by Jerry Gordon and Mike Bates (July 2012)
In May, the Middle East verged on becoming a tinderbox with a possible proxy war between former allies Turkey and Syria. Syria shot down an aging Turkish Air Force F-4 reconnaissance aircraft on May 22nd. The Islamist Turkish regime of Prime Minister Erdogan invoked an emergency meeting of NATO as it is a member. While the Syrian action was condemned by NATO under Article 4, no immediate action was forthcoming as was the case with NATO’s aerial campaign in Libya. Possible patrolling of safe havens in the skies over beleaguered Syria was not out of the question. Syria’s Bashar Assad spoke before a gathering of the country’s parliament saying the country was at war on all fronts – a reference to the Sunni coalition of the willing composed of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Turkey is now poised to provide bastions for armed opposition forces and supply of arms and war material. Meanwhile, the toll of civilian casualties in Syria has risen to more than 12,000 given the largely Alawite military assault on predominately Sunni areas presumably harboring Muslim Brotherhood opposition. This is reminiscent of the 1982 assault by Bashar Assad’s father, Hafiz, who ordered the bombardment of the city of Hama where the toll exceeded 25,000. Russian and China have thwarted UN Security Council actions against the embattled Assad regime. Russia has tenaciously reinforced its naval base at Tartarus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast and endeavored to supply Syria with attack helicopters and other weapons and war materiel.
In Washington, the debate on whether the US should become involved in Syria was crystallized in an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) panel on violence in Syria led off by Sen. John McCain, an advocate for US intervention and supply of arms to Syrian opposition. The AEI panel ran the gamut of opinion both pro and against intervention, generally advocating caution in undertaking another misadventure in the Middle East. Syria does not appear to offer prospects for effective military intervention. Watch this C-SPAN coverage of the AEI panel discussion.
The major focus of attention was on the delayed announcement of the election victory of Muhammad Morsi as Egypt's President. Morsi was the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood Peace and Freedom Party who had received a majority of the popular vote. His election victory came against the actions of the Egyptian High Court that invalidated the parliamentary elections where the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists dominated. Doubtless a new parliamentary election will return the Islamist majority to control Egypt’s parliament enabling Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi to enact Sharia law. Those possible outcomes are doubtlessly aimed at sending the nation’s Coptic Christian minority into the safe havens of its international Diasporas. Some analysts contend we ultimately could witness a Sunni Islamic Republic version of the Iranian revolution of 1979.
The other threat from the new Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt is toward Israel and the 33-year peace treaty between the two countries. Israel has accelerated construction of a security fence along the 200 mile frontier of its Southern border with Egypt. It has sent military units to the Negev to backstop the possibility that the Islamist regime in Cairo might send military forces to re-occupy the Sinai. Prime Minister Netanyahu bolstered Israel’s resolve through a masterstroke creating a unity government bringing in Kadima party leader, Shaul Mofaz, a former IDF Chief of Staff. That was also a message sent to President Obama that Israel was unified to protect its interests in the Middle East. Israel is especially concerned about a nuclear Iran nearing completion of its weaponization project, creating a number of nuclear devices, including dirty bombs.
The EU sanctions against export of Iranian oil go into effect in early July with possible material impact on the Islamic Republic’s revenue. Notwithstanding exemption waivers granted by the US to several nations, including Russia, China and Singapore, there may be incentive in the case of those purchases to discount prices at less than the prevailing world Platt benchmark.
Israel was one of the Middle East venues for a visit by Russian President Putin. Putin was ostensibly paying a state visit to Israel for the dedication of a Memorial to WWII Soviet Army dead, including more than 150,000 Russian Jewish Soldiers. During his meeting with Netanyahu, Putin advised against a possible Iran nuclear program attack, mistakenly suggesting that would be akin to the US and coalition forces who invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. PM Netanyahu and his security cabinet simply want to take out Iran’s nuclear weapons capability by whatever means necessary as witnessed by the Osirak Reactor attack in 1981 and the 2007 destruction of the Syrian nuclear bomb factory.
The Obama Administration has been playing up to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in the wake of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa. In late May, the Washington, DC- based Brookings Institute Haim Saban Center for Middle East Policy held the 9th US-Islam World Forum in Doha, Qatar. The delegations included Muslim Brotherhood leadership from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen and US Muslim Brotherhood front groups, Council of American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Also in attendance was the Executive Director of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The Obama Administration officials who attended included the State Department Special Envoys to the OIC and worldwide Muslim Communites. Prominent in the US delegation at the Doha gathering was Deputy National Security Council Advisor, Denis McDonough. McDonough had figured in an embarrassment, a member of terrorist group in Egypt, Gamaa Islamiyya, in a delegation of Egyptian legislators who had visited him in the White House. The former terrorist suggested that the blind Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, imprisoned for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, be released from federal prison and repatriated to Egypt.
By all accounts the Muslim Brotherhood has been triumphant in the Middle East and in Washington. Thus raising the question of the wisdom of Obama Administration policies with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood both here in America and in the region.
Against this background “Your Turn” host Mike Bates, of radio station 1330AMWEBY of Pensacola, Florida, Senior Editor Jerry Gordon of the New English Review and Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President of Research of the Washington, DC- based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies held a radio round table discussion.
Bates: Welcome to Your Turn. This is Mike Bates. We are holding another edition of our periodic international Middle East round table discussions. I have with me in the studio Jerry Gordon, Senior Editor of the New English Review and its blog, The Iconoclast. He is also the author of the new book, The West Speaks. Jerry Gordon, welcome to Your Turn.
Gordon: Glad to be here Mike.
Bates: We also have from Washington, DC, Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, V.P. of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Schanzer: Glad to be back.
Bates: I should refer to you not as Jonathan Schanzer but as Dr. Jonathan Schanzer.
Schanzer: (laughs)… You make my mother happy.
Bates: (laughs)… Well, you have a Ph.D. We will give you credit where credit is due.
Bates: There is a lot going on in the world. We've got the Egyptian elections. We've got Syria shooting down a Turkish war plane. Is this the tinder box that the Middle East always seems to be, Jonathan?
Schanzer: Well, it is. We have quite a mess on our hands. However I am not sure that we are heading into war per se with Syria. Certainly the Syrians weren't smart. There is a rule in the Middle East: don't make the Turks angry. And they have made the Turks angry. Now the Turks are talking about invoking the NATO Charter and then bringing others into a conflict.
Bates: Your mention of the NATO Charter is interesting. Does shooting down a war plane invoke the Charter? Obviously if they were invaded it would be enough but is shooting down a war plane sufficient?
Schanzer: Well, it is arguable. Under the NATO Charter, if you mess with one of the members, you mess with all of them. Certainly this was not an incursion into Turkish territory, but it is an act of war to shoot down a plane. With that said, what we are hearing right now is that the Turkish plane, an F-4, was actually flying in Syrian air space. To a certain extent the Turks had it coming. However, the Syrians know that this was really not a good idea given the scrutiny they are already under. There is considerable international pressure due to the fact that there have been 13,000 to 14,000 people killed in Syria by the regime. It was ill advised, and when the Syrians apologized right away, the Turks were trying to lessen the impact. However, we don't know how good a job they've done up until now. What we are hearing is that President Barack Obama has been calling the Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a regular basis trying to make sure that things remain calm. However, the Turks are pretty fired up. But my sense is that the Turks will decide not to engage in a full war. Rather they will allow the Syrian opposition to be armed and permit them to operate out of Eastern or Southern Turkey to infiltrate Syria. In other words, I believe that this was probably the opening volley of a proxy war that we are going to see for quite some time.
Gordon: Jon, this afternoon Assad spoke before what passes for the Syrian Parliament. He indicated that basically Syria is at war on all sides. I assume that is a reference not only to Turkey but also those regional countries who are members of the Sunni “coalition of the willing” who have been supplying weapons and material to some of the opposition. What is your view about who and what are engaged in providing arms to the Syrian opposition?
Schanzer: We know that the Saudis are involved. I've actually already been able to confirm that on a number accounts. That's not to say that there is a huge pipeline, but I think it is happening on an ad hoc basis. We are also hearing that the Qatari are involved in this as well. You are looking at two countries that largely see Iran as their number one enemy. They are trying to make sure that Iran’s domination of the region is significantly weakened. They want to defeat Iran and they understand that Syria is the key to that.
Bates: Jerry, what is happening with Egypt? They have elected a new president, Mohammed Morsi, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who somehow says that even though he's Muslim Brotherhood he's not Muslim Brotherhood. What's he talking about?
Gordon: Morsi is engaging in what we call classic taqiyya, which is speaking through his hat, and is permitted under Islamic doctrine when you are dealing with infidels. Mohammed Morsi is another example of Islamic fundamentalists who are technically educated in the West. He's actually been trained as an engineer at the University of Southern California. He came back to Egypt and became the Presidential candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party, essentially a Muslim Brotherhood Party in Egypt. He received a majority of the popular votes. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces finally relented this weekend and announced his election. He was even brought to former President Mubarak’s Presidential palace to check out rooms there. Iran immediately congratulated him upon the official announcement of his election, promoting him as a junior member in the Islamic coalition against the West, especially the United States. The Obama administration has gone out of its way to congratulate Morsi, with caution about his victory apparently reconciled to the fact that we now have an Islamist leadership and government in Egypt. That despite the Islamist dominated parliamentary election that was invalidated by a high court decision in Cairo. The suspicion is that a new Egyptian parliamentary election would probably show it dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist parties. The Obama administration has got some difficulties of its own with regard to dealings with these elements in Egypt. This week it was revealed that a member of a delegation of Egyptian legislators who came to the White House, Hani Nour Eldin, was a member of a terrorist group, Gamaa Islamiyya, that had been involved with the 1993 World Trade Center (WTC) Bombing. Moreover, there was a request, allegedly by Mr. Eldin, that the United States should seriously consider releasing the blind Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman from his Super Max federal prison and be returned to Egypt. That is not exactly what a lot of Americans, especially the victims and their families of the first WTC bombing, want to hear at this juncture. This White House visit by Eldin follows a late May conference in Doha, Qatar, the 9th US World Islam Conference, sponsored by the Haim Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Washington-based Brookings Institution. The leading celebrities of the Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood movements from Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt attended. US Muslim Brotherhood front organizations like the Council of American Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America attended along with the Executive Director of the Saudi-backed Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Mingling with Middle East and North African (MENA) Islamists were several members of the US State Department and the White House National Security Council engaged in outreach. With them was Rashad Hussein, who is the Special Envoy to the OIC, and Farah Pandith, Special Envoy to Muslim Communities. Also in the US official delegation at the Doha conference was the same gentleman who met the Egyptian delegation of legislators at the White House, including Mr. Eldin. Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough was another delegate. We don't know what the Obama administration policy is in the wake of the Arab Spring. As Jon implied, the Obama policy in the MENA region would appear to be confused and possibly perpetrating a bollix.
Bates: Back to the Syrian situation and allegations of being at war on all fronts. Is there really the possibility of a NATO action against Syria? Having said that, it is unlikely to be the UN, given how Russian and China have blocked resolutions on Syria at the Security Council.
Schanzer: I think a full war against Syria is highly unlikely. I do think that you may see some patrolling over Syrian skies. I think that is much more likely.
Bates: Isn’t that how Libya started out?
Schanzer: That's right. But you didn't see boots on the ground and you didn't see a full scale ground invasion. What you might see could be NATO aircraft patrolling safe havens and making sure that the Syrian Air Force can't hit the opposition with some of the attack helicopters provided by the Russians, or with jet fighters.
Bates: Speaking of the Russian helicopters, what is the status of that ship that was stopped North of Scotland?
Schanzer: As I understand it, it went back to Russia. So that is one delivery averted. I was speaking about this with Jerry before coming on the program today; the Russians have a major investment in Syria. That may not be the last shipment of war material and equipment that they will try to deliver to the Syrians.
Gordon: Jon, what are the Russian interests in Syria beyond their naval base at Tartarus given that Syria has been a long term client state to whom the Russians have sold rather significant amounts of military material?
Schanzer: Jerry, I think what we need to do is take a step back and look at the Syrian-Russian relationship since the end of the cold war. During the cold war, the Russians were the primary purveyor of arms to the Arab world. They made billions of dollars selling weaponry to the Egyptians, to the Iraqis, to the Libyans, pretty much most of the rogue regimes in the Middle East region. Since the end of the cold war the United States became the lone super power in the region. The US has kicked people out of power like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Khadafy. Look at what happened in Afghanistan with the Taliban. The US has become the primary purveyor of arms in the Middle East and the Russians have been getting less and less of the market share. Tartus, on the Mediterranean Coast of Syria, is now Russia's last remaining stronghold through which it is able to sell arms. The Russians are fighting for it tooth and nail. They will not let go of it. In fact, they are doubling down. They have 600 military personnel at the naval base in Tartus. This is a signal to the rest of the world that they are not going anywhere. They are going to put people on the ground to protect the Syrians. They are going to give them as much weaponry as they need. This Russian toehold is about being able to sell arms to the rest of the region, not just to Syria. The Russians are also trying to demonstrate to the rest of the Arab world that this is how you treat an ally. They believe that the United States threw a lot of our allies under the bus, which we did, whether it was Mubarak or others. We let a number of our allies in the region go down. The Russians want to make it very clear that they will not do that. I believe this is an attempt to woo some of these countries back into the Russian fold.
Gordon: Russian President Putin has been in the Middle East, the first time since 2005. He was in Israel dedicating a memorial to World War Two Soviet war dead including more than 150,000 Soviet Jews at Netanya and met with PM Netanyahu. He also held meetings in the West Bank with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and with King Abdullah II of Jordan. As regards relationships with Israel, what is it that you believe Putin may or may not have discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu particularly as it relates to Iran?
Schanzer: As it relates to Iran, the very interesting message he imparted to Netanyahu was in reality a faulty argument. Putin came out and said that Israeli plans to attack Iran would be a mistake. He indicated that such plans for Iran were in line with the same mistakes that the United States made in Iraq and Afghanistan. Putin will say that he was right, and that Russia warned the United States not to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, and that ultimately we paid a heavy price for doing that. However, there is a big difference here between the Israeli model for attacking Iran and the US model for invading Afghanistan or Iraq. The US had the objective of regime change and building a democratic state in both instances. The Americans and coalition partners, after knocking out both Saddam Hussein and the Taliban from power, were trying to build democracies. What the Israelis want to do is attack Iran's nuclear facilities to destroy them. Then the IDF would turn around and protect the homeland from potential attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah. That is their goal. So the idea that Putin has warned them not to follow in the footsteps of the United States is a faulty argument and one that will probably surface in the Israeli media in the days to come.
Bates: There is no question that the Israeli idea of “break it and leave” would be far more successful than the US idea of break it, stay to fix it and get shot at while doing so. If Israel does attack the issue is not so much how the Iranian military itself might retaliate. Rather it is what Iran’s terrorist proxies surrounding Israel might do. What risk would there be with these terrorist proxies attacking Israel?
Schanzer: That is something that I think Israeli military planners are looking at and taking very seriously. We know that Hezbollah has 60,000 rockets pointed at Israel from the North. Then you have Hamas in the Gaza Strip with upwards of 20,000 rockets. There are untold numbers of rockets and other ordinance in the West Bank. Syria is looking for ways to expand their fronts and might even start a conflict with the Israelis to deflect the world’s attention from their massacres inside the country. These are the threats with which IDF military planners must reckon. However, there is an interesting wrinkle. We saw an exchange of dozens of rockets last week, between terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli military. The Israelis were actually cutting down on the number of rockets they were firing. It used to be that the Israelis would execute a scorched earth policy when it came to retaliation in the rocket wars. They would just bomb the general vicinity from wherever rockets were fired and there would be a lot of devastation and destruction. Now, what we are seeing is Israeli adaptation to this threat given precision tactics and technology. The IDF Home Command has the Iron Dome short range rocket and missile defense system that is providing an umbrella of protection to civilian areas by shooting down rockets and doing it with incredible precision. This is a terrific technology that was jointly developed by Israelis and the United State. The Israelis also have a system, that they put in place during the 2006 war with Hezbollah, that involves the use of satellite imagery along with drones that are constantly patrolling the skies. When rockets are fired from surrounding terrorist havens, satellites can determine immediately where the rockets are fired from and drones loitering overhead can attack that spot within minutes. What you are seeing are Israeli pinpoint precision attacks against the rocket launchers themselves and not just hitting the general vicinity from where rockets were fired. Thus, I believe the Israelis are prepared for the next phase of the war following the possible attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Bates: I often complain about the United States press not covering those rocket attacks. I have not seen it often in the American press. However, I do read the Jerusalem Post daily. I am aware that last week there were 150 rockets fired into Israel. Just today there were four fired in from Gaza. The Iron Dome system intercepted two of them. The remaining two landed in empty fields and didn't hurt anybody. Still the Israeli population didn't have to run for cover into bomb shelters. When it comes to the propaganda war, the American people never hear about these things. When Israel has had enough of these rocket attacks they take decisive action. The fact is when Israel reacts to such attacks they are condemned by the American press for defending themselves. Why is that?
Schanzer: Part of the problem is just the way the Israelis describe it. They call it in Hebrew, hasbarah, an explanation of why they retaliated, instead of really going the extra mile and showing what the provocations look like. Israelis show these videos depicting gray pictures of a rocket blasting off. But you really can't see who's firing it and you can't see what they are intending to do. Thus, it is very hard for the Israelis to demonstrate why they went in and they bombed a building. The other part of the problem is that the Palestinians claim that this as a David vs. Goliath story. They continue to claim occupation despite the fact that the Israelis have left the Gaza Strip. What is important to note is that all these groups are terrorist organizations whether Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas, or the Popular Resistance Committees. All these groups are proxies of Iran. Iran is using them to provoke Israel and yet our media has been deceived. We just say when these rocket exchanges occur it is the Palestinian – Israeli conflict raging up again. Why don't the Israelis just leave the Palestinian territory and everything will be settled? Israel left Gaza in August 2005,
Bates: And then the war doesn't get put into proper context.
Gordon: Jon, just before the break we were talking about Israel and since our last round table discussion there has been a significant development. That was the formation of a so called unity government in Jerusalem with Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, a former IDF Chief of Staff. What is the real story behind that?
Schanzer: That was a masterstroke on the part of Netanyahu, without question. Israel was moving toward early elections. In those elections it was fairly certain that the Likud, the party that Netanyahu heads, was going to make Netanyahu weaker militarily with a potential looming strike on Iran just a few months away. The other thing that would have potentially hurt him was an x-factor. Nobody knew how he would handle the question of a new party being created by a popular former Israeli TV anchor, Yair Lapid. What Netanyahu did was reach out to Shaul Mofaz of the Kadima Party and, by doing so, cut Lapid out of the picture. Lapid was not able to even create a new political party. The only way that he could have done so was through new elections. Mofaz is an interesting character. He is a former Chief of Staff of the IDF. I actually worked next to him in an office at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy about ten years ago. Mofaz doesn’t like Netanyahu. He had been saying that Bibi wasn't thinking about the day after an Iran attack, and that Bibi wasn't thinking about peace with the Palestinians. That he was basically a failure as Prime Minister and vowed never to work with him. But Mofaz was going to lose quite a bit in that election. So what Bibi did was offer Mofaz a political lifeline. He said, if you come and join me I will let you be Vice Prime Minister. I will give you more power than you could probably ever have through the next election, where I think Kadima was going to lose substantially. In effect, Netanyahu brought in a former IDF Chief of Staff who was on the left to really bolster Israeli public opinion. Quite frankly, I think he was also able to stare down President Obama and say, you can't stop us now. The Israeli people are unified and ready to do whatever is needed against Iran.
Bates: What about the international community being unified? We had the P5 + 1 talks with Iran on its nuclear program and we did not hear a whole lot out of them. Is anything happening with those talks?
Schanzer: There was a lot of talk that the Iranians might be ready to make some sort of a deal and perhaps start shipping out uranium and shutting down their nuclear program. In fact, what we saw was what I think most of us here in Washington predicted. There was no grand bargain to be made. These talks have been failing and are pushing us into the eleventh hour of the calculus needed for a potential strike against the Iranian nuclear program. This is very frustrating for diplomats but I think for realists it was reaffirming what we already knew.
Gordon: Jon, July 1st begins the Iranian oil export sanctions, primarily from the E.U. What is the estimated impact from these sanctions on Iran? Further, why has the media gone dark about any discussion regarding the military option?
Schanzer: I think the media going dark on the military option is probably a good thing. If people are talking about it then it will probably not happen. You think about what happened with the Israelis when they attacked the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981 or when they attacked the Syrian nuclear bomb factory in 2007, they stopped talking entirely. No one was saying anything about the possible attacks. Such surprise attacks are generally done under the cover of darkness. As for the embargo, this is something that our Executive Director Mark Dubowitz at FDD has been studying. What we are seeing are a number of countries that have received waivers from the United States. They are enjoying the ability to continue to buy Iranian oil. This is a problem. It is one that we need to address. When the oil markets were tight, we really wanted to make sure that we didn't plunge into an oil led recession as a result of sanctions. So the US granted waivers to the Japanese, the Koreans, and others so that they could continue to buy oil. However, with oil prices dropping because of a soft market and drop in demand, we need to ask these countries to step up to the plate. We need to change the terms of this waiver. We need to make sure that they buy less oil from Iran and send less money to the pockets of the Iranian regime. The goal here is that if everybody reduces their purchases by 30% you're going to reduce the amount of money that the Iranians would get by 30%. This will continue to squeeze their economy. We are seeing that some sanctions are working. We know that their oil tankers are sitting in the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean and their cargoes are not being sold. This is a good thing but we need to further this economic warfare. Waivers don't really play a role in economic warfare. Everybody needs to join in, and that is really what should be shooting for right now.
Gordon: I note that the South Korean Government announced that they are not going to purchase Iranian oil.
Schanzer: And that's terrific. That is, I think, due to the fact that the Saudis and others have been flooding the market. The South Koreans have determined that they are going to be just fine by purchasing oil elsewhere. This needs to be a concerted international push, and it is a good sign that we are seeing the South Koreans do that.
Bates: The effort to make it a unified sanction would be best because, as you point out, if somebody violates the sanctions, then what good are they? For example what good are US sanctions with Cuba when everybody trades with them? They may not get US tourist dollars but other than that they are just fine. What is the situation with the Russians on Iran? They seem to be playing the side where high oil prices benefit them. They were a kind of an agent provocateur. They wouldn't go along with the sanctions as they benefitted from high oil prices. Now with the price of oil coming down is that going to have any effect on what the Russians do as it pertains to these sanctions?
Schanzer: The Russians are basically an energy superpower. They want to be in the game no matter what the game is in the energy markets. What we have done to motivate the Russians is actually rather brilliant. It is based on an idea that came from FDD and has been implemented by the US Government. What we are trying to do is play to Russian greed. We are doing it with the Chinese and other countries. What we are saying is if you don’t want to get involved in the sanctions game, that's fine. What we are going to do is tell you that if you are going to buy Iranian oil, we need you to drive a better bargain. In other words, when they buy Iranian oil, they are going to bargain, saying that Iranian oil is a distressed asset in the energy markets given the sanctions. Buying oil from Iran means that the buyer’s considered a pariah on the world stage. They drive the price of oil down further when they buy from the Iranians at a price equivalent to Platt less a discount. This will hurt the Iranians’ pocket book. The Russians, the Chinese and others have no problem doing that right now because it helps their bottom line. This is how we've been able to at least point the Russians and the Chinese in the right direction.
Gordon: One of the items in the news has been the whole question of who leaked information from the situation room at the White House regarding cyber war developments such as Stuxnet and Flame. There have been a number of allegations after reports in the New York Times and some professional cyber publications as to who in the Administration may have perpetrated the leaks. The question is how positive has the cyber war been and how pre-eminent have the Israelis been in that process?
Schanzer: I think the leaks were terrible and were done for political reasons. As someone who used to be a practitioner in the intelligence community, I have to tell you, you just don't share that kind of information. You basically sign your life away when you enter into these programs with the idea that it's not o.k. to somehow share it. That is just unacceptable behavior. We have been able to figure out that the Israelis have been involved in the development of some of these cyber weapons. They are potent weapons. We understand that the Israelis developed and tested Stuxnet at their nuclear facility in Dimona. They found centrifuges with technical features like the ones used in the Iran nuclear enrichment program. The Israelis developed the Stuxnet malworm that could infiltrate a number of systems, looking for a specific switch that was being used in the Iranian nuclear enrichment program and caused those centrifuges to spin out of control. It was effective and it set back the program by several months. Then there is the Flame virus which infiltrated the Iranian nuclear program, took real time screen shots and sent them back to an undisclosed location. The Flame information has been released, via leaks, into the wild. The Iranians are now keenly aware of the cyber war. This was probably not the best move. but I think the Israelis will be able to win this conflict with the Iranians through cyber war more than through a conventional war. The Israelis have a very strong military, but it is not a world superpower and that's probably what is needed to take out these nuclear sites. However, I believe the Israelis have become a superpower in cyber technology. I think that what we are witnessing now with Stuxnet and Flame is just an indication, a taste, of what the Israelis may be able to bring to bear against the Iranians in this war.
Bates: The Israelis certainly have a huge technological advantage and they are experts at cyber warfare. You pointed out Jonathan that the Flame virus, unlike Stuxnet, was “released into the wild.” How much of a potential problem is that beyond its intended target?
Schanzer: With cyber warfare we are really in unchartered territory. We haven't really seen a cyber war like this one before. There are different ways a cyber war could be waged. For example, if you wanted to target a civilian population you could change via computer the pH balance in certain mass produced foods if you wanted to poison a population. The question now becomes, are the Iranians developing a response to these attacks? Will they try to turn the tide against the United States, the Israelis, and the West by deploying a similar code? Do they have the capabilities to do that? Was there enough left over of this code for them to be able to reconstruct it? Both viruses, at least to my knowledge, had some sort of a self-destruct mechanism. However, that doesn't mean that by the time it was discovered those who had created the virus knew that it was vulnerable. We have questions about whether it could be turned on us or not.
Bates: I was reading something on a computer tech site last week that said that the they found traces of the Flame virus dating back two or three years. That it was only recently discovered and apparently had been out there for a substantial amount of time. Moreover Flame was developed using non-traditional Gaming code language.
Schanzer: That is what we have heard from these leaks. It is interesting to see the timing and politicization of these leaks. I think President Obama, or at least his staff, wanted to let the American public know that as these diplomatic talks were failing with the Iranians, we have other things in place. We are doing whatever is necessary right now to prevent the Iranians from going nuclear. It was not something that we just started. That is where I think a lot of the anger came from. The information was leaked in a way that was not going to help national security. Rather, it was leaked in a way that was going to help the President maintain a certain standing with the American people, as it pertained to the Iranian nuclear problem.
Gordon: Jon, we had talked earlier about what was going on in Egypt with the Presidential election of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi. We also noted reaction of several groups including the Obama administration. However, there is a sense out there that this is going to be a disaster. Representative Allen West said that this is basically a radical Islamic nightmare. Is this essentially the beginnings of a Sunni slide into an Islamic Republic reminiscent of what happened in 1979 in Iran?
Schanzer: Jerry, as we discussed, I'm of the belief that what happened over the weekend was probably the beginning of the end for the Egyptian- US Relationship. You have to remember that since the Camp David Accords, the US has been relying on the Egyptians. We have provided them with a huge amount of weaponry. They are basically a forward base for us. They sit on a strategic waterway, the Suez Canal. I believe that if the Muslim Brotherhood has its way, and if another parliamentary election takes place that brings them back to power, they will truly take control of the country. We are going to lose Egypt. In fact, we may have already lost Egypt since President Morsi is already not eager to work with the United States to uphold the peace with Israel. This is strikingly similar to what happened to the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979. The Iranians were a forward base for us. We had a strategic military relationship with them. They sat on a strategic waterway, the Straits of Hormuz. Iran was critical for us to extend our influence in the region. Basically overnight, when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, we lost that advantage. I see huge parallels here. Very scary parallels. And so for those who keep saying well, gee, don't worry about it; you know the military is still in control. That is exactly what analysts said about Iran back in 1979. History does repeat itself.
Bates: Jonathan, let me ask a question about Egypt, Israel and their relations. President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt did say that they would honor all international commitments and that was his only reference to the Israeli Egyptian Peace Treaty. When pressed and asked specifically about the Israeli Peace Treaty, his answer was something along the lines of, we will honor it but we will demand changes to it. Well, isn't that somewhat of an oxymoron?
Schanzer: It is. I think what he's indicating is he doesn't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. He knows this is a 2.5 billion dollar meal ticket for Egypt, which has been going through just a really tough economic time amidst all of this political instability. Even the Brotherhood understands that they can't just chuck the whole thing out. You can expect that the Egyptians will stop selling natural gas to the Israelis. They may want to put more military personnel into the Sinai Peninsula since it is, after all, their territory. These are not good things, when you think about it in the long term, for building a bridge between the Israelis and the Egyptians. However, this has been expected for quite some time from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Bates: Well putting Egyptian troops in the Sinai that would violate the treaty, would it not?
Schanzer: It would, and the Israelis have already indicated that they would be willing to talk to the Egyptians about restructuring the deal so that peace stays in place and the Egyptians get what they want. That will make the Israelis much twitchier on their southern border. It is not necessarily a good thing, but it is very popular among the Egyptian people. They want to know why they can't flex their military muscle wherever they want on their own soil and that's what was prohibited in the Camp David Accords.
Gordon: Jon, speaking about twitchy Israelis, they are accelerating the construction of a barrier wall on the entire southern frontier with Egypt at this juncture. How close is that to being concluded and what is Israel putting into the Negev to provide strategic depth in terms of military support?
Schanzer: Bottom line is that they are in the middle of building it. I don't know the final answer as to when it will be finished ,but they have deployed forces for the first time in many years. It's a tense border now.
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