The Iran Deal’s Implication For Israel and Netanyahu’s Response

By Derek Brody

On July 14th, President Obama, along with a number of other countries, reached a historic settlement regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities. This complex and intricate agreement has been met with considerable backlash in the United States, especially from the Republican members of Congress. It was able to pass on September 10th, without the need for President Obama to use his veto power on any limitations put forth by Congressional opponents of the deal.

One staunch opponent of the deal, however, is neither American nor a member of the Republican Party: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu has labeled this deal a “historic mistake.” The Prime Minister went on to say that the deal will grant Iran, and the terrorist regime in Teheran that runs it, hundreds of billions of dollars to “fuel Iran’s terrorism worldwide,” its aggression in the region, and increase “Iran’s efforts to destroy Israel, which are ongoing.”

It is a somewhat understandable viewpoint, since few countries face the constant, complex security threats that Israel faces. Almost from the date of its inception, Israel has been under siege from enemies in the countries immediately surrounding it, and this fear caused by uninterrupted danger is inherent in Netanyahu’s remarks. Many Middle Eastern countries also have systematic and institutionalized opposition to Israel’s very existence Moreover, Israel faces an uphill climb in the United Nations, where states with far more perverse human rights violations continue to challenge Israel’s human rights records..  With these points in mind, it is still pertinent to assess Netanyahu’s condemnation of the deal as not only reckless, but also uninformed.

While Netanyahu’s address to Congress did no more than to label it “a bad deal, a very bad deal” and to say that the only way to rectify the situation is with a “better deal.” Instead of providing any concrete examples, the Israeli Prime Minister has railed against this peace accord aimlessly, challenging the United States, Israel’s biggest and strongest ally, to do better. President Obama was right in his response to Netanyahu’s speech, pointing out there was “nothing new” said by the Prime Minister.  Netanyahu spoke out of anger and fear, rather than rational thought, demanding a solution without offering any concrete help. His comments reflect that, as he did little to actually rectify the situation, choosing instead to recklessly criticize President Obama’s actions in his meeting with the joint session of Congress without any possible ways to resolve the conflict.

Despite Netanyahu’s stance, the Iran deal in its entirety is neither good or bad for Israel. The deal is a substantial diplomatic achievement in its own right, potentially limiting the nuclear power of an unstable state for the next 15 years; the mere fact that this was solved by diplomacy, rather than by force, is an accomplishment in and of itself. There are also negatives to this agreement: the possibility that Iran will renege on the accord, the problems that may arise with inspections of facilities, and the difficulties that may come with reinstating sanctions. But Israel, and Mr. Netanyahu specifically, must put trust in the United States to be able to combat an Iranian breach of contract swiftly and effectively. If not, they risk losing their most powerful ally, leaving them in imminent danger in the Middle East.

Instead, the Israeli Prime Minister is jumping on domestic fear in order to castigate the Obama administration, an administration that has had a complex, yet overall positive, relationship with the state of Israel. This illustrates the larger issue in these negotiations: the frosty and unhealthy relationship between these two world leaders. Both have legitimate gripes, to be sure. Mr. Netanyahu has said that President Obama has not acted with Israel’s best interests in mind with many of the United States’ actions in the Middle East, especially when the President went to Cairo in June 2009 and spoke out in support of a “Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.” The American President has countered with the fact that the United States has provided extensive military aid to Israel, as well as blocking Palestinian efforts to be recognized by the United Nations. Ultimately, however, it is Bibi, as the President likes to call him, who has truly ignited the flame of this incendiary relationship. On numerous occasions, Netanyahu has spoken out against the President’s actions, preferring to loudly voice his concerns rather than find the common ground.

        When Mr. Obama refused to follow through on his threat of airstrikes on Syria after the use of chemical weapons, Mr. Netanyahu responded with outrage, fearing for Israel’s safety and security. Susan E. Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor, reported that Mr. Netanyahu did everything but “use the n-word” to describe Mr. Obama. What Mr. Netanyahu failed to realize, however, was that the President was striking a deal to remove those weapons entirely, as well as a deal to remove Iran’s ability to create a nuclear weapon. Instead of providing concrete assistance toward peace in the Middle East, the Israeli Prime Minister has instead acted out of anger and frustration, choosing to personally attack the President, rather than providing real and helpful assistance.

        Despite major differences of opinion between these two men and their respective countries, it would be in the best interest of both parties to find common ground, to rekindle the strong relationship that the United States and Israel have had in the past. If they do so, America can continue to act with Israel’s interests when negotiating for peace with other countries in the Middle East. This will only be possible if Mr. Netanyahu begins to think before he speaks, rather than hastily criticizing the actions of John Kerry and the Obama administration.

How to wipe the tears from the attacks of Daesh (ISIS)

By Adithya Sivakumar

The Sinai.

Beirut.

Paris.

        The world watched in horror this past week as these places, usually abuzz with tourist activity, went into a state of shock and horror due to terror attacks. On October 31st, a Russian passenger plane exploded mid-air, killing all 224 on board, with intelligence strongly suggesting the responsible party is the Islamic State of the Levant (Daesh or ISIL), or one of its affiliates in the Sinai Peninsula. This Thursday, at least forty-three people were killed and more than 200 were injured in suicide bombing attacks, also claimed by Daesh, in Southern Beirut. A day after the events in Beirut, initial reports suggest that more than 100 people were killed and 350 were injured in a coordinated attack on various targets in Paris, and yet again, Daesh declared it was responsible. Many now question why these attacks were perpetrated, and how affected nations and their allies should respond.

        Although the crash in the Sinai Peninsula has not been confirmed as a definite terrorist attack, Daesh’s affiliate in the Sinai has claimed responsibility, and various intelligence sources seem to confirm that claim. There certainly could be a linkage between the air disaster and Russian involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Russian airstrikes against Daesh only started a month ago, and they have certainly made Russia a prime target for attacks, demonstrated by a recent Daesh propaganda film directly references Russia in plans for a future attack. Essentially, the reasons for the attack on the Russian jet would be to hurt Russian morale and prove that Daesh’s reach extends far beyond Iraq and Syria.  

        The bombing in Beirut came in an area where violence, unfortunately, has happened before, as al-Qaeda conducted several attacks there in 2014. This area of Southern Beirut has a predominantly Shia Muslim population; it is also a stronghold of Hezbollah, an organization with significant power in Lebanon. Hezbollah is a primary player in the Syrian Civil War, being a solid supporter of the Assad regime, and Daesh is one of the groups fighting against Hezbollah (and Assad).  Additionally, Daesh is a group with a clear sectarian goal in mind, as it wants to establish a Sunni Islamic State. In the past, Daesh has exploited the Sunni-Shia divide in many ways, especially in Iraq. Therefore, the attack in Beirut on Thursday could be an attempt to inflame sectarian tensions in a country where the Muslim population is nearly evenly split on Sunni-Shia lines. It could also be a warning to Hezbollah on not to fight Daesh in the Syrian Civil War, as further involvement would bring further attacks by Daesh and thus weaken Hezbollah’s morale. Most likely, it’s both.

        For Paris, the attacks on Friday come just nine months after another period of terror in the city. In January, twenty people were killed in a series of attacks carried out by members of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula, as revenge for cartoons published by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for its depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Details on Friday’s attacks are scarce, especially as the situation is still unfolding and rather chaotic.  Two facts, however, are quite clear: the death toll is above 120, and the attacks are the deadliest in France’s history since World War II. This time, Daesh has claimed responsibility, but the main question for the world is why France? Why again? The message from Daesh that claimed responsibility points to France’s involvement in the U.S.-led anti-Daesh coalition in Iraq and Syria. This indicates that the group attacked for very similar reasons as in Beirut and the Sinai: to weaken French morale and demonstrate their far reach into the global sphere.

        As these nations reel from these attacks, many wonder as to what is the next step in fighting Daesh. Even as airstrikes and offensives against the group are heightened, the organization always seems to strike terror into each nation it attacks, provoking more fear and chaos. French President Francois Hollande said in response to the attacks that his nation will go after the perpetrators with full vigor, while other world leaders, including those from the United States, Germany, Iran, and the United Kingdom, expressed solidarity with the French people and condemned the attacks. Similar responses from these countries were given in terms of the attacks on Beirut and the Sinai. With this high degree of solidarity, it is highly likely that all anti-Daesh coalitions will be ramping up airstrikes and other attacks on the organization.

        One of the most important responses may be to not fall for Daesh’s efforts to create fear and divide populations. Just after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in January, far-right parties, such as The National Front in France, assailed Islam and its supposed incompatibility with democracy, demagoguery that came in conjunction with attacks on mosques and other institutions in France. If xenophobia, Islamophobia, and/or sectarianism take hold in these nations, there is a prime possibility that populations may be divided even more, causing Daesh to once again exploit the resulting splits for its own benefit, as it did in Iraq by tapping into oppressed Sunni populations.  An effective response would be stop associating Daesh’s actions, as well as any extremist group’s actions, with the tenets of Islam, any kind of Islam, and its followers. These groups do not represent the ideals of the religion, but rather serve to heighten tensions between people and exploit power. To begin the process of disassociation, it is imperative to not refer to the supposed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant as ISIS or ISIL, but rather Daesh, an acronym that roughly means “bigots who impose their views on others.” Denying the group legitimacy in terms of adherence to Islam not only weakens their authority, but also serves as a step in minimizing xenophobic sentiments and allowing nations to harness their populations to exterminating these extremist threats. As the affected nations mourn their fallen, the world must band together and remember the atrocities in the Sinai, Beirut, and Paris, not only to mourn, but also to take action, making a cohesive effort to defeat the menace that is Daesh.

Why Westerners Join ISIS

By Daria Berstell

        As the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) remains in the press for their barbaric and violent methods, Westerners continue to leave their lives behind in favor of joining the jihadist group. The US State Department estimates that over 12,000 foreigners have traveled to Syria to join ISIS, including about 100 Americans. ISIS has attracted more Westerners than any other similar type of militant group due to their effective recruitment strategies. The vast majority do not have any prior military or fighting experience; ISIS is their first foray into military or jihadist life.

        ISIS uses the internet and social media to prey on young people, usually between the ages of 18 and 29. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, or Whatsapp are used by current ISIS militants to reach out to individuals who show interest in their cause by writing blog (or other social media) posts. These platforms make it possible for recruiters and their targets to communicate informally and quickly, even in real time with instant messaging. This method of reaching out to those who might join their cause is effective because it is a very personal approach.

        Additionally, social media is useful in helping recruit people to ISIS, due to its efficiency in disseminating the propaganda the group creates. They use slick movie-style trailers to interest people with high quality depictions of “fun violence,” much like in action movies or video games. However, some extreme cases have turned potential members off. It is clear that those making the propaganda pay attention to its reception, since videos often stop short of showing the end result. For example, execution videos often end before showing the moment of death.

Additional effective adaptations include the rapid development of videos. Social media’s efficient circulation of them means these images remain in the news feeds of people who have liked relevant pages or are friends with supporters or members. These people are more likely to be influenced by this media as they have already expressed interest in ISIS and related organizations.

        The journey from average western teenager or young adult to ISIS member is a slow one for recruits; understandably so, since it involves radicalizing them to the point where they wish to move across the world to become militants. For some, the journey to ISIS begins with conversion to Islam. Others, however, come from Muslim homes. Despite growing up Muslim, most of these Muslim westerners were members of moderate households. Parents and other family members were appalled at their relative’s choice to join ISIS. In interviews about their children joining ISIS, many parents commented on their child’s drastic change in personality and hobbies before leaving home. As a result of embracing conservative Islamic teachings, many of these new jihadists also rejected music and pop culture, as well as old friends.

        In addition to catering to their newfound values and beliefs, for many of the young people sucked into jihad, ISIS seems like an adventure. ISIS promises excitement, and for its recruits the opportunity to do something meaningful. For those who have turned to conservative Islam, ISIS provides a way to embrace and practice their religion in a “utopian” environment, for ISIS is in many ways is like a utopian political project. For these conservative foreigners, living in Syria and fighting alongside ISIS is portrayed as the ultimate way to practice their faith. The promise of martyrdom, or favor in the afterlife also tempts radicalized young Muslims.

        Furthermore, ISIS promises its recruits some more tangible perks, such as houses with running water and electricity, that are free of rent because of their service to ISIS. Additionally, ISIS implies that they will provide a community filled with like minded individuals.  For many of the young people who feel like outsiders in their homes in the West, promises of fulfilling their religious obligations, finding a path to a better afterlife, and being a part of a community are very strong motivators.

        New recruits not only increases ISIS’ numbers, but helps future recruitment, as those who have left western countries for ISIS are in a good position to recruit others from home. They speak the language of those they will recruit, and they have intimate knowledge of the culture. In addition, they can target specific people. Friends from home, or friends of friends who they know to be sympathetic or easy to sway, provide even more fodder for recruitment. As a result of the wide-array of people involved, ISIS recruitment is very decentralized. The use of social media and the ever expanding number of recruiters leads to a very large web of people that are very good at providing personal attention to those that express interest in ISIS. The lack of centralization makes it much harder for those trying to combat ISIS’ recruitment, like the U.S. government. The many middlemen involved in the process make it self-sustaining and quite capable of surviving many attacks.

        As a result of these effective measures, the United States struggles to prevent U.S. citizens from joining ISIS. A six-month review by the House Homeland Security Committee has shown that the U.S. does not have the infrastructure in place to prevent citizens from joining jihadist groups due to the lack of strategy for dealing with the threat of social media. In addition, the lack of strong security measures overseas makes it very easy for people to travel to join ISIS; this also increases the overall threat and possibility of extremists travelling or returning to the U.S. and committing acts of terrorism. Unfortunately, ISIS has proven formidable in its capacity to bring in young adults from a variety of western countries and as of yet there seems to be very little capable of stemming the tide.

Britain and the Future of Human Rights

By Issie Sagraves

In 1215, a group of revolutionary English barons met to create a document that would transform the nature of civil liberties. The Magna Carta limited the power of the monarchy in order to advance the rights of the individual, which it accomplished through a series of regulations. Exactly eight centuries later, it seems as if this same issue of individual rights is up for debate. In a sort of birthday present to the Magna Carta, the Conservative U.K. government has announced plans to scrap the Human Rights Act in favor of a British Bill of Rights. By abandoning the Human Rights Act, however, the British government takes a risky gamble, endangering both the integrity of the United Kingdom’s own human rights policy and the operation of the European Human Rights Court as a whole.

The Human Rights Act, signed in 1998, aims to incorporate the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights into the U.K. legal system. The Act has two major elements: it states that British public bodies (such as the courts, police, and NHS) need to abide by the basic human rights set out in the convention, and requires that the judiciary branch take into consideration the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. The Court, based in Strasbourg, hears cases in which a state has breached one or more of the human rights set out in the convention. Through the Human Rights Act, human rights cases presented under the European Convention of Human Rights can be heard in British courts, but the British courts must listen to the rulings of the Strasbourg Court. In essence, the Human Rights Act maintains the authority of this European court throughout the British justice system.

British PM David Cameron has put forward plans to abolish the Human Rights Act in favor of a new British Bill of Rights. David Cameron’s most outspoken objection to the Human Rights Act is the very presence of an international voice in Britain’s justice system: he is opposed to the Strasbourg Court’s power to enforce rulings over the British Supreme Court. Additionally, abolishing the Human Rights Act plays a role as part of Cameron’s greater political plan to make the UK more independent from the European Union and other European political entities (like the European Convention on Human Rights). Other reasons for creating the British Bill of Rights involve Conservative objections to certain demands of the Strasbourg Court, such as prisoners having the right to vote, and deportation cases such as Abu Qatada, who used the provisions under Strasbourg to delay his deportation to Jordan on terrorism charges.

The idea has come under mass criticism from a variety of opponents. Tim Hancock, the director of Amnesty UK, has pointed out the danger of altering the Human Rights Act because it allows politicians the opportunity to change said rights. Hancock asserts, “It’s exasperating to hear the prime minister vow to tear up the Human Rights Act again – so he can draft ‘his own’. Human rights are not in the gift of politicians to give. They must not be made a political plaything to be bestowed or scrapped on a whim.” It is also unclear exactly which rights (if any) would be specifically changed by the proposed British Bill. If no rights are changed, the Bill would be irrelevant. If some human rights are changed, however, this puts in jeopardy the current human rights standard upheld in the U.K., and officials like Hancock are concerned that the standard will deteriorate as rights are removed or altered as decided by the government.

In addition to awarding the government the power to potentially draft a new set of human rights standards, the action would break the formal link between the Strasbourg Court and the British courts. Cameron has two options if he does manage to pass his plans: either he can abolish the HRA – thus decreasing the authority of the Strasbourg Court – and still maintain membership in the European Convention of Human Rights, or he can pull out of the convention altogether. If membership is maintained, people who wanted to bring up human rights cases under the European Convention of Human Rights would have to go to Strasbourg to do so instead of presenting in front of a delegation in Britain, which would be a much more inconvenient and time-consuming process.

If the UK pulled out of the European Convention altogether, scrapping the Human Rights Act could also have serious international repercussions. Dominic Grieve, a Conservative MP and former attorney general, suggests, “Our [Conservative party] intent, if pursued, threatens to make the [European Convention on human rights] inoperable. In order for [the convention] to work, it is dependent on peer group pressure. If the UK will not observe and promote its terms, why should other member states?” The United Kingdom is a world leader, and so its example matters. If it were to get rid of the Human Rights Act, and put in place its own Bill of Rights, other countries with less stable governments (and less of a universal perception of which human rights are necessary) might do the same, with catastrophic consequences for the international upholding of human rights.

It seems clear that abolishing the Human Rights Act presents more problems than it would solve. Human rights are promised to all British citizens and residents without question, something that makes their democratic country so special. Europe is in chaos already, with the refugee crisis and economic problems. It is not the time for a human rights overhaul that would have continental repercussions. Why mess with a system that is, for the most part, working? It’s important to remember that it is not 1215, it is 2015 – and Britain already has a means of balancing governmental power with the rights of the individual without signing a new charter.

Syria – Russia’s Next Power Grab?

By Adithya Sivakumar

In the fall of 2013, the United States faced the possibility of initiating military action in yet another Middle-Eastern country. This time? Syria, specifically against Bashar al-Assad, whose regime reportedly employed chemical weapons to attack opposition strongholds in the Syrian Civil War, killing thousands.[1] However, the Syrian government accepted a deal that prevented direct US involvement at the time, as this deal stipulated that the Syrian government would agree to destroy its chemical weapon stockpile.[2]. The lull in official foreign involvement in Syria changed due to the rise of the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL); led by the United States, a coalition began to conduct airstrikes in Syria in the September of 2014. For a time, this appeared to be the only official international effort against ISIL. Then, on September 30, 2015, another world power decided to get involved in Syria, launching coordinated airstrikes against not only the infamous ISIL, but also other groups opposed to the Syrian government.[3]

That world power? Russia, the U.S.’s perennial competitor.

        The timing of the attacks seems quite convenient. According to The Economist, the Russia’s decision to attack occurred when the overall non-ISIL Syrian opposition was in its best shape since the war began in 2011. And indeed, rebel groups traditionally backed by Western donors have taken notice of this timing, asking for more aid to fight what they deem as a second occupation by the Russians (the first being from Al-Assad’s other ally, Iran). This occupation, however, has many observers puzzled.  Russia’s last direct military involvement in the Middle East occurred in Afghanistan, when the Soviet Union still existed. Its result was a massive defeat that likely factored into the demise of the once dominant super power.

        Some experts point to the relationship Russia has with the Syrian government. It is a relationship that stretches back to 1967, when the Soviet Union assisted Syria in its war against Israel; in return, the Soviet Union gained a port access to the Mediterranean, and ever since Syria has remained sympathetic to Russia. Additionally, Russia has firmly backed the Assad regime, even in the face of chemical weapons allegations, and despite numerous global calls for its end. In effect, by forming this implicit military alliance with Iran, a country that has officially backed  the Syrian government, and now even Iraq, with its Joint Military Operations Command stating its intention to share intelligence with both Russia and the Al-Assad’s government,  Russia is not necessarily focused on fighting ISIL, but rather strengthening Al-Assad’s regime, a tactic that appears to be working in light of an apparent ground assault in the works. [4]

        Another motivation for the Russian government’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War could be its thirst for international credibility, especially due to heightened tensions with its number one competitor, the United States. Due international uproar over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis (supplying military aid to separatists that may have brought down a passenger airline, as well as taking over the Crimean peninsula), Russia has certainly built a negative image globally. This has made the nation more keen to involve itself in matters of global stability, such as the Iran nuclear deal, that increase its global influence and perhaps builds a more positive image.

Furthermore, it appears that the United States is losing its global influence, especially in terms of the Syrian conflict. The CIA’s program to train and equip moderate rebels failed miserably.  In exasperation, members of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL have started to give military equipment to their proxies in Syria, without giving much thought to American objections, indicating the lack of adherence to American leadership. Additionally, the coalition-led airstrikes have not been particularly helpful for coalition-backed Syrian rebel groups either, as the attacks are aimed to attack  ISIL, not the Assad regime, giving the government time to regroup and strengthen itself as its other major enemy is under fire. These weaknesses caused by the Americans are easy for the Russians to exploit, allowing for Putin’s government to have a greater say in what group stays in power at the end of the Syrian conflict.

         No matter what Russia’s logic is, global attention will be on Russia’s next move in the conflict, which includes the possibility of ground troops and continued clashes with American interests. Run-ins already have been reported between Russian and American planes, and tensions continue to grow between the two countries.[5] In essence, Syria appears to be becoming a proxy battleground between two rival countries. As Mouaffaq Nyrabia, the Syria National Coalition’s (the organization recognized as the legitimate government in Syria by a variety of nations)  representative to the Benelux and European Union, describes to the Huffington Post, an ISIL-only approach by the U.S.-led coalition has emboldened the Al-Assad regime, causing many deaths due to civilian targeting, a factor that drives more people from Syria into the arms of ISIL. This situation is further exacerbated with Russian involvement, as these airstrikes are specifically aimed to help the Assad regime.[6] With competing interests between the United States and Russia, the likelihood of a comprehensive solution to end the conflict seems slim, despite meetings between Russian and American diplomats. Until such a solution can be created, however, Syria will continue to be a land where complex alliances, interests, and violence resides.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/31/syrian-air-strikes-obama-congress

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/10/syria-chemical-weapons-convention_n_3901417.html

[3] http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21672031-what-russian-intervention-means-opposition-down-not-yet-out

[4] http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/27/world/russia-syria-involvement/

[5] http://www.cnn.com/2015/10/07/politics/u-s-diverts-aircraft-to-avoid-russian-fighter/

[6] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mouaffaq-nyrabia/isis-no-fly-zone_b_8015784.html