of fighting near Rafah came three hours later. And one said that in any case, the Hamas gunmen acted only to counter “Zionist incursions.

What was clear was that the episode dimmed prospects for curtailing a conflict that has killed more than 1,600 Palestinians, many of them women and children, and plunged Gaza into a humanitarian crisis. Israel responded with an assault that killed 70 people and injured 350 around Rafah alone as troops sealed the area to hunt for the missing officer amid mounting pressure from Israeli politicians and the public to expand the military mission.

The deadly attack and counterattack sharpened a sense that intensive diplomacy is proving ineffective and irrelevant to the asymmetrical combat on the ground. Secretary of State John Kerry had made clear in announcing the cease-fire that Israel would be allowed to continue operating against tunnels from Gaza into its territory, something one Hamas spokesman indicated Friday was contrary to “the Palestinian understanding with mediating parties.”

The events renewed command-and-control questions about Hamas, a guerrilla group torn by rivalries and communication snags between its military and political rulers in Gaza and abroad. They also suggested neither side is ready for an exit ramp until its goals are met: for Israel, destruction of the tunnels and a halt to rocket fire from Gaza, and for Hamas, a score that can be leveraged to change the social and economic conditions of Gaza’s 1.7 million beleaguered people.

“It’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through,” President Obama said on Friday at the White House. He called the killing of civilians in Gaza “heartbreaking” and said, “It’s possible we may be able to arrive at a formula that spares lives and also ensures Israel’s security, but it’s difficult, and I don’t think we should pretend otherwise.”Photo
Palestinians left their home in the southern border town of Rafah on Friday to head for a safer location after Israeli airstrikes. CreditWissam Nassar for The New York Times

Israel’s Iron Dome is more like an iron sieve

By David Axe
JULY 25, 2014

Israel’s vaunted Iron Dome defense system is more like an iron sieve. It fails to destroy all but a few of the rockets that Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups fire at Israeli communities. But Israel’s early-warning civil-defense systems have proved highly effective.

The radar-guided Iron Dome missile, meant to intercept and smash incoming rockets in the seconds before they strike their targets, works just a small fraction of the time, according to a detailed analysis carried out by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The study was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Ploughshares Fund.

Ted Postol, a physicist at the university and an expert in missiles and missile defenses, has found evidence that only about 5 percent of Iron Dome engagements result in the targeted rocket being destroyed or even sufficiently damaged to disable its explosive warhead. In the other 95 percent of cases, the interceptor either misses entirely or just lightly damages the enemy munition, allowing the rocket’s intact warhead to continue arcing toward the ground.
Postol based his conclusion on a careful analysis of amateur videos and photos of Iron Dome interceptions over the past three years. He admitted that most of his data is from a previous round of fighting in 2012. “The data we have collected so far [for 2014], however, indicate the performance of Iron Dome has not markedly improved,” Postol wrote on the website of the nonprofit Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

ISRAEL AND GAZA: FORCE IS FUTILE

July 31, 2014 ·

Since Israel’s Operation Protective Edge began on July 8, over 1,221 Palestinians and 56 Israelis have died in thefighting. Among the Palestinian deaths, the majority have been civilian, and the toll on both sides continues to rise and the violence shows no signs of subsiding. As Egypt tries to mediate between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), in Paris U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is working with foreign ministers from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Qatar to achieve a ceasefire. However, an end to the violence alone, though essential, will not be enough. As past experience demonstrates, previous ceasefire agreements with Hamas such as those in 2008 and 2012 proved to be stopgap measures, with repetitive refrains and hollow commitments that faltered when they no longer served the interests of either side and which failed to address the underlying grievances that fuel this conflict. Neither Israel nor Hamas can decisively win this conflict at the expense of the other: force is futile. Without a commitment to a more comprehensive and creative political and socio-economic solution from all sides, history is destined to repeat itself.

Israel’s current approach is reminiscent of its strategy during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, which did little to deter Hamas despite Israeli claims to the contrary. The use of air strikes and the military incursion of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) into Gaza have three principle objectives: to weaken Hamas and its capabilities, to protect Israeli citizens from rocket and missile attacks, and to dismantle a network of tunnels which extend from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Rocket fire has been a staple approach of Hamas and other militants, but Hamas now has more effective, accurate and longer-range rockets (such as M-302s), which have targeted Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, causing greater concern about the implications for Israeli citizens. This has been exacerbated by the discovery of what Israelis term “terror tunnels” stretching from Gaza into Israel. These came to light when thirteen Hamas militants emerged with equipment and in IDF uniforms from a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa. Israeli intelligence subsequently uncovered a wider network of tunnels and a concerted plan for militants to infiltrate Israel. It is a discovery that has surprised Israel, making it more conscious of the porous nature of its borders and the changing nature of Hamas’ tactics, and feeding into wider fears and insecurities about attacks from the Gaza Strip. Resolving these vulnerabilities, as Operation Cast Lead was not decisive, is guiding Israel’s approach and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated this week that the operation will be protracted until the mission is accomplished.

Japan, US Conduct Amphibious Landing Exercises

July 31, 2014

The exercises took place on the sidelines of RIMPAC 2014. 
The Japaneses Self-Defense Forces (SDF) exercised amphibious landings this month with U.S. forces in Hawaii, according to the Associated Press. The Japanese military has emphasized amphibious landings recently as tensions have risen with China over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands specifically and more generally in the region. In any scenario where Tokyo would have to reclaim territory it currently administers through the use of military force, it would need to be ready for an amphibious landing — one of the toughest imaginable scenarios for a modern military.

The exercise took place on the sidelines of the broader RIMPAC 2014 maritime exercise, which is also taking place in the waters off Hawaii this month. According to the AP, “Helicopters dropped a reconnaissance team of Japanese soldiers into the ocean off a beach at a U.S. Marine Corps base during Rim of the Pacific exercises on Tuesday. The soldiers climbed aboard inflatable rafts and inspected the shoreline before waves of U.S., Australian and Indonesian marines followed in amphibious vehicles.”

Japan first drew attention to its interest in honing the SDF’s capability to wage amphibious warfare last October when it announced an exercise involving 34,000 troops performing a similar drill in Okinawa. The SDF’s interest in island warfare clearly stems from the possibility of conflict with China over disputed islets in the East China Sea.

The Naval Diplomat, James Holmes, describes ”seizing an island held by dug-in invaders” as one of the “stiffest challenges amphibious forces face.” For the Japanese military, the prospect of retaking an island is very real, hence the emphasis during the last year on amphibious landing exercises. Additionally, with the Japanese government’s recent decision to pass a resolution reinterpretating the Japanese constitution’s ban on collective self-defense, Japanese forces may find themselves fighting outside of their immediate neighborhood.

Brad Glosserman, executive director of CSIS’s Pacific Forum, told the AP that by participating in these exercises, Japan is additionally communicating to the United States “the value of Japan as a partner, as an ally, and as a country that’s prepared to defend itself and be ready to defend its own territory which the United States is also obliged to defend.”


Israel: Hamas Prays For Pain

August 1, 2014

A 72 hour ceasefire began today in Gaza. Hamas has insisted that no ceasefire was possible unless Israel stops all military operations but Israel insisted that its troops would continue moving in shooting in parts of Gaza their troops now occupied. Hamas has been forced to accept that reality. 

The third war with Hamas continues with this one now in its 25th day. So far about 1,500 have died and over 7,000 wounded with 96 percent of the casualties being Palestinian. About a quarter of the 1.8 million people in Gaza have fled their homes, often after a specific warning (sometimes delivered by Israel via telephone) to get out to avoid Israeli bombs. This disproportionate outcome is all fairly typical of all the Arab-Israeli wars since 1948. After its founding in 1948 Israeli strategy was based on the concept of “never again” (will there be a mass slaughter as happened in World War II when anti-Semitic Germans killed six million Jews.) But by returning to Israel (from whence most Jews had been expelled 1,900 years ago) the Jews had to contend with the Arabs, who backed the German World War II anti-Semitic policies (and still do) and were obsessed with ancient grievances with each other and many outside the region. Add to that over a trillion dollars in Arab oil income since World War II and you have a very volatile and noxious situation. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Arabs are militarily inept. Thus the far more numerous (in numbers of troops and modern weapons) Arab forces were defeated time after time from 1948 to 1973 before Arabs realized that conventional war with tiny Israel was not going to work. 

These numerous battlefield defeats led to the development of an Arab passive-aggressive strategy that exploited Western media to slowly erode Western support for Israel. This seemed like a long shot back in the 1970s, but it was the only option Arabs had and despite growing criticism from within the Arab world, the “Israel must be destroyed at any cost” idea remained a bedrock of Arab foreign policy ever since. The new strategy considered dead Arab civilians killed by Israelis defending themselves to be the key to victory. Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon became the major practitioners of this cynical and callous strategy. The basic idea was to store the rockets and other weapons in residential areas and either convince (with years of propaganda, which continues to this day) that it is the duty of Arab (Palestinian or Lebanese) civilians to remain in their homes to be human shields for the rockets. Backing up the propaganda was threats of force against civilians who tried to flee. Many civilians do flee, but enough remain (sometimes via coercion) in the vicinity of the unlaunched rockets to provide dead bodies. 
The Arabs knew that the dead civilians would be portrayed as innocent victims and make the Israelis look like the bad guys. Yet most people living in a Western democracy would react as the Israelis do to Arab attacks. But this reality, the Arabs knew, would be buried under the more newsworthy (and profitable) coverage of the dead civilians. As the saying goes in mass media, “if it bleeds it leads.” Many Western journalists are not happy with this and understand that if their neighborhood were being hit by rockets they would demand that their government do something to stop it. But business is business and the “dead civilian” strategy works.

The rise of Putinism



Russian President Vladimir Putin heads the Cabinet meeting in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence, outside Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, July 30, 2014. The meeting focused on measures to encourage Russian companies to pull their assets back from offshores. The United States and the European Union on Tuesday announced a raft of new sanctions against Russian companies and banks over Moscow’s support for separatists in Ukraine. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service) (Alexei Nikolsky/AP)

By Fareed Zakaria Opinion writer July 31

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fareed-zakaria-the-rise-of-putinism/2014/07/31/2c9711d6-18e7-11e4-9e3b-7f2f110c6265_story.html
When the Cold War ended, Hungary occupied a special place in the story of the revolutions of 1989. It was the first country in the Soviet orbit to abandon communism and embrace liberal democracy. Today it is again a trendsetter, becoming the first European country to denounce and distance itself from liberal democracy. It is adopting a new system and set of values that are best exemplified by Vladimir Putin’s Russia but are finding echoes in other countries as well.

In a major speech last weekend, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban explained that his country is determined to build a new political model — illiberal democracy. This caught my eye because in 1997, I wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs using that same phrase to describe a dangerous trend. Democratic governments, often popular, were using their mandates to erode individual rights, the separation of powers and the rule of law. But even I never imagined that a national leader — from Europe no less — would use the term as a badge of honor.

“The most popular topic in thinking today is trying to understand how systems that are not Western, not liberal, not liberal democracies and perhaps not even democracies can nevertheless make their nations successful,” Orban said. For him, the world changed fundamentally in 2008 with what he calls “the great Western financial collapse.” Since then, he argues, American power has been in decline and liberal values today embody “corruption, sex and violence.” Western Europe has become a land of “freeloaders on the backs of welfare systems.” The illiberal role models for the future, he explains, are Russia, Turkey, China, Singapore and India.

Leaving aside his odd list (India?), Orban’s actions over the past few years demonstrate that his own role model has been Russia under Putin. Orban has enacted and implemented in Hungary a version of what can best be described as “Putinism.” To understand it, we need to go back to its founder.

Update on the Security Situation in Somalia and Yemen

Gulf of Aden Security Review
July 31, 2014

Yemen: Suspected AQAP militant opens fire on local trader’s house in Hadramawt; tribal gunmen detonate IEDs near oil pipeline in Ma’rib; Yemen officials extradite Saudi affiliates of AQAP

Horn of Africa: Al Shabaab militants attack AMISOM and Jubbaland security forces in Lower Jubba region; AMISOM and SNA forces seize territory from al Shabaab in Bay region; suspected al Shabaab militants kill Somali security officer in Mogadishu

Yemen Security Brief 
A suspected al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militant raided the house of Ahmed Babkair, a local trader, and opened fire in the Mansoura neighborhood of al Shihr, Hadramawt on July 30, wounding Babkair’s son.[1]

Armed tribesmen detonated two improvised explosive devices (IED) near an oil pipeline in the Habab area of Wadi Abida, Ma’rib on July 30.[2]
Yemen authorities extradited to Saudi Arabia eight Saudi nationals, suspected of AQAP affiliation, on July 31. Seven of the detainees were male and one was the wife of a detained member of al Qaeda.[3]

Horn of Africa Security Brief 
Al Shabaab militants attacked African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Jubbaland security forces near Kismayo, Lower Jubba region on July 30. Jubbaland Administration officials reported that at least ten al Shabaab militants were killed during the confrontation.[4]

AMISOM and Somali National Army (SNA) forces seized Qansadere district on July 30 after al Shabaab militants withdrew from the district. The militants vacated the area without confrontation as AMISOM and SNA forces prepared for an offensive against al Shabaab in the district.[5]
Two suspected al Shabaab militants killed a Somali security officer in Bakara Market in Mogadishu on July 30. Somali security forces, responding to the incident, killed the two suspects as they were fleeing the market. Afterwards, Somali security forces closed the market and conducted a security operation in the surrounding area, detaining an unspecified number of suspects.[6]

[1] “Trader survives assassination attempt in al Shihr although his son receives an injury,” Aden al Ghad, July 31, 2014 [Arabic]. Available:http://adenalghad.net/news/115554/#.U9opgFappuY

[2] “Oil pipeline explodes in Arq area of Wadi Abida, Ma’rib,” Barakish Net, July 30, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://www.barakish.net/news.aspx?cat=12&sub=23&id=140717

“Second explosion targets oil pipeline in Ma’rib,” al Masdar, July 31, 2014 [Arabic]. Available: http://almasdaronline.com/article/60419

[3] “Yemen repatriates 8 Saudi Al-Qaeda suspects,” Daily Star, July 31, 2014. Available: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2014/Jul-31/265601-yemen-repatriates-8-saudi-qaeda-suspects.ashx#axzz3945E6n8U

[4] “Fierce violence erupts near Kismayo,” Shabelle News, July 31, 2014. Available: http://shabelle.net/?p=26873

“10 Al Shabaab fighters killed on the outskirts of Kismayo,” Bar Kulan, July 31, 2014. Available: http://www.bar-kulan.com/2014/07/31/10-al-shabaab-fighters-killed-on-the-outskirts-of-kismayo/

[5] “Al-shabab withdrew from Qansaxdhere district in Bay region,” Goobjoog News, July 31, 2014. Available: http://goobjoog.com/english/?p=1913

[6] “Federal government forces shot dead Al-shabab members in Bakara Market,” Goobjoog News, July 31, 2014. Available: http://goobjoog.com/english/?p=1905

“SOMALIA: Security swoop starts parts of Mogadishu including Bakara market,” RBC Radio, July 31, 2014. Available: http://www.raxanreeb.com/2014/07/somalia-security-swoop-starts-parts-of-mogadishu-including-bakara-market/

Gaza Strip Cease-fire Quickly Unravels

August 1, 2014
Gaza Truce Unravels Within Hours

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A three-day Gaza cease-fire that began Friday quickly unraveled, with Israel and Hamas accusing each other of violating the truce as four Palestinians were killed in a heavy exchange of fire in the southern town of Rafah.

The cease-fire, announced by the U.S. and the U.N. hours earlier, took effect at 8:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) Friday after heavy fighting that killed 17 Palestinians and five Israeli soldiers.

Israel and Hamas agreed to halt all aggressive operations and conduct only defensive missions. But U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned there were “no guarantees” that the lull would bring an end to the war, now in its fourth week.

Nearly two hours after the cease-fire went into effect, Israeli tanks shelled the eastern part of Rafah, which lies close to Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt, killing at least four people and wounding 15, said Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra and Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. An Israeli Army spokesman said a heavy exchange of fire had erupted in the Rafah area, without providing further details.

"Once again, Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza have blatantly broken the cease-fire to which they committed, this time before the American Secretary of State and the U.N. Secretary General," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

Israel launched an aerial campaign against Gaza aimed at halting Palestinian rocket fire on July 8 and later sent in ground troops to target launch sites and tunnels used by Hamas to carry out attacks inside Israel. The war has killed more than 1,450 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and more than 60 Israelis, nearly all soldiers.

At least four short humanitarian cease-fires have been announced since the conflict began, but each has been broken within a few hours by renewed fighting. Friday’s temporary cease-fire was the longest to be announced thus far.

Under the cease-fire, Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza can continue to destroy tunnels along the heavily guarded frontier, but only those that are behind Israeli defensive lines and lead into Israel.

Netanyahu on Thursday vowed to destroy Hamas’ tunnel network “with or without a cease-fire.” But military spokesman Moti Almoz told Army Radio on Friday that Israel would not be able to eliminate the tunnel threat “100 percent.”

Soon after the cease-fire went into force, Gaza’s residents took advantage of the truce to return to their homes, many of which had been destroyed in the fighting. Some arrived on tuk-tuks — three-wheeled taxis — by car or on foot to retrieve their belongings.

Near a main road in in the heavily bombarded Gaza district of Shijaiyah, less than a mile from the Israeli border, residents surveyed extensive damage.

Basem Abul Qumbus returned to find his three-story home — in which he had invested tens of thousands of dollars — uninhabitable. Tank shells had punched a hole in the ceiling of one bedroom and a wall had collapsed into the kitchen.

"The work of all those years is gone," he said, as he struggled to salvage flour from bags that had been torn apart by shrapnel. Food supplies are running short in the blockaded coastal territory in the war’s fourth week.

Egypt issued a statement early Friday calling on the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and Israel to send negotiation teams to Cairo to discuss “all issues of concern to each party within the framework of the Egyptian initiative.”

Egypt had put forth a cease-fire proposal a week after fighting began last month. Israel accepted the proposal, but Hamas, which deeply mistrusts Egypt following last summer’s overthrow of an Islamist government in Cairo, rejected it.

Hamas has demanded the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian border blockade imposed on Gaza in 2007 when the Islamic militant group seized power, as well as the release of Palestinians rounded up in the West Bank in June following the killing of three Israeli teenagers.

In recent weeks Turkey and Qatar, which have warmer ties to Hamas but are at odds with Egypt, have tried to help broker a cease-fire agreement, with no results.

It’s not clear whether other nations will attend the Egypt talks, and aides to Kerry said Egypt will ultimately decide who will participate. A Hamas official in Qatar said Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials would be participating. Israel will not meet directly with members of either group because it considers them terrorist organizations.

Hours before the cease-fire was to take effect, 17 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes, including 10 from the same family, according to al-Kidra, the Health Ministry official in Gaza. He said the family members were killed in an airstrike on their home in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis.

Israel’s military said five of its soldiers were killed along the Gaza border Thursday evening by a mortar round.

More than 1,450 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed since hostilities began July 8, according to Palestinian officials. Israel says 61 of its soldiers and three civilians in Israel have been killed.

Hours ahead of the cease-fire, Gaza police reported heavy Israeli tank shelling in northern and eastern Gaza, and the loud exchange of fire with militants could be heard across Gaza City. Tank shells slammed into the city itself, setting homes and shops ablaze.

Hamas fighters hit an Israeli tank with an anti-tank missile, Gaza police said. The militants then attacked Israeli troops who came to evacuate the tank crew. Clashes continued into the early morning hours, police said.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the matter.

Israeli police meanwhile warned residents to stay away from Israeli communities near the Gaza border during the cease-fire, saying the area remains “a war zone.”

"We ask the public to heed the orders of the police and army and not to go to the Gaza Strip border area, it is a threat to your life!!!" the police said in a statement.

Police said Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces in a number of neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, and that Israelis attacked an empty bus. Police also restricted the entry of worshippers to a key Muslim holy site in the city to prevent disturbances.

Asia’s Iran Oil Imports Increase 25%

August 01, 2014

During the first half of 2014, Asia imported 25 percent more oil from Iran than in the first half of 2013. 
Asia increased its imports of Iranian oil by 25 percent in the first six months of the year, largely thanks to sharp spikes in purchases from China and India.

According to a Reuters investigation, which reviewed official customs data and tanker schedules, Iran’s four major oil customers–China, India, Japan and South Korea–imported 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian oil in the first half of 2014, compared to 961,236 bpd in the first six months of 2013.
Much of the increase can be attributed to China, which saw its imports of Iranian oil jumped 50 percent to 627,700 bpd in the first six months of this year. However, in the month of June China only imported 531,200 bpd of Iranian oil which– although a 38 percent increase year-on-year (YoY)– was down significantly from the 757,900 bpd China imported from Iran in May 2014. China’s oil imports from Iran during May were the second highest monthly total on record.

Between the months of January and June of this year, India’s oil imports from Iran increased by by a third YoY to 281,000 bpd. As The Diplomat reported earlier this month, Indian media outlets had previously claimed Delhi’s Iranian oil imports were down significantly.

However, as Ankit noted in that report, the figures provided by Indian media were slightly misleading because they compared India’s imports from the fiscal year ending in March 2014, to the previous fiscal year ending in March 2013. However, America and the EU significantly tightened sanctions against Iran starting in January 2013, and thus India’s imports for the FY ending in March 2013 were mostly comprised of time when the new sanctions were not in effect.

On a more positive note from the perspective of the U.S. and the E.U., South Korea and Japan both significantly decreased their oil imports from Iran during the first half of 2014. According to the Reuters investigation, South Korea imported 124,657 bpd from Iran during the first half of 2014, down 11 percent from a year earlier. Similarly, Japan imported 172,154 bpd of Iranian oil, a 7.4 percent decline from last year.

However, Japan’s June imports were up over 46 percent from the year before, while South Korea’s imports of Iranian oil were up more than 7 percent in the month of June. According to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, a senior U.S. diplomat discussed sanctions against Iran with South Korean officials this week during a meeting that largely focused on sanctions against Russia.

The 1.2 million bpd that the four Asian nations imported from Iran over the last six months exceeded the just over 1 million bpd of crude that Iran was allowed to export under the terms of the interim agreement Tehran signed with the P5+1 powers in November of last year. Iran also exports smaller amounts of crude to other nations like Turkey and Syria.

However, the Reuters report said that much of the surplus exports are in condensates, a light form of oil found in Iran’s South Pars field, that U.S. officials say falls outside the parameters of the sanctions. Iran reportedly exports roughly 250,000 bpd of condensate, 55 percent of which goes to China (Interestingly, the U.S. recently lifted a ban on exports of condensate, and is courting Asian nations as potential markets for it. In this search, Iranian condensates are major competition).

The condensates caveat is unlikely to prevent criticism of the Obama administration from Iran hawks on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the United States. These hawks have long warned the interim agreement would provide an economic windfall for the much beleaguered Iranian regime.

The Obama administration has repeatedly denied this, however, and recently claimed that the economic relief Iran accrued from the sixth month interim agreement was actually less than expected. As a senior Treasury official told reporters on background earlier this month, under the six-month interim agreement, “Iran derived very little value from those sanctions’ suspension. We estimated the total value of the relief in the Joint Plan of Action would be in the neighborhood of $6 to 7 billion, and I think it has actually come in less than that.”

While hardly an economic windfall, the fact that Iran exported at least 200,000 bpd beyond the agreed upon limit during the first half of 2014 is likely to provide ammunition for the hawks’ case. Currently, many bills are circulating Capitol Hill that aim to restrict the Obama administration’s freedom to maneuver during the ongoing Iran nuclear negotiations.


Tensions Escalate Between Israel and a Second Party in Gaza: The United Nations

JULY 31, 2014
Tensions Escalate Between Israel and a Second Party in Gaza: The United Nations

UNITED NATIONS — In the midst of Israel’s battle with militants in Gaza over the past three weeks, skirmishes opened on a second front in recent days: Its strikes on United Nations facilities and the steep civilian casualties brought a barrage of rebukes and warnings from senior United Nations officials around the world, reaching a fever pitch just before theannouncement of a cease-fire late Thursday.

Behind the scenes, diplomats here were on the phone incessantly with Israelis, Palestinians and representatives of countries in the region that have influence over Israel’s principal nemesis, Hamas. The efforts led to a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire announced late Thursday by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman and by Secretary of State John Kerry, who was traveling in New Delhi.

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Just How Likely Is Another World War?

JUL 30 2014

Just How Likely Is Another World War?
Assessing the similarities and differences between 1914 and 2014
A century ago this month, Europeans stood on the brink of a war so devastating that it forced historians to create a new category: “World War.” None of the leaders at the time could imagine the wasteland they would inhabit four years later. By 1918, each had lost what he cherished most: the kaiser dismissed, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of the flower of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which European leaders had been masters of the globe came to a crashing halt.

What caused this catastrophe? President John F. Kennedy enjoyed needling colleagues with that question. He would then remind them of his favorite answer, quoting German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg: “Ah, if we only knew.” When, in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Kennedy found himself “eyeball to eyeball” with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, making decisions that he knew could mean quick death to 100 million people, he reflected on the lessons of 1914. At several decision points, he adjusted what he was inclined to do in an effort to avoid repeating those leaders’ mistakes.

As they were choosing to fulfill commitments, or not, to mobilize forces sooner or later, the participants in the First World War were simultaneously seeking to frame public perceptions of the crisis. Each sought to blame its adversary. In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the victors took considerable liberty with the facts to justify punishing the vanquished. The Treaty of Versailles imposed such draconian penalties that it created conditions in which, just two decades later, the Second World War erupted. This larger drama has understandably shaped historians’ accounts of the causes of the war. But as the best of the new books on this conflict, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers, concludes forthrightly, the available evidence can be marshaled to support an array of competing claims. “The outbreak of war in 1914 is not an Agatha Christie drama at the end of which we will discover the culprit standing over a corpse in the conservatory with a smoking pistol,” Clark writes. “There is no smoking gun in this story; or, rather, there is one in the hands of every major character.”

In this centennial of what participants named the “Great War,” many have recalled Mark Twain’s observation that while history never repeats itself, it does sometimes rhyme. As a rising China claims islands administered by Japan in the East China Sea, or controlled by neighbors in the South China Sea, many hear echoes of events in the Balkans a century earlier. Could an incident between Chinese and Japanese naval or air forces lead to the sinking of a ship or downing of a plane? If so, would the U.S. meet its treaty commitment to stand with Japan, even if that meant firing on Chinese ships or planes? If it did so, could events escalate to a larger war between the U.S. and China? It seems (and I believe, in fact, is) unlikely. But according to a recent Pew poll, large majorities of citizens in nations throughout Asia believe China’s territorial disputes with its neighbors will lead to war.

Historical analogies like 1914 can be fertile sources of insights about contemporary challenges. One danger, however, is that people can find an analogy so compelling that they conclude that current conditions are “just like” 1914. My late, great colleague Ernest May provided an appropriate antidote. He noted that as a matter of fact, the most common form of analysis used by leaders in crises is historical reasoning from analogies. He urged both analysts and policymakers to be more systematic about the effort. In a legendary course taught at Harvard for many years, he challenged students attracted by a historical analogy to follow a simple procedure: put the analogy as the headline on a sheet of paper; then draw a straight line down the middle of the page and write “similar” at the top of one column and “different” at the top of the other. Under each column, list at least three points that capture similarities and three that note differences between the analog and the current case.

This essay attempts to use the “May Method” to highlight seven salient similarities and seven instructive differences between the challenges confronting Chinese and American leaders today and those facing world leaders in 1914. While most of the similarities make the possibility of conflict today more plausible that it might otherwise seem, and most of the differences make conflict seem less plausible, instructively, some have the opposite effect.
The USS Arizona returns to New York after escorting Woodrow Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference, in 1918. (Wikimedia Commons)

Similarities

1. “Thucydides’s Trap”: structural stress that inevitably occurs when a rapidly rising power rivals a ruling power. As Thucydides observed about ancient Greece, an ascendant Athens naturally became more ambitious, assertive, arrogant, and even hubristic. Predictably, this instilled fear, anxiety, and defensiveness among the leaders of Sparta.

Accustomed to economic primacy, naval dominance, and an empire on which the sun never set, Britain in 1914 viewed with alarm the unified German Reich that had overtaken it in industrial production and research, that was demanding a greater sphere of influence, and that was expanding its military capability to include a navy that could challenge Britain’s control of the seas. In the decade before the war, this led Britain to abandon a century of “splendid isolation” to tighten entanglements with France and then Russia. During the same period, German military planners watched with alarm as Russia rushed to complete railways that could allow it to move forces rapidly to the borders of Germany and its faltering Austro-Hungarian ally.

In 2014, what for most Americans is our natural, God-given position as “Number One” is being challenged by an emerging China on track to surpass the United States in the next decade as the world’s largest economy. As China has grown more powerful, it has become more active and even aggressive in its neighborhood, particularly in what it believes are the rightly named “China” seas to its east and south. Fearful neighbors from Japan and the Philippines to Vietnam naturally look to the U.S. for support in its role as the guardian of what since World War II has been an American Pax Pacifica.

2. The virtual inconceivability of “total” war.

In 1914, aside from occasional small wars and colonial smackdowns, war was “out of fashion.” The best-selling book of the era by Norman Angell argued that war was a “great illusion,” since the nominal winner would certainly lose more than it could possibly gain.

In 2014, the “long peace” since World War II, reinforced by nuclear weapons and economic globalization, makes all-out war between great powers so obviously self-defeating that it seems unthinkable.

3. Thick interdependence: economic, social, and political.

In 1914, the U.K. and Germany were each other’s major European trading partner and principal foreign investor. King George and Kaiser Wilhelm were first cousins, the latter having sat by the deathbed of his grandmother, Queen Victoria, in 1901, and marched as second only to George at the funeral of George’s father, King Edward VII, in 1910. Elites of both societies studied at each other’s major universities, were partners in business, and socialized together.

In 2014, China is the United States’ second-largest trading partner, the U.S. the largest buyer of Chinese exports, and China the largest foreign holder of American debt. A quarter of a million Chinese students study annually in American universities, including most recently Chinese President Xi Jinping’s only daughter.

4. Rising nationalism that accentuates territorial disputes.

In 1914, as the Ottoman Empire unraveled, Serbian nationalists aspired to create a greater Serbia, and Russia and Austria-Hungary competed for influence among the Ottoman successor states in the Balkans. Meanwhile, resurgent Germans planned for a larger Germany and French patriots dreamed about recapturing Alsace-Lorraine, provinces taken by Germany from France after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71.

In 2014, China’s claim to the Senkaku Islands administered by Japan in the last China Sea, and the “9-dash line” by which it asserts ownership of the entire South China Sea, are reflections of ambitions that are defining new facts in the surrounding waters, exciting nationalism among its neighbors and in its own population.

5. Powerful military establishments focused on a primary enemy for the purposes of planning and buying (and justifying defense budgets).

In 1914, Britain and Germany’s militaries viewed each other as major threats, Germany and Russia saw the other as major rivals, and France was focused on the danger posed by Germany. In 1907, as Germany’s naval expansion approached the point at which it could challenge British naval primacy, the British prime minister asked the leading analyst in the foreign ministry for a memorandum “on the present State of British relations with France and Germany.” That now-famous document written by Eyre Crowe predicted that Germany would not only establish the strongest army on the continent, but also “build as powerful a navy as she can afford.” Germany’s pursuit of what the memorandum called “political hegemony and maritime ascendency” would pose a threat to the “independence of her neighbors and ultimately the existence of England.”

Today, the U.S. Department of Defense plans against something it calls the “Anti-Access/Area Denial threat,” a thinly veiled “you know who” for China. Since its humiliation in 1996, when it was forced to back down from threats to Taiwan after the U.S. sent two aircraft carriers to support Taiwan, China has planned, built, and trained to push U.S. naval forces back beyond Taiwan to the first island chain and eventually to the second.

6. Entangling alliances that create what Henry Kissinger has called a “diplomatic doomsday machine.”

In 1914, a web of complex alliance commitments threatened rapid escalation into Great Power war. After unifying Germany in the late nineteenth century, Chancellor Otto von Bismarck constructed a network of alliances that would keep the peace in Europe while isolating Germany’s principal enemy, France. Kaiser Wilhelm wrecked Bismarck’s finely tuned alliance structure by refusing to extend Germany’s alliance with Russia in 1890. Two years later, Russia allied with France. This led Germany to strengthen its ties to Austria-Hungary, and Britain to entertain deeper entanglement with both France and Russia.

In 2014, in East Asia, the United States has many allies, China few.

In 2014, in East Asia, the United States has many allies, China few. American obligations and operational plans cover a spectrum from the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which obligates the U.S. to regard any attack upon Japan as an attack on the U.S., to agreements with the Philippines and others that require only consultation and support. As an assertive China defines air identification zones, drills for oil and gas in contested areas, excludes other states’ ships from waters around disputed islands, and operates ships and aircraft to redraw “rules of the road,” it becomes easier to imagine scenarios in which mistakes or miscalculation lead to results no one would have chosen.

7. Temptation of a coup de main to radically improve power and prestige.

In 1914, a declining Austria-Hungary faced rising, Russian-backed Pan-Slavism in the Balkans. Seeing Serbia as the epicenter of Pan-Slavism, Emperor Franz Joseph imagined that this menace could be contained by a decisive defeat of Serbia. The assassination of his heir, Franz Ferdinand, provided an opportunity.

In 2014, Shinzo Abe seeks to reverse Japan’s “lost decades.” A quarter-century ago, Japan appeared to be on the threshold of becoming “Number One.” Since then, it has stagnated economically and become almost irrelevant in international politics. Abe’s program for revival thus includes not only “Abenomics,” but also restoration of Japanese influence in the world, including revision of the constitution and expansion of Japan’s military forces to meet what he explicitly calls the “China threat.”

In sum, those who see reminders of events a century ago in developments today are not deluded. But as Professor May would remind us, on the other hand, there are significant differences as well. 
A Chinese surveillance vessel passes a Japanese Coast Guard ship near the contested Senkakuku Islands (Kyodo/Reuters)

Differences

1. Clash of civilizations: As argued by Samuel Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations, deep differences in values and worldviews between civilizations are a significant systemic factor favoring conflict. On this dimension, 2014 is more dangerous than a century ago.

In 1914, Europe was the epicenter of civilization and its leaders masters of the universe. Most of the crowned heads of Europe—from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean—were blood relatives, with the tsar and the kaiser addressing each other as Nicky and Willy. Nonetheless, as Huntington noted, a fault line between Western Civilization and Eastern Orthodoxy ran right through the Balkans.

In 2014, China and the United States are separated by more than just the Pacific Ocean. Significant differences between values in Beijing and Washington include hierarchical harmony vs. freedom; communal values vs. individualism; and the Communist Party’s monopoly of political power vs. democracy.

2. Financial foundations of hegemonic power.

In 1914, Great Britain was the world’s largest creditor.

In 2014, the United States is the largest debtor in the world. As a result of a combination of low taxes and high spending, Washington has borrowed more than $17 trillion. Much of this comes from foreign lenders, with the largest share held by China. America’s position as both a debtor and as the major market for Chinese products, matched by China’s position as America’s banker and major supplier of consumer goods, create conditions that have been called MADE (Mutual Assured Destruction of Economies).

3. Shared geography.

In 1914, the European competitors had contiguous physical borders. This created incentives for rapid mobilization, accelerating the pace of decision-making in crisis.

In 2014, the U.S. and China are oceans and even hemispheres apart. Nonetheless, as a Pacific power with alliances and bases throughout Asia, the U.S. is a constant presence in the seas adjacent to China. Moreover, as a result of advances in technology, there are no borders in space and cyberspace. In these realms, the possibility that rapid advances could achieve (or be imagined to have achieved) decisive advantages raises the specter of “crisis instability,” reminiscent of Europe in the early twentieth century.

4. Nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.

In 1914, the thought that a Pan-European war could be so devastating that it would end a millennium in which European leaders ruled the world was almost inconceivable.

In 2014, nuclear weapons have a “crystal-ball effect” that allows leaders to see clearly that escalation to a nuclear war could erase their nations from the map.

5. Military balance.

In 1914, the balance of military power among the major states of Europe was fragile. The U.K. had the world’s greatest navy, Germany had the strongest army, and the capabilities of Russia and France were significant. Moreover, all of the states were active participants in a delicate game of power-balancing.

For the foreseeable future, no rational Chinese military planner could present a war plan to defeat the U.S. 

In 2014, the U.S. military is without equal. After two decades in which it spent more on defense than all other countries combined, America has by far the best-trained and best-armed fighting forces on earth. For the foreseeable future, no rational Chinese military planner could present a war plan to defeat the U.S. military on the battlefield, even in East Asia. On the other hand, after more than a decade of what two-thirds of Americans now judge to have been misguided wars, the U.S. is war-weary and war-wary. Assessing the will and capabilities of the U.S. today, China could be tempted to take excessive risks.

6. Technology and transparency.

In 1914, Russia and France feared that Germany could mobilize in secret. Uncertainty about mutual mobilization timetables and troop movements contributed mightily to the dynamics of escalation. Governments sent cables to ambassadors who transmitted messages to foreign offices, increasing the chances of miscommunication.

In 2014, intelligence systems provide near-real-time information on movements of ships, aircraft, and troops. This information equips leaders with significantly more and better information to make decisions in a crisis. Moreover, they can talk directly to one another by telephone and video teleconference.

7. Structure of world politics.

In 1914, global politics were clearly multi-polar, making delicate balancing essential, and miscalculation difficult to avoid.

In 2014, the U.S. remains the sole superpower in a world that is, on current trendlines, evolving toward polarity: bi-polarity with China, or even multi-polarity if Europe becomes a player, India rises to the ranks of a great power, and Russia is able to sustain its new assertiveness. Chinese or Russian miscalculations about the relative balance of power pose potential risks.

So which are more salient: the similarities or differences? Weighing the array on both sides, would a Martian strategist comparing conditions in January 1914 with those at the beginning of 2014 judge the likelihood today of great-power war significantly higher or lower? For the “complacent” who live in what Gore Vidal labeled the “United States of Amnesia,” the similarities should serve as a vivid reminder that many of the reasons currently given for discounting threats of war did not prevent World War I. In particular, the fact that war would be irrational does not make it unthinkable. For “alarmists” who extrapolate from the past to predict imminent disaster, the May Method provides a salutary correction. For myself, this exercise in historical analysis leads me to conclude that the probability of war between the U.S. and China in the decade ahead is higher than I imagined before examining the analogy—but still unlikely. If statesmen in both the U.S. and China reflect on what happened a century ago, perspective and insights from this past can be applied now to make risks of war even lower.

The End of the Arab State


The End of the Arab State 

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphDENVER – In a region where crises seem to be the norm, the Middle East’s latest cycle of violence suggests that something bigger is afoot: the beginning of the dissolution of the Arab nation-state, reflected in the growing fragmentation of Sunni Arabia.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphStates in the Middle East are becoming weaker than ever, as traditional authorities, whether aging monarchs or secular authoritarians, seem increasingly incapable of taking care of their restive publics. As state authority weakens, tribal and sectarian allegiances strengthen.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphWhat does it mean today to be Iraqi, Syrian, Yemeni, or Lebanese? Any meaningful identification seems to require a compound name – Sunni Iraqi, Alawite Syrian, and so forth. As such examples suggest, political identity has shifted to something less civil and more primordial.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphWith Iraq in flames, the United States-led invasion and occupation is widely blamed for unwittingly introducing a sectarian concept of identity in the country. In fact, sectarianism was always alive and well in Iraq, but it has now become the driving force and organizing principle of the country’s politics.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphWhen sectarian or ethnic minorities have ruled countries – for example, the Sunnis of Iraq – they typically have a strong interest in downplaying sectarianism or ethnicity. They often become the chief proponents of a broader, civic concept of national belonging, in theory embracing all peoples. In Iraq, that concept was Ba’athism. And while it was more identified with the Sunni minority than with the Shia majority, it endured for decades as a vehicle for national unity, albeit a cruel and cynical one.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphWhen the Ba’ath party – along with its civic ideology – was destroyed by the US occupation, no new civic concept replaced it. In the ensuing political vacuum, sectarianism was the only viable alternative principle of organization.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphSectarianism thus came to frame Iraqi politics, making it impossible to organize non-sectarian parties on the basis of, say, shared socioeconomic interests. In Iraqi politics today (leaving aside the Kurds), seldom does a Sunni Arab vote for a Shia Arab, or a Shia for a Sunni. There is competition among Shia parties and among Sunni parties; but few voters cross the sectarian line – a grim reality that is unlikely to change for years to come.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphPointing the finger at the US for the state of affairs in Iraq may have some validity (although the alternative of leaving in place a Ba’athist state under Saddam Hussein was not particularly appealing, either). The same could be said of Libya (though the US did not lead that intervention). But the US did not invade any of the other countries in the Middle East – for example, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen – where the state’s survival is also in doubt.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThere are many reasons for the weakening of Arab nation-states, the most proximate of which is the legacy of the Arab Spring. At its outset in 2011, Arab publics took to the streets seeking to oust authoritarian or monarchical regimes widely perceived to have lost their energy and direction. But those initial demonstrations, often lacking identifiable leaders and programs, soon gave way to old habits.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThus, for all of the initial promise of the political transition in Egypt that followed the demise of Hosni Mubarak’s military-backed regime, the result was the creation of a Muslim Brotherhood government whose exclusionary ideology made it an unlikely candidate for long-term success. From the start, most observers believed that its days were numbered.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphWhen the military ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power a year later, many of the Egyptians who had been inspired by the Arab Spring democracy movement approved. Egypt retains the strongest sense of nation-statehood in the region; nonetheless, it has become a shattered and divided society, and it will take many years to recover.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphOther states are even less fortunate. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s evil buffoonery in Libya has given way to Bedouin tribalism that will be hard to meld into a functioning nation-state, if Libya ever was such an entity. Yemen, too, is beset by tribal feuding and a sectarian divide that pose challenges to statehood. And Syria, a fragile amalgam of Sunni, Alawite, Kurdish, Christian, and other sects, is unlikely ever to be reconstructed as the state it once was.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThese processes demand a broader, far more comprehensive policy approach from Western countries. The approach must take into account the region’s synergies and not pretend that the changes that are weakening these states are somehow unrelated.

CommentsView/Create comment on this paragraphThe US, in particular, should examine how it has handled the breakdown of Syria and Iraq, and stop treating each case as if there were no connection between them. America called for regime change in the former while seeking regime stabilization in the latter; instead, it got the Islamic State in both.