Obama misjudges his misjudgment (& Israeli and Iranian ministers shake hands)

January 24, 2010

* Fatah: we will back “fraternal” Iranian regime against Iran’s pro-democratic opposition
* Russia to strengthen ties with Hamas
* Russia confirms it will help Iran launch nuclear plant this year
* Saudi Princess: The Shia practice paganism
* Saudi government minister: suspend beating your children during visits to U.S.

Please note there is also another dispatch today, titled Iran: “Israeli doctors stealing Haitian organs” (& Jerusalem mayor attacks BBC “lies”).



1. Obama: misjudging his own misjudgment
2. Official Fatah website drops all material from Iranian sources opposing the regime
3. An exclusive interview with Hamas leader Dr. Khalil Al Hayya
4. Russian foreign minister: Moscow strengthens contact with Hamas
5. Russia confirms it will help Iran launch nuclear plant this year

6. Senator-elect Scott Brown, a strong supporter of Israel
7. Israeli, Iranian ministers share a rare handshake
8. Syrians turn backs, while Palestinians talk cooperation
9. Palestinian forces rescue injured Jewish settler
10. Saudi government minister: suspend beating your children during visits to U.S.

11. Riot in Saudi women’s prison, and rare Saudi openness in reporting it
12. Saudi Princess: The Shi’ites injected pagan customs into Islam
13. France vows to prevent any Israeli strike on Lebanon’s infrastructure
14. French company to revamp Lebanon’s Gazelle helicopters, equip Pumas
15. “Pentagon refusing Israeli F-35 requests”

[All notes below by Tom Gross]


Time magazine reports:

In an exclusive interview published this week in Time magazine, U.S. President Barack Obama admits he erred during his first year in office by raising too high expectations of a Middle East breakthrough.

“I’ll be honest with you, this is just really hard,” Obama said when asked about the Middle East.

“This is as intractable a problem as you get,” Obama said. While Jerusalem showed a willingness “after a lot of time” to make “some modifications” in policy, it “still found it very hard to move with any bold gestures.”

“I think it is absolutely true that what we did this year didn’t produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high,” Obama said.


Tom Gross adds: Based on his record so far, Obama is proving to be the most naïve president for decades regarding foreign policy.

As outlined in previous dispatches on this list, his initial policies toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were very unhelpful to both Israeli and Palestinian moderates. Luckily both groups ignored him and Obama’s first year in office from late January 2009 until the present, turned out to be one of the healthiest for Israelis and Palestinians in over 15 years – not that Obama seems to grasp this.

Among the factors that made the first 12 months of Obama’s presidency better for peace prospects (for those of us who want a two-state solution) than previous years:

* There was less violence both between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Palestinians and Palestinians, than there has been for years.

* 2009 was the first year without any successful suicide bombs against Israel for a long time.

* The Palestinian security forces in the West Bank have finally started to behave as a security force rather than as a terrorist group.

* There was strong economic growth in both Israel and the Palestinian territories relative to most of the rest of the world, for which 2009 was a bleak year.

* A Likud leader recognized the principle of an independent Palestinian state.

* Benjamin Netanyahu made the most sweeping freeze on Israeli settlement building in the West Bank since 1967.

Yet Obama and his advisors have now gone from being ridiculously optimistic, to becoming ridiculously pessimistic.



The official website of the Fatah movement, the Voice of Palestine, announced over the weekend that they are removing all material from their website from Iranian opposition sources.

He said that “the relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Palestinian Authority and Fatah is a fraternal relationship and the Iranian regime must not be offended from the pages of electronic media and that the Palestinian Fatah will not allow news of any form to be distributed which affect the fraternal relations between the two countries.”

Full announcement in Arabic here.



Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow is intensifying its contacts with Hamas, which it considers “vital”. Lavrov’s comments were made during a news conference in Moscow to discuss his assessment of 2009 and the priorities for Russian foreign policy in 2010.

In a separate development, Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas will visit Russia this week. The Russian news agency RIA Novosti reports that Abbas and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will meet in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on January 26.



Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, has confirmed that his country will launch Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant in 2010.

“All the work is going as scheduled. The tests are a success. This year will be the year of the launch of Bushehr,” AFP quoted Kiriyenko as saying on Thursday. Israel and other countries fear Iran will use nuclear fuel to make nuclear weapons.

It seems a sinister coincidence that The International Herald Tribune ran this as a small story in their “news briefs” section next to an item announcing that the stolen entrance sign to Auschwitz has been restored at the camp. Israel fears the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East will lead to a nuclear conflict which could result in a nuclear Holocaust being inflicted upon the Jewish state.

Of all the foreign policy issues Obama has mishandled in his first year in office, the question of how to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions has been the gravest.

In saying that I believed Hillary Clinton would be the better of two poor candidates by then remaining in the race to be the Democratic presidential nominee, I wrote in April 2008 (particularly with the Iranian nuclear issue in mind): “As an intelligent man, Obama is no doubt capable of mastering foreign policy but it will take some time; and while he’s doing so, in an extremely dangerous world, it may well prove a very costly education for the rest of us.”

To my great regret – since I want to see a strong America with a strong and wise commander in chief (otherwise powers such as China, Russia and Iran will fill the gap) – I stand by that assessment.



Dr. Khalil Al Hayya confirms to Hamas’s Al Qassam website that the “Hamas movement receives Iranian support financially, politically and morally without paying any political price.”

You can read the full interview on Hamas’s English language website here.



Incoming Republican Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is on record as having a clear understanding of the security threats Israel faces. Here is his position paper on the matter.

He may help tilt the balance away from the increasingly cool stance towards Israel of many in the Obama administration and the State Department.



Israeli and Iranian ministers exchanged a rare handshake last week while attending the International Tourism Trade Fair in Madrid.

Israel’s Tourism Minister Stas Mezeshnikov (a member of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party) approached his Iranian counterpart, held out his hand, and said “We are both from the same region and tourism can serve as a bridge for dialogue and to wider understanding,” Reuters reports .

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel’s destruction as a Jewish state, and has also repeatedly questioned whether the Nazi Holocaust, in which six million Jews were murdered, had indeed occurred. Tensions have been aggravated by the Iranian nuclear program, which Israel views as an existential threat.

Mezeshnikov further said to the Iranian minister, Hamid Baqaie, “The Israeli people see the Iranian people as a friend, but Iran must stop its wild incitement against Israel and return to the family of nations.”

Baqaie made no response, but did briefly shake the Israeli’s hand when offered it. A number of the more junior Israeli and Iranian tourism officials also exchanged pleasantries, according to Israeli news reports.

Mezeshnikov was quoted as replying that he hoped “the day that Israelis can visit Iran will soon return, but this would require a regime change in Iran.”

Israel enjoyed relatively warm ties with Iran until the Islamic revolution in 1979.



By contrast the Syrian tourism minister, whom Mezeshnikov also approached at the fair, refused to shake his hand. Instead he and his whole delegation immediately turned their backs on the Israelis.

However, the Israeli and Palestinian tourism minister enjoyed what was termed as “a very nice conversation” at the tourism fair. Mezeshnikov said: “We are cooperating with the Palestinians on several joint tourism projects as well as in the bid to have the Dead Sea make it into the New Seven Wonders of the World competition.”

(Tom Gross adds: I also had lunch with the Palestinian tourism minister in Bethlehem last month and she spoke warmly of developing joint tourism projects with Israel. The minister, who is from a small village in the West Bank, recently returned from doing her PhD in Germany and speaks good German and English.)



The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reports that Palestinian Authority civil defense crews rescued an Israeli settler who was trapped under her overturned car on Friday near Qalqilya in the northern West Bank.

The injured woman’s condition was described as serious.

A Palestinian civil defense unit arrived at the scene shortly after it learned that a car had flipped near a bridge, PA sources said.

Palestinian forces used special equipment to rescue the trapped woman, and offered initial emergency treatment. Israeli medics then arrived on the scene, and transferred the woman to a hospital in Israel for further treatment.

Tom Gross adds: Although there are still all kinds of problems with the Palestinian Authority security forces, there have also been great improvements over the last year. Whereas they previously would probably have shot such an Israeli settler, they are now regularly assisting in such cases as car accidents.



Saudi Arabia’s Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Muhammad Al-Shammari, said on Friday that Saudi students who are going to live and study in America should be careful not to beat their children while in the U.S. as it is against the law there, according to Saudi media reports in Arabic. (And in English here.)



Four inmates and several staff were injured when a riot broke out at a women’s prison in the holy city of Mecca last week. The head of social affairs in Mecca described it as a “mutiny” and threatened harsh action against the instigators.

The Saudi Gazette reports: “A few years ago, that would probably have been the last anyone heard of the matter. But Saudi Arabia is changing, as was seen last month by the public outcry over the authorities’ mishandling of the Jeddah floods. When things go wrong, Saudis are beginning to demand accountability.

“No fewer than four government departments are now investigating the background to the prison riot, the kingdom’s National Society of Human Rights has become involved, and The Saudi Gazette has kept up a barrage of reports on the affair for three days running. The paper even has quotes from some of the inmates.

“They said that they had no choice but to protest because of the alleged abuse they suffered at the hands of the guards and prison officials. They said they were severely beaten, often went hungry and had to bear the agony of solitary confinement.”



Against the backdrop of ongoing tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and between Sunnis and Shi’ites throughout the region, Saudi Princess Basma Sa’ud bin Abd Al-Aziz has written an article in the Saudi daily Al-Madina, condemning the rites performed by the Shi’ites on the Day of Ashura, which she says are “among the ugliest and most primitive pagan rites banned by the Prophet.”

“These [Shi’ite] disciples take to the streets by the thousands and scour [their own flesh] with chains and sticks. They spill their own blood in the name of [Hussein] – the Martyr of Islam, the grandson of the Prophet and the Master of the Youth of Paradise – whose teachings made no mention of these despicable customs of [self-] flagellation. [In fact, these customs] are among the ugliest and most primitive pagan rites banned by the Prophet,” she wrote, according to a translation by Memri.

“At a time when our Prophet is cursed and attacked [by Westerners], the Shi’ites are preoccupied with bemoaning the fate of his grandson. They have forgotten that the Prophet is the core!

“Isn’t it time to wake up and repent? Let us unite and defend our Prophet in the face of the [non-Muslim] enemy.”



The leading Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported yesterday that “well-informed Lebanese sources confirmed that French President Nicolas Sarkozy informed Lebanese officials that France has vowed to try to prevent Israel from bombarding Lebanon’s basic infrastructure ‘but no more than that.’ Sarkozy stressed to Lebanese officials that it was imperative to ‘control the internal situation in Lebanon and prevent any provocations.’”

The Lebanese government is concerned that if Hizbullah attacks Israel again, as it did in 2006 (and this time Hizbullah has thousands of Iranian and Syrian-supplied missiles which can hit Tel Aviv), Israel will strike back at infrastructural targets in Lebanon.

As Hizbullah builds up an ever greater and more powerful arsenal in south Lebanon along Israel’s border, and as the Italian-and French-led UNIFIL forces there do next to nothing to prevent this (contrary to their obligations under their UN mandate), there are increasing tensions between Lebanon and Israel.



Lebanon has signed an agreement with the French company Euro Tech to revamp 13 Gazelle-type helicopters owned by Lebanon, and equip the Puma helicopters granted by the UAE to Lebanon, according to Lebanese news reports.

Lebanese pilots will also be trained to fly the French-manufactured Puma helicopters. The first batch of Pumas are expected to arrive in Lebanon by June.

An earlier report in the Pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat said that France was worried that any weapons, including missiles for the Gazelle helicopters, provided to the Lebanese army could end up in the hands of Hizbullah. French officials have now decided to go ahead with the sale in spite of these fears.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri had asked for the Gazelle missiles since the Lebanese airforce used up all its rockets against Palestinian Fatah al-Islam militants during the battle of Nahr el-Bared in northern Lebanon in 2007. The Lebanese army massacred a great many Palestinian civilians in that operation but all those people in the West who claim to campaign for the well-being of Palestinians were largely silent and seemingly couldn’t care less because Israel wasn’t involved.



The U.S. insists it will prohibit the use of any Israeli radar and electronic technology in F-35’s purchased by Israel – making Israel dependent on the U.S. for repair and maintenance and in effect curtailing Israel’s free use of the aircraft in future.

The Israeli Defense Ministry says it only wants to purchase the new stealth-enabled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter from America if it is allowed to replace 50 percent of the systems with Israeli-made technology.

The F-35 will be one of the most advanced fighter jets in the world and, according to the IAF, would significantly boost Israel’s deterrence. The planes are expected to cost around $130 million each.

The U.S. is also refusing to allow Israel to independently maintain the aircraft. Under the current proposal, if a customer encounters a mechanical malfunction, the plane will have to be sent to a special maintenance center, likely to be set up in Italy.

“This is not something we can live with,” the Israeli official said. “Can you imagine that during a war we will send one of our aircraft to Italy to be fixed?”


Meanwhile, as outlined in the dispatch titled Science fiction soon to become reality as Israel develops robot weapons, the Obama administration is sending billions of dollars worth of sophisticated arms to Arab countries, including:

* 2,742 anti-tank missiles for Saudi Arabia
* 1,808 anti-tank missiles and 162 launchers with night vision systems for Jordan
* 1,600 laser-guided “smart bombs” and 800 one-ton and 400 bunker buster bombs for the UAE
* 12 of the latest C-130 Hercules military cargo planes also for the UAE
* 16 Chinook helicopters also for the UAE
* 24 F-16s for Morocco, the first acquired by that country’s air force

[All notes above by Tom Gross]

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.