13 July 2014

Ukrainian Military Offensive to Recapture City of Donetsk Is Coming

July 12, 2014

Ukraine’s next battle is Donetsk, but no bombs, please

Hal Foster and Tatyana Gorychova

USA Today, July 12, 2014

BERDYANSK, Ukraine — The decisive campaign in Ukraine’s separatist rebellion — the battle for Donetsk — is imminent, and the looming question is how much damage the jewel of the country’s economy will suffer.

Fearing that the faceoff between 30,000 Ukrainian military troops and about 10,000 pro-Russian separatists will destroy much of the city of 1 million people, tens of thousands of residents have fled Donetsk.

The Ukrainian military used different strategies to recapture two other key cities in the eastern provinces of the country.

One was a small-arms attack on the separatist headquarters in Mariupol in early June, inflicting little structural damage on the port city of 480,000. The other strategy was a weeks-long artillery assault on Slovyansk in June and July that damaged about 60% of the infrastructure in the city of 110,000.

Afraid that the military will use the artillery approach, billionaire Donetsk industrialist Rinat Akhmetov went on television July 6, the day after the separatists fled Slovyansk, to plead: “Donbass (the Donetsk and Lugansk regions) must not be bombed. Cities, towns and infrastructure must not be destroyed.”

President Petro Poroshenko’s administration is well aware that Donetsk contributes more to the Ukrainian economy than any city in the country. It is a bastion of heavy industry that includes shipyards, coal and iron mines and steelmaking and other metals works, much of which Akhmetov owns.

The president recently pledged to use restraint in the Donetsk campaign, but the military must balance the structural damage it would inflict from air and artillery strikes against prospects for higher casualties from relying mostly on small arms.

One thing’s for certain: The government wants to retake Donetsk in the worst way.

The city’s capture would probably break the back of the separatist movement, although the military would still have to take Lugansk, the rebels’ secondary stronghold, which has a population of 426,000.

Another reason the military is itching to fight in Donetsk is personal: to even the score with Igor Strelkov, the Russian national who has headed the separatists’ combat effort.

Strelkov — a former Russian intelligence officer named Igor Girkin, according to Ukraine and the West — led the rebel campaign in Slovyansk.

He has been high-profile, appearing on Russian and separatist television networks and on Internet videos and writing a provocative daily blog about the conflict. Even the pseudonym he chose — Strelkov, meaning “shooter” — was calculated to portray him as a swashbuckler.

Why India is the key to the world's climate future

If the nation can leapfrog fossil fuels, the benefits would be enormous
By Ryan Cooper | July 11, 2014

Technologies such as solar panels could help India leapfrog other countries on the energy front. 

The future of climate change is largely about China and India. Their populations are gigantic, their economies are growing fast, and their potential emissions growth could completely swamp anything else that happens in the world. The United States must act as well, but as I've argued before, it's mainly in the service of obtaining an international climate agreement.

Therefore, choices that policymakers in those countries make today will have enormous climate effects over the next few decades. New coal-fired power plants, for instance, will last for many years, and it will be hard to avoid using them. But should these nations manage to leapfrog the traditional fossil-fuel-driven stage of the economic growth path, the climate benefits could be enormous.

China is substantially ahead on the industrialization curve (its policy will be more about reducing emissions than avoiding them), so the choices India is making right now are correspondingly more important for future climate effects. That's the light in which you should read this fascinating report from Andrew Satter on solar-based rural electrification in India:

Yet it is here, as I watch employees of one of the country's many fast-growing clean energy startups install solar panels on a local villager's roof — their sixth installation of the day — that I realize I am witnessing something transformational. It is a glimpse into the future of how the world's rural poor could access electricity: off-grid, distributed, renewable, and most importantly, affordable. It's happening all over rural India and in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and is turning the entire narrative around energy and development on its head. [Climate Progress]

Ironically, the janky and unreliable nature of the country's energy grid (a couple years ago India witnessed the largest power failure in history, leaving over 700 million people without electricity) is something of an advantage to these solar installers. Cheap individual installations are more useful to people whose regular grid power goes down all the time, or who don't have a grid connection at all – of which there are roughly 400 million.

Know Yourself and Your Enemies

12 Jul , 2014

Two books titled ‘Deception – Pakistan, The United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy’ by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott- Clark and ‘Military Inc.- Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy’ by Ayesha Siddiqa are valuable reading for scholars of national security and indeed all those responsible for formulating national foreign and security policies in India.

US and some European authorities were fully aware of transfer of nuclear warhead technology and missiles from China to Pakistan…

The first book reveals that every US administration starting from Jimmy Carter was not just aware of the unfolding of Pakistan’s nuclear programme, but turned a benign blind eye to it and even supported it indirectly through aid injection. Concrete evidence available from both US and Western intelligence sources was not only subverted but even kept from the Congress. Assessments and reports were either destroyed or tampered with and in one case an important official whose factual reports were not palatable was sacked and falsely framed.

US and some European authorities were fully aware of transfer of nuclear warhead technology and missiles from China to Pakistan and the A. Q. Khan network that was selling nuclear know how and hardware to North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Libya. This illicit trade was being financed amongst others by Libya and Saudi Arabia as also through US aid money! Authors of the book state that ‘In reality, Khan’s confession was a ruse. It takes more than one person to make a mess of this proportion. Khan was the fall guy and his performance papered over the true nature of what many now believe was the nuclear crime of all our lifetimes and undoubtedly the source of our future wars. The nuclear bazaar Khan claimed to have orchestrated certainly existed ,but where the public and private stories diverged was that the covert trade in doomsday technology was not the work of one man, but the foreign policy of a nation, plotted and supervised by Pakistan’s ruling military clique, supposedly a key ally in America’s war on terror. The true scandal was how the trade and the Pakistan military’s role in it had been discovered by high-ranking US and European officials, many years before, but rather than interdict it they had worked hard to cover it up.’

The deception in the book cuts across nations and within nations across institutions and individuals. What really emerges is that in the harsh world that we live in today morality, trust or chemistry between leaders in diplomacy is of little consequence. At the altar of perceived national interest, anything goes! While the comprehensively researched book chronicles the intricacies of clandestine nuclear proliferation, missile proliferation, illegal international trade in nuclear components and materials and internal and international subterfuge, what really stands out is the huge gap between what national governments preach in public and what they practice in private.

Today, the world watches with bated breadth at the events unfolding in Pakistan and irony is writ large on this unfolding drama. Those that were trained to bleed India are likewise training their guns on Pakistan as well.

Tokyo’s Subtle Revolution

Tokyo’s Subtle Revolution

Abe’s Constitutional reinterpretation will have profound implications for the Asia-Pacific.
By Nick Bisley
July 11, 2014

On July 1, the Japanese Cabinet issued an eight page document detailing a set of changes in the way Japan approaches its defense and security policy. At first glance the decision seems minor, almost a technicality, but it represents one of the biggest changes in Japan’s defense and security policy since the Second World War.

Although Japan has one of the world’s largest defense budgets and a highly sophisticated military, the circumstances under which it can use force are unusually circumscribed. The postwar Constitution, hastily written by the Americans and imposed upon Japan as part of the WWII peace settlement, expressly forbids the use of military power as a tool of statecraft. Over time the Constitutional constraint was eased, allowing Japan to have a defense force but one that had only one purpose: the defense of Japan from attack. Under no other circumstance were the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) allowed to use their muscle: not to help Japan’s ally the United States, not as part of UN operations, not even if Japan came under attack while participating in post-conflict situations.

The Cabinet decision widens the range of circumstances under which the SDF can operate. It did so in the politically more straightforward way of changing interpretations of the text rather than trying to change the Constitution itself. The new interpretation continues to impose much greater constraints on Japan’s military than any other state faces. But once domestic legislation is passed, the SDF will be able to come to the aid of a partner state that is under attack in circumstances that can be construed as having significant consequences for Japan. The SDF can now fight beyond Japan’s borders. It is not a blank check: force must be the last resort and at the minimum level necessary to have the desired effect. Nonetheless, Japan can now be a more equal partner with the U.S. and others and it can begin to think about the role it plays in the region in a very different way than in the past.

There is a temptation both to over- and understate the significance of this change. China’s state-run news media have fulminated in typical fashion about the revival of Japanese militarism. And even South Korea is uneasy about just what this move might entail. To be clear, under only the most casuistic reading can this be seen as paving the way to 1935. Yet it is also wrong to think this is just a slight change at the margins of Japanese defense policy, a thing only of concern to policy wonks and the military equivalent of train-spotters.

Explosive Map Could Nudge Japan’s Public Toward Normalization

China’s attempts to shore up support could backfire and drive the Japanese in favor of collective self-defense.
July 10, 2014

A map printed earlier this week by a Chinese youth magazine with official ties to the government has provoked Japanese protest and is likely to add fuel to nationalist fires in both countries. While both Japan and China have taken provocative actions over the last several months that have contributed to the marked deterioration in ties since 2012, this latest image could well prove more harmful than most recent statements from the Chinese side. While the Chinese government may make the claim that it did not condone the image or have prior knowledge that it would be printed, its connection to the magazine will give Japanese nationalists all the evidence they need.

The Chongqing Youth News, based in the southwestern city and linked to the Communist Youth League, on Tuesday printed a map of Japan with mushroom clouds over the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, with Tokyo being the only other place identified (although sans mushroom cloud). The map’s title read “Japan wants a war again,” with an article on the opposite page stating that, “as the butcher of World War Two, the blood on Japan’s hands has yet to dry,” although the magazine does not explicitly state that the map and article are connected.

The image was later picked up by one of the government backed news outlets, The Global Times, which has a much wider readership. Last week the magazine also ran commentary critical of Japan’s new stance on collective self-defense, stating that “A sword had been handed to a murderer again,” and that China has been “too tolerant” of Japan.

Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is from Hiroshima, said Japan was lodging a stern protest and called the publication “very, very ignorant.” He also said that “Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe has clearly said it would be absolutely impossible for Japan to wage war again. There is no shift in the path of Japan as a pacifist country.”

China has clearly made its opposition to Japan’s change in collective self-defense known through several media outlets and official statements by both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. However, images like this risk sparking a popular backlash in Japan that could have the opposite effect of increasing popular support for the constitutional change, which it currently does not enjoy. The real intent behind promoting images like this is likely to increase nationalism in China, shoring up support for the Chinese leadership as it weeds out corruption within its own ranks and attempts to transition toward a consumer based economy amid weakening growth. The Chinese leadership is playing a delicate balancing act, increasing their own domestic support while attempting to avoid a scenario in which the Japanese populace is more accepting of a normalized military.

BACKGROUNDER Nigeria’s Boko Haram

July 10, 2014

Boko Haram has recently emerged as one of the deadliest and most brutal terrorist groups with growing international dimensions and repercussions. The group, after its origin in 2002 as a puritan Islamist movement, initially retreated from the mainstream Nigerian society calling it corrupt and deviant from religion. It considered the Muslim leaders of Nigeria as corrupt and perverted who had colluded with Christians and the West. Initially, under the leadership of Muhammad Ali, Maiduguri’s Ndimi Mosque and the neighbouring areas were under its influence which expanded with the passage of time despite occasional overwhelming suppressive responses by the Nigerian government against the anti-establishment activities of the group. The group came back to the society and unleashed a campaign to purify it on Islamist lines. Recently, on April 14, 2014, Boko Haram abducted around 300 teenage girls, mostly Christian, from a residential school and has threatened to convert them to Islam or sell them to slave markets. The incident has exposed the ineffectiveness of the Nigerian Government to contain the terror activities by Boko Haram and a slow reaction by the international community to a problem which is gradually attaining global dimensions. The Nigerian domestic socio-economic and political dynamics as well as the conditions in the neighbouring countries have supported the movement which has now turned extremely violent and ambitious ultimately threatening the Nigerian state and stability in the Sahel region. The group has developed links with the global jihadi movement. 

Domestic Dynamics: North-South Divide

One of the most important reasons used to explain the rise of radical Islam and Boko Haram in the northern parts of Nigeria is the disparity in socio-economic conditions between the southern and the northern parts of the country. In relative terms, the southern regions of Nigeria are economically more prosperous than the northern regions. The beginning of oil exploration in the 1970s has shifted the economic focus from north to south. On one hand, the Niger Delta in the south has become the fulcrum of the Nigerian economy with more than 80 per cent of revenue being derived from oil and remittances by Yoruba and Igbo ethnicities that reside here and form the majority Nigerian Diaspora. On the other hand, the agricultural and pastoralist economy of the north has suffered due to government apathy. Moreover, the north has also witnessed de-industrialisation. Many state owned enterprises that existed in the region have closed down due to government neglect and competition from abroad.

The GDP per capita of the south is twice the GDP per capita of the north.1 While GDP per capita of north is around US$718, the GDP per capita of south, south west and south east is US$2010, US$1436 and US$933 respectively.2 The operational area of Boko Haram in the North-East has the worst poverty rate of all the six official zones in Nigeria.3 Even in terms of infrastructure, the south is relatively better than the north. The northern state of Borno, the site of the recent kidnappings, has the lowest per capita power supply in the country at seven watts.4 The north also fairs poorly on many social indicators. For example, in the northern states of Yobe and Borno, less than around 10 to 19 per cent of one year old children have access to all basic vaccinations.5 A study by Nkechi Catherine Onwuameze shows disparity between the north and the south in terms of education.6 The Northeast region has the lowest rates in reading and numeracy assessments (16.8 per cent and 27.15 per cent respectively), whereas the Southwest region has the highest (78.07 per cent and 88.01 per cent respectively).7 Children from the south are more likely to achieve in reading and numeracy than their counterparts from the north.8

Igor Strekov and the Pro-Moscow Separatist Forces in the Eastern Ukraine

July 11, 2014
Shadowy Rebel Flexes Iron Fist in Ukraine Fight
Noah Sneider
New York Times

Igor Strelkov after a news conference in Donetsk. Credit Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

SLOVYANSK, Ukraine — Late one afternoon last month, as separatist militia fighters and Ukrainian forces exchanged fire, a small-time thief by the name of Aleksei B. Pichko left his home on the southern edge of Slovyansk and headed for an abandoned residence at 17 Sadovaya Street. He had been drinking, and wanted to “see what could be stolen from there,” according to documents recovered at the rebel headquarters after their retreat over the weekend.

Mr. Pichko, 30, never returned. An order signed and stamped by the rebels’ powerful commander, Igor Strelkov, detailed Mr. Pichko’s fate: death by firing squad for pilfering a pair of pants and two shirts.

“They told me they took him to the S.B.U.,” said his mother, Maria Pichko, referring to the headquarters in this former separatist stronghold. “I don’t know anything more.”

The death sentence makes reference to a Stalin-era Soviet law, and in it Mr. Strelkov warns ominously that crimes “committed in the zone of military activity will continue to be punished ruthlessly and decisively.”

Mr. Strelkov, a native Muscovite whose real name is Igor Girkin, is a figure as mysterious as he is fearsome. On Thursday, he made his first public appearance after months of fighting, attending a news conference in the provincial capital of Donetsk alongside Alexander Borodai, another Russian citizen leading the uprising here.

Having lost Slovyansk, Mr. Strelkov has moved to assert his authority over thefractious separatist militias that are gathering in Donetsk and Luhansk, the other major city in the rebellious east, rallying them for an urban war that would be both bloody and destructive — not to speak of suicidal, in the eyes of many analysts.

“The enemy is putting Donetsk under siege,” Mr. Strelkov said, unsmiling, with his hands folded. “The situation overall is tense, but the militia are ready to defend Donetsk. They are counting on holding their positions on the edges of the city and on preventing the enemy from coming inside the city.”

An ultranationalist and reactionary, Mr. Strelkov fits an increasingly familiar profile in Russia, one that has emerged strongly with the re-election of President Vladimir V. Putin. Messianic and militaristic, such figures combine a deep belief in Russia’s historic destiny with a contempt for the “decadent” West, while yearning for the re-establishment of a czarist empire.

“Strelkov is almost a caricature of the Putin era,” said Mark Galeotti, an expert on the Russian security services at New York University.

Germany's Choice: Will It Be America or Russia?

By Markus Feldenkirchen, Christiane Hoffmann and René Pfister

For decades, Germany's position in the West remained unquestioned. Following the NSA spying and other political scandals, many Germans want greater independence from the US. But does that mean getting closer to Moscow?

John Emerson never stops smiling. On the evening of Friday, July 4 -- Independence Day -- the United States ambassador shook hands on the red carpet at a reception given by his embassy at Berlin's former Tempelhof Airport, which has since been transformed into a park. Emerson greeted his guests with a diplomat's practiced joviality. He faced an endless line of businesspeople, German government officials and celebrities, and although he could be seen sweating, his smile remained unbroken, as if to convey the message that all was still well in the world.

It's been a common scene at recent encounters between American and German officials. But behind the perfect façade, relations are cracking. Even as workers were decorating Tempelhof Field with pennants and small flags last Friday, a report was making the rounds in the German capital that could very well drag relations between Washington and Berlin to a new low.

During questioning, an employee of Germany's foreign intelligence agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), told German authorities he had sold secret documents to the Americans. Given that special encryption technology was found during a raid of his apartment, it seems highly unlikely that selling the classified information was his idea.

This Wednesday, the spying scandal took on a new dimension when investigators with the Federal Criminal Police Office raided the home and offices of a Defense Ministry employee whom officials also suspect may have spied for the Americans.

The developments are only the latest tussle in a relationship between Germany and the United States that has suffered in recent years. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has already abandoned hope that the United States will come to its senses and rein in its intelligence agencies. During Merkel's last visit to Washington, US President Barack Obama wasn't even willing to commit to a no-spy agreement guaranteeing Germany a modicum of security.

Merkel Fears Growing Anti-American Sentiment

The chancellor did, however, expect the Americans to at least refrain from involving her in any further embarrassing incidents -- she has no interest in seeing a continued rise in anti-US sentiment in Germany, a development that would ultimately offer her no choice but to distance herself from the Americans once again. But that point may have already been reached.

** The Unity of Water

JUL 7, 2014 2

MOSCOW – In May, Vietnam became the 35th and decisive signatory of the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses. As a result, 90 days later, on August 17, the convention will enter into force.

The fact that it took almost 50 years to draft and finally achieve the necessary ratification threshold demonstrates that something is very wrong with the modern system of multilateralism. Regardless of longstanding disagreements over how cross-border freshwater resources should be allocated and managed, and understandable preferences by governments and water professionals to rely on basin agreements rather than on international legal instruments, that half-century wait can be explained only by a lack of political leadership. So, though the world may celebrate the convention’s long-awaited adoption, we cannot rest on our laurels.

Roughly 60% of all freshwater runs within cross-border basins; only an estimated 40% of those basins, however, are governed by some sort of basin agreement. In an increasingly water-stressed world, shared water resources are becoming an instrument of power, fostering competition within and between countries. The struggle for water is heightening political tensions and exacerbating impacts on ecosystems.

But the really bad news is that water consumption is growing faster than population – indeed, in the twentieth century it grew at twice the rate. As a result, several UN agencies forecast that, by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in regions stricken with absolute water scarcity, implying a lack of access to adequate quantities for human and environmental uses. Moreover, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water-stress conditions, meaning a scarcity of renewable freshwater.

Without resolute counter-measures, demand for water will overstretch many societies’ adaptive capacities. This could result in massive migration, economic stagnation, destabilization, and violence, posing a new threat to national and international security.

The UN Watercourses Convention must not become just another ignored international agreement, filed away in a drawer. The stakes are too high. In today’s context of climate change, rising demand, population growth, increasing pollution, and overexploited resources, everything must be done to consolidate the legal framework for managing the world’s watersheds. Our environmental security, economic development, and political stability directly depend on it.

The convention will soon apply to all of the cross-border rivers of its signatories’ territories, not just the biggest basins. It will complement the gaps and shortcomings of existing agreements and provide legal coverage to the numerous cross-border rivers that are under increasing pressure.

Worldwide, there are 276 cross-border freshwater basins and about as many cross-border aquifers. Backed by adequate financing, political will, and the engagement of stakeholders, the convention can help address the water challenges that we are all facing. But will it?

Reconstructing India’s Relationship With Indonesia

The bilateral relationship represents the possibilities of the Global South.
By Gaurav Daga
July 11, 2014

By virtue of their size, population, strategic location, economic progress, future potential, and to some extent their military developments, India and Indonesia today occupy a crucial position in Asian politics. The political consolidation and socio-economic developments in India after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Indonesia after President Suharto have demonstrated that both the countries occupy a powerful position within Asia.

It was India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the first Indonesian President Sukarno who originally sowed the seeds for the close friendship between the two countries today. Both leaders believed in friendship, cooperation and some kind of confederation between the countries. Nehru championed the Indonesian cause as the infant nation struggled to end Dutch imperialism. Later, Sukarno supported Nehru by invoking the “Spirit of Asia” and together with Yugoslavia’s President Josip Tito, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, and Egypt’s President Gamal Nasser laid the foundation for the non-aligned movement.

India’s economic liberalization and the unveiling of its “Look East Policy” in 1991 not only made it a major partner to the ASEAN region, but also revived ties with Jakarta, which had been disrupted when Indonesia came under military rule from 1965 to 1998. Today, Indonesia is India’s second-largest trade partner within ASEAN, expanding its trade volume from $6.9 billion in 2007-08 to $20.1 billion in 2012-13, with a forecast of $45 billion by 2015. While this number does not compare with the $100 billion target set for Sino-Indian exchange by 2015, it does suggest tremendous potential to develop the relationship.

Culturally far from homogenous, Indonesia – an archipelago of about 17,500 islands – and India – a vast subcontinent – feature divergent cultures, dozens of languages, and ethnic groups that have preserved their way of life for centuries. Both countries share a commonality of mysticism, myth, rituals and values. Hindu epics likeRamayana and Mahabharata remain well known in Indonesia, and India (after Indonesia), has the second largest population of Muslims in the world.

Is Qatar Becoming a Rogue Regime?


Qatar was not too long ago the toast offoreign-policy insiders. It spread its largesse around Washington, anduniversities fell all over themselves trying to get their foot in the Qatari door. U.S. Central Command has aforward headquarters at al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar. While some saw Qatar just a few years ago as a symbol of benign neutrality, only a few scholars—COMMENTARY’s own Max Boot,for example, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi as well–recognized the danger which Qatar presented.

The skeptics were right. Qatar has used its tremendous financial resources to become a major regional and international player. Its money speaks louder than words, and what it says suggests that tiny Qatar supports radical sectarian causes if not outright terrorism. Qatar, for example, has become, alongside Turkey, the chief supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist groups like Hamas. Increasingly, it also seems willing to seek to undermine the stability of those states surrounding it.

The Washington Post (via the Associated Press) now reports that Qatar is seeking the return of two of its citizens which authorities in the United Arab Emirates have arrested on charges of espionage. The charges seem to suggest that the alleged Qatari agents were seeking to bolster Islah, the Emirati branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a group covered here in COMMENTARY and which has maintained ties with both al-Qaeda and which has sought to overthrow the Emirati government.

The Washington Post references Al-Khaleej, a paper published in Sharjah which, in Arabic, reported:

Al-Khaleej has learned that the news carried by a Qatari newspaper on Qatari nationals detained in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is in fact about the arrest of Qatari intelligence elements operating in the UAE and currently under investigation…This behavior confirms the general impression, consolidated day after day, that Qatar is not sincere in its reiterated pledge to banish the Muslim Brotherhood group from the country… Some observers monitoring Gulf affairs wondered once again about the real goals pursued by the Qatari foreign policy, which threatens to further isolate Doha… The observers, furthermore, highlighted the modus operandi that Qatar resorted to in the past, which manifested itself through the ambiguous relations of Abd-al-Rahman al-Nuaimi with Al-KaramaOrganization.

"Iranians are Terrified": Iran's ISIS Nightmare

July 11, 2014

Iran is stuck between a rock and a hard place on ISIS and Iraq. Taking responsibility for security in Iraq – or even significantly contributing to it – would be a huge undertaking. But a fragmented Iraq on its border is a first-order concern for Tehran - it can’t just sit by with fingers crossed. The choice is complicated by Syria. Iran can’t continue to pursue its interests in Syria at the same level if it is mired in Iraq as well. It is likely that Tehran will have to choose, and it will choose Iraq.

To Iran, Iraq and Syria are similar challenges, except today’s crisis in Iraq is harder to solve and matters more. Until recently, Assad’s Syria has been a good friend and ally to Iran and still today, a conduit to the Mediterranean and Hezbollah. But Iraq is Iran’s backyard.

Iran has a lot to lose in Iraq by inaction. Last time Iraq’s interests were fundamentally opposed to Iran’s, there was a devastating 8 year long war. ISIS threatens Iran’s vast interests in Iraq: its significant influence over politics, in fact the country as a whole, including symbolicreligious shrines, and trade, whichreached $12 billion in 2013. Unlike in Syria, the majority Shia population in Iraq represents a real constituency for Tehran. Iraqi fragmentation threatens to stir up desires for independence amongst other minority communities, including in Iran, and force Tehran to double up efforts and resources in order to maintain its influence in Iraq. ISIS gains have peaked American interest in Iraq once more. Iran does not want any increased role for its US adversary in neighboring Iraq again. More importantly, the crisis threatens to spill over the 910 miles of porous border, which is poorly defended by the Iraqi police. 

Iranians are terrified. Many question Iran’s involvement in Syria, but they support involvement in Iraq. Syria is an optional war: a crisis where Iran can dial its involvement up or down based on its policy preferences. It is not an existential issue. But ISIS activities in Iraq pose a real threat and a genuine sovereignty concern, something Iran hasn’t seen in a long time.

To date, Iran has invested a great deal in Syria: money, equipment and above all, political capital. While many argue this policy succeeded, it’s clear that the cost is high for Tehran. Iran’s presence in Syria has caused its regional popularity toplummet, discord amongst the elite, and rising discontent amongst ordinary Iranians questioning the use of public funds to prop up a dictator. Iran sustaining a regime it wants in power is part of its capacity to lead in the region, and so far it’s working.

The Decrepit State of the Iraqi Military

Sam Jones and Borzou Daragahi
Financial Times
July 10, 2014
Iraq’s security forces ill-equipped to face militants

On paper, Iraq’s security forces are among the most powerful in the Middle East. With more than 271,000 men, they are bettered in size only by those of Egypt and Iran.

In practice, though, as months of an increasingly virulent jihadi insurgency have shown, they are among the weakest: morale-sapped and unled.

The elite training ISF officers took at the Al-Rustamiyah academy, based on the British Army’s Sandhurst, has come to naught. In Mosul, last month, as militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) advanced on the city, they abandoned their troops in the night.

The ISF’s arsenal of high-grade equipment supplied by the US and Nato allies – 336 tanks, 140 of which are M1A1 Abrams; 3600 armoured personnel carriers; 1300 artillery pieces – is, meanwhile, proving little more than a mobile storefront for Isis to loot.

“It’s an army of power point warriors,” says Afzal Ashraf, a former British diplomat and air force captain who advised the Iraqi government on the creation and training of the ISF. Mr Ashraf is now a consultant fellow at the military think-tank RUSI.

“Even when we were creating the forces under Petraeus, military planners would show figures and slides and statistics of the size of the ISF that did not show any real indication of capability. Quantitative measures of fighting forces are pretty useless – especially new forces,” he adds.

Most of the ISF forces are deployed around the capital and the South. The sixth division is charged with the defence of Baghdad’s West. To the east, the ninth. They are holding ground – but only just. Isis’s long-practised tactics continue to draw a toll: the commander of the sixth, general Najim Abdullah was killed in an insurgent attack on Sunday.

North of Baghdad, ISF forces deployed to defend Tikrit, now holed up in Camp Speicher north of the city, came under renewed attack from Isis on Tuesday, while other Isis forces moved on Muqdadiyah, north east of the capital, and took the Sudur dam too raising the prospect of ISF deployments in Samarra and Tikrit being encircled.

In Baghdad itself, a city preparing itself for front line fighting, the discipline and mood among the ranks of the city’s defenders is no better than elsewhere.

ISF forces can be seen careening down boulevards in convoys of gigantic US-made pickup trucks, some with high-calibre guns mounted on their flatbeds and resemble militias more than regular, disciplined units.

“We haven’t had a break for weeks,” says one soldier guarding the entrance to the heavily fortified Green Zone. “We’re really suffering here,” adds another, complaining of long hours, poor living conditions and outdated equipment.

Israeli IRON DOME Air Defense System Has Become a “Game-Changer” in Gaza Conflict

July 10, 2014
Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ Changes the Face of Battle
Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense system has emerged as a game-changer in the current round of violence with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, shooting down dozens of incoming rockets and being credited with preventing numerous civilian casualties.

By shooting down more than 90 percent of its targets, the system is ensuring Israel’s decisive technological edge that has helped it operate virtually unhindered in Gaza.

At the same time, it’s also providing a much-needed sense of security on the home front.

Gaza militants have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, some more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) deep, covering an area of about 5 million. But beyond some jitters and discomfort, they haven’t hurt Israelis much, causing no casualties and very little damage.

"The Iron Dome system and its impressive success thus far have had a strategic impact on managing the campaign. It gives us wide options," said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. "Having said that, we cannot become complacent."

Israel has deployed seven batteries across the country that — coupled with a high-tech warning system — have given it its best defensive capabilities ever.

Iron Dome quickly recognizes the trajectory of incoming rockets and whether they are headed for major population centers. Those are shot down, while others are allowed to fall in empty fields to spare the hefty cost of firing the sophisticated interceptors. Local reports say each launching costs about $20,000.

So far, Hamas and other Gaza militants have fired more than 420 rockets toward Israel in three days of fighting. The military says it has shot down 90 of those, including several over Tel Aviv and central Israel.

On Thursday afternoon, the system was deployed for the first time in Jerusalem. Two puffs of smoke could be seen in the sky — apparently after intercepting two incoming rockets.

Lt. Col. Levi Itach, head of the military’s early warning branch, said several high-tech measures along with a disciplined public that has vigilantly followed instruction have allowed Israel to keep its casualties from rockets to a minimum.

He said the systems had improved significantly in the two years since the last major exchange of airstrikes and rocket fire between Israel and Hamas, in which six Israelis were killed and several were injured by Gaza rocket fire in that weeklong battle.

The system is still far from foolproof. On Thursday, rockets struck a home in the southern city of Beersheba and a car in Ashdod — incidents that easily could have resulted in casualties.

Itach said no system could provide 100 percent protection.

"If we keep up what we are doing, there is a good chance that we will be able to lower the ratio to one death for every 10,000 rockets fired," he said.

Yossi Kuperwasser, a retired military general and current director general of Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said that Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militants have acquired longer, more powerful weapons in the past two years, but Israel had not been idle either. He said improvements to Iron Dome have allowed it to hold off on a ground operation while the home front was protected.

Deflecting the Hot Wind

By Bharat karnad
Published: 11th July 2014

Hundred years ago, John Buchan wrote a thriller featuring the secret agent, Richard Hannay. Tasked with stopping the Germans from using a charismatic mahdi—the “Greenmantle’’ (also the title of the book) to stir up religious fervour, anti-colonial sentiments, and revolts against the British in the Middle East and India, he is warned that “there is a hot wind blowing from the east and the dry grasses await the spark”.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, shortened to Islamic State (IS) by its own revised nomenclature—the toxic armed force of disgruntled Sunni Iraqis and Syrians, and murderous hotheads spawned by the al-Qaeda (introduced originally into Iraq by, who else, the US)—are closing in on Baghdad. It is generating the hot wind India will have to brave, but apparently not alone. IS’s global jihad is to be unleashed ambitiously in all countries “in the east and the west”, including India, China, Iran and, deliciously ironical this, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates—the financiers of radical Islamism and, of course, the US and Europe. “The earth is Allah’s,” declared Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the megalomaniacal “caliph” heading IS in his Ramzan message. “If you hold to (this belief), you will…own the world.”

IS does not represent a run-of-the-mill Islamic militancy. Its purposeful publicising of beheadings and massacres is to instil dread; mindless cruelty is its calling card. How completely it is eradicated will determine the sort of heat India and other countries will face. The IS ideology cannot be allowed to creep into India and infect an already paranoid Indian Muslim community. It will require a ramping up of the surveillance effort by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the intelligence cells in the provincial police organisations, and more intrusive monitoring of the activity of Sunni trusts and of money flows into them from Arab sources. And the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) has to vastly expand its intelligence collection effort and capacity for pre-emption operations in West Asia, which will require a larger cadre of Arabic-speaking staffers than presently exists.

However, it is precisely the alienating of just about every country and regime in sight that offers the means for the eradication of IS. It will necessitate a comprehensively coordinated regional and international effort to constrict the space IS operates in, and to mount a multi-directional war of all against the IS to eliminate it. India can take the lead by calling for meetings of foreign ministers and intelligence chiefs of the targeted countries to hammer out a definite strategy to destroy this uber-militant group.

Until now the problem was limited to the IS battling the ineffectual Nour al-Maliki government in Iraq, on the one hand, and the Bashar al-Assad dispensation dominated by Alawis, a syncretist Islamic sect denounced as heretical since the 11th Century in Syria, on the other. With Shia interests under siege, Iran quickly dispatched elements of its Pas Daran (Revolutionary Guards), the Hezbollah in Lebanon, and war material to Damascus to counter Riyadh and Qatar fuelling the Sunni revolt. And, just like that the oldest rift within Islam sprang full blown into renewed sectarian strife for supremacy in the Islamic world, which has morphed into a global jihad.

The Caliphate: Its Relevance and Necessity in the Current Age

Recent analysis misinterprets the true meaning of what a modern Caliphate is.
By Shafiul Huq
July 10, 2014

In an article titled “Why the New Caliphate is Irrelevant,” Akhilesh Pillalamarri of The Diplomatraises some important issues regarding the existence and relevance of the Caliphate, both historically and at present. I would seek to address some of those points by providing a different perspective on how we understand the Caliphate and the call for its return.

Pillalamarri says regarding the Caliphate that “…the concept has been superfluous throughout most of history,” and that, “The universal Caliphate is a pipe dream.” This contention appears to be based on the premise that schisms have existed amongst different factions within the Caliphate, and that there have often been multiple claims to the position of the Caliph.

These claims assume that because of the political problems that existed at the time of certain Caliphates, the Caliphate as envisioned by Muslims who call for its return has never been a reality in Islamic history, but rather a “superfluous” concept. By casually dismissing the Caliphate as a romantic ideal, the article oversimplifies, in fact completely misrepresents, how the Caliphate is understood in Islamic thought and how it was a central feature of Islamic civilization for centuries.

For Muslims, the Caliphate is not just another empire that existed during a certain period of history. Rather, Muslims consider its establishment a divine command because it is the institution through which Muslims implement divine laws in society and convey the call to Islam to the rest of the world. Therefore, contrary to the author’s claim, the Caliphate is essential to the religious practice of Muslims, and Islamic scholars throughout the centuries have discussed this issue at length.

From this perspective, the Caliphate is the general leadership of Muslims responsible for the implementation of Islamic law, the Shari’ah. The implementation of the Shari’ah means that the laws adopted and implemented are based on the primary Islamic texts – the Qur’an and the Sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) – and have been derived through an Islamically valid legal methodology.

Muslims, like many other civilizations, have experienced ups and downs. There has been infighting, political turmoil, multiple claims to the seat of the Caliph and all the other problems that civilizations normally face. Yet despite these challenges, for almost 1300 years, the Qur’an and the Sunnah have remained the primary sources of law for Muslims.

There were misapplications of the Shari’ah by certain rulers, yet there was never a blatant rejection of the primary Islamic texts as the only sources of law, nor was there ever an explicit reference to foreign sources for legislative purposes. There were autonomous regions, such as the Indian subcontinent, but those Muslims nevertheless identified themselves as being part of a global Ummah (nation). In fact, despite being administratively autonomous, the different dynasties ruling over India derived their legitimacy from the Caliphat the time, whether during the Abbasid or the Ottoman era. Therefore, the Caliphate was not merely a pipe dream, but a living reality for Muslims, and an essential aspect of their civilization.

The Next Generation of Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Young people are at the center of the latest violence. And they'll decide its future.
JUL 9 2014

JERUSALEM—In recent weeks, the all-too-common elements of Israeli-Palestinian violence—rocks, rockets, and rubber bullets, Molotov cocktails and missile strikes—have included more unusual tactics: kidnappings and murders, remarkable not only for their viciousness but also for the youth of the victims and perpetrators.

Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Fraenkel, the three Jewish teens who were abducted and murdered three weeks ago while hitchhiking in the West Bank, were between the ages of 16 and 19. Muhammad Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian boy snatched from outside his home two weeks later and burned to death in a Jerusalem forest, was 16. The Jewish suspects being held in connection with Abu Khdeir’s killing are reportedly between the ages of 16 and 25. The prime suspects in the murder of the Israeli teens are 29 and 32.
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Israeli and Palestinian leaders have denounced the murders. But with Jewish teenagers marching through Jerusalem and calling for revenge, and Palestinian teenagers rioting in West Bank villages, the condemnations have so far felt impotent. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is now 79 years old. Netanyahu is 64. Each has spent almost a decade in power (Netanyahu’s terms haven’t been consecutive). There is a limit to how long they can retain control over their young and increasingly restless populations. The median age in Israel is 29.9. In the West Bank, it’s 22.4. In Gaza, 18.2. (In the United States, by way of contrast, it’s 37.6.).

In the coming years and decades, how will the friends and classmates of Naftali Fraenkel and Muhammad Abu Khdeir exercise leadership? Fraenkel’s peers may be more conservative than the current generation of Israeli leaders, while Abu Khdeir’s may spurn Palestinian party politics altogether. Perhaps the most dangerous outcome is that many on both sides could go their entire lives without saying a word to one another.

Hamas is the New Lesser of Evils

9 July 2014

A resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is further away than ever. Hamas is the biggest obstacle to peace between the two sides, yet Israeli Brigadier General Michael Herzog tells Colin Freeman at Britain’s Telegraph that Hamas needs to be preserved and maintained lest something even worse takes its place.

“One way in which an Israeli military operation could backfire is by shaking Hamas' control on the ground to the point that it allowed other factions, including jihadists, to come to the fore,” he said. “At least Hamas provides an address—you don't have that with the jihadi factions. They aren't dominant right now but Hamas no longer controls Gaza as firmly as it used to, and if it was seriously weakened they could take advantage. We don't want another Somalia on our doorstep.”

He could have said he doesn’t want another Iraq on his doorstep. If a group like ISIS seized power in Gaza City during the aftermath of a war, both Israelis and Palestinians would have a brand-new deadly serious problem.

So Hamas is the “lid,” and the Israelis won’t even try to get rid of it. Right now they only want to put a stop to the rocket fire. It makes sense considering what’s happening in Syria and Iraq, but think of the long-term ramifications: Hamas is indispensable even while making an end to the conflict impossible. What does thatsay about the prospects for peace in the near term?

If Hamas simply wanted independence for a Palestinian state, the two sides would only have to work out the details. But Hamas wants to “liberate” and “end the occupation” not of the West Bank but of Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. It isn’t possible to negotiate a deal with these people. They aren’t interested in negotiating anything more than a temporary cease-fire. Hamas and the entire ideology behind it must be eliminated or at least marginalized before an end to the conflict will be in sight.

Why Does Hamas Want War?

JULY 11, 2014
It knows it will lose militarily, but hopes to win at the bar of public opinion. 

Israeli armor on the move near Gaza.

Politicians start wars optimistic about their prospects of gaining from the combat, GeoffreyBlainey notes in his masterly study, The Causes of War; otherwise, they would avoid fighting.

Why, then, did Hamas just provoke a war with Israel? Out of nowhere, on June 11 it began launching rockets, shattering a calm in place since November 2012. The mystery of this outburst prompted David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, to find that the current fighting has “no remotely credible reason” even to be taking place. And why did the Israeli leadership respond minimally, trying to avoid combat? This although both sides know that Israel’s forces vastly overmatch Hamas’s in every domain — intelligence gathering, command and control, technology, firepower, domination of air space.

Actually, Hamas leaders are quite rational. Periodically (2006, 2008, 2012), they decide to make war on Israel knowing full well that they will lose on the military battlefield but optimistic about winning in the political arena. Israeli leaders, conversely, assume they will win militarily but fear political defeat — bad press, United Nations resolutions, and so on.

The focus on politics represents a historic shift; the first 25 years of Israel’s existence saw repeated challenges to its existence (especially in 1948–49, 1967, and 1973), and no one knew how those wars would turn out. I remember the first day of the 1967 Six-Day War, when the Egyptians proclaimed splendid triumphs while complete Israeli press silence suggested catastrophe. It came as a shock to learn that Israel had scored the greatest victory in the annals of warfare.The point is, outcomes were unpredictably decided on the battlefield.

No longer: The battlefield outcome of Arab–Israeli wars in last 40 years has been predictable; everyone knows Israeli forces will prevail. It’s more like cops and robbers than warfare. Ironically, this lopsidedness turns attention from winning and losing to morality and politics. Israel’s enemies provoke it to kill civilians, whose deaths bring them multiple benefits.

The four conflicts since 2006 have restored Hamas’s tarnished reputation for “resistance,” built solidarity on the home front, stirred dissent among both Arabs and Jews in Israel, galvanized Palestinians and other Muslims to become suicide bombers, embarrassed non-Islamist Arab leaders, secured new United Nations resolutions bashing Israel, inspired Europeans to impose harsher sanctions on Israel, opened the international Left’s spigot of vitriol against the Jewish state, and won additional aid from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The holy grail of political warfare is to win the sympathy of the global Left by presenting oneself as underdog and victim. (From a historic point of view, it bears pointing out, this is very strange: Traditionally, combatants tried to scare the enemy by presenting themselves as fearsome and unstoppable.)

The tactics of this new warfare include presenting a convincingly emotional narrative, citing endorsements of famous personalities, appealing to the conscience, and drawing simple but powerful political cartoons (Israeli supporters tend to excel at this, both in the past and now). Palestinians get even more creative, developing the twin fraudulent techniques of “fauxtography” for still pictures and “Pallywood” for videos. Israelis used to be complacent about the need for what they callhasbara, or getting the message out, but recent years find them more focused on this.

Hilltops, cities, and strategic roadways matter supremely in the Syria and Iraqi civil wars, but morality, proportionality, and justice dominate Arab–Israeli wars. As I wrote during the 2006 Israel–Hamas confrontation, “Solidarity, morale, loyalty, and understanding are the new steel, rubber, oil, and ammunition.” Or in 2012: “Opeds have replaced bullets, social media have replaced tanks.” More broadly, this is part of the profound change in modern warfare when Western and non-Western forces fight, as in the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Clausewitzian terms, public opinion is the new center of gravity.

All this said, how fares Hamas? Not well. Its battlefield losses since July 8 appear higher than expected, and worldwide condemnations of Israel have yet to pour in. Even the Arabic media are relatively quiet. If this pattern holds, Hamas might conclude that raining rockets on Israeli homes is not such a good idea. Indeed, for Hamas to be dissuaded from initiating another assault in a few years, it needs to lose both the military and the political wars, and lose them very badly.

Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2014 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.