Straws in the Wind: Assassination Plot in DC and Prisoner Exchange in Middle East

A Round Table Discussion with Jonathan Schanzer and Kenneth Timmerman
by Jerry Gordon and Mike Bates
(October 2011)

 

Manssor Arbabsiar                         IDF Sgt. Gilad Shalit

On Tuesday, October 11, 2011, the news wires buzzed with reports about a possible assassination attempt against the life of Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Adel al Jubeir and possibly Israeli ambassador, Michael B. Oren. Then, the wires hummed with reports of a secret deal brokered by the Egyptian government to exchange long term Hamas prisoner, IDF Sgt. Gilad Shalit, kidnapped in 2006, for more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists languishing in Israeli jails. The announced prisoner exchange deal involving Hamas and Israel came amidst current efforts by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seeking to obtain a majority of the 15 UN Security Council votes to obtain UN membership and statehood based on a Unilateral Declaration filed on September 22nd at the fall Session of the General Assembly in Manhattan. The US has announced its intent to veto such a vote for Palestinian Statehood when the UN Security Council takes up the application. Added to that were the enfolding news reports from Egypt about the bloody pogrom against Coptic Christians the prior weekend that resulted in more than 35 killed and 300 injured, many run over by Army tanks and armed personnel carriers.

A press conference was held at the US Department of Justice by US Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, Asst. Attorney General for National Security Affairs, Lisa Monaco and US Attorney for the Southern District of Manhattan, Preet Bahara to announce the indictment of a 56-year old naturalized US citizen American Iranian, Manssor Arbabsiar. He is a Corpus Christi, Texas used car salesman. Also indicted was Gholam Shakuri, a case officer in Iran’s Qods (Jerusalem) Force, special operations unit of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Arbabsair, who upon arrest confessed to the plot, cited a cousin, Abdul Reza Shahlai who he alleged was a high ranking officer in the Qods Force and superior of Shakuri. The federal indictment accused Abbasiar and Gholem of conspiring to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Jubeir with C-4 explosives to be detonated at a Washington, DC restaurant. The plot involved a meeting with a representative of a Mexican drug cartel facilitated by a DEA informant. It included transfer from abroad of more than $100,000, a purported down payment of a total fee of $1.5 million for carrying out the bombing attempt. The picture of Abbabsair that emerges from public records in Texas doesn’t make him out as someone the IRGC would trust for an operation of this type. Arbabsiar had a felony conviction for possession of a drug, had failed at a number of businesses and was notoriously forgetful according to friends and business partners. One former business partner of Arbabsiar’s remarked: “If they’re looking for 007, they got Mr. Bean.”

Despite the government alleging that it had conducted an elaborate investigation, there was great skepticism evinced among counter-terrorism and intelligence experts that the Qods Force would use untrained, so-called cut outs and transfer funds into US bank accounts subject to screening by the US Department of the Treasury.  One official interviewed in a Reuters article about the plot said:

I’m having a real hard time believing it is as orchestrated and centrally run as they seem to be implying. If it weren’t for the fact that there were some many people standing up and publicly talking about it who ought to know, then I would be even more skeptical.

Kenneth Timmerman, however, is convinced the case is genuine:

The Iranians may just be getting cocky and think they can get away with anything.  As per my Daily Caller piece, if only yet had picked the right Mexican we might never have known of their involvement.

Against this background “Your Turn” host Mike Bates, of radio station 1330AMWEBY of Pensacola, Florida, Senior Editor Jerry Gordon of the New English Review, Jonathan Schanzer, Vice President for Research at the Washington-DC based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Kenneth Timmerman author, columnist of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran held a radio round table discussion.

 Mike Bates:  Good afternoon and welcome to Your Turn.  This is Mike Bates.  We're going to have an international round table discussion today.  I have with me in the studio Jerry Gordon, Senior Editor of the New English Review and its blog, "The Iconoclast" online at newenglishreview.org.  Jerry, welcome to the program.
 

 

Jerry Gordon:  Glad to be back.

Bates:  Joining us from Washington D.C is Jonathan Schanzer,  Vice President of Research for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies D.C., defenddemocracy.org.  Jonathan welcome to Your Turn.

 

Jonathan Schanzer:  Thank you very much.

Bates:  And also joining us from Washington D.C., Ken Timmerman,  and Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, iran.org.  Ken Timmerman welcome to Your Turn.


 

Kenneth Timmerman:  Thanks for having me on.

Bates:   Well let's begin with the breaking news.  Allegedly, the Iranians intended to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States in DC.  Ken Timmerman, I'll begin with you.  What is the story there?

Timmerman:  Well, we just listened to a news conference with US Attorney General Eric Holder, Robert Mueller, FBI director and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The arrests were made in New York of an Iranian with a cousin in the Quds Force, which is part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), in connection with this plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington D.C. using C4 explosives. I have gone through the indictment this afternoon.  It's an interesting piece of work. Parts of it read like a spy novel. Parts of it stretch your ability to believe that the Iranians could be so dumb as to actually transfer money to a U.S. bank account. However, leaving that aside, I think it is extremely significant that you would have a Quds Force involvement in an assassination plan here in the United States. This is the first time to my knowledge that they have done that, if this turns out to be true, since 1980.

Bates:  Ken and Jon, is the link from this bomb plot to Ahmadinejad or directly to Ayatollah Khamenei? I understand that Khamenei directly controls the Quds Force. What is your comment?

Schanzer:  It is absolutely true that the IRGC answers directly to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.  Whether or not Ahmadinejad had any knowledge of this, at this point we don't know. Ahmadinejad has very close ties to the IRGC as well. It is not as if there is a firewall between the Supreme Leader and the President of Iran. It would appear that this plot which may have been hatched in Iran. When you look at the IRGC, these are the same people who cracked down on the protestors in the wake of the fraudulent elections in 2009. They are the same people involved in the bombings in Argentina in the 1990's. These are the terrorist forces of Iran and they do the bidding of that senior leadership, so this is potentially extremely significant.

Gordon:  Ken, why would the Iranians use a U.S. naturalized Iranian to engage in creating a cut out using a Mexican cartel?

Timmerman:  It's a good question. I think there is a lot of information that we need to gather about this alleged plot. We know that there have been ties between the Iranians and Al Qaeda and Mexican drug cartels for a number of years. There have been thousands of what the US Border Patrol calls OTM’s (Other Than Mexicans) arrested trying to get into the United States. People who have come from Middle Eastern countries that have been homes to various terrorist groups including Hizbullah operatives who are working with the Iranian regime. We know that there have been efforts by the Iranian regime to use drug cartels in Mexico, in particular to penetrate our Southern border. That is something that has been going on for some years. However, that they would seek a hit man in the Mexican cartels, that is something that I haven't seen happen before. It is going to be very interesting to get additional information on this. We need to know more.

Gordon:  Jon, is part of the motivation a current war of nerves between Iran and the Saudis given the unrest in Bahrain and in the Saudi Eastern province which has most of the oil?  Then there is the Shia Houthi insurrection in Northern Yemen astride the Saudi southern border. What do you think is really going on there?

Schanzer:  It is an extension, Jerry, of what we have been seeing throughout the region which is basically this Saudi versus Iran conflict. It is a regional conflict and they've been vying for territory. The Saudis had control of Bahrain for many years, despite it having over a 70 percent Shia population. The Iranians have that territory on tilt. As you mentioned, the Eastern Provinces of Saudi Arabia are heavily Shiite and they are believed to have been infiltrated by the Iranians. As a matter of fact in the wake of some unrest just a few days ago the Saudis talked about a foreign power that was responsible for the unrest. That was a veiled reference to the Iranians. From my perspective I look at this, the Iranians have been doing a very good job of promoting unrest throughout the region and really sticking it to the Saudis. However, it is unclear to me why they felt the need to do this on U.S. soil of all places. The Iranians have the Saudis in many ways on their heels. If you look at what is happening in Egypt, the Egyptians and the Saudis had a long standing rivalry. It was an inter-Sunni rivalry. Now you are looking at increased Iranian influence there as well. The only place where Iran appears to be on its heels is in Syria. I have to look at this plot and just wonder what were they thinking? Why would you want to do this on U.S. soil? It is still incredibly unclear to me.

Bates:  Ken, let me ask you that question. Typically when an ambassador is targeted for assassination it is rarely the individual but rather the country they are really seeking to attack. Why choose the United States as the venue?

Timmerman:  Well I agree with Jonathan on this one. I'm a bit skeptical about this and again I would like to see more information. The Iranians have never hesitated to kill Americans around the world. They are killing our troops every day in Afghanistan and in Iraq and we are not doing anything about it. We are not striking back at them. They believe that we are weak. On the other hand they do see how the Department of Justice, various U.S. Attorneys and the F.B.I. have prosecuted terrorism plots in this country. Our law enforcement inside the United States is not really such a paper tiger as our National Security Foreign Policy has been. I don't quite understand at this point what the Iranian goal was. I'm not quite clear whether this was an authorized operation or some kind of rogue one. It is unclear where the money came from that was allegedly transferred into this U.S. account. I cannot imagine anybody in a senior position in Iran with financial responsibility actually giving the o.k. to make any kind of transfer over here. I mean this has been illegal and controlled by the US Department of The Treasury for a number of years. The Iranians are not fools about this kind of thing.

Schanzer:  I'd like to add one more thing here. I think you are hearing from both Ken and me that this doesn't make a lot of sense and that it is very hard to believe that the Iranians would get as sloppy as they appear to have become. At the same time we are also hearing from US Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), Chair of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, saying that he is very certain that this came from up high within the Iranian regime. We are hearing confirmation of this. It could just be a regime that has lost sight of its limitations which wouldn't surprise me. Then again, the Iranians have been a lot better about covering their tracks in the past.

Gordon:  Jon, you are a former member of the Office of Foreign Asset Control in the U.S. Treasury Department that deals with sanctions. One of the comments made during the press conference today on this indictment was a reference to things that the U.S. might do since this plot was allegedly perpetrated by the highest elements of the Iranian Government. What frankly do we have left in the quiver of sanctions that could be used at this point?

Schanzer:  Just in the last half hour Jerry, we've seen an announcement by the Treasury Department where they came out and designated the individuals involved with this plot. However, designation of these individuals really means nothing in the larger scope. What it basically does is put a freeze on their U.S. bank accounts. That achieves nothing. Overall, what we need to be thinking about is how to punish the Iranians on a broader scale. On that score I don't see that we really have much left. We have been using what we call targeted financial sanctions which have already been used to address the Iranian nuclear program. We have targeted the IRGC and senior members of the Iranian government. We have gone after as much as we can surgically and it's still not pushing back as far as the Iranians are concerned. They are still pushing forward with their nuclear program. They are still engaging in terrorism, as Ken mentioned, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They are sponsoring Hamas and they are sponsoring Hizbullah. Now  they are allegedly sponsoring a hit on the Saudi Ambassador and potentially even the Israeli Ambassador here in Washington.  We now need to think about this on a much bigger scale and what our response should be. This could be a defining moment in the Obama Administration's foreign policy when it comes to Iran. You have the Mullahs openly challenging the United States and our sovereignty. How we respond to this I think is critical. So far it has been the release of the names of two individuals that we have sanctioned through the Treasury Department where we have frozen a few hundred thousand dollars. This has been a weak response. I'd like to see a lot more confirmed about what has happened. If confirmed it will be very important to send a stern message.

Timmerman:  Jerry, Jonathan's right about this. The targeted sanctions that we've seen so far have really been like sending spitballs against Iran's leaders. They have been focused in on the assets here in the United States.  They have prevented U.S. companies from doing business with Iran. The IRGC doesn't do a lot of business in this country and they are laughing at the kind of sanctions that we put on them. Iran's shipping line, the IRISL; the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line, is constantly reflagging its fleet of 144 large cargo ships renaming them, changing their ownership. The U.S. sanctions, even the U.N. sanctions, do nothing to keep these ships from flying flags of convenience on the international seas. I believe that there is a better way. My organization, the Foundation for Democracy in Iran has been working with pro-freedom groups inside Iran. We believe that it is only by helping the people of Iran to loosen the strangle hold by this outrageous regime in Tehran. This is the best way to guarantee U.S. National Security as well as to help the people of Iran achieve their freedom. We need to help them to help us.

Gordon:  Ken and Jon, keying off of what Ken just observed, let's go back to June of '09. The response on the part of the Obama Administration was weak considering the outrage about the fraudulent elections in Iran that disheartened the Iranian opposition. What is it now that this Administration in Washington can do to reverse that and perhaps become more proactive?

Schanzer:  Well Jerry, you know, it's a question we all ask ourselves on a fairly regular basis here in Washington. Anyone who is concerned about the Iranian threat looks back at that as a missed opportunity and a rather huge one at that. You know back in 2009 we had an opportunity to back the Green Movement and help the Iranian people topple the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad regime. We lost the opportunity to do that. In the process the Iranian regime cracked down with utter brutality against the people who were out in the streets protesting against those elections. The regime brought in foreigners, Arab speakers, and thugs basically to break bones, rape and murder. The Iranian regime renewed the sense that this is a republic of fear the Iranians are living in. The question still remains what can we do at this point to embolden that movement? There were some whispers that this might be a revived movement in the wake of the so called Arab Spring, now called the Arab Revolt or Arab Winter. You had Tunisians,  Egyptians, Syrians and Libyans rising up against their autocratic regimes. There was a sense that perhaps the Saudis would follow suit. One of the famous Egyptian protestors Wael Ghonim, after he was released from custody by Mubarak’s' security people, said he hoped that the Iranian people might follow because the Egyptian people had learned so much from the Iranians. There was this sense that we might have a possible domino effect. We are not seeing it now. I have very serious doubts as to whether there is anything that this Administration  and this President can do having squandered whatever good will he had with the Iranian people. It is very hard to believe that he might be able to motivate the Iranians to rise up again in the fashion that we had hoped to see.

Bates:  The plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington D.C. had an Israeli connection as the Israeli embassy was allegedly targeted as well. Jon, what affect does this plot have on Israeli relations?

Schanzer:  Today was obviously a big day for the Israelis because of what was happening with the Gilad Shalit news. This imprisoned soldier was going to be released by Hamas. Will this development actually strengthen the Israel’s hand when they come back to the United States and press the question of the Iran threat moving forward.  In other words when we talk about a nuclear Iran does this event really reinforce the concerns that Israelis and Americans now share about the nature of this regime and the threats it poses? There is a sense that if there is a U.N. Security Council Resolution other countries may want to slap further sanctions on Iran. That would help to isolate Iran further. However, in terms of tangible activities that the Israelis could engage in I do not see how changed much at all. Ultimately, we are still looking for Israel to take out an Iranian nuclear program, however difficult an operation it might be.

Bates:  Now why do you say Israel? Do you think the United States doesn't have the backbone to do it?

Schanzer:  I don't think the United States wishes to get involved, certainly not this Administration. The consensus is this Administration does not want to start another conflict. I think that in general you've got an Administration that lacks the appetite for conflict, whether it's in Afghanistan, Iraq or Iran. Ultimately it is the Israelis that have practice in doing this. They took out Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program in 1981. They took out the Syrian Nuclear program in 2007. Ultimately, their survival rests on their ability to do that, so I would expect that if an attack takes place it would be the Israelis. I don't see how what has happened with this plot and what has been revealed so far that there will boost the perception of Israel as an ally against this common enemy. I think that it reinforces Israel's point that Iran is a threat and a terror sponsoring state. What it means tangibly I think is still very difficult to ascertain.

Gordon:  Would the Israelis attack the Iranian nuclear program without the consent of the United States?

Schanzer:  No, I don't think they would. We had news recently that the U.S. finally agreed to sell some bunker-buster bombs to the Israelis. To a certain extent that is an admission  by this Administration that Iran is likely to go nuclear. Israel is probably the only country with the will and the ability to take it out.

Gordon:  Ken, you have connections and knowledge about what the Israelis might do in this regard. Do you have a different view?

Timmerman:  Well, first of all the President of the United States, Barack Obama, has spent more time criticizing Israel for building houses in its Capitol that he has in taking any kind of concrete steps against the threat from the Iranian regime. My discussions with senior Israeli leaders have left me absolutely convinced they have no appetite whatsoever for a military conflict with the Iranian regime. This is the last option that they would like to exercise. They say to me and publicly, "why us?" Why should we be responsible for taking out an Iranian nuclear threat which we did not create, we did not promote and we did not cause to come into being in any way? So I think the Israelis are looking for every other possible option. However,  they are being hamstrung by the U.S. Administration. When Iranian opposition leaders contact or approach the Israelis the Israelis say to them we can do nothing because Washington will not let us help you. They have been told very specifically that if they try to help the pro-democracy movement in Iran the U.S. Administration will react negatively.

Bates:  Ken, how close are the Iranians to a nuclear weapon?

Timmerman:  Nobody knows that for sure. We all doubt that they have it yet because they haven't used it and (laughing), let's just leave it at that.

Bates:  Yes, I kind of figured the same thing. I think the first evidence we will have is a mushroom cloud either over Washington or Tel Aviv or both. Ken, thanks for joining us on this segment of the round table discussion.

Timmerman:  Thank you for having me participate.

Bates:  Jonathan, let me ask you a question about Gilad Shalit, who holds dual French and Israeli citizenship.  He was abducted in 2006 by Hamas and has been held in captivity ever since. I understand there may be the possibility of a release soon?

Schanzer:  That's right. We began hearing just this afternoon reports bubbling up about a release of Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by the Israelis. I found out about it on Twitter where news travels like wildfire. The bottom line is that Hamas has agreed to release him after five years in captivity. They came to an agreement through the auspices of the Egyptians which is sort of remarkable given everything that is going on in Egypt right now from Coptic pogroms, mass protests and political upheaval. The Egyptians had the band width to preside over this and to bring it to what appears to be a successful conclusion. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel held a cabinet meeting. They agreed to the terms. Apparently Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader who is based in Syria, and Netanyahu had initialed an agreement a week ago and finally signed it this week. It appears that everything is set and Netanyahu is openly talking about having Shalit step foot in Israel within a matter of days. This is a remarkable turn of events. Speaking to an Israeli diplomat earlier today the consensus is at least within Jerusalem that this is a win-win-win situation. The Egyptians look terrific for having flexed some muscle and demonstrated some leadership. Hamas is going to get a lot out of this deal. They will have more than a thousand prisoners released by the Israelis for the one prisoner that they hold. Many of these prisoners have openly engaged in terrorism in the past. The Israelis are obviously going to do their best to weed out the worst. However, you are still going to release roughly 20% of the 5 to 6,000 prisoners that have been held in Israeli jails for reasons of terrorism. Hamas is going to look like a champion of the Palestinian cause. For the Israelis, it has always been a matter of getting their boys back whether  they are injured or killed soldier on the battlefield or like Shalit someone who has been kidnapped. In the Israelis’ view saving one life is worth a million. Most important, it looks like Netanyahu is able to deliver on that promise. The United States was a non-factor here. It should not go unnoticed, that this Administration's Middle East foreign policy has largely been viewed as a failure by actors in the region. There was no role whatsoever that the United States played in having this release take place. It is a sad statement on where the U.S. stands at this moment.

Bates:  If Israel releases more than 1000 prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit would I be out of line to suggest that is proof that an Israeli IDF soldier is 1000 times more valuable than a terrorist?

Schanzer:  (laughing), Yes, you could certainly make that argument Mike. Unfortunately, there is something that is more important to underscore here. The message is that abduction and terrorism pays. That is something that Hamas has certainly taken away from this situation.

Gordon:  Jon, you have written about the conflict between Hamas and Fatah. Does this event also poke a thumb in the eye of Mahmoud Abbas?

Schanzer:  Absolutely, it does when you think about everything that Abbas has been doing on the world stage trying to thrust the Palestinian cause into the laps of world leaders. For the last several weeks he has been doing an effective job, talking about the Palestinian Unilateral Declaration of Independence at the UN and globetrotting around the world trying to secure a majority of votes at the UN Security Council. It certainly has cast him as a leader. Now Hamas with the stunning release of Shalit and the prisoner exchange deal is saying, don't forget about us. They are stealing a bit of his thunder right now as Abbas is in Colombia trying to drum up support for this Declaration of Independence. This is an extension of the Hamas-Fatah conflict. There is another side to that coin with Shalit being released, Hamas becomes somewhat less toxic. It is conceivable that it would make it easier for these two factions to join in a unity government where they have been flirting with reconciliation now for several months dating back to late April. It is quite possible that this would make it easier for the two factions to agree on terms and perhaps move forward in a unified fashion as this statehood issue plays out. As you know, with the Middle East, it is hard to predict anything. Right now I could see that it could either be an extension of that conflict you mentioned Jerry, or the beginning of a rapprochement that no one saw coming.

Gordon:  Jon, you testified recently before the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, who’s Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen hails  from southern Florida. The subject was corruption inside the Palestinian Authority (PA) against the backdrop of Congressional concerns about possibly withholding aid to the PA. What can you tell us about the testimony and the reaction by the committee?

Schanzer:  The testimony was held about two weeks ago  in the context of whether the Palestinians should be getting aid at all from the United States. Obviously the US is in a constrained fiscal environment when it comes to foreign aid given our budget deficit. The US provides more than six hundred million dollars to the Palestinians at a time when they have turned around and thumbed their noses at the United States saying, we don't want you to be the arbiter of the Palestinian Israeli Conflict any longer. The Palestinians have openly defied the United States by pursuing this Unilateral Declaration of Independence at the U.N. They are shunning the Israelis, effectively abrogating the 1993 Oslo Accords which stipulates that every issue should be settled in  bi-lateral negotiations. The Palestinians are saying that the United States no longer presides over resolving this conflict. The Palestinians, an incredibly weak people who are a non-state  have openly challenged the United States as the World's super power. That is a very sad statement about American power right now. Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, Chair of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, held a hearing in September with think tank experts to ask about what should be done. Across the board there was some discomfort among the panelists testifying that we cut off aid altogether. They feared that it might open up the door for Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Qatar to gain more influence among the Palestinians. That  might ultimately contribute to regional instability and could potentially threaten Israel. I chose to focus on how the  PA is incredibly corrupt given  the system created by Mahmoud Abbas, the PA President. The goal of FDD was to focus on that corruption and push back against what Abbas is doing at the U.N. You could weaken him at home and abroad by exposing graft and corruption. He has allegedly allowed money to trickle through to Hamas and to his sons who have become very wealthy over the last five or six years. Exposing all of this is the right way to do it. Once we have identified where these corrupt areas are within the Palestinian budget you can surgically address them by cutting US Palestinian aid that will hurt Abbas and  the corrupt system that he created. We believe that is what Members of Congress are looking for.

Gordon:  Jon, isn't the objective of the PA underneath President Abbas really directed at putting the U.S. into a corner by forcing this country to exercise its veto power?

Schanzer:  Absolutely. You know, I was in East Jerusalem and Ramallah, a few weeks ago preparing for this Congressional testimony interviewing some senior members of the Fatah party. This is Abbas' Palestinian  faction. I asked them why he was forcing this issue when he knew that the United States was considering cutting off aid and that ultimately this could really hurt the Palestinians. It could cut them off from a super power, it could ultimately create problems among other allies in the region. The answer was that if they move forward with this Unilateral Statehood Declaration they could force a vote to take place at the U.N. Security Council. If they get the nine votes necessary out of the 15 permanent and rotating members then it forces the United States to veto the Unilateral Statehood Declaration. The President has already stated that he will veto any such unilateral move but doing that will basically destroy good will that the United States has built up in recent months in the Arab world. The Administration has supported the Tunisians, Egyptians, Syrians and Libyans. We have tried to convey support for the Arab people’s self-determination. Over the last several months we've gone to great lengths to do that. Now, just imagine what happens when Susan Rice our representative at the U.N, who is a Cabinet member of the Obama Administration, vetoes this Unilateral Declaration for a Palestinian State. This will look hypocritical to the Arab world. You can just imagine Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabia broadcasting to the Arab world this one image over and over again of the United States vetoing a Palestinian State to the Arab world. This was what was conveyed to me by the PLO-Fatah senior representatives. That is the goal of Mahmoud Abbas. I have to say that this is not a broad Palestinian initiative. This is Abbas and Abbas alone going for this. His goal is to isolate the United States from the Arab world, to have it lose credibility and therefore be less affective in its ability to defend Israel on the world stage and to the Arab world. It is a rather ingenious plot, but a rather scary one. When you really think about it he doesn't care what happens to the Palestinians in the long term. What he wants to do is to do damage Israel and that's what I've long argued in my books, articles and speeches. It is all about Palestinian Nationalism especially that embraced by the PLO, led by Mahmoud Abbas. It is less about creating something than wanting to destroy Israel.

Bates:  Jon, while it's true that the Obama Administration has made it very clear and stated multiple times that they would veto such a resolution I can envision a scenario where the Obama Administration could conceivably say, well, this isn't the course of action we wanted, we do not think it was the right way but who is the United States to stand in the way of the International Community. I could envision a scenario where despite all of the claims so far that he would veto the Palestinian Declaration, the Administration would in fact acquiesce. Can you envision that or am I just way out in left field?

Schanzer:  The short answer is no. From a domestic perspective this President cannot afford to recognize a Palestinian state. He will lose the Jewish vote, he will lose Middle America, he will lose the Evangelicals, not that he had them in the first place. However, if this scenario occurred it would be incredibly damaging and it would be a very unpopular move. He could, if he wanted to, wait and allow this thing to play out through the end of November 2012, if he gets re-elected. Then he could certainly think about doing that and it's something to be very mindful of if he becomes a lame duck President. For the immediate future I cannot imagine this President allowing this to go through. He needs the fundraising, the votes, the support and this is just too controversial when you think about the fact that the American people overwhelmingly support Israel and its fight for survival in the region. I can't imagine that he would do that. However, at the same time I don't believe that this President is against a Palestinian state. Obama talked about this last September when he announced his failed peace process as a springboard to bring the peace process back online. He said he hoped that the Palestinians and Israelis would be able to negotiate all of the thorny issues over the course of a year and that it ultimately it would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state in September 2011 which turned out to be the exact time that the Palestinians planned to go to the U.N. Security Counsel to declare a state. He upgraded the PLO Information Office here in Washington so that the Palestinian flag now flies over the equivalent of an Embassy. So he did a lot of things that lend credence to the idea of a Palestinian state. He is sympathetic to the idea of a Palestinian state. He certainly did not try to oppose this UDI in any significant way. I think he sat back and allowed a lot of this to play out. I would argue that even though he may not be opposed to a Palestinian state, he cannot afford to let it happen for domestic reasons. That is why the short answer is no.

Gordon:  Jon, the events with Egypt this past weekend have really been gruesome. The Finance Minister in the interim government took the dive for the bloody Coptic massacres and resigned. What is really going on there?  Are we looking at an attempt on the part of the military to reassert its control to justify postponing upcoming elections by fomenting these pogroms against the Coptics?

Schanzer:  I am not sure if that is ultimately their goal. Having said that what you see on official TV in the messages conveyed by this interim government does appear to have fomented conflict. This is a government that has not been furthering the objective of a cohesive civil polity under a united Egyptian banner that is inclusive of all citizens, majority Muslims and minority Coptic Christians. This has been a divisive military government. One of the things they have refused to do which is very telling is to come up with a new constitution that is egalitarian and provides equal protection under the law for all people. The government continues to balk on this. It is so critical for the Egyptian people to have that kind of constitution so that the Copts can be protected. Instead, the regime has been fomenting this kind of unrest, ultimately it came to a boiling point and what happened over the weekend in Egypt was a pogrom. It was just an absolute brutal beating and killing of Christians in Egypt. From some of the reports that I saw you had tanks and armored personnel carriers running over bodies. It was a very shocking look at how irresponsible this military government has become. I don't think that this was fomented by the Muslim Brotherhood, although Muslims participated in some of the bloody actions. What you are looking at was a regime going through a contentious transition learning very hard lessons on how not to govern. A few weeks ago, you had these border altercations with the Israelis. Then, this week, we learned about the Egyptians brokering this deal that ultimately releases Gilad Shalit in the exchange with Palestinian prisoners. The interim Egyptian regime cannot figure out what it needs to do to establish a constitution, hold elections and then get out of the way. The interim government has been all over the map creating a mess the consequences of which have been most unfortunate to watch.

Bates:  Jerry and Jon Schanzer thanks for joining us on “Your Turn” today.

Gordon:  Glad to be back.

Schanzer:  Pleased to be here.

Listen to the original broadcast here: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.

 

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