Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Iranian President dismisses the Holocaust as a 'myth'

Holocaust deniers. Go read up on them. Like those 'historians' who deny the massacre of Nanjing never happened, they conveniently ignore the wealth of evidence and collaboration from various sources and choose to pick on various 'facts' and then trumpet it as why it never happened.

Come to think of it, that's exactly like the beliefs of most cranks.

Anyway to say that the history and geopolitics of this area is complex is akin to saying the surface of the sun is hot. Now I don't propose to go all the way back to the Suez Canal crisis to explain how it happened the way it did. In fact, one might have to go even further back to get a proper sense of how the situation degenerated into the mess it is. Possibly as far back as Philip II of Spain and the Ottoman empire.

But here's something I did for the Model United Nations (MUN), historical Security Council. It's set immediately after Egpyt and Syria attacked on Yom Kippur. And yes, this will be debated in next year's NTU MUN.

Historical Security Council: 1973 - Outbreak of the Yom Kippur War


The year is 1973 and it has been slightly less than two decades since this particular organ of the United Nations was established in 1945. Since then it has successfully (or otherwise) brokered cease-fires between warring nations. In 1949, it mediated a cease-fire between India and Pakistan over Kashmir after 2 years of fighting. In 1950, it called upon member nations to help South Korea repel an invasion by North Korea. It called for an arms embargo against South Africa in 1963 (only made mandatory in 1972). But pursuant to the issue today, in 1972, it adopted Resolution 242 and mediated a settlement of the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War.

Why? Because the Security Council has been charged with the solemn duty of enforcing the Charter of the United Nations. Because it can and while other organs can make recommendations as to the relative merits of the economics of anti-dumping or infant industry protection, the Security Council is the only organ capable of taking decisions that are binding on members under the Charter to carry out.

The Security Council

The Security Council has 15 members. 5 permanent members and 10 other non-permanent members elected by the General Assembly on a rotation 2-year basis. Often these 10 members would be representational of the regions of the world. These 5 permanent members were given their seats and the resultant power through a quirk of historical contingency. It reflects the hard realities and geopolitics of the world post World War 2.

Procedurally, decisions can only be passed if 9 of the 15 members ascend to them. If so, the proposal becomes a Resolution with the full weight, power and authority of the Security Council and the United Nations behind it. However, this is contingent on none of the permanent members using their veto power, which would result in the automatic rejection of the proposal.

However, for the purposes of this historic UN Security Council, the Permanent 5 will not exercise their veto power.

Statement of the Problem

The tenuous peace on the ground has broken down and the Middle East is once again at war. As we speak, both Egypt and Syria have just concurrently attacked Israel on 6th October 1973. This holy day, also known as Yom Kippur, also marks the day where Israel is at its military weakest as the country comes to a near complete standstill as the Jews fast and abstain from much of life's modern conveniences e.g. electricity. It is also the day when many soldiers leave the military bases to celebrate the holiday with their families. With most of its armed forces demobilized, this is Israel at its most vulnerable.

The localized political fear is as follows, depending on the success of the Egypt-Syrian Army the very survival of the Israeli State could be at stake. However, it is unlikely that the Israelis having been caught unawares will sit idly by. And having established its military dominance over its neighbours during the Six-Day War, a successful counter attack by the Israeli Army might see them push the disputed boundaries of the cease-fire even further deeper into the territories of these two states. This would further undermine and threaten the sovereignty and stability of both nation-state and political regime.

On a macro-political level, the fear is that of a larger conflagration which could develop between the two superpowers in a vicious spiral of escalating violence, where a war between these nations could rapidly turn into a proxy war and eventually into nuclear Armageddon.

On the economic front, given the importance of the Middle East to the functioning of the modern manufacturing economy through the provision of oil, it is not inconceivable that a lengthy war could disrupt supplies to the developing and developed nations and hurt their economies. Alternatively, we could see oil sanctions being used as a military weapon and bargaining chip should OPEC decide to back the Arab armies against Israel and their Western allies.

In short, the problem that still remains after Resolution 242 will become worse. The inherent uncertainties of the situation and the fear of an even more adverse outcome have prompted the Security Council to convene to deliberate upon the problem in an effort to generate a lasting solution.

History of the Problem

The modern Middle East was the creation of the Western world. Its boundaries determined by the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the aftermath of World War 2. The General Assembly created the State of Israel. The Six-Day War and Resolution 242 recognised their right to security. And by now, what is now termed the Cold War is well and truly underway and no part of planet and no nation can deny the influence, politics and power-play the world's two Superpowers, the USA and USSR are wielding.

Generally speaking, the geopolitical divisions in the region can be said to be the USA and its Western Allies on the side on Israel, while the USSR backs the Arab nations in opposition. The establishment of Israel is deeply unpopular within the region and not an single state has yet recognised the state of Israel with some going even further to deny its very right to exist.

Things came to a head during the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War in 1967, which was fought between Israel and its Arab neighbors of Egypt , Jordan and Syria. It began when Israel launched what it considered a pre-emptive attack against Egypt. This was in response to Egypt's closure of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and the deployment of troops in the Sinai bordering Israel. After months of increasingly tense border incidents and diplomatic crises, it came to a head with the war. When the dust settled, Israel controlled the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsular (clear to the Suez Canal), the West Bank and the Golan Heights (half of which still remained under Syrian control). The aftermath of the War maintained the geopolitical instability that lead to the current crisis.

Resolution 242 was passed by the Security Council, which called for the withdrawal of forced from occupied territory and recognized the right of all states in the area to security. Israel, however, refused to withdraw its troops form the territories it occupied, viewing them as a necessary military buffer and somewhat complacent in their belief that they could hold the land. This was despite new Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (who replaced Gamel Abdel Nassar who died in 1970), who declared that Egypt would be ready to enter into a peace agreement with Israel. This would be if Israel would withdraw from their 1967 lines i.e. the territory they occupied as a result of the Six-Day War. Israel refused.

Between the end of Six-Day War and the start of this crisis, Israel spent a huge amount to erect lines of fortification in Sinai and the Golan Heights. The fact that they emerged unscathed from the 3 year War of Attrition with Egypt led the military leadership to grow somewhat complacent.

President Sadat was of the opinion that even a limited military defeat inflicted on Israel would be able to budge the status quo and as early as 1972, he began to publicly state his intention to attack Israel. And to that ends, they aggressive pursued a policy of arms upgrading and buildup as well as an overhaul of the command structure (replacing political generals responsible for the defeat in the 6 Day War with competent ones) and military strategy and tactics.

Syria in turn was purely concerned with a military venture to reclaim the Golan Heights. President Assad saw this as part of a larger plan to make Syria into the dominant military force in the region. He believed that with Egypt's help, he could inflict a convincing military victory over Israel and regain the Golan Heights. He also believed that once it was reclaimed, Israel would be more willing to make concessions as to the rest of the occupied territory. As such, he too launched a massive military buildup. This was in conjunction with the constant guerilla raids, assaults and harassment he inflicted on Israel through terrorist and paramilitary forces operating not just out of Syria but also Lebanon.

The roles of the two great superpowers were to prove instrumental in the lead up and occurrence of this current crisis. While Israel was provided the latest and most advance weaponry by the USA and their allies, the Soviets did not similarly equip their Egyptian ally. What they provided was primarily defensive weapons and then only with great reluctance. What modern weaponry the Egyptian have utilized in this crisis (SAM battery wall) was only obtained after a personal visit by President Sadat to the Kremlin to plead his. And it was only after his threat to upset the balance of power in the region by handing his post over to someone who would negotiate with the Americans that the Russians acceded to his request.

The Russians were also not amenable to the rather hostile Israeli policy that President Sadat was implementing following the 1967 War. It was felt that Egypt chances in a war were not at all good and any attempt to cross the Suez Canal would result in very heavy losses. And the Soviets did not want to get dragged losing battle and into a wider conflict involving the USA. This reality was confirmed in the Oslo Accords between the two superpowers. Feeling betrayed and later actually betrayed when his plans for the preparation to cross the Suez Canal was leaked, President Sadat expelled nearly all the Soviet military observers in his country in July 1972. Following this event, he began to reorient his foreign policy towards the Americans instead.

Even without (or perhaps because of the absence of) the Soviets, secret plans began formulating in the highest echelons of the Egyptian high command for the invasion of Israel. This would later include the Syrians, which has resulted in this current crisis to face the Security Council.

Current Situation

In the Sinai, the Egyptian armies have advanced past their cease-fire line into Israel and in fact have captured the Suez Canal in record time, confounding the expectations of most military observers and analyst. In the process, their forces have advanced kilometers into the Sinai. Where it was expected that the sand berms that the Israelis created as a defensive position on the east bank of the Sinai would act as a security barrier and buy them time, Egyptian ingenuity have rendered them useless. Military engineers have used huge water cannons to undermine their foundations and have thus exposed the Israeli defensive positions. As this paper is written, Egyptian forces are rapidly overrunning the Bar-Lev forts on the basis of overwhelming forces and numbers.

The Israeli airforce which was to prove so dominant in the Six-Day war have been mostly neutralized by the battery of surface to air missiles (SAMs) on the Sinai line. This, however, limits the extent to which the Egyptians would feel safe expending further into the Sinai.

In the Golam Heights, the Syrian army has attacked the much smaller Israeli forces. Against the Israeli defense of two brigades and eleven artillery batteries, the Syrians have engaged with five divisions and 188 batteries. To the 180 Israeli tanks, the Syrians amassed 1, 400 tanks. Despite the overwhelming numbers, the Israelis have generally held their own and this can be attributed to a number of factors.

One, the Golam Heights is of much greater priority to the Israeli High Command given that it is much closer to Israel itself and a capture of the Golam Heights by Syrian forces would allow them straight into Israel itself.

Two, a miscalculation of the part of the Syrian High Command which assumed that it would take at least 24 hours for Israeli Reservist Forces to arrive to supplement the current Golam Height defences. Instead, the first forces arrived after about 15 hours from the inception of the war.

Three, the Syrian advance is thus far limited in part by their dependence on the protection of the SAM batteries as well as the flatter terrain, which diminishes the impact of their soviet-anti-tank weapons (unlike the more uneven terrain in Sinai).

Other Arab states while not providing troops have nevertheless aided the Egyptian and Syrain forces with weaponry and finance. In addition to this support, the USSR has also aided through the provision of armaments as well as military advice and expertise. In fact much of the armament on the part of the Arabs were Soviet manufactured. In contrast, Israeli stands alone in the midst of a hostile region. Their allies are primarily in the form of the USA and their Western allies. This, too, is reflected in the kind of armaments used.

Proposed Solutions

Due to the urgency of the matter, the immediate concern of the Security Council is to broker a cease-fire and stop the further incursion of the invading nations into Syria. In the absence of such a prospect, a decision will need to be made whether to call upon member nations to come to Israel's defence, repel the invasion and protect her territorial integrity.

Even should a cease-fire be broker, a legitimate issue that could be raised is to where the line of this new cease-fire should be. One of the major factors that led to the outbreak of this war was the dissatisfaction of the status quo by Egypt and Syria. Thus, a cease-fire and a stop to the hostilities are only the necessary first step towards the establishment of a longer-term peace plan. The situation as it stood prior to this crisis was unstable and a mere precursor to the war facing this council currently.

To avoid a repetition of a similar occurrence, there needs to be a resolution passed that would be amenable to all the parties concerned in this situation and generate a lasting solution. Thus, the policy must satisfy not just the Syrians and Egyptians and by extension the Arab world, but must also take into account the concerns and willingness of the Israelis to this proposal. Just as importantly, considerations must also be taken of the interests and concerns of the Americans and the Soviets in the region.

Hence, some form of concession must be made on the part of the Israelis to a stricter adherence to Resolution 242, which would include giving up land in Sinai and the Golam Heights. However, the Egypt and Syria must understand that the Israelis would not lightly give up a security buffer without some concession as to the recognition of their state or even more fundamentally their right to exist i.e. a land for peace proposal.

Countries are reminded not to forget that the Israeli-Palestine problem still exists and that it is a sticking point with the other Arab nations for various reasons. A proposal that can solve this together with the rest at one fell swoop is an option. Alternatively, a proposal can be a lot more modest and focuses exclusively at the tension fault-lines of the hostile nations before another can of worms is opened.

So while the general framework is there, it is not set in stone. In particular the exact terms of this compromise has not been determined. Thus, even before such a consideration can take place, there are a number of methods and venues whereby this could achieved. For example, this could be a UN led directive from start to finish. Alternatively, the superpowers can facilitate individual agreements between the hostile nations.

Bloc Positions

This is not the height of the Cold War and in fact, relations between the two superpowers have vastly improved form the relative depths of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Since then the two superpowers have been very cautious in their dealings for fear of being dragged into a wider conflict i.e. to keep the Cold War a cold one and not nuclear Armageddon. The USA's sphere of influence within the Middle East is generally limited to and by its unstinting support of Israel. And as such, it can be counted upon to provide (military) aid and supplies in Israel's defence. Furthermore, in the past year or so, Egypt under President Sadat has begun making overtures and being friendlier to the USA and they could in turn leverage on this new found friendliness to rapidly establish restrain.

Conversely, the Egypt has begun to drift away from the Soviet's influence and it remains to be seen if it survives this conflict. While possibly grateful for the weaponry, the Soviet betrayal and the subsequent expulsion of the Soviet military observers limits the influence that the USSR can wield on them. As relations remain cool, the Soviets if desirous to expend their influence in the Middle East could take this opportunity to correct their position and reverse their losses.

Egypt and Syria both desire a return of the land they lost as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War. However, they viewed the war differently. While President Sadat saw it merely as inflicting a limited military victory as a precursor to negotiations, President Assad saw it as a purely military exercise to reclaim the Golam Heights. And only when the Golam Heights were reclaimed would concessions come from Israel.

In addition, Egypt has a strong domestic reason to invade. President Sadat knew that Egypt was in shambles and needed deep unpopular reform. Such reform could only be implemented without a threat to his position if he could gain a military victory and boost his popularity. Furthermore, in the past three years in power, he had been beset by huge protests over his inactivity in not invading Israel and reclaiming the lands.

There is no Arab State, which recognises the State of Israel. But while certain states have demonstrated a minimal level of restrain and not actively confronted Israel e.g. Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Republic, certain other states have denied that Israel has a right to exist e.g. Syria which has been sponsoring a war against Israel since the 1960s. However, there is no monolithic position despite the Arab League's support of the war. The various states have various positions on the war not least because of the historical enmity that has existed between these states since time immemorial or even more recently. For example, King Hussein of Jordan was extremely reluctant to get involved in the war. He had lost a lot of territory during the 1967 war and feared losing more. Furthermore, an alliance struck between President Sadat and Yasser Arafat saw Sadat promising the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) land in the West Bank and Gaza in the event of the victory. King Hussein, however, saw the West Bank as still belonging to Jordan and was extremely displeased with this bargain. King Hussein also has a huge population of Palestinian refugees on his territory bordering Israel who fully expect to go back soon and have made no intention to integrate into Jordan.

Furthermore, relations between President Assad and King Hussein have been very strained since the Black September Incident of 1970 where a conflict between Jordan and the PLO saw the Syrians aiding and abetting the PLO. In addition, Palestian and Syrian attacks on Israel were often conducted from Jordan.

Leading up to the war, President Sadat went on a diplomatic and charms offensive in a bid to win support for it. As a result he can claim to have the backing of over a hundred nations. Amongst the more notable organisations and countries are the Arab League, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organisation for African Unity. He also has had some notable success in Europe, which saw Britain and France actually voting against Israel in the Security Council for the first time recently. In fact, in the lead up to the war, West Germany became one of Egypt's largest suppliers of material.

However, it is to be expected than there will be variance in their actual support for the current war in the Middle East. This variance would also translate into different visions of what the Middle East should and ought to look like post-conflict and in particular variance of opinions of the Israeli state, Resolution 242, the Palestinian problem and where the new boundaries should be set.

Questions a Resolution must answer

If the invading parties refuse to accept a cease-fire, should the Security Council call upon the member nations to defend Israel?

Should the invading parties be condemned for their invasion or should it be seen as the result of Israel's obstinacy and its breach of Resolution 242?

If the cease-fire is to be recommended, should there be a timeline as to when and how the cease-fire should proceed? And if so, what would be the required and mandate actions to be performed on the part of the parties involved?

Should a cease-fire be brokered where are the new lines of cease-fire to be drawn?

How should Resolution 242 be interpreted in light of this crisis?

What should be done about the unsatisfactory state of affairs, especially with reference to the Israeli occupation of occupied territory?

Similarly what ought to be done about the non-recognition of Israel as a proper state by the Arab nations and their generally hostile attitude?

Should the United Nations broker the deal between all the warring parties or should it be handled by the individual states separately or even with the facilitation of the superpowers?

Should there be a time-line set out as to the creation of lasting solution through a peace deal? If so, what would some of the benchmark actions be and how would they be enforced if it were decided that it should be enforced?

What about the Palestinian Problem? Is it to be address concurrently or separately from this issue?


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