- An international round table discussion
by Jerry Gordon and Michael Bates with Dan Diker and Jon Schanzer (December 2009)
Israeli naval commandos seized an Iranian arms vessel off the Island of Cyprus loaded with 500 tons of rockets, missiles, arms and munitions destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. It has been left to Israel to police these arms shipments from Iran via the Sudan and Egypt rather than the US which had previously volunteered to do it. Israel also took out a Syrian reactor in September 2007. Meanwhile the US and other ‘5+1’ countries offered uranium enrichment ‘olive branch’ to Iran. This was resoundingly rejected by the Islamic Republic leading to condemnation by the IAEA. This leaves Israel few options other than conducting complex military operations against Iran’s nuclear facilities. In Israel we witnessed the tableau of PM Netanyahu speaking from the deck of a submarine equipped with nuclear tipped missiles. Meanwhile, US and Israeli Intelligence in Israel while a former high ranking Iranian Revolutionary Guard General and defector was also in the country. Clearly, the Islamic Republic leaders, Ayatollah Khamanei and President Ahmadinejad were getting a tough message in the face of alleged War Games by Iran aimed at defending its nuclear facilities. Interestingly, rumors filtered out from President Obama‘s trip to Asia that the Administration used this threat in discussions with Beijing trying to secure China’s assistance in forging tougher sanctions. Meanwhile tough gas and financial sanctions legislation passed by Congress languished awaiting the President’s attention back in Washington.
The Palestinians may have pushed the limits of bi-lateral negotiations by attempting to have the UN Security Council and the EU support a proposed declaration of a unilateral state based on the unsafe and indefensible pre-June 1967 War armistice lines. This move effectively breaks with over two decades of diplomatic accords and precedents. Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced firm red lines about conditions for peace discussions. However, he upset right wing elements in his own Knesset coalition with an announcement of an alleged 10 month freeze on settlements in Judea and Samaria, excepting Jerusalem. The Palestinians immediately rejected that offer.
There were new revelations about Arab and Iranian connections with J Street, the alleged ‘pro Israel and pro peace’ lobby group, apparently favored by the Obama White House. These revelations raised serious questions about J Street as an anti-Israel American Jewish organization.
The sixth 1330AMWEBY International Middle East Round Table addressed contending Middle East issues. It also presented the panel’s views on the Fort Hood Massacre by Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan and Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement a criminal trial in New York for the 9/11 plotters detained at Guantanamo.
Co-hosts for this discussion were Michael Bates, WEBY general manager and host of “Your Turn,” and NER senior editor, Jerry Gordon. Included in the panel discussion were Jonathan Schanzer, associate executive director of the Jewish Policy Center in Washington, DC, author of “Hamas versus Fatah” and Daniel Diker, Jerusalem-based Foreign Policy Analyst and Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
You may listen to the broadcast here.
Bates: Good afternoon and welcome to “Your Turn.” This is Mike Bates on a special edition of “Your Turn.” It is our periodic international Middle East roundtable discussion. With me in the studio I have Jerry Gordon. Jerry is my co-host today and a contributor to “Your Turn” on all things having to do with Israel in the Middle East. He is a Senior Editor at the New English Review and its blog, The Iconoclast. Welcome Jerry.
Gordon: Good to be here.
Bates: We also have Jonathan Schanzer; Washington DC based Deputy Executive Director of the Jewish Policy Center and the Editor of their Palestine Rocket Report. Jonathan Schanzer, welcome to “Your Turn.”
Schanzer: Thanks for having me.
Bates: And live from Jerusalem we have Dan Diker who is a Senior Foreign Policy Analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) and Director of the JCPA’s Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Diker: Thanks for having me at WEBY.
Bates: And we have another guest in the studio which Jerry Gordon smuggled in and that is the prophet Mohammed, may peace be upon him. Sitting to my left is an image of the prophet Mohammed, may peace be upon him. Fortunately, he is not wearing an explosive vest; however he does have a bomb on his head. What is the story with that Jerry?
Gordon: This is one of the lithographs made from the original Danish cartoon done by cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. This copy, Number 774 of 1,000 stuck has two autographs, one by Westergaard himself and the other by courageous Dutch politician Geert Wilders. I earned this copy by setting up meetings for Westergaard in Manhattan, and, a presentation by Geert Wilders at my alma matter Columbia University. And yes, it is in full color, not the black and white you usually see. (See a You Tube video of the Kurt Westergaard Mohammed cartoon owned by Gordon, here).
Bates: Yes, this is the image that created such an uproar among many Muslims throughout Europe when these cartoons were published. This is the famous one with the prophet Mohammed with the turban …..
Gordon: Shaped as a bomb.
Bates: On his head. All right, well hopefully that bomb although I do see the fuse is lit, will not explode during the next hour.
Alright, let’s get to topics in the Middle East. Speaking of explosives and this question is for you Dan Diker in Jerusalem. Earlier this month, the Israeli navy stopped a shipment of rockets, missiles, mortars, grenades, and anti-tank weapons that were intended for Hezbollah in Lebanon. What is the story about that?
Diker: This is an example of an Iranian ship sailing under the guise of a Barbadian and an Antiguan flag. The ship contained 500 tons of weaponry, including almost 3,000 short and medium ranged rockets. This is over 10 times the amount of weaponry that was found on the very famous Karine A weapons shipment in 2002, which also was sent from the Iranian Island of Kish to Gaza. In this case, Israeli Intelligence agencies had kept an eye on the ship as it left port in Iran and made its way towards a port in Egypt where the arsenal was transferred onto another vessel. Its ultimate destination was Syria with an intermediate stop in Beirut. Clearly this weaponry was meant for the Hezbollah sent by Iran. The major concern from an Israeli standpoint, however, is how many ships have not been caught that have left Iran for Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon or for Syria.
Bates: Well if there is an international prohibition against such arms being shipped like this, why did it fall on the Israeli navy to stop the vessel?
Diker: UN Security Council Resolution 1701 which was the resolution that governed the end of the Hezbollah war in 2006 has been an utter failure. Since the 2006 war Hezbollah has armed itself with three times the rocket arsenal that they had before the war. The point being that the United Nations has failed to enforce international law that clearly prohibits this type of international weapons trafficking. The international community is going to have to really pull itself together and do a much better job of preventing these gross violations of agreements that are designed to stop international terror groups. These non state actors are attacking sovereign states such as Lebanon and Israel. Until now it has fallen on the Israelis to respond militarily when attacked. According to foreign reports it was the Israelis that took out the Syrian nuclear reactor, as well as, other transshipments from the Sudan of the same type of weaponry headed for Gaza. So Israel seems to be the only self-appointed policemen to try to keep the Middle East and ultimately the West safe from Iran’s race for regional supremacy.
Bates: Jon segueing from this observation of Dan’s we noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu was aboard a submarine equipped with nuclear tipped cruise missiles today, warning about the Iran nuclear threat. What is the dilemma facing Israel with regard to possibly pulling the trigger on military action?
Schanzer: Well the calculus for Israel remains essentially the same. I should just add to Dan’s excellent analysis, that the Israelis have not only gone after weapons destined for Hezbollah but also for Hamas as we recall in March of this year. Israel apparently found the weapons cache in Sudan headed for the Hamas organization in the Gaza strip. The Israelis are constantly patrolling the region trying to intercede and interdict these weapons. Ultimately you have no choice but to blow them up as they continue to play ‘cops and robbers’. With regard to the nuclear program, it’s not a game of ‘cops and robbers’; this is really a ‘game of chicken.’ The Israelis are holding their breath hoping that the Obama administration’s diplomatic offensive will somehow thwart the Iranian nuclear program. I had the pleasure of speaking with Ambassador Dore Gold, the former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, yesterday. I can tell you that the attitude now within the Netanyahu administration is that this is going to fail. Sanctions will almost certainly fail primarily because the Russians and the Chinese will not work with the United States to impose multilateral sanctions. If the United States imposes these sanctions unilaterally, they will do very little. Ultimately the Israelis still feel and fear that an attack on the Iranian nuclear program will fall on their shoulders and the calculus largely remains the same. There can either be a number of jets scrambled to launch pin point attacks on the suspected sites or as the Prime Minister was indicating by boarding the submarine, perhaps some of these attacks could be launched by remote control. In the latter case that might cause a bit more collateral damage, however, the mode of attack would probably insure that the Israelis stay out of sight and perhaps out of the reach of most Iranian weapons.
Bates: President Obama this morning said in China that there would be serious consequences if Iran would not demonstrate that its nuclear program was intended for “peaceful and transparent” purposes. We appear to keep moving the line in the sand. There are going to be serious consequences “if”, and when it doesn’t happen. Are we never going to impose these serious consequences and if we don’t, if we keep moving this line in the sand, where is (a) our credibility and (b) any reason for Iran to react?
Schanzer: Well Mike, you phrased a very important question. First of all, we have continued to threaten the Iranians over the course of several decades about their foreign policy, meddling, terrorism and their weapons programs. We haven’t really done anything to truly punish them, whether through sanctions or through military means. They are really not afraid of the threat of war. I would say that, those 25 to 30 years of threats have lead them to believe that the United States will not follow through. More recently the United States has been trying to gear up the country for sanctions legislation. We love acronyms in Washington. We have legislation, called IRPSA, the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. This Act would sanction companies, various European firms, that have been helping Iran to refine its petroleum product so that the oil that it extracts from the ground can be used to benefit its economy. We have threatened to impose these sanctions for months now. This legislation has been locked and loaded since the Spring. We continue to push back the deadline. The way that I was trying to describe this recently at a talk in Nashville, Tennessee, was suggesting this is like Charlie Brown and Lucy. Every time we go to kick the football Lucy pulls it out of the way. This Administration has been pulling it out of the way, rather than saying, ok, we’re going to do this now and actually impose sanctions that make this painful for the Iranians. Instead we continue to pull up at the last minute and give them more leeway. They continue to challenge the United States and the rest of the world because they do not fear the sanctions.
Bates: As you pointed out a moment ago, unilateral sanctions would probably not be very effective. What is the likelihood of getting Russian and Chinese cooperation to impose true international sanctions that could be effective?
Schanzer: I don’t think it’s very good. However, I do think that it would be extremely important for the United States to impose these sanctions first. In other words to be the leader of the free world, that takes the lead in trying to punish Iran. Once we do that, we could say, listen, we’ve done this, we are asking for your assistance. By not doing that I think we are just failing to back up our words and that is probably the biggest problem we face right now.
Diker: I think you have a bigger problem. I think Jon, the President’s language has actually gone south in terms of its severity. The President is saying today that Iran must prove to the international community its peaceful intentions for its nuclear program. What you have here is a real slide back in terms of the more threatening posture and language that was used in the former Bush Administration. They declared that it was clear to the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran does have a military nuclear program and does intend to produce a nuclear weapon. So now what we’ve done here is we’ve gone backwards with the Americans under the leadership of Mr. Obama sliding backwards. Rather saying to the Iranians, we know that you are building nuclear military capabilities and threatening to extinguish the State of Israel from the map every day, instead, we say you should prove to us, that your intentions for nuclear proliferation are peaceful. I think we’ve really, drawn the line in the sand way behind where the language had been a year ago.
Bates: And if it was truly a peaceful program there would be no need to (a) develop it in secret and (b) bury it hundreds of feet down in hardened bunkers, of course it’s not a peaceful nuclear program.
Schanzer: Absolutely. I’ll add just one more thing to Dan’s analysis and that is the administration has not only dropped back in terms of the rhetoric but even the plan that was floating around last month where Iran would be asked to ship part of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium abroad. Even that is effectively stepping back from where I think the U.S. position should be. In other words that it’s okay for Iran to enrich uranium as long as it ships it abroad but essentially that would give the Iranians the ability to continue to maintain the core of its nuclear program. I would say that in this ‘game of chicken’ the United States is playing with Iran we’ve lost consistently. We’ve blinked first. We may have a President who was given the Nobel Prize for Peace. However, I would say that his inability to challenge a bully country like Iran will ultimately undermine peace in the region because no one will be there to actually enforce the rule of law.
Gordon: Actually I think, Ahmadinejad is laughing all of the way to the bank. He has the ARAK reactor which produces plutonium and he has more than ample output to produce nukes from that facility alone.
I’d like to turn to an issue that arose yesterday. As you know Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech at the Saban Forum in Jerusalem. What did he reveal there?
Diker: The most important message coming out of the Netanyahu Administration in the past days has been opposition to the threat made by the Palestinian authority of their intention to declare statehood unilaterally along the June 4, 1967 lines. This is part of their strategy to garner support in the UN Security Council. There has been a flurry of statements made by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas recently. He has said the Palestinians already have a Palestinian state; we just need to get formal recognition of the 1967 lines. This means indefensible lines for Israel and not lines that can in any way be claimed unilaterally by the Palestinians. The message that Netanyahu continues to convey to the Palestinians and the international community is that Israel is committed to a negotiated solution which is in line with UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967. This Resolution has governed every single diplomatic initiative between the Arabs and Israelis. That includes the Treaty of Peace between Israel and Egypt, the Madrid Peace Conference, the Oslo Accords, the Road Map, and the Annapolis Peace Process. To be specific, the Oslo Interim Accord of 1995 still governs the formal diplomatic relationship between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.
The publication in August 2009 of the unilateral plan for statehood developed by Salam Fayyad, who is the unelected Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, created concern in Israel. As Netanyahu said at the Saban Forum, “there is no replacement for negotiated solutions between the sides.” Mahmoud Abbas has been refusing to negotiate with Israel due to Israel’s shift in strategy under Netanyahu. He is the first Prime Minister in many years who has restored symmetry of claims opposite the Palestinians. He has demanded recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and has made a number of security demands on a prospective Palestinian state including: demilitarization of a future Palestinian state, defensible borders for Israel, Israeli control of the electromagnetic spectrum in the West Bank, and control over its air space, as well as other security guarantees. The Palestinian leadership rejects each one of those Israeli conditions. In fact, I believe that the Palestinians have moved towards unilateralism as a strategy. Netanyahu’s message at the Saban Forum was that this is unacceptable to Israel. Israel is committed to bi-lateral negotiations. However, if the Palestinians insist on unraveling the only legal document that still governs the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis will take their own measures and not be committed to maintaining a negotiated solution.
Bates: Jerry, we were talking about this unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state, that they want to bypass the bilateral negotiations with Israel and deal directly with the United Nations and just simply be declared by a wave of the wand, “ok now you are a sovereign state”. Israel obviously wants nothing to do with that. They want to pursue this through bilateral talks. If it was any other time, I would say that the United States would veto such a measure even if it got that far but I’m not so sure about that at this time. What do you think?
Gordon: Well, I think that you are correct. We saw Senator Lieberman at the same Saban Forum in Jerusalem pretty much agree with the Israeli position. He is a major independent thinker, in the U.S. Senate. Today, there was an interesting development. Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt said that the conditions were not there for the Palestinians to unilaterally declare a state. Jon, you’ve written about this, what can you tell us?
Schanzer: Well I think that apart from the fact that the people realize this move would effectively kill Arab/Israeli diplomacy. This would really be a bad move for the Palestinians. Essentially all of their claims on Jerusalem or their claims for refugees would be out the window, because the Israelis have agreed to work with them on this in the context of negotiations. That would be out the door. There is also a question of how the two territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, would be connected. If the Israelis viewed the Palestinians as a hostile entity after this unilateral declaration, there is no way that the Israelis would connect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There is also a question of leadership. The fact that there are two different territories under the control of two different factions, Hamas and Fatah, makes this the absolute wrong time for the Palestinians to even think about this. I would argue the only reason why they are doing this is because they are taking cues from President Obama who has indicated that unilateral demands on the Israelis and unilateral declarations are somehow ok. The Obama Administration was pushing the Israelis to cease most settlement activities. The Palestinians are taking the lead from our President and I actually attribute all of these unilateral moves and threats, to the White House policies over the last 6 to 8 months.
Bates: Question for you Dan on the motivation. What is the motivation in your eyes behind this desire for a unilateral declaration of the Palestinian state? Why do they want to abandon direct talks with Israel?
Diker: Well when you look behind the black veil, as it were, of the Palestinian Authority you come to understand that a strategic decision in my assessment has been made by the Palestinian Authority leadership to drop bilateral negotiations and adopt a unilateral direction. That is in large part due to three factors. Number 1: There is a lot of tension clearly between Fatah and Hamas. The Hamas has threatened Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas has insulted Mahmoud Abbas and the split between Hamas-ruled Gaza and Fatah-ruled West Bank seems rather permanent for the coming years
Number 2: There is a lot of tension between the PA and the U.S. administration. The Palestinians feel betrayed by President Obama because of the Administration’s about face on their former pre-condition that Israel should freeze all settlements, including Jerusalem, which had not been a condition of previous US governments. The PA sees Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has restored some of Israel’s basic vital requirements for peacemaking. These requirements include recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, the aforementioned security conditions a united Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu has sworn to maintain Jerusalem as the 3200 year old capital of the Jewish nation. From the PA’s point of view the Palestinian calculation is that de legitimizing Israel is a good strategy to pursue their own quest for unilateral statehood on the disputed 1967 lines.
Bear in mind it was the Palestinian authority that triggered the Gaza war investigation by the UN Human Rights Council against Israel. They figured that they could shop the de legitimization of Israel to many in the international community and leverage up their own legitimacy for a unilaterally declared state.
This Palestinian strategy would be very comfortable for many in the international community to accept. In a way it gives you a little bit of the Palestinian motivation for driving this unilateral declaration exploiting de legitimization of Israel as a “lever” to ratchet up support. Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt today may have said that the time wasn’t right. However, he didn’t say that on principle he disagreed with the Palestinian strategy. What he said was that the time wasn’t right for a unilaterally declared Palestinian state. He meant that the Palestinians had in the meantime delayed elections and before Palestinian elections the Europeans can’t possibly support a Palestinian play for unilateral statehood. There has to be a proper government, otherwise, it would make the Europeans look silly to support this type of a Palestinian move when there is no legitimate democratically elected government on the Palestinian side.
Gordon: Dan, doesn’t this reflect something that the world has at last become aware of in diplomatic circles? That the Arab world is beginning not to trust Obama and his foreign policy team?
Diker: This trend started during the second Bush term under Secretary of State Rice. A number of Sunni countries, whether Saudi Arabia, or Egypt, and the Gulf states became concerned when Rice drove the notion that the Palestinian issue had to be resolved in order to contain Iran. That misassessment created a lot of concern in Arab capitals. Secretary Rice’s parting summary to the Obama Administration that the Palestinian Israeli issue was nearly resolved drove the enthusiasm of the new Administration to continue the misassessment. Meanwhile we see some Arab countries acting more responsibly towards Israel in view of the Iranian threat and the US government insistence on solving the Palestinian issue first. Look at Egypt’s cooperation during the Hamas war in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. They were much more aggressive in their statements against Hamas and Iran and even supportive of the Israeli role.
Gordon: Jon, I want to turn to a strange partnership that has emerged in Washington DC in the wake of the creation of the alleged ‘pro-peace, pro-Israel’ group called J Street. It concerns revelations that have come up in the press particularly the article by Eli Lake in the Washington Times. Could you tell us about that?
Schanzer: Eli Lake broke a tremendous story whereby he shed some light on the fact that the Iranians had a number of organizations operating here in the United States that were essentially funneling funds directly to Iran from the United States which is obviously illegal. It’s been illegal since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The organization, discussed by Lake in the Washington Times article working directly with the Iranians and violating U.S. law, was NIAC, The National Iranian American Council. That was revealed by the documents that became public through a lawsuit brought by NIAC against an Iranian dissident. It became clear that NIAC was actually working with J Street, here in Washington. J Street has consistently adopted what I would call anti-Israel policies or anti-Israel lines. It has been the source of a great deal of controversy in recent months and now we understand that they have been working with some of these Iranian organizations. Notably there are some really interesting things that came out of this investigation. One of the more interesting ones to my mind was the fact that NIAC and J Street were trying to scuttle the appointment of Ambassador Dennis Ross as the envoy to Iran in the early stages of the Obama administration. Ross, who most people would tout as a moderate, was someone that NIAC and J Street saw as a threat to Iranian interests. The fact that these two organizations would somehow team up undercuts the notion that J Street was a pro-Israel lobby in the first place. There is a lot of egg in the face of J Street right now as this story continues to unfold.
Gordon: Who is the interlocutor financing groups like J Street and NIAC at this point?
Schanzer: Well we know that George Soros was behind at least the founding of J Street and now we know that there are a number of Iranian and Arab donors to J Street. That further undercuts its position as a pro-Israel lobby. The more that comes out on these organizations I think the more the American public and particularly the Jewish community here in the United States realizes that this is an organization that cannot be trusted.
Gordon: Doesn’t this make the White House attempt at isolating Israel via J Street look foolish?
Schanzer: Well it definitely makes the Administration look bad for even having contacts with J Street at this point, let alone listening to their, policy recommendations. It is becoming clear that this is an organization that has disgraced itself. It was disgraced in its very founding. Now as we learn more and more about it, it is not an organization that should be helping anyone make policy inside the beltway. The hope is that the Administration pulls back from its dealings with this organization which has stepped into some of the roles that AIPAC had played in previous Administrations.
Bates: Jerry, I’m going to throw this back to you because you have a follow up question for Dan regarding J Street.
Gordon: Yes I did. Dan, J Street is also an Israeli story isn’t it? And what can you tell us about the reactions there?
Diker: It is very much an Israeli story. Because the pretense of J Street is to be a ‘pro-Israel pro-peace’ organization meaning that it represents the best interest of Israel when in fact it has very little to do with Israel and very much to do with J Street. J Street is pro J Street and anti-Israel. Now, why is it anti-Israel? Because J Street’s position completely contradicts the minimal security requirements that the government of Israel has set out for itself of defensible borders in the West Bank and in the areas around Jerusalem, Israel’s united capital
For the J Street crowd to essentially claim for itself, its necessity to make policy on behalf of the State of Israel and then say that they represent the best interests of Israel, is disingenuous at best. To be very frank with you, J Street is more of a therapy group for many young Jews who are disenchanted with Israel and need a politically correct way to express it. There is also an very interesting convergence in the personal family histories of J Street Founder and Director Jeremy Ben Ami, who happens to have been a school mate of mine in Secondary and High School, and that of Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff. Both men have Israeli fathers who were from the Israeli political right and fought for Israel during the pre state struggle for independence. An interesting coincidence.
Schanzer: I’d like to add to Dan’s analysis that if you look at the interactions between the Israeli embassy here in Washington and J Street, the relations are very cold. J Street initially asked Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren to attend its recent policy conference. Oren ultimately declined and instead sent an observer rather than participate in their conference. Essentially Oren does not meet or cooperate with J Street. I would argue in laymen terms, that Ambassador Oren holds them in time out. I don’t expect him to engage with J Street at any time in the near future.
Gordon: Dan, what observation do you have about both U.S. and Israeli intelligence huddling in Israel amid a report that a Revolutionary Guard defector General Asgari was there at the same time? General Asgari was alleged to have brought out information about Ian’s nuclear program. Is he in Israel singing like a canary? What do you think this does to the regime in Tehran?
Diker: What it does to Iran clearly is to blow a hole in what they like to in their pretense of a bullet proof self-confidence that Ahmadinejad had used in staring down President Obama and the West. I think what they see here is little Israel chipping away at their best human assets and I think it sends an important message to the Iranian regime from the State of Israel. Israel’s long arm as it has been called traditionally can extend even into the depths of Iran. Therefore, Iran would do well to take this as a signal to be careful and stop threatening to incinerate the State of Israel with nuclear weapons. The State of Israel has said clearly across the political spectrum that Israel knows how to defend itself. I think that reports about General Asgari being closer now geographically to Israel than he is to Tehran is a good signal of Israel’s abilities. I would hope that behind closed doors the Iranian regime is getting the message.
Bates: Question for you Jonathan Schanzer. On November 5th, we had a shooting at Fort Hood. It was Major Nidal Malik Hasan who allegedly shouted “Allahu Akhbar” while killing 13 of his fellow soldiers and wounding 30 others. I’ve heard very disturbing comments from the Secretary of the Army that he doesn’t want to see diversity become a casualty of this. Have we lost our focus and are we sacrificing our own security and the lives of our own troops in exchange for, “can’t we all just get along” nonsense?
Schanzer I can tell you that I am utterly confused by the position of our Secretary of Defense. I am also confused by the position of our President. You know there are a couple of excellent comments made here inside the beltway. One was by Larry Haas, a former speech writer to Al Gore, who said that the rush to non-judgment was an incredible thing to watch. In other words no one wanted to openly state that this was a Jihadist, that carried out essentially a terrorist attack on a U.S. base against U.S. personnel. Over the course of the past several weeks the press and the U.S. government has only just come around to admitting this. Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracy said can you imagine in the 1940’s if somebody had walked onto a U.S. Military base and started yelling ‘Heil Hitler’ before shooting, soldiers? There would be no question where this person stood and what the goals of that person would have been. Major Hasan was yelling ‘Allahu Akhbar,’ this is a Jihadist call to arms and, it was very clear that he had Jihadist motivations. Whether this was planned with other terrorists we don’t know. However, we do know that he had dealings with radical Imams and preachers in the past. We know he had motivations that can only be ascribed as Jihad. The fact that we have been very slow to come around to this indicates that the country has largely gone back to sleep after 9-11. In other words, we woke up to the threat on September 11th or maybe September 12th as we began to discuss the problems of radical Islam or Jihadism. Now we are shying away from that. We are hoping that things will go back to the way they were. I think a lot of Americans are hoping that we don’t have to fight this long war and that we are getting tired of all of these various fronts. However, I think that the attack by Major Hasan was a strong indication that this war is far from over and that there will be continued threats to the United States both at home and abroad.
Bates: Well, if he really did shout ‘Allahu Akhbar’ while shooting, and all accounts are that he did, then he clearly did not murder his fellow soldiers because he was upset that there were cold potatoes in the mess hall. This clearly was a Jihadist act of terrorism.
Schanzer: Absolutely. Everything that we are seeing at this point indicates that we were slow to come around to this. Whether this was pre-planned or what my former boss Daniel Pipes calls “sudden Jihad syndrome”, it doesn’t really matter. The point is we know what were his motivations and we are, for whatever reason, afraid to recognize them. I think that this underscores the question of whether the U.S. has lost its will.
Bates: What about the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to try Khaled Sheik Mohammed and four other conspirators in New York City for the September 11, 2001 attacks as opposed to trying them in a military tribunal. What do you think (1) of the motivation behind that and (2) do you think this is a mistake?
Schanzer: Well it’s absolutely a mistake. This is part of the Obama Administration’s campaign to shed some light on our entire system of prosecuting terrorists involved with Al Qaeda. From closing down Gitmo to holding trials in New York City, this is all part of a larger plan to get the world to believe that we are on the side of justice when I don’t think there really is a need to prove that to the world at all. What this is going to do is cause a lot of pain to the families of the 9-11 victims. You know they are based in New York and they are going to be watching Khaled Sheik Mohammed walk in every day for possibly a year or more trying to get out of his responsibilities. This is a man that is clearly guilty of planning the 9-11 attacks and the fact that he will even have an opportunity to get off the hook after admitting that he was the planner, is going to cause a lot of pain and anguish to those families of the 9-11 victims. Not to mention that having this trial based in New York is going to be a security threat. That will definitely raise the eyebrows of some Jihadist types who will think seriously about trying to carry out attacks to send messages to the United States.
Gordon: Dan, Do you have a final comment?
Diker: Yes, I believe what the Obama Administration is doing in the 9/11 plotters case is dangerous. It is effectively criminalizing terrorism. Military tribunals were already prepared to hear the matter and render judgment. Now, we may provide useful intelligence to the Jihadists and witness a show trial for Khaled Sheik Mohammed and the others accused.
Bates: Thank you for coming on the program: Jonathan Schanzer from Washington DC, Dan Diker from Jerusalem and Jerry Gordon here in Pensacola. We appreciate all of you joining us today for this international Middle East round table discussion here on 1330 AM WEBY Northwest Florida’s talk radio.
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