Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Eyeing the Iranian Threat in Iraq

(Another map of Iraq. This one shows oil pipelines, in green.)

Last Sunday (November 26, 2006), U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) called on America to withdraw from Iraq on the Washington Post editorial page. Responding to calls by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), among others, to increase troop levels in another bid to defeat the insurgency, Hagel writes that
The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose.
I would substitute "failed states" for "failing nations" and replace "Militaries are" with "The U.S. military is." But I am afraid that Hagel is right. There are currently more than 140,000 American armed forces personnel in Iraq, exposed to constant attack and seemingly impotent in the face of indiscriminate assaults by militias on Iraqi civilians. It is time to go. The question is how and where. Here, I think Hagel and other legislators who support a pullout are guilty of a certain myopia that could cost the U.S. dearly in the future. I was amazed, for example, by the following description:
It may take many years before there is a cohesive political center in Iraq. America's options on this point have always been limited. There will be a new center of gravity in the Middle East that will include Iraq. That process began over the past few days with the Syrians and Iraqis restoring diplomatic relations after 20 years of having no formal communication.

What does this tell us? It tells us that regional powers will fill regional vacuums, and they will move to work in their own self-interest -- without the United States. This is the most encouraging set of actions for the Middle East in years.
Encouraging? Allow me to remove the rose-tinted glasses. Yes, regional powers will fill regional vacuums, which is precisely why America should be very scared. It astounds me that in Hagel's op-ed there is not a single reference to Iran - the regional power that has the most to gain from an American withdrawal, and the state with the grandest ambitions in the Gulf.

U.S. President Bush as well as Senator McCain continue to talk a great deal about al-Qaeda. One of the arguments against a withdrawal is that the resulting vacuum will provide a secure base for the terrorist group. These are legitimate concerns, but al-Qaeda is not a state, and its power pales in comparison to that of Iran. I suspect that the emphasis on al-Qaeda is designed mainly to appeal to American voters and, at the same time, to al-Maliki's government in Iraq, which sees the Sunni militias and al-Qaeda as its primary enemy.

Iran is already active in Iraq. For now, however, the Iranians are waiting for the Iraqi Shi'a to consolidate their hold on power. National Security Council Adviser Stephen Hadley's confidential memo (from November 8), printed in the New York Times today, acknowledges that Maliki's government, despite assurances or hopes to the contrary by the prime minister, is pursuing Shi'a hegemony rather than a partnership among Sunni, Shi'a, and Kurds:
Despite Maliki’s reassuring words, repeated reports from our commanders on the ground contributed to our concerns about Maliki’s government. Reports of nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime minister’s office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq’s most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries — when combined with the escalation of Jaish al-Mahdi’s (JAM) [the Arabic name for the Mahdi Army] killings — all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad.
Shi'a rule means Iranian influence, and let there be no doubt about it at that Iran sees Shi'a across the region as stepping stones to regional superpower status. It doesn't matter that not all the Iraqi Shi'a factions are actually pro-Iranian. If the Americans leave, Iran will either back its favorites or force other factions to toe its line. This scenario would present a very serious threat to vital American interests in the Gulf. Iraq's most productive oil fields are in areas of the country that are indisputably Shi'a. Iran could easily support Hizbullah-type forces there or pressure the Iraqi central government directly to put the squeeze on oil exports, should the need to confront the U.S. arise.

Furthermore, if Iraq becomes an Iranian satellite, U.S. allies such as Bahrain, which actually has an increasingly militant Shi'a majority (who, though in the opposition, scored a big victory in recent parliamentary elections), will be threatened. There is no doubt that the Sunni gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, would do everything they can to undermine the extension of Iran's influence to their doorsteps - first by sponsoring Sunni fundamentalist proxies (who would have no qualms about attacking America), and eventually by going nuclear.

Unfortunately, it will not be easy to work against these Iranian efforts. Hopefully Bush has been talking seriously to the Saudis about some of these issues. Today, it is clear that Iran has captured the Arab street. Playing to the Arab masses with antisemitism and by fighting Israel through its proxies, the Iranian regime has earned the affection of millions of Sunni. Al-Qaeda, the vanguard of Sunni extremism, which is trying desperately to gain followers for its anti-Shi'a struggle among Sunni outside of Iraq, has fallen behind in this respect. It cannot compete with the powers afforded to a sovereign state, even a non-Arab one. Al-Qaeda's tactical attacks on symbols of U.S. power have been diminished by perceived Iranian strategic successes against
core American interests in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. The enormous public approval that the Iranian regime enjoys, makes it hard for the Arab states to maneuver with the U.S. and against the Iranians, especially since many of these states are already teetering on the brink of collapse.

Is there no solution then? Some American policymakers are banking on a counter-coup in the form of a Saudi-sponsored "victory" for Islam or the Arabs on the Israeli-Palestinian front. This seems like a very risky investment, on both the supply and demand sides (supply: who knows whether the initiative will deliver the goods; demand: who knows if the Arab street will prove as satisfied by a solution as it is by news of blows against Israel).

To be sure, I am not advocating that the U.S. "stay the course." America must withdraw its troops from the shooting gallery that is Iraq. Rather, I think that the solution lies in withdrawals to well-situated, fortified bases in the south, that will be able to guard oil fields and prevent Iranian incursions on the one hand, and to Iraqi Kurdistan in the north on the other.

28 comments:

Noah Kaye said...

It does seem bizarre of Hagel to say so casually that Iraq is to become a new center of gravity in the Mideast, though minus US influence. And I think your account of the political calculus is right: the point is to finger Al Qaeda without weakening Maliki any further by accusing him of being a (potential) sectarian puppet of Iran.

As for your recommendation on "redeployment." You're right, there has to be a shift in the positions that US forces are holding in Iraq, and it's coming. Talk of "redeployment" by hawkish Democrats consciously leaves open the door for a troop reduction as well as the transfer of forces to different parts of the country. You say, the troops ought to be in Kurdistan and in the southern oil fields. There is definitely a plan out there, as Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker this week, to withdraw troops from the center to the periphery. This would allow the Iraqis to "fight it out," because, as you Amos have noted on the blog, History tells us that one ethnic faction has got to win at the expense of the others. My question would be, to what extent can the US and the West afford to let Baghdad become the Shia center of gravity that the secret White House memo tells us Maliki's people are working to make it? There have already been attempts to "retake" Baghdad, should there not be one more? I don't know; in that case you can count on a lot of American casualties. Have we crossed a point of no return with the capital city devolving into sectarianism and ultimately Shia hands?

Amos said...

Noah,

I think the short answer to your last question is "yes."

I don't even know what exactly it would mean to retake Baghdad. Let's assume we're talking simply about disarming Sadr's militias - in other words, invading and then occupying Sadr-City (at least). First of all, the costs of such an operation would be enormous and would require shifting forces from the west and east of the country. Surely, neither the Shi'a in the rest of the country nor the Sunni insurgents would sit by idly as this is going on. No doubt, the south would explode, and the situation in Anbar would further deteriorate. But let's assume such an operation were initially successful, as the whole Iraq debacle has taught us, you still need someone to hold places you have conquered. So what would that mean exactly? Establish a whole new government with pro-American leaders? Where would they come from?

Noah Kaye said...

Amos,

To hold the positions you've taken is the biggest challenge in Iraq. Which makes me think that your suggestion that the US forces focus on the southern oil-rich, Shiite regions is right on. How long are the British going to stay in Basra? Not for long, right? And, as you point out, what's at stake in terms of resources is surely worth worrying about. I guess you could say that the US never "took" Baghdad anyway. Did I miss the period of calm? Has there been one? On the other hand, the south seems to have vacillated in this respect. If you get a chance, you could update your entry given the release of the Baker Commission report in the NYT. American forces are going to retreat from harm's way.

John said...

The south, though, is Shi'a dominated. Perhaps it has been more quiescent, because it is more homogenous? Or did the British simply stay out of the way of the militias? I doubt that Iran will make it easy for the US to hunker down in bases in the south.

Amos said...

I think the south rose up briefly back when the Sunni insurgency first took off. Al-Sadr joined the Sunni uprising temporarily but he called off his followers fairly quickly. Back then, a few British soldiers were killed. I think there have been more problems in the southwest, in those areas bordering on Sunni (Najaf? Kerbala?).

I'm not sure what the capabilities of the militias are. The absence of daily attacks by Sunni fighters that have marred the lives of ordinary people in mixed cities might give the militias slightly less legitimacy. I don't really know what the situation is there.

Basra hasn't been in the news very much lately. It's clearly one of the most important places in Iraq, in terms of oil.

Anonymous said...

Amos,

A name I don't often see mentioned in these discussions is Ali al-Sistani. Is there a role that he can play in all of this, and is he willing to play that role?

I'm curious to to hear your thoughts.

Amos said...

Good point, anonymous. We haven't really talked about options besides Maliki and Motkada. But I have to say that I'm pretty skeptical about the potential for finding a cooperative Shi'a partner who actually proves useful to the U.S. I mean, what does someone like Sistani have to gain from such an alliance? It seems to me that at this point associating with the U.S. is a huge liability. So, Sistani might be happy to use the Americans to his advantage, but he is unlikely to give them what they want or to be perceived as cooperating with them.

Anonymous said...

Amos,

I doubt there's any chance that the US can find anyone who will be overtly friendly, and I think trying to find any such solution is utterly futile.

But, I think that still brings me back to the broader question of al-Sistani's role, if any. He's a hard book to read. He tends to be quietist, rarely offering unsolicited advice, but he also seems to command a great deal of respect even from Sunni quarters.

I have to wonder if he isn't just biding his time until US troops leave.

Anonymous said...

Why are you Jews so afraid of Shi'a? If you leave Shi'a alone, they leave you alone. Lebanese Shi'a had nothing against you, until you occupied southern Lebanon, took prisoners (who are still in Israeli jails) and took Chebaa farms.
If you Jews were smart you wouldn't be anti-Shia. Shi'a share a common dilemma with you Jews. The Arab world hates them as much as you. Just as a predominantly Sunni Arab world does not want a Jewish state in the Middle East, they don't want a Shi'ite state in the Middle East either...too late for that...Israel and Iran already exist. Iran would have been Israel's natural ally (Iran has few friends in the Middle East because of her Shi'ite people) just like Turkey has few friends and is Israel's actual ally, if Israel were not trying to screw Iran every time, and use its powerful lobby in America to have Iran under sanctions.
If Israel were smart, she would let Israel be an international city, and come up with a good arrangement for other places that house Muslim shrines like Hebron, and Shi'ites would drop the Palestinian cause like a hot potato, because Palis are deep down Shi'ite hating Sunnis (Palestinian Christians are less hostile to Shi'a than the Muslims who are Sunni). But to Shi'a these are also holy places. Israel made Hezbollah what it is, by screwing southern Lebanon and its people, who are majority Shi'a. The Shi'a welcomed Israel at first, since the PLO had become a state within a state on their land. Instead Israel took over the Shi'ites' land, and made them captives in their own country (same thing she did to Palestinians). And hundreds of Shi'a were just rounded up and taken to Israel where they are still being held without trial.

Which Shi'ite country fought Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967 or 1973? Did any Shi'ite ever threaten Israel or fight her before Israel occupied Lebanon and took prisoners (plus a piece of Lebanese land)?
There were no Shi'ites on September 11, and unlike Sunni Islamist groups, Shi'ites for the most part do not globalize or internationalize their attacks (the majority have occured either inside Lebanon or from Lebanon, but not overseas), because they are only concerned with their own issues.
You Israelis and Jews want to continue hating Shi'ites, go ahead, but then don't forget the Republic of Azerbaijan, a Shi'ite country, gives you half of your oil, and has opened her doors wide open to Israeli investment.
As for Iran, you manipulate both the American media and political system to isolate her, which is why Iran has become more and more anti-Israel. You are good at multiplying your enemies, that's for sure.

Yeah, go ahead and tell your Daddy, America to help Saudi Arabia, the hotbed of Islamic fundementalism and radicalism, against poor Iran, the same Saudi Arabia that produced 15 out of 19 September 11 hijackers, is arming Sunni terrorists in Iraq who are responsible for 96 percent of attacks on U.S. troops, is in league with Al-Qa'eda, and finances more than 30 Islamist terrorist groups worldwide. You Jews obviously can't even tell the who the lesser of two evils is.
As for the Buenos Aires Jewish center bombing, even Argentina admitted it could have just as well been the work of Sunnis.

Anonymous said...

correction to above posting, I meant to say "If Israel would allow JERUSALEM to be an international city..."

Amos said...

Anonymous,

First off, I just wanted to clarify that this blog does not really speak for "the Jews," as Jews have many different opinions, just like Muslims or Christians.

Second, I am sorry if any content on this blog gave you the impression that Jews are anti-Shi'a. Neither the contributors to this blog nor the Jewish people as a whole hate Shi'a.

It is true that right now, many Jews are scared of the Iranian government and of Hizbullah, but there is no special hate for Shi'a as a whole.

As for your comments about Jews manipulating American foreign policy to isolate Iran - I think you don't fully understand how American politics works. There is really no need to lapse into Jewish conspiracy talk to understand what's going on.

As for Buenos Aires, there are very few people who doubt that Hizbullah was behind those heinous bombings. It doesn't matter to anyone whether it was Sunni or Shi'i terrorists who actually pushed the buttons on the bombs.

Anonymous said...

Dear Amos,

I do think I have a good idea how American foreign policy works. Umm, JINSA, AIPAC, Bnai B'rith, etc. and prominent names like Norman Podhoretz et al.

On that I don't think we will agree, but then, this is your blog.

"Tihye bari"

Anonymous said...

By the way, one thing we will both agree on, Amos, is that Mizrachi music is pretty cool. Guess what? You like the same ones I do! Sharif the Druze, Ofer Levi (he likes to try the Orthodox Jew look sometimes), and the Persian-speaking Sarit Hadad (who'se family hails from the Tajiki/Persian-speaking city of Bukhara in Uzbekistan). I guess art and music transcend politics and differences of opinion. I may be fiercely anti-Zionist, but that does not stop my affinity for Israeli Mizrachi artists.

As for Zohar Argov, he was very talented, but it was sad that his life ended up in disgrace and ultimately suicide. He was very talented and was the trend-setter for Mizrachi music in Israel.

Anonymous said...

sorry about misspelling...B'nai Brith is the correct spelling I believe (Anti-Defamation League good at defaming Iranians).

Amos said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your comments. It appears that you are convinced that "the Jews" run American foreign policy. You haven't really offered any evidence of this, but I am afraid that like those Europeans who believed similar things about the Jews in the 19th and, most devastatingly, in the early 20th centuries, you will not be easily disavowed.

Perhaps I can convince you of one thing though: while many Jews, especially in Israel, are very afraid of the regime, Jews do not hate Iran or the Iranian people!

I'm glad though that we can agree on muzika mizrahit. :) Have you seen the movie about Zohar Argov?

Where did you hear that Sarit Haddad is Bukharan? I thought her family was from the Caucasus. The ironic thing is that many people actually believe that she is Moroccan.

Are you or your family from Iran? You might be interested in the Jewish Language Research Website, which has entries on Judeo-Persian, Bukharan, and Judeo-Tat.

Our mother's side of the family is from Shiraz. They came to Jerusalem at the end of the 19th century, and her parents spoke Persian at home.

Ofer Levi doesn't just like to "try the Orthodox look sometimes" - he became religious later in life :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Amos,

Yes, I am an Iranian born in the USA. Sarit Hadad was born Sarah Hodedtova in Hadera, Israel to Bukharan Jewish parents who spoke Tajiki (another name for Farsi). Bukhara is a Farsi speaking city even though it is in Uzbekistan. Ve anu ha-iranim lo soneem et ha yehoodeem gam ken. Where is your father's family from originally? M'eyfo ha mishpachah shelo?

Yes, I am convinced there is much Zionist influence in both the American media and the American political system. Ze barur, chaver sheli, she ata lo maskim, ach ata yod'ea et ze. Yesh shnei tzadim le-kol sippur, "ya akhi", ve ani mekave she ted'a et ha-emet.

I resent you comparing me to Europeans. My assessment is based on facts, not some age-old prejudice, as I am not prejudiced against Jews, nor do I see Judaism and Zionism as being one and the same. Note, that I use the term Zionist influence and Zionist control, not Jewish for the most part.

Now, I am glad that we have something else in common. We are both Iranians. Please speak out against any possible military strikes against the land of your forefathers, and please convince the Israeli people that regardless of the harsh words spoken by the regime, Iranians have no outstanding issues with Israelis, other than the fact that Israel has unilaterally declared Jerusalem as her "eternal capital" and has been Judaizing the city (I have been there six times, so this is also based on observation) continously) as far back as when the late Teddy Kolleck (who was "dovish" and who'se associate was the hawkish Shimon Ravit) at the expense of other religious communities. Never mind that after 1967 the Moroccan quarter was completely destroyed by the IDF.

On a brighter note, I have many Israeli friends, some whom I know from B'tselem, some from way back when there were Shalom Achshav and Yesh Gvul rallies, and some just by meeting them everywhere. I enjoy my time with them when I am in Israel. They know my views, and don't always agree with me. But that is OK.

Farsi balad hasti, hamvatan?

Bukharan Jews by the way, are culturally and linguistically the closest to Iranian Jews. Now, the Tats are also Farsi-speaking but they are from the Caucasus (Qafqaz). They too, are very close to Iranian Jews, culturally and linguistically.

Naim-li me'od lehakir otcha, chaver sheli.

Anonymous said...

And sorry about my Hebrew misspelling this time, hehehe, I meant to say "lechol" not "lekol". I do not transliterate Hebrew to English very well, nor do I have a Hebrew font on this PC.

Anonymous said...

As for Ofer Levi, he would make an excellent "chazzan" in an Iranian Jewish temple. His voice was made for Eastern music, and he really does a very pronounced Mizrachi, "ayin", "resh" and "chet" (very highly aspirated like the Arabic "ha"). The Ashkenazi "resh", a Yiddish influence (since Yiddish is really German and "r" in German is quite guttural) still sounds prettier though...makes Hebrew sound a little like French. NO offense to Mizrachim/Sefardim intended here.

Amos said...

Salaam hamvatan anonymous!

Thanks for your kind comments. I'm amazed by your knowledge of Israeli society and culture, not to mention Hebrew, which you have transliterated in a slight Persian accent! (long vowels :). Unfortunately, I have no Farsi, except for a few words. :(

I disagree with you that Jewish (or Zionist) groups exercise the kind of influence on American foreign policy that you attribute to them...but I think it's not going to be a productive conversation either way, and it seems like there are many other things to talk about.

I realize that you are living in the U.S. now, but I assume that you frequently visit Iran too.

Can you tell us more about the Jewish community there today? What is the general population's attitude toward them? How do they see themselves in Iranian society?

I was disappointed recently when I talked to a friend, non-Muslim (but not Jewish), whose parents still live in Iran. She said that there is a lot of anti-Jewish sentiment among ordinary people, and that this would take a long time to eradicate. Do you think this is true?

Please do not misinterpret this as some kind of "baiting" - these are very sincere questions. It is not often that we hear voices of people who have a perspective like yours - connection to Iran as well as a knowledge of Jewish culture.

I have to respectfully disagree with you about the resh! But I am not one of those people who wants to impose a uniform accent on everyone. Diversity is good, and people should be allowed to speak in ways that are comfortable. Even within "Ashkenazi" pronunciation, there are/were quite a few regional differences.

Also, many linguists would take offense at your assertion that "Yiddish is really German." That is a very problematic statement! Kind of like saying that Dutch is really German.

Meebeenamet, doost! (is this grammatically correct?)

Anonymous said...

Salaam dooste aziz,

Yes you did say it correctly! Now, about the Iranian Jewish community. You know that they are a part of our society. First of all as Iranian citizens they are protected under the Iranian Constitution. The same goes for Iranian Christians (who are Armenian, Assyrian and Chaldean), as well as Iran's ancient Zoroastrian community. Bahais however have not been mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, and they have been persecuted (I am assuming your non-Muslim friends is Bahai). No one can deny the persecution of Bahais.

That said, we are not an Arab country, and we have our own issues with Arabs, such as their continous reference to the PERSIAN Gulf as the Arabian Gulf, and their insistence that Iran relinquish the islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa and hand them over to the United Arab Emirates. Never mind that the Shah gave up Iran's legitimate claims to Bahrain in 1970, and in order to calm an angry Iranian population for having done so, reasserted control over three small islands that Shah Abbas had liberated from the Portuguese anyways, and have historically been Iranian as well. Then the eight year war with Iraq, where Saddam made references to "Qaddisiya", a battle where Arab armies routed Persian forces. So we do not share the same hostilities towards Jews, LEAST of all our very own Jewish community, especially since to the rest of us they are Iranians first (and our "hamvatan"). Their native language is Farsi, they share our culture, eat the same foods we do, and some, like the Jews of Hamadan, have been in the country before there even was a unified Persian Empire.

There are still thousands of Jews in Iran, though nearly half of them have emigrated either to Israel or to southern California (Los Angeles and surrounding areas). To answer your question, pull up this link, and see for yourself exactly how many functioning Jewish temples there are in Tehran alone://www.iranembassy-sa.org.za/E/Iran%20Info/Religion.htm)...I counted eighteen. Of course Iran's chief Rabbi, Yedidiah Shofet, passed away, his son David Shofet decided to leave Iran and resettle in southern California. You know the Alliance Israelite Universelle Schools which were established by European Jews for Iranian Jews are still also functioning. I know the one in Hamadan even had some Muslim teachers!

Now, we Iranians do sympathize with the Palestinians for the following reasons. Iran's own territorial integrity had been violated continously by the United Kingdom and Russia throughout history (Iran lost what is now western Afghanistian thanks to the U.K., and Bahrain, thanks to the U.K.), and the Russian's took away from Iran the entire Caucasus and "Greater Khorasan"), we sympathize with a people who had their country partitioned against their will, made refugees against their will, dispossessed, uprooted, displaced and made homeless against their will, and robbed of their homeland. Arabs do have a legitimate grievance against the British, as British High Commissioner Lord MacMahon had promised in writing, that Palestine would remain Arab. Arab blood was spilled to liberate Palestine from Ottoman rule, yet Arabs did not end up being the beneficiaries, the Jews from Europe and the many "halutzim" who followed them were. Funny that these Arabs who were religious Muslims, fought their fellow Muslims the Turks with non-Muslim help (British, French). However, today given the Sunni/Shi'ite divide, Iranians would be less likely to go to war for the Palestinians who are Sunni, unless Jerusalem were involved somehow (if Israel were to "restore the Temple Mount in its entirety" as some right-wingers have suggested). Israel's unilateral declaration that Jerusalem is her "eternal capital" is a sore point for BOTH Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, not to mention Christian Arabs, and Arabs in general as well.

Is your father's side also Mizrachi, and if so, from where?

Israel and Iran face a common dilemma...religious extremism. Those in Iran who want Iran to be ruled by Sharia law, and those in Israel who want a "halach-ically" ruled Israel. They have succeeded to a certain degree, as evidenced by Egged buses that are "minhadrin" buses, passing through exclusively "haredi" neighborhoods. For the time being, secular Israelis are comforted by the fact that most of these fanatics and zealots are living in the West Bank, and not in Israel proper where they can potentially make life miserable for what is otherwise a very modern society. That's one reason Israel is keeping the settlements of course. As long as they're busy bothering the Palestinians in the West Bank, they won't bother secular Israelis in Tel Aviv who like to wear mini-skirts, or party at night clubs.

Unfortunately, their Shi'ite Muslim counterparts are in power in Iran's government, and with Ahmadinejad who wants to take conservatism to a new level entirely things are going from bad to worse. Be glad the haredim are not ruling Israel, otherwise you'd have another Iran, or even far worse and thirty times worse than Iran, a Taliban-style government.

Finally let me share a true story with you. The Iranian police stopped a car for speeding once, and found a bottle of liquor in the car. Once the driver explained that he and the other occupants were Jewish, they were left alone. Had they been Muslims, they would have been beaten and dragged off to jail. Non-Muslims are allowed to consume alcohol and use it for religious as well as personal reasons.

Iran has been fiercely, staunchly and vehemently anti-Zionist over the last twenty some years. But most Iranians have been able to tell Zionism and Judaism apart...knock on wood.

Mehrdad

Amos said...

Thanks a lot for your comment. I didn't know the Alliance schools were still operating in Iran.

First, a small correction - the large majority of the haredim ("ultra-Orthodox" - the guys in black) are not living in the West Bank. I think you might be confusing two different groups. Most of the settlers living in the West Bank today, though they may be religious and extreme nationalists, are not haredim. The haredim and the settlers have very different attitudes toward Zionism, the state, and even Israeli society, although of course they also converge at times.

In any case, your conclusion that "one reason Israel is keeping the settlements" is due to the "fact that most of these fanatics and zealots are living in the West Bank" where they cannot make modern, secular Israelis' lives miserable, is novel but not really accurate (in my opinion), as many of the most religiously extreme do live inside the 1967 borders.

You're right - Israel and Iran both face threats from religious extremists. I would add as a qualifier though that the threat is a bit more acute in today's Iran, which after all was created by Islamic Revolution, and whose state institutions fall under the control of fundamentalists. On the other hand, precisely this state form makes possible the kind of incidents that you mentioned (with the alcohol); there are different laws for different religious groups that affect people's daily lives.

BTW, are Zoroastrian or Chaldean or Jewish women in Iran also exempt from hijab? Sorry, this might strike you as an ignorant question, but I've heard answer in the negative and affirmative to this.

I think your comparison between Iran and Palestine with regard to territorial integrity doesn't really work as the situations are not analogous. There was no state called "Palestine"; the only entity whose territorial integrity can be said to have been violated was the Ottoman Empire. You should know also that a great deal of Arab blood was spilled defending that empire - see this earlier post on the "Collapse of the Ottoman Era". Arab nationalists benefited from its dismemberment as much as the Jewish national movement. The latter, of course, also played a role (its contributions to combat were more limited but it offered other benefits to the British) in the territory's "liberation" from the Ottomans - or do you think the British were just giving out land for free? Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan all owe their existence as separate states to French and British divvying up of the Ottoman spoils.

Your other question - no, my father's side is from the Land of Ashkenaz. :) My friend is not Bahai but belongs to one of the Christian groups that you mentioned. I do not want to give more personal detail than that though, since this is the internet...

All the best.

Anonymous said...

I think you are missing the point Amos...the question does not revolve around whether there were more Arabs on the other side or not. Yes, the Sunnis of Baghdad remained faithful to the Ottoman establishment, but that again has nothing to do with the Palestine question, and your old Zionist line that "Palestine was an undefined" region does not hold water. There are postage stamps with "Palestine" on them, and even as a Roman province, "Palestina" was very well defined, with actual borders. Or are you claiming that it was only a well-defined area for Jews, and not for Arabs? How the Ottomans chose to govern Palestine is immaterial. The Ottomans chose to govern Lebanon as a part of Greater Syria too. Does that mean Lebanon was an undefined region? I don't know in what context Mr. Tamari made references to Palestine, but his position has always been that of Palestinian statehood, with a clear identity as a Palestinian. It seems you did not take the time to read about Salim Tamari's discourse on Khalil al-Sakakini, a Christian Palestinian nationalist.

Now to answer your question, all women when they are in public must cover their heads, but religious minorities may choose not too in their own places of worship. Given the fact that you are talking about Christians belonging to the Eastern-rite churches, where women DO cover their heads, or Jewish temples (there are no Reform Jews in Iran...they are all either Orthodox, or non-religious), where again, women DO cover their heads, this is basically a non-issue.

J. said...

Sorry bud, you're very mistaken. Very few Palestinian Arabs nor anybody else had anything but a vague conception of the exact contours or territory associated with the name Palestine. The Roman and later Byzantine provinces of "Palestina" had boundaries that were quite different from those of the British mandate with which the name Palestine has been linked by Palestinian nationalists. Anyway, this is all quite immaterial now, as a Palestinian nationalist identity exists - even though it is often trumped by other identities (witness the current fighting in Gaza).

For your information, the word temple is generally in vogue among conservative and reform Jews. Synagogue or the Hebrew "Beth Knesset" is a more useful term.

A final note: only _married_ Orthodox women cover their hair. It is therefore NOT immaterial that all Jewish women are forced to don head scarves in public in Iran.

Amos said...

Dear Hamvatan,

You've somehow jumped to the conclusion that I was denying the legitimacy of Palestinian claims to statehood and following a "Zionist" line. I was not really making a political statement.

All I said was that Palestine did not exist as a political or administrative unit until the British mandate. As I am sure you know, there was a Governorate of Jerusalem (Quds Sherif Mutassarfliki), which extended from Jaffa in the north, to the Jordan river in the east, and southward to Sinai. The area north of Jaffa, which included Haifa and Akko, was part of the Beirut vilayat.

I was not trying to deny that people also referred to Filastin, which Prof. Tamari has told me, "strictly speaking ... was the area south of Nablus and north of Rafah." Many people also referred to "the Holy Land," in different languages. The term Filastin is as legitimate as the name Eretz Yisrael.

I was merely responding to your invocation of "territorial integrity"; I fail to see its relevance, since, again, the only state whose territorial integrity can be said to have been violated was the Ottoman empire.

Just for the record - I also was not making any claims about Tamari's political positions. He has read the particular post that I cited earlier, and seemed quite pleased with it; I think he would have let me know if it contained an objectionable characterization of something he had said.

Thanks for your answer to my question. A small clarification though: Observant Jewish women cover their hair only if they are married - whether they are in synagogue or walking around outside.

Amos said...

I just saw J's comment now. I see that he makes the same points I made in my response. The more the merrier.

Anonymous said...

Shalom, Amos,

Yes I am aware that only married women in Judaism cover their heads, with different things (to use Ashkenazi terms, sheitels, snoods, tichels, schpitzels, etc.), and I know all about "tzeniyut", but in Iran, Jewish women do, including unmarried ones, tend to cover their heads which is an influence of the local Muslim culture, especially in a holy place. While we disagree on the matter regarding Palestine's borders, etc., the fact is, those people were living there for centuries, and they are not responsible for what happened 2, 000 years ago in the Bar Kochba Revolt nor what happened sixty years ago during the Third Reich. And according to the Bible the Canaanites were there before Jews, and when Arab migrations took place in the 7th century, there was heavy intermingling with the Canaanites, and from this union come the Palestinian people. Now if we are seeking indigenous purity, there is none among Jews either. Ahskenazi Jews have mixed with both Europeans and Khazarians, Ethiopian (Falashas) with Amharas, and so on and so forth.

I am you and J acknowledge the fact that a Palestinian national identity exists.

That said, settlements have nothing to do with security and must go. In the early 1980's Israel embarked on aggressively expanding the settlements, even coming up with a postage stamp that said, "Settling Yehuda and Shomron". It is now Israel's responsibility to undo this.

Back when Israel refused to even recognize the PLO, it allowed Hamas to grow and expand, considering it a political force that would erode support for Fatah (PLO)...this was before Hamas began a string of suicide bombings that took Israeli lives, and before Israel finally recognized the PLO (or vice versa, however you wish to see it).

Anonymous said...

I think our Iranian poster illustrates the major obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

Thousands of leftist Israelis have adopted the Palestinian narrative in an attempt to understand the "other".

Proportionately, that would mean hundreds of thousands of Arabs/Muslims should have adopted the Jewish/Israeli narrative and acknowledged some of the justice on the Jewish/Israeli side -- including the possibility that Islam OWES the Jews a secure state in recompense for 1.4 millennia of dhimmitude.

Yet there are few or no Muslims who will acknowledge any justice on the Jewish side or Muslim is-treatment of Jews - the only occasional Nonie Darwish or Arab Christians like Brigitte Gabriel and Wafa Sultan.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, I am the Iranian who was posting back then and I have become ever more pro-Israel.

I hate the hypocrisy of both Iran's government and Saudi Arabia. Iran supports an Alawite (hence Shi'ite) minority oppressing a Sunni majority in SYRIA yet condemns the Al-Khalifa ruling family. Saudi Arabia supports a Sunni minority oppressing a Shia majority in BAHRAIN yet condemns Assad.

Yet both have in common their scape-goating of Israel. Says alot right there.

Hamvatane aziz, chetori? Ba man dar tamas bash, dooste azizam, Amos!