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Luai Sakra detained in Turkey. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra is arrested in Turkey. He is found with false travel documents and $120,000 in cash. He had about one ton of explosives (hydrogen peroxide) stored in an apartment and fled when some of the explosives blew out the apartment’s windows. Arrested at a nearby airport, a number of passports are found revealing his true identity despite the fact that he had extensive plastic surgery. He soon confesses to planning to load the explosives onto speed boats and crash them into Israeli cruise ships docking in Turkish ports. The attack would have taken place in just a few days, possibly on August 5, 2005. [BBC, 8/13/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/15/2005; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005; Washington Post, 2/20/2006] Apparently, Turkish intelligence had learned something about the planned attacks and warned the Israeli government. The Israeli government then issued a public warning, which seems to have tipped off the plotters, and Sakra is one of the few who gets caught. A Turkish security official complains that the Israeli warning may have “spoiled all the operation and all the militants might escape.” [Journal of Turkish Weekly, 8/15/2005] Sakra, who has been alleged to be an informant for the CIA, Syria, and Turkey (see 2000), will then reportedly make a remarkable series of confessions to Turkish interrogators (see Early August 2005).
Two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, are indicted for crimes relating to their role in passing classified US government information to Israel (see April 13, 1999-2004). They are charged with conspiring “to communicate national defense information [to] persons not entitled to receive it,” applicable under the Espionage Act. Their charges are similar to those filed against former government employee Larry Franklin, their contact (see October 5, 2005). National security expert Eli Lake will call the charges against Rosen and Weissman “unprecedented,” noting that for them to face the same charges as Franklin puts them—two private citizens—under the same obligation as Franklin, a government official, to keep secret any classified information they might acquire. Lake will write: “[I]f it’s illegal for Rosen and Weissman to seek and receive ‘classified information,’ then many investigative journalists are also criminals—not to mention former government officials who write for scholarly journals or the scores of men and women who petition the federal government on defense and foreign policy. In fact, the leaking of classified information is routine in Washington, where such data is traded as a kind of currency. And, while most administrations have tried to crack down on leaks, they have almost always shied away from going after those who receive them—until now. At a time when a growing amount of information is being classified, the prosecution of Rosen and Weissman threatens to have a chilling effect—not on the ability of foreign agents to influence US policy, but on the ability of the American public to understand it.” [US v. Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman Criminal No. 1:05CR225, 8/4/2005 ; New Republic, 10/10/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 174] Months later, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will say that journalists and other private citizens can be prosecuted for leaking classified information (see May 21, 2006). Almost four years later, the charges against Rosen and Weissman will be dropped (see May 1, 2009).
Azhari Husin. [Source: Public domain]According to the 2007 edition of a book about the Mossad entitled “Gideon’s Spies,” shortly after the 7/7 London subway bombings (see July 7, 2005), the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 gathers evidence that a senior al-Qaeda operative known only by the alias Mustafa traveled in and out of England shortly before the 7/7 bombings. For months, the real identity of Mustafa remains unknown. But in early October 2005, the Mossad tells MI5 that this person actually was Azhari Husin, a bomb making expert with Jemaah Islamiyah, the main al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia. Husin used to study in Britain and reports claim that he met the main 7/7 bomber, Mohammad Sidique Khan, in late 2001 in a militant training camp in the Philippines (see Late 2001). Meir Dagan, the head of the Mossad, apparently also tells MI5 that Husin helped plan and recruit volunteers for the bombings. The Mossad claims that Husin may have been in London at the time of the bombings, and then fled to al-Qaeda’s main safe haven in the tribal area of Pakistan, where he sometimes hides after bombings. Husin will be killed in a shootout in Indonesia in November 2005. [Thomas, 2007, pp. 520, 522] Later official British government reports about the 7/7 bombings will not mention Husin.
Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) is recorded telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene with the Justice Department to try to get charges against two Israeli lobbyists reduced. In return, the Israeli agent promises to help Harman secure the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The Israeli agent will remain unidentified; the two lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, are charged with espionage after they allegedly passed along classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see April 13, 1999-2004). The conversation between Harman and the Israeli agent is recorded on an wiretap, reportedly by the NSA, mounted as part of a federal investigation into AIPAC’s potential espionage operations against the US (see October 5, 2005). According to transcripts of the wiretapped conversation, Harman agrees to “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” The Israeli agent asks Harman if she could speak with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Rosen’s and Weissman’s behalf. Harman replies that Gonzales might not cooperate, because he “just follows White House orders,” but other officials might be more pliable. In return, the Israeli agent promises to contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and attempt to persuade her to name Harman as chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee if the Democrats win control of the House in the November 2006 elections. Harman tells the agent, “This conversation doesn’t exist,” and hangs up. The contents of the conversation will later be confirmed by three separate sources, including two former senior national security officials. [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Reporter Marc Ambinder will later write that Harman’s conversation may have been recorded by the FBI, and not the NSA, as part of the its investigation into Rosen and Weissman. [Atlantic Monthly, 4/20/2009]
Defense Department analyst Larry Franklin pleads guilty to passing government secrets to two employees of a pro-Israel lobbying group and to an Israeli government official, a violation of the Espionage Act. He is later sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison. [Washington Post, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 1/21/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 173] Franklin, an Iran specialist, gave details of US policy towards Iran to Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two members of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) which the Washington Post calls “one of Washington’s most influential lobbying organizations.” He also admits to giving classified information directly to Naor Gilon, chief of political affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Gilon returned to Israel, but Rosen and Weissman have been charged in what prosecutors claim was a conspiracy to obtain and illegally pass classified US information to foreign officials and news reporters. Franklin reportedly has been cooperating with investigators in return for a relatively lenient sentence. [Washington Post, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 1/21/2006] It appears that Franklin was caught by accident in 2003 as part of a larger FBI investigation into Israeli spying that began in 2001 (see September 9, 2001). Investigators had been monitoring Gilon and were reportedly “floored” to watch Franklin sit down and eat lunch with him. [United Press International, 12/9/2004]
Saijida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi confesses on Jordanian television to attempting to be one of the suicide bombers. Her bomb belt is also shown. [Source: BBC / Jordanian Televison]Three hotels in Amman, Jordan are simultaneously bombed. Sixty people, including three bombers, are killed and 115 others are injured. The explosions take place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson SAS Hotel, and the Days Inn, which are hotels often frequented by Western military contractors and diplomats. The bomb at the Radisson explodes in a ballroom where a wedding reception is taking place. The Jordanian government soon announces that the group Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is supposedly led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, took credit for the attack in an Internet statement. [CNN, 11/12/2005] Within days, an Iraqi woman accused of being a failed fourth suicide bomber confesses to participating in the attack on Jordanian television. CNN notes that “Many people were expressing doubt [whether the woman] really was involved…” [CNN, 11/14/2005] Two leading Palestinian security officials - West Bank military intelligence chief Maj Gen. Bashir Nafeh and his aide Col. Abel Allun - are among those killed. [BBC, 11/10/2005] The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, “The Radisson is known to be popular with Israeli tourists,” yet no Israelis were killed in the bombings. “Hours before the bombings, many Israelis were evacuated from the Radisson… apparently due to a specific security alert.” (The Haaretz report about this is retracted and then later reinstated.) [Ha'aretz, 10/11/2005] The Los Angeles Times also notes that Haaretz report and adds that Amos N. Guiora, a former leader of the Israel Defense Forces, told the Times that “sources in Israel had also told him about the pre-attack evacuations. “It means there was excellent intelligence that this thing was going to happen.… The question that needs to be answered is why weren’t the Jordanians working at the hotel similarly removed?” [Los Angeles Times, 11/10/2005] The deaths of the Palestinian intelligence officials and warning to Israeli tourists cause some, especially in the Muslim world, to claim that the attacks were an Israeli false flag operation. [Washington Post, 11/15/2005]
Ariel Sharon, shortly before suffering a stroke. [Source: New York Times]Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson says that a recent stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is divine punishment for “dividing God’s land.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2006] Sharon is in a deep coma after suffering what doctors say is a severe stroke. Sharon, in critical condition, is assumed to be unable to return to public life. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, is named acting prime minister. [New York Times, 1/5/2006] On his television program, The 700 Club, Robertson says: “God considers this land to be his. You read the Bible and he says ‘This is my land,’ and for any prime minister of Israel who decides he is going to carve it up and give it away, God says, ‘No, this is mine.’” Sharon ordered Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Robertson adds that Sharon is “a very tender-hearted man and a good friend” and he is saddened to know that Sharon is so debilitated. However, he says the Bible “makes it very clear that God has enmity against those who ‘divide my land.’” Sharon “was dividing God’s land and I would say woe unto any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course to appease the EU (European Union), the United Nations, or the United States of America.” Robertson implies that God also struck down former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated after working to give land to the Palestinian people (see November 4, 1995). “It was a terrible thing that happened, but nevertheless he was dead,” Robertson says. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization, issues a statement urging Christian leaders to distance themselves from the remarks. “It is outrageous and shocking, but not surprising, that Pat Robertson once again has suggested that God will punish Israel’s leaders for any decision to give up land to the Palestinians,” says ADL director Abraham Foxman. “His remarks are un-Christian and a perversion of religion. Unlike Robertson, we don’t see God as cruel and vengeful.” Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State says a religious leader “should not be making callous political points while a man is struggling for his life. Pat Robertson has a political agenda for the entire world, and he seems to think God is ready to take out any world leader who stands in the way of that agenda.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2006] “Those comments are wholly inappropriate and offensive and really don’t have a place in this or any other debate,” says White House spokesman Trent Duffy. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls Robertson’s statement “completely outrageous, insulting, and inappropriate.” Sharon “is fighting for his life,” Reid says. “He and his family deserve our thoughts and prayers, and I hope Mr. Robertson will offer them after he apologizes.” [MSNBC, 1/6/2006]
Farid Ghadry. [Source: Committee on the Present Danger]Farid Ghadry, the president of the Washington-based Reform Party of Syria (see October 2001), “wants to be the [Ahmed] Chalabi of Syria,” warns Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. Chalabi played a key role in the US’s attempt to bring about regime change in Iraq, and was the neoconservatives’ choice to lead Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see 2002-2003). Perthes says, “Chalabi is a role model for Ghadry.” [ABC News, 1/12/2006] Ghadry, like Chalabi, is a rich Arab exile with strong connections to Washington neoconservatives who wants to overthrow the Ba’athist dictator of his native country—in this case, Bashir Assad. Ghadry says that even though there doesn’t seem to be a strong impetus to invade Syria any time soon in Washington, Syria needs to be targeted, and soon. In February 2005, he said, “Maybe we don’t have weapons of mass destruction. But there’s reason enough to help. It’s important to free Syria because Syria could be on the avant-garde of helping the US win the war on terror.” Ghadry has taken pains to distance himself from the inevitable comparisons with his Iraqi counterpart, even sending one mass e-mail titled “I am not Ahmed Chalabi.” But like Chalabi, he has cultivated friends and colleagues within the American political and business communities; [Slate, 2/7/2005] in the US, where he is known as “Frank” Ghadry, he once presented himself as Lebanese instead of Syrian, and has owned a number of businesses, including a small defense contracting firm and a failed Washington coffee-shop chain called Hannibal’s. [Washington Business Journal, 10/4/1996; Business Forward, 3/2000] He is charming, comfortable with Westerners, and has long supported the idea of peaceful co-existence with Israel. [Slate, 2/7/2005] For instance, in May 2007, Ghadry, a member of the right-wing American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will write, “As a Syrian and a Muslim, I have always had this affinity for the State of Israel. As a businessman and an advocate of the free economic system of governance, Israel to me represents an astounding economic success in the midst of so many Arab failures.… While many Arabs view Israel as a sore implant, I view it as a blessing.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007; Farid Ghadry, 5/5/2007]
Ties to US Neoconservatives - Upon creating the Reform Party of Syria, Ghadry told reporters that Chalabi provided him with a template for his own plans for Syria: “Ahmed paved the way in Iraq for what we want to do in Syria.” And in 2005, Ghadry discussed his agenda with Chalabi, a discussion which took place in the living room of powerful US neoconservative and Chalabi sponsor Richard Perle, who, like Ghadry, supports enforced regime change in Syria. [Boston Globe, 12/13/2005] Later, Ghadry joined the Committee on the Present Danger, a group of mostly right wing politicians and think-tank fellows, and which boasts as members such prominent neoconservatives as Newt Gingrich, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey. [Slate, 2/7/2005] He is particularly close to Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of the vice president, who serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs [Syria News Wire, 2/19/2006] and heads of the State Department’s Iran-Syria Operations Group, tasked with planning strategies to “democratize” the two nations. [Vanity Fair, 3/2007] Cheney ensured that Ghadry’s group received some of the hundreds of millions of dollars given to the “Middle East Partnership Initiative,” which contributes to opposition groups throughout the region, [Iran Solidarity, 11/5/2006] and has coordinated at least one meeting, in February 2006, between Ghadry and senior Bush administration officials, including officials from Vice President Cheney’s office, the National Security Council, and the Pentagon. [Washington Post, 3/26/2005] Ghadry describes notorious neoconservative political operator Michael Ledeen as “my friend.” [National Review, 3/2/2005] He writes frequent screeds warning of dire consequences to the world if Assad remains in power, which often get picked up in right-wing media outlets such as Front Page and the Washington Times. And, like Chalabi, Ghadry says that once the US moves against Syria, it will be a virtual cakewalk: though Ghadry hasn’t lived in Syria since the 1960s, he says he has intimate knowledge of the Syrian society and culture, and he knows the Syrian people will welcome their US liberators. Syria has, he says, “good dissidents, who understand the United States, can work with the United States, and can help bring about major change.” [Slate, 2/7/2005] Boston Globe columnist H.D.S. Greenway wasn’t so sure, writing in December 2005, “Chalabi… is often accused of seducing the administration with false intelligence into invading Iraq. But the fact is that the Bush administration desperately wanted to be seduced. If you are feeling charitable, you can say that Chalabi, having lived in exile for so many years, may just have been out of touch with the real situation in Iraq. But one suspects that Farid Ghadry may be no better informed about his homeland than was Chalabi.” [Boston Globe, 12/13/2005]
Refusal to Work With Other Dissidents - A Syrian news site observes in February 2006 that Ghadry’s plans for Syria are made more difficult by his refusal to work with other dissident groups because, according to one dissident leader, Husam Ad-Dairi, Ghadry “only wanted to be a leader.” Another dissident Syrian, Riad At-Turk, calls Ghadry’s idea of opposition “nonsense.” Ad-Dairi says, “Ghadry did not split off from the [Syrian National Council, an umbrella organization of dissident groups] because we are Ba’athists or Islamists. He split off because he was not willing to be part of the group; he only wanted to be a leader. He wanted to start a Syrian government in exile with 19 people in Washington DC. Who does that represent? So we opposed it.” Ghadry will later attack Ad-Dairi, At-Turk, and other dissidents, widely considered some of the most liberal in the disparate dissident movements, “Stalinists” and accuse them of supporting al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. [Syrian Comment, 1/30/2006; Syria News Wire, 2/19/2006]
Ties to Abramoff? - Ghadry’s hopes to lead Syria may be tainted by his apparent ties to GOP lobbyist and convicted criminal Jack Abramoff. In January 2006, the Reform Party of Syria’s headquarters were located very near the offices of Abramoff’s lobbying firm, Middle Gate Ventures, which was apparently partnered with the Reform Party. Middle East expert Joshua Landis called the group “a front organization for Israeli interests in the Levant… supported by an impressive constellation of neoconservative stars. Regime change, effected by a US invasion and occupation of Syria and Lebanon, is the one and only item at the top of this gang’s agenda, and it comes as no surprise that Abramoff’s ill-gotten gains went to funding it.” [Syrian Comment, 1/11/2006]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Joshua Landis, Michael Ledeen, Syrian National Council, Newt Gingrich, Reform Party of Syria, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Riad At-Turk, James Woolsey, Farid Ghadry, Institute for International and Security Affairs, Ahmed Chalabi, Bashir Assad, Jack Abramoff, Committee on the Present Danger, Volker Perthes, Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney, Middle Gate Ventures, HDS Greenway, Husam Ad-Dairi
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Neoconservative Influence
Israel cuts American Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson out of a plan to build an evangelical Christian heritage center along the Sea of Galilee, in apparent retribution for Robertson’s recent statement that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was given a stroke by God as punishment for giving Israeli land to Palestinian settlers (see January 5, 2006). Deputy Tourism Minister Rami Levy says, “From our perspective, such a statement made for a person that is lying in a hospital bed is outrageous.” Robertson led a group of Christian evangelicals in planning the $50 million center, a joint venture with the state of Israel. The center is to be built along the Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water. The project will continue without Robertson’s participation, Levy says, adding, “Same joint venture, just the players are going to be changed.” The Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, calls the decision “a blow to evangelical-Israeli relations.” For the project to go forward, Haggard says, evangelical leaders “must exercise sensitivity and grace towards the people and leadership of the nation of Israel.” [CNN, 1/12/2006]
John Hannah. [Source: PBS]Dick Cheney’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) is so cloaked in secrecy, journalist Robert Dreyfuss reports, that it routinely refuses to provide a directory of staff members or even the numbers of staff and employees. Dreyfus writes, “Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney’s team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy.” The list of current and former staffers includes, as of April 2006: former chief of staff Lewis Libby; his replacement, David Addington; top national security advisers Eric Edelman and Victoria Nuland; neoconservative and hardline Middle East specialists such as John Hannah, William Luti, and David Wurmser; anti-Chinese Asia specialists such as Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich; a varying number of technocratic neoconservatives in other posts; and an array of communications specialists, including “Cheney’s Angels”: Mary Matalin, Juleanna Glover Weiss, Jennifer Millerwise, Jennifer Mayfield, Catherine Martin, and Lea Anne McBride. It is known that Cheney’s national security staff was assembled by Libby from various far-right think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), as well as carefully screened Cheney supporters from a variety of Washington law firms. [American Prospect, 4/16/2006] Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, will recall in early 2007: “A friend of mine counted noses [at the office] and came away with 88. That doesn’t count others seconded from other agencies.” [Washington Monthly, 1/7/2007]
'Cabal' of Zealots - Wilkerson calls Cheney’s inner group a “cabal” of arrogant, intensely zealous, highly focused loyalists. Recalling Cheney’s staff interacting in a variety of interagency meetings and committees, “The staff that the vice president sent out made sure that those [committees] didn’t key anything up that wasn’t what the vice president wanted,” says Wilkerson. “Their style was simply to sit and listen, and take notes. And if things looked like they were going to go speedily to a decision that they knew that the vice president wasn’t going to like, generally they would, at the end of the meeting, in great bureaucratic style, they’d say: ‘We totally disagree. Meeting’s over.’” The committee agendas were generally scuttled. And if something did get written up as a “decision memo” bound for the Oval Office, Cheney himself would ensure that it died before ever reaching fruition.”
Sidestepping the NSC - The National Security Council (NSC) is designated as the ultimate arbiter for foreign policy options and recommendations for the president. But, according to Wilkerson, Cheney’s office and the NSC were often at loggerheads, and Cheney’s “shadow NSC” had the upper bureaucratic hand. Cheney “set up a staff that knew what the statutory NSC was doing, but the NSC statutory staff didn’t know what his staff was doing,” says Wilkerson.
China Threat - Cheney’s Asia advisers, Yates and Ravich, were most often encountered by Wilkerson. They helped drive Cheney’s agenda for China, which was obsessive to the point of paranoia. China was a grave, if long-term, threat to the US, they believed. The US must begin strongly cultivating Taiwan as a counterbalance to China, whom they asserted was preparing for military action against the US. Former US ambassador to China Charles Freeman compares Yates to the Defense Department’s Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith; all three believed, Freeman says, that China was “the solution to ‘enemy deprivation syndrome.’”
Iraq Policy - Cheney’s current and former staffers played an even larger role in shaping the administration’s Iraq policy than is generally known, and Cheney “seeded” staffers in other departments to promote his war agenda. Luti left the OVP in 2001 to join the Department of Defense, where he organized the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Wurmser, an AEI neoconservative, joined the Pentagon and created the forerunner of the OSP, the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which helped manufacture the evidence of connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda. Wurmser worked closely with Hannah, Libby, Luti, and another Pentagon official, Harold Rhode. Ravich worked with neoconservative Middle East analyst Zalmay Khalilzad to build up Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, their designated supplanter of Hussein.
US or Israel Interests? - Many of Cheney’s most influential staffers are pro-Israeli to the point where many observers wonder where their ultimate loyalties lie. David Wurmser is a standout of this group. Wurmser worked at WINEP with Hannah, then joined the AEI, where he directed that group’s Middle East affairs, then joined Feith’s OSP before moving on to Bolton’s inner circle at the State Department, all before joining Cheney in the OVP. Most outsiders consider Wurmser’s ideas wildly unrealistic. A former ambassador says of Wurmser, “I’ve known him for years, and I consider him to be a naive simpleton.” [American Prospect, 4/16/2006]
Entity Tags: Elizabeth (“Liz”) Cheney, William Luti, Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Victoria Nuland, US Department of State, Douglas Feith, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Samantha Ravich, Stephen Yates, David Wurmser, David S. Addington, David Phillips, Aaron Friedberg, American Enterprise Institute, Benjamin Netanyahu, Catherine (“Cathie”) Martin, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert G. Joseph, Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, Chas Freeman, Robert Dreyfuss, American Prospect Magazine, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jennifer Mayfield, Jennifer Millerwise, John Hannah, James Woolsey, John R. Bolton, Iraqi National Congress, Harold Rhode, Entifadh Qanbar, Eric Edelman, George W. Bush, Hudson Institute, Richard Perle, Office of the Vice President, Lawrence Wilkerson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mary Matalin, Lea Anne McBride, National Security Council, Dean McGrath, Paul Wolfowitz, Office of Special Plans, Juleanna Glover Weiss
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Nouri al-Maliki. [Source: Truthdig.com]The first permanent government in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is sworn in to office. Iraq’s prime minister is Shi’ite leader Nouri al-Maliki (sometimes known as Jawad al-Maliki), the Bush administration’s choice to run the new Iraqi government. Sunni lawmakers and leaders largely refuse to participate in the new government, and many Sunnis walk out of the installation proceedings. Al-Maliki has appointed mostly fellow Shi’ites to run the various ministries of government, a makeup that reflects the strong Shi’ite majority of votes cast in the December 15 parliamentary elections. President Bush says the US government is fully supportive of the new government: “The United States and freedom-loving nations around the world will stand with Iraq as it takes its place among the world’s democracies and as an ally in the war on terror.” The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, says the new government is expected to spur change that might “allow adjustments in terms of size, composition and mission of [US] forces.” While US forces may undergo occasional “tactical increases here and there,” Khalilzad says, the new government will have a “positive effect.… Strategically, we’re going to be in the direction of downsizing our forces.” [CNN, 5/20/2006] Reactions from US political and military observers are mixed. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes that the biggest difference between al-Maliki and the former interim prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, is that even though both are from the same Shi’ite faction, the Dawa party, al-Maliki can be expected to show some independence from Iran. Iran tried mightily to keep al-Jafari in office, Ignatius writes, and the new government’s choice of al-Maliki as prime minister shows that Iraq’s political leaders are “standing up for a unified Iraq.” However, “[t]o succeed, Maliki must mobilize that desire for unity to break the power of the militias and insurgent groups.” Khalilzad celebrates al-Maliki’s independence from Iran, and notes that even though al-Maliki spent some years in exile in Iran, “he felt he was threatened by them” because of his political independence, and later moved to Syria. “He sees himself as an Arab” and an Iraqi nationalist, Khalilzad explains. Kurdish leaders cautiously welcome al-Maliki as the new government’s leader, and predict, somewhat optimistically, that Sunni leaders will eventually welcome al-Maliki as well. The decisive factors in choosing al-Maliki over al-Jafari as prime minister, Ignatius writes, were three: US support; the endorsement of Iraq’s most influential Shi’ite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani; and the insistence of non-Shi’ites that al-Jafari and his overtly sectarian government depart. It must be remembered, Ignatius notes, that al-Maliki is a follower of Lebanese Shi’ite leader Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, the original spiritual adviser of Hezbollah, who later left the group in part because he viewed it as too close to Iran. [Washington Post, 4/26/2006] Former Defense Intelligence Agency official W. Patrick Lang will give a different view in March 2007. Al-Maliki is far more sectarian than Bush officials are willing to admit, Lang will write. “They want him to be George Washington, to bind together the new country of Iraq,” he will say. “And he’s not that. He is a Shi’a, a factional political leader, whose goal is to solidify the position of Shi’a Arabs in Iraq. That’s his goal. So he won’t let them do anything effective against [Moqtada al-Sadr’s] Mahdi army.” And former NSC official Gary Sick, an expert on Iran, says that Bush’s support of al-Maliki is perhaps a form of brinksmanship in the administration’s efforts to destabilize Iran. “What has happened is that the United States, in installing a Shi’ite government in Iraq, has really upset the balance of power [in the Middle East],” Sick will say. “Along with our Sunni allies—Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt—[the administration is] terribly concerned about Iran emerging as the new colossus. Having created this problem, the US is now in effect using it as a means of uniting forces who are sympathetic [to us].” Bush must reassure America’s regional allies that they will be protected if the Iraqi conflict spreads throughout the region. “[T]his is a very broad strategy,” he says. “It has a clear enemy and an appeal to Saudis, to Israelis, and has a potential of putting together a fairly significant coalition.” But, Sick warns, the policy steers dangerously close to provoking a conflict with Iran. “Basically, this is a signal to Maliki that we are not going to tolerate Shi’ite cooperation with Iran. This could lead to the ultimate break with Maliki. But once you start sending these signals, you end up in a corner and you can’t get out of it.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Entity Tags: Nouri al-Maliki, George W. Bush, Gary G. Sick, David Ignatius, Bush administration (43), Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Ibrahim al-Jafari, Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, Patrick Lang, Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
In July 2006, fighting breaks out in southern Lebanon between the Israeli military and Hezbollah. Western intelligence officials soon learn that Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, has been spotted in a Hezbollah military building in Lebanon. Officials also discover that Richard Chichakli, Bout’s longtime business partner, has recently moved from the US to Damascus, Syria. Israeli officials suspect that Bout arms Hezbollah with sophisticated Russian-made armor-piercing antitank missiles. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 254] Bout’s role is not confirmed at the time. But in 2008, journalist Douglas Farah, co-author of a 2007 book on Bout, will tell ABC News that recent intelligence indicates Bout did supply the armor-piercing missiles to Hezbollah. [ABC News, 3/6/2008] In 2006, Bout’s network is also supplying the US military in Iraq (see Late April 2003-2007).
Former foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft, who left the Bush administration after a dispute with neoconservatives (see October 2004), writes an op-ed entitled “Beyond Lebanon,” in which he exhorts the administration to help resolve the crisis in Lebanon. Israel is currently locked in a bloody, debilitating struggle with Hezbollah. Scowcroft writes that a peaceful resolution of that conflict will not only help bring about a peaceful end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but could help stabilize Iraq as well. He writes: “The current crisis in Lebanon provides a historic opportunity to achieve what has seemed impossible. That said, it is too much to expect those most directly implicated—Israeli and Palestinian leaders—to lead the way. That responsibility falls to others, principally the United States, which alone can mobilize the international community and Israel and the Arab states for the task that has defeated so many previous efforts.… This latest in a seemingly endless series of conflagrations in the region just may present a unique opportunity to change the situation in the Middle East for the better for all time. Let us not shrink from the task.” Scowcroft’s arguments are ignored by the White House. [Washington Post, 7/30/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 341]
Philip Zelikow, who is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s closest aide, gives a speech asserting that the US must seriously address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Otherwise, Zelikow says, the US may have trouble securing the support of Arab moderates and Europeans in dealing with the Middle East. The speech seems to be the result of a long discussion of the topic between Rice and former Bush adviser Brent Scowcroft (see October 2004). The counterattack from the neoconservatives in Vice President Cheney’s office, who want nothing to do with any settlements with the Palestinians, is immediate and fierce. Cheney’s office issues harsh condemnations of Zelikow, and neoconservative-friendly newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post and the New York Sun publish news reports designed to undermine Zelikow’s message. Rice refuses to stand up to Cheney on behalf of Zelikow, and the State Department officially repudiates Zelikow’s remarks. Zelikow resigns his post. The neoconservatives’ views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue remain the guiding force behind the Bush administration’s Middle East policies. [Unger, 2007, pp. 8]
Paul Craig Roberts. [Source: Air America]Conservative author and commentator Paul Craig Roberts believes that the Bush administration will certainly attack Iran, and probably with tactical nuclear weapons. Roberts’s conservative credentials are impressive: he served as assistant treasury secretary under Ronald Reagan, was associate editor of the Wall Street Journal, and a contributing editor to the National Review. Roberts writes bluntly that a US military attack on Iran will happen, and will employ tactical nukes for the simple reason that “it is the only way the neocons believe they can rescue their goal of US (and Israeli) hegemony in the Middle East.” Roberts, unusually plain-spoken for a conservative in his opposition to the Bush policies in the Middle East, writes that the US has for all intents and purposes “lost the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan… there are no [more] troops to send” to win in either theater. Instead of acknowledging defeat, “Bush has tried to pawn Afghanistan off on NATO, but Europe does not see any point in sacrificing its blood and money for the sake of American hegemony.” In Iraq, “[T]he ‘coalition of the willing’ has evaporated. Indeed, it never existed. Bush’s ‘coalition’ was assembled with bribes, threats, and intimidation,” and cites the example of Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf admitting in September 2006 that his country was given two choices: join the US coalition or “be prepared to be bombed… back to the Stone Age” (see September 13-15, 2001). This leads Roberts back to his original position that Bush will use tactical nukes against Iran: “Bush’s defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel’s defeat by Hezbollah in Lebanon have shown that the military firepower of the US and Israeli armies, though effective against massed Arab armies, cannot defeat guerrillas and insurgencies. The US has battled in Iraq longer than it fought against Nazi Germany, and the situation in Iraq is out of control.… Bush is incapable of recognizing his mistake. He can only escalate. Plans have long been made to attack Iran. The problem is that Iran can respond in effective ways to a conventional attack. Moreover, an American attack on another Muslim country could result in turmoil and rebellion throughout the Middle East. This is why the neocons have changed US war doctrine to permit a nuclear strike on Iran.” Roberts, who has worked for and with neoconservatives for decades, says that this group believes “a nuclear attack on Iran would have intimidating force throughout the Middle East and beyond. Iran would not dare retaliate, neocons believe, against US ships, US troops in Iraq, or use their missiles against oil facilities in the Middle East. Neocons have also concluded that a US nuclear strike on Iran would show the entire Muslim world that it is useless to resist America’s will. Neocons say that even the most fanatical terrorists would realize the hopelessness of resisting US hegemony. The vast multitude of Muslims would realize that they have no recourse but to accept their fate.” The “collateral damage” of nuclear strikes against Iran would be acceptable, these neocons believe, especially in light of their “powerful intimidating effect on the enemy.” But Roberts cites nuclear expert Jorge Hirsch, who says such an attack would destroy the international Non-Proliferation Treaty “and send countries in pellmell pursuit of nuclear weapons. We will see powerful nuclear alliances, such as Russia/China, form against us. Japan could be so traumatized by an American nuclear attack on Iran that it would mean the end of Japan’s sycophantic relationship to the US.” Roberts writes that such an attack would make the US an international “pariah, despised and distrusted by every other country.” For the Bush neoconservatives, that is acceptable, Roberts writes: “Neocons believe that diplomacy is feeble and useless, but that the unapologetic use of force brings forth cooperation in order to avoid destruction. Neoconservatives say that America is the new Rome, only more powerful than Rome. Neoconservatives genuinely believe that no one can withstand the might of the United States and that America can rule by force alone.… It is astounding that such dangerous fanatics have control of the US government and have no organized opposition in American politics.” [Baltimore Chronicle, 9/26/2006; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
After an investigation into whether an Israeli lobbying organization improperly tried to influence House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) into naming Jane Harman (D-CA) as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005 and October 2005) becomes public knowledge, Harman calls the allegations “irresponsible, laughable, and scurrilous.” Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, a Republican just hired by Harman to represent her in the matter, tells Time reporter Timothy Burger: “Congresswoman Harman has asked me to follow up on calls you’ve had. She is not aware of any such investigation, does not believe that it is occurring, and wanted to make sure that you and your editors knew that as far as she knows, that’s not true.… No one from the Justice Department has contacted her.” Burger notes that “[i]t is not, however, a given that Harman would know that she is under investigation.” Olson confirms that Harman hired him because even though she doesn’t believe the media reports of the investigation, she takes the possibility seriously. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), allegedly Harman’s partner in the scheme, also denies any wrongdoing, and says it takes no position on the question of who wins the committee assignment, which was perceived to be a contest between Harman and fellow committee member Alcee Hastings (D-FL). AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton says: “Both Congressman Hastings and Congresswoman Harman are strong leaders on issues of importance to the pro-Israel community and would be exemplary Democratic leaders for the House intelligence committee. AIPAC would never engage in a quid pro quo in relation to a federal investigation or any federal matter and the notion that it would do so is preposterous. AIPAC is not aware that the Justice Department is looking into issues involving the intelligence committee, and has not been asked any questions or contacted by the government on this matter, but certainly would cooperate with any inquiry.” Dorton adds that AIPAC has previously been assured that the organization and its current employees are not being investigated. [Time, 10/20/2006]
In an interview, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushes hard for the US and Israel to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities, and warns that if this does not happen, the world will find itself teetering on the brink of World War III and a “second Holocaust.” Netanyahu says flatly, “Iran is Germany, and it’s 1938, except that this Nazi regime that is in Iran, that’s a religious kind of fanaticism, but it wants to dominate the world, annihilate the Jews, but also annihilate America. Remember, [Israel is] the small Satan. You’re the big Satan.… We’re just the first way station en route to you. So there is this fundament[al] fanaticism that is there. It’s a messianic cult. It’s a religious messianic cult that believes in the Apocalypse, and they believe they have to expedite the Apocalypse to bring the collapse of the West.” Netanyahu compares the Iranian leadership, both political and religious, to Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh (see June 22, 2002, “a crazy messianic cult of death.” He says, “So imagine David Koresh with nuclear weapons. Imagine David Koresh, not with hundreds of followers, but millions of followers, with nuclear weapons, wanting to obliterate America, wanting to obliterate America’s allies, wanting to take over the world’s oil supply. If the lunatics escape from the asylum, that’s one thing. But if they can get their hands on a nuclear weapon, that’s another. And this is that kind of cult.… I think when you have something as fanatic and as dangerous as this, the question now is not whether he should be stopped, but how’s he going to be stopped?” He also says of Muslim terrorists, “[T]hey’re out to get you; they’re not out to get us. We’re simply standing in their way. They’re not interested in Israel, per se. They’re interested in bringing down Western civilization, led by the United States.” If the US doesn’t act quickly, Netanyahu predicts that Iran “will dominate the Middle East very quickly,” making “the Persian Gulf an Iranian pond,” controlling “the world’s oil supply [and using] the weapons, first against my country, and then to intimidate or threaten Europe. They want to control the world.” [CNN, 11/17/2006]
Concerned that the balance of power in the Middle East has tilted in favor of Shiite-dominated Iran, the Bush administration implements a major shift in its policy toward the region. According to a number of current and former high-level government officials interviewed by reporter Seymour Hersh, the focus of the new policy is to roll back Iran’s growing influence in Iraq. The administration’s top concern is that the failure of its policy in Iraq has empowered Iran. To undermine Iranian influence, the Bush administration begins supporting clandestine operations in Lebanon, Iran, and Syria. The administration avoids disclosing these operations to Congress by skirting congressional reporting requirements and by running them through the Saudis. The White House is also turning a blind eye to Saudi support for religious schools and charities linked to Islamic extremists. “A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to al-Qaeda,” Hersh notes. One former senior intelligence official explains to Hersh, “We are in a program to enhance the Sunni capability to resist Shiite influence, and we’re spreading the money around as much as we can.” The official adds that the money “always gets in more pockets than you think it will. In this process, we’re financing a lot of bad guys with some serious potential unintended consequences. We don’t have the ability to determine and get pay vouchers signed by the people we like and avoid the people we don’t like.” Much of the money used to finance these activities became available as a result of the budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for. A Pentagon consultant tells Hersh, “There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions.” Hersh reports that according to his sources, the US is providing large sums of cash to the Sunni government of Lebanon, which in turn is being funneled to emerging Sunni radical groups in northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and around Palestinian refugee camps in the south. “These groups, though small, are seen as a buffer to Hezbollah; at the same time, their ideological ties are with al-Qaeda,” Hersh writes. Another group receiving support is the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Sunni group that is an avowed enemy of the US and Israel. The “Redirection” is reportedly being led by Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, former Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, and Saudi Arabia National Security Adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The clandestine activities are said to be guided by Cheney. Critics of the White House’s new policy compare it to other times Western state-powers have backed Islamic militants, such as when the CIA supported the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s (see 1986-1992). The “blowback” from that policy included the creation of al-Qaeda. Vali Nasr, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, notes another instance: “The last time Iran was a threat, the Saudis were able to mobilize the worst kinds of Islamic radicals. Once you get them out of the box, you can’t put them back.” [Democracy Now!, 2/28/2007; New Yorker, 3/5/2007; New York Times, 12/13/2007]
The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” [Washington Post, 12/8/2007]
Entity Tags: Keith Alexander, Ehud Barak, Don Kerr, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ehud Olmert, International Atomic Energy Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Einhorn, National Security Agency, Mike McConnell, Michael Hayden, Stephen Kappes, Thomas Fingar, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
Larry Wilkerson. [Source: New York Times]Military and national security experts outside of the neoconservative orbit view the US occupation of Iraq as a calamity that actually increases the threat towards both Israel and the US. “[Bush’s wars] have put Israel in the worst strategic and operational situation she’s been in since 1948,” says retired colonel Larry Wilkerson, who was Colin Powell’s chief of staff in the State Department. “If you take down Iraq, you eliminate Iran’s No. 1 enemy. And, oh, by the way, if you eliminate the Taliban, they might reasonably be assumed to be Iran’s No. 2 enemy.” The Brookings Institution’s Martin Indyk adds, “Nobody thought going into this war that these guys would screw it up so badly, that Iraq would be taken out of the balance of power, that it would implode, and that Iran would become dominant.” The Israeli hawks have decided that because of the disaster in Iraq, the only course left to protect itself against Iran is a military strike. “Attacking Iraq when it had no WMD may have been the wrong step,” says Uzi Arad, who advised former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on foreign affairs. “But then to ignore Iran would compound the disaster. Israel will be left alone, and American interests will be affected catastrophically.” [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert. [Source: White House]During a press briefing with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Bush accuses Iran of actively developing nuclear weapons, and warns of the ramifications of that activity. He warns of the “consequences to the Iranian government if they continue to pursue a nuclear weapon, such as financial sanctions, or economic sanctions.… Now, whether or not they abandon their nuclear weapons program, we’ll see.” [White House, 6/19/2007]
David Wurmser. [Source: ThinkProgress.org]Vice-President Dick Cheney is reportedly considering asking Israel to launch limited missile strikes against the Iranian nuclear site at Natanz in order to provoke an Iranian counterattack. The Iranian retaliation would then give the US an excuse to launch its own air strikes against nuclear and military targets in Iran. Cheney’s Middle East adviser, well-known neoconservative and war proponent David Wurmser, tells a small group of unidentified officials that Cheney is considering such a request. Meyrav Wurmser, the wife of Cheney’s adviser and a member of the neoconservative Hudson Institute, later denies the story, which is reported in late September 2007 by Newsweek, from two unidentified sources. [Reuters, 9/23/2007; Ha'aretz, 9/23/2007; Newsweek, 10/1/2007]
Journalist Seymour Hersh says that a new CIA assessment concludes, in his words, that “there’s no evidence Iran is doing anything that puts them close to a bomb. There’s no secret program of significant bomb making.” However, the White House is ignoring that assessment and still moving forward with plans to launch a military strike against Iran.
'Stovepiping' - Hersh says that President Bush and Vice President Cheney are “stovepiping” intelligence [funnelling selected intelligence directly to top officials] and keeping information provided by the Israelis hidden from the CIA. According to Hersh, the Israelis have informed White House officials that Israel has a reliable agent inside Iraq, and that agent reports that Iran is working on a trigger for a nuclear device (see November 2005). “[T]he CIA isn’t getting a good look at the Israeli intelligence. It’s the old word, stovepiping. It’s the President and the Vice President, it’s pretty much being kept in the White House. Of course the people in the CIA want to know who [the agent] is, obviously,” Hersh tells a reporter. “They certainly want to know what other evidence he has of actual making of a warhead. This is the internecine fight that’s going on—the same fight, by the way, that we had before Iraq.” The CIA has no way of verifying the Israeli intelligence claims, but in light of recent events with unverifiable evidence such as the “Curveball” debacle (see November 1999), that agency is understandably wary of such dramatic claims that contradict their own findings. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
Israeli Claims Unverifiable - A former senior intelligence official says of the Israeli’s claim: “The problem is that no one can verify it. We don’t know who the Israeli source is. The briefing says the Iranians are testing trigger mechanisms,” simulating a zero-yield nuclear explosion without any weapons-grade materials, “but there are no diagrams, no significant facts. Where is the test site? How often have they done it? How big is the warhead—a breadbox or a refrigerator? They don’t have that.” But the report is being used by the White House to “prove the White House’s theory that the Iranians are on track. And tests leave no radioactive track, which is why we can’t find it.” Another problem that evokes the “stovepiping” of pre-war Iraq intelligence is the fact that White House officials have asked the Israelis for the raw intelligence, the original, unanalyzed, and unvetted material. Similar requests were used to draw false conclusions about Iraq’s WMD program before the US invasion of that country. A Pentagon consultant says, “Many presidents in the past have done the same thing, but intelligence professionals are always aghast when presidents ask for stuff in the raw. They see it as asking a second grader to read Ulysses.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Similar to Iraq Intelligence Problems - Former State Department intelligence expert Greg Thielmann noted in October 2003 that before the Iraq war, “garbage was being shoved straight to the President.” [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] Hersh suggests the same effect is happening now. [CNN, 11/19/2007]
White House Hostile to CIA Analysis - According to a current senior intelligence official, the White House is actively hostile to the CIA analysis, which is based on satellite imagery and other empirical evidence such as measurement of the radioactivity of water samples and highly classified radiation-detection devices surreptitiously placed near the Iranian nuclear facilities. Empirical data or not, the CIA analysis does not fit the White House’s needs, the intelligence official says. In its analysis, the CIA specifically warns that it would be a mistake to conclude that the failure to find a secret nuclear-weapons program in Iran is evidence that the Iranians are hiding it well. According to a former senior intelligence official, at the height of the Cold War, the Soviets were quite effective at deception and misdirection, but the US intelligence community was readily able to discern the details of their nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. But, the former official says, many in the White House, particularly in Cheney’s office, are making just such an assumption: “the lack of evidence means they must have it.” [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convenes a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. It is one of the few Bush administration attempts to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and like the other attempts, the Annapolis conference will bear little fruit. Reflecting on the conference and on the Bush administration’s approach to the conflict in general, national security expert Anthony Cordesman will say: “In reality, a great deal of what Secretary Rice did seems to have been based as much on a search for visibility as any expectation of real progress. The fact was that you did not have to contend with [Palestinian] Chairman [Yasser] Arafat, but you did have to contend with a deeply divided Israel, which was far less willing to accept or make compromises over peace. And with the Palestinian movement, which was moving toward civil war. The United States can only make serious progress when both the Israelis and Palestinians are ready to move toward peace. Setting artificial deadlines and creating yet another set of unrealistic expectations [as is done at the Annapolis conference] did not lay the groundwork for sustained real progress. It instead created new sources of frustration and again made people throughout the Arab and Muslim world see the United States as hypocritical and ineffective.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Responses from outside the White House (see December 3, 2007) to the newly released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which states that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), are largely marked by relief that the US will now probably take a less aggressive position on Iran. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki says he welcomes the US move to “correct” its previous assertions, adding: “It’s natural that we welcome it when those countries who in the past have questions and ambiguities about this case… now amend their views realistically. The condition of Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities is becoming clear to the world.” However, a statement from the Israeli government says that Israel believes Iran is still working on developing nuclear weapons. [Guardian, 12/4/2007] Congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that the NIE has removed much of the immediacy from the possibility of US military intervention in Iraq. “[I]f nothing else, the urgency that we have to attack Iran, or knock out facilities” is no longer there, says Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE). “I don’t think you can overstate the importance of this.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says that, in light of the new intelligence report, the White House should adjust its policy and pursue “a diplomatic surge” to engage with Iran. Reid suggests that the administration “[f]ollow the Ronald Reagan theory of diplomacy.… What did Ronald Reagan do? He started his diplomats working with the evil people in the Soviet people, as he referred to, to work something out. And he did. He met with the leaders of the Soviet Union he didn’t particularly like. And that’s what we should be doing with Iran. We should be having a surge of diplomacy with Iran. And based upon this, I think it would be a pretty good idea.” [Think Progress, 12/3/2007; Guardian, 12/4/2007] Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says, “The key judgments show that the intelligence community has learned its lessons from the Iraq debacle. [The community] has issued judgments that break sharply with its own previous assessments, and they reflect a real difference from the views espoused by top administration officials.” [Washington Post, 12/4/2007]
Israel has no “smoking gun” intelligence it can use to force the US to reassess its recent National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). But even if it did have such a piece of evidence, a diplomatic official says it would be either “very arrogant” or “naive” to think that all Israel needs to do is provide one piece of information to the US intelligence community and have it “take it all back and follow Israel’s line.” The US knows what Israel knows, the official says, but the two nations’ intelligence communities have different interpretations. “If we had information that we held back, then we have only ourselves to blame for the US report,” the official says. Israel continues to insist that Iran is a major threat to Israel, in large part because of its nuclear weapons program. “Israel can’t take the risk that Iran will be nuclear,” the official adds. [Jerusalem Post, 12/18/2007]
Shayna Steinger, a consular officer who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers in Jeddah (see July 1, 2000), receives a posting at the State Department in Washington. She takes up the position of a desk officer at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’s Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs, where she is responsible for the West Bank and Gaza. [AFSA News, 1/2008 ]
Coinciding with the publication of the first article in a series in Britain’s Sunday Times covering some of her allegations (see Mid-Late 1990s, (1997-2002), 2000-2001, Summer 2000, Summer 2001 and After September 11, 2001), former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds posts a gallery of 18 photos of people and three images of question marks on her website, justacitizen.com (see August 8, 2009). The 21 images are divided into three groups, and the page is titled “State Secrets Privilege Gallery.” No other explanation of the images is given, and the photos include no names or captions. [Sibel Edmonds, 1/6/2008] Luke Ryland, a blogger who has been closely following Sibel Edmonds’s case, posts an entry on his blog titled “Sibel ‘names names’ (in pictures!),” in which he puts names to the faces, and says, “we can reasonably presume that they are the 21 guilty people in her case.” Ryland notes that the three groups correspond to the affiliations of the people in the photos: “The first group contains current and former Pentagon and State Department officials”: Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Eric Edelman, Marc Grossman, Brent Scowcroft, and Larry Franklin. “The second group is current and former congressmen”: Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Dan Burton (R-IN), Tom Lantos (D-CA), ? (box with question mark), Bob Livingston (R-LA), a former House speaker, and Stephen Solarz (D-NY). “The third group includes people who all appear to work at think tanks—primarily WINEP, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy”: Graham E. Fuller—RAND Corporation, David Makovsky—WINEP, Alan Makovsky—WINEP, ? (box with question mark), ? (box with question mark), Yusuf Turani (president-in-exile, Turkestan), Professor Sabri Sayari (Georgetown, WINEP), and Mehmet Eymur (former head of the Turkish intelligence agency MIT). [Luke Ryland, 1/6/2008]
Entity Tags: Tom Lantos, Sibel Edmonds, David Makovsky, Dan Burton, Brent Scowcroft, Bob Livingston, Alan Makovsky, Dennis Hastert, Stephen Solarz, Douglas Feith, Graham Fuller, Sabri Sayari, Roy Blunt, Richard Perle, Marc Grossman, Luke Ryland, Eric Edelman, Yusuf Turani
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
An Israeli spy satelite is launched by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), signaling a continuing realignment of India with Israel and the US as well as straining relations with Iran and the Arab states. On the same day, Iran’s ambassador in New Delhi condemns India’s collaboration with Israel on the covert project, and accuses the United States and Israel of trying to create tensions in the region. Achin Vanaik, professor of international relations and global politics at Delhi University, later says, “India has recently allowed its new strategic relationship with the US and Israel to prevail over its traditional friendship with Iran.” The satellite incident is only the latest in a series of major arms, technology, and intelligence deals between India and Israel, including, according to sources, training of India’s external intelligence agencies by the Mossad. [Asia Times, 2/8/2008] India has agreed to launch two more spy satellites for Israel in exchange for receiving some of the image intelligence gathered. [Jerusalem Post, 2/25/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape calling for attacks on Israeli and Western targets to avenge recent Israeli raids on the Gaza Strip. The tape is released by posting to the Internet and produced by al-Qaeda’s media arm, As-Sahab. “O Muslims. Today is your day. Hit the interest of the Jews and the Americans and all those who participated in the aggression against Muslims,” says al-Zawahiri. “Monitor the targets, collect the money, prepare the hardware, plan accurately, and then attack.” Al-Zawahiri adds, “No one can say today that we should fight the Jews in Palestine only,” and calls for Muslims to support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip against Israel. Demonstrations only serve to let off steam, he says, so Palestinians should focus on armed struggle. “Let them know that they would bleed for every dollar they spend on killing Muslims,” he says. “They cannot… insult our prophet and support Israel, and expect to live in peace in their countries.” Al-Zawahiri also accuses Arab leaders of colluding with the US and Israel in blockading Palestinians in Gaza. “The satanic alliance shows us its ugliness and how low it is, an alliance of the crusaders and the Jews and with them [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, and [Saudi Arabia’s ruling] Saud family, and the son of al-Hussein [Jordan’s King Abdullah].” [Reuters, 3/24/2008]
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells an audience at Bar Ilan university in Israel that the 9/11 attacks were beneficial for Israel. “We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq. […] [The attacks] swung American public opinion in our favor.” [Ha'aretz, 4/17/2008]
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri issues a second set of responses to questions solicited by al-Qaeda in December 2007 (see December 19, 2007 and April 2, 2008). [NEFA Foundation, 4/17/2008 ; Associated Press, 4/22/2008; Associated Press, 4/23/2008] The response comes in a two-hour audio recording posted to an Islamic website and accompanied by the logo of As-Sahab, al-Qaeda’s media arm. Al-Zawahiri’s comments include:
The theory that Israel carried out the September 11 attacks is false and was started by Iran and its proxy Hezbollah, through the Al-Manar television station. “The purpose of this lie is clear—[to suggest] that there are no heroes among the Sunnis who can hurt America as no [one] else did in history. Iranian media snapped up this lie and repeated it,” he says. “Iran’s aim here is also clear—to cover up its involvement with America in invading the homes of Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.” In recent audio recordings, al-Zawahiri has accused Iran of seeking to extend its power in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and through Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The insurgent umbrella group Islamic Nation of Iraq led by al-Qaeda is “the primary force opposing the crusaders and challenging Iranian ambitions” in Iraq.
In response to a question about whether al-Qaeda plans to attack Western countries involved in Iraq, he replies: “My answer is: Yes! We think that any country that has joined aggression on Muslims must be deterred.”
This includes Japan, which pulled its non-combat troops out of Iraq in 2006, because “Japan provided help under the banner of the crusader coalition… therefore it participated in the crusader campaign against the lands of Islam.”
Global warming reflects “how criminal, brutal, and greedy the Western crusader world is, with America at the top.” However, global warming will “make the world more sympathetic to and understanding of the Muslims’ jihad against the aggressor America.”
There are no women in al-Qaeda, although “the women of the mujaheddin are playing a heroic role in taking care of their houses and sons.”
The Taliban have taken over 95 percent of Afghanistan and are sweeping Pakistan as well. “The crusaders and their agents in Pakistan and Afghanistan are starting to fall,” al-Zawahiri adds.
It is against Islamic religious law for any Muslim to live permanently in a Western country because in doing so they would “have permanent stay there under the laws of the infidels.” [Associated Press, 4/22/2008; Associated Press, 4/23/2008]
Al-Zawahiri also singles out some countries for threats, such as Denmark, saying: “Denmark has done her utmost to demonstrate her hostility towards the Muslims by repeatedly dishonoring our Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation. I admonish and incite every Muslim who is able to do so to cause damage to Denmark in order to show your support for our Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him salvation, and to defend his esteemed honor.” [NEFA Foundation, 4/17/2008 ] Al-Qaeda will attack the Danish embassy in Pakistan six weeks later. [Jyllands-Posten, 6/2/2008]
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. [CNN, 5/15/2008]
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” [Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008]
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” [Huffington Post, 5/15/2008] The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” [Boston Globe, 5/16/2008] Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/15/2008]
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. [CNN, 5/16/2008]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Boston Globe, Hamas, Harry Reid, Condoleezza Rice, Ed Gillespie, CNN, Will Bunch, Hillary Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Joseph Biden, John McCain, John Kerry, Robert M. Gates, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel
Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections
Al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri releases a new audio tape criticizing his native Egypt for not opening up its border to Palestinians. The 11-minute tape is released by posting to the Internet to mark the 41st anniversary of the Six-Day War between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors. “The brother from Gaza is refused entry [by Egypt], while an Israeli tourist is allowed to enter without a visa,” says al-Zawahiri, calling for an end to Israel’s economic blockade of the Gaza Strip. He also terms Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his troops “criminal traitors” for perpetuating the siege of Gaza. “Salvation of the Muslim nation is through the march of its sons on the path of jihad,” he adds. [Al Jazeera, 5/5/2008]
President Obama signals a new direction for US policy towards Israel and Palestine by promising to seek a lasting peace between the two warring sides. Obama says the US will always support Israel’s “right to defend itself,” but will also seek an equitable, peaceful solution for the Palestinian people. In conjunction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama names former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, and former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as the administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mitchell helped broker the Clinton administration-led peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and Holbrooke helped write the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009; The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
President Obama and Hisham Melhem, during the interview. [Source: Al Arabiya / Time]President Obama gives his first interview after assuming the presidency to the Dubai-based satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya. He tells interviewer Hisham Melhem that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world, and wants Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009] Melhem, Al Arabiya’s Washington bureau chief, originally believes he was slated to interview the newly named US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell (see January 22, 2009). Melhem believed there was some discussion among White House officials on whether it was the right time for Obama to grant an interview to the Arab media. The selection of Al Arabiya is deliberate, as that channel is considered more moderate and Western-friendly than, for example, Al Jazeera. [Time, 1/28/2009]
Intent to Reopen Talks between Israel, Palestinians - Obama intends to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and says the US will open up new talks by listening to the two sides instead of immediately issuing demands. “[W]hat I told Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response. Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.” The larger peace plan for the Middle East recently proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will play an important role in the negotiations, Obama says.
'A Language of Respect' - Language matters, Obama notes. “[M]y job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect,” he says. “[T]he language we use matters. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”
Restoring Relations with the Muslim World - Melhem asks Obama about tensions between the US and the Islamic world, inflamed by demagogues and extremists on both sides. Obama says: “Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they [extremists]‘ve been using against me before I even took office… what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.” Obama reminds Melhem, and the viewers, that he lived for a time in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, during his childhood. He learned through his experiences in Indonesia and other Muslim countries that everyone, regardless of differences in culture or faith, has similar hopes and aspirations. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he says. “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”
Dealing with Iran - Wrapping up the interview, Melhem asks if the US is prepared to “live with a nuclear Iran.” Obama responds: “I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.… Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past—none of these things have been helpful. But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress.” [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009]
Responses - In Pakistan, Obama’s interview is widely viewed, and receives what CNN calls “a generally positive response from analysts there.” Islamabad author and journalist Imtiaz Gul says, “It’s a good sign of an attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world, to say America wants to reach out to them and not to consider them as an enemy.” [CNN, 1/27/2009] Egyptian student Omar Youssef, who has joined in protests against the Israeli war in Gaza, says of Obama: “He’s a man of diplomacy and speaks well. Bush, Arab people hate him. But the world needs a man like Obama.” Another student, Ahmed Mahmoud, adds, “Maybe if he can solve the problem between white and black people in America, he can also solve the problem between Arab and Jewish people here.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Melhem, who has long criticized US policies towards the Middle East, later says he was touched by Obama’s conciliatory tone and references to his Muslim roots. “You can feel the authenticity about him,” he says. “The interview was his way of saying, ‘There is a new wind coming from Washington.’ Barack Obama definitely sees the world differently from a man named George W. Bush.” [Time, 1/29/2009] Al Arabiya General Manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashed says: “What he did campaigning in the US he is trying to do in the Middle East, convincing people that he is on their side. He is telling Muslims that he is proud of his Muslim roots. This is being received positively.” And Jordanian news columnist Jamil Nimri writes, “The language of force, conceit, and threat has totally disappeared.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer disputes Obama’s implication that the Bush administration treated Islam with any disrespect, saying: “[S]omehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.… We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.” [Fox News, 1/28/2009]
Former US President Jimmy Carter says that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. “Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded,” Carter says. Israel, which like the US and many Western nations considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is in the midst of a military operation against Hamas. Carter says that previous presidents have been either unable or unwilling to oppose Israel’s supporters in the US, but he has high hopes for George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s new envoy to the Middle East (see January 22, 2009). “The fact is that very few of the presidents have been willing to confront Israel’s forces in the United States, politically speaking,” Carter says. “If you look at US Middle East envoys in the past, almost all of them have been closely associated with Israel, sometimes even working professionally for Israel. George Mitchell is a balanced and honest broker compared to the others.” He continues by noting that any possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has been “objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel.” He hopes the Obama administration will work to bring Hamas and Fatah together. Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Obama has indicated he intends to institute new peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but has reiterated previous international demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel, renounce violence, and recognize previous peace agreements before they can join in any future negotiations. [Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009; Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009]
Israeli President Shimon Peres issues a special message to the Iranian people, in time to commemorate the Iranian holiday of Nowruz. Peres sends his message just minutes after US President Obama sent his own video message to Iran (see March 19, 2009). Unlike Obama, Peres refuses to address the Iranian government, but issues his message directly to the Iranian people, and adopts a far less conciliatory tone than the American leader. He tells the Iranians: “Unfortunately, the relations between our two countries have hit a low point, stemming from ideas that compel your leaders to act in every possible way against the state of Israel and its people. But I am convinced that the day is not far off when our two nations will restore good neighborly relations and cooperation in thriving in every way.” Peres continues: “Things in Iran are tough. There is great unemployment, corruption, a lot of drugs, and a general discontent? You can’t feed your children enriched uranium, they need a real breakfast. It cannot be that the money is invested in enriched uranium and the children are told to remain a little hungry, a little ignorant. [I suggest] you don’t listen to [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, it is impossible to preserve a whole nation on incitement and hatred, the people will become tired of it.… I see the suffering of the children and ask myself, why? [Iran] is such a rich country with such a rich culture, why do they allow a handful of religious fanatics take the worst possible path, both in the eyes of God and in the eyes of man?” Peres then encourages the Iranian people to overthrow their own government: “It is impossible to preserve a whole nation on incitement and hatred. I think that the Iranian people will topple these leaders, these leaders who don’t serve the people—in the end the people will realize that.” Some of Peres’s message is recorded in Farsi, and the message is broadcast on Israel’s Radio Farsi, which has a large audience in the Middle East. [Washington Post, 3/20/2009; Ha'aretz, 3/21/2009] The neoconservatives of the Weekly Standard applaud Peres’s speech, writing, “Now that’s how a president should be speaking to the prisoners of the Mullahcracy.” [Weekly Standard, 3/20/2009]
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says that Israel’s new right-wing government will not be bound by a US-backed understanding to work towards establishing an independent Palestinian nation, the so-called “two-state solution.” Lieberman’s remarks outrage many Palestinian leaders, and indicate a sharp divide between the Obama administration and the government of newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The conservative Netanyahu has long opposed the idea of a sovereign Palestinian state, though he has recently said he supports an agreement towards limited Palestinian self-rule. Lieberman’s speech, described by the Los Angeles Times as “blunt and openly hawkish” and by the New York Times as “blunt and belligerent,” warns against giving concessions to the Palestinians, saying they “only bring pressure and more wars.” “[T]hose who wish for peace should prepare for war,” he adds. “Those who think that through concessions they will gain respect and peace are wrong. It is the other way around; it will lead to more wars.” The 2007 agreement, made at Annapolis, Maryland between then-US President George W. Bush, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, committed the parties to further “the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine.” Now, Lieberman says: “It has no validity. The Israeli government never ratified Annapolis, nor did parliament.” Palestinian spokesman Nabil abu Rudaineh calls Lieberman’s position dangerous, and recommends that the Obama administration “take a clear position against this policy before things get worse.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says Lieberman has “closed the door on Annapolis and closed the door in the face of the international community.” An Obama spokesman says that the US remains committed to a two-state solution. Lieberman’s statement is contradicted by a warning from Israeli President Shimon Peres that “the majority of countries in the world” back the Palestinian quest for statehood, hinting that to withdraw support for a two-state solution will result in Israel’s isolation. “The outgoing government espoused the vision of two states for two peoples, which was initiated by the American government and accepted by the majority of countries in the world,” Peres states. “It is up to your government to decide the shape of the reality to come.” Netanyahu has privately told Western officials that he, not Lieberman, will set Israel’s foreign policy; Netanyahu gave Lieberman the position because Lieberman’s nationalist party, Israel Is Our Home, is a member of Netanyahu’s rightist coalition government. But Netanyahu’s own foreign policy adviser, Zalman Shoval, says that the prime minister also considers the Annapolis declaration nonbinding. Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now serving as an envoy to the Middle East peace negotiations, says the peace process is in “very great jeopardy.” [New York Times, 4/1/2009; Los Angeles Times, 4/2/2009]
Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” [Roll Call, 4/21/2009]
Entity Tags: John Hess, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Central Intelligence Agency, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jeff Stein, US Department of Homeland Security, Jane Harman, Norman Ornstein, National Security Agency, Melanie Sloan, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Federal prosecutors drop all charges against two former lobbyists accused of passing classified information to Israel (see August 4, 2005). The lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when they took classified information from former government official Larry Franklin and passed it to Israeli officials (see April 13, 1999-2004 and October 5, 2005). The case against Rosen and Weissman had the potential to criminalize the exchange of classified information among journalists, lobbyists, and ordinary citizens not bound by government restrictions. “Thank God we live in a country where you can defend yourself against an injustice like this,” says Rosen. He calls the case an example of government officials “who have an obsession with leaks (see May 21, 2006)… and an obsession with Israel and the theory that it spies on America.” The lawyers for the two former lobbyists believe that Obama administration officials had reservations about the case where their predecessors in the Bush administration did not, but former FBI counterintelligence official David Szady says that politics played no part in the decision to withdraw the charges. Prosecutors say that recent court rulings would make winning their case much more difficult than they had previously anticipated. Gary Wasserman, a Georgetown University professor who is writing a book about the case, says it is understandable that AIPAC welcomes the dismissal. A trial, he says, “would have provoked a lot of public discussion about how they worked.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2009]
President Obama tells Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “it is past time to talk about starting negotiations—it is time to move forward.” Obama’s meeting with the two Middle East leaders is the highest level of diplomacy of his presidency, although it is reported that expectations for resuming the talks fall short. Obama and State Department officials hoped that the meeting would pave the way for fresh negotiations of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. However, during a recent previous meeting, special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was unsuccessful in securing a deal in which Israel would halt West Bank settlements construction in return for the Arab states taking minute steps toward recognition. “Permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon,” Obama tells the two leaders, referring to talks on the fundamental issues that divide the parties, such as borders, Jerusalem’s status, and building settlements. The meetings, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Obama meets with Netanyahu and Abbas separately before all three meet together, produce no real reconciliation, only an Israeli-Palestinian commitment to send negotiating teams to Washington, along with a general agreement that peace talks should quickly resume. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Mitchell says, adding that the talks were at times “blunt” with Obama importuning the two to “get things done.” Obama seems to concede that his previous calls for a construction freeze on settlements fell on deaf ears, and says that Israel has offered only to “restrain” its settlement activity. He appears to acknowledge that his early calls for a settlement freeze have fallen on deaf ears. Israel, he says, has only offered to “restrain” settlement production. The restraint on settlement building “is not everything we might have wanted,” says a senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity—one of the rules set by the White House before the meetings—but “it’s certainly a significant step.” US government officials try to dispel later impressions that Obama sought to play down the settlements issue, although senior Israeli government officials say they left the meeting with a separate message; the Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren says, “That’s not just the impression, that’s the reality.” An additional senior US official says Obama will not cease to press the settlements issue, arguing that the tentative steps Israel has agreed to extend “far, far beyond what any previous government has ever done to control settlement activity.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/22/2009]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells journalists for the Jerusalem Post that President Obama’s maiden UN speech was “good and positive” for Israel. Netanyahu expresses his belief that Obama’s speech stressed the legitimacy of a Jewish state as well as backing Israel’s right to live in security. He says that Obama’s address urged Palestine leaders to restart peace negotiations. “He said what we have been saying for months, that we need to restart negotiations without preconditions.” In his speech, Obama also addressed threats posed by Iran and North Korea, and spoke strongly against al-Qaeda and terrorism. “All of us, not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us, must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we only lend it lip service,” said Obama. “To break the old patterns—to break the cycle of insecurity and despair—all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. Nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security,” he said. “The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. The time has come to re-launch negotiations—without preconditions. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security—a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis, and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, says Obama’s reference to Israel as a Jewish state is vital recognition on which “Israel insists as part of any final status deal with the Palestinians.” Oren says that Israel “was gratified to hear the president reiterate US commitment to Israel’s security,” as well as pleased that the president supported a multilateral rather than bilateral means for bringing peace between Israel and its neighboring states. Netanyahu tells Israeli reporters that he “listened very carefully to President Obama’s call to the Arab countries to publicly support moving regional peace forward.” He also praises Obama for expressing his appreciation about restrictions that have been eased between Judea and Samaria in the last few months to improve the quality of living and upgrade the economy for the Palestinians in the region. However, Obama also said in his address that “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” while simultaneously calling on Palestinians to end provocations against Israel and emphasizing that the settlements issue should not deter talks. [Jerusalem Post, 9/24/2009]
A lawsuit by two anonymous plaintiffs is filed challenging the foreign-contribution provision of the campaign finance laws, a provision that was not overturned by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010). The lawsuit is on behalf of a Canadian citizen who claims he wants to support President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and a dual Israeli-Canadian citizen who wants to contribute to Obama’s opponent Mitt Romney and to the campaign of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). The Israeli-Canadian citizen says they want to help prevent what they call a “government-takeover of the health care system in the United States,” according to the suit. The filing says both plaintiffs are legally authorized to live and work in the United States, but are not permanent residents; one is a young attorney with a moderately successful practice and the other earns a modest salary as a medical resident at a New York hospital. The lawsuit asks that legal residents, as well as citizens and US-registered entities, be allowed to make donations. While the lawsuit appears to be bipartisan in nature, the lawyers representing the anonymous plaintiffs are from a top-flight law firm, Jones Day, which usually represents Republican and wealthy corporate clients. Think Progress’s Ian Millhiser notes that the firm’s clients “include some of the biggest corporate beneficiaries of the Citizens United decision—including Koch Industries and the US Chamber of Commerce.” The lawyers are Warren Postman and Yaakov Roth, both of whom are former Supreme Court clerks and thusly do not come cheap—in 2005, Jones Day charged as much as $370 an hour for services provided by lawyers with similar levels of experience. Millhiser writes: “To be clear, a court decision in favor of Jones Day’s clients would not necessarily allow BP or the Dubai Sovereign Wealth Fund to immediately start buying US elections. The lawsuit only asks the court to allow lawful residents make campaign contributions. Nevertheless, such a decision would be a significant crack in the wall protecting American democracy from foreign money. There are any number of foreign corporations who would love to see that happen.” [Politico, 3/18/2011; Think Progress, 3/18/2011] The court will deny the lawsuit (see August 8, 2011).
The US Supreme Court unanimously upholds a lower court decision in Bluman v. Federal Election Commission to ban foreign citizens from using their money to try to influence US elections (see August 8, 2011). The decision is issued in a brief, single-sentence order. In the days before, legal analyst Ian Millhiser had written a plea for the decision to be upheld, asserting that if the Court were to reject the lower-court decision, it would “tear down one of the few remaining barriers preventing wealthy individuals and corporations from dominating American democracy. Worse, if the court invents a new constitutional right permitting foreigners to contribute to American candidates, it will license foreign corporations to buy our elections.… Bluman asks the justices to punch a giant hole in [the legal] distinction between citizens and foreigners.… It’s difficult to imagine a greater threat to American democracy—or to our national security—than a decision enabling foreign corporations to influence our elections. If the plaintiffs win in Bluman, it opens the door to foreign companies—potentially even companies owned and operated by foreign governments—spending billions to change the makeup of Congress or to elect a president favorable to their interests.” [New York Times, 1/5/2012; Think Progress, 1/9/2012]
Andrew Adler. [Source: AIB TV (.com)]Andrew Adler, the owner/publisher of the Atlanta Jewish Times (AJT), advises readers that one option for Israel to consider in handling the threat posed by Iran is to order the assassination of President Obama. The Atlanta Jewish Times is a community newspaper that has been in existence since 1925. Adler bought it in 2009. Currently, the AJT claims some 3,500 readers. According to Adler, Israel has three options in considering how to handle the threat posted by Iran: attack Hezbollah and Hamas, attack Iran, or order the assassination of Obama. Adler considers Obama an “enemy” of Israel, and believes Obama has moved the US away from supporting Israel to supporting the Palestinians and an array of Islamist terrorists, pursuing what Adler calls an “Alice in Wonderland” belief that diplomacy with Iran will prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon. He calls his three options a series of “Kobayashi Maru” scenarios, a term used in Star Trek to characterize a seeming “no-win” situation that, if addressed with an unsuspected approach to “solve” the problem, could “redefine” the situation. Adler writes of his third option that Israel could “give the go-ahead for US-based Mossad agents to take out a president deemed unfriendly to Israel in order for the current vice president to take his place, and forcefully dictate that the United States’ policy includes its helping the Jewish state obliterate its enemies. Yes, you read ‘three’ correctly. Order a hit on a president in order to preserve Israel’s existence. Think about it. If I have thought of this Tom Clancy-type scenario, don’t you think that this almost unfathomable idea has been discussed in Israel’s most inner circles? Another way of putting ‘three’ in perspective goes something like this: How far would you go to save a nation comprised of seven million lives… Jews, Christians, and Arabs alike? You have got to believe, like I do, that all options are on the table.” In a subsequent interview by journalist John Cook, Adler backtracks from his original assertions, and denies advocating Obama’s assassination. Contrary to what he wrote, Adler tells Cook that Israel should not consider an Obama assassination as a viable option. When asked if he believes Israel is indeed considering such an option, he responds: “No. Actually, no. I was hoping to make clear that it’s unspeakable—god forbid this would ever happen.” He then asks Cook, “I take it you’re quoting me?” When Cook responds in the affirmative, Adler says, “Oh, boy.” Cook asks Adler why, if he does not advocate assassination and does not believe Israel is considering such an option, would he write such a column saying that the option is “on the table.” Adler asks to call Cook back with a measured response. His answer, several moments later, is, “I wrote it to see what kind of reaction I was going to get from readers.” He has indeed received a reaction: “We’ve gotten a lot of calls and emails,” he tells Cook. [Atlanta Jewish Times, 1/13/2012; Gawker, 1/20/2012; Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 1/20/2012] After Cook’s publication, the online news site Gawker publishes a story about Adler’s column. Adler then informs the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) that he intends to publish an apology. “I very much regret it, I wish I hadn’t made reference to it at all,” he says. He also admits that the response he has received has been, in JTA’s words, “overwhelmingly negative.” [Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 1/20/2012] Adler tells Atlanta columnist Thomas Wheatley: “I don’t advocate anything. I don’t preach anything. Wasn’t calling for action, anything like that.… Do I regret writing it and how I did it? Very much so and I apologize to anyone who took it differently. But in no way shape or form do I support the overthrowing [of the country] in order for Israel to do its thing.” He says he has not been contacted by law enforcement officials or the Secret Service about his column. [Creative Loafing Atlanta, 1/20/2012] Conservative columnist and blogger Jonah Goldberg writes of Adler’s column: “This is outrageous, offensive, borderline seditious, bad for Israel, bad for Jews, and wildly, incomprehensibly stupid. It sounds like the author/publisher realizes it. But too late to save him from a world of grief.” [National Review, 1/20/2012]
According to a wide-ranging poll conducted by Dartmouth professor Benjamin Valentino, over 89 percent of self-identified Republicans believe that if Iran secures any sort of nuclear weapons, it will use them to attack Israel. Sixty-two percent of self-identified Democrats and over 68 percent of self-identified independents have similar views. Jim Lobe of InterPressService writes that the results are “a rather dramatic demonstration of how effective Israel and the Israel lobby have been in shaping public opinion here, given that US and Israeli experts generally agree that such an attack, while possible, would be highly unlikely.” [Valentino, 6/20/2012 ; Jim Lobe, 6/20/2012; Huffington Post, 6/21/2012]
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