Competing Oaths: Part II Niqabs and the Canadian Citizenship Oath

Competing Oaths: Part II Niqabs and the Canadian Citizenship Oath


Howard Adelman

I never did finish writing the second part of my discussion of Cliff Orwin’s opposition to Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s critique of wearing the niqab when taking the oath of citizenship. I said that Cliff’s critique was correct as far as it went, but that it did not go far enough in unpacking the deeper issue. While he discussed the issue in terms of constitutional protection of religious freedoms, which went further than the Supreme Court’s ruling against the Harper government which upheld Zunera Ishaq’s complaint, not on the basis of religious freedom, but because a requirement of administrative law – the government could not mandate a judge’s ruling – the issue in dispute went deeper than simply religious rights under the constitution. While I reviewed the case in detail in my previous blog, I now want to explore it at a deeper level.

First, I need to make clear the character of an oath has a long religious history, much longer than the practice of wearing a niqab. That is why taking an oath of citizenship in not simply a final ritual performance that simply publicly states what has already been put in writing, but is, in reality, the most important part of a ceremony. You can promise yourself or another person that you will do something, but a promise has only as much weight as the degree of commitment attached to it. You can even go further and indicate the depth of that commitment by turning a promise into a vow, as Prime Minister Harper did when he vowed to appeal the federal court decision supporting Zunera Ishaq’s right to wear a niqab when taking her oath of citizenship.

But an oath is of a different order again. When you take an oath of office or an oath of citizenship, it has a higher status that a promise or even a vow. For oaths, in making a personal commitment or cursing another, imply policing by a higher power. Traditionally, it was a deity, but in more secular societies taking an oath suggests making a public vow to be observed and monitored by at least society as a whole and sometimes by all of humanity.

This reference is clear in the Canadian oath of citizenship. The oath states: “I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.” The individual pledges not only to uphold Canadian law, but also to be faithful and “bear true allegiance” to the Queen of Canada. Without getting into the legal and constitutional quagmire of this reference, it is quite clear that the reference is to a higher power to which you have pledged your liege, but that it is a higher power that goes far beyond the corporeal personage of the Queen as a natural person to refer to a non-corporeal entity that underpins the constitution itself, the corporate entity and legal personality of Canada itself.

Thus, when and if Zunera Ishaq takes her oath of citizenship, she will be vowing before all Canadians that she will uphold the Canadian constitution and its laws, wedding herself to uphold women’s equality among other fundamental principles of Canadian contemporary society. She will also, and, I believe, even more importantly, be taking an oath not only before but to the incorporeal underpinning of our society and committing her loyalty to that entity such that, in cases of conflict with other loyalties, it will be prior to and occupy the trump position.

Ironically, in refusing to remove her niqab when taking the oath, the Court ruled that she was indeed doing so according to Canadian law. In contrast, Prime Minister Harper and the allegedly 80% of Canadians who found it so offensive that she chose to wear the niqab when taking the oath were against the law in believing to this commitment as the highest priority and that the stance she took was against the law. However, they were not against the law for being offended, but only in trying to translate their feeling offended into a legal dictum. She was closer to upholding our rights and freedoms as Canadians than Harper, his minions and presumably the majority of Canadians.

Nevertheless, Harper et al in taking offence were attuned to a deeper underlying issue. When taking an oath to become a Canadian citizen you make a commitment not only to follow the Canadian constitution and Canadian law, but also that those laws will be the highest laws governing one’s behaviour. If any norms that one follows contravene the Canadian constitution and Canada as a collective corporate but non-corporeal entity, it is the Canadian constitution and Canada as a corporate entity that will be in the trump position. Harper et al, I suspect, think that Zunera in taking her oath may not be sincere. She perhaps does not support the principle of women’s equality and wearing the niqab may be such a symbol.

Two clarifications. The constitution of Canada does not require Canadians to believe men and women are equal, but only that men and women are treated as equals before the law and in all matters governed by that law where applicable. So it is not about attitudes, but about behaviour, and behaviour in a restricted, even if enormous, sphere. Second, just as the law presumes we are innocent until proven guilty, when taking an oath, the implicit assumption is that the person taking the oath is sincere. Unless evidence is brought before a tribunal or court to prove that Zunera is insincere when and if she takes the oath, the assumption is made that Zunera truly does intend to uphold the Canadian constitution and swear allegiance to the Queen of Canada.

An analysis of the notion of sincerity will help unpack the deeper issue beyond religious rights and the requirements of administrative law. In 1971, Lionel Trilling published his slim volume, Sincerity and Authenticity based on a series of lectures he gave at Harvard the year before. The book sketches the concept and development of the concept of sincerity over the previous 500 years and contrasts it with the concept of authenticity that seems to have displaced sincerity since WWII. The latter requires only that a person remain true to oneself. The former insists that being true to oneself can only be carried out by being true to others in a very public and social way. In our modern and somewhat cynical age when authenticity has upstaged sincerity, the ruling adage views sincerity as bad faith depicting it as simply the “honesty of people who cannot be honest with themselves.”

So we have to go back to a period in which sincerity reigned supreme and not authenticity, In Trilling’s exposition, sincerity is “a congruence between avowal and actual feeling.” As Polonius advises Laertes in Hamlet, “above all: to thine own self be true, And it doth follow, as the night the day Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Being true to oneself is not an end in itself, as in authenticity, but a means of ensuring truth to others. Without the psychological premise of sincerity, oaths make no sense. Whether it is the primacy of Socrates’ “know thyself” or of Shakespeare’s “to thine own self be true” abstracted from what follows, sincerity has stood in opposition to the adequacy of narcissistic inward self-gazing as an adequate ground for a polity. Sincerity emphasizes the public orientation of our fundamental attitudes.

Authenticity emphasizes the autonomous self in opposition to the self as an interpersonal political persona with a public face and role. With the primacy of the latter, oaths become solemn events that depend upon the primacy of sincerity as a prestigious and lofty ethical conception. Without it, we are reduced to the ironic spectator view of human relations and social entities, including political ones like nation-states. Harper, ironically, in refusing to accept Zunera Ishaq’s pledge at face value unless she shows her face, undercuts the concept of both sincerity and oaths that are even more basic foundation stones of our society than even the Canadian constitution. Instead of standing for a true conservative position, in allowing skepticism to become a ruling norm, Harper opens the floodgates to a post-modern despair at the whole political enterprise, feeding the cynicism and alienation of many of our youth from the political process.

Once you begin traveling down that path, the very convention of an oath taken of allegiance to one’s sovereign itself becomes suspect. Further, it feeds into what initially appears to be its opposite – detachment and an openness to a transcendent ideal detached from the context of community and politics. These are the dual and complementary threats to our polity. Harper in appearing to stand for inherited values and the importance of the oath, in reality undermines its most fundamental characteristic. While recognizing that language can be empty, that it may not express what is in one’s soul, that language is often ritualistic in a way that empties it of meaning, it is very different than insisting that language must be suspect.

But does language not become suspect when the linguistic expression is not given a face, when the professor of the oath hides behind a niqab? Does sincerity entail coming face to face with other members of the public, especially when one is taking an oath to the corporate but incorporeal body of those members? Do the conventions which both value and evaluate sincerity require the person unveil her face, that the person come face to face to those whom she pledges to join in upholding a set of values, what Harper called the Canadian family?

I, like Chris Orwin, do not believe it does, but I insist this is the deeper issue. For the oath is not just about the constitution and individual rights, it is also about the responsibility to the community one is joining. In that regard, I could be wrong. It could be that, to assess sincerity, one has to see a person’s full face, not just an official, but the public. In that case, oath taking may require removing the veil. I do not believe it does, but I do believe that a genuine and sincere argument can be made upholding that principle.

However, as long as the opposition is simply based on what appalls people instead of an in-depth exploration of conventions and the impact on sincerity, on oaths and the incorporeal corporate being of Canada, as long as sincerity is dismissed simply on the basis of a wholly subjective and affective response of others and not on a public evaluative process, I will accept the Federal Court ruling, even if only grounded in administrative law, for I fundamentally believe that sincerity itself and the value of oaths is undermined when attacked simply by those who are appalled or offended. Until then, the question of whether the conventions which value and evaluate expressions of sincerity require the face to be unveiled remains an open possibility, but oaths and sincerity until then should be taken at face value.


Trust and Betrayal: Five Foreign Films

Trust and Betrayal: Five Foreign Films


Howard Adelman

Butterfly (La Lengua de Las Mariposas) (1999) by José Luis Cuerda set in Spain in 1936

Ida (2014) by Pawel Pawlikowski set in Poland in 1962

Entre Nos (2009) by Paola Mendoza set in New York City about 1980

Two Lives (Zwei Leben) (2012) by George Maas set in 1990 in Bergen, Norway and Germany

1000 Times Good Night (2013) by Erik Poppe set in this century in Afghanistan, Ireland and northern Kenya


I have been AWOL for over a week. I have to finish writing about niqabs and oaths in Canadian domestic policy and I am desperate to write about my reflections on Netanyahu’s stupendous victory in the Israeli elections. I cannot say that I have been very terribly busy with my new grandson. Leo is so tiny, sleeps almost all the time, and his mother is so tired from feeding him every two hours that visiting makes you feel like you are taking precious minutes away from her needed sleep. Leo is on schedule of gaining two ounces per day. I offer to help but recognize that I am virtually useless and in the way. Nancy, of course, is more helpful because she can prepare them a good meal. So I spend my time catching up on six months of neglected business details and, what else, watching movies. I am like an alcoholic who has been attending AA for four months and suddenly gets to take a drink. One cuppa barely satiates. So of the twenty or so movies I saw, I have selected only five – all superb films and all incidentally with the common theme of betrayal.


Why is betrayal such a common theme in novels, plays and movies, but especially movies? Arthur Miller in The Crucible described betrayal as “the only truth that hurts.” That is correct for four very different reasons. First, betrayal is usually a shocking revelation that runs counter to what you previously believed. Second, the revelation is not only a reversal, but it causes enormous emotional and physical pain; betrayal is often depicted as the cause of the worst pain anyone could ever feel. Third, the penetration goes very deep. Finally, betrayal leaves visible scars. This is true whether the betrayer is someone close to you – a mentor, a family member or a lover – or even worse, when you betray yourself. Of course, the two may go together, betraying oneself when you betray another or you may betray yourself for another or another to preserve yourself. This may take place even when betrayed by a lover, friend or relative. For when the other betrays you, you feel that you have also betrayed yourself by having allowed yourself to trust another.

In romantic literature, betrayal is the most heinous crime. Rather than betray another or yourself, heroism prefers that you die. The adage, “To thine own self be true,” demands death rather than self-betrayal or betrayal of a comrade. In the real world, those who profess loyalty as the highest virtue are often the first to betray their friends and themselves. As Albert Camus’ character who professes loyalty as the highest virtue in The Fall says, “I don’t believe there is a single person I loved that I didn’t eventually betray.” Further, it is fiction writers and creators who have offered the greatest insights into the notion of “betrayal,” not philosophers. As Judith Sklar and Robert Johnson wrote (The Ambiguities of Betrayal and Frames of Deceit), betrayal is more effectively understood through literature and, I would add, even more so, through the dramatic arts.

Not that philosophers have not tried – Sklar and Johnson are cases in point. And they are far from the only ones. Nachman Ben-Yehuda’s 2001 work Betrayals and Treason Violations of Trust and Loyalty framed all forms of betrayals as breaches of trust with moral norms setting the standards for trust. But there is a dilemma and I put it forth in the depiction of trust that I try to establish with my readers when I review a movie. The general principle is that one does not give the plot away, or when one must, as a reviewer you forewarn the reader by putting in a text a “spoiler warning”. But that is akin to a seducer telling a seducee that he will eventually betray her, thus posing an extra challenge to and enticement for the one being seduced. Spoiler warnings are of little help unless applied to the whole review.

The problem is particularly acute in movies where the major theme is about betrayal. How can you describe the movie without mentioning the type of disloyalty and betrayal at work, who is betraying and who is betrayed? But the plot most often turns on such revelations. My answer is to write about betrayal movies in a cluster and talk generally about the theme with insights on that theme that the movie provides. In other words, the movie is used to inform myself and the reader about the topic rather than my informing the reader about the specifics of the film.

The Five Foreign Films

All films discussed are foreign films – Spanish, Polish, two Norwegian/German movies. Even the American movie, Entre Nos set in Queens in New York, is like a foreign film since almost all of it is in Spanish with English subtitles. All the movies are intensely political and social films, but not one of them is so directly. Indirection unites all five movies as each one focuses intently and intensely on the lives of individuals and their relationships with one another. They are all movies about families and the way the external world of violence and force impinges on the intimate moments of life. All, surprisingly, are coming of age films even though they deal with different ages (Butterfly – age 8: Ida – age 18; Entre Nos – ages 6 & 10; Two Lives about late teens and a 1001 Good Nights, though primarily about the mother is also about her older daughter of about 16 and their relationship. I review them not in the order in which I saw them, but in terms of the time in history in which they are set and primarily about the lessons each film teaches us about betrayal and loyalty rather than about the specifics of the film.

Butterfly (La Lengua de Las Mariposas) (1999) by José Luis Cuerda

The tongue of a butterfly, as the gentle teacher verging on retirement, Don Gregorio (Fernando Fernán Gómez), tells his fascinated and eager young pupils, is rolled up in a butterfly’s mouth like a spiral which you cannot even see with the naked eye but require a microscope to view. When a butterfly lands on a flower, the tongue unfurls in a fraction of a second to suck up the sweet nectar of the plant in its straw proboscis before it flies off. The butterfly’s tongue could be the unseen, invisible to the human eye without a microscope, tightly spiraled tension lurking below and beyond the life of this beautiful and beatific small town in Galicia, Spain in 1936, between tradition (the priest with a rod) and progress (the teacher with a book), between violent force and the tranquility of nature, between Monarchists and Republicans, between fascists and democrats. This tensed-up tongue only springs forth near the end of the movie, at the same time as the microscope supplied by the school board in Madrid arrives just as the army that has staged a coup to overthrow the Republic does.

However, I suspect the curled up spiral tongue of the butterfly has the very opposite symbolic meaning. The process of education, loving and appreciating, admiring the miracle of what we see and what we hear, is the invisible tongue that will spring forth and draw on the sweetness of life and, in return, deliver hope, peace and trust and not fear, violence and betrayal. So though betrayal takes place, the movie is primarily a paean to trust.

The central character is an eight-year-old boy, Moncho (Manuel Lozano), the son of a mildly republican tailor, a religious Catholic mother and brother of a saxophone-playing 15-year-old teenager, Andrés (Alexis de los Santos). In one of the three short stories of Manuel Rivas from which the film was adapted (“A lingua das bolboretas,” “Un saxo na néboa,” and “Carmiña” in his book Que me queres, amor?), Moncho learns that butterflies have their own language. (Moncho aprendió que las mariposas tienen su propria lengua.) Moncho, an asthmatic youngster who missed his first few years of school, is terrorized by the prospect of facing teachers who, he has been told, beat students with a stick. Initially, humiliated on the opening day, through the beneficence of Don Gregorio, he learns to love school, finds a close friend and becomes confident enough of his own self to tackle the rich man’s spoiled son when he rides his bike into the side of his best friend. The film is a voyage of his discovering how to trust the outside world and himself.

As a composite of vignettes, the film is, however, a drama building towards betrayal, to how one’s loyalty to one person forces upon us a choice and one where moral principles may be sacrificed to the need for survival. In real life, for the women who compose the Colombian Butterflies (Red Mariposas de Alas Nuevas Construyendo Futuro) and who earned the Nansen Refugee Award last year for their willingness to put their lives on the line to assist forcibly displaced women who have been subject to sexual or physical violence, the butterfly in the end is not a symbol of political and personal betrayal, but the symbol of an insect that flaps its wings with a motion that reverberates around the world. Though the film ends with betrayal, both political by the fascists and interpersonal, the movie itself brims with beauty and hope. Like Julia Alavarez’ In the Time of the Butterflies, also, like the Colombian butterflies, is about the courage of women in the face of Trujillo’s fascist regime of fear and intimidation, in the movie, Butterfly, warmth and vitality are left as promises that will eventually overcome violence, fear and mistrust.

Ida (2014) set in Poland in 1962

If Butterfly or The Tongue of a Butterfly is a somewhat nostalgic film set in 1936 in Spain on the crest of that country’s descent into fascism constructed into a film narrative through a series of vignettes, Ida, directed by the Polish-English director Pawel Pawlikowaski, is set in 1962 Poland under communism. Poland, no stranger to betrayal by allies and enemies alike, in the previous decade had witnessed the betrayal of its own resistance movement against Hitler’s regime by the communists, who took control as many if not most of the heroes of that resistance faced show trials and were murdered by the new red regime. One of the two main characters, Wanda Gruz or Red Wanda (Agata Kulesza), is based loosely on the historical figure of Helena Wolińska-Brus who was also a hero of the resistance but a communist one and a Jew who became a state prosecutor possibly in some of those show trials as the communists consolidated their power. If she did not personally betray her fellow resistance fighters, she was an enthusiastic participant in a regime that did.

But the political betrayals are only alluded to and constitute the background of the movie that evolves as a road movie, a continuous narrative rather than a series of vignettes, but told through film shots that have a canny resemblance to black and white photographs with the emphasis on light and shadow. The beauty of the film as photos rather than a moving picture is unmatched. Lucasz Żal, originally Ryszard Lenczewski’s assistant as the cinematographer, eventually took over when the latter became ill and both are credited with the absolutely marvelous cinematography. That evocation of the period is also helped by a film shot not in the customary wide-angled ratio, but the now unusual 1:33 frame or 4:3 horizontal to vertical ratio.

Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska) is a novitiate in a nunnery who meets Wanda when her Mother Superior (Ida has spent all of her conscious life in that nunnery) insists, that before she takes her final vows, she go out into the wider world and meet her family, more particularly her aunt, Red Wanda, from whom she learns that she had Jewish parents (her mother was Wanda’s sister, Rose, whose married name was Lebenstein) and had been hidden in a nunnery to save her from the Nazis. The two travel together to locate and rebury the bodies of Ida’s parents.

Before the end of the film, even as the two learn to trust one another and prove that blood is deeper than belief (communist or Christian) or radical differences in lifestyle, Wanda will come face to face with her betrayal and Ida will herself betray her “calling” before she decides on her future identity. And both will come face to face with the many sides of betrayal that are part of Polish history but which are very understated in this very constrained, compact, concise, careful and caring minimalist movie. There is an interesting parallel between Butterfly and Ida in the complementary role of jazz and, in particular, the saxophone, an instrument in dream theory that usually represents both closeness with another and expression of the deepest notes in your own soul. Ida, however, is a leben stein, a living stone, a symbol not of self-expression, but of that which has been left unsaid, of impassivity and inscrutability, of austerity and serving as a mute witness to horror and disintegration, characteristics very foreign to today’s 18-year-old girls. The actions take place through the eyes as windows into the soul with notations via slight movements of Ida’s mouth. This is an ambiguous movie, not only as it unfolds, but in its very ending.

This movie needs no additional praise from me. David Denby in The New Yorker called it the year’s best film. At 2013 TIFF, it won the special presentations award, one of many accolades received including Best European Film Academy Award, the People’s Choice Award, the Best Film Award by the British Film Academy of a movie not in the English language, and the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film Award.  It is a movie that has to be seen and can be enjoyed in full on a television screen at home watching Netflix.

Entre Nos (2009) by Paola Mendoza

This film is painful to watch and you will never observe people collecting bottles and cans from your or your neighbours’ trash cans without wincing and recalling it. Though at first viewing it might seem to be foremost about society’s betrayal of those at the bottom of the rung, especially immigrants and more particularly women abandoned by their husbands, the film is primarily about loyalty and trust, between the mother (Mariana) and her children (Andrea 6 and Gabriel 10) and between the siblings themselves. Paola Mendoza, who plays the mother in the film and directed the movie as well as co-wrote the script, is in reality the young girl in the movie. The film is a tribute to her own mother. Further, if it were not for the help of some strangers – a Latino woman who owns a food truck, an ostensibly hard-headed south Asian landlady, a competing Black can collector – it is hard to see how an abandoned mother with two young children could have made it on the streets of Queens. So although the movie is about betrayal, in the end it is a movie about trust and hope and dreams. The film is itself a testament to the belief that dreams can and do come true. It is a movie not to be missed.

Two Lives (Zwei Leben) (2012) by George Maas

Two Lives could more accurately have been translated as A Double Life, for it is a movie about spies, inherently betrayers by definition, but set largely in a context of the family members with whom the protagonist relates – her mother (Ase (Liv Ulmann), her husband, Bjarte (Sven Nordin), a Norwegian naval officer, and her daughter (Julia Bache-Wiig) and young baby. Katrine (Juliane Köhler) is a happily-married mother living in Norway whose past role as a Stasi spy catches up with her as a result of circumstances beyond her control. The paradox of this film of betrayal at all levels is that the very profession of spying depends on and demands absolute loyalty and allows no deviation. And we know of this betrayal very early in the film as the mother sneaks off to Germany disguised as “Vera” to attempt to destroy the record of a second life whose identity she stole. Those are the two lives of the film’s title, the one cut short and the other who lived to have a very fulfilled and loving life until it all came crashing down with the revelations of betrayal.

Like the first two films reviewed above, the film depends on real historical events set in pre- and post-WWII. The Nazis with their Aryan racist theories promoted its SS officers to seduce blond blue-eyed Scandinavians. In occupied Norway, the children born out of wedlock were sent back to Germany and raised in orphanages. After the war, the mothers were doubly betrayed, first by the Nazi fathers of their bastard children and then by their own nation which persecuted them as traitors. But it was the children who suffered most of all.

The film is set in Norway just after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and of communism. The search for truth that followed, a search that itself will serve eventually to betray everyone, the mother, the “daughter”, the husband and the two children. As Arthur Miller in his reflections on the McCarthy era in his play, The Crucible, noted, “Betrayal is the only truth that sticks,” or, as I would now word it, in such a context, the search for “truth” can be the ultimate betrayer and betrayal is at the heart of the search for truth.  In this movie, betrayal wrecks love and trust and leaves behind only a horrible mess. The irony of the film is that the central betrayer is also viewed as the one most betrayed both by history, by the state and by her own family.

This is not a movie that will leave the viewer with a deep belief in trust, hope and love, for the outcome of betrayal is to learn to distrust trust and regard trust as the primary mistake, not betrayal. In the end, the contest is really not between evil, disloyalty and mistrust versus goodness loyalty and trust, but between competing loyalties and the way evil manipulates those tensions to seduce individuals to betray both themselves and those closest to them.

1000 Times Good Night (2013) by Erik Poppe

This Irish-Norwegian co-production is also an award winning film having won the Special Grand Prix of the jury at the 2013 Montreal World Film Festival. Of the five films reviewed, this movie is set in the most recent history and is the only movie of the five in English. It is located in both Ireland and the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya sometime in the last 10 years, but opens with one of the most horrendous openings set in Afghanistan as a female suicide bomber is filmed going through the preparation rituals and the actual self-detonation with its many casualties.

Juliette Binoche plays Rebecca, herself a prize-winning photojournalist determined to expose the truth with pictures, first of the horrors of Afghanistan and then the evil of civil war in now independent South Sudan and the relative failure of intervention by bystanders, including the hapless and helpless idealistic humanitarian Norwegians working in the Kakuma refugee camp that has been a refuge for those fleeing the Sudan civil war or, possibly, the civil war currently underway in newly independent South Sudan. Having been in Kakuma, the setting is as accurate as the violent action and the film does not betray the actual refugees in the camp.

Of the five movies, this is the one that is most gripping and deeply visceral both in terms of action and in terms of emotional conflict within and between the main protagonists as well as in the violent action scenes set in the camp. It is also the film that is about betrayal both as a backdrop and about the tension between personal loyalty to one’s mission in life and one’s creativity versus loyalty to family, both husband. Marcus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and children, the young emotionally-troubled teenager, Steph (Lauryn Canny) and her younger bubbly six-year-old sister (Adrianna Cramer Curtis). Which will Rebecca choose – her family or her life’s mission to expose human betrayal of other humans? Since the viewer is also watching the photographer vicariously, then the movie-goer is both the passive bystander and an individual caught up in the family emotions as well as the conflicts of our age. Sometimes we see what Rebecca sees. At other times we watch Rebecca as she sees and reacts to what she experiences.

But the ironies abound. When Rebecca chooses her family and surrenders her career in the face of family fears, this inadvertently thrusts he back into the centre of violence. As viewers, we all know it is coming and this anticipation adds to the edginess of the film. In Butterfly, survival trumps mission. In 1,000 Times Good Night, the personal mission appears to trump personal survival and she is as dedicated to her mission as the female suicide bomber is to hers, both willing to sacrifice themselves and the ties with their family members. If betrayal is to be measured by the willingness to sacrifice oneself for another, then Rebecca is the greatest betrayer, for she is willing to sacrifice herself in being a witness to the truth even if it causes great pain to her family

Post Reflections

The problem with philosophers dealing with betrayal as a concept – or, for that matter, most academics – is that they are wedded to clear and distinct ideas whereas the best movies are married to subtlety and ambiguity. Avoiding the simplistic dichotomy, the real issues are whom to betray and for what, to tell the truth even if it causes enormous pain to those closest to you or to try to perpetuate a lie to protect loved ones from that pain and conform to their hopes and expectations of you. For true and deep betrayal requires a prior trust. Thus, the Nazis did not betray us or the German people. They delivered what they promised, except for the ultimate victory of evil over good. The real conflict underlying betrayal is whether one should be loyal to one’s personal mission in life or sacrifice that quest for personal fulfillment for the obligations one owes those closest to us. To thine own self be true or be true to another.

It is the simple romantic version of betrayal to which scholars and philosophers are wedded. Nachman Ben-Yehuda, a renowned professor at Hebrew University, is a case in point. He is not only an expert on the concept of betrayal, but almost single-handedly in the pursuit of truth (Sacrificing Truth) destroyed the Zionist myth of Masada and the belief in self-sacrifice for a nation in the name of slavery rather than death. For his scholarship proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the Sicarii who committed suicide on Masada were not much different than today’s ideologically-driven suicide bombers. They were just as willing, even more willing, to sacrifice the lives of their fellow Hebrews as their Roman enemies. They were not heroic resistance fighters but cowards who took their own lives rather than fight the Romans to the last one standing. In his scholarly pursuit of the truth, Ben-Yehuda, in service to that truth, betrayed a fundamental myth of his own country and one of its founding heroes, Yigal Yadin, a former chief of staff of the IDF and an archeologist who distorted evidence to fortify a founding myth of the state.

In this way, movie reviews and politics connect.

Niqabs and the Canadian Citizenship Oath

Niqabs and the Canadian Citizenship Oath


Howard Adelman


I am en route back to Canada so a requirement of Canadian citizenship for new Canadians, namely the oath of allegiance, is an appropriate topic raised in Michiel’s email to me yesterday which I first read last evening. Further since this issue is primarily a thought exercise requiring only reading the documents referred to as well as the federal court ruling, and does not require extensive research, it is a great way to fill my early morning hours.

Michiel Horn sent me Cliff Orwin’s discussion of Harper’s opposition to wearing the niqab when an immigrant takes a citizenship oath to become a Canadian citizen. A niqab, a veil that covers all but the eyes of the face of a Muslim woman, is required by some ultra-orthodox Muslims to be worn when in public in the presence of a non-mahram male, that is, a mature male past puberty who is not a relative of the immediate extended familys. Thus, fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, siblings, children, grandchildren, uncles, cousins, nephews, father-in-law, son-in-law, and further refinements are mahraim. Essentially, if a Muslim married a mahram, this would constitute incest.

I have forwarded Michiel Horn’s e-mail separately since I was not able to technically include it within this blog. The references were to the following:

My response has little to do with Harper’s political motives – which are often questionable. It has more to do with Cliff’s critique that is correct as far as it goes. However, the critique, on the one hand, went too far since the court found in favour of Zunera Ishaq, not on the basis of the constitutional challenge and the respect for religion and requirement of tolerance, but on errors in administrative law in a government making something mandatory and incumbent on judges to implement when the applicable legislation permitted no such action. More importantly for the point I want to make, Cliff’s argument does not go nearly far enough to unpack the underlying issue. Once unpacked, a whole different dimension of the issue emerges. But first let me briefly recapitulate first Harper’s position, Cliff’s response and that of the Federal Court that found in favour of Zunera Ishaq.  

Minister Stephen Harper’s Position

Harper stated in parliament, and did so most vociferously, that it is “offensive” for a new applicant for Canadian citizenship to wear a face covering niqab when taking an oath to become a Canadian citizen. Actually, he said it was offensive because at the time of the oath the individual was “joining the Canadian family” not becoming a Canadian citizen. The two are not the same as Cliff noted. This policy was introduced by Jason Kenney as Minister of Immigration and Citizenship on 11 December 2011. Kenney argued that 80% of Canadians oppose wearing a niqab when taking an oath of citizenship. Harper vowed to appeal the Federal Court decision. (More tomorrow on that vow.)

Clifford Orwin’s Views

Cliff Orwin argued that Harper’s position is totally wrong and made Jason Kenney’s tending to religious suppression even more heinous. It is not an issue of numbers. Cliff does not care that the ruling only applies to one hundred women in Canada – actually, it applies to one hundred women per year, but this is a technicality since the point is the rule affects relatively few of the quarter million individuals who become citizens each year. Nor does it matter that 80% of Canadians follow Harper’s lead and abhor that a religious Muslim woman be allowed to wear a niqab at a public ceremony where the oath of allegiance to Canada is sworn. Nor does Cliff think that Harper’s appeal to transparency and openness is at all relevant. “Liberal democracy isn’t about compulsory baring of ourselves (or our faces) to others.” Nor is calling the Canadian society a “family” relevant, for in taking the oath of citizenship, one is not joining one big family, but simply acquiring membership in a state. For Cliff, it is about the fundamental small “l” liberal belief in “the right of each of us to lead a life of our own, in religious matters as elsewhere,” as long as in doing so we do not harm another. Offending someone is not prohibited by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Freedom of worship is a Canadian value. The Canadian Charter of Rights requires respect for religious freedom. Transparency and openness are appreciated by Canadians, but unburdening ourselves, as one might do in a family, is neither protected nor expected by the Charter. Nor is the issue one of respecting local customs – “when in Rome” – for wearing a niqab is a religious practice, not an expression of local custom. So custom is not the issue. The right to wear the niqab as a form of religious expression is. When Paikin asked Cliff whether it was alright for an immigrant to wear a Nazi storm trooper uniform when taking an oath of citizenship, Cliff insisted the issue was not the same. Wearing a Nazi storm trooper uniform is not ok because it is not a religious expression, but an expression of intolerance. Therefore, it is not a parallel circumstance.

To repeat, the issue for Cliff was not whether the vast majority of Canadians abhorred the practice of women who believe it is appropriate to wear a niqab, particularly at a Canadian citizenship ceremony when taking an oath of citizenship. What the vast majority of Canadians abhor about a piece of apparel when that apparel is worn for religious reasons is of no consequence. There are indeed legitimate reasons why wearing a niqab rubs people the wrong way. A man wearing shorts and sandals leading a woman in a burka in a doctor’s office may be repugnant to someone also sitting in that office, but the woman wearing the burka has as much right to wear the burka as the other woman in the office has the right to be repulsed by the practice. Again, the reaction to wearing a niqab is irrelevant to the right of the woman to wear the niqab, including when taking an oath of citizenship. A niqab-wearing Muslim woman may not be Harper’s type of Canadian, but hopefully all Canadians do not and will not conform to what Harper thinks is a right kind of Canadian but, rather, what the law determines.

Paikin offered another example posed by a commentator to Cliff’s Globe and Mail op-ed. She said that, at a citizenship oath ceremony, she had observed a man taking the oath of citizenship, shaking the judge’s hand and receiving a certificate but when his wife took the oath, he insisted that she could not shake the judge’s hand and the husband took the certificate on her behalf. Cliff insisted this was not ok. The reason was because, in this case, the man was interfering with the wife’s freedoms. Presumably, if she declined to shake hands with the judge and personally requested that her husband receive the certificate on her behalf, that would be ok. It is the interference with the right of the individual to make her own religious beliefs known that was evidently the problem.

Paikin asked whether some aspects of the Muslim religion were essentially intolerant, especially of other religious beliefs. Whether or not that was the case, Cliff replied, was not relevant since the person taking the oath vowed to subscribe to the laws of Canada that dictated respect for the religious beliefs of others. It was presumed that just as her avowal of her religious beliefs was sincere, so it must be presumed that her oath of Canadian citizenship must be presumed to be sincere. I will return to this issue, but as a segue into the next section it has to be noted that while Cliff defended the right of the woman to wear the niqab on charter grounds, these were not the grounds the federal court struck down the 11 December 2011 policy banning women from wearing a niqab at a citizenship oath ceremony.

The Legal Case

The case arose when Ms. Zunera Ishaq, a Pakistani Muslim immigrant, following Hanafi beliefs that require devout Muslim women to wear a niqab in public, applied to have her citizenship ratified by taking an oath of allegiance to Canada. A permanent resident of Canada as of 25 October 2008, her citizenship was approved by a citizenship judge on 30 December 2013 after proper identification was made on 22 November 2013 (at which time she removed her niqab in front of a female immigration officer). Zunera Ishaq was granted citizenship on 2 January 2014. The citizenship ceremony to consummate the awarding of that citizenship was scheduled for 14 January 2014. However, for the citizenship to be consummated, she had to take an oath of allegiance to Canada before a citizenship judge. The citizenship oath that she was still required to take reads as follows:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

At the time she removed her veil for identity purposes, she was also advised that when taking the citizenship oath, she would also be required to remove her veil. She presumed that this also could take place in private in front of a female citizenship judge. However, she learned that Operational Bulletin 359 introduced by CIC on 12 December 2011 required removal of any face covering for the oath taking part of the citizenship public ceremony. As the CIC officials testified in court, prior to 12 December 2011 the judge only needed to be satisfied that people had taken the oath; after 12 December, the judge was required to witness the person taking the oath and not simply hear the oath, meaning that neither monks sworn to silence nor mutes could take the oath. More specifically,

[C]andidates wearing face coverings are required to remove their face coverings for the oath-taking portion of the ceremony.

However, the regulation went on:

“If they do not [take off the face covering], they will not receive their citizenship certificates and will have to attend a different ceremony. If they again do not comply, then their application for citizenship will be ended.”

The presumption was that this alternative ceremony would allow her to take off her niqab in private before a female citizenship judge. However, she was warned that this would not be the case. Further, all compromises proposed meant that she would be required to remove her veil before unrelated adult males. Both the initial and the alternative ceremonies were public. So Zunera Ishaq appealed to the Federal Appeal Court in accordance with the provisions of the Immigration Act. She did not wait to be ordered to remove her face covering but appealed the regulation in anticipation of this outcome.

The government would claim in court that this made the whole appeal moot since no action had been taken that either did or did not abuse her rights. I would argue it was a silly argument – since the issue is that you are affected by a regulation, and not whether you are affected in a very specific way. The government further claimed that the citizenship judge, as an independent official, might have disregarded the policy, but section 1 of the manual specifically says the regulations bind the judges. Both of these government responses to Zunera Ishaq’s claims were rightly ruled as invalid.

The issues were as follows:

  1. a declaration that the Policy infringes paragraph 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11 [Charter] [regarding respect for religious beliefs];
  2. a declaration that the Policy infringes section 15(1) of the Charter [prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion and sex];
  3. a declaration that the Policy is inconsistent with the governing legislation and is therefore beyond the powers of the Respondent [what constitutes proof that she took the oath];
  4. a declaration that the Policy unduly fetters the discretion of citizenship judges [a contention under administrative law];
  5. an order enjoining the Respondent and any officials of the Respondent from refusing citizenship to the Applicant on the basis of the Bulletin; and
  6. her costs.

In this case, there were technical issues as well as constitutional ones at stake concerning dates of notice and to whom notice was to be given, but we can ignore these for they had no effect on the substantive case and were ruled as inapplicable. Further, the above-mentioned CIC regulation was not

promulgated under sections 27(g) and 27(h) of the Act, which permit the Governor in Council to make regulations “(g) prescribing the ceremonial procedures to be followed by citizenship judges” and “(h) respecting the taking of the oath of citizenship.”

The intention of the policy was that it be mandatory. On that ground, and on that ground alone, the court found the position of the government to be inconsistent with the legislation and invalid.

Tomorrow: The Deeper Issue – Potentially Conflicting Oaths

The Competition – Libya and its Fortune Hunters

The Competition – Libya and its Fortune Hunters


Howard Adelman

One source of competition for the Washington African Consulting Group (WACG) is the Malta-based Sam Serj (SS) company in Tripoli led by Taha Buishi. SS advertises itself as a Libyan and African marketing company active in dealing with large projects in the following fields: oil and gas trade, petrochemical products and raw material trading. SS also claims to provide oil and gas consulting services and consulting services for large construction projects in Libya. SS also purports to provide guidance for investing in Libya. SS declares that it can provide financing, legal advice and logistic services as well as sea communications to connect to Libya as well as connections to the rest of the world for internet and phone services. I write this after correcting all the grammar and spelling errors on its web site. Other than such a description, SS offers no record of any of the above activities and no contact persons other than the general manager Taha Buishi. The company is, however, listed under as a scrap metal dealer, a frequent cover for an arms dealer. Whatever SS is, it does not advertise itself as having expertise in asset recovery.

Nevertheless, SS claims that it was appointed by Ali Zeidan, former Prime Minister, as the only legitimate representative of the Libyan government with a mandate to locate the assets and return the wealth to the people of Libya. Given that SS is based in Tripoli, one might have expected SS to claim it was backed by the Islamist General National Congress (GNC) protected by Libya Dawn and in rivalry with the internationally-recognized government in Tobruk, the House of Representatives (HoR) and its Council of Deputies (CoD). But that is not the case. For Ali Zeidan was chosen as Prime Minister by the CoD, though before the second civil war broke out in June 2014 between the new GNC based in Tripoli and the CoD that had been forced to retreat to Tobruk. Buishi contends that the appointment of SS was confirmed by Zeidan’s successor, Abdullah al-Thani, on 11 March 2014, but there is no written record that has been published confirming such an appointment or one by Ali Zeidan. WACG has such a document trail signed by the head of the National Board, the proper internationally-recognized authority for seeking the recovery of the assets.

If SS is based in Tripoli, it would have to have the support of the new GNC. But the GNC is not internationally-recognized. The CoD is. So SS claims such authority. But it is probably not the proper formal authority that will determine the outcome, since neither WACG nor SS is working in cooperation with UNCAC. Goaied charges SS with using bribes and payoffs to South Africans to obtain control of the stolen assets. And there certainly seems plenty of evidence that SS is working in close cooperation with important people in the South African government.

SS representatives met President Jacob Zuma of South Africa twice to discuss repatriation of the Libyan assets. On 7 December, 2014, Sam Serj sent a formal letter signed by Taha Buishi to both the ANC and South African president Zuma requesting that a task force directed by a bilateral Libyan-South African committee be set up to repatriate the funds. SS also requested support for a proposed US. $3-billion joint venture between Libya and South Africa as well as a claimed U.S. $270-million signed arms deal between the Libyan Ministry of Defense and SS.

It is important now to introduce another notorious character who may also keys to locating the stolen loot. Bashir Saleh Bashir (alias Bashir al-Shrkawi or al-Sharqawi), a former aide of and bagman for Gaddafi, was in charge of investments on behalf of the Gaddafi family in properties – primarily hotels (the Michelangelo Towers in Sandton, Johannesburg, the Centurion Lake Hotel in Pretoria, the Commodore and Portswood hotels in Cape Town, and the Kruger Park Lodge in Mpumalanga) – mineral resources and businesses as well as shares in other companies throughout Africa. Bashir Saleh made these investments as head of the Libyan African Portfolio, supposedly a Libyan sovereign wealth fund, but one solely under the personal control of Gaddafi. Bashir Saleh also served as Gaddafi’s go-between with France. Bashir Saleh should not be confused with Yemen’s former president Ali Abdullah Saleh who allegedly stole U.S. $32 to U.S.$60 billion during his 33 years in power.

On 25 February 2011, President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13566 freezing all of Gaddafi’s assets, including the assets of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation and the Waatasemu Charity Association, because of the regime’s human rights abuses and use of violence against civilians. The freeze was intended to safeguard the assets of the people of Libya that the U.S. alleged had been expropriated by Gaddafi. As well, the U.S, asked Interpol to issue arrest warrants not only for Bashir Saleh, but also for: Ali Al-Mahmoudi al-Baghdadi, Prime Minister under Gaddafi; Khaled al-Tuhami, a Libyan General and Director of the Internal Security Office; Abd-Al-Hafid Mahmud al-Zulaytini, Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Planning and Finance, Finance Minister, Director and Deputy Chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority; Shukri Ghanem, Libyan Oil Minister and Chairman of the National Oil Company of Libya; and Abdul Hafid Zlitni, Secretary of the General People’s Committee for Finance and Planning, Finance Minister and Director and Deputy Chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority. On 8 April 2011, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added the above individuals to the Libya2 Specially Designated Nationals List. In addition to the senior government officials listed above, Gaddafi’s family members, including his son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and his daughter, Aisha Gaddafi, were also designated for sanctions under E.O. 13566. Aside from these individuals and the enormous amount of other wealth hidden away, more than U.S. $34 billion in Government of Libya assets were frozen.

Though Saleh was captured in the first Libyan civil war, he escaped and was believed to have fled to France. The Sunday Times of Johannesburg also reported that Saleh had been seen several times in Johannesburg. Subsequently, Libyan authorities in Tobruk formally requested Saleh’s arrest and extradition from South Africa. Earlier, Interpol had issued a red notice against Saleh. In South Africa, the Justice Minister informed parliament that the Interpol Red Notice is not an international arrest warrant allowing immediate arrest. Instead, once a fugitive is detected, a provisional arrest warrant must be requested from Interpol along with proper original documentation to be shared between the competent authorities through diplomatic channels. Though such a request was made, confirming that Saleh had been spotted in South Africa, I have been unable to find out whether the arrest warrant was issued. In any case, an inspection of Interpol’s web site immediately indicates that a red notice required a prior arrest warrant and one was issued in the U.S. So South Africa already possesses the right to arrest Saleh.

The legal basis for a Red Notice is the arrest warrant (it must be based on a prior legal arrest warrant issued for a person wanted for prosecution) or a court order (issued for a person wanted to serve a sentence) issued by judicial authorities in the concerned country. The notice contains identification information about the subject person such as physical description, photographs and fingerprints if available, occupation, languages spoken and identity documents. The notice may also contain judicial information such as offense with which the person is charged, references to the relevant laws under which the charge is made or conviction was obtained, the maximum penalty that has been or can be imposed, the references of the arrest or of the sentence imposed by the court, and details of the countries from which the requesting country will seek the fugitive’s extradition.

Note that there is no extradition treaty in place between Libya and South Africa.

By following the activities of Bashir Saleh before the Libyan revolution, SS investigators claimed that Gaddafi stashed U.S $1 billion of the total stolen loot in cash, gold and diamonds in four South African banks and two security companies. – and that his bagman, Bashir Saleh, holds the core information for finding the loot. A key to SS contacts in South Africa was Tito Maleka. Maleka had once been the head of security at the headquarters in Johannesburg and in charge of the ANC’s intelligence and counter-intelligence gathering for several years. While undergoing a heart operation, he was dismissed after he started to assist SS and had been hauled before South Africa’s Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. However, Maleka has appealed his dismissal before a labour arbitrator. SS acknowledged Maleka’s assistance but insisted that he “never asked anything from the Libyan government for his co-operation on the matter.”

There is a third competitor in the field. The al-Hassi government in Tripoli hired Ari Ben Menashe of Dickens and Madson to lobby with the American government on its behalf. Of all the rogues involved in the recovery of Libyan assets, Menashe is by far the most interesting. Even more intriguing is the fact that the Islamist government in Tripoli would hire not only a Jew and an Israeli, but a former member of Mossad to get back the Libyan billions or trillions. Except not quite the Tripoli government. Ibrahim Jadhran, a thirty-one-year-old militia leader who had helped overthrow Gaddafi and had been a supporter of the Islamist government in Tripoli, went off on his own and seized five oil terminals in eastern Libya. Jadhran said he did so because he had been frustrated by the slow rate of reform and the corruption he observed.

Jadhran invited Menashe to Benghazi, the seat of al-Qaeda power in Libya, to meet with representatives of the new government of Cyrenaica with an appointed Prime Minister and cabinet that claims to support a federal system where the “provinces” would control regional taxation, security, natural resources and education. Menashe signed a contract for U.S. $2 million to gain political recognition for the Cyrenaica government from the Russian Federation and to strengthen the government’s military forces by obtaining grants for military equipment and training from various governments. The contract registered with the American body in charge of overseeing lobbyists reads, “we shall strive to provide you with economic aid by soliciting buyers for your oil when the need arises as well as tankers for the transport of oil.” It says nothing about the retrieval of the stolen assets, but everyone knows that U.S. $2 million is a pittance for Menashe and that the real score is in the hidden billions.

However, it is always difficult to know who Menashe really represents. When Zimbabwean-opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, came to his Montreal office (Menashe is now a Canadian) for his assistance, Menashe was then working for Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, as a lobbyist with international organizations, governments and media “in order to influence the creation of favourable policies to the government of Zimbabwe and the elimination or prevention of policies and laws unfavourable to the government of Zimbabwe,” according to the requisite filings in Washington. Tsvangirai did not know that. Menashe taped the interview and turned the tapes over to Mugabe who had Tsvangirai arrested upon his return. Though held in jail for over a year on charges of treason, the Zimbabwe courts found him innocent and interpreted the use of the word “extermination” as not intended to connote violence.

Menashe worked with the now infamous Canadian, Arthur Porter, a Canadian physician born in Freetown, Sierra Leone with an MD from Western University with a subsequent specialty in radiation oncology, who also became a hospital administrator after earning an M.B.A. from the University of Tennessee and certificates in Management from Harvard and the University of Toronto. In 2004, he became Director General and CEO of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal and then, in 2008, was appointed by Prime Minister Harper as a member of the Privy Council of Canada with full security clearance for his appointment as Chair of the Canadian Security Review Committee (SIRC) that oversees CSIS, Canada’s version of the CIA.

In 2010, Menashe signed a secret contract receiving a Can. $200,000 retainer from Porter to deliver a Russian development grant worth U.S. $120 million to Sierra Leone through Porter’s private company. The deal went sour. Immediately after, the Bank of Montreal canceled Menashe’s account. Then he received notice that the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) was also giving notice that it no longer wished to do business with him. Two other banks followed suit. Menashe charged back with a suit against the banks alleging that they acted in concert and without due process, depriving him of the liquidity required to continue his business. Further, shortly after information came to light in The National Post that totally destroyed Arthur Porter’s career.

Porter resigned his position as Chief of the McGill University Health Centre and as chair of SIRC when he learned that he was being investigated for his involvement in a Can. $22.5 million kick-back scheme related to the construction of Montreal University Health Centre’s new Can. $1.3 billion hospital under the supervision of the SNC-Lavalin Group, the huge Quebec engineering firm that had been so deeply implicated in the Quebec construction scandal. On 27 May 2013, Porter was arrested in Panama on charges of fraud, conspiracy to commit government fraud, abuse of trust, secret commissions and laundering the proceeds of a crime based on an Interpol arrest warrant. Porter has been in jail for over two years, but has managed to avoid extradition on the grounds that he had not been informed of any charges within 60 days of his arrest as required under an Interpol arrest warrant. His wife Pamela Mattock Porter, however, returned to Canada and eventually offered a confession in return for time served.

In another instance, in 2010, after initial introductions several years earlier were made by former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Griffiths Energy International Inc. (GEI) of Calgary, after several meetings in the Ambassador’s Washington home with GEI’s founding partner, Naeem Tyab, and, on one occasion, Chad’s oil minister, GEI signed a U.S. $2-million consulting agreement with Nouracham Niam, the wife of Chad’s then-ambassador to the U.S. and Canada, Mahamoud Adam Bechir, to “open doors” for the company in Chad. Through her help, Griffiths had obtained two oil blocks in southern Chad, but negotiations with the Chad government to go ahead on the exploration to exploit those blocks bogged down. After an introduction through Jacques Bouchard of Heenan Blaikie LLP, a very prominent Canadian law firm to which Chrétien is counsel, GEI hired Menashe to intervene with President Idriss Deby of Chad. Not only was GEI stranded on a sandbar with a right to explore in Chad but no ability to do so, GEI’s payment to Niam violated Canada’s Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act. GEI was eventually fined Can. $10.3million. Menashe’s consulting firm pulled out of the agreement on the basis that Griffith failed in its obligations of full disclosure. Menashe returned the money. How the RCMP first received information on the payoff is not clear.

The bottom line, of the three questionable agents in the race to recover the stolen loot, Menashe is by far the most experienced. After his service to Mossad, he went on to help ensure the election of Ronald Reagan in the fight against Jimmy Carter. He traces his résumé back to the election of Ronald Reagan for he was the agent who went to Tehran to persuade the government to continued holding the American hostages until after the election, thereby ensuring that Carter continue to bear the Scarlet letter of his inability to get the hostages returned while Reagan would enjoy the glory as part of his inauguration. Menashe was central in the Iran-Contra scandal and earlier in the plot to abduct Mordechai Vanunu from London and have him returned to Israel where Venunu spent decades in prison. Menashe’s apparent biggest handicap is that he has ostensibly been employed by the nominal government in Benghazi associated with al-Qaeda and, other than IS, least acceptable to Egypt, Russia and the U.S.

Menashe, probably like SS and even the principals of WACG, makes his big money as an arms dealer more than simply as a lobbyist. In 2010, he signed a contract with then-president François Bozize of the Central African Republic (CAR) to arrange a “gift” from the Russian Federation of U.S. $50 million worth of munitions, including 12 KA50 helicopters, necessary maintenance supplies and training. Menashe’s connections with Russia are significant since Russia has a fleet in the Mediterranean that could be used to block the transport of oil in tankers controlled by any, several or all of the competing factions in Libya. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has already indicated that Egypt “would welcome contributions of any country that has abilities to provide such contributions,” and that “Russia plays an important role in this issue since it has a naval fleet in the Mediterranean.” The UN Security Council is considering whom to back and how. Should a naval blockade against Islamist militants in Libya be authorized? The participation of the Russian navy could be important. With Egypt’s backing, however, the Tobruk internationally-recognized government would seem to be in the front line for support.

A UNSC resolution endorsing a blockade would require both U.S. and Russian backing and partial lifting of the arms embargo. Thus far, the U.S., Spain and several other UN Security Council members are considering whom to back and how. As a result, the 9 March proposal set before the UNSC to supply the Libyan government in Tobruk with arms and impose the blockades has been delayed. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, signaled that Moscow would support Security Council action proposed by Egypt “to increase the efforts to combat the terrorist threat coming from Libya.” Lavrov had vocally denounced the killing of the 21 Coptic Christians by IS and effectively supported Egypt’s retaliation.

Given Russian behaviour in the Ukraine, Washington seems reluctant to help enhance Russia’s naval power, but, as argued by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi after meeting Putin in Moscow, “Russia’s role can be decisive.” “Without Russia it is much more complicated to find a point of equilibrium.” However, it is difficult to see how NATO-Russian naval cooperation could be restored at the present time, though Moscow’s past involvement in a multilateral counter-piracy task force in the Arabian Sea may serve as a precedent. However, just as Iraq is coordinating the implicit cooperation between the U.S. and Iran in combating IS, Egypt, with its own significant navy, could perform the same role with respect to Russia and Europe/U.S.

The bottom line is that which of the political contenders for ruling Libya and which agency gets the upper hand in the quest for Libyan’s stolen wealth, will depend to a great extent on Egypt and the major international power brokers. The HoR in Tobruk, though cornered, has the services of a very determined general, the best international connections that can supply arms, but seems to have hired the least able agent to work on its behalf to recover the monies. However, since WACG seems to have an inside track with the U.S. government, its total inexperience in this high stakes poker game may be irrelevant as would SS’s seeming inside track with South African officials, though the firing of Maleka may indicate that SS purported support by at least one of the governments in Libya may be irrelevant.

The Quest for Libya’s Assets

For this blog, I am very grateful to the New Libya Report that allowed me to use the vast array of documents they had collected.


Money, Money, Money Makes the World Go Round – The Quest for Libya’s Assets


Howard Adelman

Don’t believe a word of it. Money is important, but it does not make the world go around. The above may be the mantra of some winners, like Kevin O’Leary, Dragon Den’s former obnoxious panelist, who repeats it ad nauseam. Dragon Den’s former the obnoxious panelist on Dragon’s Den. Thankfully, the other panelists who have acquired wealth do not have the same belief. Of course it is the view of an even larger number of losers. Last night I watched Sidney Poitier in the film adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s prize-winning play, A Raisin in the Sun. He played Walter Younger. For Walter, to be somebody meant having money, lots of it. But he was a loser quite different than his sister, Beneatha, whom her Nigerian Yoruba boyfriend Asagai renamed Alaiyo – “one for whom bread is not enough.” Their mama was a God-fearing hardworking woman just wanting the best for her children. Walter’s wife just longed for a loving husband. It takes all kinds to make a world, but great wealth seems to attract the greedy ones, like honey does a hungry bear.

In following the money, most eyes focus on Libya’s oil reserves, refineries and port facilities for exporting oil. But, believe it or not, there is an even much larger and far more liquid immediate prize at stake than Libya’s oil assets. In December, it came to light that the prize was very much larger than had previously been estimated. Instead of merely billions of dollars, in South Africa alone, investigators claim to have identified almost two trillion in U.S. dollars as well as hundreds of tons of gold at almost U.S. $34 million a ton (from 6 to 10 billion) and six million carats of diamonds worth U.S. $200 hundred million uncut. (If cut, U.S. $6 billion) This is the largest stash of liquid assets in the world parked in heavily-guarded warehouses and does not even include the U.S. $32.5 billion (260 billion rand) held in four South African banks or in real estate assets, such as hotels in Johannesburg and Cape Town. And these tremendous sums do not include monies ferried to neighbouring countries from South Africa or held in the United States, Italy, Venezuela, Qatar, Switzerland or Tunisia. Perhaps the reports of this much wealth are exaggerated, but cut the amount by ten and it is still the largest amount of liquid assets around.

Why is South Africa the primary depository for Libyan assets? Following the friendship between Nelson Mandela and Muammar Gaddafi, the wealth was transferred for safe keeping to South Africa between 2000 and 2011 in 67 different flights flown by ex-special forces officers of the South African armed forces. Mandela’s friendship – more accurately, love – for his “brother leader” Colonel Gaddafi, whom Mandela called his guide, may surprise many of us who idealized Mandela as the twentieth century’s greatest statesman, but it is actually very understandable. Mandela had assured Gaddafi that South Africa would never turn its back on him. Why? When Mandela was in jail, and even before Western countries had begun to isolate South Africa for its apartheid policies, Gaddafi supported Mandela and the African National Congress with training, moral and financial support, including financial aid to South African blacks studying abroad.

In October 1997, heavy UN sanctions had been in place against Libya since 1992. When an air embargo prevented flights to Libya, Mandela, then President of South Africa, traveled from Tunisia by a motorcade from the border town of Ras Ajdir to Tripoli. Though Mandela traveled 100 miles to Libya soon after he was released from jail in 1990 and once again before he became president in 1994, the 1997 visit was his first official one as president. Mandela opposed the policies of Western governments determined to punish Gaddafi for not turning over two Libyan suspects for trial in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Mandela lent his moral stature to his friend Gaddafi and supported the African Union policy advocating a trial in a third neutral country.

Only Sweden’s financial and political support for Africa could compare to Gaddafi’s, and it never even came close. Gaddafi paid for the entire African radio, television and telephone telecommunications and funded most of the cost of Africa’s first communication satellite through the Regional African Satellite Communication Organization. He started the African Investment Bank based in Sirte, Libya, the African Monetary Fund (AFM) based in Cameroon, and the African Central Bank in Abuja, Nigeria. Though considered a flake and a gadfly by Westerners, Gaddafi was respected and admired as a great benefactor by Africans. The problem now became how to get these funds back in Libyan hands. As Kenya learned in 2004 when Mwai Kibaki became president, identifying funds sent abroad illegally is one very hard task, but recovering those funds is so much harder. That was a situation when only U.S. $4 billion were missing. In the case of Libya, not only was there the question of who should be entrusted with the task. There was also the issue of which body was the legitimate authority to authorize recovery of the assets.

A state is not without precedents and expertise in this area. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), in addition to its prevention, enforcement and international cooperation functions, has a very important fourth purpose, stolen asset recovery. The program is called the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR) operating under articles 51-59 of its charter. As Article 51 of its charter reads, “The return of assets is a fundamental principle of this convention…” After the investigative stage, there are three key steps – freezing the assets, seizing the assets and, third, confiscation. The process must be initiated by a competent authority. That is, not only must the formal authority of the state be behind such a quest, but the actual agency carrying out the task must possess professional expertise. That expertise includes investigation, forensic accounting, international law – with a particular specialty in asset recovery and computer specialists. The World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime are cooperating agencies. The World Bank even helps fund asset recovery initiatives for states.

There are a number of reputable firms with the required expertise in this field that can be employed to carry out the actual work. They usually have years of experience in their field and employ experienced attorneys, forensic accountants, private investigators, computer forensic experts and forged document specialists. The International Asset Recovery Group (IARG) is but one example. A smaller firm in Barrie, Ontario in Canada, The Renwick Group, is another example. On the other hand, this is also a field littered with sketchy characters. Though it may be difficult to choose from among the highly specialized large firms in the business, it is fairly easy to discern questionable operations. Does the firm have a track record of success in the field? Does it have the depth of expertise or is the firm simply a one or two person operation? Is the firm skilled in overcoming barriers to identifying assets and recovering them? Does the firm have a network of international connections for this purpose? Finally, the firm should at least be literate and capable of writing proper English, the international language for such purposes.

One of the two competing firms hired to recover Libyan assets is the Texas-based Washington African Consulting Group (WACG), an overnight creation for this purpose led by Erik Magnus Iskander Goaied and incorporated on 8 August 2014. Erik is of Tunisian and Swedish background and is a Swedish citizen, though he boasts extensive South African connections and lists his position as Director of Darron international marketing of South Africa. It is probably through Darron that between 2012-2014 he worked for Denel, the South African defense company, as a technical adviser to the German/South African defense company Rheinmetall Denel Munition (Pty) Ltd. In other words, Erik was probably an arms salesman.

Darron appears to simply exist as a corporation for his personal business activities. He also indicates that he was Managing Director of Terre d’Ancêtres of Tunisia. Though the company has a logo and seems to be in the business of chartering private jets, it also advertises itself as an international advisory group (the wording in its web page sates: “advising international group”) operating in the North African market with a specialty in both “the management of petroleum companies networks” (I believe he meant to write “companies’ networks”) as well as the installation and management of farming projects. Yet there is no record I could find in his career of doing either. He also lists himself as the North African exclusive distributor for Levtrade International of South Africa. Levtrade is a medical manufacturer of Burnshield Emergency Burn Care and First Aid Kits. He also lists himself as a director of Socam Sarl in Tunisia which may have been involved in marble excavation. Before that he was evidently a consultant in the petroleum industry and the night manager of a Sheraton Hotel.

This is a very thin resumé but, in any case, demonstrates not one iota in any of the fields of expertise required for asset recovery. However, there may be a connection with his claim to being a pilot and his work for Levtrade which sells medical supplies to relief organizations. I recall an owner of an aircraft company when we were investigating the Rwanda genocide saying that he always knew that when he was not flying arms to belligerents in Africa, he would be supplying relief materials for the NGOs who followed. He claimed he was a one person early warning system for refugee flows. Could Erik have been an arms dealer?

Yet WACG in its incorporation papers lists its function as assisting the National Board for the Following-Up and Recovering of Libyan Looted and Disguised Funds and identifying and recovering Libyan assets in the United States and abroad, but not in Libya. Before I go into the role and nature of the National Board, let me elaborate further on WACG. One other founding director in addition to Erik, Douglas Keith Foree, is listed as the President and advertises himself as a “third generation oil and gas producer with over 30 years experience in exploration and development.”

Quite aside from Douglas Keith Foree’s inexperience in asset recovery, even his petroleum consulting may be questionable. Though he advertises himself as a third generation petroleum expert, the second generation seem to want nothing to do with him. In 2004, Douglas’ own father, R.L. Foree went to court to have his name removed as an officer of Mainland Energy Corp. because it was included by his son without his knowledge and permission. He only learned of his name being included as Vice-President when he went to make a change on one of the entities he controlled and was notified on 24 January 2004 of outstanding violations related to Mainland. R.L. Foree testified that he was estranged from his son and that his son took advantage and misused his name. Mr. Foree testified that Mainland had motive to use his name in that using it could achieve a smaller financial assurance fee by using his name and good history. The Commission allowed R.L. Foree’s name to be removed and fined Mainland U.S. $2,750 costs and a U.S. $4,500 penalty.

Douglas Foree may be an even bigger flake than Erik Goaied. Whatever their credentials in any other area, neither of the two founding directors has any of the requisite expertise in asset recovery. So why would the Libyan government, or, at least, one of its two governments, hire WACG? Another part of the documentary filing provides a clue. The company is listed as having paid $50,000 per month retainer over three months to the American lobbying firm The Ben Barnes Group headed by Ben Barnes, the former Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and chief fundraiser for John Kerry.

  1. (a) DISBURSEMENT-MONIES During the period beginning 60 days prior to the date of your obligation to register to the time of filing this statement, did you spend or disburse any money in furtherance of or in connection with your activities on behalf of any foreign principal named in Item ?? Yes S No •

If yes, set forth below in the required detail and separately for each such foreign principal named including monies transmitted, if any, to each foreign principal.

Date To Whom Purpose Amount 09/15/14 Ben Barnes Group Retainer for Consulting Services $50,000.00 10/01/14 Ben Barnes Group Retainer for Consulting Services $50,000.00 11/03/14 Ben Barnes Group ‘ Retainer for Consulting Services  $50,000.00

Another piece of information is relevant. Forty-eight-year-old Erik Goaied had a practice of posting repeated supports for Gaddafi (“many Libyans want Qaddafi and the rebels (in which you have al qaeda fighters) do not represent the Libyan people.” He was also adamantly opposed to any form of Islamic government. However, WACG now claims support of Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani. WACG was hired on the 22 August 2014 through a consultancy agreement with The National Board, more formally, The National Board for the Following-up and Recovering of the Libyan Looted and Disguised Funds.” WACG was designated as representing the Al-Thani government located in Tobruk defined as the internationally-recognized government of Libya chosen by the Libyan Parliament, the House of Representatives (HoR) on 25 June 2014.

FORMED BY DECREE OF THE COUNCIL OF MINISTERS OF LIBYA (‘the Council”) IN TERMS OF DECREE NUMBER 378 OF 2014 (“the Decree”) UNDER REFERENCE NUMBER 108/T/14 SIGNED ON 22 JANUARY 2014. The National Board herein represented by The National Board Members constituting MOHAMED BELGACEM TAG (“Tag”), Head of the Board, MOHAMED ABDULLAH EL BAKSHI (“El Bakshi”) and YOUSSEF ALI SIRIHEID (“Siriheid”)’

The agreement between the National Board and WACG provides for payment of U.S. $50,000 per month in consultancy payments until such time as all assets have been recovered as well as a 10% recovery fee of all assets recovered. The agreement can only be rescinded upon the agreement of both parties. However, the agreement requires expeditious performance by WACG, including identifying the assets within four months.

Though the UN adopted Resolution 438 requiring countries holding Libyan assets to return them, Goalied has insisted that the Libyan government does not want the assets stored in Libya but simply wanted legal control returned so funds could be used to support “development” projects; assets would be held in the U.S. but would be under the control of the Libyan government. According to an affidavit filed with the U.S. Justice Department on 22 August 2014, the assets would be kept within the U.S. In the meanwhile, both South Africa and Jacob Zuma himself have been under threat by the UN. Charges may be brought before the ICC for theft if the assets are not returned promptly.

Mohamed Belgacem Tag at age 62 became Chair of the National Board on 22 January 2014. Tag confirmed that WACG was the only company mandated by the Libyan government to act on its behalf. Tag and Goaied had a recent meeting with Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, South Africa’s Minister of Defence, with whom they discussed the purchase of South African weaponry with the Libyan funds. Mapisa-Nqakula provided a letter of introduction. (Since he had been a consultant to Denel for two years, the reason Goaied needed a letter of introduction can only be surmised as the government offering assurances that funds were indeed held in South Africa on behalf of Libya, funds sufficient to purchase the arms.) Tag and Goaied informed Denel that Libya was interested in purchasing  Mirage F1s, Mig 21s, Mig 29s, Rooivalk attack helicopters, G6 ­cannons, unmanned aerial vehicles, missiles,, various types of ammunition worth about 8 Billion Rand (over US700 million), a lifeline for that beleaguered company as well as the Tobruk government and General Haftar.

In a nutshell, billions and perhaps trillions of U.S. dollars of purloined Libyan assets are hidden away in various countries, but primarily in South Africa.  The internationally-recognized government in Tobruk set up an assets recovery committee headed by Tag that contracted with an obscure Texas-based company with no known experience in asset recovery. WACG received funds and then passed those funds onto a very important lobby group with close connections to Secretary of State John Kerry. The U.S. would score a double gain, for the assets would be parked in the U.S., and, at the same time, the party most resistant to Islamists, more particularly General  Haftar, could buy the military equipment it needs to defeat the Islamicists.

TOMORROW: The Competition to Tobruk – Tripoli and its Fortune Hunters

Introduction to Contemporary Libya

An Introduction to Libya


Howard Adelman

Talk about centrifuges. Cascades of op-eds, criticisms, commentary, opinion pieces and informative articles have tumbled me about as if I was a container of both U-235 and U-238. The separation pressures to polarize positions have been much stronger than the centripetal forces in a centrifuge. Since I wrote my blog, articles have flowed into my computer in rapid succession. They have ranged from Talmudic exegesis of the Haman reference in Netanyahu’s speech to precise details about Iranian knowledge of the technical requirements, beyond enriched fuel, to make a usable atomic bomb. However, although the information may be massive and the opinions many, the contentious issue boils down to a choice between two isotopes akin to U-235 and U-238. Can one make a deal with Iran that will hold or is a much more stringent deal or no deal better?

So I am leaving the Iranian nuclear issue for now and will re-visit it at a later date. Instead of mounting complexity topping relatively simple choices, when we move to Libya we meet confusion head on. So I will have to clear the jungle before we get down to one single issue – wealth and lots of it. “Follow the Money,” This was the advice Deep Throat (Mark Felt) gave to Bob Woodward as the Watergate scandal unfolded. It certainly will apply to Libya in a myriad of ways. But in order to follow the money, you need to know who the main players are from whom you can choose the ones to follow, where they are now, where they have been and where they might be going. In addition to the pursuit of money, it also helps to know what else motivates the various players.

I begin with a brief reminder of the geography and history of Libya, a designation it only obtained in the twentieth century as part of Italy’s African colonization in 1911 as a revival of the ancient Greek name for the territorial coast, Λιβύη (Libúē), and modern Libyan Arabic, li;bjǣ, to replace the Ottoman Tripolitania. At the peak of Italian rule in 1939, 35% of Benghazi was Italian. It is easy to forget that Libya is the fourth largest country in Africa and the seventeenth largest in the world. Covering 700,000 square miles, Libya, on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, about the middle of northern Africa, is located between Algeria to the west, Egypt to the east, and Chad and Niger to the direct south. If the Islamic State rebels in Libya hook up with Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria through Chad and Niger, the northern part of Africa would be cut in two by radical Islamicists. More significantly, Islamic State would have access to the tenth largest oil reserve in the world in a country with a population of only six million.

Tripoli, Libya’s largest city (population over a million) and its capital, is located on the Mediterranean coast to the west. To the east on the eastern side of the Gulf of Sidra is Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city (population 700,000). The city was called the garden of Hesperides in the ancient world and mentioned by both Herodotus and Thucydides when the city was an outpost of civilization surrounded by hostile tribes and desert on three sides. The exception was the very fertile steppe of the mountains to the northeast with its treed ravines enjoying a substantial annual rainfall. Benghazi is also Libya’s second legislative capital.

Benghazi lost its joint capital status in 1969 when the so-called Free Officers under Muammar Gaddafi staged their coup d’état and overthrew King Idris I who had ruled Libya since its independence in 1951. The Sanussiya Sufi order that had been a backbone against Mussolini’s regime and the mainstay of support for King Idris I, were again pushed to the side when Gaddafi made Tripoli the sole capital of Libya. With his overthrow in 2011, Tripoli re-emerged as the executive capital, but with an eventual Islamic government. Benghazi was slated to re-emerge as the legislative capital but fell under control of even more radical al-Qaeda Islamists.

Benghazi, with its ethnic diversity of African, Greek, Egyptian and a very significant Berber minority, has a small Christian community of 4,000 located around the Roman Catholic Franciscan Church of the Immaculate Conception. Though Jews lived in Benghazi since the Roman Empire, the 1948 riots forced the exodus of this ancient Jewish community. There are no Jews in Benghazi today, or, for that matter, in all of Libya.

Benghazi houses the country’s parliament, the Majlis al Nuwab, and the national library. Benghazi is also a business centre hosting the headquarters of many small manufacturing companies and large corporations such as Libyan Airlines, the Libyan Bank of Commerce and Development, the National Oil Corporation, the Al-Brega Oil Marketing Company and the Arabian Oil Company. Contemporary Libya began in Benghazi when, during Arab Spring on 15 February 2011, an uprising against Muammar Gaddafi’s government took place and appeared victorious within a week. When the Libyan army counterattacked, Ali Zeidan, a Geneva-based Libyan human rights lawyer who returned from exile to become Libya’s envoy to France, persuaded President Sarkozy to intervene with the French Air Force backed by UNSC Res. 1973. That intervention supported the armed resistance on the ground.

But it was not the liberals who eventually emerged triumphant in Benghazi. By 31 July, Ansar al-Sharia (al-Qaeda) was in full control of the city and its environs and subsequently reinforced and strengthened puritanical Islam with a complete ban on alcohol. Increasing numbers of women wear black niqabs and many more men sport full beards. On the eleventh anniversary of the destruction of the twin towers in New York City, on 11 September 2012, a very well-armed group of 125-150 Ansar al-Sharia militants attacked the American embassy in Benghazi and killed Ambassador J. Christoper Stephens, Foreign Service Information Officer Sean Smith, and former Naval SEALS Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. Since then, Benghazi has remained under the control of Ansar al-Sharia jihadist militants and has been the main centre of opposition to rule from Tripoli.

Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), the face of the political opposition to Gaddafi, on 8 August 2012 handed over power to the newly-elected General National Council (GNC) with a mandate to rule for eighteen months until 7 February 2014. The GNC was a coalition primarily of two major factions, the National Forces Alliance (NFA), a “liberal” party, and the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), a party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and dedicated to an Islamic state through democratic means. There were also a number of independents, for example, the Workers Group with 20 seats and the Southern Group with 31. On 7 July 2012, Zeidan was elected as an independent congressman for Jufra, He lost out as Speaker to his Ambassador boss in Delhi, Mohammed Magariaf. They had both defected in 1980 and together founded a political movement, the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) that became the core of the NFA under the leadership of Mahmoud Jibril. Zeidan became the official spokesman of the Libyan League for Human Rights. After losing as Speaker in 2012, Zeidan resigned his seat and ran for Prime Minister against the JPT candidate, Mohammed sl-Harari. Parliament elected him Prime Minister-designate by a vote of 93 to 85. On 14 October 2012, Ali Zeidan was appointed Prime Minister by the GNC after he submitted his cabinet.

In the conflicted political terrain of Libya, his rule was rocky. Zeidan was kidnapped on 10 October 2013 in Tripoli by an al-Qaeda militant group that held him responsible for handing over Abu Anas al-Libi (Nazih Abdul Hamed Nabih al-Ruqai’i) to American authorities who wanted him for masterminding the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings. Zeidan was released the same day. The event that served as the catalyst of his downfall began when the GNC tried to extend its authority beyond the 7 February deadline until the end of 2014. Riots broke out across Libya. The sailing out of the rebel-held port of Sidra on 11 March 2014 of the rogue oil tanker Morning Glory that Zeidan had promised to prevent, seemed to seal Zeidan’s fate. It did not help that the State prosecutor, Abdel-Qader Radwan, had banned Zeidan from travelling abroad because he faced an investigation over the alleged financial irregularities. After a parliamentary committee voted no-confidence in Zeidan and removed him from office, he defied that travel ban and fled Libya on 14 March 2014.

Perhaps the military divisions were even more significant than the political ones. Khalifa Belqasim Haftar, a Libyan General who was part of the free officers’ coup in 1969, went into opposition when he was a captive in Chad in one of Gaddafi’s military interventions into a neighbouring country. Haftar ended up going into exile in the U.S. and became an American citizen. In 2011, he returned to Libya to take part in the revolution and took leadership of all the ground forces under General Abdul Fatah Younis, When Younis was assassinated in August, though Omar El-Hariri was second in command, Haftar assumed effective control of the armed forces opposed to Gaddafi. When the GNC initially appeared to be holding onto power past its deadline in February 2014, Haftar, with the support of fellow officers, built a secret army. Between May and August 2014, a second civil war broke out in Libya beginning on 16 May when Haftar launched Operation Dignity with a ground and air assault on the Muslim jihadists in Benghazi and the Libyan parliament. All Islamist parties, both democratic and jihadist, with the support of Qatar and Turkey united to form operation Fajr Libya (Libyan Dawn) on 13 July 2014. A second full civil war was underway.

In the GNC-scheduled new elections for 25 June 2014, the secularists scored a clear victory over parties with an Islamist agenda but with only 15% of eligible voters having cast ballots. The Council of Representatives (CoR) replaced the NTC on 4 August 2014. The new government under Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani neither endorsed nor condemned Operation Dignity, but branded Islamic militants as terrorists. Did these include the members of the Justice and Construction Party (JCP) affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood who supported a democratically elected Islamic state? When al-Thani’s government tried to take possession of the parliament in Benghazi, they were repulsed by the local Islamic militants affiliated with al-Qaeda and were forced to flee to Tobruk, the port city of 120,000 near the Egyptian border and the site of many World War II battles as well as one of the initial places of the rebellion against the Gaddafi regime. Haftar himself, like Sisi in Egypt, determined to completely destroy not only the jihadists but the supporters of JCP as well.

The CoR set up a temporary seat of government, the Council of Deputies (CoD) and a House of Representatives (HoR). The GNC and the Islamicists rejected the legitimacy of the elections and the HoR. Further, the June 2014 elections were declared unconstitutional by the Libyan Supreme Court in November 2014. The cabinet of Abdulla al-Thani in Tobruk and its HoR seemed orphaned, but this past week formally appointed Haftar head of the armed forces.

Thus, an Islamist rival government rules from Tripoli as the legal continuation of the General National Congress (GNC) elected in July 2012 and reconvened after Islamists rejected the 2014 election results and formed the Council of Representatives (CoR). Dawn of Libya itself is divided among the Libya Central Shield Force (LCSR), the Libya Revolutionaries Operating Room (LROR), the Misrata Brigades and the Zawiya militias. Dawn of Libya was determined that their brand of Islam would not go the route of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or the Ennahda Party in Tunisia. After seesaw battles, Dawn of Libya won control of the oil port of al-Sidra and finally the refinery in R’as Lanuf on the western side of the Gulf of Sidra opposite Benghazi. The CoR with this military support rules from Tripoli while CoD and HoD rule from Tobruk as the one internationally-recognized government of Libya. Benghazi and its district is governed by a third militant Islamic group identified with al-Qaeda.

If this were not complicated enough, a fourth seat of government arose in Derna, east of Benghazi on the Mediterranean coast with a population of about 150,000. Derna is Libya’s most religious city and hosts Libya’s most extremist jihadist radicals. It traces that radicalism back to at least the days of the Barbary pirates and the Battle of Derna in 1805 when American forces led by General  William Eaton in America’s first imperial victorious battle overseas captured Dema with 500 U.S. marines, mercenaries and 4-5,000 Barbary troops by marching 500 miles across the desert from Alexandria. In 2007 in Iraq, American troops found a list of foreign fighters in the Iraqi insurgency; 52 of the 112 Libyans on the list came from Derna. An estimated 800 volunteers from Derna had been fighting under the Islamic State banner in Syria.

On 18 February 2011, the rebellion broke out in Derna and the National Transitional Council took over even before a new government was established in Tripoli. In April 2014, 300 Libyan Islamic State militants from the Syrian al-Battar Brigade slipped back into Derna joining a force of 1,100 already there and increased their size further by bringing other radical groups under their flag. Last August, special forces from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates attacked Derna and destroyed a militant jihadist camp. On 5 October, the Islamic State militants struck. By the end of October 2014, local Islamicist rule was replaced when the more extreme jihadist radicals pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

What was surprising is that their military leader was a Yemeni militant from the Syrian Civil War, Mohammed Abdullah known as Abu al-Baraa al-Azdi. He was assisted by an aide to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Abu Nabil al-Anbari, both veterans of the Iraqi conflict. Though opposed by rival locally-led radicals, such as the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, the Islamic State radicals took control of government buildings and security vehicles declaring the Derna district part of the caliphate. In public, they beheaded judges, civilian officials and others who refused to submit to their rule, enforced the separation of male and female students, and closed the law school. The Islamic Youth Shura Council flogged any who refused to follow their interpretation of sharia law. The beheaded bodies of two human rights activists in Derna, Mohammed Battu and Sirak Qath, abducted on 6 November, were found in December. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was named chief representing the caliph of the Islamic State to govern the district they designated as Wilayah Barqa. Abu al-Baraa al-Azdi was named a religious judge.

Islamic State used its base in Derna to organize a suicide bombing in Tobruk, the temporary seat of Libya’s internationally-recognized government, a car bombing outside Labraq air force base in al-Bayda, other suicide against Libyan security forces in and around Benghazi, and a car bomb attack outside both the Egyptian and UAE embassies in Tripoli. Islamic State fighters launched an attack on a luxury hotel in Tripoli used by journalists, visiting Westerners as well as leaders of the Islamist-backed provisional government killing eight, including a former marine, David Berry, working as an American security contractor. Islamic State lost only two fighters.

Islamic State declared that all other jihadist groups, including those affiliated with Al Qaeda, had to submit to their authority. Thus far, Ansar al-Sharia, the radical jihadist group that had attacked the American embassy in Benghazi and killed the ambassador on 11 September 2012, has refused to submit to Islamic State authority. However, the Benghazi Revolutionary Shura Council pledged allegiance to Baghdadi.

In February, Islamic State took control of Nofaliya and appointed Ali Al-Qarqaa as emir of the town. On a Libyan beach just over three weeks ago, on 15 February 2015, Islamic State militants dressed in black beheaded 21 handcuffed Egyptian Coptic Christian hostages wearing orange jumpsuits; they had been captured from Sirte in January. They released a video of the murders.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt threatened reprisals and the next day followed through by bombing Islamic State targets in Libya on the border and in Derna. Egypt claimed 50 militants had been killed. Egypt had become directly involved in the Libyan conflict and on 18 February 2015 launched ground attacks by special forces units in coordination with the Libyan army that already had recaptured villages and roads surrounding the city. As well as Egypt, Chad, Qatar, Sudan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are providing arms to the different factions in direct contravention to a UN imposed arms embargo. For example, 35 aircraft from Qatar have been transferring weapons and ammunition in support of both the Islamic government in Tripoli as well as Islamic State centred in Derna. So why have Obama administration officials been negotiating with Qatar and why has Obama met with Qatar’s al-Thani?

The 15-nation Security Council 2011 imposed arms embargo on the Gaddafi regime in Libya has failed miserably. “The capacity of Libya to physically prevent (arms) transfers is almost nonexistent and there is no authorization to enforce the arms embargo on the high seas or in the air as there were during the 2011 revolution,” concluded an experts panel in its report to the UNSC that recommended UN naval intervention. When the UN gives exemptions to allow the internationally-recognized government to import arms to help fight the militants, the arms are diverted to the militants. For example, in 2013 the UNSC permitted Belarus to send 3,000 tons of ammunition to Libya. Militants seized the munitions and distributed the arms to independent radical militias. Further, not one ship exporting oil illegally has been seized. The Panel recommended a UN maritime blockade of Libya to control the inflow of arms to and the export of oil by radical jihadists.

Since civil war broke out nine months ago, at least a thousand Libyans have been killed and 7% of the population has been displaced. The International Crisis Group (ICG) believes that all the parties are competing for the ultimate prize, Libya’s oil infrastructure and financial institutions. I will suggest that the real prize is much larger in more immediate terms. Bernardino León, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative, has relentlessly pursued reconciliation and convened two rounds of talks in Geneva on 14-15 and 26-27 January 2015. The two main rival blocs in Tripoli and Tobruk tentatively agreed to a new framework, but on 23 February, the Tobruk-based HoR suspended its participation in the reconciliation talks. Since then, Algeria hosted secret meetings among 200 Libyan. Representatives of Libya’s rival parliaments held talks in Morocco to be followed by a second meeting in Brussels of municipal representatives from across Libya to work on confidence-building measures.

Libya, riven at the very least by four competing militarized political factions – two competing governments, one Islamic and one liberal, in two different cities, Tripoli and Tobruk – both assaulted by even more extremist Islamist militants in Benghazi and Dern, of which Islamic State is the most extreme and now has a foothold in the country with at least three distinct affiliated groups, one in each region of the country, Barqa in the east, Fezzan in the desert south, and Tripolitania in the west centred around Tripoli, the capital. Though it is simplistic, it helps if the factionalism is pictured as follows:

Tripoli – GNC backed by Salafi jihadists and supported by Turkey in rivalry with Dawn of Libya, a more radical group supported by Qatar

Benghazi – Ansar al-Saharia (al-Qaeda)

Tobruk – CoR or HoR, internationally recognized government dominated by “liberals”

Derna –Islamic State, also reputedly supported by Q,atar, supported by the Shura Council of Islamic Youth in Derna but not by the Islamist militants of the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade

However, I opened by reminding readers of Deep Throat’s advice, “Follow the money.” That is what I will do tomorrow to suggest that behind all these ideological differences there is also a backstory about the quest to gain control over billions in Libyan wealth.

Netanyahu’s Address to Congress

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Address to Congress


Howard Adelman

I have now heard Bibi’s 3 March speech once and read it three times. It is a brilliant speech, superbly crafted and delivered with the right balance of concision and pauses, but fundamentally flawed in its logic and selective use of evidence. Since when did logic convince anyone of anything? But perhaps facts will. Besides, convincing is beside the point. The speech was not intended to persuade anyone of anything. This was grandstanding in the grand manner with conviction, passion and organized superbly. And the speech builds to a marvelous crescendo.

The speech is organized in seven parts:

Part I:    A reaffirmation of the firm and eternal ties between the U.S. and Israel

Part II:   A depiction of Iran as run by an unwavering Satan

Part III:  A Prolegomena to Nuclear Negotiations

Part IV:  An Analysis of those Negotiations

Part V:   A Summary of the Bottom Line

Part VI:  A Proposed Alternative

Part VII: An Emotional Postscript.

This blog will analyze the first three parts.

Part I – Israel and the U.S.

Bibi began by insisting his speech was above politics. Though it gave him unprecedented exposure two weeks before Israelis go the polls, I believe him. I do not think he came to Washington to boost his electoral chances at home. First, if that was his motive, the anticipated repercussions of his visible breech with Obama would play negatively back home among middle road voters whom he needed to woo at the same time as his standing up to the White House would swell the chests of his own ardent supporters. The risk was a mug’s game.

At the same time, he did not come to Washington to sew divisions within the Democratic Party and went out of his way, not only to celebrate the links between Israel and U.S., but to laud Obama’s consistent support for Israel, overt support, such as strengthening security cooperation and intelligence sharing and opposing anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N., less widely known support such as Obama’s response to Bibi’s request for urgent aid in the face of the 2010 raging Carmel forest fire, vital assistance in 2011 when Israel’s embassy in Cairo was under siege, and in 2014 when Obama supported more missile interceptors during the Gaza summer operation in the conflict with Hamas. Bibi also alluded to much more covert cooperation which might never be known because those efforts touch on some of the most sensitive and strategic issues that arise between an American president and an Israeli prime minister. Bibi recognized, however, that such praise could never overcome the deep schisms his speech to Congress and open challenge to the White House Iranian policy had brought about.

So why did he come? The content and structure of the speech point to its purpose. The next section on Iran signaled the purpose: it was his obligation to address the issue before the American public, the Israeli public and the world public. There could be no better place than the American Congress.

Part II – Iran

For Bibi, Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, as is well known, poses an existential threat not only to Israel, but to Jews everywhere. This could not be clearer than his link of contemporary Iran with ancient Persia, the link with Purim and the threat of the Jew-hater, Haman. As Bibi said, “Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology. He tweets that Israel must be annihilated.” I have been unable to determine, as some have contended, that these interpretations are based on a twisted translation of what he really said. However, as Abraham H. Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League’s National Director noted in June 2013, Khamenei in a Facebook posting on the eve of Iran’s 14 June presidential elections, featured a classic anti-Semitic picture portraying Jews, in particular, AIPAC, as controlling the United States government. A year ago on 14 March Nowruz, the Persian New Year, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisted that the historical reality of the Holocaust is “unknown”; he questioned whether it “actually did happen.”

Netanyahu then linked the Iranian leader’s support for anti-Semitism with the views of his terrorist satraps. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, is quoted as stating, “If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of chasing them down around the world.” Bibi could also have cited other quotes, such as the following two just as often attributed to Nasrallah. “They [Jews] are a cancer which is liable to spread at any moment.” (This was originally on an Israeli government website but I have been unable to recover it.) There is another quote from Amal Saad-Ghorayeb’s Hizbu’llah: Politics and Religion, “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, we do not say the Israeli.” (fn. 20, ch. 8) Saad-Ghorayeb subsequently admitted the quote was erroneous, though it was also included in her PhD thesis; she admits she should have properly checked it.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your politics, the other two statements also cannot be authentically attributed to Nasrallah as much as I personally disapprove of his politics. The one Bibi cited was traced back to an article by Badih Chayban in Beirut’s English-language Daily Star on 23 October 2002, but the paper’s editor would not vouch for its accuracy or that of his former reporter. He even insisted that Chayban had never interviewed Nasrallah or anyone else. No other news source cited these quotes in their reports on Nasrallah, but Bibi is correct that Israel is surrounded by Iranian satraps in Gaza, Lebanon and the Golan with Syria in the background slaughtering its own citizens. Further, other Iranian proxies are seizing power in Iraq and Yemen.

I believe his assessment that “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also to the peace of the entire world,” is also accurate and that Iran is run by “religious zealots” through a “dark and brutal dictatorship” dedicated to exporting “the revolution throughout the world.” Though uttered in part as flattery to his hosts, Netanyahu is also correct in contrasting Iran with America and its promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Further, Iran has certainly targeted Americans in the past. Since U.S. diplomats were held hostage in Tehran. Iranians were behind the killing of American marines in Beirut and the killing of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In July 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iranians had been arming anti-American militants in both theatres of war, a report confirmed by U.S. State Department officials. Finally, Netanyahu was correct that Iranian officials were behind the plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador, Adel Al-Jubeir, with a bomb in a restaurant in Washington. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed that the plan was “conceived, sponsored and was directed from Iran” by a faction of the Iranian government.

With a 90% accuracy rate in his examples unusual for Bibi must we “all stand together to stop Iran’s march of conquest?” Sure! That is what the P5+1 are doing. Netanyahu’s Israel is the outlier, not America. The question is how one stands against Iran and with what tools? The key question is what has this all to do with the nuclear negotiations? In the next section, Bibi set the stage for the nuclear negotiations.

Part III:  A Prolegomena to Nuclear Negotiations

Netanyahu first had to demonize Iran further. Did he do so by returning to his more normal pattern of hyperbole and distortion lest he suddenly earn a reputation for veracity and be declared a credible witness as a result of the first one-third of his address to Congress? Netanyahu declared that, “two years ago, we were told to give President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif a chance to bring change and moderation to Iran.” Who claimed that? Rouhani had run on a platform of moderation. He openly campaigned on re-opening a dialogue with the U.S. The nuclear negotiations were not intended to make Iran moderate, but resulted from Iran’s declared commitment to follow a path of moderation. Netanyahu had deliberately reversed the causal order.

Further, the Obama regime had not seen its objective as making Iran a moderate regime. The White House had three goals. First, to be the first American administration since the end of the Cold War to prevent a new nuclear power from emerging; second, to prevent a nuclear conflict in the Middle East; third, to establish a different relationship between America and Iran.

Was Rouhani sincere in his professed outreach? In his speech immediately after his inauguration he promised a government of righteousness, honesty and trustworthiness and a rejection of extremism and declared, “The people voted for moderation…the people want to live better, to have dignity, and enjoy a stable life. They want to recapture their deserving position among nations.” Rouhani called for better relations with the world and the end of international sanctions. “The only path to interact with Iran is through negotiations on equal grounds, reciprocal trust-building, mutual respect and reducing hostilities.”

The central issue was whether to continue coercive diplomacy by upping the ante and increasing the pressure on an Iran already suffering from accelerating inflation and a weakened currency resulting from the sanctions already in place, or whether to use those pressures to initiate a program of constructive engagement based on Rohani’s offer to improve relations by making the nuclear program more transparent and improve relations with Western nations. Ronald Reagan had tried coercive diplomacy with Pakistan and vowed that country would not acquire nuclear weapons; he failed. Bill Clinton did the same with North Korea that now has probably accumulated one hundred nuclear bombs. Most saw such efforts as futile and incapable of preventing a country from acquiring nuclear weapons. Further, experts on Iran decried America’s failure to offer inducements and encouragement to the previous moderate president, Mohammad Khatami, and pointed to America’s failure to take advantage of a historic, but time-sensitive, opportunity.

But that is not how Netanyahu framed the debate. Instead, the regime of the ayatollahs was and remains a monolithic monstrosity. Rouhani’s insistence on emphasizing “economic priorities, detente with the West, enhanced relations with Iran’s neighbors, new nuclear diplomacy, respect for guilds and syndicates in Iran, an inclusive non-factional government of ‘moderation and consensus’, and political tolerance,” was for Netanyahu a sham. Rouhani was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

How do you find out? Bibi argued that you do so by checking whether Rouhani’s regime had become more moderate in treating its own citizens. How did the new government rate? For Netanyahu, terribly. “Rouhani’s government hangs gays, persecutes Christians, jails journalists and executes even more prisoners than before.” It is not clear why Bibi left the persecution of Bahá’is off his list. The conclusion was clearly drawn from Benjamin Weinthal’s report for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Rouhani’s first hundred days. The report did point to the prosecution of Christians for drinking communion wine during a religious service, the arrest of “homosexuals and devil worshippers,” the continued persecution of embattled practitioners of the Bahá’i faith, and the uptick in executions in the Islamic Republic since the presidential elections, The report offered no evidence of any moderation by the Rouhani government.

But that report was for the first hundred days. What about later? In January 2014, a UN report stated that Iran continued to imprison Christians for their faith and designated house churches and evangelical Christians as “threats to national security.” At least 49 Christians were among 307 religious minorities being held in Iranian jails as of January 2014. The UN report berated Iran for its hostility to Jews, Bahá’is, Zoroastrians and Dervish Muslims as well, though, as reported in a recent blog of mine, the Iranian government recently launched a charm and money contribution campaign for the remnant of 4,000 Jews remaining in Iran. What the report also said was that Rouhani had not proven capable yet of controlling the hard-liners.

Those hard-liners explicitly reject a deal, as much to protect their positions and their perks as out of extreme ideological positions. A deal once concluded would enable the moderates to consolidate their power.

Is the execution rate in Iran an appropriate measure of moderation? I believe it is a measure of the strength of the deep state in Iran. China is often cited for its high execution rate, but it is not counted for accurate records are unavailable. China probably executes thousands per year, more than the rest of the world put together. Yet Israel is actively seeking to enhance trade with China. In 2013, based on official records, of 778 executions around the world, Iran and Iraq were jointly responsible for 538 of them, 369 in Iran, 55 more than in 2012. Activists insist that the figure is much higher and that the actual number of executions was more than twice that number. In 2014, using both official and unofficial sources, the Iran Human Rights Centre reported that the numbers executed were slightly up again to a total of 721, the vast majority for drug trafficking, but a significant minority for murder and a smaller number for rape and armed robbery. One person was executed for sodomy and a second for kidnapping. Four – Ghalamreza Khosravi, Omid Pin, Imam Galavi and Hashem Shabaninejad – were executed for Moharebeh, “waging war against God and the state.”

In any case, is Iran’s treatment of religious minorities and gays, is its execution rate, the litmus test of Iran’s greater moderation in the effort to produce nuclear weapons? Bibi, as if anticipating such a question, shifted to four foreign policy issues: Iran’s support for terrorism, Iran’s continued anti-American practices, Iranian ideology and Islamic State. With respect to the first, support for terrorism, Bibi pointed to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who had laid a wreath at the grave of Imad Mughniyeh (al-Hajj Radwan), head of Hezbollah military intelligence and a possible successor to Nasrallah as head of Hezbollah. Mughniyeh was behind the Beirut barracks bombing and the two 1983 U.S. embassy bombings. He was also indicted in Argentina for his alleged role in the 1992 Israeli embassy attack in Buenos Aires. U.S. officials accused Mughniyeh of killing more United States citizens than any other militant prior to Osama bin Laden.

Yet Zarif was photographed laying a wreath at the grave of Mughniyeh on 14 January 2014 just days after negotiations based on the Joint Plan of Action commenced to move Iran towards a strictly peaceful use of its nuclear facilities. Netanyahu was wise to choose that incident for it was widely viewed as sending a negative signal of Iranian intentions. Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, condemned the action. “The inhumane violence that Moughniyeh perpetrated – and that Lebanese Hezbollah continues to perpetrate in the region with Iran’s financial and material support – has had profoundly destabilizing and deadly effects for Lebanon and the region.”

Clearly, Bibi had chosen a symbolic support for terrorism that touched Americans rather than a concrete incident illustrating continuing Iranian support for terrorism. For example, Netanyahu could have cited an event that took place two months later when the Israeli navy intercepted a freighter loaded with dozens of Syrian-made M-302 rockets evidently bound for Hamas in Gaza, rockets capable of hitting any target in Israel. They were hidden under bags of concrete. But then Zarif in turn could have cited Reagan’s support for Saddam Hussein’s terrorist regime and its war against Iran, for Reagan had provided Iraq with aerial photographs of Iranian troop movements upon which Iraq blasted shells of mustard gas. There were fifty thousand casualties, including thousands of deaths, many more on balance than the Americans had suffered from state-sponsored terrorism.

While portraying Zarif as a supporter of terrorism, Netanyahu deliberately ignored a number of signs and signals communicated by Zarif of a change in Iranian policy. Robin Wright in his portrait of Zarif in the 26 May 2014 issue of The New Yorker called “The Adversary: Is Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Javad Zarif, for real?” opens with a very revealing story. Zarif, after coming into office and opening a new twitter account, sent out his second tweet. It wished Jews all around the world a “Happy Rosh Hashanah.” What a contrast this was with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had challenged Israel’s right to exist, urged Jews to return to the countries they came from, and questioned the occurrence of the Holocaust. Suspecting something phony, Christine Pelosi, daughter of Democratic Minority House leader, Nancy Pelosi, sent a tweet. “Thanks. The New Year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir.” Christine Pelosi’s husband is Jewish and their daughter attends a Jewish preschool. Zarif responded: “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year.” Subsequently in the Iranian parliament, Zarif came close to being censured for insisting that the Holocaust was a “horrifying tragedy.”

Thus commenced the new opening and dialogue between Americans and Iranians, easier since Zarif, like Netanyahu, spent years living in the U.S. and his two children are American citizens based on their place of birth. On 26 September, Zarif met John Kerry at the UN to discuss resuming negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. President Rouhani, in New York for the General Assembly, spoke the next day for fifteen minutes on the phone to President Obama, the first conversation between Iranian and American leaders since the Shah’s ouster in 1979.

Netanyahu’s appeal to American sensibilities was his main reason for emphasizing the references to America as “The Great Satan” and calling for “Death to America.” What was left out is that when Zarif took his walk with Kerry for fifteen minutes in Europe in mid-January, Zarif was hauled before Parliament in Iran to explain why he was becoming intimate with America, “The Great Stan,” and then was interrogated to determine whether or not he was giving in to America’s great demands and endless sabotage of the talks. But citing such facts would detract from Netanhayu’s pitch that the leadership of Iran is a monolith. Further, it might bring attention to the fact that Zarif overtly eschews depicting America in that way.

As Ben Rhodes, Obama’s White House spokesman said, “There is a constituency that now has some degree of power in the Iranian system, that really wants to climb out of this isolation, and is willing to do things that they didn’t previously do…We don’t know how far this can go—both on the nuclear issue and on the broader relationship…They’ve got to decide whether we’re the Great Satan or whether we are their ticket into the community of nations.”

Netanyahu had two more cards to play before he got to the heart of the matter, the nuclear negotiations – ideology and the Islamic State card. He claimed that the Iranian regime was deeply rooted in militant Islam and hence inherently anti-American. Though Iranian ideology is indeed rooted deeply in Islamism, it is also blended in with nationalism, nativism and non-membership in any bloc but its own, especially the American-led Western bloc and the Eastern bloc. Moreover, in spite of George W. Bush’s insistence that Iran was part of the axis of evil, in 2002 74% of Iranians favoured resumption of relations with the U.S. However, ideology did dictate that punishment be meted out to the pollsters. Abbas Abdi and Hossein Ali Qazian were sentenced to jail for eight and nine years respectively for “publishing nonscientific research.” As George W. Bush in a rare case of insight and clarity said, “The people of Iran want the same freedoms, human rights, and opportunities as people around the world. Their government should listen to their hopes. In the last two Iranian presidential elections and in nearly a dozen parliamentary and local elections, the vast majority of the Iranian people voted for political and economic reform. Yet their voices are not being listened to by the unelected people who are the real rulers of Iran.”

Ideology does play a harsh repressive role, but there are other competing forces and voices within the Iranian spectrum that percolate to the top. Under President Mohammad Khatemi, errors by both sides sabotaged the efforts for “a dialogue of civilizations” The reality is, in fact, that America has won the battle for the hearts and minds of the Iranian people, not the dictatorial ayatollahs and zealots. The issue is how to take advantage of that fact.

What about Netanyahu’s use of the Islamic State card? “The battle between Iran and ISIS doesn’t turn Iran into a friend of America [condescending and insulting]. Iran and ISIS are competing for the crown of militant Islam. One calls itself the Islamic Republic. The other calls itself the Islamic State. Both want to impose a militant Islamic empire first on the region and then on the entire world. They just disagree among themselves who will be the ruler of that empire. In this deadly game of thrones, there’s no place for America or for Israel, no peace for Christians, Jews or Muslims who don’t share the Islamist medieval creed, no rights for women, no freedom for anyone. So when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.”

Impressive phrasing but false reasoning. If Americans and Iranians can forge an implicit cooperative arrangement to defeat the far more extremist Islamic State, that will have repercussions within Iran. Netanyahu’s reasoning is that, “Iran could soon be armed with intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs.” Intercontinental missiles, possibly. But under a negotiated regime, no nuclear bombs. And even without such a regime, Iran, as Mossad reported to the Israeli government, is a lot further from a nuclear bomb than some politicians would lead us to believe. Bibi may indeed be right that, “the greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons.” But the issue is whether coercive diplomacy or constructive engagement is the best route to prevent such an outcome. In the past, coercive diplomacy has had a record of failure. Can constructive engagement succeed?

Thus far I have analyzed the first half of Netanyahu’s address to the U.S. Congress in which Netanyahu set the stage for his critique of the negotiations and the impending agreement. Basically, he insisted that America and Israel were true partners through thick and thin. At the same time he insisted that Iran was an implacable foe of America as well as Israel whether so-called moderates were in power or whether extremists were. In the second half, Netanyahu addressed the negotiations directly.

Part IV The Nuclear Negotiations

Netanyahu began this direct attack on the negotiations with his most general and fundamental criticism. The greatest danger facing our world is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. For Netanyahu, that is exactly what could happen if the deal now being negotiated is accepted by Iran. He did not say “would” or suggest he had even more infallible power than a pope because he had the ability to predict the future. And he is correct. That “could” happen. But what is the likelihood of that result if there is a deal versus if there is no deal (or, as he finally suggested before he ended his speech, if there is a better deal than the one probably on the table). Instead of offering the pros and cons of either scenario or the third one he eventually brought up, Bibi slipped from “could” to “would”.

Netanyahu in his next assertion suggested that an Islamist state possessing nuclear arms would result from the negotiations. As he said, the deal will all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them. What is the basis of this prediction? Perhaps that almost certain outcome is built into the deal. Netanyahu argues that the deal contains two basic provisions. Netanyahu calls them “concessions” even though they are not concessions in terms of the 13 November 2013 Joint Plan of Action which envisioned Iran retaining a capacity to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The question is how many are sufficient for the peaceful use of nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu declared that the major concession would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure. What is a vast infrastructure? Vast is an equivocal adjective. By vast, does Bibi mean great in size, very large in numbers, covering a great expanse of territory or consisting in a great variety and type of centrifuges with different speeds and intensities. Or perhaps he means a combination of some or all of them. The last seems unlikely since there are only three types, basically two older models and one modern high speed type of gas centrifuge though there are new models under development such as Australia’s laser being put into a commercial test in the U.S. Similarly, since, excluding the Tehran research reactor, nuclear production is located at Fordow, Arak and Natanz so Netanyahu could not be referring to a vast expanse of territory. He must have been referring to the central issue, the number of centrifuges.

Netanyahu had been correct in claiming that not a single nuclear facility would be demolished. Thousands of centrifuges would continue to be used to enrich uranium. Thousands more would be temporarily disconnected, but not destroyed. But the question was whether those disconnected and those not yet commissioned would pose a danger. To assert this would was an explicit insult to the IAEA and the P5+1 negotiators and the technical staff.

From 2008 to 2013 when the Joint Plan of Action was signed, Iran roughly tripled the number of centrifuges it had, from 6,000 to 19,000, 9,000 of them operating. In speeches, the ayatollah leadership had articulated an ambition to have 50,000 in operation. Fifty thousand might be considered a vast number for Iran. Nineteen thousand was considered too large a number by P5+1 during the negotiations throughout 2014. The goal, seemingly achieved, was to push Iran back to 6,500 centrifuges. About half would be of the advanced high-speed variety. Was that number considered “vast”? Not according to the IAEA, the international agency monitoring the capacities of various countries to produce enriched uranium under the international non-proliferation treaty.

Netanyahu had now come to one central issue. He was clearly engaged in extraordinary hyperbole. Further, he was late in the game. All along, he had pushed for a zero sum game – NO centrifuges for Iran. In his Congress speech, he seemed to have modified his position to argue that Iran would still be left with too many under the agreement. Making this argument in a politically divisive climate and a context of hyperbolic statements and without any detailed arguments to back up his claim, an argument that might have been put forth as a reasonable position about a year ago, especially if backed up by data and analysis, now came across as desperation by an individual with an inflated vision of himself and backed into a corner.

Though he had been correct in asserting that simply disconnecting a few pipes, as he seemed to suggest, would be an inadequate step, it would be hard to find anyone who disagreed with such an assertion. The real question was whether the de-commissioned and unused centrifuges would be stored in a safe manner and at a location where they could not be easily put back into production.

Though he made his claim, it had virtually no credibility in terms of known facts, but he made the claim as if it were a fact. And he was applauded for it. Why? Because leading Republicans make the same wild assertions that Bibi just echoed. Then he stretched the truth even further and engaged in an outright lie when he claimed that Iran’s nuclear program would be left largely intact. The program’s goals of 50,000 centrifuges had been stopped in its tracks. The actual number of centrifuges that would be left in an operating capacity would have been rolled back to 6,500.

The conclusion of every single expert, including Israeli ones, was not the one Netanyahu had made that Iran’s break-out time would be very short – even shorter by Israeli calculations – but would be about a year, sufficient time to make enough highly enriched fuel of 90% for one nuclear device. Perhaps one year was too short to allow the reports of inspectors to filter through the capitals of various states and to put measures in place to counteract an Iranian effort. But attend to the issue. Don’t distort accepted conclusions to score invalid points.

Then Netanyahu made a concession. “True, certain restrictions would be imposed on Iran’s nuclear program and Iran’s adherence to those restrictions would be supervised by international inspectors.” But he made it just to undermine the argument. “But here’s the problem. You see, inspectors document violations; they don’t stop them. Inspectors knew when North Korea broke to the bomb, but that didn’t stop anything. North Korea turned off the cameras, kicked out the inspectors. Within a few years, it got the bomb.”

Unfortunately, any reasonable historical understanding of how North Korea acquired nuclear weapons is precisely the opposite of the one Netanyahu suggested. What was the history of North Korean‘s nuclear program? In 2003, NK opted out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and kicked out international inspectors. By 2006, NK announced that it had conducted its first underground explosion. In 2007, NK confirmed it had nuclear weapons. In 2009, Korea was confirmed as a member of the small club of nations in possession of nuclear weapons. The break-out period between removal of inspectors and acquisition of a nuclear device had been 3-4 years and was six years before NK became a nuclear menace. The separation enrichment process needed to carry out this program was carried out first in 2003 after the inspectors were kicked out and then again in 2005.

To get just a glimpse of what had happened it is necessary to go back another decade before the inspectors were forced to leave. In 1994, NK’s reprocessing had been frozen a year after NK threatened to withdraw from the NPT. Under threat of air strikes against its reactors, and in return for an American promise to supply light water reactors and the requisite fuel, NK stopped its enrichment program. The latter condition was never fulfilled – whether because of NK subversion of the arrangements or an American change of mind under George W. Bush. The result – a tough line, no inspectors and the development of nuclear weapons. It was not inspections conjoined with constructive engagement that led to NK acquiring nuclear weapons. Rather it was the absence of inspections and constructive engagement the produced that result.

When NK and the U.S. agreed to a framework agreement back in 1994 when it was estimated that NK already had a capacity to make one or two bombs per year, The Agreed Framework signed by the United States and North Korea signed on 21 October 1994 in Geneva agreed that:

  • North Korea would freeze its existing nuclear program and agree to enhanced international Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
  • Both sides would cooperate to replace the D.P.R.K.’s graphite-moderated reactors for related facilities with light-water (LWR) power plants.
  • Both countries would move toward full normalization of political and economic relations.
  • Both sides will work together for peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
  • And that both sides would work to strengthen the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The framework agreement and the inspections worked for nine years. When NK broke out of the agreement, the U.S. was busy with a war in Iraq based on a lie that Iraq had acquired weapons of mass destruction, but George W. Bush did not bomb NK’s facilities when he could and perhaps should have. Netanyahu’s argument was that Iran had followed the North Korean path. “Like North Korea, Iran, too, has defied international inspectors. It’s done that on at least three separate occasions – 2005, 2006, 2010. Like North Korea, Iran broke the locks, shut off the cameras.”  The lesson most observers would take is that coercive diplomacy does not work. Constructive diplomacy does. When it fails, the problem is not inspectors who are being cheated. The problem was that coercive diplomacy when needed was applied to the wrong country.

What about the second major “concession” which so bothered Netanyahu – the expiry of any deal in only ten years? Notice, Netanyahu was no longer insisting that the amount of low enriched uranium that Iran was allowed to retain was the problem. Nor was he insisting any longer that the issue was that the deal had a sunset clause. He now argued that the sunset clause came too fast. But he no sooner mentioned that issue than he totally misconstrued it. “What will happen when Iran’s nuclear capabilities are virtually unrestricted and all the sanctions will have been lifted, Iran would then be free to build a huge nuclear capacity that could result in a more dangerous Iran, a Middle east littered with many, many nuclear bombs?”

However, no one has ever suggested that Iran’s capabilities would be totally unrestricted. They would continue to be restricted by the NPT. Inspections would continue. What was suggested was that if Iran had kept its part of the deal, sanctions would not just be waived but cancelled altogether. Further, Iran would be allowed to acquire and install another 3,500 centrifuges. .Rather than an unrestricted regime following a restricted one, restrictions would continue, but the terms eased to those in conformity with the obligations and rights of any UN member operating according to the NPT.

Further, if Iran, like NK, decided to break the agreement after ten years, the situation would not be that, “When we get down that road, we’ll face a far dangerous Iran, a Middle East littered with nuclear bombs and a countdown to a potential nuclear nightmare.” Utter balderdash! Iran in 2015 is far less dangerous vis-a-vis nuclear weapons than in 2013. In 2025 it will be far less dangerous still. If Iran decides to follow the lead of NK and make a break towards a nuclear bomb, Iran would have a harder time then. Deterrence might then fail as it did for NK in 2003 when the U.S. lost its credibility in its commitment to restricting weapons of mass destruction because there were none in Iraq, and then proved incapable of using force against NK when it was fully justified to do so.

John Kerry, whom Netanyahu referred to as his friend – if Netanyahu is a friend of Kerry’s, Kerry needs no enemies – did NOT say that Iran could legitimately possess a massive nuclear capacity at the end of ten years. Iran would be enabled to acquire a larger capacity. Look at Netanyahu’s choice of adjectives: “vast”, “massive”. These are both distortions and fear mongering. They are not accurate attempts to engage in a difficult debate over options. Netanyahu’s “friend,” John Kerry, actually said that he questioned the judgment of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu over his stance on Iran’s nuclear program. The Israeli PM “may not be correct,”, Mr Kerry said after attending the latest Iran nuclear talks in Geneva after reacting to a speech in which Mr Netanyahu had said the U.S. and others were “accepting that Iran will gradually, within a few years, develop capabilities to produce material for many nuclear weapons”. Mr Kerry told senators President Obama had made it clear that the policy was not to let Iran get nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu does not always distort and exaggerate when he comes to the analysis of the negotiations. After all, Iran’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program is indeed not part of the deal, and Iran refuses to even put it on the negotiating table. Iran could indeed in ten years have the means to deliver that nuclear arsenal to reach the far corners of the earth, including to every part of the United States. But Iran’s missiles were never intended to be part of the deal as is clear in the JPA. The issue in dispute is not over missiles, but over the research to produce a warhead that could carry a nuclear weapon. Further, Iran is free to conduct research to improve the rate at which it can produce enriched uranium.

Part V: The Bottom Line

Why would anyone make this deal? Because, according to Bibi, they hope that Iran will change for the better in the coming years, or they believe that the alternative to this deal is worse. The latter is certainly true and so is the former for a minority in the Obama administration. Further, I agree with Netanyahu that Iran’s radical regime supporting terrorism, seeking regional power status and continuing its aspiration to have Israel disappear from the Middle East will continue. Whether it grows, decreases or remains the same, it is not the deal that will wet its appetite. Rather, the deal will enhance Iran’s opportunities when it neither has the expense nor the propensity to turn itself into a pariah with a nuclear energy program. The deal will diminish not enhance the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Part VI: A Realistic Alternative

Netanyahu then offered two alternatives. The first was a non-starter – linkage of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to restrictions on Iran’s support for terrorism and constraining Iran’s political ambitions, including becoming a regional power and aspiring to eliminate Israel from the Middle East. This had been his repeated position. The second alternative was one Alan Dershowitz latched onto as the core issue in the deal – extending the sunset clause. I suspect this would be a deal breaker, but I am not sure. In any case, making it a deal breaker depends on accepting Netanyahu’s assessment of the results of not doing so – a runaway Iran seeking to acquire nuclear weapons after the ten years, a proposition based on false logic and little evidence. Put forth in a reasonable way, backed up with facts and analyses and argued one year earlier, then this would have been a reasonable position to take. As a last minute switch, it could only be properly viewed as a parlour trick as much as Dershowitz was entranced by it. But then Dershowitz is a litigation lawyer with an expertise in parlour tricks before a jury.

While the lack of a deal might lead to a Middle East nuclear arms race, the presence of a deal will not propel a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The absence of one has a high probability of doing just that. Insisting on depriving Iran of even a peaceful use of a nuclear program is far more likely to set off such a race than the arriving at a restrictive agreement.

Without thousands of centrifuges, tons of enriched uranium or heavy water facilities, Iran can’t make nuclear weapons. True. But Iran already has them. The issue is not total deprivation but managed constraint. False aspirations, not an agreement, will produce a far worse scenario. Unfortunately, the audience applauded Netanyahu’s absurd and illogical claim. But that merely set the stage for the final session of open cheerleading until each sentence uttered elicited standing applause until the members of Congress had been subjected to the enormous strain of standing up and sitting down while they clapped for 27 times in total.

Robert Frost was cited as offering the road less traveled by to applause, even though constructive diplomacy is the road less traveled by, one which tends to be more successful. Elie Wiesel sitting beside Netanyahu’s wife for a photo-op was pointed to as standing for “Never Again” when “Never Again” had nothing to do with the nuclear negotiation. Nevertheless, there was another standing ovation. When Netanyahu played the Zionist as well as Holocaust card, he put forth the oft repeated but false thesis of a revived national state that would and could guarantee a refuge for Jews under threat, ignoring totally that Jews in Israel were most under threat. Again applause. For Netanyahu and his ilk, Israel is not the result of justified self-determination of a people in its historic homeland, but was created in the aftermath of a holocaust and world guilt when there is absolutely no historical evidence that the Holocaust had anything to do with the world community recognizing Jewish collective rights.

Each card played – the Frost one of choices, the anti-appeasement card, the Holocaust and the Zionist cards – each elicited after each part was uttered standing room applause. After those cards were dropped on the platform, Netanyahu returned to the American one identifying America and Israel. This elicited the most applause, even more than the Biblical card when Netanyahu pointed to a portrait of Moses leading his people to the Promised Land.

Netanyahu came to Washington to lead a cheer-leading session, not to weigh evidence and argue logically with empirical backing to critique the negotiations. So he could ignore the position Mohammad Javad Zarif took in the May/June issue of Foreign Affairs, namely that, “Iran has no interest in nuclear weapons and is convinced that such weapons would not enhance its security. Iran does not have the means to engage in nuclear deterrence—directly or through proxies—against its adversaries. Furthermore, the Iranian government believes that even a perception that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons is detrimental to the country’s security and to its regional role, since attempts by Iran to gain strategic superiority in the Persian Gulf would inevitably provoke responses that would diminish Iran’s conventional military advantage.”

It is too bad. An opportunity to enhance a rational debate on a most fundamental issue was squandered.

The Threat of a Non-Military Nuclear Iran

The Threat of a Non-Military Nuclear Iran


Howard Adelman

In anticipation of and preparation for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the joint special session of Congress, I want to make it clear that, like Bibi, I also regard Iran after a deal is signed as more dangerous than before, but for radically different reasons than he does or, for that matter, than the opinions of two columnists, David Brooks of The New York Times or Caroline Glick of The Jerusalem Post, whose columns I have attached to this blog for comparison.

Iran without nuclear weapons may be far more dangerous than an Iran attempting to produce nuclear weapons. The following are the reasons:

  1. Enormous sums can be saved by Iran from what is ultimately a useless program with only symbolic value since nuclear arms are only useful if they are never used.
  2. Those sums saved can be used to invest even more funds in conventional arms.
  3. Iran already has a formidable navy currently on sea trials and showing the flag in Asia.
  4. Iran has a formidable missile arsenal and recently tested a new missile in a naval drill.
  5. To a considerable extent, Iran has become self-sufficient in its military needs, producing mortars, tanks, torpedoes, jet fighters and light submarines.
  6. In making a deal with the P5+1, Iran drove a huge wedge between Israel and the U.S.
  7. The extremists in Iran, who alienate so many countries from Iran, will have suffered an enormous strategic defeat which will in turn strengthen the current Iranian regime both domestically and internationally.
  8. In being allowed to keep one-third of its centrifuges and some of its uranium in a significantly reduced purity, Saudi Arabia has been moved to distrust its reliance upon America and to open up the possibility of a rapprochement with Iran.
  9. Benjamin Netanyahu’s strident opposition to the nuclear negotiations of the P5+1 has isolated Israel in a central plank of its foreign policy from it natural allies in an absolutely unprecedented way, not only from Europe but from the United States.
  10. The political elite in Israel is more divided than ever before on foreign policy, not simply between the left and the right, between Herzog/Livni versus the Likud and its partners, but between the intelligence services – Mossad, the military and Shin Bet – and the government also in an absolutely unprecedented situation.
  11. A former head of Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, Meir Dagan, who stepped down as chief even before the notorious Mossad October 2012 memo showing how the intelligence services did not believe that Iran was on the threshold of becoming a nuclear power, has been accusing the prime minister of endangering the country’s security with his stance on the Iranian nuclear programme.
  12. In the one area in which left and right are united, opposition to even a de-nuclearized Iran that has not been defanged from its support of terrorism and its rise as a regional power, Netanyahu’s main rival for the premiership has shot himself in the foot, for in supporting Netanyahu on this quest, though not Bibi’s appeal to a divided America and Netanyahu’s willingness to shimmy up to the Republicans, he is as divided from the Obama policy as Netanyahu has been, but then comes across as weak-kneed and hypocritical, unwilling to stand up for what he truly believes. (See Isaac Herzog’s recent Op-Ed in the New York Times, “Dividing the U.S. on Israel”.)
  13. Issac Herzog’s insistence on linking the ogre of a nuclear Iran with Iran as an existential threat to Israel, fails to recognize how a de-nuclearized Iran is an even greater threat to Israel in good part because of how both he and Netanyahu, in very different ways, have mishandled the issue; with the political leadership in Israel and the U.S. both divided, and only united in being misguided, Iran is enormously strengthened.
  14. Turkey is falling apart politically, Syria has deconstructed and Iraq may be recovering, but it has a very long and very difficult road ahead, so Iran is left without any formidable rivals.
  15. In the meanwhile, Israeli voters, in the lead up to the March election, are distracted from the core issues of the economy, social justice, the Palestinians and the real threat of a denuclearized but more powerful enemy, Iran, so that the alleged “mudslinging” has damaged the opposition even more than Netanyahu.

Let me clarify this argument by taking on two very respected columnists clearly opposed to my position though also critical of Netanyahu, but each of them for very different reasons. Let me take up the points made by David Brooks of The New York Times first.

    1. Iran has been driven by ideology, not pragmatism.
    2. I agree, but ideology and pragmatism need not be polar opposites; the current regime is driven by a more pragmatic ideology than the previous one.
    3. Current American foreign policy is governed by the principle that prudent statecraft can trump megalomania.
    4. Though also a gamble and a risk, I believe that current American foreign policy is based on the principle that prudent statecraft is a better option than either war or economic containment through sanctions, for however powerful the latter has been in bringing Iran to the negotiating table, those sanctions would not have prevented Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; a de-nuclearized more pragmatic megalomaniacal-led enemy is much to be preferred to an imprudent  ideologically driven nuclear-armed megalomaniacal-led Iran.
    5. The Obama regime is betting that Iran can evolve into a fundamentally normal regime which prioritizes economics over ideology and religion.
    6. Some members of the Obama administration, though significant but still a minority, believe that this is a likely outcome; most members are more skeptical, but still believe a) the risk is worth taking, and b) the downside is better than any of the alternatives.
    7. The Iran nuclear negotiations are not just about centrifuges; they are about the future of the Middle East.
    8. The Iran nuclear negotiations are and have been since the Joint Plan of Action was signed in November 2013, just about centrifuges (and enriched uranium and the ability to produce plutonium) and are not about the future of the Middle East; this may be a mistake or clever diplomacy, but whichever, it is best not to mischaracterize the negotiations.
    9. Obama seeks to wean Iran away from the radicalism of the revolution and bind it into the international economic and diplomatic system.
    10. Correct.
    11. By reaching an agreement on nukes and lifting the sanctions, Iran would re-emerge as America’s natural partner in the region.
    12. By reaching an agreement on nukes and lifting the sanctions, Iran could re-emerge as one of America’s partners in the region. (There is no such entity as a “natural” partner, especially in the Middle East, and that includes Israel, a point which Israelis do well not to forget.)
    13. Once tamed, Iran would abandon its support for terrorists and terrorist regimes.
    14. A faint hope, but a possibility.
    15. Obama has made a series of stunning sacrifices in order to get a nuclear agreement with Iran.
    16. Obama has made a number of concessions (hardly accurately depicted as sacrifices), as promised in the JPA, in return for Iran giving up its nuclear weapons program.
    17. In 2012, the president vowed that he would not permit Iran to maintain a nuclear program.
    18. In his debate with Mitt Romney, Obama said that, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon.” Not program, weapon. Obama has so often been misquoted on this promise that in a Google search, the misinterpretation and misquote pops up more frequently than the actual words, but noticeably without quotation marks.
    19. If reports of the proposed nuclear deal with Iran are correct, Obama has abandoned this non-nuclear Iran policy.
    20. Since it never was his policy to de-nuclearize Iran altogether, it is not one he could have abandoned. Further, the negotiations and the deal made did not constitute an abandoning of a denuclearized Iran, even if one makes the mistake of assuming there was one; for the JPA did that.
    21. The deal will not make any restrictions on Iran’s missile program.
    22. It was not intended to accomplish this – see the JPA. This is the real gamble in the JPA.
  1. Monitoring and enforcement will rely on an inspection regime that has been good, but leaky.
  2. The inspection regime was totally inadequate prior to the JPA. Since then, except for any inspection of Iran’s missile program at Parchin, it has been revolutionized and greatly improved, though not yet perfect.
  3. The United States has offended its erstwhile allies, like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
  4. True.
  5. Iran’s leaders really believe what they say, that they are as apocalyptically motivated, paranoid and dogmatically anti-American as their pronouncements suggest they are, and, hence, will be as destabilizing and hegemonically inclined as all its recent actions suggest.
  6. I would bet on it. That is precisely why a de-nuclearized weapons regime is preferable to one with nuclear weapons or the potential to produce nuclear weapons within months.
  7. Do we really want a nuclear-capable Iran in the midst of all that?
  8. Wrong question. Do we really want a nuclear-weapons capable Iran in the midst of all that?

In the case of Caroline Glick, rants are usually not worthy of comment, but since she makes David Brooks look like the epitome of accuracy and moderation, I will make only a few points.

  1. Glick portrays Netanyahu as having behaved like a pragmatist in many of his policies but she evaluates this as a betrayal of the principles of a vision of a Greater Israel, whereas I interpret his latest moves as intended to secure his right wing base in the face of rivals and as a reversion to his strong right wing propensities and evaluate the turn as a betrayal of his pragmatic side.
  2. Glick portrays Obama as having “delegitimized Israel’s very existence” whereas I view Obama as ardently opposed to a vision of a Greater Israel but very determined to protect and secure Israel’s actual existence and security.
  3. Glick accuses Obama of embracing the jihadist lie that Israel’s existence is the product of post-Holocaust European guilt, but, unfortunately, jihadists have no monopoly on this false portrayal. Rather it is the dominant, though incorrect view of mainstream historians and Israeli and Western education.
  4. The thesis is not false because Israel is a product of 4,000 years of Jewish history, a factor that played a part in the resurrection of modern Israel, but, as I have argued many times before, there is NO evidence that countries that supported the re-establishment of the Israeli state did so because of any guilt over the Holocaust, which was barely discussed in the immediate period after WWII in the context of Israel, but were in good part motivated by the need to resettle the 200,000 remnant of Jewish refugees that no country wanted.
  5. Senior Obama administration officials have never threatened that Israel will become illegitimate if it refuses to surrender to Palestinian demands, but have insisted that hostility to Israel, including the extreme form that seeks to delegitimize Israel, will increase unless Israel accommodates (not surrender s to) Palestinian legitimate claims. I am even more skeptical, because I think the hostile forces will persist and even grow even if Israel makes a deal based on a two-state solution with the Palestinians. Accommodation of the Palestinians should be supported because it is both just and prudent even if it does not ward off increasing hostility towards Israel.
  6.  Obama did not try to coerce Israel into making a ceasefire agreement with Hamas (see my series of blogs on the Gaza War), never demanded the free flow of goods into Gaza, and did not cut off traffic to Ben Gurion Airport “under specious and grossly prejudicial terms in an open act of economic warfare against Israel;” the misguided action was taken for only a few days independently by the Federal Aviation Board for security reasons.
  7. Obama did not launch an arms embargo against Israel during the Gaza War. Almost all the citations supporting such as thesis are Glick’s own previous columns. Obama did, at the end of the war, make clear to Israel that the U.S. could review its arms exports to Israel and that America’s support was not unconditional irrespective of how Israel behaved.
  8. Obama has not repeatedly tried to slash funding for Israel’s Iron Dome but on 4 August 2014 signed an emergency aid bill providing $225 million in emergency aid to Israel for its Iron Dome system.
  9. Glick celebrates a reborn Netanyahu with his obstinate, unbending, and unaccommodating stance against a nuclear deal with Iran while I deplore it.
  10. Netanyahu has never wavered from his position that he would never accept an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. But neither has Obama. To repeat, the issue is whether opposition to Iran’s nuclear weapons program should be linked with Iran’s missile program, its support for terrorism, its status as a rising regional power and its objective of exterminating Israel.

I think I have said enough. Since one cannot argue with pundits who pontificate but ignore any evidence that might falsify their assertions, and write in a mode that marries heroism with victimhood. I have had to close my eyes and ears to her repetitive columns. One reads Glick only to long for the erroneous but at least cool and rational Brooks.


  1. David Brooks of The New York Times

Converting the Ayatollahs

February 27, 2015

Over the past centuries, Western diplomats have continually projected pragmatism onto their ideological opponents. They have often assumed that our enemies are driven by the same sort of national interest calculations that motivate most regimes. They have assumed that economic interests would trump ideology and religion — that prudent calculation and statecraft would trump megalomania.

They assumed that the world leaders before 1914 would not be stupid enough to allow nationalist passion to plunge them into a World War; that Hitler would not be crazy enough to start a second one; that Islamic radicals could not really want to send their region back into the 12th century; that Sunnis and Shiites would never let their sectarian feud turn into a cataclysmic confrontation in places like Iraq.

The Obama administration is making a similar projection today. It is betting that Iran can turn into a fundamentally normal regime, which can be counted upon to put G.D.P. over ideology and religion and do the pragmatic thing.

The Iran nuclear negotiations are not just about centrifuges; they are about the future of the Middle East. Through a series of statements over the last few years, President Obama has made it reasonably clear how he envisions that future.

He seeks to wean Iran away from the radicalism of the revolution and bind it into the international economic and diplomatic system. By reaching an agreement on nukes and lifting the sanctions, Iran would re-emerge as America’s natural partner in the region. It has an educated middle class that is interested in prosperity and is not terribly anti-American. Global integration would strengthen Iranian moderates and reinforce democratic tendencies.

Once enmeshed in the global system, Iran would work to tame Hezbollah and Hamas and would cooperate to find solutions in Gaza, Iraq and Syria. There would be a more stable balance of power between the major powers. In exchange for good global citizenship, Iran would be richer and more influential.

To pursue this détente, Obama has to have a nuclear agreement. He has made a series of stunning sacrifices in order to get it. In 2012, the president vowed that he would not permit Iran to maintain a nuclear program. Six United Nations Security Council resolutions buttressed that principle. But, if reports of the proposed deal are correct, Obama has abandoned this policy.

Under the reported framework, Iran would have thousands of centrifuges. All restrictions on its nuclear program would be temporary and would be phased out over a decade or so. According to some reports, there will be no limits on Iran’s ballistic missiles, no resolution of Iran’s weaponizing activities. Monitoring and enforcement would rely on an inspection regime that has been good, but leaky.

Meanwhile, the United States has offended its erstwhile allies, like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, without being sure that Iran is really willing to supplement them. There is a chance that Iran’s regional rivals would feel the need to have their own nuclear programs and we would descend into a spiral of proliferation.

All of this might be defensible if Iran is really willing to switch teams, if religion and ideology played no role in the regime’s thinking. But it could be that Iran has been willing to be an international pariah for the past generation for a reason. It could be that Iran finances terrorist groups and destabilizes regimes like Yemen’s and Morocco’s for a reason. It could be that Iran’s leaders really believe what they say. It could be that Iranian leaders are as apocalyptically motivated, paranoid and dogmatically anti-American as their pronouncements suggest they are. It could be that Iran will be as destabilizing and hegemonically inclined as all its recent actions suggest. Iran may be especially radical if the whole region gets further inflamed by Sunni-Shia rivalry or descends into greater and greater Islamic State-style fanaticism.

Do we really want a nuclear-capable Iran in the midst of all that?

If the Iranian leaders believe what they say, then United States policy should be exactly the opposite of the one now being pursued. Instead of embracing and enriching Iran, sanctions should be toughened to further isolate and weaken it. Instead of accepting a nuclear capacity, eliminating that capacity should be restored as the centerpiece of American policy. Instead of a condominium with Iran that offends traditional allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, the U.S. should build a regional strategy around strengthening relations with those historic pillars.

It’s hard to know what’s going on in the souls of Iran’s leadership class, but a giant bet is being placed on one interpretation. March could be a ruinous month for the Middle East. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel could weaken U.S.-Israeli relations, especially on the Democratic left. The world might accept an Iranian nuclear capacity. Efforts designed to palliate a rogue regime may end up enriching and emboldening it.

  1. Caroline Glick of The Jerusalem Post

In Israel’s hour of need Friday, February 27, 2015 It is hard to get your arms around the stubborn determination of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today. For most of the nine years he has served as Israel’s leader, first from 1996 to 1999 and now since 2009, Netanyahu shied away from confrontations or buckled under pressure. He signed deals with the Palestinians he knew the Palestinians would never uphold in the hopes of winning the support of hostile US administrations and a fair shake from the pathologically hateful Israeli media. In recent years he released terrorist murderers from prison. He abrogated Jewish property rights in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria. He agreed to support the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. He agreed to keep giving the Palestinians of Gaza free electricity while they waged war against Israel. He did all of these things in a bid to accommodate US President Barack Obama and win over the media, while keeping the leftist parties in his coalitions happy. For his part, for the past six years Obama has undermined Israel’s national security. He has publicly humiliated Netanyahu repeatedly. He has delegitimized Israel’s very existence, embracing the jihadist lie that Israel’s existence is the product of post-Holocaust European guilt rather than 4,000 years of Jewish history. He and his representatives have given a backwind to the forces that seek to wage economic warfare against Israel, repeatedly indicating that the application of economic sanctions against Israel – illegal under the World Trade Organization treaties – are a natural response to Israel’s unwillingness to bow to every Palestinian demand. The same goes for the movement to deny the legitimacy of Israel’s very existence. Senior administration officials have threatened that Israel will become illegitimate if it refuses to surrender to Palestinian demands. Last summer, Obama openly colluded with Hamas’s terrorist war against Israel. He tried to coerce Israel into accepting ceasefire terms that would have amounted to an unconditional surrender to Hamas’s demands for open borders and the free flow of funds to the terrorist group. He enacted a partial arms embargo on Israel in the midst of war. He cut off air traffic to Ben-Gurion International Airport under specious and grossly prejudicial terms in an open act of economic warfare against Israel. And yet, despite Obama’s scandalous treatment of Israel, Netanyahu has continued to paper over differences in public and thank Obama for the little his has done on Israel’s behalf. He always makes a point of thanking Obama for agreeing to Congress’s demand to continue funding the Iron Dome missile defense system (although Obama has sought repeatedly to slash funding for the project). Obama’s policies that are hostile to Israel are not limited to his unconditional support for the Palestinians in their campaign against Israel. Obama shocked the entire Israeli defense community when he supported the overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, despite Mubarak’s dependability as a US ally in the war on Islamist terrorism, and as the guardian of both Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and the safety and freedom of maritime traffic in the Suez Canal. Obama supported Mubarak’s overthrow despite the fact that the only political force in Egypt capable of replacing him was the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks the destruction of Israel and is the ideological home and spawning ground of jihadist terrorist groups, including al-Qaida and Hamas. Obama then supported the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime even as then-president Mohamed Morsi took concrete steps to transform Egypt into an Islamist, jihadist state and end Egypt’s peace with Israel. Israelis were united in our opposition to Obama’s behavior. But Netanyahu said nothing publicly in criticism of Obama’s destructive, dangerous policy. He held his tongue in the hopes of winning Obama over through quiet diplomacy. He held his tongue, because he believed that the damage Obama was causing Israel was not irreversible in most cases. And it was better to maintain the guise of good relations, in the hopes of actually achieving them, than to expose the fractures in US-Israel ties caused by Obama’s enormous hostility toward Israel and by his strategic myopia that endangered both Israel and the US’s other regional allies. And yet, today Netanyahu, the serial accommodator, is putting everything on the line. He will not accommodate. He will not be bullied. He will not be threatened, even as all the powers that have grown used to bringing him to his knees – the Obama administration, the American Jewish Left, the Israeli media, and the Labor party grow ever more shrill and threatening in their attacks against him. As he has made clear in daily statements, Netanyahu is convinced that we have reached a juncture in our relations with the Obama administration where accommodation is no longer possible. Obama’s one policy that Netanyahu has never acquiesced to either publicly or privately is his policy of accommodating Iran. Since Obama’s earliest days in office, Netanyahu has warned openly and behind closed doors that Obama’s plan to forge a nuclear deal with Iran is dangerous. And as the years have passed, and the lengths Obama is willing to go to appease Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been left their marks on the region, Netanyahu’s warnings have grown stronger and more urgent. Netanyahu has been clear since his first tenure in office in the 1990s, that Iran’s nuclear program – as well as its ballistic missile program – constitutes a threat to Israel’s very existence. He has never wavered from his position that Israel cannot accept an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. Until Obama entered office, and to an ever escalating degree until his reelection in 2012, preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons has been such an obvious imperative among both Israelis and Americans that Netanyahu’s forthright rejection of any nuclear deal in which Iran would be permitted to maintain the components of its nuclear program was uncontroversial. In some Israeli circles, his trenchant opposition to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear capabilities was the object of derision, with critics insisting that he was standing strong on something uncontroversial while buckling on issues like negotiations with the Palestinians, where he should have stood strong. But now we are seeing that far from being an opportunist, Netanyahu is a leader of historical dimensions. For the past two years, in the interest of reaching a deal, Obama has enabled Iran to take over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. For the first time since 1974, due to Obama’s policies, the Golan Heights is an active front in the war against Israel, with Iranian military personnel commanding Syrian and Hezbollah forces along the border. Iran’s single-minded dedication to its goal of becoming a regional hegemon and its commitment to its ultimate goal of destroying the US is being enabled by Obama’s policies of accommodation. An Iran in possession of a nuclear arsenal is an Iran that can not only destroy Israel with just one or two warheads. It can make it impossible for Israel to respond to conventional aggression carried out by terrorist forces and others operating under an Iranian nuclear umbrella. Whereas Israel can survive Obama on the Palestinian front by stalling, waiting him out and placating him where possible, and can even survive his support for Hamas by making common cause with the Egyptian military and the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, the damage Obama’s intended deal with Iran will cause Israel will be irreversible. The moment that Obama grants Iran a path to a nuclear arsenal – and the terms of the agreement that Obama has offered Iran grant Iran an unimpeded path to nuclear power – a future US administration will be hard-pressed to put the genie back in the bottle. For his efforts to prevent irreparable harm to Israel Netanyahu is being subjected to the most brutal and vicious attacks any Israeli leader has ever been subjected to by an American administration and its political allies. They are being assisted in their efforts by a shameless Israeli opposition that is willing to endanger the future of the country in order to seize political power. Every day brings another serving of abuse. Wednesday National Security Adviser Susan Rice accused Netanyahu of destroying US relations with Israel. Secretary of State John Kerry effectively called him a serial alarmist, liar, and warmonger. For its part, the Congressional Black Caucus reportedly intends to sabotage Netanyahu’s address before the joint houses of Congress by walking out in the middle, thus symbolically accusing of racism the leader of the Middle East’s only liberal democracy, and the leader of the most persecuted people in human history. Radical leftist representatives who happen to be Jewish, like Jan Schakowsky of suburban Chicago and Steve Cohen of Memphis, are joining Netanyahu’s boycotters in order to give the patina of Jewish legitimacy to an administration whose central foreign policy threatens the viability of the Jewish state. As for Netanyahu’s domestic opponents, their behavior is simply inexcusable. In Israel’s hour of peril, just weeks before Obama intends to conclude his nuclear deal with the mullahs that will endanger Israel’s existence, Labor leader Yitzhak Herzog insists that his primary duty is to defeat Netanyahu. And as far as Iran is concerned, he acts as a free loader ad a spoiler. Either he believes that Netanyahu will succeed in his mission to derail the deal with or without his support, or he doesn’t care. But Herzog’s rejection of Netanyahu’s entreaties that he join him in Washington next week, and his persistent attacks on Netanyahu for refusing accommodate that which cannot be accommodated shows that he is both an opportunist and utterly unworthy of a leadership role in this country. Netanyahu is not coming to Washington next Tuesday to warn Congress against Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, because he seeks a fight with Obama. Netanyahu has devoted the last six years to avoiding a fight with Obama, often at great cost to Israel’s national security and to his own political position. Netanyahu is coming to Washington next week because Obama has left him no choice. And all decent people of good will should support him, and those who do not, and those who are silent, should be called out for their treachery and cowardice.