Poll shows partisan divide on Middle East conflict

A large majority of President Obama’s supporters favor increasing US pressure on Israel, according to a new poll released today that shows a deep partisan divide on the issue and an increased willingness on the part of Democrats to support actions that have long been considered taboo in mainstream American politics.

According to the Zogby International survey, 71 percent of Obama backers believe that the United States should “get tough with Israel” to stop the expansion of settlements, compared to just 26 percent of those who supported Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Also, 80 percent of likely Obama voters were in total agreement with the phrase, “It’s time for the United States to get tough with Israel,” while just 16 percent of McCain supporters agreed.

The poll, commissioned by the Doha Debates, a Qatar-based foundation, also found that half of all Obama supporters believe US support for Israel weakens US security, while 67 percent of Obama voters supported talks with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, a percentage similar to the proportion of Israelis who support such talks. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — These polls have several implications but the one that the media will give least attention to (while it also gives little attention to the poll itself) is that there is a huge gap between mainstream opinion and opinion in the so-called mainstream media when it comes to Israel.

Israel’s secret war with Iran

Those who leaf through the secret files of any intelligence service know what grave mistakes bad intelligence can lead to. But they also know that sometimes even excellent intelligence doesn’t change a thing.

The Israeli intelligence community is now learning this lesson the hard way. It has penetrated enemies like Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Hezbollah and Hamas. Yet despite former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s willingness to authorize highly dangerous operations based on this intelligence, and despite the unquestionable success of the operations themselves, the overall security picture remains as grim as ever. [continued…]

Iran and Israel

A story is doing the rounds in Washington about an Arab ambassador whose view of Barack Obama’s overtures to Iran is: “We don’t mind you seeking engagement, but please, no marriage!”

It’s sometimes hard to know if the Arabs or Israelis are more alarmed — or alarmist — about Iran’s nuclear program and regional ambitions.

A comment a few months back from an Iranian official to the effect that the small desert kingdom of Bahrain was historically a province of Iran sent fears of exportable Shia revolution into overdrive in Sunni Arab capitals. Iran apologized, but the damage was done. [continued…]

Pakistan is rapidly adding nuclear arms, U.S. says

Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony. Sitting beside Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

“Yes,” he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognizant of Pakistan’s sensitivity to any discussion about the country’s nuclear strategy or security.

Inside the Obama administration, some officials say, Pakistan’s drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — As Benjamin Netanyahu shared his apocalyptic fears with President Obama today, I can’t help wondering whether Obama at any point attempted to contrast the relative threat from Pakistan’s real nuclear weapons versus that posed by Iran’s imaginary weapons.

Pakistan on the brink

To get to President Asif Ali Zardari’s presidential palace in the heart of Islamabad for dinner is like running an obstacle course. Pakistan’s once sleepy capital, full of restaurant-going bureaucrats and diplomats, is now littered with concrete barriers, blast walls, checkpoints, armed police, and soldiers; as a result of recent suicide bombings the city now resembles Baghdad or Kabul. At the first checkpoint, two miles from the palace, they have my name and my car’s license number. There are seven more checkpoints to negotiate along the way.

Apart from traveling to the airport by helicopter to take trips abroad, the President stays inside the palace; he fears threats to his life by the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda, who in December 2007 killed his wife, the charismatic Benazir Bhutto, then perhaps the country’s only genuine national leader. Zardari’s isolation has only added to his growing unpopularity, his indecisiveness, and the public feeling that he is out of touch. Even as most Pakistanis have concluded that the Taliban now pose the greatest threat to the Pakistani state since its cre- ation, the president, the prime minister, and the army chief have, until recently, been in a state of denial of reality.

“We are not a failed state yet but we may become one in ten years if we don’t receive international support to combat the Taliban threat,” Zardari indignantly says, pointing out that in contrast to the more than $11 billion former president Pervez Musharraf received from the US in the years after the September 11 attacks, his own administration has received only between “$10 and $15 million,” despite all the new American promises of aid. He objects to the charge that his government has no plan to counter the Taliban-led insurgency that since the middle of April has spread to within sixty miles of the capital. “We have many plans including dealing with the 18,000 madrasas”—i.e., the Muslim religious schools—”that are brainwashing our youth, but we have no money to arm the police or fund development, give jobs or revive the economy. What are we supposed to do?” Zardari’s complaints are true, but he does acknowledge that additional foreign money would have to be linked to a plan of action, which does not exist. [continued…]

Outnumbered U.S. troops defend Afghan frontier

Lieutenant Joshua Rodriguez, a U.S. platoon commander guarding the Afghan-Pakistan frontier, reckons he is lucky to be alive.

Two weeks after he set up an outpost with 20 Afghan soldiers and seven Americans overlooking a key Taliban smuggling route, some 80 insurgents attacked them hard at daybreak.

“We were very close, very close,” he said, days after the fight, holding his fingers a fraction of an inch apart.

As the Taliban threatened to overrun the base, his sniper put down his long-range rifle and grabbed a shotgun. Then he dropped the shotgun and picked up hand grenades. The enemy had come within throwing distance of the outpost’s razor wire.

“They were trying to get in from everywhere. It was a miracle,” Rodriguez said.

Yet although they managed to fend off the fighters and prevent the outpost from being overrun that day, they abandoned it a few days later, leaving the cross-border smuggling route through the vast Suna Valley unguarded. [continued…]

Taliban cools off in city hot spots

Taliban fighters seeking money, rest and refuge from U.S. missile strikes are turning up in increasing numbers in Pakistan’s largest city and economic hub, Karachi, according to militants, police officials and an intelligence memo.

The Taliban presence in this southern port city, hundreds of miles away from the Islamist organization’s strongholds in the northwest, shows how quickly its influence is spreading throughout the nuclear-armed nation.

Karachi is especially important because it is the main entryway for supplies headed to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, as well as the most critical city to Pakistani commerce. Few think the Taliban could actually take over this diverse metropolis of more than 12 million, but there is fear that it could destabilize it through violence and rock the already shaky national economy. [continued…]

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