What could be simpler than the Middle East? A well-known Egyptian blogger who writes under the pseudonym The Big Pharaoh put together this chart laying out the region’s rivalries and alliances. He’s kindly granted me permission to post it, so that Americans might better understand the region. The joke is that it’s not a joke; this is actually pretty accurate.
Spend a few minutes staring at this and you will either have a seizure or actually comprehend the Middle East. Egypt is represented by the “MB” (Muslim Brotherhood) and “Sisi” for military leader Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. (Courtesy The Big Pharaoh)
There are rivals who share mutual enemies, allies who back opposite sides of the same conflict, conflicting interests and very strange bedfellows. There are two categories of countries: the ones that meddle (the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Israel) and the ones that are meddled with (Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories). Each of the former is pushing for a different outcome in each of the latter, falling in and out of cooperation and competition. And that long-running interference is an important part of why conflict persists.
It’s all kind of a scramble. The Big Pharaoh writes: “I keep on updating this chart because every time I look at it I discover that I’ve missed an arrow. That’s how complicated it is.”
The chart is a spin-off of the most amazing letter to the editor ever written, whichappeared in Thursday’s Financial Times. It also explained the entire Middle East, in a few short sentences. Here they are:
Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf states are against Assad!
Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi.
But Gulf states are pro-Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood!
Iran is pro-Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood!
Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the U.S.!
Gulf states are pro-U.S. But Turkey is with Gulf states against Assad; yet Turkey is pro-Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is being backed by the Gulf states!
Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.
London EC4, U.K.
More from WorldViews on understanding the Middle East:
Update: Some readers have raised a few fair quibbles with the chart. The biggest is that it’s not totally accurate to say that Israel supports Syrian rebels; although they certainly don’t care for Assad and have previously bombed Syrian weapons and nuclear installations, they’re not exactly rooting for a Libya-style rebel takeover, either. And al-Qaeda doesn’t just hate the Assad regime, it also hates the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others. All of which helps to drive home that the Middle East is even more complicated than it appears on this already crazy-complicated chart.
Max Fisher is the Post's foreign affairs blogger. He has a master's degree in security studies from Johns Hopkins University. Sign up for hisdaily newsletter here. Also, follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
The U.S. knew Hussein was launching some of the worst chemical attacks in history -- and still gave him a hand.
BY SHANE HARRIS AND MATTHEW M. AID|AUGUST 26, 2013
The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America's military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen,Foreign Policy has learned.
In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq's war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein's military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.
The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq's favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration's long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn't disclose.
U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein's government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.
"The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn't have to. We already knew," he told Foreign Policy.
According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U.S. government. The CIA declined to comment for this story.
In contrast to today's wrenching debate over whether the United States should intervene to stop alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government, the United States applied a cold calculus three decades ago to Hussein's widespread use of chemical weapons against his enemies and his own people. The Reagan administration decided that it was better to let the attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted.
In the documents, the CIA said that Iran might not discover persuasive evidence of the weapons' use -- even though the agency possessed it. Also, the agency noted that the Soviet Union had previously used chemical agents in Afghanistan and suffered few repercussions.
It has been previously reported that the United States provided tactical intelligence to Iraq at the same time that officials suspected Hussein would use chemical weapons. But the CIA documents, which sat almost entirely unnoticed in a trove of declassified material at the National Archives in College Park, Md., combined with exclusive interviews with former intelligence officials, reveal new details about the depth of the United States' knowledge of how and when Iraq employed the deadly agents. They show that senior U.S. officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks. They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.
Top CIA officials, including the Director of Central Intelligence William J. Casey, a close friend of President Ronald Reagan, were told about the location of Iraqi chemical weapons assembly plants; that Iraq was desperately trying to make enough mustard agent to keep up with frontline demand from its forces; that Iraq was about to buy equipment from Italy to help speed up production of chemical-packed artillery rounds and bombs; and that Iraq could also use nerve agents on Iranian troops and possibly civilians.
Officials were also warned that Iran might launch retaliatory attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East, including terrorist strikes, if it believed the United States was complicit in Iraq's chemical warfare campaign.
"As Iraqi attacks continue and intensify the chances increase that Iranian forces will acquire a shell containing mustard agent with Iraqi markings," the CIA reported in a top secret document in November 1983. "Tehran would take such evidence to the U.N. and charge U.S. complicity in violating international law."
At the time, the military attaché's office was following Iraqi preparations for the offensive using satellite reconnaissance imagery, Francona told Foreign Policy. According to a former CIA official, the images showed Iraqi movements of chemical materials to artillery batteries opposite Iranian positions prior to each offensive.
Francona, an experienced Middle East hand and Arabic linguist who served in the National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, said he first became aware of Iraq's use of chemical weapons against Iran in 1984, while serving as air attaché in Amman, Jordan. The information he saw clearly showed that the Iraqis had used Tabun nerve agent (also known as "GA") against Iranian forces in southern Iraq.
The declassified CIA documents show that Casey and other top officials were repeatedly informed about Iraq's chemical attacks and its plans for launching more. "If the Iraqis produce or acquire large new supplies of mustard agent, they almost certainly would use it against Iranian troops and towns near the border," the CIA said in a top secret document.
But it was the express policy of Reagan to ensure an Iraqi victory in the war, whatever the cost.
The CIA noted in one document that the use of nerve agent "could have a significant impact on Iran's human wave tactics, forcing Iran to give up that strategy." Those tactics, which involved Iranian forces swarming against conventionally armed Iraqi positions, had proved decisive in some battles. In March 1984, the CIA reported that Iraq had "begun using nerve agents on the Al Basrah front and likely will be able to employ it in militarily significant quantities by late this fall."
The use of chemical weapons in war is banned under the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which states that parties "will exert every effort to induce other States to accede to the" agreement. Iraq never ratified the protocol; the United States did in 1975. The Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the production and use of such arms, wasn't passed until 1997, years after the incidents in question.
The initial wave of Iraqi attacks, in 1983, used mustard agent. While generally not fatal, mustard causes severe blistering of the skin and mucus membranes, which can lead to potentially fatal infections, and can cause blindness and upper respiratory disease, while increasing the risk of cancer. The United States wasn't yet providing battlefield intelligence to Iraq when mustard was used. But it also did nothing to assist Iran in its attempts to bring proof of illegal Iraqi chemical attacks to light. Nor did the administration inform the United Nations. The CIA determined that Iran had the capability to bomb the weapons assembly facilities, if only it could find them. The CIA believed it knew the locations.
Hard evidence of the Iraqi chemical attacks came to light in 1984. But that did little to deter Hussein from using the lethal agents, including in strikes against his own people. For as much as the CIA knew about Hussein's use of chemical weapons, officials resisted providing Iraq with intelligence throughout much of the war. The Defense Department had proposed an intelligence-sharing program with the Iraqis in 1986. But according to Francona, it was nixed because the CIA and the State Department viewed Saddam Hussein as "anathema" and his officials as "thugs."
The situation changed in 1987. CIA reconnaissance satellites picked up clear indications that the Iranians were concentrating large numbers of troops and equipment east of the city of Basrah, according to Francona, who was then serving with the Defense Intelligence Agency. What concerned DIA analysts the most was that the satellite imagery showed that the Iranians had discovered a gaping hole in the Iraqi lines southeast of Basrah. The seam had opened up at the junction between the Iraqi III Corps, deployed east of the city, and the Iraqi VII Corps, which was deployed to the southeast of the city in and around the hotly contested Fao Peninsula.
The satellites detected Iranian engineering and bridging units being secretly moved to deployment areas opposite the gap in the Iraqi lines, indicating that this was going to be where the main force of the annual Iranian spring offensive was going to fall, Francona said.
In late 1987, the DIA analysts in Francona's shop in Washington wrote a Top Secret Codeword report partially entitled "At The Gates of Basrah," warning that the Iranian 1988 spring offensive was going to be bigger than all previous spring offensives, and this offensive stood a very good chance of breaking through the Iraqi lines and capturing Basrah. The report warned that if Basrah fell, the Iraqi military would collapse and Iran would win the war.
President Reagan read the report and, according to Francona, wrote a note in the margin addressed to Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci: "An Iranian victory is unacceptable."
Subsequently, a decision was made at the top level of the U.S. government (almost certainly requiring the approval of the National Security Council and the CIA). The DIA was authorized to give the Iraqi intelligence services as much detailed information as was available about the deployments and movements of all Iranian combat units. That included satellite imagery and perhaps some sanitized electronic intelligence. There was a particular focus on the area east of the city of Basrah where the DIA was convinced the next big Iranian offensive would come. The agency also provided data on the locations of key Iranian logistics facilities, and the strength and capabilities of the Iranian air force and air defense system. Francona described much of the information as "targeting packages" suitable for use by the Iraqi air force to destroy these targets.
The sarin attacks then followed.
The nerve agent causes dizziness, respiratory distress, and muscle convulsions, and can lead to death. CIA analysts could not precisely determine the Iranian casualty figures because they lacked access to Iranian officials and documents. But the agency gauged the number of dead as somewhere between "hundreds" and "thousands" in each of the four cases where chemical weapons were used prior to a military offensive. According to the CIA, two-thirds of all chemical weapons ever used by Iraq during its war with Iran were fired or dropped in the last 18 months of the war.
By 1988, U.S. intelligence was flowing freely to Hussein's military. That March, Iraq launched a nerve gas attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja in northern Iraq.
A month later, the Iraqis used aerial bombs and artillery shells filled with sarin against Iranian troop concentrations on the Fao Peninsula southeast of Basrah, helping the Iraqi forces win a major victory and recapture the entire peninsula. The success of the Fao Peninsula offensive also prevented the Iranians from launching their much-anticipated offensive to capture Basrah. According to Francona, Washington was very pleased with the result because the Iranians never got a chance to launch their offensive.
The level of insight into Iraq's chemical weapons program stands in marked contrast to the flawed assessments, provided by the CIA and other intelligence agencies about Iraq's program prior to the United States' invasion in 2003. Back then, American intelligence had better access to the region and could send officials out to assess the damage.
Francona visited the Fao Peninsula shortly after it had been captured by the Iraqis. He found the battlefield littered with hundreds of used injectors once filled with atropine, the drug commonly used to treat sarin's lethal effects. Francona scooped up a few of the injectors and brought them back to Baghdad -- proof that the Iraqis had used sarin on the Fao Peninsula.
In the ensuing months, Francona reported, the Iraqis used sarin in massive quantities three more times in conjunction with massed artillery fire and smoke to disguise the use of nerve agents. Each offensive was hugely successful, in large part because of the increasingly sophisticated use of mass quantities of nerve agents. The last of these attacks, called the Blessed Ramadan Offensive, was launched by the Iraqis in April 1988 and involved the largest use of sarin nerve agent employed by the Iraqis to date. For a quarter-century, no chemical attack came close to the scale of Saddam's unconventional assaults. Until, perhaps, the strikes last week outside of Damascus.
It seems more and more likely that the United States will take some kind of military action against the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad. On Aug. 26, Secretary of State John Kerry all but said the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of civilians, a move the Obama administration says it will not tolerate. Kerry's words came days after the U.S. announced it is stationing four guided missile destroyers off the Syrian coast.
The goal of the attacks is unclear. But one of the suggested aims is to stop the Assad government from using chemical weapons. If that's the case, the American military may well find itself going after everything from chemical plants to arms depots to airfields in an effort to sever the the Syrian military's ability to make, store and fire its deadly sarin, mustard, and VX gas stockpiles.
The map above shows suspected locations of Syrian government chemical weapons sites as listed by the Nuclear Threat Initiative combined with the locations of Syrian air bases. The map shows facilities where chemical weapons are suspected of being made or stored along with the air bases containing the helicopters and jets that could be used to shoot chemical weapons at the rebels or civilians. It also shows Assad's palace in Damascus along with the headquarters of the Syrian military intelligence service, the Syrian military's general staff, the Special Forces Command, and the Republican Guard. (They are marked by flags on the map.) These are a few of the key command and control sites may also be targeted by the U.S., though they would likely be evacuated for secret backup locations in the event of U.S. airstrikes.
In theory, Assad's military can launch chemical attacks from the ground and from the air. In practice, air is the much better option, according to one defense expert. Yeah, Assad's military has hundreds -- if not thousands -- of easy-to-hide cannons and rocket launchers that could be used to fire off chemically-loaded artillery shells or rockets. But Chris Harmer of the Institute for the Study of War thinks they won't be nearly as useful as the aircraft are. First off, the rebels have denied large swaths of land to Assad's army, making it impossible for him to deploy artillery in many places throughout Syria. Furthermore, these ground-launched weapons have a much shorter range than his aircraft.
"If you're gonna use artillery or rockets to deliver chemical weapons, then you have to have that artillery close enough to where you actually want to use them," said Harmer. Assad's troops are "gonna have adequate forces, rockets, launchers, artillery shells to employ them [chemical weapons] right there in Damascus" as they did last week. However, "if they want to use it anywhere else, they're going to have to use air power."
"I think the most effective tactic at this point to deny further use of chemical weapons would be to take out the Syrian air force," said Harmer.
"My assumption is Assad has dispersed his chemical weapons stockpile sufficiently that there isn't one big fat target waiting to be hit," added Harmer. "So, using cruise missiles to run around looking for individual targets gets really expensive, really quickly."
Tony Cordesman, the veteran military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggests, doesn't believe such a campaign is worth doing. "Chemical weapons alone are not a reason to use force. Even the most successful cruise missile strikes would not destroy Syria's holdings," he writes in a newly-released study. "There is no credible chance the U.S. can locate or destroy Syria's entire holding without a massive air campaign and some kind of presence on the ground. Even if the Assad regime has not done the obvious, and used the last few months to covertly disperse a large portion of its weapons, cruise missiles simply don't have that kind of destructive power."
There's also the issue of civilian harm. Some worry that hitting chemical weapons depots or factories may hurt or kill large numbers of innocents if the chemicals are released into the air by exploding missiles. Assad's military is said to possess chemical weapons ranging from sarin and VX to mustard gas. While sarin may, in some circumstances, vaporize relatively quickly when hit with a missile, mustard gas isn't as easy to destroy and a missile strike could push it into the air. (The U.S. military goes to great pains to destroy its own chemical weapons far, far away from people just in case there any tiny leakage of the deadly poisons from the destruction facilities.) Even if the number of people killed by the release of toxins from a U.S. airstrike is relatively small -- and relatively might be the key word here -- compared to the numbers who who die when Assad uses his chemical weapons, the PR catastrophe that would result from Syrian civilians dying from a U.S. airstrike meant to protect them from chemical weapons would be pretty awful.
Harmer says he's not particularly worried about chemical collateral damage; the worst of the weapons, like sarin, are stored in "binary" format, with their chemical pre-cursors in separate units. "These weapons are more difficult to use than people realize; damaging them in place may vent chemicals to the atmosphere, but it is not like nuclear radiation -- chemical weapons will dissipate" relatively quickly, said Harmer. "There may be some collateral damage [in a strike destroying such weapons], but far less than use of chemical weapons" by the Assad regime.
Yet Harmer himself, credited by some as the man who put the bug in Washington's ear about a limited cruise missile campaign to punish Assad for using chemical weapons, thinks it might not be a very good idea. A few limited strikes without a broader strategic objective might make us feel good, he argues. It won't change the trajectory of the war.
As Killer Apps has pointed out before, truly destroying Assad's ability to fight the rebels would involve at least one U.S. aircraft carrier and a ton of fighter jets, bombers and support aircraft in addition to any destroyers. It could very well mean hitting political targets, in addition to purely military ones, as Cordesman suggests. While there's no way Assad could stave off such an onslaught, the U.S. could be faced with the prospect of keeping order if the rebels began to turn on each other in a bid for power. It looks increasingly likely that if the U.S. hits Assad, it will be a limited campaign aimed at punishing him for using chemical weapons, for now.
Adolf Hitler Killed as a Boy by Speeding Mercedes in Film Students' Crazy Spec Ad This is not how Daimler rollsBy David Gianatasio
August 26, 2013, 9:05 AM EDT
If you were a car, and you could travel back in time and kill Hitler when he was a boy, would you do it?
Well, if you were a Volkswagen, the answer would probably be no, since you'd be murdering your own father, and you'd probably cease to exist. A C-Class Mercedes-Benz, however, would suffer no such temporal paradox, and that's the vehicle of young Adolf's destruction in this well-made though extremely odd commercial parody, created as a thesis by some German film students.
In the 80-second clip, the driverless car avoids various kids in Hitler's picturesque Austrian hometown but mows down young Adolf. The vehicle's Collision Prevention Assist technology, we're told, "detects dangers before they come up." The final image of the school-age never-to-be-Führer lying on the ground, limbs splayed out like a swastika, is memorably intense.
Mercedes parent Daimler is understandably miffed, and forced the students to add blaring disclaimers that identify the project as a spoof. The controversy has helped the clip go viral, with almost 700,000 YouTube views since Friday. Couching the film as an ad for a real automaker also provides, perhaps unintentionally, extra layers for interpretation by bringing the global corporate/industrial/media complex into the picture.
The filmmakers—Tobia Haase, Jan Mettler and Lydia Lohse—have said they wanted to explore the morality of technology by asking what would happen if machines had souls. I wonder what the world would've been like had Hitler had one.
Prophecy may still be restricted to those qualified to appear in the Bible, but modern technology has given us the next best thing – the ability to make a very accurate educated guess about what may happen in the future. Work in that area is being led by Dr. Kira Radinsky, an Israeli web technology researcher, and for her accomplishments, Radinsky has been added to a prestigious list of top technology figures under 35 years of age, recently published by an official publication of MIT.
And at 26, Radinsky, who was educated at the Technion and did her research work at Microsoft, is one of the younger people on the list – meaning that she is likely to achieve a lot more before she's done.
The "35 Under 35" list has been published by the MIT Technology Review Magazine since 1999, and it showcases the people expected to have an important impact on the future based on their work. A panel of judges reviews researchers' work – hundreds apply for the list each year – and determines which researchers are doing work that will most significantly affect the world in the coming decades. Among previous winners have been Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, and chief Apple designer Jonathan Ive.
Radinsky, along with her partner Eric Horvitz, co-director at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington, developed software that parses the web, seeking patterns — in news and historical archive sites for hints on patterns that have led to outbreaks of disease, deaths, and riots in the past – and comparing those patterns to current conditions. It's a very sophisticated form of data mining, enabling deep analysis of disparate events and seeing how they repeat themselves time after time.
A paper published by Radinksy and Horvitz provides a good example: In 2012, Cuba suffered a major outbreak of cholera, its first in 130 years. Authorities there were totally unprepared to deal with the situation; according to news reports, doctors had declared states of emergency in numerous areas (although there was little official comment from the Cuban government).
But the software designed by Radinsky and Horovitz, their paper said, specifically pointed to the likelihood of a major cholera outbreak in the country. 2011 was a dry year for Cuba, but by mid-2012, rain returned to the country, with the above-average rainy season culminating with Hurricane Sandy in October of that year. The summer rains, and especially Sandy, caused major flooding in some parts of the country, and as the flooding increased, the cholera infection rates rose, the paper said.
While the events – drought, flooding, and cholera – seemed random, the software determined that it should have been expected. Searching 150 years of news reports and historical archives, the software determined a specific correlation between a drought state followed by major flooding, and a subsequent cholera outbreak, especially prominent in poor countries, where flood control was often substandard or non-existent. Weather researchers had long suspected a correlation between flooding and cholera, but it took the "prophecy software" designed by Radinsky and Horovitz to figure it out.
In another cholera example, the system would have predicted a major outbreak of cholera in Bangladesh in 1991, giving medical officials several days to prepare for it, the paper said. Not that the system is foolproof, the paper noted – but it has shown an accuracy rate of between 70% and 80%. That would be better than the 50/50 rate most of us can boast, and could help determine trends and events in many spheres. In fact, Radinksy has started her own business, calledSalesPredict, which combines big data and predictive analytics to help businesses better qualify their leads.
Radinsky began studying at the Technion at age 15, and completed three degrees at the Faculty of Computer Science under the supervision of Prof. Shaul Markovitch. "Kira is a brilliant researcher gifted with unique skills which support her inclusion on this list," said Markovitch. "Kira possesses intense intellect, creativity and curiosity – a rare combination typical of outstanding inventors. In her doctoral study, she tackled a problem that seemed to be unsolvable with the tools currently available – the development of algorithms capable of accurately predicting global events through the use of vast reservoirs of web-based information sources. Her boldness for taking on such a problem and scientific competence that demonstrated her successful solution is what brought her to be included on this list."
Commenting on her selection, Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief and publisher of Technology Review, said "Over the years, we have had success in choosing women and men whose innovations and companies have been profoundly influential on the direction of human affairs. We're proud of our selections and the variety of achievements they celebrate, and we're proud to add Kira to this prestigious list."
For her part, Radinsky said, "It is an honor to be added to this MIT list. I hope this will encourage researchers and scholars from Israel to engage in research in order to build Israel into an empirical research superpower."