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US Gen.: Iran’s Role In Iraq’s Fight Against Islamic State Might be Positive

March 5th, 2015 No comments

By Frud Bezhan | (RFE/RL)

The Iraqi government has launched an offensive against Islamic State militants (IS) in the northern city of Tikrit, but Iran appears to be leading the charge.

The Islamic republic has officially downplayed its role in the fight against IS in Iraq, saying its involvement was limited to training Iraqi Shi'ite militias and protecting Shi'ite shrines in central and eastern Iraq.

But the offensive in Tikrit, the northernmost point of Iraq's "Sunni Triangle," which was the birthplace of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, has revealed a significantly expanded role. 

General Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 3 that Iran's presence in the Tikrit fight is a "logical progression of what they have been doing in the east of the country."

What Are 'Iranian-Based' Militias?

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the same day in addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee that "this is the most overt conduct of Iranian support, in the form of artillery and other things."

But some confusion was caused when he said that about two-thirds of the 30,000-strong force fighting to retake Tikrit is made up of "Iranian-based" Shi'ite militia fighters, with Iraqi government troops accounting for the other third. 

It is widely understood that Iran has been actively training, equipping, and advising Shi'ite militias inside Iraq. 

Michael Stephens, a Middle East security analyst and deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies (RUSI) in Qatar, says Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias are clearly at the front and center of the fighting in Iraq. 

"The fact that the Iraqi security forces have an operational strength that is about one-third of that of the Shi'ite militias [fighting in Tikrit] indicates quite clearly that Iran has a huge influence on the security policy of the Iraqi state," he says. 

However, there is little evidence to suggest that the militias are physically "based" in Iran.

Iranian Boots On The Ground

Iran's military role in Iraq is highlighted by the presence of General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the elite Quds force in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Suleimani is reportedly on the ground with Shi'ite fighters, and has been described as coordinating the operation on Tikrit. 

Photos have emerged on Twitter of Suleimani assessing troop readiness in Iraq.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 12.54.35 AM

Stephens says the Iranian role does not end with overseeing operations, however, and suggests that Iranians are directly involved in the fighting.

"We estimate that there's probably a few hundred Quds force members inside Iraq fighting — not just doing command-and-control and logistics, but they are actually physically fighting as well," he says. "They are providing troops and they're providing weapons shipments in the form of airdrops."

Who Are The Iranian-Backed Shi'ite Militias?

There are several major Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias taking part in the Tikrit offensive. 

Kataib Hezbollah, a well-armed and funded group that has also fought urban warfare in Syria, is arguably the most potent of these militias, according to analysts. 

Asaib Ahl al-Haq is one of the largest and most formidable of the Iranian-backed militias. It grew out of a splinter group from the Sadrist Movement, a militia led by firebrand Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Iran is believed to have provided training and logistical support to the group inside Iraq.

The third is the Badr Organization, a political party that operated from its base in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The organization, which has seats in Iraq's parliament, was formed by the IRGC and has a military wing, the Badr Brigades. Analysts describe the Badr Brigades as a regular fighting force that acts as a unit of the Iraqi armed forces.

All three militias are operating as Popular Mobilization units, an umbrella body that includes dozens of paramilitary groups. The units are under the command structure of the Iraqi Army, and the body is believed to take the lead in many Iraqi security operations.

Split Loyalties

Sajad Jiyad, a London-based Iraq analyst, says that although these groups fall within the structure of the Iraqi armed forces, all of them have their own weapons, training, and logistics. Some also have differing allegiances, he says.

"Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq have quite clearly stated that they are followers of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei," says Jiyad. "So, they have made it clear who their ultimate allegiance is to. But these groups are Iraqi groups with Iraqi citizens."

Jiyad says that, apart from these Shi'ite-backed militias, other groups are also taking part in the Tikrit offensive, including militias that have sworn allegiance to Sadr or to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric. There are also Turkomans, Yazidi, and Kurdish militias that have allegiance to their own local leaders.

Unlike the Iranian-backed groups, Jiyad adds, these militias are ultimately Iraqi groups and "have some sort of affinity for Iraq as a nation and have allegiance to Iraq as a nation."

Fears Of Sectarian Violence

There are concerns that Iran's military participation in the battle for Tikrit could promote sectarian violence. 

Tikrit is predominately Sunni and some tribes there were accused of involvement in the massacre of hundreds of Shi'ite army recruits at a nearby base in June.

Some Shi'ite leaders, including the powerful head of the Popular Mobilization units, Hadi al-Amiri, have explicitly said the Tikrit operation would be an opportunity to exact revenge.

The United Nations has warned that operations "must be conducted with the utmost care to avoid civilian casualties, and with full respect for fundamental human rights principles and humanitarian law."

General Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iran's military assistance in the Tikrit offensive could be positive as long as it did not fuel sectarian divisions.

Security analyst Stephens says that Iran's military involvement in Iraq does, however, fuel the IS narrative that Tehran and the West are colluding to crush legitimate Sunni grievances. 

"There's no doubt that Iranian intervention in Iraq is driving a sectarian narrative," says Stephens. "But then it's not exactly as if IS are not deeply sectarian in their outlook."

Frud Bezhan

Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and the broader South Asia and Middle East region. Send story tips to 

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV America: “Iran’s role in Iraq\’s fight to take back Tikrit”

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The Assyrian Christians on Syria’s Khabur River: A Century of Multiple Displacements

March 4th, 2015 No comments

When the Islamic State recently abducted/kidnapped/”arrested” over 200 and perhaps as many as 373 Assyrian Christians from towns along the Khabur River in northeastern Syria, it gained worldwide attention, and though reportedly 19 or 20 were subsequently released, the remainder were not and face an uncertain fate.

While I’m sure many Westerners aren’t even aware of the existence of Assyrian Christianity, I assume my readers are better informed. Even so, I suspect even many Middle East specialists associate the Assyrians with northern Iraq, northwestern Iran, and southeastern Turkey, and may have been surprised to learn of the 35 towns and villages along the Khabur in northeastern Syria. This community largely settled there in the 1930s after the expulsions and massacres by the Ottomans in 1915 and the massacre of Assyrian in Iraq in 1933. And now they are under fire again. In that sense, their history is a microcosm of the history of the Assyrian people as a whole.

The varied minority faiths of the Jazira, the region of Upper Mesopotamia embracing both northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq (and thus the heartland of the “Islamic State”), need to be understood, and I plan to offer a number of posts dealing with these groups, Assyrians, Yazidis, Shabak, and others.

The Khabur is a major tributary of the Euphrates. The Old Testament Book of 1 Chronicles 5:26, says it was where Tiglath-Pileser III (Tukult?-apil-Ešarra III) of Assyria settled the captive tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (among the “10 lost tribes” of the Northern Kingdom of Israel). Many also identify it with the “River Chebar” where the Prophet Ezekiel had his visions, but others place that closer to Babylon.

The Assyrian Christian communities along the Khabur include members from all four of the faith (doctrinal/liturgical) communities that are sometimes called “Assyrian” the Assyrian Church of the East, historically called “Nestorian” by rival Christian communities; the Chaldean Catholic Church, formed by those elements of the Church of the East who acknowledged the Pope from the 16th century onward in several waves; the Syriac Orthodox Church, an “Oriental Orthodox” Church often called “Jacobite” and formerly known in English as “Syrian Orthodox”; they now prefer Syriac, which is a better translation of their name in Arabic and Syriac; and the Syriac Catholic Church, the Roman “Uniate” analogue of the Syriac Orthodox.

I won’t deal with the complicated doctrinal and liturgical disputes here (much as I thrive on such things), but merely note that all these people are historically, ethnically, and linguistically kin. All speak today, or until recently spoke, varieties of Eastern Neo-Aramaic. All are, at least arguably,descendants of the pre-Islamic Semitic-speaking Christian populations of Upper Mesopotamia and Eastern Anatolia. Let me note that Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholics in other parts of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan may reject the label “Assyrian,” but those in the Khabur valley have their origins in the Turkish region of ancient monasteries known as Tur Abdin (“Mountain of the Servants [of God]), which for the Syriac Orthodox was an analogue of Wadi Natrun for the Copts and Mount Athos for the Greek Orthodox. While they call themselves Suroyo (Syriac) or similar terms, they are part of the greater Assyrian Christian mosaic.

The First Displacement: 1915

Much of what follows here on the history of the Assyrians on the Khabur is from Alberto M. Fernandez’ article “Dawn at Tell Tamir: The Assyrian Christian Survival on the Khabur River,” 
Journal of Assyrian Academic Studies, Volume XII, Number 1), reproduced at the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) site.

Although the fate of the Armenians during World War I is by far the best known (and largest), other Christian minorities were also displaced  under Ottoman rule, including the Assyrians, and Pontic and Anatolian Greeks. As Fernandez notes:

The coming of World War One exacerbated difficult relations existing between the Muslim and Christian populations in Anatolia and resulted in the flight/massacre/expulsion of historic Assyrian communities in the highlands of the Hakkari during the 1915-1918 period and the relocation of most of the survivors to camps in Iraq and Iran. Indeed, between 1915 to 1920, many of the future Khabur Assyrians would be driven from the Hakkari Mountains, to Urmiyya in Iran, to the safety of the British lines at Hamadan, also in Iran, then to Baquba in Central Iraq, and then Mindan in Northern Iraq.

Second Displacement: 1933
 Other Assyrian groups may have migrated more directly rather than via Iran.The Assyrians in northern Iraq tended to support British rule during the Mandate period, and the British, who often used minority populations to enforce colonial rule, recruited many of them into the notorious “Assyrian Levies,” which were much resented by Arab nationalists. When Iraq became independent in 1932, those Assyrians who had served in the Levies became targets.

Fernandez again:

Tensions between Assyrian and Iraqi nationalists eventually led to open fighting and horrific massacres of Assyrians in Northern Iraq in 1933 at the hands of Iraqi Army units and the flight of Assyrian refugees into French Mandate Syria. The  first 415, led by chieftains Malik Yaco (Upper Tiari) and Malik Loco (Tkhuma) crossed the Tigris on July 18, 1933. The young Patriarch of the Assyrian Church off the East, Mar Shimun Ishaya XXI, was stripped of his Iraqi citizenship and became a stateless person eventually moving to Cyprus and then America. After much discussion between the French, the British, and the League of Nations, the decision was taken to settle the Assyrians in the sparsely settled Jezira where they would join other recent Christian arrivals, Syrian Orthodox and Armenians mostly, who had also escaped the destruction of their communities in Anatolia. Although some thought was given to settling these Assyrians in the more fertile Ghab valley in Western Syria, British Guiana, Niger,or even on the banks of the Parana in Brazil, the Khabur River basin in the extreme Northeast corner of the country was eventually settled upon. Some of the Iraqi Assyrians were already near there, living in refugee camps. Lt. Colonel Stafford noted that “their settlement here, however, cannot be, and is not intended to be, other than temporary.”

But of course, as has so often happened to the “temporarily” displaced, the settlement became permanent. At least until now, when the Assyrians on the Khabur are under threat yet again, a full century after their first displacement.

Below, from the AINA site, the 35 villages along the Khabur:

Source: AINA

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Iran Reformers – Talks will Succeed: Netanyahu ‘not Influential,’ like Iran Hardliners

March 4th, 2015 No comments

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

How did Iranian politicians react to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s anti-Iran speech to the US Congress?

Iran’s first woman vice president, who has the Environment portfolio, Masoumeh Ebtekar, is in Paris these days and she spoke with AFP about the Netanyahu address.

“I don’t think,” she said, that the voice of Netanyahu “has very much weight.” She said he was trying to derail an accord, “but I believe that more reasonable pressure groups on both sides want a solution.”

Responding to Netanyahu’s charge that Iran is a danger to the world, she said that to the contrary, “the present threats in the region, the radicalism, extremism, terrorism . . . all of that makes a solution, and a more important role for Iran, all the more necessary.”

(She means that Iran is the major foe of al-Qaeda and ISIL, the two radical extremist groups that many Sunnis in Iraq and Syria have joined or allied with.)

She said that the important thing was that sanctions on Iran be lifted, calling them “unjust and illegal.”

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who heads the powerful clerical Expediency Council and sympathizes with the reformers in Iran, teased the Iranian hard liners that they “have become ‘unanimous’ with Netanyahu, according to Fars News Agency as reported by BBC Monitoring.

Rafsanjani said, “On the other side Netanyahu provokes Barack Obama and on this side, Delvapasan [those who reject the nuclear talks] say that we will disclose some secrets. We do not know what secrets they are talking about… they [Iran negotiators] are working hard and we are about to reach an agreement [with the West], but when they return to the country, instead of welcoming them, Delvapasan say things that should not be said.” Rafsanjani’s remarks angered arch-conservatives in parliament.

Speaker of the House Ali Larijani, a hard liner, said that Netanyahu’s speech was riddled with contradictions. First, he depicted Iran as a dangerous regional power that bestrode the whole Middle East. But then he said that if the UN Security Council plus Germany made peace with Iran, Israel would be able to attack Iran all on its own. If the latter was true, Larijani appears to have been implying, then Iran couldn’t in fact be very powerful in the first place.

Ahmad Bakhshayesh of the Iranian parliament’s security commission was quoted by ISNA (trans. BBC World Monitoring) as saying: “By saying that if Iran and P5+1 come to an agreement, Iran will have access to a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu has humiliated P5+1, especially America.”

In short, most Iranians had difficulty taking Netanyahu seriously. They generally believed that Obama and the rest of the P5 +1 would marginalize the Likud leader. They were not worried by his bluster, finding it fantastical that he would attack them if he saw them as so powerful. For reformers, Netanyahu just sounded like one more Iranian hard liner.

Related video:

WotchitGeneralNews: “Khamenei Vows Firm Iranian Nuclear Stand, Warns on Gas Exports”

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Snowden will return to US if fair trial guaranteed – NSA whistleblower’s lawyer

March 4th, 2015 No comments

RT | –

“Edward Snowden would go to the US if he was sure that he would face a fair trial there, the former NSA contractor’s lawyer Anatoly Kucherena says.”

RT: “Snowden will return to US if fair trial guaranteed – NSA whistleblower’s lawyer”

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Yemen’s legitimacy crisis

March 4th, 2015 No comments

President Hadi, who is currently governing from Aden

Yemen’s legitimacy crisis is not new but is critical

By: Sama’a al-Hamdani, al-Araby al-Jadid, 3 March, 2015

On February 21, Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, escaped the Houthi-mandated house arrest and successfully fled to the southern city of Aden. A few hours later, al-Jazeera television broadcast a statement by the then resigned president. At the end of the statement, Hadi signed his name, “Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, President of the Republic of Yemen”. It strongly suggested he had withdrawn his resignation.

So Yemen is now left arguably with two former presidents (Hadi and Ali Abdullah Saleh), a hugely powerful rebel militia leader (Abdulmalik al-Houthi), several secessionist movements (a couple of Southern Hiraks, a Marib Hirak and a Tihaman Hirak), UN-backed transitional committees, and two transitional agreements (The Gulf-Cooperation Council (GCC) transitional deal of 2011 and The Peace and Partnership Agreement of 2014).

In this confusion what, or rather, who, has legitimacy?

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Climate Change helped Provoke Syrian Conflict & it won’t be the Last

March 4th, 2015 No comments

By Thalif Deen | –

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – Was the four-year-old military conflict in Syria, which has claimed the lives of over 200,000 people, mostly civilians, triggered at least in part by climate change?

A new study by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory says “a record drought that ravaged Syria in 2006-2010 was likely stoked by ongoing man-made climate change, and that the drought may have helped propel the 2011 Syrian uprising.”
“Added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict.” — climate scientist Richard Seager

Described as the worst ever recorded in the region, the drought is said to have destroyed agriculture in the breadbasket region of northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011.

“We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” said a cautious Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who co-authored the study.

“We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.”

Doreen Stabinsky, a professor of Global Environmental Politics at College of the Atlantic, Maine, U.S., told IPS that obviously the Syrian war is a complex situation that cannot be explained solely due to drought and the collapse of agricultural systems.

“Yet we know that agricultural production will be one of the first casualties of the climate catastrophe that is currently unfolding,” she noted.

Indeed, she said, climate change is not some far-off threat of impacts that will happen in 2050 or 2100.

“What this research shows is that climate impacts on agriculture are happening now, with devastating consequences to those whose livelihoods are based on agriculture.

“We can expect, even in the near-term, more of these types of impacts on agricultural systems that will lead to large-scale migrations – within countries and between countries – with significant human, economic, and ecological cost,” she added.

And what this research shows more than anything is that the global community should be taking the climate crisis – and its impacts on agricultural production – much more seriously than it has to date, said Stabinsky, who is also a visiting professor of climate change leadership at Uppsala University in Sweden.

Meanwhile, previous studies have also linked climate change – water shortages and drought – as triggering conflicts in Darfur, Sudan.

Asked about Syria, Dr Colin P. Kelley, lead author of the study, told IPS: “From what I’ve read , there is little evidence of climate change (precipitation or temperature) contributing to the Darfur conflict that erupted in 2003.

“I know this has been a controversial topic, though,” he added.

According to the new Columbia University study, climate change has also resulted in the escalation of military tension in the so-called Fertile Crescent, spanning parts of Turkey and much of Syria and Iraq.

It says a growing body of research suggests that extreme weather, including high temperatures and droughts, increases the chances of violence, from individual attacks to full-scale wars.

Some researchers project that human-made global warming will heighten future conflicts, or argue that it may already be doing so.

And recent journalistic accounts and other reports have linked warfare in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in part to environmental issues, especially lack of water.

The new study, combining climate, social and economic data, is perhaps the first to look closely and quantitatively at these questions in relation to a current war.

The study also points out the recent drought affected the so-called Fertile Crescent, where agriculture and animal herding are believed to have started some 12,000 years ago.

The region has always seen natural weather swings.

But using existing studies and their own research, the authors showed that since 1900, the area has undergone warming of 1 to 1.2 degrees Centigrade (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit), and about a 10-percent reduction in wet-season precipitation.

“They showed that the trend matches neatly with models of human-influenced global warming, and thus cannot be attributed to natural variability,” according to the study.

Further, it says global warming has had two effects.

First, it appears to have indirectly weakened wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean, reducing precipitation during the usual November-April wet season.

Second, higher temperatures have increased evaporation of moisture from soils during the usually hot summers, giving any dry year a one-two punch.

The region saw substantial droughts in the 1950s, 1980s and 1990s. However, 2006-10 was easily the worst and longest since reliable record keeping began.

The researchers conclude that an episode of this severity and length would have been unlikely without the long-term changes.

Other researchers have observed the long-term drying trend across the entire Mediterranean, and attributed at least part of it to manmade warming; this includes an earlier study from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the already violent Mideast will dry more in coming decades as human-induced warming proceeds.

The study’s authors say Syria was made especially vulnerable by other factors, including dramatic population growth— from 4 million in the 1950s to 22 million in recent years.

Also, the ruling al-Assad family encouraged water-intensive export crops like cotton, the study notes.

Illegal drilling of irrigation wells dramatically depleted groundwater that might have provided reserves during dry years, said co-author Shahrzad Mohtadi, a graduate student at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) who did the economic and social components of the research.

The drought’s effects were immediate. Agricultural production, typically a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, plummeted by a third, according to the study.

In the hard-hit northeast, it said, livestock herds were practically obliterated; cereal prices doubled; and nutrition-related diseases among children saw dramatic increases.

As many as 1.5 million people fled from the countryside to the peripheries of cities that were already strained by influxes of refugees from the ongoing war in next-door Iraq.

In these chaotic instant suburbs, the Assad regime did little to help people with employment or services, said Mohtadi. It was largely in these areas that the uprising began.

“Rapid demographic change encourages instability,” say the authors. “Whether it was a primary or substantial factor is impossible to know, but drought can lead to devastating consequences when coupled with preexisting acute vulnerability.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at


Related video added by Juan Cole:

WotchitGeneralNews: “Global Warming Helped Trigger Syria’s Civil War”

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"Gates of Nineveh" Assesses Damage to Hatra Galery

March 4th, 2015 No comments

The Astrobiology website Gates of Nineveh continues its assessment of the damage to the Mosul Museum with a post on the damage to statues in the Gallery dealing with ancient Hatra. (I previously linked to their Part I report here.)

The short version: “The damage by ISIS to the artistic legacy of Hatra has been catastrophic.”
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"Gates of Nineveh" Assesses Damage to Hatra Gallery

March 4th, 2015 No comments

The Assyriology website Gates of Nineveh continues its assessment of the damage to the Mosul Museum with a post on the damage to statues in the Gallery dealing with ancient Hatra. (I previously linked to their Part I report here.)

The short version: “The damage by ISIS to the artistic legacy of Hatra has been catastrophic.”
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"Memories of Mosul’s Libraries"

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

The Arabic Literature (in English) offers reminiscences: “Memories of Mosul’s Libraries.”

Of course it can’t un-burn the books and irreplaceable manuscripts, but it can help those of us (like me) who never got to Mosul appreciate what is being destroyed.

I notice people keep comparing ISIS to the Visigoths, the Huns, etc. (This is particularly unfair to the Visigoths, IMHO). Are we forgetting that during 1933-1945 the country of Goethe, Schiller, and Beethoven embarked on an insane wave of genocide, tyranny, and especially book-burning, not to mention looting the great art of Europe?

I guess we are.
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4 Things more Dangerous to Israel than Iran’s civilian Nuclear Enrichment

March 3rd, 2015 No comments

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s strident and continual harping on the alleged dangers of Iran to Israel’s security. Netanyahu has raised this issue repeatedly over the past 20 years, often predicting that Iran was as little as a year away from having a nuclear warhead. Decades later, it does not, and Israel is still there. Many observers believe that Netanyahu is performing as a magician does, trying to make the audience take its eye over the real sleight of hand by pointing in the direction of a distraction.

There are, in fact, more pressing dangers to Israel than Iran’s nuclear reactors,

Extensive and years-long investigations of Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program by the International Atomic Energy Agency have never revealed any evidence that Iran has a parallel nuclear weapons program. Only a couple of years ago, the Israeli defense minister was publicly admitting that Iran had not made a decision to weaponize its nuclear program.

Iran is just doing what Japan, South Korea, Germany, Ukraine, Sweden and Spain have done– develop nuclear reactors to generate electricity. By doing so, Iran can save its oil and natural gas for export to earn foreign exchange instead of eating its own seed corn. None of the countries just mentioned, who have their own nuclear energy programs, has a nuclear bomb, and no one is particularly worried about them getting one. As the former Israeli defense minister admitted, Iran would have to kick out the UN inspectors before it could turn its civilian enrichment facilities toward bomb-making. No country under active UN inspection has ever developed a nuclear weapon.

Here are genuine dangers to Israel, about which Netanyahu won’t be saying anything today:

1. Israel’s continued program of flooding its own citizens into the Occupied Palestinian West Bank is a serious war crime for which the country may yet be charged at the International Criminal Court. The illegal colonization of the West Bank sets the Muslim world, of 1.5 billion persons, against Israel. The Muslim world won’t be weak and ineffectual forever, and Netanyahu is undermining Israel’s future by constantly increasing the number of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land.

2. Israel’s continued de facto opposition to Palestinian statehood leaves Palestinians stateless and without the rights of citizenship, or indeed, any basic human rights– to their own property, to freedom of movement to hospitals or shopping, to water and other resources, to peaceable assembly and protest– in short, to basic human rights. This holding of the Palestinians as stateless chattel even as their landed property is being taken from them has deeply alienated European states and civil society from Tel Aviv. Sweden has recognized Palestine, and the French and Italian parliaments have called for such recognition on a short timetable. A third of Israeli trade is with Europe, and Israel depends deeply on scientific and technical exchanges with Europe, which could gradually be closed off as boycotts and sanctions spread.

3. Israel now has al-Qaeda on its border in the Golan Heights. The rebel Jabhat al-Nusra or Support Front, which holds the Golan, has declared allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda central. Mr. Netanyahu does not seem perturbed by this development, even though al-Qaeda is a brutal and highly destructive terrorist group that killed nearly 3,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians. In fact, the Israeli military has targeted the enemy of the Support Front in Golan, Lebanon’s Hizbullah, but hasn’t hit al-Qaeda with air strikes. If al-Qaeda is holding territory and it is bordering Israel, I’d say that is a security issue. Iran is very far away and has no plausible means of attacking Israel, and even in the unlikely scenario where it developed a bomb, would no more be able to use it than the Soviets were able to use theirs against the US>

4. Syria and Israel share a long common border. Syria is in civil war and governmental collapse, and half of Syrians have been displaced from their homes, four million abroad. The potential for radicalization here is enormous, as the rise of ISIL demonstrates. Yet Israel has done nothing, repeat nothing, to ISIL. An organization that France and Britain see as an existential threat to Europe has elicited only yawns in Israel’s Ministry of Defense. If Syrian civil and ISIL aren’t a threat to Israeli security, it is hard to think of what could be.

These are the real security threats Israel faces, which are in the present. Netanyahu does not want to do the right thing with regard to the Palestinians, and he is unconcerned by the Syrian developments because he holds the incorrect theory that Israel is better off if the Arabs are busy with one another. Israelis of European background often seem blithely unaware that they are smack dab in the Middle East and that its troubles are their troubles. A normal state like Iran, which has fair order and a return address should it attack Israel, is much less a security concern than the 4 unpredictable issues above.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: Protesters clash with Israeli troops near West Bank separation barrier

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