Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

Back from MWC. Heavy cold. Browser queue jammed with stuff. I’m going to do a brief succession of link posts to clear up. (Happenings last week; huge Leveson revelations, James Murdoch out, King Mob abolished workfare, horse, Borisbus fiasco, debate on Daniel Morgan, even more Leveson..)

This one deals with everyone’s favourite global geo-political region, the Middle East. Anthony Shadid died, and Angry Arab thinks the obits weren’t tough enough on the Israelis. Alyssa at ThinkProgress has a list of 20 of his best dispatches and only one covers the Palestinians and tangentially at that. Really?

Foreign Policy‘s David Kenner provides some history of the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood revolt in Syria and its repression by President Assad’s dad President Assad. Worth noting that by the time the Syrian army began its infamous destruction of Hama in ’82, the struggle had been going on since 1976. Just because the rebels have kept it up so long – which is astonishing and a demonstration of extreme courage – shouldn’t be taken to mean that they are going to win in the end.

Colin Kahl, writing in the Washington Post, points out that the Osirak raid in 1981 didn’t slow down Saddam Hussein’s effort to build the Bomb, in part because it hadn’t really started before the raid. However, the attack convinced him to make a concerted effort, and also caused Iraq to abandon the power reactor-reprocessing-plutonium route in favour of the highly-enriched uranium route, which is much easier to conceal and also to distribute among multiple facilities and which turned out to have a entire black market supply chain.

He also links to this piece on planning considerations for Israel, which highlights their air-to-air refuelling tankers as a key constraint. Kahl also points out that in the event of an Israeli raid, their air force would probably be needed at home immediately afterwards.

The Americans, for what it’s worth, don’t think a strategic decision has been taken to get the Bomb.

Bizarrely, the IAEA inspectors have discovered that the fortified enrichment plant at Fordow in Iran contains 2,000 empty centrifuge cases but not the centrifuges themselves. Is it a bluff of some sort? Is it a decoy target? Is it just a very odd way of going about building an enrichment plant?

Binyamin Netanyahu memorably described as “carrying both Anne Frank and the entire IDF around in his head”, presumably in between the bees in his bonnet and the bats in his belfry. It is argued that he won’t attack Iran because the settlers won’t like it, or possibly that he’s bluffing about Iran to draw attention away from them.

Ultima Ratio is down, but you can read their excellent (French) review of Syed Saleem Shahbaz’s posthumous book Inside Al-Qa’ida and the Taliban in the Google cache. Fans of “Kashmir is still the issue” will be interested by the argument that Muhammad Ilyas Kashmiri and ex-Pakistani officer Haroon Ashik introduced a new strategy aiming to bring about more conflict between Pakistan and India, in the hope of alienating Pakistani leaders from the alliance with the US. Apparently they were planning something against an Indian nuclear site when Kashmiri was droned in June 2011.


This Ha’aretz piece is interesting for the insight it gives into Israeli policy and especially into process, but also for a couple of other things. Notably, it’s remarkably frank about the Obama administration deliberately trying to stop Netanyahu going to war, and the role of dodgy casino guy Sheldon Adelson in both US and Israeli right-wing politics, and it provides the new information that the Americans have given up on the formal diplomatic channel and concentrated on influencing the Israeli military directly, on a brasshat to brasshat basis. The implied conclusion is that the IDF leadership are interested in external reality while Bibi is too busy being Winston Churchill, and further that they are interested in getting information from the Americans about what their own prime minister is thinking.

Also, Netanyahu considers himself an expert on US politics. The danger here is that the America he is an expert on may not be the same America everyone else is dealing with. If, as I suspect, he is getting a lot of his information from his Republican contacts, he’s living in an alternate universe. In so far as people like Sheldon Adelson are impressed by US politicians who know Bibi Netanyahu personally, his contacts are literally being paid to tell him what he wants to hear. It’s ironically similar to Bush before the Iraq war, just with the stove-pipe reversed.

However, I was astonished by this quote:

While the Fifth Fleet of the U.S. Navy is operating in the Straits of Hormuz, just as the Pacific Fleet was anchored at its home base near Honolulu on the fateful morning of December 7, 1941, the two instances are not really comparable.

Well, no, they’re not, are they? Some tabloid journalists keep a few paragraphs of general-purposes “sexy” in a file they can drop into a story as required and just change a couple of parameters to fit. This sounds like the same thing, but with Churchill!

Meanwhile, Colin Kahl, and this. It does look like there’s a coordinated push-back against the bullshit, which is good news for those of us who remember 2002. The US Navy bombs Iran…with love. Of a purely Platonic form between comrades of the sea. Oops. while also bringing the carrier back.

US policy does look like it’s trying to achieve three goals – 1) no war with Iran, 2) reassure the GCC countries (so they don’t start one), 3) restrain the Israelis (without pressing so hard they freak and start one). These are partly contradictory, but then what isn’t? Certainly, the combination of being ostentatiously nice to Iranian sailors while also sailing a giant carrier up and down the Gulf does fit the needs of 1) and 2).

In the recent case of Liam Fox and Adam Werritty, there was an issue that the news media spent an enormous amount of time and effort dancing around with innuendo, newspaper code, and carefully lawyered prose. It is a fact that the word “lawyered” is to the word “lawyer” as the word “doctored” is to the word “doctor”. Without understanding this hidden and sordid side of the issue, you would have been seriously misinformed. The matter was very sensitive, and there was an excellent chance of getting sued and probably also demonised as being deranged by shameful prejudices.

I refer, of course, to whether or not the Defence Secretary’s private office was having unprotected sex with other defence secretaries’ private offices.

It took a while to surface this at all – the Guardian let a wee squeak out on Thursday, and eventually it was the Sindy that took the plunge and surfaced it in the same way you surface a submarine, with an enormous roar of compressed air thundering into the ballast tanks under pressure while the nuclear reactor cranks up to full power. It’s a must read.

The fact that Werritty’s freebies included trips to the Herzliya Security Conference paid for by pro-Israeli lobbying groups should have been a screaming giveaway, but then, that’s what a good cover story is for. I presume that was what the Sindy eventually followed up.

I mentioned this element of the story to Daniel Davies earlier in the week. I can offer no special insight except for the enduring value of pattern recognition. This has, after all, happened before in recent memory, with really bad consequences.

Consider Mr. Michael Ledeen and the affair of the weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Ledeen, a professional neoconservative, claimed to have intelligence about Iraqi efforts to acquire uranium and various other things, which came from his contacts in Iran, some of whom were recommended to him by his contacts in Israel, one of whom, Larry Franklin, was convicted of spying for Israel in the US State Department. Ledeen believed these contacts to be renegade members of the Iranian secret service. (He had never visited Iran, and I think to this day never has, and he doesn’t to the best of my knowledge speak Persian, so how he would have known is beyond me.) The CIA, for its part, believed that this was partly true. They just disagreed with the “renegade” bit. But Donald Rumsfeld had deliberately decided to ignore the CIA, so Ledeen’s intelligence was accepted. However, that wasn’t the end of the story. At some point, the Department of Defense became suspicious and called in its own Counter-Intelligence Field Activity to investigate.

At this point, a thick curtain of secrecy was drawn down on the story, even if we did eventually get the Phase IIA report. Whatever CIFA found out, Ledeen was able to introduce the famous forged documents on uranium from Niger, which seem to have come from the Italian secret service, as being Iranian information with Israeli approval, and this was used in the even more famous dossier.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if old blogging chum from way back in the day, 2004, Laura Rozen hasn’t also had this thought, as she was instrumental in digging into the whole Ledeen affair and she’s too smart to miss it. Also, hilariously, she and Spencer Ackerman had the honour of being targeted by Ledeen’s mates in Silvio Berlusconi’s intelligence service with a scurrilous smear-campaign. I should probably hat-tip the lady’s Twitter feed.

Note the elements of the story. Ledeen is a semi-official adviser with special, privileged access to policymakers. He is outside the formal requirements of government service, but has access inside it. He is seen to have special access to an important ally, and therefore to be trustworthy. A third party observed this, and took advantage of it to introduce information (or rather, disinformation) into the policymaking system. Does anybody see a pattern here? Similarly, Werritty was offered privileged access from outside the government firewall because he was ideologically congenial. It seems that this was considered acceptable because the influence exerted came from a country considered friendly. But then, there were the rogue Iranian intelligence agents, or were they just ordinary Iranian intelligence agents?

In May 2009, Mr Werritty arranged a meeting in Portcullis House between Mr Fox and an Iranian lobbyist with close links to President Ahmadinejad’s regime. In February this year, Mr Werritty arranged a dinner with Mr Fox, Britain’s ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, and senior political figures – understood to include Israeli intelligence agents – during an Israeli security conference in Herzliya, during which sanctions against Iran were discussed. Despite Mr Werritty having no official MoD capacity, an Israeli source said there was “no question” that Mr Werritty was regarded as anyone other than Mr Fox’s chief of staff who was able to fix meetings at the highest levels, and was seen as an “expert on Iran”.

Well, at least Werritty actually went to Iran. Unfortunately this is the worst of the story, as it seems he was going round encouraging Iranian dissidents, or people he thought were Iranian dissidents, and promising them British support. This is really incredibly, shamefully irresponsible – he could have got people killed, and it cannot be ruled out that he did, although it’s also quite possible that the whole affair was just a massive exercise in bullshitting and wanktankery.

Probably he really believes that he was in contact with the opposition. I’m fairly sure Ledeen doesn’t think he’s an Iranian agent either. This is where this classic Onion article comes into play. As I said at the time, why *do* all these Iranian agents keep sucking Michael Ledeen’s cock?

It is all reminiscent of Bruce Schneier’s thoughts on what happens if you create a backdoor into some computer system, so people like us can get in and out without anyone noticing. The problem is that once you do that, it immediately becomes the biggest security threat to the system as anyone else can use it too. Once this new interface to the MoD was created, with Werritty accepting connections from the wider Internet and forwarding them to Fox, of course it attracted dubious actors. Hence the parade of various people trying to sell aircraft spares and dodgy encryption software to the military or to get someone’s knighthood expedited.

For my next trick, what parallels do you see between Werritty’s role with Liam Fox and those of Andy Coulson and Neil Wallis with No.10 Downing Street and the Metropolitan Police (and of course the Conservative Central Office) respectively? Remember that both of them were at various times funded by third parties. Further, is it not interesting that the same key Conservatives who defended Coulson to the bitter end – George Osborne and Michael Gove – also tried to save Liam Fox? (Jonathan Freedland seems to have sensed something here – check out the reference to “Cheneyite Tories”.) And is it not even more interesting that George Osborne actually recommended Andy Coulson for the job? And is it not completely fucking outrageous that William Hague, Atlantic Bridge board member and Foreign Secretary (I think this is the right order of precedence), dares to claim that proper Cabinet government is back in the midst of this berserk threat-chaos?

Adam Elkus has a piece out entitled The Hezbollah Myth and Asymmetric Warfare, in which he criticises what he sees as a tendency to over-rate the power of guerrillas in the light of the 2006 war. Having read it, I think the real question here is about expectations and goals. Hezbollah didn’t defeat the Israelis and hold a victory parade in Tel Aviv, but then nobody least of all them expected or aimed for that. The outcome of 2006 can only be understood in the light of a realistic assessment of the conflict parties’ capabilities, interests, and priorities. A score draw is a much better result for Stoke City against Manchester United than it is for Manchester United against Barcelona.

For Hezbollah, the first and overriding goal was surely survival – as it is for everyone, it’s even the title of the IISS Journal – followed closely by survival as a force in Lebanese politics, survival of their capability to maintain their self-declared insecurity zone in northern Israel, and finally, inflicting casualties and costs on the Israelis in order to create a deterrent effect. In that light, the result of 2006 was surely just as good from their point of view as they made out – they came away still in the field, still firing rockets, and with their status in Lebanese politics enhanced.

For Israel, well, perhaps one day they’ll work out what their strategic aims were.

Elkus argues that the tactical situation at the point when the UN ceasefire went into effect was favourable for Israel, and that had the war gone on they might have done better. This is possible. However, it’s also very common for wars to end like this. The Israelis’ campaign in 1967 was designed, once they got the upper hand, to get to the Canal and onto the Golan before the UN blew the whistle – one of Ariel Sharon’s frequent blind-eye manoeuvres in 1973 was also intended to complete the encirclement of the Egyptian 3rd Army before the UN ceasefire went into effect. The Indian plan for the 1971 war was explicitly intended to take Dhaka before a ceasefire was imposed. More recently, the Russian operation in Georgia was subject to a similar deadline. International intervention is part of the environment, and only fools wouldn’t take it into account as a planning assumption.

An interesting sidelight on this, also from Elkus, came up in a parallel blog debate about “network-centric warfare” – he pointed to this gung-ho but good piece about the action in northern Iraq in which John Simpson was blown up. What struck me about it, however, was more that it was an example of this kind of thing – which should certainly make you think about 2006, especially in the light of this.

Tangentially, Sean Lawson’s essay on the history of “network centric warfare” is well worth reading, especially for the way so many US officials in 2001-2006 seem to have been competing to see who could validate all the most extreme stereotypes of themselves the fastest, and more broadly on the way a basically sensible idea can become a sort of gateway drug to really insane strategic fantasies.

Cebrowski talked of a “booming export market for…security” and warned those who would resist, “If you are fighting globalization, if you reject the rules, if you reject connectivity, you are probably going to be of interest to the United States Department of Defense” (Cebrowski, 2003c).

Measured against the sort of capabilities the NCW thinkers knew they had, and the kind of goals they dreamed on the basis of them, what possible results wouldn’t look like failure? Compared with the enormous arrogance of this vision – they really did want everyone who thinks the CIA wants them dead, dead – what resistance wouldn’t look like success?

I’ve finally got around to answering my own question here. The scraper is work in progress at the moment; the original pdf is rendered by pdftohtml into a tiresomely semi-structured (i.e. worse than no structure) tagpile. I was trying to tackle this through recursion, but I might either try using Python’s continue keyword or perhaps trying to pre-tokenise the document based on the number of blank lines between blocks, and then deal with the blocks.

This all depends on the thing actually having any underlying structure, of course – it may be assembled by copy-and-paste, so anything I do will blow up every month. The things I do for England…

OK, so the Dubai assassination team made regular phone calls on GSM devices during the operation. What numbers did they call? From which ones? Well, it looks like they both used prepaid SIM cards acquired in Austria and they called Austrian telephone numbers. Obviously, that’s partly explained by the fact that they probably talked among themselves, but the only reason to say that they called numbers in Austria would be that there were other numbers called, outside the group.

Strange. The Mumbai raiders’ <a href="telephony used both a virtual number service in the US, and DID numbers registered in Austria and pointing at a VoIP system. This could just be an artefact of a data set of two, of course, or that somebody’s Web shop is close to the top of the Google results.

PS, does anyone have recommendations for a good graphics/visualisation solution? I’m thinking of doing my own one of these. Specifically, I’ve not seen one yet that takes account of the time factor – there is one suspect who spent only 3 hours 40 minutes in Dubai.

Peter Beaumont goes for a Holt’s battlefield tour of southern Lebanon:

Cruising through the serene green wadis that connect south Lebanon to the Litani river to the north, the commander explains what happened at the end of the last war. “We knocked out three of their tanks on the first day, as they tried to enter,” he explained at a turn-off by the village of al-Qantara. “But after they entered the wadi, we knew they were going for the river and had to be stopped. So we called out to all the special forces anti-tank teams in the area. And they all swarmed the wadi. Boys would set up and wait for the tanks, fire off their rounds and then pull back. Then they would pull back a kilometre or so down the wadi and wait for them again.”

According to Israeli military reports, after the first and last tanks were hit by rocket fire or mines, killing the company commander, the 24 tanks were essentially trapped inside a valley, surrounded on all sides and pinned down by mortars, rockets and mines. Eleven tanks were destroyed and the rest partially damaged and Israel lost at least 12 soldiers.

Go read the rest; there’s a fair amount of speculation of the informed sort, and an appearance from Andrew Exum opining that the reinforced UNIFIL has succeeded in moving Hezbollah away from the border, rather as it was meant to. Actually, the reinforced UNIFIL should surely be counted as one of the unexpected successes of the last few years – especially if you remember all the yelling at the time.

However, this may be less important than it appears, especially if the Hezbollah guy’s account of their tactics in 2006 is representative – there’s no reason why they couldn’t keep doing that every kilometre, and indeed that’s what the original idea of a screen of small groups of men with guided anti-tank weapons was meant to do in front of the main NATO armies in Germany (remember this post and Stephen Biddle’s analysis?)

Further, the whole concept of a buffer force assumes that both sides would rather not fight, but that neither is willing to make the first move – that a classic security dilemma is operating. If one or both parties are determined to initiate more violence, though, this breaks down. And it’s worrying to see how a lot of Israeli commentary about 2006 has changed over time – in the first 18 months or so, there was a lot of frankness around. The war had clearly been a failure, and Hezbollah had surprised everyone by defending southern Lebanon effectively. Roughly since Gaza, there’s been a denialist phase – a bit like David Lloyd’s crack that “we flippin’ murdered them” after the England cricket team ran out of time trying to beat Zimbabwe. A lot of stuff was blown up in Beirut, and if it wasn’t for those pathetic politicians, we’d have won. You know the pattern.

Iran war watch; Pat Lang quotes a Ha’aretz story about the Israeli air force practising long-range missions towards Gibraltar as preparation for an attack on Iran. The original is here. The first thing that is interesting is that this story has been repeated at regular intervals for some time. In fact, I believe it’s been floated every spring for several years (2007, for example). The second is that, if you look at the actual text, it’s got several markers of nonsense in it; the only sources are references to other media, and none of those actually quote any text. There are direct claims, but they are sourced to anonymous intelligence briefers, and they don’t actually corroborate the story. Rather wonderfully, one of them goes so far as to say that:

The message to Iran is that the threat is not just words

Of course not. But what I’m interested in is the significance of Gibraltar here; it’s not a set of coordinates in the open ocean or the desert, it’s an actual place with people, who have newspapers and the Internet. (Of course, it’s possible that it has a similar psychic significance to the Be’kaa Valley as a Happy Hunting Ground of nonsense.) Not only that, it’s a military base that bristles with radars and electronic intelligence equipment. Carrying out a major air exercise near it seems…bizarre, unless the point was to show off.

But the only people who they could show off to would be GCHQ, and they aren’t talking. And it’s not just Britain, either. Both Spain and Morocco have air-traffic control and air-defence radars operating in the area. Further, wouldn’t it all have been a bit obvious? Past descriptions of this mentioned as many as 50 aircraft, an impromptu airshow that could hardly have failed to attract attention on the beach at La Linea.

This is what the Panorama, Gibraltar’s local newspaper since 1975, has to say:

This is not the first time that there has been a mention of ‘Israeli military aircraft flying to Gibraltar’, but in the past this has been interpreted to mean that aircraft may have flown to the ‘Strait of Gibraltar area’ and back to Israel, but NOT to Gibraltar itself.

So nobody’s actually seen one? Consider me the Tony Dye of Iran-war bullshit.

I am in awe of this. Surely this must be some sort of brilliant artistic prank? Where is Chris Morris?

Yes, that is Richard Branson

Yes, that is Richard Branson

The story behind it is that he’s a simulated refugee in an event held during the WEF. Many jokes are of course possible regarding the fact that the people pretending to be refugees are themselves thousands of miles from home, packed into a remote location surrounded by armed guards and dogged by grandstanding journos. If you follow the links from the post at Foreign Policy, you’ll find that they have all been made.

My objection to this is that even if it helped to induce empathy in the participants, that’s not enough; in fact it’s more likely to play into confirmation bias by relieving them of some cognitive dissonance. And then, of course, it’s back to the toolkit of pat solutions you carry with you. Pigeon religion again.

For example, consider this ruck in the comments at Abu Muqawama. I really don’t get why, for some people, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict seems to be framed by rightwing nostrums from 1980s urban policy about “dependency culture”; what next, a zero tolerance drive to fix all the broken windows, vandalism obviously being a gateway drug to terrorism? But I’ve repeatedly seen this, almost always from Americans. And it’s not just a debating point – Donald Rumsfeld thought of appointing Rudy Giuliani chief of police in Baghdad, after all, and aren’t you almost disappointed not to have seen that epic cluster-fuck?

But quite a lot of people’s political views are best understood by posing this question; what qualifies my opinion as serious in a given peer group? Analysing Gaza as if you were running for election in New York City circa 1987 on a law-and-order ticket is objectively insane – it makes as much sense as using one’s remembered views on pay-beds in the NHS from 1978 as a guide to EU-Russia diplomacy.

And the outputs from it are as bad as you might expect; yer man is absolutely furious with me, although we appear to agree that there must be a Palestinian state and by corollary the Israelis will just have to cut their coat according to the cloth. The chief difference is that he thinks that abolishing the UN Relief and Works Agency will somehow lead to the state, rather than the other way around. Again, it’s very 1980s – slash their child benefit until they become better people, dammit, because otherwise…a generation of superpredators will knifecrime the suburbs!!!

There must be a reason for it, though; a meme this strongly conserved is conserved for a reason. I’d guess it’s twofold – one, this is the sort of thing a sensible conservative citizen is meant to say, two, it’s a screen-statement which protects against the fact that we are, after all, discussing the creation of a Palestinian state. And just as the only way to make Richard Branson a refugee is to persecute him out of London…

But then, what kind of pat solutions and dead ideas am I carrying about?

So, there’s this rumour-surrounded gadget that GIYUS wants people to install on their computers as part of the War on Terror. Obviously, I wondered exactly how it worked; did it analyse the Web sites you visit semantically, so as to target its talking points precisely? Did it use some sort of social recommendation mechanism? Also, I was wondering if there was any way of characterising the network traffic it generated and estimating how many people are using it.

So I did the obvious thing and I actually downloaded it. It’s packaged as a Firefox extension (.xpi); extensions consist of JavaScript files for the application logic and XUL (XML User interface Language) for the look’n’feel, all wrapped up in a ZIP archive. If you don’t have the source of one, all you need to do is pass it through an archive tool and extract all files, and then you can read them in a text editor.

And actually, it’s kind of disappointing; no folksonomy, no textual analysis, not even crude keyword matching. It just grabs an RSS feed from, passing in the string “GIYUS”, presumably to ensure it gets the right one, checks if any items in it aren’t already cached, and if so, fires a graphical alert containing the message. It’s basically a e-mail list gussied up in Web2.0 finery, with the feature that it’s marginally less trivial to forward the content to nonsubscribers. It doesn’t even appear to spy on your browsing history.

Of course, there could be some server-side magic involved. You can usually get a rough idea of location from an IP address, and a rough idea is probably best in terms of hit-rate (you’ve a much better chance of getting your geotargeting right for “North London” than “Archway”). And you can draw some conclusions from browser credentials – OS, screen, browser type and version etc. For example, perhaps you’d want to serve the red meat civilian deaths are all a fake stuff to MSIE5/6 users in teh US heartland and the Decent Left stuff to Mac users in North London. So I considered actually installing the extension; but then I realised I didn’t actually want a simulated Melanie Phillips on my sofa any more than I wanted the real thing. However, it’s possible to view the feed on the Web anyway, so I checked.

But they may not even be doing that; I’m on a weird niche ISP, with a linux machine, in North London, and the feed I see at is deeply generic.

Surely, though, it’s possible to do better than this? I envisage a sort of Web force multiplier, that would analyse the texts you read as you browse and compute some kind of digest hash, and do the same for every link you send anyone else, stashing the hash of each link in a remote server. As you browse, it compares the hash of the current page with the ones in the DB, and returns a list of possibly appropriate arguments – the strength of this being that they could be data, poetry, code, pictures, video, or indeed anything. We could incorporate some sort of social element, too, to keep a check on quality.

Who here knows about corpus analysis? Most of the academic papers my casual search found gave me that “dog listening to music” feeling. What I need is something like a rather bad crypto hash function – one where two texts with different content would produce non-randomly different hashes. Obviously we’d filter the text with a list of stop words like search engines do, so as to strip out the tehs and ands. We could, for example, use (say) the distribution of words in Wikipedia as a common baseline, and measure how the distribution of significant words in the target texts differs from it.