The recent plot of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to bomb synagogues in Chicago has received notably sparse commentary among the “usual suspects.” No discussions or analyses from Mondoweiss, the Guardian, Stephen Walt, Andrew Sullivan, Salon or the Huffington Post.
Perhaps part of the conspicuous silence is due to the fact that the story broke on a Friday, and weekend commentary was focused on Jon Stewart’s rally to restore sanity. But, not a single peep from these folks? There’s certainly no shortage of commentary on other blogs. Over at the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg had this to say:
What is not surprising at all is that the people — presumably, though we shouldn’t assume for certain, Qaeda-affiliated terrorists — who manufactured these bomb are fundamentally annihilationist in outlook, meaning that they have as a primary goal the killing of Jews, everywhere. This shouldn’t be a controversial conclusion to make, but there are many people out there who believe that al Qaeda and its fellow travelers are angry over settlements. They are not. They are angry over the continued existence of Jews.
Still, come Monday, I expect we’ll here more commentary. The question is, how will the aforementioned pundits spin the story to reflect their anti-Israel worldview?
I predict the following two themes:
(1) In the typical inversion of Goldberg’s logic, pundits will argue that this proves that Israel’s actions foster anti-semitic attitudes, and that U.S. support for Israel is putting American Jews at risk.
(2) This was clearly an attempt by Al-Qaeda to cause further harm to the Democrats’ prospects during the midterm elections. Why would Al-Qaeda prefer a Republican victory? Expect folks to pull out this story from the 2006 midterm elections:
Al Qaeda has sent a message to leaders of the Democratic party that credit for the defeat of congressional Republicans belongs to the terrorists. In a portion of the tape from al Qaeda No. 2 man, Ayman al Zawahri, made available only today, Zawahri says he has two messages for American Democrats. “The first is that you aren’t the ones who won the midterm elections, nor are the Republicans the ones who lost. Rather, the Mujahideen — the Muslim Ummah’s vanguard in Afghanistan and Iraq — are the ones who won, and the American forces and their Crusader allies are the ones who lost,” Zawahri said, according to a full transcript obtained by ABC News.
Zawahri calls on the Democrats to negotiate with him and Osama bin Laden, not others in the Islamic world who Zawahri says cannot help. “And if you don’t refrain from the foolish American policy of backing Israel, occupying the lands of Islam and stealing the treasures of the Muslims, then await the same fate,” he said.
Translation: President Obama and the Democratic Party’s failure to confront “The Israel Lobby” will continue to inspire Al-Qaeda attacks against U.S. targets.
Have I missed any other likely spins? Feel free to add any in the comments section.
Elise Nickerson at the University of Connecticut examines the evolution of Holocaust Denial literature—from books and articles to websites and online forums—and offers the counterintuitive conclusion [pdf] that, on measure, the Internet is weakening the movement.
One reason, she argues, is that the Web often denies the deniers the thin veneer of academic legitimacy:
Authors of print literature attempt to pose as academics and—for the most part—maintain a scholarly style while writing. Richard Evans notes that much of print literature “tried to present its arguments as the outcome of serious historical scholarship, resting on a combination of detailed documentary research and careful scholarly reasoning. Often it was extremely ingenious and required a considerable effort to unpick and to refute.” Deborah Lipstadt explains how Arthur Butz’s The Hoax of the Twentieth Century imitated legitimate scholarship by including “the requisite myriad notes and large bibliography that were the hallmarks of scholarly works, quoting many of the prominent historians who worked in this field and thanking a number of legitimate research centers and archives.”
The Internet has steered denial away from its days of mimicking scholarly works. Internet denial is hostile and uninviting, particularly in Holocaust denial discussion fora. Deniers on fora not only lash out at people who defend the history of the Holocaust, but have a tendency to fight amongst themselves….Deniers become angry when discussing the Holocaust.
The Internet has severely degraded the former “quality” of Holocaust denial. While authors of print literature have focused on preserving a scholarly image to their works, authors of websites do not share these goals. Internet deniers are more concerned with spreading propaganda as quickly as possible than with maintaining any quality in their work.
She also argues:
One particularly helpful aspect of the Internet is the wealth of information regarding other topics—namely the Holocaust. There are numerous websites available for people to learn about the history of the Holocaust, including the websites for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (http://www.ushmm.org) and Yad Vashem (http://www.yadvashem.org). The ability for one to find such a large amount of information about the Holocaust online is extremely helpful for those who want to preserve the truth about the Holocaust, and harmful for promoters of denial propaganda. There are also far fewer denial websites than Holocaust history websites…..Simply searching for “Holocaust” in Google brings up millions of results, but denial websites are not found among the first several pages.
Of course, the obvious counter-argument is that the Web provides easier access to Holocaust Denial than ever before. (A researcher in a public or university library is unlikely to find a David Irving book sitting on the shelves.) In my view, however, the greatest “advantage” to Holocaust Denial on the Web is that it offers an opportunity to “out” the anti-semitism often lurking beneath anti-Zionism. We’ve seen activists and organizations delegitimize themselves by linking to these sites; we’ve seen seemingly innocuous advertisements exposed by printing links to these sites, and authors of letters to newspapers and magazines are revealed for who they really are, by virtue of the “digital paper trail” they’ve left in online forums.
“Apartheid Wall,” used by Al-Jazeerah and the Palestinian governmental press agency, is a fusion of the former South African apartheid regime and the former Berlin Wall. …It implies racism, discrimination, a militarized zone, a bleak future. It also places the Palestinians behind a wall. There is no exit.
The right-of-center media (Artuz Shiva) uses the official government term, “Security Fence.” The left-of-center media (Haaretz) is using the more subtle language of “Separation Fence,” which does not recognize the security aspect. Rather, it connotes the future establishment of two neighboring states.
Leading U.S. and UK newspapers fluctuate between discussing it in terms of security and separation. The UK and U.S. media do not use the term “fence.” Rather, “barrier” and “wall” are used. There is an implied critique in the coupling of security and wall. The use of the “wall” is a Palestinian framing, implying a unilateral, illegitimate action. “Wall” also provides a sense of greater permanence. The use of the term “barrier” of both the Israeli Fence and Palestinian Wall.
More interestingly, the authors find that the choice of terms is determined not just by political leanings, but by current events and public mood. “Since sensitivity towards terminological usage is expected,” they write, “shifts in language may serve as strong indications for policy change. To draw those indicators, we compare two transcripts from meetings of the U.N. Security Council discussing the construction of the structure. The first, dated 14 October 2003, took place in midst of the Second Intifada, where hopes for reconciliation and advancement in the peace process were low. The second, dated July 2005, took place only a few weeks before the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip, and the atmosphere was charged with new hopes for peace.”
Click on the charts below to see graphic representations of their findings, which they summarize in the text:
Regardless of the political situation, or the rotation of the members of the Security Council, the majority frames the structure as a ‘wall.’ In October 2003, most of the Council’s members used ‘separation wall’ and ‘the wall.’ In an isolated cluster, the Palestinians used the term ‘expansionist wall,’ together with Yemen, Sudan, and the Organization of Islamic Conferences. Israel and Germany were the only countries using ‘security fence.’ The official U.N. term (derived from the briefing at the beginning of the transcript) is ‘the barrier’; the U.S. and the U.K. refer to ‘the fence’ (though the U.S. representative mentions ‘wall’ as well); the E.U., represented by Italy, employs ‘separation wall.’ Among the more poignant terms are the Palestinian ‘Bantustan walls,’ the Iranian ‘racist wall’ and the Saudi Arabian ‘racist wall of separation.’
In July 2005, however, the term ‘barrier’ becomes more popular, and the clustering around terms represents a sharper geographical division. The countries that cluster around ‘separation wall’ are mostly Middle Eastern, including the Palestinian representative. Europe clusters around ‘barrier’; other members speak of ‘the wall.’ The U.S. representative refrained from mentioning the structure. Israel is persistent yet alone in employing ‘security fence.’ A few Arab countries continue to use such terms as the ‘colonial separation wall’ (Syria), ‘expansionist wall’ (Kuwait) and ‘wall of injustice’ (Sudan). ‘Apartheid wall’ is introduced to the space by the Organization of Islamic Conferences (and not employed by the Palestinians). Following the same analytical angle of seeking non-mentions (as applied to the media space), here again we found that ‘fence’ is rejected by all of the Council’s members (except for
Israel), ‘wall’ is rejected by the ‘West,’ and adjectives other than ‘separation’ are less popular.
Haaretz has published a must-read interview with Olli Heinonen about Iran’s clandestine nuclear program. Before resigning two months ago, Heinonen had worked at the IAEA for 27 years. As such, he’s been following the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities from the very beginning.
In what sense did the IAEA fail?
“We failed in that we did not identify the start of their research-and-development nuclear program earlier – when they started, in 1985, in the middle of the war with Iraq, a nuclear research-and-development effort. Incidentally, the program was initiated when Mir Hossein Mousavi, today the opposition leader, served as prime minister.”
To Heinonen’s credit, after Iran’s secret – which is to say, undeclared – facilities were exposed, he emerged as an energetic public servant, and relentlessly monitored the Iranians’ work. Angry with him, the Iranians threatened to block his entry to the country, tried to bribe him, and watched every step he took. Nor was he deterred by senior IAEA colleagues, who tried diplomatically to doctor the language of the inspectors’ reports, lest the Iranians become incensed.
And, who knew that the Iranians like to embellish their documentation with inspirational film soundtracks?
His turbulent relations with Iran reached their peak in the matter referred to as “Chariots of Fire.” That’s the name given to a brief video, of a few minutes, evidently shot in Iran, showing what appears to be the manufacturing of a mock-up of a missile reentry vehicle, likely designed for a nuclear payload. The clip’s producer embellished the film by using the dramatic theme music from the 1981 film of that name. The Iranians vehemently denied the video existed; then they claimed it was a CIA-Mossad fabrication. They did, however, agree that it was likely a “reentry vehicle of a nuclear missile, but a fake.”
Heinonen says that it was not just one video clip that somehow reached IAEA officials; there were, he explains, several short films and documents that, taken together, comprised a detailed dossier.
Bill Johnson of Midway, North Carolina noticed a strange marking in the interior of a downed tree:
“I happened to look down there and I said, ‘That looks like Jesus,’” he said. “It just amazed me.” He showed the limb to his wife. Mary, without telling her what he thought the image was. She said the same thing. Mary Johnson also pointed out something Bill Johnson had not noticed – the other end of the limb bears an image that looks somewhat like a swaddled baby in a crib. The head of that image is also in the center, so there’s a halo around that one as well.
I’m not one to pass judgment on such religious matters (especially after that incident with the talking gefilte fish), but upon seeing the photo, my Rorschach reaction was not Jesus Christ, but a Dalek from the British sci-fi show, Doctor Who.
And, to be perfectly clear: I do not doubt the historical existence of Jesus Christ Dalek, I just question whether he had divine powers.
In Iran, the area would have quickly turned into a security zone, police forces would surround the area, and the news [that miners have been trapped] would have been denied.
While Iranian authorities are busy fighting against bad veiling and cultural invasion, it would have taken them several weeks to decide how to announce the news to the Iranian people so that citizens would not think that such incident are possible in the country of the Hidden Imam and the authorities would do all they could to blame the miners for the incident.
In Iran, after contacting the miners, the authorities would send them 33 copies of the Koran and a mullah would come to talk to them through the hole and tell them that it’s the best time for them to think about the pressure of the grave and cleanse their soul. They would later create a telephone line for them through which they could find out how to live according to religious laws several hundred meters underground.
In Iran, Mr. Mohsen [the person in charge of the rescue operation] would say that in order to save money one bulldozer would be enough for the rescue efforts — God knows how to keep people alive underground for many years — and the rest of the money would be sent to our poor brothers in Lebanon.
Then on state television there would be constant thanking and praising of the president and other officials for doing what they could to save the miners, and their wife and children would be shown while crying in joy in meetings with the supreme leader and the president.
In Iran, only Fars news agency would be allowed to cover the rescue operations. They would report on state television that everything was going successfully, but unfortunately there has been a small problem that is being solved with the help of the authorities.
In Iran, on the rescue capsule it would be written “We can, Death to the U.S., Death to Israel” to upset them when it was shown on foreign media. They would let Mr. Mohsen who [knows little English] write the text and it would include three or four mistakes.
In Iran, before the rescued miners could hug and kiss their female relatives, they would be forced to show their identity cards and prove that they’re related and they would be lectured to by the authorities that it’s not good to do these things in public.
In Iran, the miners and their families would be told not to say anything that would be used by foreigners, they would be interviewed by state television, and before the interview they would be briefed on what to say.
The left-leaning Inter Press Service (IPS) has just published an article about the new AJC survey of American Jewish public opinion. The article, with the headline “U.S. Jews Increasingly Hawkish on Iran,” naturally includes a quote from America’s foremost “expert” on the Jewish community, Stephen Walt:
“I don’t think these results are surprising, especially given the drumbeat of Islamophobia in the American media, the constant pounding on the Iran threat by Israeli politicians and their supporters here, and the Obama administration’s repeated failure to explain what it thinks it is doing in the Middle East,” said Stephen Walt, a Harvard international relations expert and co-author of the controversial 2007 book, “The Israel Lobby”.
“They’ve let their critics define the narrative, while doing nothing to give anyone on either the left or the right any confidence in their leadership,” he added. “If I’d been asked, I’d have said my approval of the job he’s doing was pretty low, too, though I obviously don’t agree with the idea of attacking Iran.”
A few things worth noting here. For starters, Jewish public opinion on Iran tracks rather closely with overall American public opinion on Iran, as reflected in the survey published by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs : 68 percent of Americans rank Iran’s nuclear program as the third highest threat to U.S. “vital interests”—only “international terrorism” and “unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers” ranked as higher threats.
Also, like overall U.S. public opinion, American Jews overwhelmingly prefer that Israel conduct a pre-emptive strike rather than involving the United States (70 percent vs. 59 percent).
As for blaming “Israeli politicians and their supporters” and the “drumbeat of Islamophobia in the American media,” both Walt and the IPS article curiously fail to take into account how Iran’s recent provocative actions might impact public opinion. Consider the events that have transpired between the two AJC surveys (March 2010 and October 2010):
– Iran reached a deal to send uranium abroad for enrichment after mediation talks with Turkey and Brazil; Western states responded with skepticism, saying the agreement would not stop Iran from continuing to enrich uranium.
– In what Tehran described as a milestone in its drive to produce nuclear energy, engineers began loading fuel into the Bushehr nuclear power plant.
– President Ahmadinejad showcased an improved centrifuge that officials said would enrich uranium faster than existing models. Ahmadinejad declares Iran’s nuclear path is irreversible.
– A new IAEA report revealed that Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile had grown to 2.4 tons, so that even if the 1.2 tons were shipped out it would still leave Iran with enough material for a nuclear weapon if enriched to higher levels.
– Iran began enriching nuclear material to higher levels, claiming that it fears it will not receive foreign fuel for a medical research reactor.
– President Ahmadinejad told the UN General Assembly that “some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime.”
I wouldn’t exactly call this confidence-building behavior
The balance of power in the Middle East has taken a turn for the worse. While Israel has been wasting its time developing high-tech aeronautical technology such as UAVs, the Iranian regime unveiled a new superweapon while celebrating its Week of Sacred Defense (yeah, it wasn’t on my calendar either).
Behold, the Bavar 2, a small, flying boat armed with….wait for it….a machine gun and a surveillance camera.
The Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Naval Forces says that “Iran is among the few countries, which has the know-how and capability to design and manufacture flying boats and train forces for using them, and that Iran is the only country in the Middle East with such a capability.”
Thus far, commentators are unimpressed: “These flimsy things make the Soviet ekranoplan designs look stable,” writes Stephen Trimble, an aerospace reporter writing for Flight International’s DEW Line blog, referring to Soviet-era ground-effect aircraft that were tested during the Cold War.
There’s also the big question of just how stealthy it is. Iranian officials claims that its hull makes it undetectable by radar, though videos of the thing flying show that it’s pretty damn loud. The blue paint job probably works well enough — the Bavar 2 doesn’t fly high enough for its red underbelly to ever really factor in — it really mostly skims above the water. Still, it looks like something out of an old sci-fi cartoon, or like the Bavar 2 belongs in a water park.
So, how could it be dangerous? Well, it really couldn’t, say, fly around on a spy mission or engage other aircraft. What it would do well as, though, is as a light naval harasser. Its ability to fly makes it faster than most boats (supposedly it can reach speeds of up to 100 knots above the waves), and it’s probably easier to pilot than an aircraft meaning you don’t need to staff them with precious, trained operators. Then again, it probably wouldn’t want to take on a warship, or really any armed boat.
Though the award for the most snarky assessment goes to The Economist:
The new flying boats are armed with a “machine gun”, a mechanical rifle capable of firing continuously without reloading by human hands [...] An Iranian flying boat carrying a concealed “A-Bomb” could fly overland across the Arabian desert, refuel at the French Levantine port of Beyrouth, refuel again at Smyrna, refuel again at Trieste, refuel again at Barcelona, cross Fascist Spain to refeul at Bilbao, refuel at Cork in neutral Ireland, and cross the Atlantic to refuel at a secret base hidden in the rocky coast of Canada manned by Fascist-sympathising Quebecois, whence it might be well within range of Boston Harbour-all in less than the time it takes to travel from London to Constantinople via Orient Express. And just think what they might be able to do, should they manage to build the rumoured “zeppelin cavalry.”
Still, let us not be complacent. After all, this is just the Bavar 2. Intelligence reports indicate that the Bavar 3 will be equipped with a cup holder.
Perhaps the Israelis created the Stuxnet computer virus. Perhaps they didn’t. Alternatively, it could have been the United States. Or Russia. Or the Vatican (I have my sources).
In the meantime, the rumors continue. And the “evidence” that connects Stuxnet to Israel involves increasingly convoluted mental gymnastics.
Here’s the latest that’s making the rounds on the Intertubes:
When you type STUX in Hebrew you get דאוס (transcribed into English as Deus or DeOS). This happens to be the name of an Israeli children’s story playing on TV, where hackers develop a program named Deus which takes over the world.
Why stop there? Did you know that the anagram of “Stuxnet” and “Israel” is “Nux Tails Ester,” which is pronounced Nukes, Tallis, Esther. Coincidence? I think not.
Thankfully, Forbes has published an article by security technologist Bruce Schneier, which separates the wheat from the drek:
Whoever wrote Stuxnet was willing to spend a lot of money to ensure that whatever job it was intended to do would be done.
None of this points to the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, though. Best I can tell, this rumor was started by Ralph Langner, a security researcher from Germany. He labeled his theory “highly speculative,” and based it primarily on the facts that Iran had an usually high number of infections (the rumor that it had the most infections of any country seems not to be true), that the Bushehr nuclear plant is a juicy target, and that some of the other countries with high infection rates–India, Indonesia, and Pakistan–are countries where the same Russian contractor involved in Bushehr is also involved. This rumor moved into the computer press and then into the mainstream press, where it became the accepted story, without any of the original caveats.
Once a theory takes hold, though, it’s easy to find more evidence. The word “myrtus” appears in the worm: an artifact that the compiler left, possibly by accident. That’s the myrtle plant. Of course, that doesn’t mean that druids wrote Stuxnet. According to the story, it refers to Queen Esther, also known as Hadassah; she saved the Persian Jews from genocide in the 4th century B.C. “Hadassah” means “myrtle” in Hebrew.
Stuxnet also sets a registry value of “19790509″ to alert new copies of Stuxnet that the computer has already been infected. It’s rather obviously a date, but instead of looking at the gazillion things–large and small–that happened on that the date, the story insists it refers to the date Persian Jew Habib Elghanain was executed in Tehran for spying for Israel.
Sure, these markers could point to Israel as the author. On the other hand, Stuxnet’s authors were uncommonly thorough about not leaving clues in their code; the markers could have been deliberately planted by someone who wanted to frame Israel. Or they could have been deliberately planted by Israel, who wanted us to think they were planted by someone who wanted to frame Israel. Once you start walking down this road, it’s impossible to know when to stop.
Another number found in Stuxnet is 0xDEADF007. Perhaps that means “Dead Fool” or “Dead Foot,” a term that refers to an airplane engine failure. Perhaps this means Stuxnet is trying to cause the targeted system to fail. Or perhaps not. Still, a targeted worm designed to cause a specific sabotage seems to be the most likely explanation.
If that’s the case, why is Stuxnet so sloppily targeted? Why doesn’t Stuxnet erase itself when it realizes it’s not in the targeted network? When it infects a network via USB stick, it’s supposed to only spread to three additional computers and to erase itself after 21 days–but it doesn’t do that. A mistake in programming, or a feature in the code not enabled? Maybe we’re not supposed to reverse engineer the target. By allowing Stuxnet to spread globally, its authors committed collateral damage worldwide. From a foreign policy perspective, that seems dumb. But maybe Stuxnet’s authors didn’t care.
My guess is that Stuxnet’s authors, and its target, will forever remain a mystery.
Of course, that assessment might change if infected computers only shut down on Saturdays…
The National Post publishes this description of Hezbollah’s version of Disneyland, the “Tourist Landmark of the Resistance in South Lebanon.” (Couldn’t they have picked something shorter, like the “Magic Caliphate”?):
A marketing firm was hired to help develop a “corporate brand” and logo. Small boys walk around cradling their souvenirs — plastic assault rifles. There are smashed Israeli army vehicles that the kids can play on and you can take a tour of the bunker complex that allowed Hezbollah fighters to wage war against Israeli soldiers in the neighbouring valley. And Hezbollah knows all about how hard it can be to secure a tourist attraction. Indeed, when it comes to the Tourist Landmark of the Resistance, they fully expect it to be destroyed in the next war. But that’s okay, they say cheerfully. They’ll just rebuild it.
The site, with its museums to Hezbollah’s military history and relaxation facilities, continue the trend that the terror group has been pushing so successfully for decades: provide military victories in wartime (or at the very least, avoid the kind of crushing defeats that traditionally typify Israel-Arab battles) and, in peacetime, provide a parallel government to the weak “democratic” regime in Beirut. Hezbollah, in showcasing its military prowess, gives the people something to be proud of, and offers a low-cost vacation spot with museums, play areas, swimming pools and motels. There’s even a shuttle to an Israeli military base abandoned when the IDF pulled out in 2000, where tourists can see tangible proof of the Zionist’s failing resolve.
As propaganda, it couldn’t be simpler. We will protect you during war, it says, and look after you in peace. And it’s working — hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the Muslim world have poured in to enjoy all that it has to offer. It’s a bizarre bargain they’ve struck with the locals, using them as human shields when they’re not providing them a vacation resort.