October 05, 2008

Obama And Israel Palestine/Middle East  Politics

Yes, I know it's political advertising, but it's beautiful. Pass it on.

[Via AmericaBlog]

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December 14, 2007

"Iraq Doesn't Exist Anymore" Afghanistan  Iran  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

From an excellent interview with Nir Rosen:

Question: Is the "surge" working as Bush claims or is the sudden lull in the violence due to other factors like demographic changes in Baghdad?

Nir Rosen: I think that even calling it a surge is misleading. A surge is fast; this took months. It was more like an ooze. The US barely increased the troop numbers. It mostly just forced beleaguered American soldiers to stay longer. At the same time, the US doubled their enemies because, now, they're not just fighting the Sunni militias but the Shiite Mahdi army also.

No, I don't think the surge worked. Objectively speaking, the violence is down in Baghdad, but that's mainly due to the failure of the US to establish security. That's not success.

Sure, less people are being killed but that's because there are less people to kill.

The violence in Iraq was not senseless or crazy, it was logical and teleological. Shiite militias were trying to remove Sunnis from Baghdad and other parts of the country, while Sunni militias were trying to remove Shiites, Kurds and Christians from their areas. This has been a great success. So you have millions of refugees and millions more internally displaced, not to mention hundreds of thousands dead. There are just less people to kill.

Moreover, the militias have consolidated their control over some areas. The US never thought that Muqtada al Sadr would order his Mahdi Army to halt operations (against Sunnis, rival Shiites and Americans) so that he could put his house in order and remove unruly militiamen. And, the US never expected that Sunnis would see that they were losing the civil war so they might as well work with the Americans to prepare for the next battle.

More importantly, violence fluctuates during a civil war, so people try to maintain as much normalcy in their lives as possible. It's the same in Sarajevo, Beirut or Baghdad — people marry, party, go to school when they can — and hide at home or fight when they must.

The euphoria we see in the American media reminds me of the other so-called milestones that came and went while the overall trend in Iraq stayed the same. Now Iraq doesn't exist anymore. Thats the most important thing to remember. There is no Iraq. There is no Iraqi government and none of the underlying causes for the violence have been addressed, such as the mutually exclusive aspirations of the rival factions and communities in Iraq. [...]

Question: The media rarely mentions the 4 million refugees created by the Iraq war. What do you think the long-term effects of this humanitarian crisis will be?

Nir Rosen: Well, the smartest Iraqis — the best educated, the professionals, the middle and upper classes — have all left or been killed. So the society is destroyed. So there is no hope for a non-sectarian Iraq now.

The refugees are getting poorer and more embittered. Their children cannot get an education and their resources are limited. Look at the Palestinian refugee crisis. In 1948 you had about 800,000 Palestinians expelled from their homes and driven into Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Over time, they were politicized, mobilized and militarized. The militias they formed to liberate their homeland were manipulated by the governments in the region and they became embroiled in regional conflicts, internal conflicts and, tragically, conflicts with each other. They were massacred in Lebanon and Jordan. And, contributed to instability in those countries.

Now you have camps in Lebanon producing jihadists who go to fight in Iraq or who fight the Lebanese Army. And this is all from a population of just 800,000 mostly rural, religiously-homogeneous (Sunni) refugees.

Now, you have 2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, a million in Jordan and many more in other parts of the Middle East. The Sunnis and Shiites already have ties to the militias. They are often better educated, urban, and have accumulated some material wealth. These refugees are increasingly sectarian and are presently living in countries with a delicate sectarian balance and very fragile regimes. Many of the refugees will probably link up with Islamic groups and threaten the regimes of Syria and Jordan. They're also likely to exacerbate sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

They're also bound to face greater persecution as they "wear out their welcome" and put a strain on the country's resources.

They'll probably form into militias and either try go home or attempt to overthrow the regimes in the region. Borders will change and governments will fall. A new generation of fighters will emerge and there'll be more attacks on Americans.

Question: You have compared Iraq to Mogadishu. Could you elaborate?

Nir Rosen: Somalia hasn't had a government since 1991. I've been to Mogadishu twice. Its ruled by warlords who control their own fiefdoms. Those who have money can live reasonably well. That's what it's like in Iraq now — a bunch of independent city-states ruled by various militias — including the American militia and British militias.

Of course, Somalia is not very important beyond the Horn of Africa. It's bordered by the sea, Kenya and Ethiopia. There's no chance of the fighting in Somalia spreading into a regional war. Iraq is much more dangerous in that respect.

Question: Is the immediate withdrawal of all US troops really the best option for Iraq?

Nir Rosen: It really doesn't matter whether the Americans stay or leave. There are no good options for Iraq; no solutions. The best we can hope for is that the conflict won't spread....The civil war has already been fought and won in many places, mainly by the Shiite militias.

The Americans are still the occupying force, which means that they must continue to repress people that didn't want them there in the first place. But, then, if you were to ask a Sunni in Baghdad today what would happen if the Americans picked up and left, he'd probably tell you that the remaining Sunnis would be massacred. So, there's no "right answer" to your question about immediate withdrawal. [...]

Question: The US-led war in Afghanistan is not going well. The countryside is controlled by the warlords, the drug trade is flourishing, and America's man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, has little power beyond the capital. The Taliban has regrouped and is methodically capturing city after city in the south. Their base of support, among disenchanted Pashtuns, continues to grow. How important is it for the US to succeed in Afghanistan? Would failure threaten the future of NATO or the Transatlantic Alliance?

Nir Rosen: Although the US has lost in Afghanistan; what really matters is Pakistan. That's where the Taliban and al Qaeda are actually located. No, I'm NOT saying that the US should take the war into Pakistan. The US has already done enough damage. But as long as America oppresses and alienates Muslims; they will continue to fight back. [...]

Question: The US military is seriously over-stretched. Still, many political analysts believe that Bush will order an aerial assault on Iran. Do you think the US will carry out a "Lebanon-type" attack on Iran; bombing roads, bridges, factories, government buildings, oil depots, Army bases, munitions dumps, airports and nuclear sites? Will Iran retaliate or simply lend their support to resistance fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Nir Rosen: I think it's quite likely that Bush will attack Iran; not because he has a good reason to, but because Jesus or God told him to and because Iran is part of the front-line resistance (along with Hizballah, Syria and Hamas) to American hegemony in the region. Bush believes nobody will have the balls to go after the Iranians after him. He believes that history will vindicate him and he'll be looked up to as a hero, like Reagan.

There is also a racist element in this. Bush thinks that Iran is a culture based on honor and shame. He believes that if you humiliate the Iranian regime, then the people will rise up and overthrow it. Of course, in reality, when you bomb a country the people end up hating you and rally around the regime. Just look at the reaction of the Serbs after the bombing by NATO, or the Americans after September 11. [...]

Question: Bush's war on terror now extends from the southern border of Somalia to the northern tip of Afghanistan — from Africa, through the Middle East into Central Asia. The US has not yet proven — in any of these conflicts — that it can enforce its will through military means alone. In fact, in every case, the military appears to be losing ground. And it's not just the military that's bogged down either. Back in the United States, the economy is rapidly deteriorating. The dollar is falling, the housing market is collapsing, consumer spending is shrinking, and the country's largest investment banks are bogged down with over $200 billion in mortgage-backed debt. Given the current state of the military and the economy, do you see any way that the Bush administration can prevail in the war on terror or is US power in a state of irreversible decline?

Nir Rosen: Terror is a tactic; so you can't go to war with it in the first place. You can only go to war with people or nations. To many people it seems like the US is at war with Muslims. This is just radicalizing more people and eroding America's power and influence in the world. But, then, maybe that's not such a bad thing.

There's a lot more in the original interview. It's worth reading in full.

One thinks of Yeats:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed...

And one thinks of Humpty Dumpty. This particular Humpty Dumpty won't be put back together again any time soon.

None of this was necessary.

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October 04, 2007

Heart Of Darkness 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iran  Palestine/Middle East

You can't listen to Neocon éminence grise Norman Podhoretz, our bloodthirsty warmonger-in-chief, who says he "hopes and prays" that the US will bomb Iran, who never shuts up about his fantasy that the US is fighting for its very life in "World War IV" against "Islamofascism" — you can't listen to all his bluster and hyperbole and half-assed machismo and not conclude that the guy's wildly over-compensating for something. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the guy's nuts.

I just didn't realize how nuts. Via Glenn Greenwald, here's an excerpt from an essay of Podhoretz's from 1963, when he was already 33 years old and editor-in-chief of Commentary. It's one of the most appalling things I've ever read:

To me, at the age of twelve, it seemed very clear that Negores were better off than Jews — indeed, than all whites....[I]n my world it was the whites, the Italians and Jews, who feared the Negroes, not the other way around. The Negroes were tougher than we were, more ruthless, and on the whole were better athletes....I was still afraid of Negroes. And I still hated them with all my heart....

The orphanage across the street is torn down, a city housing project begins to rise in its place, and on the marvelous vacant lot next to the old orphanage they are building a playground....A week later, some us are swatting flies on the playground's inadequate little ball field. A gang of Negro kids, pretty much our own age, enter from the other side and order us out of the park. We refuse, proudly and indignantly, with superb masculine fervor. There is a fight, they win, and we retreat, half whimpering, half with bravado. My first nauseating experience of cowardice...

Gradually we abandon the place and use the streets instead. The streets are safer, though we do not admit this to ourselves. We are not, after all, sissies — the most dreaded epithet of an American boyhood...

That day in school the teacher had asked a surly Negro boy named Quentin a question he was unable to answer. As usual I had waved my arm eagerly...and, the right answer bursting from my lips, I was held up lovingly by the teacher as an example to the class. I had seen Quentin's face — a very dark, very cruel, very Oriental-looking face — harden, and there had been enough threat in his eyes to make me run all the way home for fear that he might catch me outside....

For me as a child the life lived on the other side of the playground and down the block on Ralph Avenue seemed the very embodiment of the values of the street — free, independent, reckless, brave, masculine, erotic....

The hatred I still feel for Negroes is the hardest of all the old feelings to face or admit, and it is the most hidden and the most overlarded by the conscious attitudes into which I have succeeded in willing myself. It no longer has, as for me it once did, any cause or justification (except, perhaps that I am constantly being denied my right to an honest expression of the things I earned the right as a child to feel). How, then, do I know that this hatred has never entirely disappeared? I know it from the insane rage that can stir in me at the thought of Negro anti-Semitism; I know it from the disgusting prurience that can stir in me at the sight of a mixed couple; and I know it from the violence that can stir in me whenever I encounter that special brand of paranoid touchiness to which many Negroes are prone....

There were plenty of bad boys among the whites — this was, after all, a neighborhood with a long tradition of crime as a career open to aspiring talents — but the Negroes were really bad, bad in a way that beckoned to one, and made one feel inadequate. [Emphasis in the original]

What a twisted, malevolent little shit. Bush gave this guy the Presidential Medal of Freedom and just recently sought his counsel on Iran. Rudy Giuliani made him his Senior Foreign Policy Advisor. How many Iranians and brown-skinned others will have to die because of the psychosexual disfigurement of Podhoretz and people like him?

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August 01, 2007

Gasoline On The Flames Iran  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

The US has announced that it will send $63 billion in military aid to the Middle East: $20 billion for the Saudis and several small Gulf states, $13 billion for Egypt, and $30 billion for Israel.

William Arkin writes in the Washington Post:

There has been no official talk of a new U.S. military alliance in the Middle East. But my sense is that the Bush administration may be looking to solidify one before it leaves office — and the recently announced $63-billion Middle East arms deals are a stepping stone toward this goal.

The details are still sketchy. But from a strategic standpoint, the administration sees the alliance as serving at least two purposes. One, it ensures that some future president won't give up the fight. And two, it legitimizes future conflict with Iran.

"We are out here to talk about the long term," Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said at a press conference yesterday in Egypt. "The United States has been in this region and in the Gulf specifically for some 60 years. We have every intention of being here for a lot longer."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice equally spoke of "future security cooperation" beyond Iraq.

The new military alliance even has a temporary name: GCC+2. Yesterday, Rice and Gates met with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council of six nations: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — plus Egypt and Jordan.

"We have had historic interests in this region and we have pursued them through security cooperation for decades," Rice said, declining to go into the specific nature of any discussions. And indeed they were wide-ranging: Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, terrorism, Iran, Syria.

There is no question that the main event was enlisting the mostly Sunni-dominated governments to do more to prop up Baghdad and support the United States in Iraq. [Emphasis added]

Because if there's anything the Middle East needs more of, it's weapons. And I think we can pretty much conclude that all talk about a US withdrawal from Iraq is just that — talk. Just to placate us. Nobody, Democrat or Republican, who is serious about pulling out is ever going to be allowed to get in a position to make it happen. Not while there's oil in the ground.

See what they do, not what they say.

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July 30, 2007

Southern Iraq: Failed State Falling Under Control Of "Warlords" Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

Nearly all of the Western news coverage in Iraq centers around Baghdad, so one could get the impression that elsewhere in Iraq things aren't so bad. But one would be wrong. CNN reports that much of Iraq is devolving into failed state status, with various warlords fighting it out to define the limits of their turf. Think Somalia. CNN:

The fight between US-led forces and militants in and near Baghdad and the sectarian civil war raging in the capital has overshadowed another grim wartime reality — the factional strife in Iraq's southern Shiite heartland.

Experts who study the region attribute the instability to turf battles among "warlords" and their fighters in an unstable political and social environment that is coming to resemble a failed state.

"Iraqi politicians are progressively turning into warlords," Peter Harling, senior analyst with the Middle East Program of the Brussels, Belgium-based International Crisis Group. What has been unfolding in the south, he says, is a "very crude struggle over power and resources."

"Violence has become the routine means of interacting with the local population," Harling says of the militias, which have filled the power vacuum after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"They see no interest in seeing a functional state emerge."

The south has always been relatively quiet compared with the mixed Baghdad and Diyala provinces and the largely Sunni Anbar province, where Sunni militants conducting large-scale terror attacks have emerged as the major foe of the United States.

But fighting has erupted between Shiite political factions in the southern cities of Basra, Diwaniya, Karbala, Nasiriya and Samawa in recent months, and U.S., British and other coalition forces have conducted raids on insurgents in those regions. [...]

The major movements in the south are the Sadrists; the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the longtime Shiite group led by Iraqi politician Abdul Aziz al-Hakim; the Dawa Islamic Party, led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; and the Fadhila Party, which holds great power in Basra.

And there are fighters, such as al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia, aligned with such groups. There are splinter and rogue elements among these groups, and there are smaller entities as well.

This factionalism goes against the notion that Shiite communities are united, says Jon B. Alterman, director and senior fellow of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies' Middle East Program.

"They are unified when confronted with Sunni or Kurdish power, but within the Shia community there are a variety of parties, with a range of different leaderships, all competing for power and influence."

Alterman says he sees the emergence of "warlords" who "are staking out their claims to different parts of Iraq." [...]

[O]n the ground, Alterman says, "the central government is not central to how politics works anymore. What matters are guns and money and access to resources." [...]

"In a place bereft of services and security, people look to a leadership that can protect them and feed them," Alterman says. [...]

Pang calls the environment the "militarization of local politics."

"Militias have entrenched themselves into the fabric of the society of the southern region of Iraq. They've assumed control of the oil. They've assumed control of the customs. They've assumed control of the police," Pang says. [Emphasis added]

So much for the claim that the violence in Iraq is caused by a centuries-old vendetta between Sunnis and Shia. (Which never made sense anyway — why weren't they killing each other pre-Saddam?)

I just cannot see how this particular Humpty-Dumpty gets put back together again. Much more likely: it will spread. Chaos, suffering, and collapse. Brought on by a small gang of lunatics and fools in the Bush administration. Who will never pay for their crimes.

Proof that time travel is impossible: nobody from the future came back to strangle Dick Cheney at birth. Or maybe it's not impossible. Maybe it's just that Earth's humans won't be around long enough to learn how.

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June 25, 2007

Made In The USA Palestine/Middle East

It seems clear that the US and Israel, with help from the EU, are doing everything they can to split the Palestinian people, pitting Hamas and Fatah against one another. Here's Jimmy Carter's take (Jerusalem Post):

The United States, Israel and the European Union must end their policy of favoring Fatah over Hamas, or they will doom the Palestinian people to deepening conflict between the rival movements, former US President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday.

Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was addressing a conference of Irish human rights officials, said the Bush administration's refusal to accept the 2006 election victory of Hamas was "criminal."

Carter said Hamas, besides winning a fair and democratic mandate that should have entitled it to lead the Palestinian government, had proven itself to be far more organized in its political and military showdowns with the Fatah movement of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. [...]

Carter said the American-Israeli-European consensus to reopen direct aid to the new government in the West Bank, but to deny the same to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, represented an "effort to divide Palestinians into two peoples." [...]

During his speech to Ireland's eighth annual Forum on Human Rights, the 83-year-old former president said monitors from his Carter Center observed the 2006 election in which Hamas won 42 percent of the popular vote and a majority of parliamentary seats.

Carter said that election was "orderly and fair" and Hamas triumphed, in part, because it was "shrewd in selecting candidates," whereas a divided, corrupt Fatah ran multiple candidates for single seats.

Far from encouraging Hamas's move into parliamentary politics, Carter said the US and Israel, with European Union acquiescence, has sought to subvert the outcome by shunning Hamas and helping Abbas to keep the reins of political and military power.

"That action was criminal," he said in a news conference after his speech.

"The United States and Israel decided to punish all the people in Palestine and did everything they could to deter a compromise between Hamas and Fatah," he said.

Carter said the United States and others supplied the Fatah-controlled security forces in Gaza with vastly superior weaponry in hopes they would "conquer Hamas in Gaza" - but Hamas this month routed Fatah because of its "superior skills and discipline." [Emphasis added]

Journalist Nir Rosen, speaking on CNN, was more blunt (via The Angry Arab):

NIR ROSEN, JOURNALIST: ...We created a civil war. This is actually outrageous. Outgoing U.N. envoy to the Middle East peace process, Alvaro De Soto, himself accused the U.S. of fomenting a civil war by training, funding and arming Fatah thugs and inserting them into Gaza to destabilize the Hamas government. We never gave them a chance. They were democratically elected in an election that was widely recognized as free and fair, even by former President Jimmy Carter. And then the U.S., along with Israel, Jordan and Egypt trained these gangs and actually put them in Gaza to overthrow the Hamas government. And, of course, it's actually backfired and Fatah was overthrown. But all you're going to do is isolate and further radicalize Hamas. And so when you say that the U.S. is seeking to ease tensions in the Middle East, I disagree with you. These are tensions that the U.S. actually created in the Middle East.

JOHN ROBERTS: Nir, I mean what are you talking about, we have Fatah thugs being sent into the country to wage war with Hamas?

ROSEN: Well, they were trained by the U.S. General [Keith] Dayton, our envoy to the peace process, was responsible for a program, along with Elliot Abrams, the deputy national security adviser for the Middle East, and they actually trained Fatah in the West Bank. The Jordanian special forces created the Fatah Badr brigade. The Egyptians, as well, trained Fatah in Egypt. The United Arab Emirates actually sent money and arms. And then they were allowed to enter Gaza and then began to attack Hamas. I mean this was an existential threat to a democratically elected government. What we've done is overthrow a government that was elected. The U.S. ..." [Emphasis added]

Not the sort of thing we're used to hearing in US media.

The whole project is as cynical and ultimately self-defeating as everything else the US has been doing in the Middle East, sowing conflict and chaos and suffering beyond calculation. In the long run, it cannot help but fail. We give people so many reasons to hate us, and then we act surprised when they do. But people have long memories. And the underlying idea — that entire peoples can be controlled by force of arms — is pure lunacy. It cannot work, and it's evil.

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June 20, 2007

Hamas In Gaza, II Palestine/Middle East

Retired US Army Col. Patrick Lang, who, when it comes to US military intelligence and the Middle East, has got about as impressive a resume as one could imagine, has this to say about Hamas:

[I]t is very difficult under any circumstances to tell a people who their leaders may be. It is even more difficult to do that when those leaders were democratically elected in a process held to be fair by the international community. The US/Israeli/AIPAC/WINEP position seems to be to "hope" that the bribery and threats being employed against Hamas will bring the Palestinians to accept that they may not have Hamas as their government until Hamas accepts de jure the permanent existence of Israel. The Palestinians have never shown any vulnerability to such "arguments" before. Why do we/they think that will work now? There are no countries or parties in the Arab World that truly accept Israel. Even the ones who have signed treaties with Israel have done so most grudgingly and exist in a state of "cold peace" with her. Is FATAH really reconciled to the idea of Israel? If you think so, just wait a few months. What you will see is the commencement of operations against Israel by factions of FATAH.

To bolster the image of the awfulness of Hamas, we are "assured" by the organs of propaganda that Hamas is merely a tool of Syria and Iran. Syria? Who knows? I doubt that this is more than a mere assertion of a propaganda (IO) theme. Where is the evidence? Iran? This is more likely. In fact, it is nearly certain in the context of Iran's drive to power in the Islamic world. Nevertheless, I would still like to see the evidence. The country not named in the "indictment" of Hamas financers and suppliers is Saudi Arabia. The kingdom of sand, oil and prevarication has been among the principal supporters of Hamas and many other Islamist groups for a long time. I don't need to be shown the evidence for that. It is a matter of personal knowledge for me. It is inconvenient for the Bush Administration to acknowledge Saudi support for Hamas, and so they don't.

Hamas offered Israel a ten year truce when it came to office after the election that it won. That was scorned. The Israelis want a permanent cession of "their" land, and until now will accept nothing else. They argue that a truce (hudna) would serve as "cover" for the recovery of strength by their enemies and nothing else. They are unlikely to get anything but a truce, so maybe they should think this over.

Most people do not now remember that the United States expended a great deal of money and effort in "growing" the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority's semi-state, only to see it destroyed utterly by Israel. That destruction cleared the way for Hamas' rise to "glory." In that context how can Americans, believe anything that a right wing Israeli government says of its attitude toward Palestine. [Emphasis added]

The right-wing governments of the US and Israel love Abbas and hate Hamas. What does that tell you?

[Thanks, Miles]

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June 19, 2007

Hamas In Gaza Palestine/Middle East

Robert Fisk on the Hamas "coup" in Gaza (Independent):

How troublesome the Muslims of the Middle East are. First, we demand that the Palestinians embrace democracy and then they elect the wrong party - Hamas - and then Hamas wins a mini-civil war and presides over the Gaza Strip. And we Westerners still want to negotiate with the discredited President, Mahmoud Abbas. Today "Palestine" - and let's keep those quotation marks in place - has two prime ministers. Welcome to the Middle East.

Who can we negotiate with? To whom do we talk? Well of course, we should have talked to Hamas months ago. But we didn't like the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. They were supposed to have voted for Fatah and its corrupt leadership. But they voted for Hamas, which declines to recognise Israel or abide by the totally discredited Oslo agreement.

No one asked - on our side - which particular Israel Hamas was supposed to recognise. The Israel of 1948? The Israel of the post-1967 borders? The Israel which builds - and goes on building - vast settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land, gobbling up even more of the 22 per cent of "Palestine" still left to negotiate over?

And so today, we are supposed to talk to our faithful policeman, Mr Abbas, the "moderate" (as the BBC, CNN and Fox News refer to him) Palestinian leader, a man who wrote a 600-page book about Oslo without once mentioning the word "occupation", who always referred to Israeli "redeployment" rather than "withdrawal", a "leader" we can trust because he wears a tie and goes to the White House and says all the right things. The Palestinians didn't vote for Hamas because they wanted an Islamic republic - which is how Hamas's bloody victory will be represented - but because they were tired of the corruption of Mr Abbas's Fatah and the rotten nature of the "Palestinian Authority".

I recall years ago being summoned to the home of a PA official whose walls had just been punctured by an Israeli tank shell. All true. But what struck me were the gold-plated taps in his bathroom. Those taps - or variations of them - were what cost Fatah its election. Palestinians wanted an end to corruption - the cancer of the Arab world - and so they voted for Hamas and thus we, the all-wise, all-good West, decided to sanction them and starve them and bully them for exercising their free vote. [...]

All over the Middle East, it is the same. We support Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, even though he keeps warlords and drug barons in his government...

We love Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, whose torturers have not yet finished with the Muslim Brotherhood politicians recently arrested outside Cairo, whose presidency received the warm support of Mrs - yes Mrs - George W Bush - and whose succession will almost certainly pass to his son, Gamal.

We adore Muammar Gaddafi, the crazed dictator of Libya whose werewolves have murdered his opponents abroad, whose plot to murder King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia preceded Tony Blair's recent visit to Tripoli - Colonel Gaddafi, it should be remembered, was called a "statesman" by Jack Straw for abandoning his non-existent nuclear ambitions - and whose "democracy" is perfectly acceptable to us because he is on our side in the "war on terror".

Yes, and we love King Abdullah's unconstitutional monarchy in Jordan, and all the princes and emirs of the Gulf, especially those who are paid such vast bribes by our arms companies that even Scotland Yard has to close down its investigations on the orders of our prime minister...If only the Arabs - and the Iranians - would support our kings and shahs and princes whose sons and daughters are educated at Oxford and Harvard, how much easier the "Middle East" would be to control.

For that is what it is about - control - and that is why we hold out, and withdraw, favours from their leaders. [...]

So what will we do? Support the reoccupation of Gaza perhaps? Certainly we will not criticise Israel. And we shall go on giving our affection to the kings and princes and unlovely presidents of the Middle East until the whole place blows up in our faces and then we shall say - as we are already saying of the Iraqis - that they don't deserve our sacrifice and our love.

How do we deal with a coup d'état by an elected government? [Emphasis added]

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, the one thing, the only thing, that determines how any head of state or other political actor in the Middle East (or anywhere else) is portrayed in US media is the degree to which that person or group serves US interests. You can be as vicious and corrupt as you like, just so long as you work for us. But if you don't play ball, you're a terrorist, a madman, a devil. It really is that simple.

People still talk as if the US wants to bring democracy to the Middle East. Ridiculous. The US doesn't want democracy, it wants puppets. It wants collaborators to help run the plantation. It wants, as Fisk says, control.

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March 27, 2007

Root Cause Palestine/Middle East

I linked to these maps on Sunday, but Sunday's a little slow here at PastPeak so you may have missed them. They're stunning.

American media maintain the fiction that Palestinian hostility toward Israel is baseless, fanatical anti-Semitism. But you can't look at those maps and not realize instantly that Palestinians have a legitimate grievance. Which is why you'll never see those maps in the New York Times.

Native Americans didn't hate Europeans until Europeans came and stole their land. It wasn't anti-Europeanism. It was anti-having-their-land-stolen.

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March 25, 2007

Root Cause Palestine/Middle East

Probably the most illuminating maps I've ever seen. Stunning.

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December 29, 2006

Widening The War Iran  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

Two important items from Swoop. First, regarding the White House's Middle East counteroffensive following the November elections and the Iraq Study Group recommendations. Swoop:

During his current consultations on the new strategy for Iraq, President Bush has told those advising him that he is not interested in any proposals that do not involve "success." "Anyone who does not believe in victory should leave the room right now," was how he began one consultation session. Top National Security Council officials are describing the Iraq Study Group as "discredited" and "dead and buried." Instead a new policy is taking shape. Based on recent discussions between former Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan and NSC Middle East Director Elliott Abrams, this policy foresees a central role for Saudi Arabia as a supplier of money and weapons to local conflicts involving Iranian surrogates. This is already happening in Lebanon, where anti-Hezbollah groups are receiving substantial Saudi help. Israeli intelligence officials are also encouraging these moves. "What we are seeing here," a second NSC official commented, "is the Administration's counter-attack to the ISG. Bush wants to negotiate from strength not weakness. He is trying to create new facts on the ground. This is an ambitious strategy. If it works, it allows us to recover much of the ground that Iraq has cost us. The opposite is also true. This strategy could double our losses. The key point here is that the Administration is still playing for a win in the Middle East. It is not leaving quietly." [Emphasis added]

Second, on Iran. It's not just a question of Iran's nuclear program. Far from it. Swoop:

A change of emphasis is taking place in the US approach to Iran. State Department officials tell us that they now see the nuclear weapons issue as just one aspect of a more all-encompassing competition with Iran. "It is clear that Iran is challenging us for mastery of the Middle East. Lebanon, Syria, the peace process, terrorism, energy: We are always bumping up against Iranian meddling. The stakes go far beyond nuclear weapons. It is clear that we have to orientate our policy so that we can teach Iran a decisive lesson." Support for this policy of long-term confrontation with Iran extends widely inside the Administration and Washington’s political elites. How this confrontation expresses itself remains undecided, with the military option still confined to the group around Vice-President Cheney and his circle. This group is, however, actively seeking international support. Privately the conservative Arab leaders of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council are urging the US to mount a broad counter to Iran. [Emphasis added]

Joshua Landis at SyriaComment speculates that the White House is using Saudi Arabia as a cutout to fund covert action in the Middle East, à la Iran-Contra. Excerpt:

The NSC diehards and Bandar (with Israeli coordination) have been working on a covert action program, the purpose of which is to strike back at Iran through surrogates, with the arrangements made in such a way as to obviate the need for a Presidential Covert Action Finding, which in today's Washington could not be kept secret. The Saudis would play the role of paymasters and prospective unindicted co-conspirators in case the operation is exposed (which seems to be the likely outcome). [...]

The sudden unannounced departure of Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki suggests that Saudi Arabia will be the financier of this operation. Prince Bandar bin Sultan's return to Washington in the form of his young protégé, Adel al-Jubeir. Polished and American-educated, Mr. Jubeir, 44, once worked for Prince Bandar when he was ambassador to Washington. Over the past few months, we know that Prince Bandar has been visiting Washington frequently, staying at the Hay Adams Hotel and visiting people at the White House. He was not notifying Prince Turki of these visits, which has been a flagrant and insulting breach of diplomatic protocol, to say nothing of its personal discourtesy to his own brother-in-law.

Another curiosity has been the repeated rumors of a meeting between Bandar and some unidentified Israelis, time and place unspecified. (The strongest rumor was that one meeting took place in Amman last summer.) The rumors have been persistent, and deserve some credence. [Emphasis added]

So, the American people think they got their message across in the November elections, and following the Iraq Study Group report they think Bush's current round of policy discussions is aimed at doing what everybody else wants: extricating the US from Iraq. But if the stories above are accurate, what's happening is quite the opposite: Bush is raising the stakes, widening the war, counter-attacking with "victory" — whatever that may mean — still the goal. It's crazy, but when has that ever stopped them?

[Thanks, Miles]

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October 18, 2006

The Great Experiment Palestine/Middle East

While the world watches Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, a horrifying drama continues to unfold in Gaza, where Israel is attempting to starve an entire population into submission. Uri Avnery:

IS IT possible to force a whole people to submit to foreign occupation by starving it?

That is, certainly, an interesting question. So interesting, indeed, that the governments of Israel and the United States, in close cooperation with Europe, are now engaged in a rigorous scientific experiment in order to obtain a definitive answer.

The laboratory for the experiment is the Gaza Strip, and the guinea pigs are the million and a quarter Palestinians living there.

In order to meet the required scientific standards, it was necessary first of all to prepare the laboratory.

That was done in the following way: First, Ariel Sharon uprooted the Israeli settlements that were stuck there. After all, you can't conduct a proper experiment with pets roaming around the laboratory. It was done with "determination and sensitivity", tears flowed like water, the soldiers kissed and embraced the evicted settlers, and again it was shown that the Israeli army is the most-most in the world.

With the laboratory cleaned, the next phase could begin: all entrances and exits were hermetically sealed, in order to eliminate disturbing influences from the world outside. That was done without difficulty. Successive Israeli governments have prevented the building of a harbor in Gaza, and the Israeli navy sees to it that no ship approaches the shore. The splendid international airport, built during the Oslo days, was bombed and shut down. The entire Strip was closed off by a highly effective fence, and only a few crossings remained, all but one controlled by the Israeli army.

There remained a sole connection with the outside world: the Rafah border crossing to Egypt. It could not just be sealed off, because that would have exposed the Egyptian regime as a collaborator with Israel. A sophisticated solution was found: to all appearances the Israeli army left the crossing and turned it over to an international supervision team. Its members are nice guys, full of good intentions, but in practice they are totally dependent on the Israeli army, which oversees the crossing from a nearby control room. The international supervisors live in an Israeli kibbutz and can reach the crossing only with Israeli consent.

So everything was ready for the experiment.

THE SIGNAL for its beginning was given after the Palestinians had held spotlessly democratic elections, under the supervision of former President Jimmy Carter. George Bush was enthusiastic: his vision of bringing democracy to the Middle East was coming true.

But the Palestinians flunked the test. Instead of electing "good Arabs", devotees of the United States, they voted for very bad Arabs, devotees of Allah. Bush felt insulted. But the Israeli government was ecstatic: after the Hamas victory, the Americans and Europeans were ready to take part in the experiment. It could start:

The United States and the European Union announced the stoppage of all donations to the Palestinian Authority, since it was "controlled by terrorists". Simultaneously, the Israeli government cut off the flow of money.

To understand the significance of this: according to the "Paris Protocol" (the economic annex of the Oslo agreement) the Palestinian economy is part of the Israeli customs system. This means that Israel collects the duties for all the goods that pass through Israel to the Palestinian territories - actually, there is no other route. After deducting a fat commission, Israel is obligated to turn the money over to the Palestinian Authority.

When the Israeli government refuses to pass on this money, which belongs to the Palestinians, it is, simply put, robbery in broad daylight. But when one robs "terrorists", who is going to complain?

The Palestinian Authority - both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - needs this money like air for breathing. This fact also requires some explanation: in the 19 years when Jordan occupied the West Bank and Egypt the Gaza Strip, from 1948 to 1967, not a single important factory was built there. The Jordanians wanted all economic activity to take place in Jordan proper, east of the river, and the Egyptians neglected the strip altogether.

Then came the Israeli occupation, and the situation became even worse. The occupied territories became a captive market for Israeli industry, and the military government prevented the establishment of any enterprise that could conceivably compete with an Israeli one. [...]

That was the situation at the beginning of the experiment: the Palestinian infrastructure destroyed, practically no means of production, no work for the workers. All in all, an ideal setting for the great "experiment in hunger".

THE IMPLEMENTATION started, as mentioned, with the stoppage of payments.

The passage between Gaza and Egypt was closed in practice. [...]

The crossings between the Strip and Israel were closed "for urgent security reasons". Always, at the right moment, "warnings of an imminent terrorist attack" appeared. Palestinian agricultural products destined for export rot at the crossing. Medicines and foodstuffs cannot get in, except for short periods from time to time, also for appearances, whenever somebody important abroad voices some protest. Then comes another "urgent security warning" and the situation is back to normal.

To round off the picture, the Israeli Air Force bombed the only power station in the Strip, so that for a part of the day there is no electricity, and the water supply (which depends on electric pumps) stops also. Even on the hottest days, with temperatures of over 30 degrees centigrade in the shade, there is no electricity for refrigerators, air conditioning, the water supply or other needs.

In the West Bank, a territory much larger than the Gaza Strip (which makes up only 6% of the occupied Palestinian territories but holds 40% of the inhabitants), the situation is not quite so desperate. But in the Strip, more than half of the population lives beneath the Palestinian "poverty line", which lies of course very, very far below the Israeli "poverty line". Many Gaza residents can only dream of being considered poor in the nearby Israeli town of Sderot.

What are the governments of Israel and the US trying to tell the Palestinians? The message is clear: You will reach the brink of hunger, and even beyond, if you do not surrender. You must remove the Hamas government and elect candidates approved by Israel and the US. And, most importantly: you must be satisfied with a Palestinian state consisting of several enclaves, each of which will be utterly dependent on the tender mercies of Israel. [...]

In order to quicken the process, the whole might of the Israeli army is now being used again, as from this week. [Emphasis added]

The Warsaw Ghetto, enlarged and updated. You'd think the people of Israel would be the last people on Earth to adopt Nazi tactics, but you'd be wrong. There seems to be an ironclad psychological law that people gradually become what they hate. And they don't even realize it.

Today Reuters reports that Israeli tanks and troops are once again moving into Gaza.

[Thanks, Miles]

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September 26, 2006

Islam And The Sword: Setting The Record Straight 9/11, "War On Terror"  Palestine/Middle East

Pope Benedict XVI recently caused a world-wide furor by asserting that Muslims are commanded by the Prophet Muhammad to spread Islam "by the sword". Israel's Uri Avnery, writer and peace activist, sets the record straight in an extremely important essay. Excerpts:

Between the present Pope, Benedict XVI, and the present Emperor, George Bush II, there exists a wonderful harmony. Last week's speech by the Pope, which aroused a world-wide storm, went well with Bush's crusade against "Islamofascism", in the context of the "Clash of Civilizations".

In his lecture at a German university, the 265th Pope described what he sees as a huge difference between Christianity and Islam: while Christianity is based on reason, Islam denies it. While Christians see the logic of God's actions, Muslims deny that there is any such logic in the actions of Allah. [...]

In order to prove the lack of reason in Islam, the Pope asserts that the prophet Muhammad ordered his followers to spread their religion by the sword. According to the Pope, that is unreasonable, because faith is born of the soul, not of the body. How can the sword influence the soul?

To support his case, the Pope quoted — of all people — a Byzantine Emperor, who belonged, of course, to the competing Eastern Church. At the end of the 14th century, the Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus told of a debate he had — or so he said (its occurrence is in doubt) — with an unnamed Persian Muslim scholar. In the heat of the argument, the Emperor (according to himself) flung the following words at his adversary:

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". [...]

When Manuel II wrote his treatise, he was the head of a dying empire. He assumed power in 1391, when only a few provinces of the once illustrious empire remained. These, too, were already under Turkish threat.

At that point in time, the Ottoman Turks had reached the banks of the Danube...In 1453, only a few years after Manuel's death, his capital, Constantinople (the present Istanbul) fell to the Turks, putting an end to the Empire that had lasted for more than a thousand years.

During his reign, Manuel made the rounds of the capitals of Europe in an attempt to drum up support. He promised to reunite the church. There is no doubt that he wrote his religious treatise in order to incite the Christian countries against the Turks and convince them to start a new crusade. The aim was practical, theology was serving politics.

In this sense, the quote serves exactly the requirements of the present Emperor, George Bush II. He, too, wants to unite the Christian world against the mainly Muslim "Axis of Evil". Moreover, the Turks are again knocking on the doors of Europe, this time peacefully. It is well known that the Pope supports the forces that object to the entry of Turkey into the European Union.

Is there any truth in Manuel's argument?

The pope himself threw in a word of caution. As a serious and renowned theologian, he could not afford to falsify written texts. Therefore, he admitted that the Qur'an specifically forbade the spreading of the faith by force. He quoted the second Sura, verse 256 (strangely fallible, for a pope, he meant verse 257) which says: "There must be no coercion in matters of faith". [...]

Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits." The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to "spread the faith by the sword"?

Well, they just did not.

For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

True, the Albanians did convert to Islam, and so did the Bosniaks. But nobody argues that they did this under duress. They adopted Islam in order to become favorites of the government and enjoy the fruits.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith — and they were the forefathers of most of today's Palestinians.

There is no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi ("Spanish") Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

Why? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the "peoples of the book". In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service — a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion — because it entailed the loss of taxes.

Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

The story about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims — the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of "Islamofascism" and the "Global War on Terrorism" — when "terrorism" has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush's handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world's oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers' expedition becomes a Crusade.

The speech of the Pope blends into this effort. Who can foretell the dire consequences? [Emphasis added]

As usual, Americans' appalling ignorance of history makes us easy marks for propaganda. You'd think we'd know better. We look at Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda, for example, and wonder how the German people could have allowed themselves to be taken in by the hideous and absurdly exaggerated stereotypes of Jews. How could they have been so gullible, so willing to act as accomplices, so utterly dumb? I guess now we know, first-hand.

[Thanks, Miles]

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August 22, 2006

Garbage In, Garbage Out Media  Palestine/Middle East  War and Peace

Take a look at this shamelessly propagandistic slide show from The Jerusalem Post. Stunningly one-sided.

The problem with turning propaganda against your own population, whether in Israel, here in the US, or anywhere else, is that the short-term gains turn into long-term disaster: a population whose heads have been stuffed with phony nonsense is incapable of choosing well.

Accurate information has survival value. Garbage in, garbage out.

[Thanks, Miles]

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On Hezbollah Palestine/Middle East

From the London Review of Books, an article by American Charles Glass, written at the height of Israel's attack on Lebanon. Glass portrays Hezbollah as a principled and — dare I say it — comparatively civilized outfit. This appraisal is all the more remarkable, coming, as it does, from a man who was himself kidnapped and held hostage by Hezbollah for 62 days in 1987. Excerpt:

In his memoir, Not So Wild a Dream, the famous CBS correspondent Eric Sevareid recalled watching the execution of six Nazi collaborators in the newly liberated city of Grenoble in 1944.
When the police van arrived and the six who were to die stepped out, a tremendous and awful cry arose from the crowd. The six young men walked firmly to the iron posts, and as their hands were tied behind the shafts they held their bare heads upright, one or two with closed eyes, the others staring over the line of the buildings and the crowd into the lowering clouds...As the last shot was fired, the terrible, savage cry rose again from the crowd. Mothers with babies rushed forward to look on the bodies at close range, and small boys ran from one to the other spitting upon the bodies. The crowd dispersed, men and women laughing and shouting at one another. Barbarous?

Such events were part of what the French described as the épuration — the purification or purging of France after four years of German occupation. The number of French men and women killed by the Resistance or kangaroo courts is usually put at ten thousand...The American forces that liberated France tolerated local vengeance against those who had worked for a brutal occupier. Thousands of French people, encouraged by a government in Vichy that they believed to be legitimate, had collaborated. Many, like the Milices, fascist gangs armed by Vichy, went further and killed Frenchmen. When Vichy's foreign sponsors withdrew and its government fell, the killing began. Accounts were settled with similar violence in other provinces of the former Third Reich — countries which, along with Britain and the United States, we now think of as the civilised world.

From 1978 to 2000 Israel occupied slices of Lebanon from their common border right up to Beirut and back again. To reduce the burden on its own forces, the Israelis created a species of Milice in the form of the locally recruited South Lebanon Army...The SLA had a reputation for cruelty, confirmed when its torture chambers at Khiam were opened after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, and for a high rate of desertions.

As Israel pulled back from Beirut, the high-water mark reached during its 1982 invasion, its share of Lebanon contracted further and further....Hizbullah, which led the resistance that had forced the Israelis to abandon most of their conquest, demanded the unconditional return of all Lebanese territory. Its attacks intensified, resulting in a loss of IDF soldiers that became unpalatable to most Israelis. The Israeli army placed the SLA between itself and Hizbullah so that it could pay the price that Israel had decided it could not afford. Hizbullah kidnapped SLA men, and the SLA and Israelis kidnapped Shias. The two sides killed each other, as well as many civilians, and blood feuds were born. [...]

Barak abandoned Lebanon..., suddenly and without advance warning, on 23 May 2000. His SLA clients and other Lebanese who had worked for the occupation over the previous 22 years were caught off guard. A few escaped into Israel, but most remained. UN personnel made urgent appeals for help to avert a massacre by Hizbullah. Hizbullah went in, but nothing happened.

The deputy secretary-general and co-founder of Hizbullah, Sheikh Naim Qassem, wrote..., 'It is no secret that some young combatants, as well as some of the region's citizens, had a desire for vengeance...Resistance leadership issued a strict warning forbidding any such action and vowing to discipline those who took it whatever the justifications.' Hizbullah captured Israeli weapons, which it is now using against Israel, and turned over SLA militiamen to the government without murdering any of them. Barbarous?

Naim Qassem called the liberation of south Lebanon 'the grandest and most important victory over Israel since it commenced its occupation [of Palestine] fifty years before...But what impressed most Lebanese as much as Hizbullah's victory over Israel was its refusal to murder collaborators — a triumph over the tribalism that has plagued and divided Lebanese society since its founding. Christians I knew in the Lebanese army admitted that their own side would have committed atrocities. Hizbullah may have been playing politics in Lebanon, but it refused to play Lebanese politics...Hizbullah had become — as well as an armed force — a sophisticated and successful political party. It jettisoned its early rhetoric about making Lebanon an Islamic republic, and spoke of Christians, Muslims and Druze living in harmony. [...]

Like Israel's previous enemies, Hizbullah relies on the weapons of the weak: car bombs, ambushes, occasional flurries of small rockets and suicide bombers. The difference is that it uses them intelligently, in conjunction with an uncompromising political programme. [...]

Hizbullah's unpardonable sin in Israel's view is its military success. Israel may portray Hizbullah as the cat's-paw of Syria and Iran, but its support base is Lebanese. Moreover, it does one thing that Syria and Iran do not: it fights for the Palestinians. On 12 July Hizbullah attacked an Israeli army unit, capturing two soldiers. It said it would negotiate indirectly to exchange them for Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners in Israel, as it has done in the past. It made clear that its attack was in support of the Palestinians under siege in Gaza after the capture of another Israeli soldier a week earlier. The whole Arab world had remained silent when Israel reoccupied the Gaza settlements and bombed the territory. Hizbullah's response humiliated the Arab regimes, most of which condemned its actions, as much as it humiliated Israel. No one need have been surprised. Hizbullah has a long history of supporting the Palestinians. [...]

Now, Israel has rescued Hizbullah and made its secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, not only the most popular man in Lebanon — but in the whole Arab world. An opinion poll commissioned by the Beirut Centre for Research and Information found that 80 per cent of Lebanese Christians supported Hizbullah; the figure for other communities was even higher...Unlike in 1982, when it could rely on some of the Christian militias, Israel now has no friends in Lebanon. [Emphasis added]

The wise way to judge people is by their actions, not their rhetoric. Hezbollah's refusal to commit reprisals against collaborators speaks volumes, as does their dedication to social programs for Lebanon's neediest citizens. Are they saints? Of course not. But neither are they the nihilistic terrorists portrayed in American propaganda. People have a right to defend against invasion. Hezbollah just happens to be very good at it.

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August 19, 2006

Brutality Corrupts Global Guerrillas  Palestine/Middle East  War and Peace

Israelis are asking themselves why the IDF in Lebanon has failed to achieve the kind of decisive victory that was seen in past wars. One answer, surely, is that modern national armies are ill-equipped to defeat increasingly sophisticated guerrilla forces intermingled with supportive civilian populations. All the smart bombs in the world aren't much help if there aren't any suitable targets.

Tom Segev, writing in Haaretz, suggests some other hypotheses. The most interesting of these is "the internal connection between the quality of the IDF's functioning in Lebanon and the occupation and the oppression in Gaza and the West Bank." Segev:

There is a generation of soldiers whose main military experience involves the oppression of the Palestinian population in the territories; they have not been trained for real war.

Like the chief of staff, the soldiers of the occupation have developed infinite arrogance. Every private is a king in the territories: If he so wishes, he allows a Palestinian to go through the roadblock; if he so wishes, he orders him to remove his pants. The power of the occupation has implanted a profound contempt for the Palestinians in many soldiers, and this is the essence of their experience as soldiers.

The Palestinian terror and its suppression have also granted legitimacy to a very serious systematic undermining of the Palestinians' human rights. The expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese from their homes, as though it were permissible routine, was carried out in this spirit as well. As opposed to the past, there was almost no protest in Israel... [Emphasis added]

Actions have consequences. Chickens come home to roost. Brutality blunts and weakens the perpetrator. If you act like oafish goons, before long you become oafish goons. You forget who you were before.

Israeli brutality vis-a-vis the Palestinians is bad enough, but what the US is doing in Iraq is far worse. The impact on our national character is already being felt. The longer we continue, the more hideous the consequences will be. Call it karma, if you like, or just call it psychology. But one way or the other, we will pay.

[Thanks, Miles]

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August 17, 2006

Hurtling Towards The Abyss Iran  Palestine/Middle East

Seymour Hersh on CNN: The US and Israel, together, planned the Lebanon attack months in advance. Cheney and the neocons thought the attack on Lebanon was going to be "a model, a prototype" for an attack on Iran: "a lot of air [power] against...dug-in, underground facilities." Watch the clip.

Hersh: "It's time to decide if we're a democracy or not. This President is doing an awful lot of foreign policy without sharing it with the rest of us."

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August 14, 2006

John Robb On What's Coming Global Guerrillas  Iran  Palestine/Middle East  War and Peace

John Robb, the guy to read on fourth generation warfare and the rise of loosely-affilated, globalized, non-state forces that he calls global guerrillas, has posted an ominous analysis of what lies in store. Scary stuff. I don't know that I agree with all of it, but it's essential reading, so I'm taking the liberty of reproducing it in full:

As most readers of this blog already know, its focus is on putting the jigsaw pieces of a mega-trend together: the rise and evolutionary improvement of non-state foes. In this blog, we've tracked and analyzed everything from 9/11's terrorism to Iraq's open source warfare to Afghanistan's black globalization to Nigeria's system disruption to Hezbollah's fourth generation warfare. It's been a wild ride. Unfortunately, this process of evolution has caused a big problem. With each improvement in the capabilities of non-state groups, states have become more confused. Worse yet, they are blaming each other for the problems they are encountering with these groups.

This tension and confusion has now reached a tipping point, akin to the situation that preceded WW1. Nation-states, confused and locked into antiquated mindsets, are likely to stumble into a global war. To wit: Israel's loss to Hezbollah and the US loss of Iraq to civil war puts both countries into an untenable strategic situation. Instead of blaming themselves for an inability to reach victory, they are priming themselves for a confrontation with the perceived 'source' of the problem: Iran. As it stands right now, war with Iran is likely inevitable. It really doesn't matter whether it is caused by a US (or Israeli) air campaign against Iran, an Iranian pre-emptive special operation, or a simple error: it's on the way.

For better or worse, this impending war will not follow a familiar pattern of conflict we are used to. It will quickly evolve into something much more chaotic, an epochal conflict between non-states and states over control of vast sections of the globe. Here's how. Any attack on Iran will be constructed in a way to force regime change (my belief is that it will be an airpower EBO [effects-based operation — an attack on essential infrastructure] as we saw twice in Iraq and in a pale replica: Lebanon). When this doesn't occur quickly, and as regional chaos spreads due to Iranian counter-attacks the conflict will escalate to a ground invasion. At that point, the Iranian state will cease to exist in any recognizable form. A plethora of energized non-state foes will populate the landscape in its stead. These groups won't yield, and will bog the invasion down into a never ending counter-insurgency.

Stretched to its limit, the US and its remaining allies will not be able to stop the process of self-replication that will occur. Non-state global guerrillas, armed with the evolved capabilities analyzed on this blog, will begin a process of regional destabilization that will sweep many of the nearby autocracies into the dustbin of history. This process will in turn create more armed non-state groups and thereby more foes. Further, this war will quickly expand beyond the Middle East as these forces make attacks on global targets and other non-state groups take advantage of the resulting economic and social chaos.

Western nation-states, to bolster defenses against this chaos, will throw up barriers and enact measures in many ways akin to those of police states and totalitarian governments. This round of globalization will end, which will cause economic contraction, resource shortages, and chaos. [Emphasis added]

Strangely enough, our best hope for avoiding a catastrophe may lie with the military officer corps. The civilian leadership seems completely out of touch with the military realities, and they have shown that they don't much care what the public thinks. But if the military leadership can keep their wits about them, perhaps they can take the craziest options off the table. Let's hope they read John Robb.

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August 12, 2006

Blowback Palestine/Middle East

Each Lebanese civilian death, each child's death especially, fuels a growing rage against the US government. CSM:

With his arm raised and fist clenched, Sheikh Hussein furiously expressed a sentiment rapidly taking hold here.

"We know who our first enemy is: America," he shouted before tearful mourners at a funeral Wednesday for 30 civilians killed by an Israeli airstrike on Monday. The white-turbaned sheikh led the crowd in a militant chant: "Death to America! Death to America!"

Even as Israel continues to pound Beirut's southern suburbs, and agreed Wednesday on plans to expand its four-week-old offensive as far as 18 miles into southern Lebanon, many here increasingly blame the US for its extensive military and political support for the Jewish state.

"Israel wants to stop the war, but America orders them to continue," the sheikh asserted later in an interview. "This is the American freedom?"

Moments before the first child was interred by weeping parents Wednesday, Israeli ordnance hit again at a building nearby; more strikes followed during burials. [...]

And in Beirut's Shiyyah district, where the Israeli strikes Monday night took more than 40 lives — the largest single-event toll of the conflict — it was a day of digging.

Just after first light, Hassan Dirani pulled several stuffed teddy bears and toys from the rubble, shook off the dust, and gently assembled them on a slab of concrete, with a blonde doll on top. They were dolls his own children had given to families displaced by fighting in the south, who had sought refuge in this "safe" Shiite-Christian neighborhood.

For Mr. Dirani, his emotions were first about the children — three of his remained in the rubble. And second, they were about accusing the US of giving Israel a free hand to destroy Lebanon.

"Thank you, George Bush. Thank you for those 'smart' bombs," says Dirani, whose wife and surviving son were injured in the attack. "I want to ask George Bush: 'What did our children do to him?'" [...]

"I beg Americans not to vote for another butcher and criminal like George Bush," says Dirani, who works at the environment ministry. Tearfully, he says his small daughter, now entombed, had been sharing her excitement about her upcoming sixth birthday party next week; she wrote out an invitation list of 20 school friends.

"Why does your system and White House do this to us...give smart bombs to throw on our people?" asks Dirani. "What are you going to tell your kids [to explain it]?"

...On the first day of conflict, Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz vowed to "turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years"...

"That's how they create terrorists," says Mohammed, a Lebanese restaurant owner, while watching the digging effort in Shiyyah. "And they ask: 'Why do they hate us?'" [...]

"I don't understand anything! I don't know, I just don't know," wailed Mr. Yatim, his body shaking. "Criminal people and a criminal government does this to us. The kids have nothing to do with missiles and bombs, but they are burning everything. No one in the world deserves such a massacre."

"Americans, Europeans, and the Western people are great people ... they love freedom," says Yatim, as workers sought to find his daughter. "But the governments of Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair are criminal." [...]

"Imagine if Americans were receiving this, and not Lebanese," says Yatim. "If these were Americans dying in this massacre, what would they think?

"We are in the 21st century, and it's unbelievable we still have people who follow such a savage way," he continues. "There are 1,000 ways, democratic ways, that [Americans] can protect the world — not this way." [Emphasis added]

What can one say? If I were to find my own daughters dead in the rubble, I don't know what I would do. I very much doubt I would forgive.

[Thanks, Miles]

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August 10, 2006

The Partition Of Lebanon Palestine/Middle East

As Israel continues its ethnic cleansing operation to de-populate southern Lebanon, making refugees of one-quarter of Lebanon's population and turning the south into one big free-fire zone, what about the draft resolution the US, France, and Britain have offered to the UN Security Council? It is, as one might expect given its authors, weighted overhwelmingly in Israel's favor. American Leftist has an excellent post on the subject. It quotes Ran HaCohen:

According to the current resolution draft, the UN Security Council "calls for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations." Note the asymmetry, as well as the term "immediate." While Israel is occupying Lebanon, Hezbollah — or, as it is often called in Lebanon, "the resistance" (al-muqawama) — is not allowed to take any military action against this occupation. If it does, the resolution draft allows Israel to defend its occupation militarily, as long as it uses "non-offensive" means. Thus the UNSC, perhaps for the first time, waives the moral and internationally accepted legal principle of the right of occupied peoples to resist occupation. The resolution draft not only forbids Hezbollah resistance to the occupation, but also legitimizes Israel's right to defend its occupying forces against any Lebanese resistance. [Emphasis added]

Next, AmLeft quotes Karim Makdisi, writing from Beirut:

The draft UN resolution proposed by the US and France on Saturday...seems strangely out of place, as though Israel had won this war decisively and is in a position to dictate the terms. The draft does not reflect either the reality of a balance of terror that clearly exists between Hizbullah and Israel today, or the political unity that this war has created in Lebanon and across the Arab world. As such, it has come as a shock to many people in the region. In the words of the influential Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri (who is mediating between Hizbullah and the Lebanese government), "if Israel did not win the war and it gets all this, what would have happened if it had won the war?"

Here are some preliminary observations on this draft resolution:

1. It clearly adopts the Israeli narrative that this war was begun by Hizbullah...and makes clear that to prevent the "resumption of hostilities" Hizbullah must be banned in all areas between the Blue Line and Litani River. Elsewhere, the text refers to the Sheba'a farms as "disputed or uncertain" as opposed to "occupied."

2. It calls for a "cessation of hostilities" until an international force is deployed, as opposed to the "immediate cease fire" that the Lebanese government has repeatedly demanded. This gives Israel the face-saving mechanism it needs...

3. It further calls on Hizbullah to cease all "attacks" while Israel must only cease "offensive military operations." Given that Israel has all along stated that this war is in self-defense, this phrasing clearly gives Israel the green light to continue to hit Hizbullah targets whenever it interprets the need for self defense. And since 'Hizbullah targets' apparently includes the full spectrum of civilian installations throughout the country as well as all civilians in Lebanon, Israel could interpret this to mean a green light for the continuation of its onslaught.

4. It refers to the "unconditional release" of Israeli soldiers, but only to "encouraging the efforts aimed at resolving the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel." It says nothing about the exchange of prisoners, a key Lebanese demand.

5. It does not heed Lebanon's demand for an immediate lifting of the Israeli siege of Lebanon. Rather it makes clear that airports and ports will be reopened only for "verifiably and purely civilian purposes." In other words, everyone and everything going in and out of the country will be monitored, thus turning Lebanon into a new Gaza.

6. There is no mention of an international investigation into Israel's savage attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure as Lebanon's Prime Minster has repeatedly demanded. There is moreover no reference to war crimes, international humanitarian laws or the Geneva Conventions.

7. The heart of this draft resolution calls for a permanent ceasefire based on the disarming of "all armed groups in Lebanon"...and the deployment in Lebanon (as opposed to Israel, or both countries) of an "international force"...to help implement a "long term solution." The Lebanese government has insisted that the disarming of Hizbullah must be part of Lebanon's national dialogue...and that the Lebanese army should be the main player in securing southern Lebanon, with an expanded UNIFIL there to assist it as needed. [Emphasis added]

Meanwhile, Israel continues to pound Shia areas throughout Lebanon — not just in the de facto free-fire zone south of the Litani, but in south Beirut and in the Bek'a valley — apparently hoping to rob Hezbollah of any area in which to take refuge. By re-occupying southern Lebanon and turning it into a de-populated wasteland, Israel is effectively partitioning the country — or trying to, anyway, Hezbollah has other ideas.

The paradox, however, and the reason Israel's policy is certain ultimately to be self-defeating, is that Lebanon is rapidly being turned into a failed state. Which is to say, fertile ground for an insurgency. It's like they don't get CNN in Israel. Haven't they watched the US go down in flames in Iraq? For that matter, haven't they learned from their own experience in occupied Palestine: namely, that injustice calls forth resistance, with the strength and staying power of the resistance proportional to the scale of the injustice, in a sort of Newton's law of conflict. Few injustices feed resistance like an occupation.

The US and Israel seem unable or unwilling to adapt to new global realities. Where it once may have seemed attractive to neocons here and in Israel to turn the Middle East (Israel aside) into a bunch of weak statelets, the reality in this age of "global guerrillas" is that every failed state is a Petri dish for increasingly effective insurgencies, insurgencies that are quicker to learn and adapt than the First World militaries arrayed against them. More on that topic tomorrow.

Meanwhile, like the bumper sticker says: no justice, no peace.

[Thanks, Miles]

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"Tough Day, Great Opportunity" Humor & Fun  Palestine/Middle East

There's silly satire, and there's satire with real bite. This bit from The Daily Show is the latter — exactly as it should be. I can't recommend it highly enough. Watch it, then watch it again:


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August 08, 2006

Inviting Disaster Palestine/Middle East

Exceprts from an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski:

It is important to recognize that [in the past] Israel defeated formal armies led in most cases by inefficient and often corrupt regimes. Hezbollah is waging "asymmetrical" warfare against Israel based on increasingly radicalized and even fanaticized mass support. So...Israel will have much more difficulty in coping effectively with this latter in contrast to the former. [...]

These neocon prescriptions [for the unilateral application of military force], of which Israel has its equivalents, are fatal for America and ultimately for Israel. They will totally turn the overwhelming majority of the Middle East's population against the United States. The lessons of Iraq speak for themselves. Eventually, if neocon policies continue to be pursued, the United States will be expelled from the region and that will be the beginning of the end for Israel as well. [...]

The new element today is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate the Israeli-Palestinian problem, the Iraq problem and Iran from each other. Neither the United States nor Israel has the capacity to impose a unilateral solution in the Middle East. There may be people who deceive themselves into believing that.

The solution can only come in the Israel-Palestinian issue if there is serious international involvement that supports the moderates from both sides, however numerous or few they are, but also creates the situation in which it becomes of greater interest to the warring parties to accommodate than to resist, both because of the incentives and the capacity of the external intervention to impose costs.

When Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki recently harshly criticized Israel in the Lebanon conflict, it was an indication of things to come. The notion that the U.S. was going to get a pliant, democratic, stable, pro-American, Israel-loving Iraq is a myth which is rapidly eroding. That is why the U.S. needs to start talking with the Iraqis about the day of our disengagement. We shouldn't leave precipitously. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Khalilzad told me that four months would be precipitous. I agree. But we should agree that the U.S. will disengage at some period beyond that.

As far as Iran is concerned, we have made an offer to the Iranians that is reasonable. I do not know that they have the smarts to respond favorably or at least not negatively. I lean to the idea that they'll probably respond not negatively but not positively and try to stall out the process. But that is not so bad provided they do not reject it.

While the Iranian nuclear problem is serious, and while the Iranians are marginally involved in Lebanon, the fact of the matter is that the challenge they pose is not imminent. And because it isn't imminent, there is time to deal with it.

Sometimes in international politics, the better part of wisdom is to defer dangers rather than try to eliminate them altogether instantly. To do [the latter] produces intense counter-reactions that are destructive. We have time to deal with Iran, provided the process is launched, dealing with the nuclear energy problem, which can then be extended to involve also security talks about the region.

In the final analysis, Iran is a serious country; it's not Iraq. It's going to be there. It's going to be a player. And in the longer historical term, it has all of the preconditions for a constructive internal evolution if you measure it by rates of literacy, access to higher education and the role of women in society.

The mullahs are part of the past in Iran, not its future. But change in Iran will come through engagement, not through confrontation.

If we pursue these policies, we can perhaps avert the worst. But if we do not, I fear that the region will explode. In the long run, Israel would be in great jeopardy. [Emphasis added]

It is a measure of how far we've come that an old Cold War hard-liner like Brzezinski now sounds like the voice of sanity.

Why isn't it obvious that the path to peace involves engagement, honest negotiation, and the resolution of legitimate grievances? It's a big, unconquerable world out there. It's simply not possible to achieve a stable and peaceful result by putting your boot on everyone else's neck. Nobody's boots are that big, thank goodness. And yet the neocons in the Bush administration and their counterparts in Israel persist in the belief that all their military hardware makes them the new Rome. Guess again.

As Iraq and now Lebanon have so starkly demonstrated, military hardware alone gets you nowhere against a determined non-state 4GW adversary. And in the globalized environment, the whole world's watching, and learning.

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Premeditated Aggression Palestine/Middle East

Thank you George Monbiot for clearly stating what really ought to be obvious: Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers was merely the pretext for an Israeli attack that had been planned for years. Excerpts:

Since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000, there have been hundreds of violations of the "blue line" between the two countries. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that Israeli aircraft crossed the line "on an almost daily basis" between 2001 and 2003, and "persistently" until 2006. [...]

In October 2000, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) shot at unarmed Palestinian demonstrators on the border, killing three and wounding 20. In response, Hizbullah crossed the line and kidnapped three Israeli soldiers. On several occasions, Hizbullah fired missiles and mortar rounds at IDF positions, and the IDF responded with heavy artillery and sometimes aerial bombardment. Incidents like this killed three Israelis and three Lebanese in 2003; one Israeli soldier and two Hizbullah fighters in 2005 and two Lebanese people and three Israeli soldiers in February 2006. Rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel several times in 2004, 2005 and 2006, on some occasions by Hizbullah. But, the UN records, "none of the incidents resulted in a military escalation". [...]

There has been a heated debate on the internet about whether the two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah that day were captured in Israel or in Lebanon...[b]ut there is no serious debate about why the two soldiers were captured: Hizbullah was seeking to exchange them for the 15 prisoners of war taken by the Israelis during the occupation of Lebanon and (in breach of article 118 of the third Geneva convention) never released. It seems clear that if Israel had handed over the prisoners, it would — without the spillage of any more blood — have retrieved its men and reduced the likelihood of further kidnappings. But the Israeli government refused to negotiate. Instead — well, we all know what happened instead. Almost 1,000 Lebanese and 33 Israeli civilians have been killed so far, and a million Lebanese displaced from their homes.

On July 12th, in other words, Hizbullah fired the first shots. But that act of aggression was simply one instance in a long sequence of small incursions and attacks over the past six years, by both sides. So why was the Israeli response so different from all that preceded it? The answer is that it was not a reaction to the events of that day. The assault had been planned for months.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail." The attack, he said, would last for three weeks. It would begin with bombing and culminate in a ground invasion. Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, told the paper that "of all of Israel's wars since 1948, this was the one for which Israel was most prepared...By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we're seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it's been simulated and rehearsed across the board."

A "senior Israeli official" told the Washington Post that the raid by Hizbullah provided Israel with a "unique moment" for wiping out Hizbullah. The New Statesman's editor John Kampfner says he was told by more than one official source that the United States government knew in advance of Israel's intention to take military action in Lebanon. The Bush administration told the British government.

Israel's assault, then, was premeditated: it was simply waiting for an appropriate excuse. It was also unnecessary. It is true that Hizbullah had been building up munitions close to the border, as its current rocket attacks show. But so had Israel. Just as Israel could assert that it was seeking to deter incursions by Hizbullah, Hizbullah could claim — also with justification — that it was trying to deter incursions by Israel...[T]he suggestion that Hizbullah could launch an invasion of Israel or constitutes an existential threat to the state is preposterous. Since the occupation ended, all its acts of war have been minor ones, and nearly all of them reactive.

So it is not hard to answer the question of what we would have done. First, stop recruiting enemies, by withdrawing from the occupied territories in Palestine and Syria. Second, stop provoking the armed groups in Lebanon with violations of the blue line — in particular the persistent flights across the border. Third, release the prisoners of war who remain unlawfully incarcerated in Israel. Fourth, continue to defend the border, while maintaining the diplomatic pressure on Lebanon to disarm Hizbullah (as anyone can see, this would be much more feasible if the occupations were to end). Here then is my challenge to the supporters of the Israeli government: do you dare to contend that this programme would have caused more death and destruction than the current adventure has done? [Emphasis added]

As Monbiot says, relatively minor incidents have been happening along the border for years. Who "started" it just depends on where you start the timeline. Why start the timeline on July 12th? Why not start it, for example, with Israel's 1982 invasion and subsequent occupation of Lebanon?

In any case, as should be obvious, large-scale attacks like Israel's don't just happen overnight. They require detailed planning, movement of soldiers and materiel, etc. Israel was just waiting for a pretext. Its attack was a premeditated, "preemptive" war of aggression every bit as illegal as the US invasion of Iraq.

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August 07, 2006

Chomsky On Israel's Invasion Palestine/Middle East

From an interview with Noam Chomsky, posted today at ICH:

[Israel's] invasion itself is a serious breach of international law, and major war crimes are being committed as it proceeds. There is no legal justification.

The "moral justification" is supposed to be that capturing soldiers in a cross-border raid, and killing others, is an outrageous crime. We know, for certain, that Israel, the United States and other Western governments, as well as the mainstream of articulate Western opinion, do not believe a word of that. Sufficient evidence is their tolerance for many years of US-backed Israeli crimes in Lebanon, including four invasions before this one, occupation in violation of Security Council orders for 22 years, and regular killings and abductions. To mention just one question that every journal should be answering: When did Nasrallah assume a leadership role? Answer: When the Rabin government escalated its crimes in Lebanon, murdering Sheikh Abbas Mussawi and his wife and child with missiles fired from a US helicopter. Nasrallah was chosen as his successor. Only one of innumerable cases. There is, after all, a good reason why last February, 70% of Lebanese called for the capture of Israeli soldiers for prisoner exchange.

The conclusion is underscored, dramatically, by the current upsurge of violence, which began after the capture of Corporal Gilad Shalit on June 25. Every published Western "timeline" takes that as the opening event. Yet the day before, Israeli forces kidnapped two Gaza civilians, a doctor and his brother, and sent them to the Israeli prison system where they can join innumerable other Palestinians, many held without charges — hence kidnapped. Kidnapping of civilians is a far worse crime than capture of soldiers. The Western response was quite revealing: a few casual comments, otherwise silence. The major media did not even bother reporting it. That fact alone demonstrates, with brutal clarity, that there is no moral justification for the sharp escalation of attacks in Gaza or the destruction of Lebanon, and that the Western show of outrage about kidnapping is cynical fraud. [...]

Israel certainly has a right to defend itself, but no state has the right to "defend" occupied territories. When the World Court condemned Israel's "separation wall," even a US Justice, Judge Buergenthal, declared that any part of it built to defend Israeli settlements is "ipso facto in violation of international humanitarian law," because the settlements themselves are illegal.

The withdrawal of a few thousand illegal settlers from Gaza was publicly announced as a West Bank expansion plan. It has now been formalized by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, with the support of Washington, as a program of annexation of valuable occupied lands and major resources (particularly water) and cantonization of the remaining territories, virtually separated from one another and from whatever pitiful piece of Jerusalem will be granted to Palestinians. All are to be imprisoned, since Israel is to take over the Jordan valley. Gaza, too, remains imprisoned and Israel carries out attacks there at will. [...]

It is Israel and the United States that are radically violating international law. They are now seeking to consummate long-standing plans to eliminate Palestinian national rights for good. [...]

[The destruction of Lebanon] is correct from the point of view of those who want to ensure that Israel, by now virtually an offshore US military base and high-tech center, dominates the region, without any challenge to its rule as it proceeds to destroy Palestine. And there are side advantages, such as eliminating any Lebanese-based deterrent if US-Israel decide to attack Iran.

They may also hope to set up a client regime in Lebanon of the kind that Ariel Sharon sought to create when he invaded Lebanon in 1982, destroying much of the country and killing some 15-20,000 people. [...]

One very likely consequence [of Israel's invasion], as the United States and Israel surely anticipated, is a significant increase in jihadi-style terrorism as anger and hatred directed against the United States, Israel, and Britain sweep the Arab and Muslim worlds. Another is that Nasrallah, whether he survives or is killed, will become an even more important symbol of resistance to US-Israeli aggression. [Emphasis added]

The voice of reason.

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Words And Deeds Palestine/Middle East

Much was made of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's publicly quoting Ayatollah Khomeini who said that Israel should be wiped from the pages of history (or, as it was widely mis-translated "wiped off the map"). Sticks and stones, though; it's actions that really count.

Juan Cole:

The difference between Ahmadinejad and [Israeli PM] Olmert is that the Iranian president is a blowhard. The one who had practical plans to wipe a country off the map was Olmert.

He's got a point.

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August 06, 2006

Peak Oil, Lebanon, and Iran Iran  Palestine/Middle East  Peak Oil

I have always thought that Peak Oil is the Rosetta Stone of Bush/Cheney foreign policy. As I wrote a year and a half ago:

They believe Peak Oil's coming, and they mean to control the world's oil-producing regions before oil shortages get underway in earnest. Examine it from a Peak Oil perspective, and suddenly everything they're doing looks like part of a coherent (if misguided) overall game plan.

Juan Cole has a long post up today making the case (or at least examining its plausibility) that Israel's destruction of Lebanon is part of that Peak Oil game plan. Having occupied Iraq, the big prize that remains is Iran. Excerpts:

The wholesale destruction of all of Lebanon by Israel and the US Pentagon does not make any sense. Why bomb roads, roads, bridges, ports, fuel depots in Sunni and Christian areas that have nothing to do with Shiite Hizbullah in the deep south? And, why was Hizbullah's rocket capability so crucial that it provoked Israel to this orgy of destruction? [...]

Moreover, the Lebanese government elected last year was pro-American! Why risk causing it to fall by hitting the whole country so hard?

And, why was Condi Rice's reaction to the capture of two Israeli soldiers and Israel's wholesale destruction of little Lebanon that these were the "birth pangs" of the "New Middle East"?

Cole quotes a European reader of his who wrote:

When I was in Portugal I also watched a presentation by a guy who works for the ministry of energy in that country, a certain [JFR].

He started his presentation with the growing need for oil in China and India. He stressed that China wants to become the 'workshop' of the world and India the 'office' of the world. both economies contributed combined some 44% to world economy growth during 2001-2004. He compared the USA, Japan, India and China to giant whales constantly eating fish. They had no fish near them so they started to move. He explained that the Persian Gulf is the 'fish ground', the 'gas station' of the world. [...]

JFR explained to the astonished audience that Iran was the most valuable country on the planet. They have one of the biggest holdings of gas and oil reserves in the world. second in gas, second in oil. On top of that they have direct access to the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Caspian Sea what makes them a potential platform for the distribution of oil and gas to South Asia, Europe and East Asia. JRF called Iran 'the prize'...

The disaster in Lebanon actually was also part of JFR's presentation. He explained that the US government is 100% convinced, fanatically and completely convinced, that both, Hamas and Hizballah are creatures of Iran and that Iran uses them to undermine US goals in the region...

The presentation got kind of freaky then. He said the US government wanted to stop state-controlled Iranian or Chinese (or Indian) companies from controlling the oil. JFR says the US Government is convinced that this battle will decide the future of the world. It sounded like he was talking about 'the one ring' in lord of the rings. he who controls Iran controls them all.' [Emphasis added]

It's often said that actually controlling the oil-producing countries is unnecessary since oil is a fungible commodity. Why do you need to control the oil fields if you can just buy oil on the open market? Cole:

[T]he "fungibility" (easy exchange) of oil is less important in the new environment than it used to be. US petroleum companies would like to go back to actually owning fields in the Middle East, since there are big profits to be made if you get to decide when you take it out of the ground. As Chinese and Indian competition for the increasingly scarce resource heats up, exclusive contracts will be struck. When I floated the fungibility of petroleum as a reason for which the Iraq War could not be only about oil, at a talk at Columbia's Earth Institute last year, Jeffrey Sachs surprised me by disagreeing with me. In our new environment, oil is becoming a commodity over which it really does make sense to fight for control. [...]

Jeffrey Sachs is right. Oil is fungible only after its out of the ground. The name of today's game is control of reserves, not markets. Example: china's deals in Latin America, US development of non-Nigerian African resource, etc." [Emphasis added]

I would add that the fungibility argument assumes orderly markets in a peaceful world. My guess is that Bush/Cheney et al have looked into their crystal ball and concluded that the oil-importing nations of the world are going to end up in a fight to the death for the oil that remains. When the world's at war, oil's fungibility doesn't count for much. (During WWII, for example, Germany couldn't just go out and buy the oil it needed. Lack of oil, as much as anything else, insured Germany's defeat.) Bush/Cheney may well have concluded that the US and China are on a collision course. Should it come to that, control of the world's oil will be decisive.

So Iran is the prize, and Lebanon is a preliminary bout. As I've noted before, Israel's pounding of Lebanon can be viewed as an effort to secure the Americans' flank in preparation for an attack on Iran. The threat on the flank was and is Hezbollah. Cole:

In the short term, Iran was protected by [an] ace in the hole. It had a client in the Levant, Lebanon's Hizbullah, and had given it a few silkworm rockets, which could theoretically hit Israeli nuclear and chemical facilities. Hizbullah increasingly organizes the Lebanese Shiites, and the Lebanese Shiites will in the next ten to twenty years emerge as a majority in Lebanon, giving Iran a commercial hub on the Mediterranean.

Cole doesn't seem to anticipate a US attack on Iran in the near term. Let's hope he's right, but the ferocity of Israel's assault certainly suggests that the US may already be starting to move. Cf. Condi's comments about "birth pangs" of a "New Middle East".

Some observers (see, for example, Xymphora) look at all this and say it's got nothing to do with oil: the Israelis, and their American neocon supporters, are pursuing their own agenda, trying to safeguard or enlarge Israeli power. But nothing is ever about just one thing. The Israelis have their own axe to grind; that doesn't mean it's only about Israel. Similarly, lots of private companies are making a fortune off of war; that doesn't mean it's only about profits. And so on.

How seriously you take the oil motivation ultimately depends on how seriously you take the implications of Peak Oil. Or, rather, it depends on how seriously you think Bush/Cheney (and the Pentagon, the CIA, etc.) take the implications of Peak Oil (and the likelihood of an eventual conflict with China). My guess is they take it very seriously indeed. Everything they've done, everything they're doing, points that way.

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August 04, 2006

The Dems and Israel: The Precipice Beckons Palestine/Middle East  Politics

When Ned Lamont beats Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, people will say it's because Lamont is "anti-war". But as Billmon reminds us in an outstanding and extremely important post, Lamont — and Democrats generally — are only anti-war when it comes to Iraq. When it comes to Israel, they compete to see who's quickest to snap to attention and salute. And that is a recipe for disaster. Billmon:

I know Ned [Lamont] says he's anti-war, but he only means the war in Iraq. The war in Lebanon, on the other hand, is just fine by him. And he's already pledged he'll be just as staunch a friend of Israel and the Israel lobby in this war as Holy Joe ever was or ever could be. So bombs away. [...]

Lamont's stance...reflects a glaring contradiction in the emerging Democratic consensus on U.S. policy in the Middle East...Politically, it's a position that won't be sustainable for long. And as a matter of policy, it's a recipe for an even wider and more destructive war — one I fully expect most Democrats, including Lamont, will end up supporting, despite the consequences.

The contradiction is between the growing sentiment among both grassroots Democrats and party leaders in favor of a rapid withdrawal of U.S. military forces (or at least ground forces) from Iraq, and the effect such a withdrawal would have, both on the overall strategic balance in the Middle East and on Israel's war against Hizbullah.

If the United States were to begin pulling troops out of Iraq now, it would be interpreted correctly throughout the Middle East as an open admission of defeat — one that would likely lead fairly quickly to a complete American evacuation of the country. [...]

[T]he U.S. Army is the only significant force standing between Iran and it's closest allies, and thus between Iran and Israel. If, as it now seems, Washington and Jerusalem both perceive Iran as the primary threat (and/or target for aggression) in the region, then there is no real distinction between America's occupation of Iraq and Israel's intended re-occupation of southern Lebanon. They are, in essence, both part of the next war.

It seems increasingly probable that that war will come soon — perhaps as early as November or December, although more likely next year. Israel's failure to knock out Hizbullah with a rapid first strike has left the neocons even deeper in the hole, enormously ratcheting up the pressure to try to recoup all losses by taking the war to Damascus and Tehran.

In other words, it's almost time for the ultimate "flight forward" — the one that finally pushes the Middle East into World War III.

What's become clear to me is that the Democratic Party (even it's allegedly anti-war wing) will not try to stop this insanity, and in fact will probably be led as meekly to the slaughter as it was during the runup to the Iraq invasion. Watching the Dems line up to salute the Israeli war machine, hearing the uncomfortable and awkward silence descend on most of Left Blogistan once the bombs started falling in Lebanon, seeing how easily the same Orwellian propaganda tricks worked their magic on the pseudoliberals — all this doesn't leave too much room for doubt. As long as World War III can be sold as protecting the security and survival of the Jewish state, I suspect the overwhelming majority of Democratics will support it.

And it is being sold, ferociously. A number of wealthy pro-Israel donors, including Ronald Lauder, the perfume heir, have given millions to something called the Israel Project — a "public education" cum PR cum grassroots lobbying machine — to fund a program specificially aimed at building support for a military strike on Iran. You can't turn on Fox News these days without finding James Woolsey or Newt Gingrich or Bill Kristol or some other pro-Israel mouthpiece demanding war with Syria and/or Iran, and painting it as the only way to stop the rockets falling on Haifa. [...]

The lesson learned from the Democratic reaction to the Israel's war of choice is that the Dems are only likely to oppose war as long as the war in question can be framed as a fight against Iraqi insurgents and/or Shi'a death squads, rather than a fight for Israel. But the Iraq occupation isn't going to fit neatly into that frame much longer. In fact it's already slipped out of it. The Dems — always a little slow on the uptake — just haven't realized it yet. But when the time comes to choose (for Israel, or against war with Iran) I fully expect to see Ned Lamont in the front ranks of the pro-war phalanx, right next to the last great white Democratic anti-war hope, Howard Dean.

People tell me I shouldn't get hung up on this because, you know, if the Dems get in they'll make sure the seniors get their Social Security checks a little faster — or they'll keep the Supreme Court out of the hands of legal madmen or do something about global climate change or save the whales or whatever else it is that's supposed to make the Democratic Party infinitely preferable to the Republicans.

It's not that I discount these differences entirely -- although they're easily oversold. But compared to the fate that awaits the republic, and the world, if the United States deliberately starts a war with Iran, those other considerations start to look pretty insignificant. I mean, we're talking about World War III here, fought by people who want to use tactical nuclear weapons. I'm supposed to put that out of my mind because the Dems might be a little bit more generous about funding the VA budget??? I'm sorry, but that's fucking nuts.

The truth is that on the most important issue of our time — the cliff that drops into total darkness — the only real opposition left in this country is in the Pentagon, where, according to Sy Hersh, at least some of the generals are trying to stall the march to war. Plus whatever scattered resistance is left in the intelligence agencies following the purges of the past couple of years.

It is a stunning testament to the political devolution of this country that the most effective anti-war movement in America is inside the walls of the Pentagon or buried deep in the bowels of the CIA! But that is the reality, thanks in no small part to the Dems and the Israel lobby.

I had hopes once that the Democratic Party could be reformed, that progressives could burrow back in or build their own parallel organizations (like MoveOn.org or even Left Blogistan) and eventually gain control of the party and its agenda — much as the conservatives took over the GOP in the 1980s and '90s.

But I think we've run out of time. Events — from 9/11 on — have moved too fast and pushed us too far towards the clash of civilizations that most sane people dread but the neocons desperately want. The Dems are now just the cadet branch of the War Party. While the party nomenklatura is finally, after three bloody years, making dovish noises about the Iraq fiasco, I think their loyalty to Israel will almost certainly snap them back into line during the coming "debate" over war with Iran.

I hope like hell I'm wrong about this, but I don't think I am. So I guess I'll just have to accept being labeled a traitor to the cause — or whatever the hardcore partisans are calling it. Sure, why not. They're certainly free to follow their party over the cliff (we're all going over it anyway) but I'd at least prefer to do it with my eyes open. [Emphasis added]

Americans generally have long held a completely one-sided and dangerously simplistic view of Arab-Israeli relations: Israel good, Arabs bad. Add to that the years of propaganda about Arab "terrorists" and the "war on terror", and the result is a populace with a dangerously distorted view of reality, a view that has, to a great extent, been deliberately instilled in them by people who think they're advancing Israel's interests or who push the Israel button as a means to other ends. The final irony will be that blind loyalty to Israel's interests (or to what are portrayed as Israel's interests) may just bring about Israel's destruction. And get untold numbers of other people killed in the process.

Just being a Democrat isn't enough. Just opposing the war in Iraq isn't enough. What we need are progressives who understand that most problems are not solved by the use of military force. And who understand that you don't get out of a hole by digging faster.

The stakes couldn't be higher.

[Thanks, Miles]

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August 03, 2006

Flattening Beirut Palestine/Middle East

From Blogging Beirut (via Deep Blade), before and after satellite images of a Beirut neighborhood.

Seen from this remove it's bad enough, but then you think of all the lives shattered or ended by the destruction, you imagine the screams, the smells, the horror and fear. These are real events happening to real people. Imagine what that must be like. What if this were your neighborhood?

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Widening The War Palestine/Middle East  Politics

Robert Parry reviews the evidence that the Bush/Cheney regime has wanted to use Israel's attack on Lebanon to widen the war and go after Syria, Iran, or both:

George W. Bush and his neoconservative advisers saw the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah as an opportunity to expand the conflict into Syria and possibly achieve a long-sought "regime change" in Damascus, but Israel's leadership balked at the scheme, according to Israeli sources.

One Israeli source said Bush's interest in spreading the war to Syria was considered "nuts" by some senior Israeli officials, although Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has generally shared Bush's hard-line strategy against Islamic militants. [...]

In an article on July 30, the Jerusalem Post hinted at the Israeli rejection of Bush's suggestion of a wider war in Syria. "Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria," the newspaper reported.

On July 18, Consortiumnews.com reported that the Israel-Lebanon conflict had revived the Bush administration's neoconservative hopes that a new path had opened "to achieve a prized goal that otherwise appeared to be blocked for them – military assaults on Syria and Iran aimed at crippling those governments." [...]

Though the immediate conflict between Israel and Hezbollah was touched off by a Hezbollah cross-border raid on July 12 that captured two Israeli soldiers, the longer-term U.S.-Israeli strategy can be traced back to the May 23, 2006, meetings between Olmert and Bush in Washington.

At those meetings, Olmert discussed with Bush Israel's plans for revising its timetable for setting final border arrangements with the Palestinians, putting those plans on the back burner while moving the Iranian nuclear program to the front burner.

In effect, Olmert informed Bush that 2006 would be the year for stopping Iran's progress toward a nuclear bomb and 2007 would be the year for redrawing Israel's final borders. That schedule fit well with Bush's priorities, which may require some dramatic foreign policy success before the November congressional elections.

At a joint press conference with Bush on May 23, Olmert said "this is a moment of truth" for addressing Iran's alleged ambitions to build a nuclear bomb.

"The Iranian threat is not only a threat to Israel, it is a threat to the stability of the Middle East and the entire world," Olmert said. "The international community cannot tolerate a situation where a regime with a radical ideology and a long tradition of irresponsible conduct becomes a nuclear weapons state." [...]

In a speech to a joint session of Congress, Olmert added that the possibility of Iran building a nuclear weapon was "an existential threat" to Israel, meaning that Israel believed its very existence was in danger. [...]

By spring 2006, Bush was reportedly weighing military options for bombing Iran's nuclear facilities. But the President encountered resistance from senior levels of the U.S. military, which feared the consequences, including the harm that might come to more than 130,000 U.S. troops bogged down in neighboring Iraq.

There was also alarm among U.S. generals over the White House resistance to removing tactical nuclear weapons as an option against Iran. [...]

[A former senior intelligence official] said the White House refused to remove the nuclear option from the plans despite objections from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "Whenever anybody tries to get it out, they're shouted down," the ex-official said.

By late April, however, the Joint Chiefs finally got the White House to agree that using nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, less than 200 miles south of Tehran, was politically unacceptable, Hersh reported.

"Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the nuclear planning," one former senior intelligence official said. [...]

One interpretation of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict is that Bush and Olmert seized on the Hezbollah raid as a pretext for a pre-planned escalation that will lead to bombing campaigns against Syria and Iran, justified by their backing of Hezbollah.

In that view, Bush found himself stymied by U.S. military objections to targeting Iran's nuclear facilities outside any larger conflict. However, if the bombing of Iran develops as an outgrowth of a tit-for-tat expansion of a war in which Israel's existence is at stake, strikes against Iranian targets would be more palatable to the American public.

The end game would be U.S.-Israeli aerial strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities with the goal of crippling its nuclear program and humiliating Ahmadinejad. [...]

Washington Post foreign policy analyst Robin Wright wrote that U.S. officials told her that "for the United States, the broader goal is to strangle the axis of Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran, which the Bush administration believes is pooling resources to change the strategic playing field in the Middle East." [...]

Another school of thought holds that Iran may have encouraged the Hezbollah raid that sparked the Lebanese-Israeli conflict as a way to demonstrate the "asymmetrical warfare" that could be set in motion if the Bush administration attacks Iran.

But Hezbollah's firing of rockets as far as the port city of Haifa, deep inside Israel, has touched off new fears among Israelis and their allies about the danger of more powerful missiles carrying unconventional warheads, possibly hitting heavily populated areas, such as Tel Aviv.

That fear of missile attacks by Islamic extremists dedicated to Israel's destruction has caused Israel to start "dusting off it nukes," one source told me. [Emphasis added]

These guys are self-destructively reckless gamblers. Unfortunately, it's not just them who gets hurt.

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August 01, 2006

A Reality-Check From Jimmy Carter Palestine/Middle East

Jimmy Carter in today's Washington Post:

It is inarguable that Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks on its citizens, but it is inhumane and counterproductive to punish civilian populations in the illogical hope that somehow they will blame Hamas and Hezbollah for provoking the devastating response. The result instead has been that broad Arab and worldwide support has been rallied for these groups, while condemnation of both Israel and the United States has intensified. [...]

[E]ven if the U.N. Security Council adopts and implements a resolution that would lead to [a cessation of hostilities], it will provide just another band-aid and temporary relief. Tragically, the current conflict is part of the inevitably repetitive cycle of violence that results from the absence of a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, exacerbated by the almost unprecedented six-year absence of any real effort to achieve such a goal.

Leaders on both sides ignore strong majorities that crave peace, allowing extremist-led violence to preempt all opportunities for building a political consensus. Traumatized Israelis cling to the false hope that their lives will be made safer by incremental unilateral withdrawals from occupied areas, while Palestinians see their remnant territories reduced to little more than human dumping grounds surrounded by a provocative "security barrier" that embarrasses Israel's friends and that fails to bring safety or stability.

The general parameters of a long-term, two-state agreement are well known. There will be no substantive and permanent peace for any peoples in this troubled region as long as Israel is violating key U.N. resolutions, official American policy and the international "road map" for peace by occupying Arab lands and oppressing the Palestinians. Except for mutually agreeable negotiated modifications, Israel's official pre-1967 borders must be honored. [...]

A major impediment to progress is Washington's strange policy that dialogue on controversial issues will be extended only as a reward for subservient behavior and will be withheld from those who reject U.S. assertions. Direct engagement with the Palestine Liberation Organization or the Palestinian Authority and the government in Damascus will be necessary if secure negotiated settlements are to be achieved. [Emphasis added]

It's a measure of how far right the country has moved, and how narrow the limits of acceptable discourse have become, that a reasoned critique by Jimmy Carter — former US president, Nobel Peace laureate (and Trilateral Commission member, for heaven's sake) — seems like something way out there on the liberal fringe.

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July 31, 2006

Rumsfeld "In A Parallel Universe And Slightly Deranged" Iraq  Palestine/Middle East  Politics

Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria on ABC Sunday (via ThinkProgress):

If I were a Democrat, I would make up a campaign commercial almost entirely of Donald Rumsfeld’s press conferences, because the man is looking — I mean, it's not just that he seems like a bad Secretary of [Defense]. He seems literally in a parallel universe and slightly deranged as a result. If you listen to what he said last week about Iraq, he's living in a different world, not a different country. [Emphasis added]

Rumsfeld and Cheney both. They're delusional men with enormous egos and enormous power. Not a happy combination. Incapable of admitting error or defeat, they will continue to escalate. Bush won't stop them and they won't stop themselves. They'll go to their graves convinced that they were right. The only question is whether they will take the rest of us with them.

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July 30, 2006

Doubling Down Iran  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East  War and Peace

Josh Marshall links to an article in today's Jerusalem Post:

[Israeli] Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the United States that the US would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria. [Emphasis added]

He goes on to say:

[T]here do appear to be forces in Washington — seemingly the stronger ones, with Rice just a facade — who see this whole thing as an opportunity for a grand call of double or nothing to get out of the disaster they've created in the region. Go into Syria, maybe Iran. Try to roll the table once and for all. No failed war that a new war can't solve. [Emphasis added]

That's my fear as well, that the Bush/Cheney regime has painted itself into such a desperate corner that doubling down may seem, as Billmon put it a few months back, "like the only move left on the board." Billmon:

What we are witnessing...may be an example of what the Germans call the flucht nach vorne – the "flight forward." This refers to a situation in which an individual or institution seeks a way out of a crisis by becoming ever more daring and aggressive (or, as the White House propaganda department might put it: "bold") A familar analogy is the gambler in Vegas, who tries to get out of a hole by doubling down on each successive bet.

Classic historical examples of the flucht nach vornes include Napoleon's attempt to break the long stalemate with Britain by invading Russia, the decision of the Deep South slaveholding states to secede from the Union after Lincoln's election, and Milosevic's bid to create a "greater Serbia" after Yugoslavia fell apart.

As these examples suggest, flights forward usually don't end well — just as relatively few gamblers emerge from a doubling-down spree with their shirts still on their backs.

It's depressing to think how much human suffering is caused by a handful of men with big egos. Some guys would rather take us all down in flames than admit error or defeat. But there's something unbelievably archaic about issues like war and the fate of nations being held hostage to the pyschopathology of individual men (and maybe a few women) in leadership positions. It's like we think we're still a small band of primates living in the forest somewhere: the alpha males call the shots. Time to grow up.

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July 29, 2006

From Lebanon To Iran Iran  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

As I wrote in an earlier post, if US forces are inserted into southern Lebanon, the inevitable Hezbollah attacks on those troops are sure to lead to a wider war pitting the US and Israel against Syria and/or Iran.

John Robb agrees, but believes the target will be Iran:

If the US sends troops to Lebanon as peacekeepers and/or as a force to disarm Hezbollah, we will see a quick escalation. Any attack (and it would be inevitable) on US forces by the Hez would be seen as a direct attack on the US by Syria and Iran. This would lead to an immediate expansion of hostilities (to include an EBO [effects based operation] against both countries as a means of punishment). From that point on, the situation would be beyond repair. [...]

I do not think I am overstating the danger here. Once momentum starts moving in that direction, we might soon find ourselves in another situation where stubborn pride, as much as anything else, would make it hard for us to modify our rhetoric and admit our inability and that of our Israeli allies to disarm and dismantle the military arm of Hizballah. It's a proxy war right now, but if our surrogates (the Israelis) fail to achieve their objectives, they will attempt very purposefully to broaden the conflict into a much larger one directly involving the United States and Iran. [Emphasis in the original]

Robb cites former CIA analyst Ray Close, who writes:

My source confirmed in detail the fact that intelligence being produced for the Bush Administration by the Pentagon strongly supports the thesis that Hizballah operations are directly controlled and closely managed from Teheran. My source considers this an exaggerated picture of the real situation. He believes that this assessment contributes to an unhealthy and even dangerous mindset in Washington, leading to potentially serious miscalculations and errors of judgment by President Bush and his closest advisors at this very critical time. [Emphasis added]

These people have their heads in a bubble, and they are going to get a lot of people killed. The idea that Hezbollah is being "directly controlled and closely managed" by Iran is as outmoded as the idea that the opposition in Iraq is just a bunch of foreign jihadists and Baathist dead-enders. And we know how that turned out. If the US allows itself to be drawn into a war with Iran, we will look back on our current difficulties with nostalgia.

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July 28, 2006

Lebanese Now Overwhelmingly Back Hezbollah Palestine/Middle East

Hezbollah is winning, especially in the war for hearts and minds. The ferocity of Israel's attack has united the Lebanese like nothing else could have done. CSM (via Billmon):

The ferocity of Israel's onslaught in southern Lebanon and Hizbullah's stubborn battles against Israeli ground forces may be working in the militant group's favor.

"They want to shatter the myth of Israeli invincibility," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a leading Lebanese expert on Hizbullah. "Being victorious means not allowing Israel to achieve their aims, and so far that is the case."

Still, the intensity of the Israeli bombing campaign appears to have taken Hizbullah aback. Mahmoud Komati, the deputy head of Hizbullah's politburo told the Associated Press, "the truth is — let me say this clearly — we didn't even expect [this] response...that [Israel] would exploit this operation for this big war against us."

When Hizbullah guerrillas snatched two Israeli soldiers from across the border, it appeared to be a serious miscalculation. In the days that followed the July 12 capture, Israel unleashed its biggest offensive against Lebanon since its 1982 invasion, smashing the country's infrastructure, creating 500,000 refugees, and so far killing more than 400 civilians. [...]

In a televised address Tuesday, Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah's secretary general, said the Israeli onslaught was an attempt by the US and Israel to "impose a new Middle East" in which Lebanon would be under US hegemony. [...]

The stakes are high for Hizbullah, but it seems it can count on an unprecedented swell of public support that cuts across sectarian lines. According to a poll released by the Beirut Center for Research and Information, 87 percent of Lebanese support Hizbullah's fight with Israel, a rise of 29 percent on a similar poll conducted in February. More striking, however, is the level of support for Hizbullah's resistance from non-Shiite communities. Eighty percent of Christians polled supported Hizbullah along with 80 percent of Druze and 89 percent of Sunnis.

Lebanese no longer blame Hizbullah for sparking the war by kidnapping the Israeli soldiers, but Israel and the US instead.

The latest poll by the Beirut Center found that 8 percent of Lebanese feel the US supports Lebanon, down from 38 percent in January. [...]

Ghassan Farran, a doctor and head of a local cultural organization, gazes in disbelief at the pile of smoking ruins which was once his home. Minutes earlier, an Israeli jet dropped two guided missiles into the six-story apartment block in the centre of Tyre.

"Look what America gives us, bombs and missiles," says this educated, middle-class professional. "I was never a political person and never with Hizbullah but now after this I am with Hizbullah." [Emphasis added]

The leaders of the US and Israel don't view their adversaries fully as people, so it's not all that surprising that they fail to understand that they will react like people do everywhere when their homes are bombed and their loved ones killed and maimed. If the US/Israeli aim is to create generations of people who bear us nothing but ill will, mission accomplished.

Commenter Michael pointed to this quote from former CIA analyst Tom Whipple, who usually writes on peak oil issues:

The Israelis, of course, will heartily approve the arrival of outside peacekeepers in southern Lebanon as they can turn the whole mess over to somebody else. Hezbollah, of course, will find that Jihad and martyrdom will work against peacekeepers just as well as Israelis. It is difficult to conceive the current level of conflict going on for long without dragging in some Middle East country with oil wells and then, the world will change. [Emphasis added]

There is no supply cushion in the oil markets anymore. Any disruption in the flow of Middle Eastern oil will be felt immediately and powerfully by the world's economy.

Meanwhile, the neocons here and in Israel seem determined to widen the war, to bend Syria and Iran to their will. All of this is proceeding without anyone asking us what we want, here in what used to like to think of itself as a democracy.

How can this not end badly?

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July 27, 2006

Killing Hostages Palestine/Middle East

Zbigniew Brzezinski must not have gotten Dershowitz's memo. Here's Brzezinski, quoted by Steve Clemons (via Rolling Stone):

I hate to say this but I will say it. I think what the Israelis are doing today for example in Lebanon is in effect, in effect — maybe not in intent — the killing of hostages. The killing of hostages.

Because when you kill 300 people, 400 people, who have nothing to do with the provocations Hezbollah staged, but you do it in effect deliberately by being indifferent to the scale of collateral damage, you're killing hostages in the hope of intimidating those that you want to intimidate. And more likely than not you will not intimidate them. You'll simply outrage them and make them into permanent enemies with the number of such enemies increasing. [Emphasis added]

Who ever thought Brzezinski would wind up looking like one of the sane ones?

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July 26, 2006

Dead Man's Curve Palestine/Middle East

John Robb, who understands fourth generation war as well as anyone, is worried. Very.

Update: [7/27 8:49AM] - More from John Robb here.

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Betting The Ranch Palestine/Middle East

Things can't get any crazier, right? Think again. Harper's (via Billmon):

There's much discussion of putting a multinational, NATO-led force in southern Lebanon as part of a ceasefire agreement in the Israel–Lebanon conflict, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, according to a story in the Washington Post, has said that she does "not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces...are expected for that force." [A non-denial denial - PP] However, a well-connected former CIA officer has told me that the Bush Administration is in fact considering exactly such a deployment.

The officer, who had broad experience in the Middle East while at the CIA, noted that NATO and European countries, including England, have made clear that they are either unwilling or extremely reluctant to participate in an international force. Given other nations' lack of commitment, any "robust" force — between 10,000 and 30,000 troops, according to estimates being discussed in the media — would by definition require major U.S. participation. According to the former official, Israel and the United States are currently discussing a large American role in exactly such a "multinational" deployment, and some top administration officials, along with senior civilians at the Pentagon, are receptive to the idea.

The uniformed military, however, is ardently opposed to sending American soldiers to the region, according to my source. "They are saying 'What the fuck?'" he told me. "Most of our combat-ready divisions are in Iraq or Afghanistan, or on their way, or coming back. The generals don't like it because we're already way overstretched." [...]

The former CIA officer said that the Bush Administration seems not to understand Hezbollah's deep roots and broad support among Lebanon's Shiites, the country's largest single ethnic bloc. "...Once you start fighting in a place like that you're basically at war with the Shiite population. That means that our soldiers are going to be getting shot at by Hezbollah. This would be a sheer disaster for us."

The scenario of an American deployment appears to come straight out of the neoconservative playbook: send U.S. forces into the Middle East, regardless of what our own military leaders suggest, in order to "stabilize" the region. The chances of success, as we have seen in Iraq, are remote. So what should be done? My source said the situation is so volatile at the moment that the only smart policy is to get an immediate ceasefire and worry about the terms of a lasting truce afterwards. [Emphasis added]

What is it that they imagine they're doing? What scenario can they have in mind?

A US force in Southern Lebanon would have an enormous bulls-eye on its back, putting it mildly. It couldn't help but take significant casualties from Hezbollah and others (who could be portrayed as puppets of Syria and/or Iran, as needed). Sooner or later, we'd wind up with US and Israeli forces fighting side by side, the forces of radical Islam arrayed against them — the clash of civilizations, or at least that's how it would play on Fox News. US and Israeli forces fighting together, taking casualties together — the precedent would be set. Next stop, Damascus? Tehran?

Putting a substantial US force in southern Lebanon would be reckless in the extreme. You know that, I know that. Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld must know it, too. That they're even contemplating such a move shows how big of a gamble they're still prepared to take. How could a US troop presence in southern Lebanon not lead to a much-expanded regional war? How can the administration imagine such a war to be winnable? Nukes?

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July 24, 2006

Quagmire Palestine/Middle East

Excellent post by Billmon. Go read it.

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July 23, 2006

The Meaning Of Democracy Palestine/Middle East

Yesterday, it was Alan Dershowitz. Today, it's Noah Feldman, NYU law professor and adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. A couple of law professors arguing that up is down and black is white. Billmon highlights these passages:

For its part, Israel is gambling that the right strategy is to make the people who elected Hamas and a government that includes Hezbollah reckon the costs of their representatives' recklessness. That is why Israel has targeted not only Hezbollah leaders and strongholds but has also bombed infrastructure that sustains daily life for everybody in Lebanon. From Israel's standpoint, this is no longer a fight with nonstate terrorists who are holding their fellow citizens hostage to their tactics. It is, rather, war between Israel and countries that are pursuing (or tolerating) violent policies endorsed (or at least accepted) by their electorates. [...]

Democracy can no longer be seen as an end in itself, and the fate of peoples lies in their own hands. [Emphasis added]

Translation: you can vote, but if we don't like who you vote for we have the right to bomb you. So much for our much-vaunted eagerness to spread democracy in the Middle East.

It's staight out of Chomsky: public "intellectuals" tying themselves in knots to justify the crimes of empire. It's seldom so appallingly, nakedly obvious, though. So I guess we can at least thank Dershowitz and Feldman for that: they've laid it bare for all to see.

As for Feldman's argument, one is reminded of Henry Kissinger's famous statement regarding US support for the coup that resulted in the overthrow and death of democratically-elected Chilean president Salvador Allende, and his replacement by the monstrous Augusto Pinochet:

I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.

Democracy, get it?

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July 22, 2006

Centripetal Force Palestine/Middle East

This is probably not the "new Middle East" Condi had in mind, but it is the "new Middle East" they're creating:

In mosques from Mecca to Marrakesh, sermons at Friday Prayer services underscored both the David-versus-Goliath glamour many Arabs associate with Hezbollah’s fight against Israel and their antipathy toward the United States and its allies in the region for doing so little to stop yet another Arab country from collapsing into bloodshed. [...]

In mosques across the region, virtually every prayer leader used the traditional call-and-response period after the main sermon to ask God to grant a victory to the Muslims. "Amen," responded the congregations in one voice. [Emphasis added]

And if they were angry before, wait until they get a load of this:

The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.

The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that could be compared to Iran's efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah.

The munitions that the United States is sending to Israel are part of a multimillion-dollar arms sale package approved last year that Israel is able to draw on as needed, the officials said. But Israel's request for expedited delivery of the satellite and laser-guided bombs was described as unusual by some military officers, and as an indication that Israel still had a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike. [Emphasis added]

Comparing the US's massive role in arming Israel to Iranian support for Hezbollah, as if there is some equivalence there, is simply obscene.

Something we need to cure ourselves of: taking anything Condi or anyone else in the administration says publicly about Israel at face value. Condi says something about Israel needing to show restraint, and people take that as evidence that the White House is conflicted about what Israel is doing. But all along, the White House has been rushing them more bombs. And now everyone in the world knows it.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed...

It is hard to escape the feeling that things are spinning out of control. If the White House and Israel aren't trying to provoke a wider war, it's hard to imagine what it is they think they're doing.

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Civilianality Palestine/Middle East

Let the contortions begin. Alan Dershowitz:

We need a new vocabulary to reflect the realities of modern warfare. A new phrase should be introduced into the reporting and analysis of current events in the Middle East: "the continuum of civilianality." Though cumbersome, this concept aptly captures the reality and nuance of warfare today and provides a more fair way to describe those who are killed, wounded and punished. [...]

The Israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern Lebanon that have been turned into war zones. Those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. Some — those who cannot leave on their own — should be counted among the innocent victims. [Emphasis added]

If Israel orders the citizens of another sovereign nation to flee their homes and they fail to comply, they are, ipso facto, complicit in terrorism and deserve to die.

A formulation worthy of the Third Reich. Quite literally. Call me naive, but I confess to being shocked. That it's come to this.

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Not A Domino 9/11, "War On Terror"  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East  Peak Oil

The following was written a year and a half ago, but it is, if anything, more timely today with the war widening. Jeff Wells:

The Mosul bombing likely has some Americans thinking, as they do only when the media reports a mass US casualty event, that Iraq could be Vietnam redux. I wish they'd stop that; this is no time for vainglorious optimism. Iraq is much worse.

It's not just about the clicking of the casualty counter, though it did take the better part of a decade for American casualties in Vietnam to reach the level of "sustainable losses" the US military is now taking in Iraq. [...]

We need to remember that Vietnam was a "domino." It was a piece in a geopolitical game, and not a very important one at that. Vietnam [lay] on the fringe of America's sphere of interest. And still it took 58,000 American and millions of Vietnamese lives before it was over. [...]

Iraq will never be over, because it's not a domino. Dominating the diminishing oil reserves of the Middle East is not a sideshow; it is the essence of US strategic interest. We're talking about the centerpiece of empire in the New American Century. So this war — and it will not be contained to Iraq — will not be over until the American Empire falls.

Iraq is not Vietnam, because the war won't end with a dash for the helicopter on the roof of the Baghdad embassy. It will end with a dash for Marine One on the grounds of the White House. [Emphasis added]

Dick Cheney, yesterday:

This conflict is a long way from over. It's going to be a battle that will last for a very long time. It is absolutely essential that we stay the course.

I didn't sign up for this. Did you?

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"Birth Pangs" Palestine/Middle East

Digby's right about this:

The Bush administration are monsters. That is not hyperbole. There can be no other explanation as to why the secretary of state, the person in charge of American diplomacy, would be so crude and stupid.

Consider this. Maureen Dowd:

Condi doesn’t want to talk to Hezbollah or its sponsors, Syria and Iran — "Syria knows what it needs to do," she says with asperity — and she doesn't want a cease-fire. She wants "a sustainable cease-fire," which means she wants to give the Israelis more time to decimate Hezbollah bunkers with the precision-guided bombs that the Bush administration is racing to deliver. [...]

Like her boss, [Condi] does not show any sign of tension over the fact that all of their schemes to democratize the Middle East ended up creating more fundamentalism, extremism, terrorism and anti-Americanism. [...]

Like a professor who has grown so frustrated with one misbehaving student that she turns her focus on another, Condi put aside the sulfurous distraction of Iraq and enthused over the need to make the fragile democracy in Lebanon a centerpiece of the "new Middle East."

She said that the carnage there represented the "birth pangs of a new Middle East, and whatever we do we have to be certain that we are pushing forward to the new Middle East, not going back to the old one."

"Birth pangs." Monstrous.

Read Robert Fisk's heart-breaking Elegy for Beirut:

I lived here [in Beirut] through 15 years of civil war that took 150,000 lives, and two Israeli invasions and years of Israeli bombardments that cost the lives of a further 20,000 of its people. I have seen them armless, legless, headless, knifed, bombed and splashed across the walls of houses. Yet they are a fine, educated, moral people whose generosity amazes every foreigner, whose gentleness puts any Westerner to shame, and whose suffering we almost always ignore.

They look like us, the people of Beirut. They have light-coloured skin and speak beautiful English and French. They travel the world. Their women are gorgeous and their food exquisite. But what are we saying of their fate today as the Israelis — in some of their cruellest attacks on this city and the surrounding countryside — tear them from their homes, bomb them on river bridges, cut them off from food and water and electricity? We say that they started this latest war, and we compare their appalling casualties — 240 in all of Lebanon by last night — with Israel's 24 dead, as if the figures are the same.

And then, most disgraceful of all, we leave the Lebanese to their fate like a diseased people and spend our time evacuating our precious foreigners while tut-tutting about Israel's "disproportionate" response to the capture of its soldiers by Hizbollah.

I walked through the deserted city centre of Beirut yesterday and it reminded more than ever of a film lot, a place of dreams too beautiful to last, a phoenix from the ashes of civil war whose plumage was so brightly coloured that it blinded its own people. This part of the city — once a Dresden of ruins — was rebuilt by Rafiq Hariri, the prime minister who was murdered scarcely a mile away on 14 February last year. [...]

At the empty Etoile restaurant — best snails and cappuccino in Beirut, where Hariri once dined Jacques Chirac — I sat on the pavement and watched the parliamentary guard still patrolling the façade of the French-built emporium that houses what is left of Lebanon's democracy. So many of these streets were built by Parisians under the French mandate and they have been exquisitely restored, their mock Arabian doorways bejewelled with marble Roman columns dug from the ancient Via Maxima a few metres away.

Hariri loved this place and, taking Chirac for a beer one day, he caught sight of me sitting at a table. "Ah Robert, come over here," he roared and then turned to Chirac like a cat that was about to eat a canary. "I want to introduce you, Jacques, to the reporter who said I couldn't rebuild Beirut!"

And now it is being un-built. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its glistening halls and shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri's wonderful transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.

It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been levelled and "rubble-ised" and pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shia Muslims to seek sanctuary in schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hizbollah, another of those "centres of world terror" which the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands. Here lived Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God's leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man; and Sayad Mohamed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics; and many of Hizbollah's top military planners — including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.

But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pin-point accuracy — a doubtful notion in any case, but that's not the issue — what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?

In a modern building in an undamaged part of Beirut, I come, quite by chance, across a well known and prominent Hizbollah figure, open-neck white shirt, dark suit, clean shoes. "We will go on if we have to for days or weeks or months or..." And he counts these awful statistics off on the fingers of his left hand. "Believe me, we have bigger surprises still to come for the Israelis — much bigger, you will see. Then we will get our prisoners and it will take just a few small concessions."

I walk outside, feeling as if I have been beaten over the head. Over the wall opposite there is purple bougainvillaea and white jasmine and a swamp of gardenias. The Lebanese love flowers, their colour and scent, and Beirut is draped in trees and bushes that smell like paradise.

As for the huddled masses from the powder of the bombed-out southern slums of Haret Hreik, I found hundreds of them yesterday, sitting under trees and lying on the parched grass beside an ancient fountain donated to the city of Beirut by the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamid. How empires fall.

Far away, across the Mediterranean, two American helicopters from the USS Iwo Jima could be seen, heading through the mist and smoke towards the US embassy bunker complex at Awkar to evacuate more citizens of the American Empire. There was not a word from that same empire to help the people lying in the park, to offer them food or medical aid. [...]

When part of an aircraft — perhaps the wing-tip of an F-16 hit by a missile, although the Israelis deny this — came streaking out of the sky over the eastern suburbs at the weekend, I raced to the scene to find a partly decapitated driver in his car and three Lebanese soldiers from the army's logistics unit. These are the tough, brave non-combat soldiers of Kfar Chim, who have been mending power and water lines these past six days to keep Beirut alive.

I knew one of them. "Hello Robert, be quick because I think the Israelis will bomb again but we'll show you everything we can." And they took me through the fires to show me what they could of the wreckage, standing around me to protect me.

And a few hours later, the Israelis did come back, as the men of the small logistics unit were going to bed, and they bombed the barracks and killed 10 soldiers, including those three kind men who looked after me amid the fires of Kfar Chim.

And why? Be sure — the Israelis know what they are hitting. That's why they killed nine soldiers near Tripoli when they bombed the military radio antennas. But a logistics unit? Men whose sole job was to mend electricity lines? And then it dawns on me. Beirut is to die. It is to be starved of electricity now that the power station in Jiyeh is on fire. No one is to be allowed to keep Beirut alive. So those poor men had to be liquidated. [Emphasis added]

"Birth pangs." Unspeakable.

Chris Allbritton, who lives in Lebanon when he's not in Iraq:

Before this damn war, Hizbullah was losing support. It wasn’t draining, but it was ebbing. The political process was stuttering along, but it was moving. Many people here hated Hizbullah… Many people also loved it. The society was split but there was a consensus the problem had to be settled judiciously and politically because no one wanted another civil war.

When the first Israeli bombs fell, some Shi'ites even blamed Hizbullah. I met a guy in the southern suburbs last Saturday, just four days after things started. He's a Shi'ite from Nabatiyeh in the south and hated Hizbullah. He thought they'd screwed up big-time. These days, when I talk to him, he says he hopes Hizbullah rips the Israelis apart. Another friend of mine, one of those upper-crust Christians, told me last night that as much as he hates Hizbullah, he hates the Israelis even more now. [Emphasis added]

Digby's right, they're monsters, but he's wrong about this:

I continue to suspect [the Israelis] did not expect that the US would give them the green light on this (it is insane, after all) and now they have no face saving way out. America did not do its job and now things are deteriorating beyond anyone's control.

Oh please.

We need to clear our minds once and for all of the myth of Israel as a victim that acts only in reluctant self-defense.

I'm no expert, but everything about the Israeli bombing campaign says a premeditated, long-planned, ruthless effects-based operation targeting the civilian infrastructure to disrupt and destroy the systems of civil life, to drastically weaken the Lebanese state, if not to push it back into civil war and failed state status.

Patrick McGreevy, writing from Beirut:

We understand that the Israelis have decided to stop hitting Lebanese infrastructure, perhaps because there no longer is any infrastructure [to hit].

As Fisk says, Lebanon was being rebuilt and reborn. It was trying to re-emerge as a prosperous, civilized democracy. Israel is systematically undoing all that progress, as if it wishes to erase the example of a prosperous, peaceful, Arab democracy. The legacy of Rafiq Hariri is being obliterated, and now, perhaps, it's time to reconsider Hariri's assassination and ask who it was who really wanted to see him dead.

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July 18, 2006

Terrorists 9/11, "War On Terror"  Palestine/Middle East

Larry Johnson, formerly of the CIA and the State Dept. Office of Counterterrorism, on Israel's attacking Lebanon:

[Hamas and Hezbollah] are not terrorists. They carry out terrorist attacks, but they are not terrorists. They are something far more dangerous. They are fully functioning political, social, religious, and military organizations that use terrorism tactics, but they are far more formidible than terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or the Basque Terrorist Organization. They do have the resources and the personnel to project force, sustain operations, and cannot be easily defeated. Unlike the Egyptian and Syrian armies in 1973, Hamas and Hezbollah will not easily fold and cannot be defeated in a seven day war. If that is the assumption among some Israeli military planners it is a crazy fantasy.

While most folks in the United States buy into the Hollywood storyline of poor little Israel fighting for it's survival against big, bad Muslims, the reality unfolding on our TV screens shows something else. Exodus, starring Paul Newman, is ancient history. Hamas and Hezbollah attacked military targets — kidnapping soldiers on military patrols may be an act of war and a provocation, but it is not terrorism. (And yes, Hezbollah and Hamas have carried out terrorist attacks in the past against Israeli civilians. I'm not ignoring those acts, I condemn them, but we need to understand what the dynamics are right now.) Israel is not attacking the individuals who hit their soldiers. Israel is engaged in mass punishment.

How did Israel respond? They bombed civilian targets and civilian infrastructure and have killed many civilians. Let's see if I have this right. The Arab "terrorists" attack military units, destroy at least one tank, and are therefore terrorists. Israel retaliates by launching aerial, naval, and artillery bombardments of civilian areas and they are engaging in self-defense. If we are unable to recognize the hypocrisy of this construct then we ourselves are so enveloped by propaganda and emotion that, like the Israelis, Hezbollah, and Hamas, we can't think rationally. We can only think in terms of tribalism and revenge. [Emphasis added]

Language matters. Not everyone who opposes the US or who opposes Israel is a terrorist. But the T-word is used indiscriminately in order to condition us to lump everyone so labeled into a single undifferentiated, faceless mass of dark, feral creatures with incomprehensible motives. Evil-Doers. Freedom-Haters. Terrorists. All such labels are the enemy of rational thought. These days rational thought is in dangerously short supply.

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"As Ludicrous As The Easter Bunny" Palestine/Middle East

Stan Goff is a veteran of the US Army Rangers, Airborne, Delta Force, and Special Forces. He served in Vietnam, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Somalia, and Haiti. Which is to say, he knows a whole lot more about combat than you or I.

Here's his take on the story that Hezbollah raiders came across the Lebanese border into Israel to kidnap Israeli soldiers:

The border of Southern Lebanon and Israel is a seamless web of intervisible Israeli outposts with night vision devices, tied together with ground surveillance radar, plowed-flat and raked daily to see footprints, and backed by quick reaction forces. Israelis routinely make incursive patrols into Lebanon. It is nearly impossible for an organized group of Hezbolla or anyone else to cross the border south, much less capture prisoners there. The very notion that this was an incursion INTO Israel is propped up solely by the credulity of the general public that knows nothing about military operations. In reality, the idea is as ludicrous as the Easter Bunny.

Israel's ongoing killing and wounding of hundreds of Lebanese civilians and its dismantling of Lebanon's civil infrastructure are said to be justified by Hezbollah's kidnapping, on Israeli soil, of two Israeli soldiers. (A most convenient kidnapping from the perspective of Israeli hardliners.)

If Goff is right, it must have been the Israelis who made the cross-border incursion and Hezbollah encountered them on Lebanese soil, which is a whole different kettle of fish. Not that it's going to change anything, but wouldn't it be nice, for once, not to be lied to?

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July 17, 2006

Courting Disaster Palestine/Middle East

This is a truly bad idea.

Hezbollah has already used missiles to damage an Israeli warship and sink a Cambodian merchant vessel. So now the Bush regime wants to use a cruise ship to evacuate some 5000 US citizens from Lebanon. A big, fat, slow-moving cruise ship. MSNBC:

U.S. Marines raced Monday to complete naval and air evacuation plans for thousands of Americans in Lebanon — an operation U.S. military official said carries "some risk."

The Orient Queen, a commercial ship hired by the government, will sail into a Beirut port Tuesday escorted by the destroyer USS Gonzales and possibly the USS Iwo Jimato. The cruise ship will try to rescue the estimated 5,000 citizens who are so far wanting to leave.

Imagine the stampede for war if this cruise ship is struck and lots of Americans are killed. As Steven Clemons says:

[T]here are players on all sides of this conflict that may find a floating, slow, and poorly defended elephant of a ship too tempting of a target. Real or contrived, any potential attack would look like a Hezbollah attack.

...[S]erious planners have to be worried about sending a cruise ship, a slow moving huge target, into a war zone.

A variety of forces would love to see the war escalate. Any one of them can get its wish with a well-placed missile or bomb, and Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran will be left holding the bag. It's an open invitation to disaster. Or is that the point?

[Thanks, Miles]

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A Clean Break Palestine/Middle East

Sometimes people do exactly what they say they're going to do. The Project for a New American Century comes to mind.

In 1996, a group of American neoconservative supporters of Israel's Likud party, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, among others, authored a policy paper for Likud candidate Benjamin Netanyahu calling for A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. It advocated the removal of Saddam Hussein, followed by Israel's seizure of "the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran." The goal of the latter initiative was to be a "rollback" of Syria and the eventual end to Syria's "territorial integrity" — which is to say, an end to Syria — and "a redrawing of the map of the Middle East." Excerpts:

Syria challenges Israel on Lebanese soil. An effective approach, and one with which American can sympathize, would be if Israel seized the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon, including by...striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper. [...]

Given the nature of the regime in Damascus, it is both natural and moral that Israel abandon the slogan "comprehensive peace" and move to contain Syria, drawing attention to its weapons of mass destruction program, and rejecting "land for peace" deals on the Golan Heights. [...]

Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions. [...]

...Syria enters this conflict with potential weaknesses...Damascus fears that the 'natural axis' with Israel on one side, central Iraq and Turkey on the other, and Jordan, in the center would squeeze and detach Syria from the Saudi Peninsula. For Syria, this could be the prelude to a redrawing of the map of the Middle East which would threaten Syria's territorial integrity. [...]

Israel's new agenda can signal a clean break by...reestablishing the principle of preemption, rather than retaliation... [Italics in the original; bold added]

It's all going according to plan. Well, sort of. The paper's authors were unlikely to foresee that all this would be going on with US forces caught in the middle between Syria and Iran, pinned down in a protracted war in Iraq. With US forces caught in the middle, it's hard to see how the plan can come to fruition without the US being pulled into a wider war.

Meanwhile, people insist on thinking that a well-meaning Israel is only reacting to the kidnapping of three of its troops as it proceeds methodically to dismantle the civil infrastructure of Lebanon. Some people just don't know when they're getting played.

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July 14, 2006

The Few And The Many Media  Palestine/Middle East

You can read blogging from Lebanon, here. A recent post concludes with these words:

Lebanon is a hostage and all the Lebanese people are a pawn in the hands of the few.

One of the striking things about the Lebanon coverage here in the US is the extent to which it suggests that Hezbollah is somehow on a par with the IDF. CNN has even gone so far as to constantly mention the few Israeli casualties while largely ignoring the scores of Lebanese civilian casualties. (The US version of CNN, that is. The International version is more balanced, which should tell you something: CNN knows the facts but is tailoring the message to the audience.)

Hezbollah is not Lebanon, but it is the people of Lebanon who are being made to pay. Never mind that collective punishment is a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention. (But of course collective punishment is what the Palestinians have been facing for years.)

Hezbollah is no match for the IDF, but it's also not clear how Israel can defeat them. This is the conundrum of fourth generation war: how do you defeat a loosely-knit non-state enemy that is swimming in a sea of non-combatant civilians. It's what's defeating the US in Iraq. Billmon:

Hezbollah may have found the sweet spot in Fourth Generation War: It isn't a state and doesn't carry the political or defensive burdens of one, but it controls enough territory, commands enough popular loyalty and has enough allies to mount some fairly sophisticated military operations, using both conventional and nonconventional weapons. It's powerful enough to be successful — and be seen as successful — but not so powerful that state actors like Israel can fight it on equal terms. We may be looking at the New Model Army of the 21st century.

Israel, like the US in Iraq, may have started something it cannot finish — except by withdrawing.

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July 13, 2006

Bad Vibes Palestine/Middle East

It's hard to escape the sickening feeling that Israel is working with the Bush administration to create a crisis where an attack on Iran becomes inevitable. Certainly the scale of the Israeli attacks is so far out of proportion with the claimed provocation that one has to assume that the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers was merely the excuse for an operation that had already been planned.

And now with the night-time bombing of the fuel depot at the Beirut airport, we have a visual that will inflame the anger of untold millions of people in the Middle East and around the world. Who can doubt that Israel knew how it was going to look on the world's tv screens? What else is one to think but that the goal is to invite more "provocations" to give Israel a pretext for widening the war even further? Is there anyone who imagines that Israel would take these steps without first conferring with the US? How long before they pin blame on Iran? Or Syria? Or both?

It's hard not to think of Ron Suskind's famous conversation with a senior Bush aide. Suskind:

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

I hope I'm wrong, but I fear we have just taken a sharp turn into much darker territory.

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June 21, 2006

To See Ourselves As Others See Us Iran  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

Who's the biggest threat to world peace? We are, according to a poll spanning 15 nations. Guardian, via CommonDreams:

George Bush's six years in office have so damaged the image of the US that people worldwide see Washington as a bigger threat to world peace than Tehran, according to a global poll.

The Washington-based Pew Research Centre, in a poll of 17,000 people in 15 countries between March and May, found more people concerned about the US presence in Iraq than about Iran's alleged nuclear weapons ambitions. [...]

The survey, carried out annually, shows a continued decline in support for the US since 1999. [...]

But even in the UK, Washington's closest ally, favourable ratings have slumped from 83% in 1999 to 56% this year. The pattern is similar in France, down from 62% to 39%, Germany 78% to 37%, and Spain 50% to 23%.

In Muslim countries with which the US has traditionally enjoyed a good relationship, such as Turkey - a member of Nato - and Indonesia, there have also been slumps. In Indonesia favourable ratings for the US have dropped from 75% to 30%, and in Turkey from 52% to 12%.

"It's all [because of] Iraq," Carroll Doherty, associate director of the Pew Centre, said. [...]

Favourable ratings of the US in India dropped over the year from 71% to 56%. [...]

Throughout the period the poll was conducted the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme, intensified by hardline comments from its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was repeatedly in the news. Iraq, too, has been in the news on an almost daily basis, with the formation of a new Iraqi government being accompanied by fears of a civil war.

Only in the US and Germany is Iran seen as a greater danger than the US in Iraq. Public opinion in 12 of the other countries - Britain, France, Spain, Russia, Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Nigeria, India and China - cite the US presence in Iraq as being the greater danger. Opinion in Japan was evenly divided.

As well as Iraq and Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also high on the list of issues that present a danger to world peace. Public opinion in about a third of the countries polled put it at the top of their list of threats. [...]

By contrast, concern about Iran has almost doubled in the US over the past two years. Some 46% of Americans view Mr Ahmadinejad's government as "a great danger" to stability in the Middle East and world peace, up from 26% in 2003. The concern in the US is shared in Germany, where 51% see Iran as a great danger to world peace, against 18% three years ago. [...]

Those are remarkable numbers: US approval cut more or less in half under Bush. Meanwhile, the media blitz here in the US has done its work: nearly half of Americans now view Iran as "a great danger". They didn't arrive at that conclusion on their own. It's disheartening to realize what sheep we are. Small wonder that media ownership and control is such a priority for elites here and elsewhere.

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May 30, 2006

Their Inexplicable Wrath Palestine/Middle East

This is excellent. Don't miss the small print in the bottom right corner.

[Via Xymphora]

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February 23, 2006

What's At Stake Future  Iraq  Palestine/Middle East

Yesterday's bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra triggered widespread sectarian violence and prompted the withdrawal of Sunnis from talks aimed at forming a new Iraqi government. There can be little doubt that the bombers, whoever they may be, intended to spark a massive escalation in sectarian fighting, perhaps all-out civil war.

Since the target was a Shiite shrine, everyone seems to assume the attackers were Sunnis, but there are any number of possible candidates. All-out sectarian civil war would bring Iraq a giant step closer to partition into three statelets along sectarian lines — a happy outcome, for example, for neocons here and abroad. Are they pulling the strings? I have no idea. But it is sometimes hard to escape the feeling that the whole Iraq campaign has had, from the outset, the unstated goal of Iraq's partition. Pretty much everything that's happened has furthered that end. But it's perhaps even harder to believe that the people managing the war are secret (evil) geniuses — given that they still can't manage, for example, to armor their own troops. Meanwhile, who knows what other actors are working for Iraq's partition to further their own ends.

Dark days in Iraq.

A longtime reader of PastPeak who sends me thought-provoking emails from time to time wrote me late last night (excerpt):

The destruction of Iraq cannot be undone. The bombing today of the Shiite shrine, which serves no conceivable Sunni insurgent purpose, but brings much closer the final breakup of what was once a modernizing, secular and economically equitable country, cannot be undone. And of course an attack on Iran, by what will, given current European rhetoric, be viewed by Muslims everywhere as an attack by the West, will finally make real the "Clash of Civilizations" the neocons have been dreaming of.

You are right about the overarching importance of Global Warming, and the consequences of the end of the oil economy. In the meantime though all possibility of a rational response to these things will be destroyed by war with the Islamic world.

That last paragraph brought me up short. Of course, he's right. Should the Middle East continue its downward spiral into a far wider war, the war's deadliest consequence would be that the world would miss a critically important window in time, perhaps our last best chance to avert catastrophe on the climate and peak oil fronts.

As we slide towards war in Iran or Syria, let us remember this: peace is a prerequisite for rational and constructive action on the real problems facing humanity. The stakes couldn't be higher. We need peace.

[Thanks, Miles]

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February 06, 2006

A Different Take On The Danish Cartoons Palestine/Middle East

Yesterday, I posted a link to an account that said the outrage over the Danish cartoons of Mohammed surfaced only months later because the issue was being exploited by the Saudi government.

Middle East expert Juan Cole says that's wrong:

It is being alleged in some quarters that the controversy over the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad is somehow artificial or whipped up months later by the Saudis. This is not true. The controversy began in Denmark itself among the 180,000 Danish Muslims. It was taken up by the ambassadors of Muslim states in Copenhagen. Then the Egyptian foreign minister began making a big deal of it, as did Islamist parties in Turkey and Pakistan. The crisis has unfolded along precisely the sort of networks one would have expected, and become intertwined with all the post-colonial crises of the region, from the foreign military occupation of Iraq to the new instability in Syria and Lebanon.

Cole lays out the chronology and makes a convincing case. I've no idea who's right, but I'd be inclined to go with Cole. He's the expert.

[Thanks, Miles]

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December 27, 2005

Corrupted Language Media  Palestine/Middle East

Robert Fisk in today's LA Times (excerpt):

I first realized the enormous pressures on American journalists in the Middle East when I went some years ago to say goodbye to a colleague from the Boston Globe. I expressed my sorrow that he was leaving a region where he had obviously enjoyed reporting. I could save my sorrows for someone else, he said. One of the joys of leaving was that he would no longer have to alter the truth to suit his paper's more vociferous readers.

"I used to call the Israeli Likud Party 'right wing,' " he said. "But recently, my editors have been telling me not to use the phrase. A lot of our readers objected." And so now, I asked? "We just don't call it 'right wing' anymore." [...]

This is only the tip of the semantic iceberg that has crashed into American journalism in the Middle East. Illegal Jewish settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land are clearly "colonies," and we used to call them that. I cannot trace the moment when we started using the word "settlements." But I can remember the moment around two years ago when the word "settlements" was replaced by "Jewish neighborhoods" — or even, in some cases, "outposts."

Similarly, "occupied" Palestinian land was softened in many American media reports into "disputed" Palestinian land — just after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, in 2001, instructed U.S. embassies in the Middle East to refer to the West Bank as "disputed" rather than "occupied" territory.

Then there is the "wall," the massive concrete obstruction whose purpose, according to the Israeli authorities, is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from killing innocent Israelis. In this, it seems to have had some success. But it does not follow the line of Israel's 1967 border and cuts deeply into Arab land. And all too often these days, journalists call it a "fence" rather than a "wall." Or a "security barrier," which is what Israel prefers them to say. For some of its length, we are told, it is not a wall at all — so we cannot call it a "wall," even though the vast snake of concrete and steel that runs east of Jerusalem is higher than the old Berlin Wall.

The semantic effect of this journalistic obfuscation is clear. If Palestinian land is not occupied but merely part of a legal dispute that might be resolved in law courts or discussions over tea, then a Palestinian child who throws a stone at an Israeli soldier in this territory is clearly acting insanely. [Emphasis added]

Euphemism is the enemy of thought.

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November 08, 2005

The Gift Ethics  Palestine/Middle East  War and Peace

This is a wonderful story. Haaretz (via European Tribune):

The vital organs of a Palestinian boy mistakenly killed by the Israel Defense Forces last week have been transplanted into the bodies of six Israelis, after the boy's family donated his organs "for the sake of peace between peoples," Israel Radio reported.

Ahmed al-Khatib, 12, was fatally shot during clashes in Jenin last week, when IDF troops mistook the toy gun he carried for a real rifle.

Three Israeli girls, two Jewish and one Druze, underwent surgery Sunday to receive Al-Khatib's lungs, heart and liver. Twelve-year-old Samah Gadban had been waiting for a heart for five years when doctors called her family late Saturday and told them of the Al-Khatib donation. By Sunday afternoon, the Druze girl had a new heart and was recovering at Schneider Children's Medical Center in Petah Tikvah.

"This morning, I did not know anything about the boy. I only knew that the doctors said they had a heart," said Samah's father, Riad. "I don't know what to say. It is such a gesture of love...I would like for [the family] to think that my daughter is their daughter." [Emphasis added]


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January 08, 2005

Today's Bush Joke Palestine/Middle East

Alberto Gonzales, nominee for the US attorney general, answered some tough questions from Congress about his role in the Iraqi prison torture scandal. But afterwards he said to make himself relax he used that old trick of imagining your audience in their underwear — with hoods over their heads being led around on a dog leash by a woman. It just helps to get your mind clear. — Jay Leno

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December 19, 2004

Today's Bush Joke Palestine/Middle East

The first lady has had her staff put up 41 Christmas trees. Or, as President Bush said, one for each state. — Conan O'Brien

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December 06, 2004

Israel Tips Its Hand: Apartheid Palestine/Middle East

Most Americans, if they are at all aware of the Camp David negotiations in 2000, believe that Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat the West Bank and Gaza on a silver platter, and Arafat turned them down. Arafat, according to the consensus view, scuttled the "peace process."

What few Americans recognize is that under the deal proposed, Palestinian territory would have been honeycombed with Israeli settlements and military outposts. Palestinian territory would have consisted of a number of disconnected enclaves.

According to Robert Malley, whom Norman Finkelstein identifies as "a key American negotiator at Camp David," Arafat was even willing to accept "the notion of Israeli annexation of West Bank territory to accommodate settlements," but he wanted a one-for-one swap of land of "equal size and value" to compensate for the land annexed by Israel. Clinton and Barak refused.

Now, the Guardian reports that Israel plans to create a separate road/tunnel network connecting Palestinian enclaves — walled ghettoes — with the evident intent of creating a permanent apartheid for Palestinians in the West Bank. Existing roads would be for Jews only. Excerpt [link via Xymphora]:

The message has been consistent: Israel believes the US-backed road-map is the way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It has been repeated by Ariel Sharon and by ministers, yet now government papers suggest that Israel intends to bypass the peace plan, creating a Palestinian state of enclaves, surrounded by walls and linked by tunnels and special roads.

Israel has released plans for the upgrade of roads and construction of 16 tunnels which would create an "apartheid" road network for Palestinians in the West Bank.

Existing roads would be reserved for Jews, linking their settlements to each other and to Israel. The plans came to light when Giora Eiland, Israel's director of national security, requested international funding for the project. At a meeting with World Bank officials, he told them the roads would maximise freedom of movement for Palestinians without compromising security for Jewish settlers.

Eiland asked for an estimated £110 million, which would come from taxpayers in Europe, the US and Japan. The international community unanimously rejected the request, stating they could not finance a project not supported by the Palestinian Authority.

The plans would force Palestinians into circuitous travelling routes. [...]

Ghassan Khatib, the Palestinian planning minister, said the proposals were at odds with everything the international community had proposed for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Two communities living under different laws and regulations with different standards of living and road networks: this is what apartheid is all about," he said. [My emphasis]

One would think that Jews would be the last people on earth to endorse a system of walled ghettoes, but there seems to be an ironclad psychological law that you gradually become what you hate. Equally grotesque is the fact that the Israelis are sufficiently deluded about the rightness of this course of action that they imagine the world community would actually help fund it. The US, maybe. But Europe and Japan? Never.

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December 05, 2004

Hamas: Israel Can Exist In Pre-1967 Borders Palestine/Middle East

Via Xymphora, a story that seems to be getting little attention in the US. On Friday, a senior Hamas leader announced what is apparently an important shift in Hamas policy: he said Hamas would accept the existence of Israel within pre-1967 borders. As reported by the Daily Times of Pakistan:

In an apparent change in longstanding policy, a top Hamas leader said on Friday the militant group would accept the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as a long-term truce with Israel.

Hamas has long sought to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic Palestinian state, rejecting peace accords and carrying out suicide bombings and other attacks that have killed hundreds of people and badly damaged peace efforts.

"Hamas has announced that it accepts a Palestinian independent state within the 1967 borders with a long-term truce," Sheikh Hassan Yousef, the top Hamas leader in the West Bank, told The Associated Press, referring to lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Yousef said the Hamas position was new and called it a "stage". In the past, Hamas has said it would accept a state in the 1967 borders as a first step to taking over Israel. Yousef did not spell out the conditions for the renewable ceasefire nor did he say how long it would last.

"For us a truce means that two warring parties live side by side in peace and security for a certain period and this period is eligible for renewal," Yousef said. "That means Hamas accepts that the other party will live in security and peace". Yousef's comments indicated that four years of fighting with Israel — during which the military has targeted the group's top leaders — along with international sanctions have taken a toll.

But a senior Israeli official dismissed the proposal, calling it a ruse aimed at "destroying Israel in stages". The Israeli official said the army would act with restraint if calm prevailed but reserved the right to strike at "ticking bombs" if Palestinian security services failed to take action, Reuters reported.

Israel's response? Friday night, Israeli forces arrested a senior Hamas member they said they had been seeking since 2002. Al-Jazeera:

Israeli forces have detained a senior Hamas member in the West Bank during a night-time raid, witnesses said.

The Israeli sources say that Rami al-Tayah, 26, is head of the organisation's armed wing in the West Bank city of Tulkarim and has been hunted by Israel since 2002.

Witnesses said Israeli forces surrounded an apartment building in Tulkarim and took al-Tayah into custody.

One resident quoted a soldier saying to his comrades: "Don't kill him, we need him alive."

Conveniently timed, Israel's action seems calculated to provoke Hamas. Peace with Hamas is not something Israeli hawks can allow, as it would remove a justification for their ongoing project of occupying and appropriating Palestinian territory.

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September 19, 2004

State Terrorism Iraq  Media  Palestine/Middle East  War and Peace

As Noam Chomsky has often pointed out, our mainstream political culture never sees state terrorism as terrorism, despite the fact that it claims many times more victims than terrorism by non-state actors.

British journalist John Pilger has an excellent piece in the New Statesman that looks at state terrorism in today's world. Excerpts, with emphasis added:

Let's look at a few examples of the way the world is presented and the way it really is. The occupation of Iraq is presented as "a mess": a blundering, incompetent American military up against Islamic fanatics. In truth, the occupation is a systematic, murderous assault on a civilian population by a corrupt American officer class, given licence by its superiors in Washington. In May, the US marines used battle tanks and helicopter gunships to attack the slums of Fallujah. They admitted killing 600 people, a figure far greater than the total number of civilians killed by the "insurgents" during the past year. The generals were candid; this futile slaughter was an act of revenge for the killing of three US mercenaries. Sixty years earlier, the SS Das Reich division killed 600 French civilians at Oradour-sur-Glane as revenge for the kidnapping of a German officer by the resistance. Is there a difference?

These days, the Americans routinely fire missiles into Fallujah and other dense urban areas; they murder whole families. If the word terrorism has any modern application, it is this industrial state terrorism. [...]

Only by recognising the terrorism of states is it possible to understand, and deal with, acts of terrorism by groups and individuals which, however horrific, are tiny by comparison. Moreover, their source is inevitably the official terrorism for which there is no media language. Thus, the state of Israel has been able to convince many outsiders that it is merely a victim of terrorism when, in fact, its own unrelenting, planned terrorism is the cause of the infamous retaliation by Palestinian suicide bombers. For all of Israel's perverse rage against the BBC — a successful form of intimidation — BBC reporters never report Israelis as terrorists: that term belongs exclusively to Palestinians imprisoned in their own land. It is not surprising, as a recent Glasgow University study concluded, that many television viewers in Britain believe that the Palestinians are the invaders and occupiers.

This next bit is very important. If you're like me, you remember hearing that Palestinian suicide bombers recently shattered a "five month lull in the violence." Here's what you didn't hear:

On 7 September, Palestinian suicide bombers killed 16 Israelis in the town of Beersheba. Every television news report allowed the Israeli government spokesman to use this tragedy to justify the building of an apartheid wall — when the wall is pivotal to the causes of Palestinian violence. Almost every news report marked the end of a five-month period of "relative peace and calm" and "a lull in the violence". During those five months of relative peace and calm, almost 400 Palestinians were killed, 71 of them in assassinations. During the lull in the violence, more than 73 Palestinian children were killed. A 13-year-old was murdered with a bullet through the heart, a five-year-old was shot in her face as she walked arm in arm with her two-year old-sister. The body of Mazen Majid, aged 14, was riddled with 18 Israeli bullets as he and his family fled their bulldozed home.

None of this was reported in Britain as terrorism. Most of it was not reported at all. After all, this was a period of peace and calm, a lull in the violence. On 19 May, Israeli tanks and helicopters fired on peaceful demonstrators, killing eight of them. This atrocity had a certain significance; the demonstration was part of a growing non-violent Palestinian movement, which has seen peaceful protest gatherings, often with prayers, along the apartheid wall. The rise of this Gandhian movement is barely noted in the outside world.

What is remarkable is that news reports in both the US and UK used the same phrases about a "five month lull in the violence." Best case, this indicates lazy journalists (on two continents?) all rehashing the same wire service story. Worst case, it indicates journalists applying talking points handed down by Israeli sources, either because the journalists want to advance Israel's agenda or simply because they trust the Israelis (non-terrorists) and don't trust the Palestinians (terrorists).

Everyone knows Chechen "terrorists" recently downed two Russian airliners and seized a school full of parents, children, and teachers. Hardly anyone knows the context, however. Pilger:

The truth about Chechnya is similarly suppressed. On 4 February 2000, Russian aircraft attacked the Chechen village of Katyr-Yurt. They used "vacuum bombs", which release petrol vapour and suck people's lungs out, and are banned under the Geneva Convention. The Russians bombed a convoy of survivors under a white flag. They murdered 363 men, women and children. It was one of countless, little-known acts of terrorism in Chechnya perpetrated by the Russian state, whose leader, Vladimir Putin, has the "complete solidarity" of Blair.

As Orwell taught us, the corruption of language leads to the corruption of thought. We need to resist, every chance we get, the nearly universal usage of the word "terrorist" to refer only to the activities of non-state actors — and only those non-state actors who oppose US interests. The usage that is most corrupting is when people just say "the terrorists" — as in: "if the US does/does not do such-and-such, the terrorists win." That usage, which one hears constantly, lumps all "terrorists" together in a nameless, undifferentiated mass. From there, it's only a small step to the Orwellian conclusion that anyone — a protestor exercising First Amendment rights, for example — who is labelled a terrorist is automatically part of that undifferentiated mass and therefore guilty of the same crimes and justifiably subject to the same treatment.

The point is not to excuse acts of violence against civilians by anyone. The point is to resist the colonization of our minds by the uncritical usage of labels that shape the political discourse before it's even begun.

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July 24, 2004

UN to Israel: Turn Down This Wall! Palestine/Middle East

For decades, the United Nations General Assembly has passed resolution after resolution condemning Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel's treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, Israel's construction of illegal settlements there, etc. The resolutions generally pass with more or less the entire world against the US and Israel — and sometimes a few other countries — with some abstentions.

These votes generally go unreported in the US media. As a result, few Americans have any idea how marginal the position of the US and Israel is in this regard.

Several days ago, there was another such vote. This time, The New York Times did report it:

The General Assembly approved a resolution overwhelmingly on Tuesday evening [July 20] demanding that Israel obey a World Court ruling that it abandon and dismantle its separation barrier on the West Bank and pay compensation to Palestinians affected by its construction. The vote was 150 in favor and 6 against — including the United States — with 10 abstentions. [...]

Voting against the resolution with the United States and Israel were Australia, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. Abstaining were Cameroon, Canada, El Salvador, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Uganda, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

Conservative commentators generally write off US defeats in the General Assembly (as opposed to the Security Council) as the work of a lunatic fringe of insignificant, radical Third World nations. But look at that list.

On one side are the US, Israel, Australia, and some Pacific Islands. Abstaining are Canada, Cameroon, Uganda, Uruguay, El Salvador, and some more Pacific Islands.

Every other country on Earth voted against us. All of Europe, including our war buddies in the United Kingdom, with no abstentions. All of the former Soviet Union. All of Asia. All of Africa (2 abstentions). All of South America (1 abstention). All of Central America (1 abstention). Even Mexico. And of course all of the Middle East except Israel.

This kind of result has happened scores, if not hundreds, of times. Perhaps the whole rest of the world are Evil-Doers, and we're right and they're wrong. Or perhaps we're the extremists.

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July 17, 2004

US Presbyterians Approve Israel Divestment Palestine/Middle East

From Empire Notes:

The 216th annual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) just approved (by a vote of 431-62) an Israel divestment measure. The Church, which has 3 million members and in 2001 had a total investment portfolio of $7 billion, will divest itself of all holdings in companies that either have $1 million or more invested in Israel or take out $1 million or more per year in profits.

In the news release announcing its decision, the Church drew an explicit parallel to the divestment campaigns over apartheid South Africa.


My opinion has always been that this is a very different ball of wax from the old divestment movement. On a moral level, there's great similarity -- in fact, in many ways Israeli treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories goes beyond what was done under apartheid. But Israel is far more economically integrated with the United States than South Africa ever was, and U.S. multinationals are far more "globalized" than they were then.

While this is heartening news, I really wonder whether the Presbyterian Church will be able to implement this measure. It seems to me that it requires at the least divestment from any major U.S. multinational corporation.

Amazing — and, as he says, heartening. People of good will quietly, steadily organizing for justice.


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