1) No more designer shoes for you
Richard Cohen in The Luxury we don't have in Syria:
About a month ago the European Union, showing it will not be trifled with, barred Bashar al-Assad’s wife, Asma, and other women in his immediate family from shopping for luxury goods in Europe. For some reason, going cold turkey on Dior, Armani and Prada failed to bring down the Assad regime or to end its vicious attacks on the civilian population. Now the Europeans, presumably with the staunch support of the Obama administration, have imposed an across-the-board ban on the sale of luxury goods to Syria — and yet, somehow, the killing continues.
The imposition of the luxury goods ban was cited in a New York Times editorial with all the solemnity usually reserved for naval blockades — as good an example of any of how we have gone to dreamland. In the dream, a vicious dictator, fighting for his own and his family’s lives, will somehow come to the bargaining table because he is down to his last Montblanc pen. Of course, more practical measures and boycotts have also been adopted, but it is always good to remember that severe boycotts were imposed on Saddam Hussein’s regime for about 12 years — and it still took an invasion to bring him down. There is a lesson here.
And a headline that's hardly surprising: U.N. Observers Prove Little Deterrent to Syrian Attacks.
2) It depends what the meaning of "always" is
From President Obama's remarks at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum yesterday:
"Never again" is a challenge to defend the fundamental right of free people and free nations to exist in peace and security — and that includes the State of Israel. And on my visit to the old Warsaw Ghetto, a woman looked me in the eye, and she wanted to make sure America stood with Israel. She said, "It’s the only Jewish state we have." And I made her a promise in that solemn place. I said I will always be there for Israel.
From yesterday's press briefing at the State Department:
QUESTION: There are some press reports that (inaudible) Turkey is blocking Israel’s participation to next NATO summit. And the U.S. side is not happy with that. It’s disappointed and trying to convince Turks not to block Israel to NATO. Do you have any comment on that – on those reports?
MS. NULAND: Well, I think you know for quite some time now, we have been continuing to talk to both our ally Turkey and our ally Israel about the relationship that they have with each other, to encourage them to continue to get back to a place where can have conversation with each other, where they can work well together. We think it’s important to both of them, and it’s certainly important to the region.
With regard to arrangements for the NATO summit and partnership events, as you know, Israel is one of NATO’s partners in the Mediterranean Dialogue. I don’t have anything particular to announce on partnership planning at the moment. Those discussions are continuing as we head towards the May summit in Chicago.
QUESTION: So Israel may participate in some?
MS. NULAND: Again, we’re still working on what the partnership arrangements are going to look like for the summit, so I’m not going to comment on them from here as those conversations continue. There are many aspects of how the partners may or may not participate in the NATO summit that are still being worked on.
QUESTION: Well, are you comfortable with the Turkish position?
MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to comment on internal deliberations going on at NATO about arrangements for the summit from this –
QUESTION: You are. If you can’t come out and say that the United States wants Israel to participate, its main ally in the Middle East and you won’t come out and say that the Administration wants them to participate in whatever event is going in Chicago, that’s – that is going to be seized on.
MS. NULAND: Matt, at the last summit in Lisbon, there was zero partnership participation with the exception, I think, of ISAF partners. At Lisbon there were some partnership events, and I don’t know whether all partners were included. I think they were not.
3) More gas pains
David Kirkpatrick wrote a despicable article about Egypt's decision to terminate its natural gas deal with Israel. The gist of the article was that since the deal was never approved by the Egyptian people it was of questionable validity. And, yes, Kirkpatrick suggested the same about Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. Egypt claimed that Israel had not paid for gas in four months. Still Kirkpatrick insists on describing the deal to the detriment of the Egyptian people, and they're not going to take it anymore.
Lawsuits and criminal investigations have accused Mr. Mubarak and his associates of corruption for depriving Egypt of a fair market price for the gas sold to Israel. And since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster last year, unknown attackers have bombed a gas pipeline in the Egyptian Sinai more than a dozen times, apparently to disrupt the flow to Israel.
In any case this leaves out some important details (and conclusions). Barry Rubin observed:
Oh, by the way, the Egyptians have now said they will not sell natural gas any more to Israel. The pipeline that had been providing 40-50 percent of Israel’s natural gas and has been attacked numerous times by Islamist attackers in Sinai will be closed permanently. The $460 million invested in the pipeline project, mostly by Israeli, is gone forever, plus Israel will have to find a substitute source until its own offshore wells come online .
While this is supposedly a commercial decision, it is obviously a response to public pressure and the sabotage campaign that the Egyptian government doesn’t care enough to stop. The New York Times dishonestly reported that the issue is just a “payment dispute.” Well, let’s see. Natural gas wasn’t delivered most of the time so Israel didn’t pay. Egyptian leaders and media said the gas shouldn’t be sold to an enemy and that to do so was treason. Sounds like a threat to those operating the natural gas industry there. The pipeline was attacked almost a dozen times and put out of commission without a major effort by Egypt’s army to defend this national economic asset. And they also demanded that Israel pay more than had been agreed, thus violating the contract. But by the time the Times’ article finishes the problem is made to sound as if it is all Israel’s fault. Just wait until Egypt escalates anti-Israel actions and the Times blames Israel for those also.
There are two important lessons here. First, any commitment made to Israel by an Arab partner is easily deemed invalid by the latter (and that would include any potential Israel-Palestine peace treaty). The United States may soon have the same experience in Egypt. Second, while a key Egyptian complaint has been that they wanted higher prices, Egypt will now lose the income from the pipeline, make investors reluctant from fear that their deals might also go up in smoke, and the country will be materially worse-off.
Kirkpatrick's article was even worse than I first thought.