A Hindu Sees The Light in Between the Muslims Fighting Each Other in Syria – and he is obviously right – it is not nice! Neither is the US above blame – in effect it is with US acts that the spread of Islamicism in its various forms took place. Could one now hope for India and China Diplomacy? We add – Could the Saudis come out of the Israeli Closet?
Syrian rebels or international terrorists?
Vijay Prashad* – The Hindu
*Vijay Prashad is the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon.
With Bashar Assad arguing that this is a war against terrorism, and the rebels arguing that this is a war against authoritarianism, no agreement can come of the peace talks on Syria.
Geneva 2’s mood mirrored the sound of mortar and despair on the ground in Syria. Not much of substance came of the former, as the U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi tiredly indicated that diplomacy continued despite the lack of a breakthrough. He hoped that the United States and the Russians would pressure their clients to remain at the table, from where, for three weeks, little of value has emerged. No agreement can come of these peace talks for at least two reasons. First, the government of Bashar Assad and the rebel coalition do not agree on the interpretation of the conflict. Mr. Assad argues that this is a war against terrorism (Al-Qaeda), while the rebels argue that this is a war against authoritarianism (the Assad government). Second, the rebels themselves are deeply fractured, with the Islamists in Syria who are doing the brunt of the fighting indisposed to any peace talks.
Mr. Brahimi hoped that humanitarian relief would be the glue to hold the two sides together. Residents in the old city of Homs and in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Yarmouk in Damascus have been under siege for two years. It was hoped that safe passage could be provided for food and medicine, but this was not accomplished. U.N. and Islamic Red Cross workers bravely avoided snipers and shells to transport food and medicines to the Syrians; children among them stared at fresh fruit, unsure of what to do with it. Absent momentum from Geneva, the options for a regional solution are back on the table.
Role for India, China?
In 2012, Egypt convened the Syria Contact Group that comprised Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — unlikely partners. Pressure from the U.S. and Russia at that time closed down the Group. Today, the regional partners seek an exit from their exaggerated postures over Syria, but there is no diplomatic space for them to act. It falls to powers that are untainted by the war, perhaps China and India, to call for a meeting — a Beijing or New Delhi summit — to craft a serious agenda to pressure all sides to a ceasefire and a credible political process.
The war is now fought less on the ground and more over its interpretation. Expectations of a hasty collapse of the government withdraw as the Syrian Army takes Jarajir, along the Lebanon border. Islamists groups continue to fight against each other in the north, weakening their firepower as the Syrian army watches from the sidelines. The emboldened Syrian government has now stepped up its rhetoric about this war being essentially one against terrorists with affiliation to al-Qaeda. Ears that once rejected this narrative in the West and Turkey are now increasingly sympathetic to it. As the Islamists suffocate the rebellion, it becomes hard to champion them against the government. Focus has moved away from the prisons and barrel bombs of the government to the executions and social policies of the Islamists.
A year ago, the West and Turkey would have scoffed at talk of terrorism as the fantasy of the Assad government. The West and the Gulf Arabs had opened their coffers to the rebels, knowing full well that they were incubating the growth of the Islamist factions at the expense of the secular opposition. Turkey’s government of Recep Tayyip Erdog?an micromanaged the opposition, provided bases in Turkey and allowed well-armed fighters to slip across the border into Syria. By early 2012, it had become a common sight to see well-armed Islamist fighters in the streets of Antakya and in the refugee camps in Hatay Province. The seeds of what was to come — the entry of al-Qaeda into Syria — was set by an opportunistic and poorly conceived policy by Erdog?an’s government. It did not help that his otherwise well-spoken and highly-regarded Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutog?lu began to refer to Syria’s Alawites (Mr. Assad’s community) as Nusayri, a derogatory sectarian term. Turkey joined U.S., Europe and Gulf Arab calls for Mr. Assad’s departure well before the numbers of those dead climbed above the thousands. Nervousness about the spread of al-Qaeda to Syria has made the rebels’ patrons edge closer to the Damascus narrative. The U.S. government wishes to arm the Iraqi government with Hellfire missiles and drones to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in Iraq’s Anbar Province. Britain has said that any fighter who comes back from Syria will be arrested (last week, a Sussex man — Abu Suleiman al-Britani — conducted a suicide operation in Aleppo). The Saudi Royal Court decreed that any Saudi found to have waged jihad abroad could spend up to 20 years in prison.
General Mansour al-Turki of the Saudi Interior Ministry said: “We are trying to stop everyone who wants to go to Syria, but we can’t stop leaks.” The Turkish Armed Forces fired on an ISIS convoy on January 28 inside Syria, and told the government in a report prepared jointly with the Turkish National Intelligence agency that al-Qaeda had made credible threats on Turkey.
Mr. Erdog?an hastened to Tehran to meet the new Iranian leadership — their public comments were on trade, but their private meetings were all on Syria and the need to combat the rise of terrorism. What Mr. Assad had warned about in 2012 came to pass — for whatever reason — and led to a loss of confidence among the rebels’ patrons for their future. Even al-Qaeda’s putative leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has sought to distance himself from ISIS. These signs indicate that on Syria, the “terrorism narrative” has come to dominate over the “authoritarian regime narrative.”
The fractious Syrian opposition that came to Geneva does not represent the main columns of rebel fighters on the ground. These are mainly Islamists — with the al-Qaeda wing represented by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, and the rest represented by the Islamic Front. They have no appetite for negotiation. Mr. Abu Omar of the Islamic Front said that Syria’s future would be created “here on the ground of heroism, and signed with blood on the frontlines, not in hollow conferences attended by those who don’t even represent themselves.” A U.S. intelligence official told me that when the U.S. went into Afghanistan in 2001, “We smashed the mercury and watched it spread out slowly in the area.” Al-Qaeda was not demolished in Kandahar and Tora Bora. Its hardened cadre slipped across to Pakistan and then onwards to their homelands. There they regrouped, reviving the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, al-Qaeda in Yemen, Ansar al-Sharia, Ansar Dine, and ISIS. The latter slipped into Syria from an Iraq broken by the U.S. occupation and the sectarian governance of the current government. There they worked with Jabhat al-Nusra and fought alongside other Islamist currents such as Ahrar ash-Sham. It was inevitable that these battle-tested Islamists would overrun the peaceful protesters and the defectors from the Syrian Army — the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — who scattered to the wind in 2012.
The FSA troops either joined up with the Islamists, continued to fight in small detachments, or linger precariously as twice defectors who are now homeless. The barbarism of the ISIS pushed other Islamists — with Gulf Arab support — to form the Islamic Front. The hope was that this group would run ISIS back to Iraq and remove the stigma of “al-Qaeda” from the Syrian rebellion. The problem is that one of the constituents of the Islamic Front — Jabhat al-Nusra, arguably the most effective of its fighting forces — sees itself as the Syrian franchise of al-Qaeda and has largely abjured the fight against ISIS. Another problem is that the in-fighting on the ground seems to have tapered off — one of the Islamist groups, Suqour al-Sham signed a truce with ISIS and pledged to work together.
By early 2014, these groups found their supply lines cut off. Iraq’s attack on ISIS began to seal the porous border that runs through the Great Syrian Desert. Jordan had already tried to close its border since early 2013, having arrested over a hundred fighters who have tried to cross into Syria. Lebanon’s border has become almost inaccessible for the rebels as the Syrian Army takes the roadway that runs along the boundary line. Last year, Turkey closed the Azaz crossing once it was taken over by the radical Islamists.
On January 20, the rebels attacked the Turkish post at Cilvegözü-Bab al-Hawa, killing 16. This is what spurred the Turkish Army to attack the ISIS convoy a week later.
As the Islamists saw their supply lines closed off, the U.S. announced that it would restart its aid to the rebel fighters. On February 5, the Syrian Coalition chief Ahmad Jabra told Future TV that his rebels would get “advanced weapons” — likely from the U.S. The FSA announced the formation of the Southern Front – with assistance from the West — to revive the dormant fight in Syria’s south-west. All this took place during Geneva 2, signalling confusion in U.S. policy. Does Washington still want to overthrow the Syrian government? Would it live with an Islamist government on Israel’s borders? Or, perhaps, the U.S. is eager for a stalemate, as pointed out by former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel, “The rebels lack the organization and weapons to defeat Assad. The regime lacks the loyal manpower to suppress the rebellion. Both sides’ external allies are ready to supply enough money and arms to fuel the stalemate for the foreseeable future.” This is a cruel strategy.
It offers no hope of peace for the Syrian people.
Road ahead for Syria group:
A senior military official in West Asia told me that one of the most overlooked aspects of West Asia and North Africa is that the military leaderships of each country maintain close contacts with each other. During Turkey’s war against the Kurdish rebellion in its eastern provinces, the military coordinated their operations with the Syrian armed forces. These links have been maintained. When it became clear that Mr. Erdog?an’s exaggerated hopes for Syria failed, and with the growth of the Islamists on Turkey’s borders and the Kurds in Syria having declared their independence, the Turkish military exerted its views. The Iraqi armed forces had already begun their operations against ISIS. Additionally, Egypt’s new Field Marshal Sisi overthrew the government of Mohamed Morsi when the latter encouraged jihadis to go to Syria. This was anathema to the Egyptian military who acted for this and other reasons to depose Mr. Morsi. The military view of the political situation leans naturally toward the terrorism narrative.
It appears now that the regional states are no longer agreed that their primary mission is the removal of Mr. Assad.This view — shared by the militaries — is evident in the political leadership in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.With Egypt, these three states would be the core of a rejuvenated Syria Contact Group.
The 2012 group also had Saudi Arabia, which might be enjoined to come back to the table if they see that their outside allies — notably the U.S. — are averse to a policy that would mean Jabhat al-Nusra in power in Damascus.
Without Saudi Arabia, and perhaps even Qatar, the Syria Contact Group would be less effective.
If the Syria Contact Group is to re-emerge, it would need to be incubated by pressure from China and India, two countries that are sympathetic to multipolar regionalism.
Thus far, neither China nor India has taken an active role in the Syrian conflict, content to work within the United Nations and to make statements as part of the BRICS group.
But the failure of the U.S. and Russia and the paralysis of the U.N. alongside the continued brutality in Syria require an alternative path to be opened up.
Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have indicated willingness for a dialogue — China and India need to offer them the table.
Do ‘Syria,’ ‘Iraq’ and ‘Lebanon’ Still Exist?
based on the original article by Jonathan Spyer that was posted by the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and that we re-post with a series of changes that are mainly of editorial nature.
For almost a century, the Middle East has been defined by the nation-states that emerged following the Allied Europeans – British and French – victory in World War I which was the end of the Ottoman Empire, and followed later by the unraveling of the resulting colonial era. Since then, strategic analyses of the region have concentrated on the relations between these states, created by bureaucratic lines drawn by the interim colonial powers, and diplomatic efforts have generally attempted to maintain their stability and the integrity of these borders. As a result, the current map of the Middle East has remained largely unchanged over more than nine decades.
But these actually never made sense and do so much less now. The old maps do not reflect the reality on the ground, and the region is now defined not by rivalry between nation-states, but by sectarian divisions that are spilling across the old borders and rendering them irrelevant. Today, there is a single sectarian war underway across the Middle East, one that threatens to engulf the entire region.
This war has a number of fronts, some more intense and active than others, but it is everywhere defined by sectarian conflict – especially the divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims. It is most intense in the area encompassing the current states of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon; but has also spread further afield—to Bahrain, northern Yemen, and to some degree Kuwait and eastern Saudi Arabia.
The core power on the Shia side is the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s leading state that accepts terror as a means to implement its plans. Iran was the founding patron of Hezbollah, which even before 9/11 had killed more Americans than any terror group in the world. The Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Maliki government and assorted Shia militias in Iraq, the Houthi rebels in northern Yemen, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are all allies or proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is capable of rendering substantial assistance to its friends through the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – a powerful military and economic force that possesses substantial expertise and experience in building proxy organizations and engaging in political and paramilitary warfare.
On the Sunni side, the dominant power is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has been wary of Tehran, but also has struggled since 9/11 – on and off - against the Islamists of Al Qaeda. Its allies include various groups among the Syrian rebels, the March 14 movement in Lebanon, the military regime in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, and sometimes Turkey. The Saudis, however, are at something of a disadvantage. They possess no parallel to the IRGC, and have problematic relations with the extreme Sunni jihadists of al-Qaeda, who have played a prominent role in the fighting on all three major fronts and who are an outgrowth of the Saudi Wahabbi movement – the kind of Islam on which the Saudi throne is based. (Here we have a clear different approach to the issue then we found in the original article – that seemed to be over friendly to the Saudis – possibly because of the way Washington is siding with the Saudis.)
How did this situation come about? Is there evidence of a clear linkage between the various forces on the respective sides? Why is this conflict so extreme in certain countries—like Syria and Iraq—where it appears to be leading to the breakup of these states? How dangerous are these changes for the West?
Focusing on the areas of most intense conflict—Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon—can help us answer these questions.
This war is a result of the confluence of a number of circumstances. First, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon are all home to a host of different sectarian and ethnic communities. The stark divisions that exist in these societies have never been resolved. In Syria and Iraq, they were suppressed for decades by brutal dictatorial regimes. The Assad regime in Syria and Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq – were family dictatorships based on minority sectarian communities – the Alawis in Syria, and the Arab Sunnis in Iraq – while claiming to rule in the name of pan-Arab nationalism. In service of this ideology, the Syrian and Iraqi regimes ruthlessly put down ethnic and sectarian separatism in all its forms; in particular, Shia Islamism in Iraq, Sunni Islamism in Syria, and the Kurdish national movement in both countries. All were treated without mercy.
Lebanon, by contrast, is a far weaker state, which was ruled by a power-sharing arrangement between ethnic and religious groups that collapsed into civil war in 1975. The issues underlying that war were never resolved; instead, between 1990 and 2005 the Syrian army presence in Lebanon ended all discussion of basic issues of national identity. (Here we must add something the original article has completely left untackled – the fact that in Lebanon the French colonial power has sponsored a Christian – mainly Maronite – minority and allowed for its governing over the Sunni and Shia parts of the population in a prearranged structure that fell apart with the influx of Sunni Palestinian refugees. These refugees ended up being supported by the Shia backed Hezbollah and eventually got attacked from the outside by the Israelis). Lebanon thus developed a different dynamics that is still tripartite in its Arab make up. Lebanon’s Maronite families with their French backing did not become dictators like in the cases of Iraq and Syria.
Over the last decade, the once ironclad structures of dictatorship and suppression that kept ethnic and sectarian tensions from erupting, have weakened or disappeared.
The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq destroyed the Saddam Hussein regime. A sectarian Shia government, based on the Shia Arab majority and conditionally accepted by the Kurds, took its place. In Syria, a brutal civil war has severely curtailed the power of the Assad regime, which now rules only about 40 percent of the country’s territory. The Sunni Arab majority and the Kurdish minority have carved out autonomous sectarian enclaves in the 60 percent that remains.
Western hopes that a non-sectarian identity would take hold in the areas formerly ruled by Saddam and the Assads are persistent but proven illusory. Remarks about Iraq made by then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in 2004 sum up these hopes and the tendency to self-delusion that often accompanies them. “What has been impressive to me so far,” Rice said, is that Iraqis—whether Kurds or Shia or Sunni or the many other ethnic groups in Iraq—have demonstrated that they really want to live as one in a unified Iraq…. I think particularly the Kurds have shown a propensity to want to bridge differences that were historic differences in many ways that were fueled by Saddam Hussein and his regime… What I have found interesting and I think important is the degree to which the leaders of the Shia and Kurdish and Sunni communities have continually expressed their desires to live in a unified Iraq.
This faith is expressed also by the Obama Administration, and as a result, it has continued to support the Shia-dominated government in Iraq, led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It sees Maliki’s opposition to Sunni insurgents in western Anbar province as an elected government’s opposition to extremist rebels. This fails to take into account the sectarian nature of the Maliki government itself, and the discriminatory policies he has pursued against the Sunnis of western Iraq.
The reemergence of sectarian conflict so evident in Iraq has also emerged in Syria and is, in turn, showed up in neighboring Lebanon.
Lebanon was first drawn into the Syrian conflict as a result of the significant and highly effective intervention in Syria in support of the Assad regime by Iran’s Lebanon-based terrorist army, Hezbollah. This quickly led to retaliation against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon by elements among Syria’s Sunni rebels. Supporters of the Sunni rebels have succeeded in attacking Hezbollah’s Dahiyeh compound in south Beirut five times. The bombing on January 2, 2014, was carried out by a young Lebanese member of an organization called ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) named Qutaiba Muhammad al-Satem; ISIS are Islamic extremists who have been operating as a branch of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria.
While Hezbollah’s decision to intervene on behalf of the Assad regime in Syria and the subsequent Sunni reaction is partially the result of the divided nature of Lebanon, and Syria, and their unresolved questions of national identity, larger regional conflicts, also of a sectarian nature, are a driving force behind the violence.
Hezbollah’s participation in the Syrian civil war came not as a result of automatic sentiments of solidarity, but because Hezbollah forms part of a regional alliance headed by Iran, to which the Assad regime also belongs. When Assad found himself in trouble, Hezbollah was mobilized to assist him. On the opposing side, the Syrian rebels have benefited from the support and patronage of Iran’s rival, Saudi Arabia, and other states along the Arabian peninsula, including the United Arab Emirates.
This rivalry is long standing and not just rooted in theological differences. It is about power. Iran is controlled by a revolutionary regime whose goal is to become the hegemonic force in the Middle East. Although the Iranians certainly regard the Saudis as an enemy and as unfit custodians of Islam’s most holy sites, Tehran’s main goal is to assert control over Arabian Gulf energy supplies, replacing the U.S. as guarantor of resources upon which world is dependent. Tehran understands that the real source of power in the region is the Gulf itself, with its enormous reserves of oil and natural gas that are essential to the global economy. To achieve its goals, Iran must tempt or coerce the Gulf monarchies away from U.S. protection and toward an alliance with Tehran, and ironically, American perceived weakness in the face of Tehran’s nuclear pursuit makes that all the more possible.
Riyadh has emerged as the principle opponent to Iran’s regional ambitions, mainly because the former guarantor of the current regional order, the United States, has chosen to leave the field. Until 2011, the Middle East appeared to be locked into a kind of cold war, in which the Iranians, along with their allies and proxies, sought to overturn the U.S.-dominated regional order, which was based on U.S. alliances with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. Events over the last five years, however, have created the impression that the U.S. no longer wishes to play this role: America failed to back its longtime Egyptian ally, Hosni Mubarak, when he faced domestic unrest in early 2011. It failed to support the rebel forces fighting the Iran-backed Assad regime. And it failed to back Bahrain against an Iran-supported uprising in the same year. Now, the U.S. appears to be seeking a general rapprochement with Iran.
As a result of all this, Saudi Arabia has begun to take a far more active role in the region. Riyadh and its Gulf allies have certainly helped to finance and stabilize Egypt after the military removed Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government from power. It began to take a leading role in supporting the Syrian rebels. It has well-documented relations with the anti-Syrian March 14 movement in Lebanon. In December 2013, the Saudis pledged $3 billion to the official Lebanese army. They also support anti-Maliki elements in Iraq. In addition, they are seeking to create an alliance among the other Gulf states in order to oppose Iranian ambitions, with some success.
But all of the above will not work for the Saudis unless they also stretch out a friendly hand to Israel and do a “SADAT” – that is – backing the right of Israel provided it settles with the Palestinians and do this in a pro-active way by showing their readiness to bankroll a solution of the Palestinian conflict. We say this is the cheapest way for the Saudis to wrestle the region from the Iranians – but we found no such conclusion in the original article. This might be too revolutionary for the conventional mindset that believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just another Middle East intractable conflict like the one in the article. The trick is to see how an opportunity is created when trying to go about two seemingly intractable problems in tandem!
The original article follows instead by saying - “increasingly violent rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, intensified by American withdrawal from the region, has helped turn a conflict that was once cold into an increasingly hot cross-border sectarian war.”
There is considerable evidence of links between Iran and Saudi Arabia, on the one hand, and their respective allies in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, on the other.
On the Iranian side, Tehran no longer makes any serious attempt to deny the enormous assistance they have given the Assad regime in Syria. Indeed, the Iranians have effectively mobilized all their available regional assets in order to preserve it. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Qods Force, Qassem Suleimani, went to Syria himself in order to coordinate these efforts. Perhaps most notably, in mid-2012 the Iranians began training a new light infantry force for Assad. Called the National Defense Force, it was necessary because Assad was unable to use much of his own army, which consisted of Sunni conscripts whose loyalty was unreliable. Iran has even sent its own IRGC fighters to fight in Syria; a fact revealed by footage taken by an Iranian cameraman who was later killed by the rebels, the testimony of Syrian defectors, and the capture of a number of IRGC men in August 2012.
In April 2013, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was summoned to Iran and instructed to deploy his own fighters in Syria. Up to 10,000 of them are now on the ground in Syria at any given time, and they played a crucial role in retaking the strategic town of Qusayr in August 2013. Hezbollah fighters are also taking a prominent role in the battle for the Qalamun area near the Lebanese border, as well as the fighting around Damascus.
Iranian financial donations have also been vital in keeping the regime alive. In January 2013, Iran announced a “credit facility” agreement with Syria that extended a $1 billion line of credit to Assad. Later the same year, an additional credit line of $3.6 billion was announced.
Iraq has also played a vital role in supporting Assad, mainly by allowing Iran to use Iraqi territory and airspace to transfer weapons to Syrian forces. At first glance, this appears to be a strange policy. Relations between Iraq and Syria prior to the civil war were not good, with Maliki openly accusing Assad of supporting Sunni insurgents. But this has now changed. Indeed, Maliki has openly supported Assad since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. This reflects his increasing closeness to Iran, which helped ensure Maliki’s emergence as prime minister after the 2010 elections and pressured Assad to support him as well. Relations between Iraq, Iran, and Syria have only improved since.
In addition to government support, Iraqi Shia militias are now fighting in Syria on behalf of Assad. The Abu Fadl al-Abbas Brigades, Ktaeb Hezbollah, and the Ahl al-Haq group all have forces in Syria. They are playing an important role, given that one of Assad’s major weaknesses is his lack of reliably loyal soldiers. The eruption of violence in Iraq’s western Anbar province has further cemented this alliance, since the insurgency is a direct result of advances made by Sunni jihadis in Syria.
As a result of all this, the Iranian-led side of the regional conflict has emerged as a tightly organized alliance, capable of acting in a coordinated way, pooling its resources for a common goal, and fighting effectively from western Iraq all the way to the Mediterranean.
The Sunni side of the conflict is more chaotic and disjointed. Saudi Arabia is its main financier, but it lacks an equivalent to the Qods force and the IRGC, who are world leaders in subversion and irregular warfare.
Only the most extreme jihadi elements appear capable of clear coordination across borders. For example, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as its name suggests, is active in both countries and controls a contiguous area stretching from the western Anbar province in Iraq to the eastern Raqqa province in Syria. ISIS regards itself as a franchise of al-Qaeda, although it does not take orders directly from the al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. Another al-Qaeda group, Jabhat al-Nusra, is active in Syria. In Lebanon, a third branch of al-Qaeda, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, has played a role in the attacks on Hezbollah. In addition, both the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra are active in Lebanon.
But there are also less extreme groups opposing the Syrian-Iranian axis. Saudi Arabia has backed the March 14 movement, which is the main Sunni opposition party in Lebanon, as well as providing financial support to the Lebanese army. In Syria, the Saudis have fostered the Islamic Front, an alliance of eight Islamist groups unconnected to al-Qaeda. It includes some of the strongest rebel brigades, such as Ahrar al-Sham, Liwa al-Islam, and Liwa al-Tawhid. It is now emerging as the key bloc among the rebels. The Saudis also dominate the Syrian opposition in exile, with Ahmed Jarba, who has close links to Riyadh, recently reelected chairman of the Syrian National Coalition.
There are no indications that the Saudis are backing Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but the larger Sunni community is certainly looking to Riyadh for help. Relations between Saudi Arabia and the current Iraqi government are very bad. The border between the two countries is closed except during the Hajj pilgrimage, there is no Saudi embassy in Baghdad, and commercial relations are kept at a minimum. Some of the Sunni tribes in western Anbar have close links to the Saudis. While they are hostile to al-Qaeda, they are also opposed to the Maliki government, which they regard as a sectarian Shia regime.
There is a third element to this regional conflict that is something of a wild card: The Kurds. A non-Arab people who have long sought an independent state, the Kurds have succeeded in creating a flourishing autonomous zone in northern Iraq that enjoys most of the elements of de facto sovereignty. Since July 2012, another Kurdish autonomous zone has been established in northeast Syria. These two areas occupy a contiguous land mass, but are not politically united. The Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq is controlled by the Kurdish Democratic Party, led by Massoud Barzani, while the autonomous zone in northeast Syria is controlled by the PYD (Democratic Union Party), which is the Syrian branch of the Turkish-based leftist PKK movement.
These movements are rivals, and each sees itself as the appropriate leader of the Kurds. But while there is tension between them, each appears to be securely in control of its respective areas. The Kurds do not enjoy the support of any state in the region, and both the Iranians and the Saudis regard Kurdish national aspirations with suspicion. Nonetheless, the Kurds have managed to accumulate sufficient organizational and military strength to ensure the survival of their self-governing enclaves.
All these factors indicate that two rival alliances are clashing for hegemony over the region. There are myriad practical links between the various combatants, and their activities have long since spilled across the borders of the various states involved in the fighting; as indicated by the presence of Iranian fighters, ISIS, and Hezbollah in Syria; Syrian rebels in Lebanon; and many other examples. Iran is the leader of one side, Saudi Arabia is the main backer of the other, while the Kurds are concerned with maintaining their areas of control and are trying to stay out of the conflict.
The most significant result of the analysis is that the continued existence of Syria and Iraq as unified states is now in question. Practically speaking, Syria has already split into three areas, each controlled by one of the three elements listed above. Iraq has also effectively split into Kurdish and Arab zones, with Sunni and Shia groups fighting over the latter.
In many ways, Lebanon ceased to function as a unified state some time ago; since Hezbollah essentially functions as a de facto mini-state of its own. The Lebanese Sunnis lack a military tradition and have proved helpless in the face of Iran’s support for Hezbollah. But now, the emergence of the Syrian rebels and the growing popularity of Islamism among the Sunni underclass may be altering this balance. This appears to be borne out by the recent surge in Sunni violence against Hezbollah, which is the result of an attempt by Syrian jihadis and other rebels—in concert with their local allies—to bring the war to Lebanon.
Taken together, this indicates that a massive paradigm shift is underway in much of the Middle East. The eclipse of Arab nationalist dictatorships in Iraq and Syria, the historical failure to develop a unified national identity in these states, their mixed ethnic and sectarian makeup, and the U.S.’s withdrawal from its dominant position in the region—with the resulting emergence of a Saudi-Iranian rivalry—have all combined to produce an extraordinary result: A region-wide sectarian war is now taking place in the areas still officially referred to as Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
For the West, as in the region itself, this has very serious implications. Dealing with it effectively will required an equally massive paradigm shift in strategic thinking on the Middle East, one that is capable of dispensing with previous illusions and admitting that sovereign borders once regarded as sacrosanct are swiftly becoming meaningless.
There are new borders taking shape, defined by sectarian divisions that the West ignores at its peril. Despite fantasies of withdrawing from the region, the security of global energy supplies and the maintenance of regional stability are still essential to Western interests. The West has as large a stake in the outcome of this sectarian conflict as the regional players involved. If it cannot adapt to the new Middle East that is swiftly taking shape, it will find itself on the losing side.
The Israeli Delegation to the Mandela Memorial Service-and-Celebration was led by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein who lives in a West Bank Settlement. The truly Rainbow Delegation sat in the section reserved to Parliamentarians. Edelstein had by chance an airport conversation with an interested former President Jimmy Carter. We include Uri Avnery’s views as well.
First as posted by us on December 11, 2013, but then we added on December 13th an Uri Avnery unforgiving point of view that explains why neither the Israeli President nor the Prime-Minister accepted the chance to travel to Johannesburg. We attach this at the end of our own review of the Israeli delegation.
By Gidon Ben-zvi from Johannesburg, December 10, 2013
The Israeli Knesset delegation to the funeral of South African President Nelson Mandela was placed in a parliamentary gallery inside of Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium, far removed from where the sitting president of South Africa and such visiting world leaders as President Barack Obama were situated, Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported.
The delegation, headed by the Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, landed Tuesday morning at the airport in Johannesburg and were immediately shuttled to the stadium in order to attend the funeral.
The Speaker was invited to sit on the main stage, but elected to stay with the other members of the Israeli delegation, Ma’ariv reported.
“It’s very exciting to be here in South Africa. We arrived after a long but pleasant flight and are looking forward to a moving memorial service,”
MK Lipman, who heads the Israel-South Africa Friendship Association, added that, “…Nelson Mandela served as an inspiration around the world. [He] realized a vision of liberty and freedom and human rights which is a guiding light for everyone.”
Knesset Members Penina Tamanu-Shata (Yesh Atid), Hilik Bar (Labor), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) and Gila Gamliel (Likud) comprised the remainder of the Israeli delegation.
Pnina Tamano-Shata born in Wuzaba, Tamano-Shata immigrated from Ethiopia to Israel at the age of three.She studied law at Ono Academic College, and became Deputy Chairman of the national Ethiopian Student Association.She worked from 2007-2012 as a reporter for Channel 1. In last elections she was placed on spot 14 on the newly formed Yesh Atid list that won 19 seats in the Knesset.
M.K. Rabbi Dov Lipman born in Silver Spring, Maryland, Lipman attended the Yeshiva of Greater Washington in his hometown and completed his rabbinical studies at Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore while in a concurrent program with the Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a master’s degree in Education. He immigrated to Israel in 2004.
Since moving to Israel, Lipman has been a faculty member at a number of institutions for post-high school Torah learning, such as Yeshivat Yesodei HaTorah, Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim, Machon Maayan, and Tiferet.
As a member of Yesh Atid, Lipman strongly advocates basic secular education for all schools in Israel wanting to receive government funding. This is also the position of Israel’s Minister of Education, Rabbi Shai Piron. Since taking these controversial positions, Lipman has been publicly shamed by many within the ultra-Orthodox/Haredi world, including his former Rosh Yeshiva and teacher Rabbi Aharon Feldman. Feldman, dean of Baltimore’s Ner Israel Rabbinical College, called Lipman a “wicked” apostate and said his positions on Jewish education do not represent the values taught by the institution from which he received rabbinic ordination.
We wonder if Rabbi Lipman was part of the Edelstein-Carter airport exchange that stirred our interest in the make-up of the Israeli delegation – a State that somehow was not able to get to Johannesburg one of its two main office-holders – President Peres or Prime-Minister Netanyahu.
Hilik (Yehiel) Bar (born September 4, 1975 n Safed in the Galilee), is a Member of Knesset for the Israel Labor Party, Secretary General of the Labor Party, and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. Bar previously served as a member of the Jerusalem City Council on behalf of mayor Nir Barkat’s “Yerushalayim Tazliach” (Jerusalem Will Succeed) party, holding the Tourism and Foreign Relations portfolios for the city.
Bar studied at Bezek College at Givat Mordechai in Jerusalem. He served in the Israeli Defense Force as an officer in Adjutant Corps and reached the rank of captain in the reserves, later studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. From 1998 he served as chairman of the student organization (“Ofek”) of the Labor Party at Hebrew University, chairman of the national student organization of the Labor Party, and Chairman of the World Youth of the World Labour Zionist Movement.
Bar served as an Advisor to Minister Dalia Itzik in the Environment Ministry and the Ministry of Industry and Trade; an adviser to Acting Mayor of the Jerusalem Municipality, Professor Shimon Sheetrit; Director of Development Economics and Higher Education in the Jerusalem Municipality; Project Manager for the Jerusalem Conference with the Zionist Council for Israel; and adviser to National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in Ariel Sharon’s second administration and Ehud Olmert’s government. It was during this time that he also served as advisor to Ben-Eliezer while the latter served as Minister of Industry.
During his public service he completed his BA in political science and international relations and MA in international relations at the Hebrew University. In 2008 he was accepted to the master’s program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, but passed on the opportunity in order to continue his public service.
Since 2002, Bar has been a delegate at the World Zionist Congress and the World Zionist Council. He is actively involved in pro-Israel advocacy and has taken part in advocacy and coexistence missions around the world, in the course of which he met with US President George W. Bush and other senior officials in both the Arab world and the West. In 2003, he was involved in the establishment of the “Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation” (YIFC), an organization whose activity was awarded a special prize by the EU’s Minister of Education. He was six-th on Labor’s list and is making inroads in the party system.
Nitzan Horowitz is a former journalist – he was the Foreign Affairs commentator and head of the International desk at News 10, the news division of Channel 10, before being elected to the Knesset on the left-wing Meretz list in 2009.
He is openly gay and ran for becoming Mayor of Tel Aviv. Before that – In 1989 he started his career at Haaretz, as the Foreign Affairs Editor. He served as “Haaretz” correspondent in Paris (1993–1998), covering also the European Union, and as Haaretz correspondent in Washington D.C. (1998–2001). Back in Israel, Horowitz was the chief foreign affairs columnist for Haaretz.
Horowitz served as a board member of ACRI – the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. He was also active in environmental issues and in 2007 he received the “Pratt Prize” for Environmental Journalism.
In December 2008, he resigned from Channel 10 and became a candidate of the Israeli left-wing party, Meretz in the upcoming elections.
Meretz won three seats in the 2009 Israeli elections on February 10, 2009, election,making Horowitz the second openly gay Knesset member in Israeli history. The first, Uzi Even, also was a member of Meretz. On February 16, he announced a plan to bring to the Knesset a bill that would allow marriages or civil unions between two partners regardless of their religion, ethnic background, or gender.
Before being sworn into the Knesset he was told to annul his Polish citizenship, which he was able to attain due to his father’s origins and used as a journalist to enter countries Israelis have a hard time entering.
In 2009, he announced that he would boycott all the events in Pope Benedict XVI‘s visit to Israel, saying that in his opinion, the pope bears a message of “rigidness, religious extremism and imperviousness. Of all the Pope’s injustices, the worst is his objection to disseminating contraceptives in Third World countries. It’s hard to assess how many miserable men and women in Africa, Asia and South America have contracted AIDS because of this Philistine attitude, but we are talking about many”. He also published a two-part opinion piece on Ynetnews explaining his position.
On June 6, 2009, Horowitz addressed a crowd of 1,000 demonstrators in Tel Aviv marking 42 years of the occupation of the West Bank. Horowitz resides in Tel Aviv with his life partner.
Gila Gamliel born in Gedera to an influential and large family of Yemenite and Libyan Jewish origins, Gamliel studied at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where she was awarded a BA in Middle Eastern history and philosophy and an MA in philosophy. During her time as a student, she was chairwoman of the university’s student union, and also the first woman chair of the National Students’ Association. Later on, she obtained a Bachelor of Laws at the Ono Academic College and a Master of Laws at the Bar-Ilan University.
For the 1999 elections she was placed 25th on the Likud list, but missed out on a place in the Knesset when the party won only 19 seats. In 2003 she surprisingly won 11th place on the Likud list for the elections that year, ahead of several cabinet ministers. She became a Knesset member when the party won 38 seats, but police decided to open an investigation into the suspected transfer of student funds into a private company.She was also accused of blackmailing a fellow student council member in order to retain the chairmanship of the students’ association of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev at the time. Gamliel denied both accusations. In November 2003 the fraud police decided to stop the investigations against her because of lack of evidence.
About the same time, in June 2003, she and three other Knesset members of Likud were actually banned from the Likud faction for three months because they had been voting against an encroaching plan of Likud in matters of economy. By implementing severe austerities the Likud government was hoping to recover the declining state of Israel’s economy.
During her first term in the Knesset she chaired the committee on the Status of Women, and in March 2005 was appointed Deputy Minister of Agriculture.
However, she missed out on a place on the Likud list for the 2006 elections and lost her seat. Prior to the 2009 elections she won nineteenth place on the party’s list, and returned to the Knesset as Likud won 27 seats. On April 1, 2009 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Gamliel as Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office in his new government, with the portfolio of the Advancement of Young People, Students and Women.
In November 2010 she was not allowed to enter Dubai to participate in a conference of the World Economic Forum because of the assassination of senior Hamas military commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January 2010, of which the Mossad was accused of.
Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, born August 5, 1958 to a Jewish family in the great city Czernowitz in the former Austrian Bukowina, while it was Chernivtsi, Soviet Union, and now is in the Ukraine. Yuli immigrated to Israel in 1987. His parents, Yuri and Anita Edelstein, had converted to Christianity after Yuli’s birth, and his father is today a well-known Russian Orthodox priest and human rights activist in Russia.
Yuli formed his connection to Jewish culture through his grandparents, and he began studying Hebrew.
During his second year at the Chernivtsi university, Edelstein decided to apply for an exit visa and emigrate to Israel. However, an exit visa required an affidavit from relatives abroad, a problem faced by many Soviet Jews. As a result, he made up a story of his grandfather having an illegitimate son in Israel, and found some Israelis who agreed to pose as his relatives. In 1979, he submitted his application for an exit visa. The application was rejected, and Edelstein was expelled from university.
Throughout this period, Edelstein studied Hebrew, first on his own, then with an underground Hebrew teacher named Lev Ulanovsky. After Ulanovsky received an exit visa to Israel in 1979, Edelstein himself became an underground Hebrew teacher. He encountered various forms of harassment from the KGB and local police. In 1984, he and other Hebrew teachers were arrested on trumped-up charges. Edelstein was charged with possession of drugs, and sentenced to three and a half years. He was then sent to Siberian gulags and did hard labor, first in Buryatia and then in Novosibirsk. After sustaining an injury and undergoing surgery, Edelstein was due to be transferred back to Buryatia, but his wife Tanya threatened to go on hunger strike if he was returned there. As a result, he remained in Novosibirsk, and was released in May 1985, after serving one year and eight months of his sentence.
In 1987, he was finally given permission to emigrate to Israel. After arriving in Israel, he did his national service in the Israel Defense Forces, attaining the rank of Corporal. He then started to participate in political life. Initially a member of the National Religious Party and a vice-president of Zionist Forum, he founded the Yisrael BaAliyah party together with fellow Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky. He was elected to the Knesset in 1996, and was appointed Minister of Immigrant Absorption in Binyamin Netanyahu‘s Likud-led government. He was re-elected in 1999, and was appointed Deputy Immigrant Absorption Minister by Ariel Sharon in 2001.
He retained his seat in the 2003 elections, shortly after which Yisrael BaAliyah merged into Likud. Although Edelstein lost his seat in the 2006 elections, in which Likud was reduced to 12 seats (Edelstein was fourteenth on the party’s list), he re-entered the Knesset as a replacement for Dan Naveh in February 2007. He retained his seat in the 2009 elections after being placed twelfth on the party’s list, and was appointed Minister of Information and Diaspora in the Netanyahu government.
Following the 2013 elections he became Speaker of the Knesset.
The father of two, Edelstein lives in Neve Daniel – an Israeli communal settlement located in western Gush Etzion in the southern West Bank. Located south of Jerusalem and just west of Bethlehem, it sits atop one of the highest points in the area – close to 1,000 meters above sea level, and has a view of much of the Mediterranean coastal plain, as well as the mountains of Jordan.
I went to this length of describing the six members of the Israeli Delegation that went to honor the Madiba – there hardly could have been a more RAINBOW type of delegation from Israel and in our opinion – this is a group of people that in their own lives depict how a new Nation , built on secular democratic principles, was built by linking with a common goal people of very different backgrounds. Members of this small group had given up US, Russian, Polish, Ethiopian, Yemenite, Libyan citizenships in order to be able to be part of the secular-jewish Parliament.
We believe they made for a truer representation to the Mandela ethos then had it been that the attention were on a Head-of-State.
Israel has not celebrated the day but for months there is an on-going soul-searching activity in Israel that on the one hand blames itself and the US advise at the time of not to seem to be those that start a war. Yes, Israel starts to see publicly now that it was a pawn in a global chess game. But what is more important – Israel sees it did not take advantage of the outcome of that war in order to solve the Palestinian problem. Simply said it could have been the liberator of the Palestinians from their unfaithful brothers, but opted to become their new oppressors.
The oil games created and paid for Al-Qaeda. The Jinny unleashed from the Saudi Arabian oil-barrels turned against the US, and the US now, while Washington is under siege by the army of an extremist Republican Congress, it is the newer Al Shabab that carries the torch of Al-Qaeda with other tentacles in Yemen and all over else. Will the Republicans see that they act in cohoots with the oil interests and are stabbing the US in the back?
Abu Anas al Libi was being detained by the U.S. military in a “secure location outside of Libya,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said late Saturday night.
Al Libi is an al Qaeda leader wanted for his role in the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
He was captured in one of two raids nearly 3,000 miles apart this weekend.
U.S. forces captured al Libi in the Libyan capital of Tripoli. In the second raid, a team of U.S. Navy SEALs in southern Somalia targeted a leader of Al-Shabaab, which was behind last month’s mall attack in Kenya. The SEALs came under fire and had to withdraw before they could confirm whether the leader was dead, a senior U.S. official said.
In Tripoli, American forces captured a Libyan militant who had been indicted in 2000 for his role in the 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The militant, born Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai and known by his nom de guerre, Abu Anas al-Liby, had a $5 million bounty on his head; his capture at dawn ended a 15-year manhunt.
In Somalia, the Navy SEAL team emerged before sunrise from the Indian Ocean and exchanged gunfire with militants at the home of a senior leader of the Shabab, the Somali militant group. The raid was planned more than a week ago, officials said, after a massacre by the Shabab at a Nairobi shopping mall that killed more than 60 people two weeks ago.
The New York Times writes: “With President Obama locked in a standoff with Congressional Republicans and his leadership criticized for a policy reversal in Syria, the raids could fuel accusations among his critics that the administration was eager for a showy foreign policy victory.”
Are we supposed to see in the Republicans’ digging under the US might something positive rather then the un-American activity that they perpetuate? We rather congratulate the President, the FBI, and the CIA, for picking the coincidental date of October 5-th and see in this a sign that the US is learning lessons from events 40 years old.
His capture was the latest blow to what remains of the original Al-Qaeda organization after a 12-year American campaign to capture or kill its leadership, including the killing two years ago of its founder, Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan.
Despite his presence in Libya, Abu Anas was not believed to have played any role in the 2012 attack on the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, senior officials briefed on that investigation have said, but he may have sought to build networks connecting what remains of the Qaeda organization to like-minded militants in Libya.
His brother, Nabih, told The Associated Press that just after dawn prayers, three vehicles full of armed men had approached Abu Anas’s home and surrounded him as he parked his car. The men smashed his window, seized his gun and sped away with him, the brother said.
A senior American official said the Libyan government had been apprised of the operation and provided assistance, but it was unclear in what capacity. An assistant to the prime minister of the Libyan transitional government said the government had been unaware of any operation or of Abu Anas’s capture. Asked if American forces had ever conducted raids inside Libya or collaborated with Libyan forces, Mehmoud Abu Bahia, assistant to the defense minister, replied, “Absolutely not.”
Disclosure of the raid is likely to inflame anxieties among many Libyans about their national sovereignty, putting a new strain on the transitional government’s fragile authority. Many Libyan Islamists already accuse their interim prime Minister, Ali Zeidan, who previously lived in Geneva as part of the exiled opposition to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, of collaborating too closely with the West.
Abu Anas, 49, was born in Tripoli and joined Bin Laden’s organization as early as the early 1990s, when it was based in Sudan. He later moved to Britain, where he was granted political asylum as a Libyan dissident. United States prosecutors in New York charged him in a 2000 indictment with helping to conduct “visual and photographic surveillance” of the United States Embassy in Nairobi in 1993 and again in 1995. Prosecutors said in the indictment that Abu Anas had discussed with another senior Qaeda figure the idea of attacking an American target in retaliation for the United States peacekeeping operation in Somalia.
After the 1998 bombing, the British police raided his apartment and found an 18-chapter terrorist training manual. Written in Arabic and titled “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants,” it included advice on car bombing, torture, sabotage and disguise.
Since the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi, Tripoli has slid steadily into lawlessness, with no strong central government or police presence. It has become a safe haven for militants seeking to avoid detection elsewhere, and United States government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential information, have acknowledged in recent months that Abu Anas and other wanted terrorists had been seen moving freely around the capital.
The operation to capture Abu Anas was several weeks in the making, a United States official said, and President Obama was regularly briefed as the suspect was tracked in Tripoli. Mr. Obama had to approve the capture. He had often promised there would be “no boots on the ground” in Libya when the United States intervened there in March 2011, so the decision to send in Special Operations forces was a risky one.
Those killed in Egypt and Syria to be mentioned at the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish High Holidays Yizkor Services – a sign of simple humanity. Allah willing the people of the Middle East could take notice.
The reach of human compassion!
And from Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Tikkun Magazine:
Please urge them to check it out at www.beyttikkun.org/article.php/HH… [ www.beyttikkun.org/article.php/HH... ].
Daniel Kahneman of Israel and Princeton, who established the link Psychology and Economics, will get the US Presidential Medal of Freedom: Israel of a split personality even before watching neighbouring Syria become the Spain of the 21st Century.
Israel’s Professor Daniel Kahneman, 79, who received the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics, has been named one of the 16 recipients of the 2013 United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, the White House announced Thursday.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is America’s highest civilian honor, recognizing individuals who have made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the U.S., world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
The awards will be presented at the White House later this year.
“Daniel Kahneman is a pioneering scholar of psychology. After escaping Nazi occupation [in France] in World War II, Dr. Kahneman immigrated to Israel, where he served in the Israel Defense Forces and trained as a psychologist. Alongside Amos Tversky, he applied cognitive psychology to economic analysis, laying the foundation for a new field of research and earning the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. He is currently a professor at Princeton University,” the White House’s statement said.
Born in Tel Aviv in 1934, Kahneman spent his childhood years in Paris. After his family escaped the Nazis, he immigrated to Israel in 1948. Kahneman is professor emeritus at Princeton University’s Department of Psychology and Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, as well as a fellow at Hebrew University and a Gallup Senior Scientist. He is considered one of the world’s foremost researchers in the fields of the psychology of judgment and decision-making, behavioral economics and hedonic psychology.
JERUSALEM — Israel has just embarked, yet again, on U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians.
Zeev Elkin, the deputy foreign minister and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, gives it to me straight: “Netanyahu changed his mind. It was some kind of revolution. Ten years ago he was responsible for the decision of our party against a two-state solution.” He continues: “We have a big argument between him and us on this. I respect his position and he respects mine.” And what is Elkin’s position on two states for two peoples? “Now I don’t believe in it.”
Netanyahu is opposed by his own party. He is opposed by the man who is in effect his acting foreign minister. He is opposed by prominent members of his own government, including Economy Minister Naftali Bennett.
Israel has just agreed to release more than 100 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture of goodwill. Elkin says he cannot understand how “to release terrorists and murderers with blood on their hands is something good for peace” but “building a kindergarten in Judea and Samaria is worse for peace.”
The West Bank is referred to as Judea and Samaria by religious nationalists and others committed to holding all Eretz Israel.
The gesture of goodwill comes as Israel Hayom reports that “as of July 1, 2013, the size of the Jewish Israeli population in Judea and Samaria stood at 367,000. In the first half of 2013, roughly 7,700 new residents were added. This is, as noted, a 2.12 percent rise in the population in a six-month period.” So this year, it seems, population growth has been faster in the West Bank settlements than in the rest of Israel.
Do goodwill gestures and settlement expansion make sense? Often Israel’s personality seems split. Its prosperity purrs. Its unease lurks. I listen to friends here. Like Goethe’s Faust, two souls seem to beat within them.
Yakov would be my liberal Israeli composite, an imaginary guy who spends a lot of his week working on a big business project in Turkey (“Don’t believe what you read in the papers”) while developing the killer app that will make his fortune in his spare time. His internal dialogue swings wildly between confidence and disquiet: “Hey, we just sold Waze, a navigation app for smart phones that helps you beat traffic, for over $1 billion to Google and now AOL is paying $405 million for another fruit of Israeli genius — don’t ask me what that does, puh-lease. And, hey, check out the Tel Aviv skyline. See the cranes? This place is Boomland, man. The French are pouring in — they even love our wine!”
Then a darker voice surfaces: “Woke up in a cold sweat. We’re isolated! Same old story, Jews getting blamed for everything. I know we don’t need the European Union, but what’s with cutting off E.U. funding to institutions based or operating over the Green Line? Talk about preempting a negotiation, it’s not like we know where the border is yet…. And Stephen Hawking, canceling his appearance at the Israeli Presidential Conference, how rude is that…. I mean, the Arabs hate us, O.K. The Turks pretend to hate us, O.K. The Persians try their best to hate us, O.K. But we’re part of the West, of Europe, they can’t hate the Jews (again), that’s not O.K.”
Yakov’s mood swings are sharpest over the conflict. A voice says: “I am completely supportive of the peace process — so long as it does not get to a solution. A solution could be problematic. You have to hand it to Netanyahu, by starting the peace process he has made peace. With Obama! Do I accept the idea of two states? Yes I do. Do I want two states? That is a different question … ”
At which point an angry voice will be raised: “Of course you don’t want two states.
Deep inside Yakov there is a white Ashkenazi Israeli liberal, that dying breed. He knows the Jews are not going away; nor are the Palestinians.
Another rebukes him: “You prefer Syria? You prefer Egypt? Our ‘conflict’ is a haven of Middle East stability.”
And that brings us to our own position:
Yes, Israel is troubled but when viewing the neighborhood it is nevertheless an island of peace already.
Syria is fractured many-ways and outsiders are pouring in to bolster their preferred sides. In a short time it will be like in Spain in the thirties – it will be the foreigners fighting each other on Syrian soil – and with the US and Russia backing different sides – if not careful – a major conflagration might occur – right there on the door steps of Israel. Who can dare to tell the Israelis to return the Golan Heights to Syria under such conditions. Do the Palestinians have a dream of becoming another Syria? If there is any chance for the Israelis and Palestinians to get together – this can come only when these two sides decide that the Syrian model is even worse and that a model of Israeli-Palestinian trust – in order to avoid the Syrian model requires the end of Hamas militancy – the closing of the door to the Outside Hezbollah movement and a true attempt at making peace based on aq psychology of the best economic joint interests. This is not just a dream – it is Nobel Prize material indeed. Syria is doomed by the Arab World at large and this ought to be the cause of the awakening of the Palestinians who finally ought to get it that their enemies are not just the Israeli invaders but as well the Arab despots that never cared about them but used them for their own methods of shunning internal criticism of the way they exploited their own States.
A link for those who try to understand the UN beyond what is dished out to them through the “house-press” – the matter of Yemeni Nobel Peace-Prize Winner Tawakkol Karman’s attempt at free speech about Egypt.
Tawakkol Karman is in the news:
Tawakkol Karman banned from entering Egypt
Yemeni activist and Nobel Prize winner, Tawakkol Karman, banned from entering Egypt and deported back to Yemen.
Tawakkol Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 in recognition of
All Nobel Peace Prizes · All Nobel Prizes in 2011. The Nobel Peace Prize 2011.
Egypt denies entry to Yemeni Nobel laureate
“Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with much fanfare put Tawakkol Karmen on his Post-2015 Development panel (while his Secretariat threatened the Press for signing her into the UN where she dared speak at the UN Security Council stakeout, Inner City Press has asked Ban’s three spokespeople for comment on her detention.
It will be, for the UN, a gut-check on the “Arab Spring.” Many expected Ban to follow the African Union and call the military ouster of elected president Morsi a coup. But Ban did not.
A high ranking UN official, nonetheless afraid of retaliation for speaking on the record, told Inner City Press this silence harmed what was left of the UN’s moral capital, to call things by their name. If the US called it a coup, financing would be stopped a matter of law. But why would the UN follow suit? How can the UN now denounce other future coups?”
On the day Inner City Press signed Tawakkol Karman into the UN, at her request, the Security Council was considering Yemen. She stepped to the UNTV microphone and spoke; halfway through the Council ambassador in the lead (or “with the pen”) on Yemen, the UK’s Mark Lyall Grant, came out and stood by – smiling. (The generally responsive Lyall Grant has also be asked if the UK has any comment.)
But after the UN initially didn’t air the footage of Tawakkol Karman speaking about Yemen – they blamed this on a cut cable – they told Inner City Press its accreditation was in jeopardy for signing her in.
Now the same Department of Public Information says Inner City Press accreditation can be suspended or withdrawn for hanging the sign of a new organization, the Free UN Coalition for Access, on the door of its shared office. According to the UN DPI, there can be only one media organization in the UN – one that it uses for its own purposes. One party systems? No comment on coups or detentions and banning?”
Look at the situation in Syria, and even Egypt, and it does not seem unnatural that a majority of Israeli Arabs prefer continuing being citizens in an Israeli Jewish State with Hebrew as first among equal languages – even though they feel discriminated against – but still have benefits, freedom, and stability.
UN chief: Syria forces shot at monitors trying to reach scene of latest massacre.
Ban Ki-moon condemns massacre at Mazraat al-Qubeir as ‘unspeakable barbarity’ and calls on Assad to implement Kofi Annan’s peace plan.
By Reuters and Natasha Mozgovaya | Jun.07, 2012 | 6:24 PM
UN monitors seeking to reach the site of a new reported massacre of Syrian villagers by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad were shot at with small arms, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday.
Ban, speaking at the start of a special UN General Assembly session on the Syrian crisis, condemned the reported massacre at Mazraat al-Qubeir and called again on Assad to immediately implement international mediator Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan.
“Today’s news reports of another massacre … are shocking and sickening,” he told the 193-nation assembly. “A village apparently surrounded by Syrian forces. The bodies of innocent civilians lying where they were, shot. Some allegedly burned or slashed with knives.”
“We condemn this unspeakable barbarity and renew our determination to bring those responsible to account,” he said.
Ban said UN monitors were initially denied access to the site. “They are working now to get to the scene,” he said. “And I just learned a few minutes ago that while trying to do so the UN monitors were shot at with small arms.”
A short while afterward, a UN spokeswoman said that the United Nations monitors were unable to visit the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir on Thursday where activists say at least 78 people were massacred, and will continue efforts to reach the site on Friday in daylight hours.
“They are going back to their base in Hama and they will try again tomorrow morning,” spokeswoman Sausan Ghosheh said. Chief observer General Robert Mood said earlier they had been turned back by Syrian soldiers and also stopped by civilians.
Ban was addressing the General Assembly on Thursday ahead Annan’s expected presentation to the UN Security Council on Thursday of a new proposal in a last-ditch effort to rescue his failing peace plan for Syria, where 15 months of violence have brought it to the brink of civil war.
Speaking to the General Assembly after Ban, Annan also condemned the new reported massacre and acknowledged that his peace plan was not working.
The U.S. administration also condemned the massacre in Hama.
“The United States strongly condemns the outrageous targeted killings of civilians including women and children in Al-Qubeir in Hama province as reported by multiple credible sources”, the White House spokesman said in a statement. “This, coupled with the Syrian regime’s refusal to let UN observers into the area to verify these reports, is an affront to human dignity and justice.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, issued a statement to the Syrian people on behalf of Israel.
“We hear your cries. We are horrified by the crimes of the Assad regime,” Prosor said. “We extend our hand to you. Assad is not the only one with the blood of the Syrian people on his hands. Iran and Hezbollah sit on his advisory board, offering guidance on how to butcher the Syrian people more efficiently. It is high time for the voices of the victims in Syria to finally unite the voices of the world against the tyrant of Damascus.”
The Syrian opposition and Western and Gulf nations seeking the ouster of President Bashar Assad increasingly see Annan’s six-point peace plan as doomed due to the Syrian government’s determination to use military force to crush an increasingly militarized opposition.
The core of Annan’s proposal, diplomats said, would be the establishment of a contact group that would bring together Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France and key regional players with influence on Syria’s government and the opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran.
By creating such a contact group, envoys said, Annan would also be trying to break the deadlock among the five permanent council members that has pitted veto powers Russia and China against the United States, Britain and France and prevented any meaningful UN action on the Syrian conflict, envoys said.
It would attempt to map out a “political transition” for Syria that would lead to Assad stepping aside and the holding of free elections, envoys said. One diplomat said the idea was “vaguely similar” to a political transition deal for Yemen that led to the president’s ouster.
The main point of Annan’s proposal, they said, is to get Russia to commit to the idea of a Syrian political transition, which remains the thrust of Annan’s six-point peace plan, which both the Syrian government and opposition said they accepted earlier this year but have failed to implement.
“We’re trying to get the Russians to understand that if they don’t give up on Assad, they stand to lose all their interests in Syria if this thing blows up into a major regional war involving Lebanon, Iran, Saudis,” a Western diplomat told Reuters. “So far the Russians have not agreed.”
Apart from lucrative Russian arms sales to Damascus, Syria hosts Russia’s only warm water port outside the former Soviet Union. While Russia has said it is not protecting Assad, it has given no indications that it is ready to abandon him.
Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice suggested that if Russia continued to prevent the Security Council from putting pressure on Syria, states may have no choice but to consider acting outside the United Nations.
Diplomats said the West has been pushing Russia to abandon Assad in a series of recent meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with their European and U.S. counterparts.
An unnamed diplomat leaked further details of Annan’s proposal to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who said that if the contact group agreed on a transition deal for Syria, it could mean Russian exile for Assad. The Post article said another option for Assad would be to seek exile in Iran, Syria’s other staunch ally.
Annan’s peace efforts have failed to halt the violence, as demonstrated by a recent massacre in Houla that led to the deaths of at least 108 men, women and children, most likely by the army and allied militia, according the United Nations.
Opposition members said there was a similar massacre on Wednesday in Hama province, with at least 78 people killed. UN monitors were prevented from reaching it, though a pro-government Syrian television station said the unarmed monitoring force did reach the village of Mazraat al-Qubeir.
Majority of Israeli Arabs would rather live in Israel than in other countries.
68% of Israeli Arabs would rather live in Israel than they would be living in another country.
This shows a survey by the University of Haifa.
60% also agree that the state has a Jewish majority.
56.5% accept the country as a Hebrew-speaking
and 58% of the Sabbath as a day of rest.
Prof. Sami Samuha, who conducted the study says, the question is whether Arab Israelis are more representative of the state or they feel connected to the country feel:
“The Other Arab Spring” – The Government Officials were and are the WATER WELL DIGGERS, not only the oil-well owners – so it is not only that in the Arab World the ruler-religion combo owned the economy to the point that there was no civil society, but they also raped the common good of the environment.
Let us start first with a Thomas Friedman article-conclusion first!
If you ask “what are the real threats to our security today,” said Lester Brown of The Earth Policy Institute, “at the top of the list would be climate change, population growth, water shortages, rising food prices and the number of failing states in the world.
As that list grows, how many failed states before we have a failing global civilization, and everything begins to unravel?”
Hopefully, we won’t go there. But, then -
we should all remember that quote attributed to Leon Trotsky: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” —- Well, you may not be interested in climate change, but climate change is interested in you.
Folks, this is not a hoax. We and the Arabs need to figure out — and fast — more ways to partner to mitigate the environmental threats where we can and to build greater resiliency against those where we can’t. Twenty years from now, this could be all that we’re talking about.
Please go to the link for a very interesting article that tells us that the Arab Spring did happen in part because of the lack of attention to climate change on the part of government officials that were racking it all in to themselves – those official rapists of their countries.
Thomas Friedman is not the only one asking why Arab Spring now, and why the Arab World has not produced any democracies like other Islamic Countries – non-Arabs – actually did. Why is there no Arab State like Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, or Bangladesh? This last version of the Question was posed by Fareed Zakaria on today’s CNN/GPS show.
Seemingly – all Arab States that are within the huge North-Africa Middle-East area of the Arab conquests in the 12th and 13th Centuries have no real Civil Society. In all these States the economy is run by the people of the ruling Monarchy or by those close to the Government.
To above obervation by Fareed Zakaria we see the add-on by Thomas Friedman: “The Arab awakening was driven not only by political and economic stresses, but, less visibly, by environmental, population and climate stresses as well. If we focus only on the former and not the latter, we will never be able to help stabilize these societies.”
Thomas Friedman tells us of draught in Syria and North Africa and how this draught pushed the societal lid and was part of the reason for this present day upheaval.
And a Warning – 12 of the world’s 15 most water-scarce countries — Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Israel and Palestine — are in the Middle East, and after three decades of explosive population growth these countries are “set to dramatically worsen their predicament.
Then think also about the observatio – “Alot more mouths to feed with less water than ever. As Lester Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of “World on the Edge,” notes, 20 years ago, using oil-drilling technology, the Saudis tapped into an aquifer far below the desert to produce irrigated wheat, making themselves self-sufficient. But now almost all that water is gone, and Saudi wheat production is, too. So the Saudis are investing in farm land in Ethiopia and Sudan, but that means they will draw more Nile water for irrigation away from Egypt, whose agriculture-rich Nile Delta is already vulnerable to any sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.
by Thomas Fuchs
The Other Arab Spring.
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, Published in The New York Times April 7, 2012 as an OP-ED Column.
ISN’T it interesting that the Arab awakening began in Tunisia with a fruit vendor who was harassed by police for not having a permit to sell food — just at the moment when world food prices hit record highs? And that it began in Syria with farmers in the southern village of Dara’a, who were demanding the right to buy and sell land near the border, without having to get permission from corrupt security officials? And that it was spurred on in Yemen — the first country in the world expected to run out of water — by a list of grievances against an incompetent government, among the biggest of which was that top officials were digging water wells in their own backyards at a time when the government was supposed to be preventing such water wildcatting? As Abdelsalam Razzaz, the minister of water in Yemen’s new government, told Reuters last week: “The officials themselves have traditionally been the most aggressive well diggers. Nearly every minister had a well dug in his house.”
UPDATED: Kofi Annan – the best man for Syria and the worst man for Syria. It was under him that the UN passed a basic Global Law – THE RESPONSIBILITY OF GOVERNMENTS TO PROTECT THEIR CITIZENS yet the Syrian Government Shoots at its Own Citizens.
The UPDATE is for two reasons:
1, on March 13th we had looked at the appointment of former UN Secretary Kofi Annan with hope that his persona could influence events, then we realized that the UN Department of Political Affairs burdened him with a very bad team that we called tainted because all its members were tainted one way or the other. Among them was also Mr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, former UN representative of Palestine and former Foreign Minister of the Palestinian Authority.
2. We had also personal misgivings with the inclusion of retired UN employee Ahmad Fawzi who seemingly had a close contact to politically active UN Arab partisans. Mr. Nasser Al-Kidwah was not let in by the Syrians.
Today we learned that though al-Kidwah was appointed as Deputy to Mr. Annan, now someone who was not an Arab, but part of The Kofi Annan UN Administration – his Under-Secretary-General for Peace-Keeping Operation during the whole eight years two terms – 2000-2008, Columbia University Professor and Frenchman, Jean-Mariw Buehenno, got to be a second Deputy Special Envoy to this Joint Mission of the UN and the Arab League.
Otherwise, it is clear that nothing has been done todate by the UN to help the Syrian citizens who are under siege from their own Government.
We posted earlier:
Kofi Annan was UN Secretary General 1997-2006. Under him the UN put forward the concept of the “RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT” – which means that it is a Government´s responsibility to protect its citizens – the most revolutionary idea at the UN since the days of Eleanor Roosevelt championing the concept of HUMAN RIGHTS and her managing the UN Declaration on the subject. Just think of the many dictatorships that are UN member governments and their treatment of their own citizens.
Kofi Annan, among other interests, was also a champion of issues of the Environment and the neeed to do something about air pollution from burning fossil carbons and the resulting effects on the Climate.
The Students of the class of 2011 of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna recognized the visions of UNSG Kofi Annan by deciding to name the 2011 class after Kofi Annan. We see in this a recognition of the truth, that with with good people on the top, the UN can provide leadership even in the present world condition.
That was BEFORE the UN appointment of Mr. Kofi Annan as negotiator in the Syria internal conflict that bares worries in other UN Member States were governments do not want to lose out to an uprising of their own people like Hosni Mubarak lost out to the people of Egypt. In the case of Libya it was the people plus external intervention by France and Britain that cleared the country of its leading pest, that is why China and Russia do not want any part in international intervention in case of internal strife – they just think of their own regimes – would you expect them to allow external involvement in what they consider their own affairs? How far can you indeed push the idea that democracy ought to be the way of government? Do you expect them to adhere to the two UN niceties of The Declaration on Human Rights and The Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
In the case of Syria these issues come to the forefront and it was Mr. Kofi Annan who was chosen to be the UN standard bearer to confront Mr. Bashar al-Assad with his responsibilities to his own citizens who rightfully detest him.
We liked Mr Annan when he was UN Secretary General, and indeed think he was the best Secretary General since Dag Hammarskjold. We also agree that with his understanding of R2P he is the best man to confront the Syrian establishment, but is he the best negotiator when coming in with a 100% understanding of the truth? Can he reach the needed compromise that stops the shooting? We know he is a skilled negotiator – but here he comes in with all the cards open on the table and this just cannot convince the Syrian regime that time has come to find a way out – something like assuring Mr. al-Assad a datcha in the Caucasus and ranches in Brazil to his Alawite henchmen.
With fighting going on – who will chase out whom? Syria has become home to Sunnis that escaped Iraq, but Syrian Sunnis are now themselves an endangered species even that they are in the majority and not like in iraq where the Sunnis were the minority. If they lose will it mean a strengthening of an anti-Sunni situation or rather a continuation of a secular situation where religious extremes from both ends – Sunni and Shi’a - present danger to the rest of Islamic Western Asia? Is Saudi Arabia really interested in clearing out the Alawites who are sort of a secular Shi’a group that held Syria together until now?
With above thoughts in mind we read our friend – Anne Barnard’s report from the Middle East and decided to post our doubts that Mr. Kofi Annan can pull it off, and our feeling that he was sent there not with the intent to succeed, but rather as a way to allow the UN to continue to sit on its hands, while the Syrians go on killing their own, and eventually force more people to flee – this as the only way to attempt to quiet down this pesky event – the peace of the dead and gone.
Anne Barnard writes from Beirut for the New York Times:
Massacre Is Reported in Homs, Raising Pressure for Intervention in Syria.
BEIRUT, Lebanon, March 12, 2012 — Syrian opposition activists said on Monday that soldiers and pro-government thugs had rounded up scores of civilians in the devastated central city of Homs overnight, assaulted men and women, then killed dozens of them, including children, and set some bodies on fire. Syria immediately denied responsibility.
The attacks prompted a major exile opposition group to sharpen its calls for international military action and arming of the rebels. Some activists called the killings a new phase of the crackdown that appeared aimed at frightening people into fleeing Homs, an epicenter of the rebellion that the Syrian government had claimed just a few weeks ago it had already pacified after a month of shelling and shootings.
The government reported the killings as well but attributed them to “terrorist armed groups,” a description it routinely uses for opponents, including armed men, army defectors and protesters in the year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria’s restrictions on outside press access made it impossible to reconcile the contradictory accounts of the killings, which appeared to be one of the worst atrocities in the conflict. But accounts of witnesses and images posted on YouTube gave some credence to the opposition’s claims that government operatives were responsible.
An activist in Homs, Wael al-Homsi, said in a telephone interview that he had counted dozens of bodies, including those of women and children, in the Karm el-Zeitoun neighborhood of Homs while helping move them to a rebel-controlled area in cars and pickup trucks. He said residents had told him that about 500 athletically built armed men, in civilian clothes and military uniforms, had killed members of nine families and burned their houses, adding, “There are still bodies under the wreckage.
“I’ve seen a lot of bodies but today it was a different sight, especially dismembered children,” Mr. Homsi said.
In a video posted on YouTube, a man being treated for what appeared to be bullet wounds in his back said he had escaped the killings in Karm al-Zeitoun. “We were arrested by the army, then handed over to the shabiha,” he said, using a common word for pro-government thugs. After two hours of beating, he said: “They poured fuel over us. They shot us — 30 or 40 persons.”
Both activists and the Syrian government described the attacks as “a massacre,” a day after a special emissary of the United Nations and the Arab League, Kofi Annan, a former United Nations secretary general, left the country without reaching a deal to end the fighting.
News of the killings came as the United Nations Security Council debated in New York, where the United States and Russia, Syria’s main international backer, tangled over how to address the Syria crisis.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Russia and China, which have vetoed previous resolutions aimed at holding Mr. Assad accountable and beginning a political transition, to join international “humanitarian and political efforts” to end the crisis, which she attributed directly to Mr. Assad.
Mrs. Clinton added, referring to shelling and other government military action in Syrian cities over the weekend, “How cynical that, even as Assad was receiving former Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Syrian Army was conducting a fresh assault on Idlib and continuing its aggression in Hama, Homs and Rastan.”
Her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, agreed that any solution in Syria “requires an immediate end of violence.” But he said armed elements of the opposition in Syria were also responsible for the crisis there, and that the Security Council must act “without imposing any prejudged solutions.”
Mrs. Clinton had a separate meeting with Mr. Lavrov, calling it “constructive.” She told reporters he would deliver to Moscow her “very strong view that the alternative to our unity on these points will be bloody internal conflict with dangerous consequences for the whole region.”
The Syrian National Council, the main expatriate opposition group, held a news conference in Istanbul and issued a statement that intensified longstanding calls by some of its members for outside military action. George Sabra, an executive board member and a spokesman for the council, told reporters that it was a moral imperative for the international community to stop the killing and to arm the opposition Free Syrian Army.
“Words are no longer enough to satisfy the Syrian people. Therefore, we call for practical decisions and actions against the gangs of Assad. We demand Arab and international military intervention,” he said. The council, however, does not represent the entire opposition, which has struggled to agree on a unified message and includes people who oppose further militarizing the uprising, which has come to resemble a civil war.
From the UN:
Toll of Syrian conflict: 8,000 deaths, 230,000 displaced
The ongoing conflict in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people, according to UN officials, and forced at least 230,000 Syrians to flee their homes.
Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy to the country, said he was expecting a response today from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad that included “concrete proposals” to end the violence.
From the Turkish Ambassador:
His estimate is that more then 10,000 is the number of the dead.
Two new Presidents – one in Yemen [ Abd Rabbo Mansur al-Hadi (Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi)], the other in Germany [Joachim Gauck] – both will be put in their jobs by the will of the people. Were these examples of democracy?
Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi is currently Vice President and with American help he is without a competing candidate the sure winner in an election where there was not allowed an opponent. To his credit it can be said that he is a tool helping to remove the current President Ali Abdullah Saleh who stayed glued to his throne for 33 years and was forced to resign by the US in order to avoid blood letting because of rebelling forces in parts of Yemen.
Joahim Gauck becomes President because of FDP politicians, who are part of the government, using some public dismay with Ms. Angela Merkel’s policies, decided to chastise her by backing personnel that was not to her liking – be that to the position of Federal President of Germany. Next German President, to be elected March 18, 2012, is thus the most rightward oriented German President elected with the votes of the Socialists and the Greens who gave bo consideration to potential other candidates. Giving unified backing to a candidate allows for avoidance of open political bloodletting but asures potential future problems of government.
Above two cases should be remembered wherever such dealings are possible when attempting moves towards temporary peace. Let us contemplate this sort of potential in cases like Iran, Syria, Belarus.
High Drama at the Gates of Hormuz – US patrols against Somali and Iranian Pirates free the Iranians and brig the Somalis. Is this a Diplomatic Warning to the President of Iran? The freed Iranian fishermen and the Bahamian-flagged commercial ship praise the Americans that answered their prayers to the Gods. If the World stops buying Iranian oil will this somewhat decrease the needs for US policing the seas?
Obama’s Americans call on Ahmedinejad’s bluff by saving his Iranian fishermen from the hold of Somali pirates – right there on Iran’s frontage or doorstep.
ABOARD THE FISHING VESSEL AL MULAHI, in the Gulf of Oman — Senior Iranian military officials this week bluntly warned an American aircraft carrier that it would confront the “full force” of the Iranian military if it tried to re-enter the Persian Gulf.
Are the American ships there to keep the oil-transport lanes open? Then if there will be no exports from Iran, there will be a diminished need for US chaperons against Somali pirates! The US will have to guard only the Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Saudi, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, oil transports!
Tyler Hicks/The New York Times - American sailors with captured Somali pirates near the mouth of the Gulf of Oman, after the pirates’ Iranian hostages were freed.
“It is like you were sent by God,” said Mr. Fazel Ur Rehman, On Friday, a 28-year-old Iranian fisherman, with a warm greeting for the carrier task force near the enytance to the Iranian/Arab Gulf . in the Gulf of Oman, huddled under a blanket in the AL MULAHI vessel’s stern: “Every night we prayed for God to rescue us. And now you are here.”
In a naval action that mixed diplomacy, drama and Middle Eastern politics, the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis broke up a high-seas pirate attack on a cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman, then sailors from an American destroyer boarded the pirates’ mother ship and freed 13 Iranian hostages who had been held captive there for more than a month.
The cocky senior Iranian military officials this week had warned bluntly an American aircraft carrier that it would confront the “full force” of the Iranian military if it tried to re-enter the Persian Gulf – and see now – Ahmedinejad had to rely on the US Navy to get his fishermen back safe from Somali pirates he seemingly loves so much.
The rapidly unfolding events began Thursday morning when the pirates attacked a Bahamian-flagged ship, the motor vessel Sunshine, unaware that the Stennis was steaming less than eight miles away.
It ended Friday with the tables fully turned. The captured Somali pirates, 15 in all, were brought aboard the U.S.S. Kidd, an American destroyer traveling with the Stennis. They were then shuttled by helicopter to the aircraft carrier and locked up in its brig.
This fishing vessel and its crew, provided fuel and food by the Navy, then set sail for its home port of Chah Bahar, Iran.
The rescue, 210 miles off the coast of Iran, occurred against a tense political backdrop. On Tuesday the Iranian defense minister and a brigadier general threatened the Stennis with attack if it sought to return to the Persian Gulf, which it had left roughly a week before. The warning set up fears of a confrontation over the vital oil shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz.
None of that tension was evident at sea. The Sunshine, a 583-foot cargo ship carrying bulk cargo from Calais, France, to Bandar Abbas, Iran, continued its journey.
Mahmed Younes, 28, the fishing vessel’s captain, said he and his crew had been captured roughly 45 days ago by pirates in a skiff, who boarded their 82-foot dhow and forced it to an anchorage in the northern Somali port of Xaafuun. There, the pirates took on provisions and more gunmen.
In late December the pirates, using their hostages to run the dhow, set back out to sea, hunting for a tanker or large cargo ship to capture and hold for ransom.
For several days, Al Mulahi roamed the Gulf of Oman, unmolested under its Iranian flag, the pirates and former hostages said. They saw several ships. But the pirates’ leader, Bashir Bhotan, 32, did not think any of them would command a high ransom. They let them pass.
“The pirates told us, ‘If you get us a good ship, we will let you go free,’ ” Captain Younes said. “We told them, ‘How can we get you a ship? We are fishermen, not hunters.’ ”
On Thursday morning, six of the pirates set out in a fiberglass skiff and found their quarry — the Sunshine, 100 miles from the shore of Oman. One of the pirates, Mohammed Mahmoud, 33, later said this was the type of vessel they would hope might fetch a ransom of several million dollars.
Brandishing a rocket-propelled grenade and several Kalashnikov rifles, they rushed alongside, threw a grappling hook and tried to lash a ladder to the Sunshine’s side. They hoped to scale the gunwales and seize the bridge.
Their plans unraveled immediately. As the Sunshine radioed for help, and tried to deter the boarding by spraying the pirates with fire hoses, the pirates were unable to board.
“Our ladder broke,” Mr. Mahmoud said.
Then an American helicopter appeared.
Neither the pirates nor the crew of the Sunshine had known it, but three Navy ships — the Stennis; the U.S.N.S. Rainier, a supply ship; and the U.S.S. Mobile Bay, a guided-missile cruiser — were steaming in formation a few miles away. The carrier was taking on provisions from the Rainier and had several helicopters in the air when the Sunshine radioed its distress call.
Aboard the carrier, Rear Adm. Craig S. Faller, who commands the carrier strike group, looked at the chart and radar images of the Sunshine’s location with something like disbelief. The Sunshine and the Stennis were only a few miles apart. “These might be the dumbest pirates ever,” he said.
HONG KONG — Under growing pressure from the United States, some of Asia’s largest economies are reluctantly looking for options to reduce the amount of oil they buy from Iran, a move that would further tighten the economic vise on an increasingly defiant nation that announced plans for a new round of naval drills in the Strait of Hormuz.
Pressed by U.S., Asian Countries Look for Ways to Reduce Purchases of Iranian Oil
By KEITH BRADSHER and CLIFFORD KRAUSS
Published: January 6, 2012
The decision by South Korea and Japan to try to accommodate Washington’s demands follows reports that China has already reduced its purchase of Iranian crude in the past month in a pricing dispute with Tehran. Whatever the motives, the combined loss of sales threatens an economy already reeling, where the currency has plummeted in value, inflation has surged and the general public has expressed growing anxiety about the prospect of war.
China, Japan, India and South Korea together import more than 60 percent of Iranian oil exports, and they all depend on Iran and other Persian Gulf producers for the preponderance of their oil and natural gas needs. As tensions in the gulf have escalated and alarmed Asian governments and businesses, companies and traders from those countries have been putting out feelers to places like Russia, Vietnam, West Africa, Iraq and especially Saudi Arabia to export more oil to them, according to oil experts.
For Tehran, which relies heavily on oil revenues to prop up an economy battered by years of sanctions, the potential cutbacks by its Asian customers follow a decision by theEuropean Union to move toward a ban on the import of Iranian oil. Taken together, the Western efforts represent the most serious economic pressure yet on Iran after years of conflict over a nuclear program that the West charges is aimed at building weapons.
But if the goal is to force Iran to relent, the campaign has so far had an opposite effect: Iranian officials have equated targeting their oil market with economic war andthreatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, where about one-fifth of the world’s oil passes to get to market.
The Iranian military, fresh off 10 days of naval exercises near the strait that ended this week, vowed to hold a new round of war games soon. The defense minister, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Vahidi, in comments reported by the semiofficial Fars News Agency Thursday, said the military’s exercises would be “its greatest naval war games” and would occur “in the same region in the near future.”
The United States, however, is keeping the pressure on.
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is scheduled to visit Beijing and Tokyo next week, and the tightening sanctions on Iran will be high on his agenda. United States officials said that Mr. Geithner will press China at least to resist importing more Iranian oil to replace exports that would otherwise go to Europe. The trip is part of a concerted effort by Western diplomats to persuade Asian countries to go along with new European sanctions, American and European officials say.
“It’s a global chess game,” said Daniel Yergin, the energy historian. “The major buyers are prudently beginning to make alternative plans to reduce their reliance on Iranian oil.”
The Asian efforts to wean themselves from Iranian crude are in response to legislation enacted by Congress at the end of last year requiring the administration to phase in sanctions in stages by late June that would make it very difficult for others to buy Iranian oil, by barring transactions with Iran’s central bank.
The sanctions exempt food, medicine and other humanitarian trade and include a presidential waiver for any country or company in cases in which the impact would harm the national security interests of the United States.
More significantly, the legislation exempts from sanctions countries that “significantly reduce” imports from Iran. The legislation does not define this term, leaving it to the administration, according to officials. The debate over the definition, now under way, has given the administration some leverage to entice allies like Japan, South Korea and even China to make some reductions, thus intensifying pressure, without having to take the hit of cutting off imports all at once.
But Japan and South Korea have expressed some alarm at the demand that they reduce their reliance on Iranian oil, fearing that such a move could undermine their economies. Japan, the second-largest buyer of Iranian oil, depends on Persian Gulf countries for four-fifths of its oil imports, which come through the Strait of Hormuz. Osamu Fujimura, the chief cabinet secretary, announced on Friday that Japan had expressed concern to the United States about the dangers to the Japanese and global economy from limits on Iran’s oil exports.
Yasushi Kimura, the president of the JX Nippon Oil and Energy Corporation, Japan’s largest refiner, announced on Thursday that his company had opened talks with Saudi Arabia and others, whom he did not name, about possible alternatives.
The South Korean government announced on Thursday that it was looking for ways to limit its imports of oil and oil products from Iran, but pointedly stopped short of suggesting that it could stop these imports altogether.
China, which imports about 11 percent of its oil from Iran, has actually reduced its daily purchases of Iranian crude, although estimates of the cutback range from as little as 15,000 barrels a day, or 3 percent of Chinese imports from Iran, to considerably more than that. It was hard to know if Beijing was making a political statement or merely trying to buy the oil on better terms.
“The Chinese have definitely cut back on long-term contracts, but we don’t know exactly why,” said Andy Lipow, a Houston refining and trading analyst. “They may feel they will be able to buy cheaper on short-term markets if Iran were to lose its European customers.”
Saudi Arabia has repeatedly said it would increase production if needed to make up for any decline in exports from Iran, its longtime regional rival.
“Saudi Arabia and OPEC have always delivered what the market required,” said Sadad Ibrahim Al-Husseini, former head of exploration and production at Saudi Aramco, the Saudi state oil company. “There is enough supply from other OPEC countries” to compensate for losses of Iranian supplies, he added.
Mr. Husseini stressed that Middle Eastern oil markets were not yet in crisis mode, noting that insurance rates on tankers had not yet gone up in part because a tightening of European sanctions is at least a month away and a blockade of the strait is considered unlikely. “The market is still comfortable Iran cannot pull off its threats,” he said.
But oil analysts have warned that the international oil market remains tight, even with Libyan oil quickly coming back on line. Any disruption in the Middle East would probably bring a sharp increase in prices, which would put the shaky world economic recovery at risk, they say.
A senior government official in the Persian Gulf said Arab countries in the region were not panicking about the latest Iranian threats, while at the same time, encouraging the United States “to take a firm stand.”
“The last thing we want is some kind of military intervention,” said the official, who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly for his government. “But it should be left on the table.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry took a cautious position this week on Iran, reiterating China’s broad objection to all sanctions that have not been approved by the United Nations and expressing hope that no military action of any sort will take place.
“We hope to maintain peace and stability in the gulf region,” said Hong Lei, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, at a regularly scheduled news conference on Wednesday.
But China is worried about the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz, said Patrick Ho, the chief executive and secretary general of the China Energy Fund Committee, an influential group in Hong Kong and Beijing with links to the Chinese government. “It is the lifeline as far as energy is concerned for China,” Mr. Ho said.
Hamas/Shalit/ no Turks? It was obvious that Israel will eventually speak to Hamas about a deal that will again put Gaza ahead of the West Bank. What about an eventual three States solution with the release of kidnaped Gilad Shalit in exchange for jailed 1,027 prisoners as a step in that direction ? Gaza ahead of the Jordan River West Bank? Western dealmakers or Turkey may not have to participate in the finals. At the present stage it seems Egypt, Germany, with Turks present, did it.
Hamas, Israel’s enemy or economic partner?
Cooperation between Israel and Hamas exists on several fronts, including at the Kerem Shalom terminal, where goods pass in and out of Gaza. And the more the PA challenges Israel, the more Hamas makes nice.
Haaretz, October 08, 2011
We post this on October 12, 2011 – the day that a deal was announced involving the release of captive Isrseli Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,000 Arab men and 27 Arab women prisoners that include 315 prisoners serving life sentences and 27 women.
Israeli journalists said after an intelligence briefing that Marwan Barghouti, a top leader of the Fatah group, the Hamas rival group, sentenced to five life terms, and seen as a possible successor to Mr. Abbas, would not be freed.
Also, looking at the fact that it was the new Egyptian care-tacker government, rather then the Government of Turkey, that achieved this deal, shows that Turkey may have overplayed its cards in the Arab World and might be far from its target of becoming the decision maker for the Islamic World.
Egyptian sources claim Gilad Shalit will be released by Hamas to the custody of Egypt within 48 hours.
The three day original old posting said:
The line of trucks at the entry to Kerem Shalom, the southern crossing point into the Gaza Strip, is more than a kilometer long. The trucks, mostly from Israel and some from the West Bank, carry a variety of goodies: equipment from the German company Siemens for Gaza’s power station, boxes of soft drinks, sacks of cement. North of the crossing point, on the Israeli side, renovation work to expand the terminal continues energetically, at an estimated cost of some NIS 100 million.
Brig. Gen. (res. ) Kamil Abu-Rokon, who heads the Defense Ministry authority in charge of border crossings, says that on an average day 280 trucks pass through Kerem Shalom. That number is comparable to the number that passed through the Karni checkpoint before Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Should the renovation work finish on schedule, by December the Kerem Shalom area should be five times larger than it is at present, and it should be able to process twice as many trucks as it does today, though much will depend on the Strip’s ability to absorb exports from Israel. With regard to a portion of the goods, demand in Gaza is relatively small because similar products are smuggled in at much lower cost via tunnels from the Sinai Peninsula.
The ambitious project drawn up by the Defense Ministry also envisions Gazans exporting their goods overseas via Kerem Shalom and the Ashdod port. As things stand now, wares produced in Gaza move through the terminal on several dozens of trucks each day; flowers and vegetable produce constitute the bulk of them. This flow is expected to increase, even though (as Abu-Rokon explains ) the project will remain mired in difficulties as long as the international community fails to make good on its promise to fund the acquisition of the costly equipment needed for the security inspection of goods.
Physical contact between the Israeli and Palestinian sides is minimal. The terminal is constructed of a series of closed booths, each holding large areas for the unloading and inspection of cargo. After the Israelis unload the products and security teams leave the area, Palestinians enter to load the trucks whose destination is sites within the Strip. The goal of such segregation is to reduce security risks: Both Kerem Shalom and the Karni crossing point, which remains closed, were in the past targeted by terror groups. But there are also political calculations at play here.
Officially, Israel and Hamas do not speak with one another. In actual fact, however, there is wide-ranging economic and logistical coordination handled by mediators, a small coterie of representatives of the Palestinian Authority government on the West Bank, and private contractors who operate the terminal on the Palestinian side. Everyone knows that the contractors receive orders from Hamas, but for all concerned, it is convenient to overlook this fact. This is akin to kissing through a veil, and the whole situation reminds one of Israel’s insistence not to talk with the PLO during the Madrid Conference in 1991 – even though everyone knew that members of the Palestinian delegation acted with the blessing of Yasser Arafat.
That is just one of the ironies of Kerem Shalom. Another involves the Palestinians’ ongoing complaints about the horrific economic siege leveled against the Strip, not to mention Turkey’s threats to come to the rescue of the incarcerated Gaza residents. While it is an ideological, and occasional physical, antagonist of Israel, Hamas is right now an economic partner that is acquiring from the state more items than are needed for the daily living requirements of the Strip. The distress faced by Gaza residents remains acute, however, although the idiotic Israeli prohibition on the entry of goods – which included rigorous monitoring of certain types of products – was rescinded over a year ago.
Whoever wants to can see this irony embodied in the work of the director of the crossing point administration on the Israeli side of Kerem Shalom. This is Ami Shaked, formerly security officer of the Gush Katif settlements, who was always the first to arrive on the scene of terror attacks on these settlements during the second intifada, before Israel evacuated the Strip.
The gradual change began in January 2010. Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot, coordinator of government activities in the territories, decided to reverse procedures: Instead of a short list of goods permissible for entry to Gaza, Israel drafted another list of products that have possible dual uses (that is, civilian goods that can also be used for military use, such as in the construction of bunkers ) and are not allowed into Gaza.
The international criticism leveled against Israel following the Gaza flotilla incident of 2010 led to a government decision whose effective meaning on the ground was tantamount to the lifting of the siege. The hubris that characterized the attempt to impose economic sanctions on the Strip eventually began to fade.
In a little over a year, Israel authorized the import to Gaza of construction materials for 163 projects, funded partly by international organizations. “Top Hamas officials go around all day long with scissors, cutting ribbons to dedicate clinics, water-purification stations, and large factories,” explains one senior IDF officer, Lieut. Col. “Kobi,” who works with the branch responsible for the coordination of government policy in the territories.
Concurrently, there has been a major economic change in Gaza. Unemployment figures dropped from 40 to 25 percent. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad continues to provide crucial “oxygen” to Gaza via disbursement of wages to 70,000 PA workers, many of whom have sat idly at home over the past four years. Recently, Hamas has encountered difficulties procuring revenue. One possible solution would be to increase its tax collection, partly by imposing fees on goods smuggled via the Sinai tunnels.
:Convergence of interests
A tour along the Gaza border this week reveals a reality quite unlike what appears in ongoing media reports, and resoundingly different from official Israeli rhetoric, which was stepped up after the terror attack north of Eilat on August 18. During the escalation that followed – when Katyusha missiles fell on Be’er Sheva, and Israeli air force planes carried out assassinations of top Palestinian figures – it appeared Israel was preparing for another military operation akin to Cast Lead.
The actual circumstances are completely different: An undeclared status quo governs relations between Israel and Hamas, and this convergence of interests suits both sides. Hamas is busily engaged with its effort to beef up its rule in the Strip, and to establish gradually an independent entity – one that would compete with the regime established by the PA in the West Bank. Israel is loath to interfere with this effort. At the same time, by ignoring Hamas’ fortification of a rocket-launching infrastructure in the Strip, it has purchased a respite from attacks for its Negev towns and communities.
The relative quiet on the Gaza border is threatened from other fronts. From Sinai, for example, where operatives from Palestinian organizations from Gaza (including Hamas) are trying to create an alternative “playing field” from which to launch attacks on Israel. And, of course, there is the wider regional reality: Should there be a military confrontation in some other theater, be it Iran, Lebanon or the West Bank, Gaza would invariably be pulled into the fighting, and Hamas would return to its original mandate as an organization dedicated to anti-Israeli resistance.
“There is a trend of quiet right now in Gaza,” confirms a top IDF officer in the Southern Command, but quickly cites two factors that threaten this situation: Sinai, and also internal disputes within Hamas.
Whereas Hamas’ political leadership and its military “chief of staff,” Ahmed Jabri, support the current status quo policy, there is a branch of the organization, headed by long-time terror suspect Mohammed Deif, that is not comfortable with the current cease-fire. Deif’s demonstrations of independence could disrupt the quiet. Hamas’ political leadership could also abandon the status quo situation should a promising military option suddenly come its way; this could include the kidnapping of more Israelis to enhance the value of the “asset” Hamas has long held: IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
For its part, Sinai is a thorn that immeasurably complicates the current state of affairs. In the absence of both a fortified fence (one is currently under construction ) and an effective means of gathering intelligence, Israel’s alignment on the Egyptian border – unlike the situation in Gaza – is not suited to “absorb” a terror strike attempt. A partial solution is the massive deployment of troop reinforcements; such a reinforcement procedure is already weighing heavily on the IDF’s work schedule for 2012. Israel’s relative weakness in the Sinai region is liable to prompt attempted terror attacks, which would in turn provoke stiff Israeli responses in Gaza, leading to a possible renewed conflagration.
Hamas has recently been forced to tackle other domestic issues. On Wednesday, its security forces blocked a procession en route to the Erez crossing point, in the northern part of the Strip. The marchers were expressing solidarity with Palestinian security prisoners in Israel, some of whom have been staging a hunger strike for almost two weeks. Though Palestinian society accords much symbolic value to its prisoners, Hamas decided to block the march, which could possibly have led to a stand-off with IDF forces on the border.
That sequence also attests to the sea change around Gaza and Palestinian realities: While the PA makes threats about renewed conflict (confined, for the time being, to the diplomatic arena ), centering around its statehood initiative, Hamas has willingly adopted the policy of status quo stability in Gaza, and evinced criticism of Fatah’s actions. Furthermore, some top Fatah figures have gone so far as to accuse Israel and Hamas of a form of strategic cooperation: Both Hamas and Israel oppose the PA’s maneuver in the UN, and Hamas prisoners continue to receive meals, while it is Fatah inmates who carry out the hunger strike in Israeli prisons.
For their part, Hamas prisoners actually have good reason to be angry about the worsening of conditions by Israel – a step meant to pressure the Islamists on the matter of a Shalit release deal. Hamas prisoners are also not allowed to watch Arab satellite television stations, their academic studies have been stopped, and family visitation rights have been restricted (this applies to visits from West Bank relations; visits by Gaza residents have been banned for several years ).
Meanwhile, Hamas is perplexed by the success notched up by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in the international arena, and Hamas leaders are threatened by signs of rising support for Abbas among the Palestinian public. Suddenly, Fatah has stolen the mantle of heroic resistance, due to its strong opposition to the renewed U.S.-Israel alliance. Hamas was concerned that Abbas would also accrue political capital from the prisoners’ strike, and so it decided to refrain from taking such action.
At the end of last week, Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, took part in a Tehran conference marking the “victory of the intifada” – specifically, the 11th anniversary of the outbreak of the second intifada. Meshal praised Iranian and Syrian activities in support of the Palestinians. His pro-Syrian pronouncements marked the culmination of a long period of equivocation in Hamas’ leadership. Syria, which continues to host Meshal and his confederates in Damascus, has for some time pressured Hamas, calling on it to show public support for Assad’s regime. Meshal hesitated, knowing that President Bashar Assad has been massacring members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that is ideologically allied with Hamas. In his speech, Meshal attacked Israel and the PA, though he grudgingly articulated support for Abbas’ resistance to American-Israeli pressure.
While Meshal lectured in Tehran, Abbas continued to make the rounds of other world capitals, trying to enlist support for the Palestinian bid to persuade Security Council members to ratify the statehood request (any Security Council vote of approval will be vetoed by the Americans ). At this stage, there doesn’t appear to be a sign of significant change in the balance of power between the two organizations vying for hegemonic leadership in Palestinian society. The reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, which was signed amidst great hoopla in Cairo just five months ago, retains only nominal status.
In the meantime, the IDF has capitalized on the period of relative quiet in Gaza. It is reviewing and updating its operational plans for the possibility of escalated conflict, and is also reinforcing cooperation between its various branches. This can be seen in cooperation between the Gaza division and the air force and navy, which in the past operated in the Gaza theater without close coordination with ground forces.
Unusually for the IDF, there is now in the division a permanent coordinating officer overseeing ties with the air force. The officer, Lieut. Col. “Kfir,” a combat helicopter pilot, says that his and his comrades’ ongoing presence is upgrading connections with the force, and will expedite the use of planes and helicopters in the event of conflict; communications between Apache pilots and infantry officers are also improving.
Col. “Dror,” commander of the navy’s Ashdod base, is in charge of the sea craft that guard the Gaza coast. There is genuine concern about the possibility of ships disguised as Palestinian fishing vessels attempting to strike large infrastructure sites along the coast, in the Ashkelon and Ashdod areas. Yet Dror, striking a relatively accommodating chord heard elsewhere nowadays, talks about “the challenge of allowing Palestinian fisherman to live their ordinary lives in the region, while not disrupting our mission to prevent terror.”
IDF intelligence officers currently speak of hundreds of Katyusha missiles that could be used on strikes against Be’er Sheva and Ashdod, along with dozens of rockets that could be fired against targets in central Israel. For the time being, Israel opts for restraint. “Each of our helicopters can within five minutes mark with an X any Hamas military target,” says one top officer in the Southern Command, “but a decision about deploying [the helicopters] must take into account an array of complicated factors.”
A review of the three most recent rounds of escalation in Gaza, in March, April and August, would show that Israeli policy contributed to the heightening of tensions. Right now, under orders from the political echelon, the army is opting for a policy of easing tensions.
Along with the logic that underlies this policy of moderation at a time when dangers mount on the horizon (a crisis in the territories? with Iran? ), IDF officers are also wary of the parallel to policy courses adopted by Israel on the eve of the Second Lebanon War. Before the summer of 2006, it appeared at times that the rational enemy on the other side had grasped the advantages of keeping the border quiet.
Israelis are still euphoric over the news that a deal has been reached that finally will bring Gilad Shalit back home. He had become a son of the nation, with many people identifying with the plight of his parents, the unimaginable fear, trying not to envision what his time in captivity was like.
That news of this historic deal broke on the 25th anniversary of the capture of Ron Arad, was not lost on anyone. Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, acknowledged this in his first words to the press that were waiting at the tent which he and his family had erected near the Prime Minister’s home and had stayed in for the last several months. “25 years to the day,” Noam said, “Ron Arad was taken captive. We couldn’t see Ron come home, sadly, but it is very symbolic that on this day the government decided to bring Gilad home.
We bless Bibi for the decision and his leadership. In spite of how long it took, still he succeeded in doing it.”
The assessment of Israeli security circles was that while this deal was a very difficult one for Israel, there was no reason to assume a better one would be offered. Yoram Cohn summed it up as follows: “We can’t guarantee that the released prisoners won’t issue terror attacks, but this is the best deal we could ever get.” And regarding the security risks, he said: “There are 20,000 Izz al-Din al-Qassam fighters in Gaza, and another 200 terrorists won’t make the world crash down upon us.”
As part of the agreement, Cohn reported that security arrangements and limitations on the terrorists returning to the West Bank are in place:
- They will be supervised or subject to military arrangements.
- They won’t be able to cross the Green Line or leave abroad for 10 years.
- They will be restricted to the area of their homes.
- Once a month they will be forced to report to the IDF Coordination and Liaison Authority.
Even with safeguards in place, the most common reference to the deal is that it is a “difficult” one, a heavy price.
The red lines that Israel crossed are very significant. Included on the prisoners list are those who not only have heavy blood on their hands but also those who are strategic organizers of terror and have leadership capacity. Israel agreed to include six Israeli Arabs who committed acts of terror, something never done before. And, the woman involved in the Sbarro terror attack who continued to vociferously praise her deed and rejoice in the deaths she brought about, is getting out.
Serious diplomatic considerations for the Prime Minister were also relevant. In announcing the deal, the Prime Minister pointed to the fact that “the window of opportunity was closing” given the uncertainty of regional geo-strategic developments. He may have been referring to Egypt, which played a critical role in enabling the deal to be made in spite of its own complex internal problems. He may have been referring to Syria and how the spiraling unrest there might influence Hamas. Or, as pointed out by Alex Fishman in Yediot Aharonot today, the geo-strategic developments are more than just the Arab Spring and the Prime Minister may in fact have been referring to Iran. According to Fisman, Bibi needs to clear his table of the Shalit dossier in preparation for “something bigger and more important… He needs to show this flexibility in-house and also among Western European powers.”
Hamas also gains and is viewed widely among Palestinians as the real hero of the story. Their dogged determination not to budge on earlier offers from Israel paid off. For more than five years they managed to elude Israeli intelligence and kept Shalit from being found. They proved that their violent credo is more successful than political negotiations. Mahmoud Abbas undoubtedly is the big loser. His UN bid is now a memory, overshadowed by Hamas who are touting their role as saviors in the territories.
more at www.ipforumdc.org – the Israel Policy Forum
In one word: Shalit. The soon-to-be-released subject took all the news pages of Maariv today, 9/14 from Yedioth, 7/19 from Haaretz, and 20/27 from Israel Hayom. And joy seeped out from the ink. The cabinet voted, the deal was approved. Twenty-six Israeli ministers voted in favor, three ministers – Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau (both Yisrael Beiteinu) and Strategic Affairs Minister Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) – voted against the deal to release 1027 Palestinian men and women from Israeli prisons in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Shas members voted in favor after receiving Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s green light. Shalit should be home in a week.
The Cabinet Convincing:
The Big Question: Who gave up more?
original posting – October 6, 2011.
Democracy is a messy way to govern – it can even bring to power forces that want to end democracy.
What do you know – this is a way to get your apple and eat it while still keeping it in your display case.
What should the US do? the case of the very long-time ruler of Yemen is a case in point - www.nytimes.com/2011/10/02/world/… – he decided now to help the US kill a choicy/tasty Al-Qaeda operative so he gets some I.O.U.s from Washington. Should the US lament the loss of Mubarak? Should the US save Gaddafi?
These are the kind of questions asked around the world. Are these fair Questions? Surely not in the days of the Obama Presidency – but looking at the not so distant past – those questions are based on what was considered then sound US policy that regarded a despot you could depend on as a great asset to US interests.
Saturday 8 October 2011.
Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkul Karman on Human Rights Abuses Enabled by ‘War on Terror.’
Click here to watch today’s interview with reporter, Iona Craig, about Tawakkul Karman.
Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkul Karman, one of three recipients who split the award this year, spoke in New York City at the Brecht Forum in September 2010 about state violence, targeted killings, and human rights abuses enabled by the so-called “War on Terror.” Democracy Now! was there and we bring you her address. Karman notes that by cooperating with the Yemeni government’s repression of its opponents, the United States “has transitioned from being the leader of the free world to a watch dog for tyrant regimes.”
The United States wagers or counts on its partnership with the government, when in fact they have partnerships in the civil society and political leaders in other areas that really enough for great solution to the problem of terrorism. We admit, we recognize the right of the United States in putting pressure on the government to grant rights and liberties. Its role in supporting a civil society organization’s events. While I think this is a good pressure, I believe this is a very superficial effort, because, up till now, it has not taken any concrete step to support organizations, political parties and journalists, members of the civil society to own their own media outlet. Only this way will the real victim, the Yemeni citizen, the simple Yemeni citizen, be able to spread—-to learn about and spread this culture of tolerance, of dialogue and of living together. The United States now became, with it’s coalition and cooperation with the Yemeni regime, who oppresses the opposition in the south; the United States, instead of supporting the opposition, now the United States transitioned from being the leader of the free world to a watch dog for tyrant regimes. This is, in summary, a description of what’s going on in Yemen and we can discuss later a number of solutions that we propose in order to solve these problems and create a more stable Yemen where the future is bright. Thank you.
When the War on Terror started, everything was over. Now we have a battle on two fronts; one against our government, and one against the governments that support our government in all the violations that it is committing against its citizens. And this is in summary a description of the title of the CCR’s report; Yemen and the United States government killing innocent people under the name of The War Against Terrorism. This is the message I would like to give our friends here from the civil society organizations here. This is the same message that we have delivered to the U.S. Administration, also to the U.N. and the European Union, that we are partners in the development of democracy, of the fight for human rights and for civil liberties. We also support the fight against terror, however, we do not accept that this fight against terror be carried out at the expense of innocent civilians. We do not accept that innocent civilians are killed and targeted under the cover of The War on Terror.
Tawakul Karman, a Fearless Yemeni Opposition Leader, and two women of Liberia – US trained President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, were honored for the improving conditions in their country.
Before today’s announcements from Oslo, 12 women had been honored previously with the PEACE PRIZE, including Mother Teresa, Jane Addams, and Wangari Maathai, the 2004 winner who died two weeks ago.
Speculation had centered on whether the prize would be awarded to leaders involved in the Arab Spring protests that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. But the deadline for nominations is February 1, when President Hosni Mubarak was still in power in Egypt and before protests had spread to much of the rest of the Arab world.
“I very much appreciate the bloggers,” Jaglund said when asked why Karman and not others involved in the protests had received the prize. But Karman’s “courage was long before the world media was there and reporting,” he said.
For Nobel Prize for Peace – THIS WAS THE YEAR OF THE WOMEN. The Three Recipients are: Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman, a Yemeni opposition leader, honored for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
Karman, 32, is one of Yemen’s most vocal and well-known activists and a member of the country’s main Islamic opposition party, Islah. Wearing her trademark pink floral headscarf, and using text messages, Facebook and other social media, she organized the first student demonstrations at Sanaa University challenging the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Nobel committee hopes that the prize “will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realize the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent,” Jagland said. He said that in the fight for democracy in the Arab world, “One must include the women and not set them aside.”
It seems that before the onset of the Arab Spring – or the larger upheaval in the Arab World, this was supposed to have been the African Women Year.
So we have – Johnson-Sirleaf, a 72-year-old, Harvard University-trained economist, was elected president of Liberia in 2005, becoming the first female democratically elected president of an African nation.
Sirleaf faces an election next week, and Jagland was questioned after the announcement as to whether the Nobel committee was interfering in politics by announcing the prize so close to a poll. He said that the committee’s decision had nothing to do with the domestic affairs of the country. Seemingly the prize to her is pure recognition of a woman’s achievements in the African male world.
Gbowee, a social worker and trauma counselor, organized the Women of Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a non-violent group of women who demonstrated wearing white t-shirts to symbolize peace, and, in 2003 she has worked this way to mobilize the women across ethnic and religious dividing lines and helped bring an end to Liberia’s civil war.
(Reuters) – Yemeni winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Tawakul Karman said on Friday the award was a victory for Yemen’s democracy activists and they would not give up until they had won full rights in a “democratic, modern Yemen”.
“This is a victory for the youth first and foremost. We are here to win our freedom and dignity in their entirety. Our youth revolution wants our complete rights,” she told broadcaster Al Jazeera, from “Change Square”, centre of the protest movement.
“We will not allow our revolution to be left incomplete. We want a democratic, modern Yemen. That’s what the youth and the martyrs and the wounded have vowed to gain. We will continue our peaceful movement.”
Tawakul has been a key figure among the youth activists since they began camping out at Change Square in central Sanaa in February demanding the end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s three-decade rule.
She has often been the voice of the street activists on Arabic television, giving them on the ground reports of the situation at the square outside Sanaa University, where dozens of activists have been shot dead by government forces.
Karman said all Yemenis she was in contact with were thrilled about the award.
“Yemen will go down in history thanks to Tawakul Karman. She deserves the prize. She has kept fighting for the sake of her peoples’ freedom,” said Abdulbari Taher, a protest leader in Sanaa.
A government official also praised Karman’s award, expressing hope it would lead to a resolution of a crisis that has ground Yemen’s economy to a halt.
Saleh, who survived an assassination attempt in June, has repeatedly refused to sign a peace deal arranged by Gulf Arab countries that would see him step down ahead of new elections.
“I’m very happy with the news that she won the Nobel Prize and it’s something that all Yemenis can be proud of,” Deputy Information Minister Abdu al-Janadi said. “I hope this prize will be a step toward rationality.”
A UN Charade – the 30th UN International Day of Peace – 21 September 2011 – is titled “Peace and Democracy: make your voice heard” – this in a building run by a majority of Member States that abhor Democracy.
“Peace and Democracy: Make your voice heard!”
Be blessed – But this is a charade. You cannot be part of that building if you are a proponent of true democracy – there surely will be some government that you will step on their toes and they are given the power to lock you out by using their appointed UN officials that get the job on a quota basis. The accreditation of NGOs and Press reporters is thus heavily censored, and talk of democracy is nothing but a charade. All what they suggest is – Just join the choir in an act of self-love.
Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on 21 September. Conveniently so timed to the opening of the UN General Assembly. The General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples – this according to language borrowed from the UN charter..
This year – on its 30th anniversary – the Day’s theme is “Peace and Democracy: make your voice heard”.
The Preamble to the United Nations Charter states that the Organization was founded to prevent and resolve international conflicts and help build a culture of peace in the world.
Peace and democracy are inextricably linked. Together, they form a partnership that promotes the well-being of all. Embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, democracy supports an environment for a host of political rights and civil liberties.
In line with the Day’s theme, something profoundly remarkable is happening in the world. Young women and men everywhere are demonstrating the power of solidarity by reaching out and rallying together for the common goal of dignity and human rights. This powerful force brings with it the potential to create a peaceful and democratic future. Add your voice!
There are many ways to participate in democratic practices, including taking part in dialogue on constitutional processes, advocating for civil society empowerment, joining the struggle for gender equality and against discrimination, engaging in civic education and promoting voter registration.
The International Day of Peace offers people globally, a shared date to organize events and undertake deeds celebrating the importance of peace and democracy in realistic and useful ways.
THIS YEAR IS INDEED A SPECIAL YEAR THANKS TO THE REMOVAL OF DICTATORS IN THE ARAB WORLD – BUT A YEAR OF EVEN GREATER DANGERS WHEN WATCHING MOBS CONFUSE DEMOCRACY WITH NEW FORMS OF DESPOTISM. A TRUELY DEMOCRATIC UN COULD HAVE HELPED – BUT WE WILL BE REMISS IF THINKING THAT THIS UN CAN FILL THE NEED.
Egypt on alert after Israel embassy stormed in Cairo.
There is a sharp increase in tension in what was already a very cold peace. Egypt is one of only two Arab countries to have a peace deal with Israel. Anti-Israel sentiment is certainly very deep-seated here, but this open expression is something quite new.
It’s grown much more vocal since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak. These protests were sparked when Egyptian border guards were killed last month [on the border with Israel]. There have been people outside the embassy for a number of days.
Bethany Bell spoke to one of them and she said, “We’ve been brought up to hate Israel but now we can express this openly. Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, no Egyptian blood will go unavenged.”
Six members of the embassy staff were trapped inside the building during the riot and had to be rescued by Egyptian commandos, an Israeli official told the BBC.
He thanked Egypt for freeing the Israeli staff and described the unrest as a “serious blow to the fabric of peace” between the two countries.
The incident was a “gross violation” of standard diplomacy, he said.
Egypt is on alert after the attack, in which three people died as security forces fought rioters in Cairo.
The clashes at the Israeli embassy, which went on through Friday night, have shocked people both in Egypt and abroad, the BBC’s Bethany Bell reports.
Reports on Egyptian State TV said Prime Minister Essam Sharaf had offered to step down but his resignation was refused by the country’s military leader, Field Marshal Tantawi.
Under Egypt’s former leader, Hosni Mubarak, such violent displays of anger against Israel would not have been tolerated, our correspondent says.
Now the army has to try to balance the demands of its angry people and its longstanding strategic commitments, she adds.
Uri Avnery, who in his youth belonged to a movement that became a real force when the British killed Ya’ir (Abraham Stern), repeats for us “Rejoice Not …” – (blindly) – at the execution of Osama bin Laden – if the Arab Awakening of Spring 2011 fails completely and leaves behind a profound sense of disappointment and despair. We also have the Al Qaeda statement as per Arabian Business.
Tel Aviv, May 7, 2011
“REJOICE NOT when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth, / Lest the Lord see [it], and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him.”.
This is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible (Proverbs 24:17-18), and indeed in the Hebrew language. It is beautiful in other languages , too, though no translation comes close to the beauty of the original.
Of course, it is natural to be glad when one’s enemy is defeated, and the thirst for revenge is a human trait. But gloating – schadenfreude – is something different altogether. An ugly thing.
Ancient Hebrew legend has it that God got very angry when the Children of Israel rejoiced as their Egyptian pursuers drowned in the Red Sea. “My creatures are drowning in the sea,” God admonished them, “And you are singing?”
These thoughts crossed my mind when I saw the TV shots of jubilant crowds of young Americans shouting and dancing in the street. Natural, but unseemly. The contorted faces and the aggressive body language were no different from those of crowds in Sudan or Somalia. The ugly sides of human nature seem to be the same everywhere.
THE REJOICING may be premature. Most probably, al-Qaeda did not die with Osama bin-Laden. The effect may be entirely different.
In 1942 the British killed Abraham Stern, whom they called a terrorist. Stern, whose nom de guerre was Ya’ir, was hiding in a cupboard in an apartment in Tel Aviv. In his case too, it was the movements of his courier that gave him away. After making sure that he was the right man, the British police officer in command shot him dead.
That was not the end of his group – rather, a new beginning. It became the bane of British rule in Palestine. Known as the “Stern Gang” (its real name was “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”), it carried out the most daring attacks on British installations and played a significant role in persuading the colonial power to leave the country.
Hamas did not die when the Israeli air force killed Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the paralyzed founder, ideologue and symbol of Hamas. As a martyr he was far more effective than as a living leader. His martyrdom attracted many new fighters to the cause. Killing a person does not kill an idea. The Christians even took the cross as their symbol.
WHAT WAS the idea that turned Osama bin Laden into a world figure?
He preached the restoration of the Caliphate of the early Muslim centuries, which was not only a huge empire, but also a center of the sciences and the arts, poetry and literature, when Europe was still a barbaric, medieval continent. Every Arab child learns about these glories, and cannot but contrast them with the sorry Muslim present.
(In a way, these longings parallel the Zionist romantics’ dreams of a resurrected kingdom of David and Solomon.)
A new Caliphate in the 21st century is as unlikely as the wildest creation of the imagination. It would have been diametrically opposed to the Zeitgeist, were it not for its opponents – the Americans. They needed this dream – or nightmare – more than the Muslims themselves.
The American Empire always needs an antagonist to keep it together and to focus its energies. This has to be a worldwide enemy, a sinister advocate of an evil philosophy.
Such were the Nazis and Imperial Japan, but they did not last long. Fortunately, there was then the Communist Empire, which filled the role admirably.
There were Communists everywhere. All of them were plotting the downfall of freedom, democracy and the United States of America. They were even lurking inside the US, as
For decades, the US flourished in the fight against the Red Menace; its forces spread all over the world, its spaceships reached the moon, its best minds engaged in a titanic battle of ideas, the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.
And then – suddenly – the whole thing collapsed. Soviet power vanished as if it had never existed. The American spy agencies, with their tremendous capabilities, were flabbergasted. Apparently, they had no idea how ramshackle the Soviet structure actually was. How could they see, blinded as they were by their own ideological preconceptions?
The disappearance of the Communist Threat left a gaping void in the American psyche, which cried out to be filled. Osama Bin Laden kindly offered his services.
It needed, of course, a world-shaking event to lend credibility to such a hare-brained utopia. The 9/11 outrage was just such an event. It produced many changes in the American way of life. And a new global enemy.
Overnight, medieval anti-Islamic prejudices are dusted-off for display. Islam the terrible, the murderous, the fanatical. Islam the anti-democratic, the anti-freedom, anti-all-our-values. . . Suicide bombers, 72 virgins, jihad.
The US springs to life again. Soldiers, spies and special forces fan out across the globe to fight terrorism. Bin Laden is everywhere. The War Against Terrorism is an apocalyptic struggle with Satan.
American freedoms have to be restricted, the US military machine grows by leaps and bounds. Power-hungry Intellectuals babble about the Clash of Civilizations and sell their souls for instant celebrity.
To produce the lurid paint for such a twisted picture of reality, religious Islamic groups are all thrown into the same pot – the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Ayatollahs in Iran, Hizbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Indonesian separatists, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere, whoever. All become al-Qaeda, despite the fact that each has a totally different agenda, focused on its own country, while bin Laden aims to abolish all Muslim states and create one Holy Islamic Empire. . . Details, details.
The Holy War against the Jihad finds warriors everywhere. Ambitious demagogues, for whom this promises an easy way to inflame the masses, spring up in many countries, from France to Finland, from Holland to Italy. The hysteria of Islamophobia displaces good old anti-Semitism, using almost the same language. Tyrannical regimes present themselves as bulwarks against al-Qaeda, as they had once presented themselves as bulwarks against Communism. And, of course, our own Binyamin Netanyahu milks the situation for all it is worth, traveling from capital to capital peddling his wares of anti-Islamism.
Bin Laden had good reason to be proud, and probably was.
WHEN I saw his picture for the first time, I joked that he was not a real person, but an actor straight from Hollywood’s Central Casting. He looked too good to be true – exactly as he would appear in a Hollywood movie – a handsome man, with a long black beard, posing with a Kalashnikov. His appearances on TV were carefully staged.
Actually, he was a very incompetent terrorist, a real amateur. No genuine terrorist would have lived in a conspicuous villa, which stood out in the landscape like a sore thumb. Stern was hiding in a small roof apartment in a squalid quarter of Tel Aviv. Menachem Begin lived with his wife and son in a very modest ground floor apartment, playing the role of a reclusive rabbi.
Bin Laden’s villa was bound to attract the attention of neighbors and other people. They would have been curious about this mysterious stranger in their midst. Actually, he should have been discovered long ago. He was unarmed and did not put up a fight. The decision to kill him on the spot and dump his body into [or “in”] the sea was evidently taken long before.
So there is no grave, no holy tomb. But for millions of Muslims, and especially Arabs, he was and remains a source of pride, an Arab hero, the ”“lion of lions” as a preacher in Jerusalem called him. Almost no one dared to come out and say so openly, for fear of the Americans, but even those who thought his ideas impractical and his actions harmful respected him in their heart.
Does that mean that al-Qaeda has a future? I don’t think so. It belongs to the past – not because bin Laden has been killed, but because his central idea is obsolete.
The Arab Spring embodies a new set of ideals, a new enthusiasm, one that does not glorify and hanker after a distant past but looks boldly to the future. The young men and women of Tahrir Square, with their longing for freedom, have consigned bin Laden to history, months before his physical death. His philosophy has a future only if the Arab Awakening fails completely and leaves behind a profound sense of disappointment and despair.
In the Western world, few will mourn him, but God forbid that anyone should gloat.
Arabian Business website reports – Five days after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda confirms bin Laden death, vows to continue attacks, and quotes them by saying:
“In a historic day the Islamic nation … the mujahid (holy warrior) Sheikh Abu Abdullah, Osama bin Mohammed bin Laden, God have mercy on him, was killed on the path taken by those before him and will be taken by those after him.”
“Congratulations to the Islamic umma (community) for the martyrdom of its son Osama.”
But ArabianBusiness.com also carried:
Arab revolts turn bin Laden death into bloody footnote.
Osama bin Laden, slain by US forces in Pakistan on Sunday, seems curiously irrelevant in an Arab world fired by popular revolt against oppressive leaders.
“Bin Laden is just a bad memory,” said Nadim Houry, of Human Rights Watch, in Beirut. “The region has moved way beyond that, with massive broad-based upheavals that are game-changers.”
The al Qaeda leader’s bloody attacks, especially those of September 11, 2001, once resonated among some Arabs who saw them as grim vengeance for perceived indignities heaped upon them by the United States, Israel and their own American-backed leaders.
Bin Laden had dreamed that his global Islamist jihad would inspire Muslims to overthrow pro-Western governments, notably in Saudi Arabia, the homeland which revoked his citizenship.
He espoused jihad largely in anger at what he viewed as the occupation of Muslim lands by foreign “infidel” forces — the Russians in Afghanistan, the Americans in Saudi Arabia in the 1990 Gulf crisis, or the Israelis in Palestine.
But al Qaeda’s indiscriminate violence never galvanised Arab masses, while his networks came under severe pressure from Arab governments helping Western counter-terrorism efforts.
“Bin Laden’s brand of defiance in the early days probably excited some imaginations, but the senseless acts of violence destroyed any appeal he had,” Houry said.
Nowhere was this change of heart more marked than in Iraq, where anger at Muslim casualties inflicted by al Qaeda suicide bombings – and the Shi’ite sectarian backlash they provoked – eventually drove Sunni tribesmen to ally with the Americans.
Popular sympathy for al Qaeda also evaporated in Saudi Arabia after a series of indiscriminate attacks in 2003-06.
If the ideological appeal of bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, who advocated the restoration of an Islamic caliphate, was already fading, the pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world have further diminished it.
“At some stage Arab public opinion looked on bin Laden as a hope to end this kind of discrimination, the West’s way of dealing with Muslim and Arab nations, but now these nations are saying, we will do the change ourselves, we don’t need anyone to speak on our behalf,” said Mahjoob Zweiri, of Qatar University.
He said bin Laden’s killing would affect only a few who still believe in his path of maximising pain on the West.
“The majority of Muslim and Arab nations have their own choice. They are moving towards modern civil societies,” Zweiri argued. “People believe in gradual change, civil change, they don’t want violence, even against the leaders who crushed them.”
Peaceful Arab protests have already toppled autocrats in Egypt and Tunisia and are threatening the leaders of Yemen and Syria, while a popular revolt against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi has turned into a civil war with Western military intervention.
These dramas appear to have shocked al Qaeda almost into silence. Even its most active branch, the Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has mounted no big attacks during months of popular unrest against President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Martin Indyk, a former US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, described bin Laden’s death as “a body blow” to al Qaeda at a time when its ideology was already being undercut by the popular revolutions in the Arab world.
“Their narrative is that violence and terrorism is the way to redeem Arab dignity and rights. What the people in the streets across the Arab world are doing is redeeming their rights and their dignity through peaceful, non-violent protests – the exact opposite of what al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden have been preaching,” said Indyk, now at the Brookings Institution.
“He hasn’t managed to overthrow any government, and they are overthrowing one after the other. I would say that the combination of the two puts al Qaeda in real crisis.”
Bin Laden may have become a marginal figure in the Arab world, but the discontent he tapped into still exists.
“The underlying reasons why people turn to these kinds of violent, criminal, terroristic movements are still there,” said Beirut-based commentator Rami Khouri, alluding to the “anger and humiliation of people who feel that Western countries, their own Arab leaders or Israel treat them with disdain”.
Nevertheless, he predicted a continued slide in al Qaeda’s fortunes, particularly as US troop withdrawals from Iraq and later from Afghanistan remove potent sources of resentment.
“The Arab spring is certainly a sign that the overwhelming majority of Arabs, as we have known all along, repudiated bin Laden,” Khouri said. “He and Zawahri tried desperately to get traction among the Arab masses, but it just never worked.
“People who followed him would be those who would form little secret cells and go off to Afghanistan, but the vast majority of people rejected his message.
“What Arabs want is what they are fighting for now, which is more human rights, dignity and democratic government.”
President Obama goes to Japan – George Monbiot tells us that the UN Convention on Biological Diversity has become a con-game. The recent meeting in Japan was just an un-truth. Could an enlightened world ask for more?
‘Countries join forces to save life on Earth”, the front page of the Independent told us. “Historic”, “a landmark”, a “much-needed morale booster”, the other papers chorused. The declaration agreed last week at the summit in Japan to protect the world’s wild species and places was proclaimed by almost everyone a great success. There is one problem: none of the journalists who made these claims has seen it.
I checked with as many of them as I could reach by phone: all they had read was a press release which, though three pages long, is almost content-free. The reporters can’t be blamed for this – it was approved on Friday but the declaration has still not been published. I’ve pursued people on three continents to try to obtain it, without success. Having secured the headlines it wanted, the entire senior staff of the convention on biological diversity has gone to ground, and my calls and emails remain unanswered. The British government, which lavishly praised the declaration, tells me it has no printed copies. I’ve never seen this situation before. Every other international agreement I’ve followed was published as soon as it was approved.
The evidence suggests that we’ve been conned. The draft agreement, published a month ago, contained no binding obligations. Nothing I’ve heard from Japan suggests that this has changed. The draft saw the targets for 2020 that governments were asked to adopt as nothing more than “aspirations for achievement at the global level” and a “flexible framework”, within which countries can do as they wish. No government, if the draft has been approved, is obliged to change its policies.
In 2002 the signatories to the convention agreed something similar, a splendid-sounding declaration that imposed no legal commitments. They announced they would “achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss”. Mission accomplished, the press proclaimed, and everyone went home to congratulate themselves. Earlier this year the UN admitted the 2002 agreement was fruitless: “The pressures on biodiversity remain constant or increase in intensity.”
Even the cheery press release suggests all was not well. The meeting in Japan was supposed to be a summit, bringing together heads of government or state. ————-. It mustered five: the release boasts of corralling the president of Gabon, the president of Guinea-Bissau, the prime minister of Yemen and Prince Albert of Monaco. (It fails to identify the fifth country – Liechtenstein? Pimlico?) A third of the countries represented couldn’t even be bothered to send a minister. This is how much they value the world’s living systems.
It strikes me that governments are determined to protect not the marvels of our world but the world-eating system to which they are being sacrificed; not life, but the ephemeral junk with which it is being replaced. They fight viciously and at the highest level for the right to turn rainforests into pulp, or marine ecosystems into fishmeal. Then they send a middle-ranking civil servant to approve a meaningless and so far unwritten promise to protect the natural world.
Japan was praised for its slick management of the meeting, but still insists on completing its mission to turn the last bluefin tuna into fancy fast food. Russia signed a new agreement in September to protect its tigers (the world’s largest remaining population), but an unrepealed law in effect renders poachers immune from prosecution, even when they’re caught with a gun and a dead tiger. The US, despite proclaiming a new commitment to multilateralism, refuses to ratify the convention on biological diversity.
It suits governments to let us trash the planet. It’s not just that big business gains more than it loses from converting natural wealth into money. A continued expansion into the biosphere permits states to avoid addressing issues of distribution and social justice: the promise of perpetual growth dulls our anger about widening inequality. By trampling over nature we avoid treading on the toes of the powerful.
A massive accounting exercise, whose results were presented at the meeting in Japan, has sought to change this calculation. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) attempts to price the ecosystems we are destroying. It shows that the economic benefit of protecting habitats and species often greatly outweighs the money to be made by trashing them. A study in Thailand, for instance, suggests that turning a hectare of mangrove forest into shrimp farms makes $1,220 a year but inflicts $12,400 of damage every year on local livelihoods, fisheries and coastal protection. The catchment protected by one nature reserve in New Zealand saves local people NZ$136m a year in water bills. Three quarters of the US haddock catch now comes from within 5km of a marine reserve off the New England coast: by protecting the ecosystem, the reserve has boosted the value of the fishery.
I understand why this approach is felt to be necessary. I understand that if something can’t be measured, governments and businesses don’t value it. I accept TEEB’s reasoning that the rural poor, many of whom survive exclusively on what the ecosystem has to offer, are treated harshly by an economic system which doesn’t recognise its value. Even so, this exercise disturbs me.
As soon as something is measurable it becomes negotiable. Subject the natural world to cost-benefit analysis and accountants and statisticians will decide which parts of it we can do without. All that now needs to be done to demonstrate that an ecosystem can be junked is to show that the money to be made from trashing it exceeds the money to be made from preserving it. That, in the weird world of environmental economics, isn’t hard: ask the right statistician and he’ll give you any number you want.
This approach reduces the biosphere to a subsidiary of the economy. In reality it’s the other way round. The economy, like all other human affairs, hangs from the world’s living systems. You can see this diminution in the language TEEB reports use: they talk of “natural capital stock”, of “underperforming natural assets” and “ecosystem services”. Nature is turned into a business plan, and we are reduced to its customers. The market now owns the world.
But I also recognise this: that if governments had met in Japan to try to save the banks, or the airline companies, they would have sent more senior representatives, their task would have seemed more urgent, and every dot and comma of their agreement would have been checked by hungry journalists.
When they meet to consider the gradual collapse of the natural world they send their office cleaners and defer the hard choices for another 10 years, while the media doesn’t even notice they have failed to produce a written agreement. So, much as I’m revolted by the way in which nature is being squeezed into a column of figures in an accountant’s ledger, I am forced to agree that it may be necessary. What else will induce the blinkered, frightened people who hold power today to take the issue seriously?
• A fully referenced version of this article is available on www.monbiot.com
also - home.pacbell.net/mjvande