|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
Iran wants to talk
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, February 10, 2007
The United States and Iran have a golden opportunity to hammer out their differences at this weekend's global security conference in Munich. Both US Secretary of Defense Bill Gates and Iran's national security chief, Ali Larijani, will attend the conference, and while there will likely be no direct meeting between the two, there will be ample opportunity through the European interlocutors to mediate on the sidelines of the conference.
Already Larijani has stated that one of the purposes of his participation at the conference is to "negotiate" on the issue of Iran's nuclear program, thus raising expectations in some European quarters about a potential breakthrough, given the timing coincidence of the conference with Iran's annual celebration of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the much-anticipated news of Iran's technological breakthrough heralding its entry to the "nuclear club".
"Diplomacy is the only path for important international and regional issues ... Diplomacy can bring trust between the two sides," Iran's former president and head of the powerful Exigency Council, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, said this week. [complete article] Target Iran: U.S. able to strike in the spring
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, February 10, 2007
US preparations for an air strike against Iran are at an advanced stage, in spite of repeated public denials by the Bush administration, according to informed sources in Washington.
The present military build-up in the Gulf would allow the US to mount an attack by the spring. But the sources said that if there was an attack, it was more likely next year, just before Mr Bush leaves office.
Neo-conservatives, particularly at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, are urging Mr Bush to open a new front against Iran. So too is the vice-president, Dick Cheney. The state department and the Pentagon are opposed, as are Democratic congressmen and the overwhelming majority of Republicans. The sources said Mr Bush had not yet made a decision. The Bush administration insists the military build-up is not offensive but aimed at containing Iran and forcing it to make diplomatic concessions. The aim is to persuade Tehran to curb its suspect nuclear weapons programme and abandon ambitions for regional expansion.
Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, said yesterday: "I don't know how many times the president, secretary [of state Condoleezza] Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran."
But Vincent Cannistraro, a Washington-based intelligence analyst, shared the sources' assessment that Pentagon planning was well under way. "Planning is going on, in spite of public disavowals by Gates. Targets have been selected. For a bombing campaign against nuclear sites, it is quite advanced. The military assets to carry this out are being put in place."
He added: "We are planning for war. It is incredibly dangerous."
Mr Cannistraro, who worked for the CIA and the National Security Council, stressed that no decision had been made. [complete article] Al-Qaeda suspects color White House debate over Iran
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, February 10, 2007
Last week, the CIA sent an urgent report to President Bush's National Security Council: Iranian authorities had arrested two al-Qaeda operatives traveling through Iran on their way from Pakistan to Iraq. The suspects were caught along a well-worn, if little-noticed, route for militants determined to fight U.S. troops on Iraqi soil, according to a senior intelligence official.
The arrests were presented to Bush's senior policy advisers as evidence that Iran appears committed to stopping al-Qaeda foot traffic across its borders, the intelligence official said. That assessment comes at a time when the Bush administration, in an effort to push for further U.N. sanctions on the Islamic republic, is preparing to publicly accuse Tehran of cooperating with and harboring al-Qaeda suspects.
The strategy has sparked a growing debate within the administration and the intelligence community, according to U.S. intelligence and government officials. One faction is pressing for more economic embargoes against Iran, including asset freezes and travel bans for the country's top leaders. But several senior intelligence and counterterrorism officials worry that a public push regarding the al-Qaeda suspects held in Iran could jeopardize U.S. intelligence-gathering and prompt the Iranians to free some of the most wanted individuals.
"There was real debate about all this," said one counterterrorism official. "If we go public, the Iranians could turn them loose." The official added: "At this point, we know where these guys are and at least they are off the streets. We could lose them for years if we go down this path." [complete article] Deadliest bomb in Iraq is made by Iran, U.S. says
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, February 10, 2007
The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran.
The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.
In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is providing “lethal support” to Shiite militants in Iraq. [complete article]
Comment -- I never understood how Michael Gordon managed to let Judith Miller take all the heat for their 2002 articles on "evidence" of Iraq's nuclear program. Miller lost her job but Gordon isn't willing to kick the habit of serving as a mouthpiece for the administration.
This New York Times article is clearly priming public expectations that it will just be a matter of time before the U.S. punishes Iran. But the report also serves a more immediate purpose. It prepares the ground for Pentagon explanations about why the troop surge is having no measurable effect in reducing the violence in Iraq. Three months, six months, or nine months down the road, when military spokesmen are being asked to explain why the situation hasn't improved in Baghdad, "Iran" will be part of the answer. Added troops yield few results yet in Baghdad
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, February 10, 2007
A month after the Bush administration announced a "surge" in troops for Baghdad, Iraqis are still waiting for anything to change.
Fewer than 20% of the additional Iraqi and American troops have arrived so far. And the roughly 5,000 that have arrived have yet to make a visible impact in this sprawling city of 6 million people, where thousands of paramilitary gunmen patrol the streets.
U.S. officials are trying to manage expectations both domestically and in Iraq, continually asserting that the new forces will slowly take up positions in the capital over the coming months. [complete article] CIA doubts didn't deter Feith's team
By Greg Miller and Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, February 10, 2007
As the Bush administration began assembling its case for war, analysts across the U.S. intelligence community were disturbed by the report of a secretive Pentagon team that concluded Iraq had significant ties to Al Qaeda.
Analysts from the CIA and other agencies "disagreed with more than 50%" of 26 findings the Pentagon team laid out in a controversial paper, according to testimony Friday from Thomas F. Gimble, acting inspector general of the Pentagon.
The dueling groups sat down at CIA headquarters in late August 2002 to try to work out their differences. But while the CIA agreed to minor modifications in some of its own reports, Gimble said, the Pentagon unit was utterly unbowed. [complete article] Hamas advisor: New unity gov't will not recognize Israel
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, February 10, 2007
The Palestinian unity government which will be formed under an agreement reached in Saudi Arabia will not recognize Israel, a political adviser to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Saturday.
"The issue of recognition was not addressed at all (in Mecca)," Ahmed Youssef said. "In the platform of the new government there will be no sign of recognition (of Israel), regardless of the pressures the United States and the Quartet would exert," he said.
Youssef said Haniyeh hoped to form the new government before a meeting of the Quartet of Middle East mediators on February 21 and urged the Quartet to lift sanctions on the Palestinians. [complete article] Hamas urges West to accept deal, resume aid
Reuters, February 10, 2007
Palestinian Islamist group Hamas has urged the West to accept a new Palestinian unity government, which it says is the only way to ensure stability in the Middle East.
Hamas and Fatah signed a coalition deal on Thursday to end factional warfare and to try to win back Western aid, which was halted because of Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel.
Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad says the groups have "agreed with the Saudis to market this agreement internationally".
"Our [Saudi] brothers are in constant contact with the Americans and Europeans and I believe there is a possibility to market this agreement," he said.
"They cannot ignore this agreement and impose their own conditions," he said in reference to the United States.
"The European Union should open a dialogue with this new government and this is the only way to have stability in the region." [complete article]
New PA government creates a real problem for Israel
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, February 9, 2007
The new Palestinian unity government creates a real problem for Israel. It will be headed by a senior Hamas figure, Ismail Haniyeh. Moreover, it will not recognize Israel and does not pretend to meet the Quartet's conditions, as one Hamas leader said.
Yet the same time, it is not a Hamas government, and Hamas will not have a majority in the cabinet. The finance minister-designate, Salem Fayad, is the White House's darling. The foreign minister-designate, academic Ziad Abu Amar, has lectured at many American universities and does not have extremist positions on Israel. And the interior minister, who commands the security forces, will be an independent rather than a Hamas member, though he will be appointed on Hamas' recommendation.
Under these circumstances, Israel and the U.S. will have trouble demanding that the international economic boycott of the Palestinian government remain in place. [complete article]
From behind the bars
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, February 9, 2007
This week the palace of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia became the second most important pilgrimage site in Mecca, after the Kaaba at the Great Mosque, of course. Delegations from the Hamas and the Fatah arrived at the palace on Tuesday, and the holy site was supposed to envelop them in an atmosphere of unity and reconciliation.
However, the details of the agreement that the sides reached even before the start of the summit were formulated far from there, a few kilometers from the city of Ra'anana. Like the "prisoners' document," the draft of the latest unity agreement was born in Wing 3 of the Hadarim Prison, in the cell of the leader of the Tanzim, Marwan Barghouti, the most famous Palestinian prisoner of all. If a unity government does arise in the end, Barghouti's emissaries, Kadoura Fares and attorney Khader Shkirat, will be able to be considered the ushers of the agreement, those who succeeded in bringing Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and Fatah head Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) into a political marriage. [complete article] Rioters leave Temple Mt. peacefully after clashes
By Jonathan Lis, Haaretz, February 9, 2007
More than 10,000 Protestors marched down Nazareth's main street on Friday in a protest against Israeli renovations near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City.
The protestors carried posters depicting the Al-Aqsa Mosque and called for the Arab and Muslim world to respond to the "Jewish assault on the Mosque."
Police in the Jerusalem district have been reinforced by an addtional 1,500 officers in order to maintain order. [complete article] Iran says it will target U.S. interests if attacked
By Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, February 9, 2007
Iran's top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Thursday the Islamic Republic would target U.S. interests around the world if it came under attack over its disputed nuclear program.
His comments came as an Iranian naval commander said Revolutionary Guards had test fired missiles that could sink "big warships" in the Gulf, the waterway where a second U.S. aircraft carrier is now heading. The White House said it did not see that as a direct assault on U.S. ships.
Iran and the United States are locked in a war of words over Tehran's nuclear energy program, which Washington says is being channeled into bomb-building, a charge Tehran denies. [complete article]
Comment -- In spite of the White House's aggressive posture towards Iran, there are those among whom what one would expect to be Bush's cheerleaders who appear to doubt that he has any desire to attack Iran. The Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick claims that Bush has lost his will to fight." Is this just a bit of neocon prodding or are the warmongers truly losing faith? Iraqi insurgents offer peace in return for US concessions
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, February 9, 2007
For the first time, one of Iraq's principal insurgent groups has set out the terms of a ceasefire that would allow American and British forces to leave the country they invaded almost four years ago.
The present terms would be impossible for any US administration to meet - but the words of Abu Salih Al-Jeelani, one of the military leaders of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Resistance Movement show that the groups which have taken more than 3,000 American lives are actively discussing the opening of contacts with the occupation army.
Al-Jeelani's group, which also calls itself the "20th Revolution Brigades'', is the military wing of the original insurgent organisation that began its fierce attacks on US forces shortly after the invasion of 2003. The statement is, therefore, of potentially great importance, although it clearly represents only the views of Sunni Muslim fighters. [complete article] Official's key report on Iraq is faulted
By Walter Pincus and R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, February 9, 2007
Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community, according to a report by the Pentagon's inspector general.
Feith's office "was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," according to portions of the report, released yesterday by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). The inspector general described Feith's activities as "an alternative intelligence assessment process."
An unclassified summary of the full document is scheduled for release today in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs. In that summary, a copy of which was obtained from another source by The Washington Post, the inspector general concluded that Feith's assessment in 2002 that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a "mature symbiotic relationship" was not fully supported by available intelligence but was nonetheless used by policymakers. [complete article] White House on sidelines in 2008 contest
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, February 9, 2007
No one in the West Wing is booking tickets to Iowa. No one is scouring matchup poll numbers or hiring campaign managers or dialing for dollars. As candidate after candidate jumps into the race for president, the White House sits unaccustomedly on the sidelines.
This is the first White House in 80 years without someone running for president, a twist of history that will shape not just the campaign but also the remainder of the Bush administration. With neither a president seeking reelection nor a vice president positioned as the heir presumptive, the Bush team will increasingly turn into a spectator in the nation's political debate.
Its absence in the contest will spare the White House the trials of a campaign, easing the tensions between governing priorities and election imperatives that traditionally tear at the institution. Yet, at the same time, it means that no one will be making the case for the Bush legacy as 2008 nears. To one degree or another, all of the candidates, including the Republicans, will distance themselves from the president, particularly if he remains as unpopular as he is today. [complete article]
Comment -- Whoever moves into the White House in January 2009 is going to inherit the Bush-Cheney legacy. The leaders of the current administration have a real stake in the race -- the next president will (or will fail to be) Bush and Cheney's stay-out-of-jail card. Rival Palestinian leaders agree to form coalition government
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, February 8, 2007
Rival Palestinian leaders signed a deal late Thursday to form a coalition government that they hope will end nearly a year of political stalemate, deadly street battles and international isolation.
The agreement, reached in the Islamic holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, could end months of clashes between the Fatah and Hamas factions, which have been pushing the Palestinians toward a civil war. But it fell short of meeting international demands that the new government renounce violence and explicitly recognize Israel, making it unlikely that the pact would lead to a breakthrough that would lift the fiscal boycott of the Palestinian Authority.
Instead, Palestinian leaders appeared to be looking to divide the international community and persuade some key nations to break ranks by supporting the new government. [complete article]
See also, Text of the Mecca accord and Analysis: Unity deal is minimum required to remove the siege (Haaretz).
Comment -- This deal won't impress Israel or the U.S., but with a billion dollar infusion of cash from Saudi Arabia (a detail that somehow the New York Times and Washington Post managed to omit in the initial reports) it signals the beginning of the end of the embargo. And if the deal is honored on the streets of Gaza, then Elliot Abrams may have to give up on his dreams of stirring up a Palestinian civil war. Noted Arab citizens call on Israel to shed Jewish identity
By Isabel Kershner, New York Times, February 8, 2007
A group of prominent Israeli Arabs has called on Israel to stop defining itself as a Jewish state and become a "consensual democracy for both Arabs and Jews," prompting consternation and debate across the country.
Their contention is part of "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel," a report published in December under the auspices of the Committee of Arab Mayors in Israel, which represents the country's 1.3 million Arab citizens, about a fifth of the population. Some 40 well-known academics and activists took part.
They call on the state to recognize Israeli Arab citizens as an indigenous group with collective rights, saying Israel inherently discriminates against non-Jewish citizens in its symbols of state, some core laws, and budget and land allocations.
The authors propose a form of government, "consensual democracy," akin to the Belgian model for Flemish- and French-speakers, involving proportional representation and power-sharing in a central government and autonomy for the Arab community in areas like education, culture and religious affairs.
The document does not deal with the question of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where an additional three million Palestinians live under Israeli occupation without Israeli citizenship. The aim of the declaration is to reshape the future of Israel itself. [complete article] Brand America: of false promises and snake oil
By Daniel Drennan, Electronic Lebanon, February 7, 2007
On the streets of Beirut, a vernacular of graffiti, political posters, cloth banners and stenciled portraits of leaders and martyrs -- and the effacement thereof, whether intentionally or through natural causes -- produces a lively debate. Various individuals and groups effectively claim existence, label their territories, as well as write and re-write their histories -- Lebanon has no one history. I refer to this as a "debate" because of this back and forth, of placement and replacement, which lies in stark contrast to the monologue that rises above buildings and highways, the one-way beaming of high-priced messages as represented by billboards and advertising space.
Recently, these two "conversational" spaces have mixed, if not melded -- with corporate messengers vying for equal footing with straightforward political, theological and economic discourses. On closer inspection, however, they are unequal: messages moving from the street upwards have a rebellious aim; those moving from the ad space down have a much more sinister source. [complete article] How the U.S. sent $12bn in cash to Iraq. And watched it vanish
By David Pallister, The Guardian, February 8, 2007
The US flew nearly $12bn in shrink-wrapped $100 bills into Iraq, then distributed the cash with no proper control over who was receiving it and how it was being spent.
The staggering scale of the biggest transfer of cash in the history of the Federal Reserve has been graphically laid bare by a US congressional committee.
In the year after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 nearly 281 million notes, weighing 363 tonnes, were sent from New York to Baghdad for disbursement to Iraqi ministries and US contractors. Using C-130 planes, the deliveries took place once or twice a month with the biggest of $2,401,600,000 on June 22 2004, six days before the handover. [complete article] U.S. unit walks 'a fine line' in Iraqi capital
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, February 6, 2007
The camouflaged American soldiers, weary from hours of struggling to talk with Iraqis during a patrol in eastern Baghdad, laughed with relief after an Iraqi army major's wife met them at her door. The soldiers had no interpreter. She had a master's degree in English translation.
"Do you want to work for the Americans?" asked U.S. Army Lt. Anthony Slamar, 26. "Do you want a job as a translator?"
The woman stepped back into her darkened doorway.
"With you? No. Not with you. Do I want to die?" she said. "I am afraid of you, I'm sorry." [complete article] Top Iraqi official held in raid
BBC News, February 8, 2007
US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad have arrested the deputy health minister during a raid at his offices.
The minister, Hakim al-Zamili, is a key member of the political group led by radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr.
He is accused of aiding Shia militiamen and using ambulances to move weapons, a ministry source told the BBC. [complete article] Assad: Syria firm in its support for Hezbollah, Hamas
Reuters, February 8, 2007
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed to keep supporting Hezbollah, an Islamic militia in Lebanon, and Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist party, despite United States pressure on Syria to stop backing the groups, Baath Party members familiar with a speech the Syrian leader gave on Wednesday said.
Assad was speaking at the start of a two-day conference of the ruling Baath Party central command, which is expected to set a date before July for a referendum on the renewal of the president's seven-year term.
"The president was clear that Syria's support for the two movements will continue and that their resistance to regain occupied land was a legitimate right," Baath Party member Mostafa al-Meqdad told Reuters. [complete article] Rice denies seeing Iranian proposal in '03
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 8, 2007
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was pressed yesterday on whether the Bush administration missed an opportunity to improve relations with Iran in 2003, when Tehran issued a proposal calling for a broad dialogue with the United States, on matters including cooperation on nuclear safeguards, action against terrorists and possible recognition of Israel.
Although former administration officials have said the proposal was discussed and ultimately rejected by top U.S. officials, Rice, who was then national security adviser, said she never saw it.
"I have read about this so-called proposal from Iran," Rice told the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, referring to reports in The Washington Post and other publications last year. "We had people who said, 'The Iranians want to talk to you,' lots of people who said, 'The Iranians want to talk to you.' But I think I would have noticed if the Iranians had said, 'We're ready to recognize Israel.'... I just don't remember ever seeing any such thing." [complete article]
Comment -- There are several things worth noting about Condoleezza Rice's responses to Rep. Wexler's questions on the offer from Iran:
1. Rice confirms she has read about "this so-called proposal," doesn't question its authenticity, yet knowing of its existence provides no explanation as to why she would not have asked to see the proposal. She presents herself as incapable of seeking out any information beyond that which is presented to her.
The truth, however, probably runs something like this: When the Swiss passed along the Iranian offer, senior Bush administration officials -- including Rice -- did not want to be put in position where they might be expected to respond to the content of the offer, so they made it known that it should not be circulated. (It has already been reported that a discussion between Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell, resulted in the State Department being directed to reprimand the Swiss for having relayed the offer.) To entertain such a discussion would be risk starting a process of accommodation with an Islamic regime that the administration did not want to change but wanted to destroy.
2. Rice suggests that recognition of Israel by Iran is the United States' preeminent concern in its relations with Iran, yet most Arab states (all of whom maintain diplomatic relations with the United States) refuse -- with the exception of Egypt and Jordan -- to formally recognize Israel.
3. If Rice actually looked at the text of the offer from Iran, she would not see the word "Israel" but she would see an unambiguous statement that recognition of the Jewish state, through acceptance of the Arab League's 2002 declaration, would be part of the intended outcome of an agreement between Iran and the United States. The document that Rice has avoided reading states that Iran would:
1) stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad etc.) from Iranian territory, pressure on these organizations to stop violent action against civilians within borders of 1967.Just as Rice took care not to lie before Congress yesterday, she was equally careful not to reveal the truth. How not to inflame Iraq
By Javad Zarif, New York Times, February 8, 2007
Before the United States invaded Iraq on false pretexts nearly four years ago, the overwhelming view of analysts and diplomats was that war would plunge the region and the world into greater turmoil and instability. Echoing the views of my colleagues from the region and beyond, I told the Security Council on Feb. 18, 2003, that while the ramifications of the war could go beyond anyone's calculations, "one outcome is almost certain: extremism stands to benefit enormously from an uncalculated adventure in Iraq."
This assessment came not from any sympathy for the former Iraqi dictator or his regime. Certainly Iran -- which had suffered the carnage of an eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, and on which Saddam Hussein unleashed chemical weapons -- had no affinity for him. Rather, it was based on a sober recognition of the realities of the region and the inescapable dynamics of occupation.
Now the United States administration is -- unfortunately -- reaping the expected bitter fruits of its ill-conceived adventurism, taking the region and the world with it to the brink of further hostility. But rather than face these unpleasant facts, the United States administration is trying to sell an escalated version of the same failed policy. It does this by trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq.
The United States administration also appears to be trying to forge a regional coalition to counter Iranian influence. But even if it succeeds in doing so, such a coalition will prove practically futile, dangerous to the region as a whole and internally destabilizing for Iraq. By promoting such a policy, the United States is fanning the flames of sectarianism just when they most need to be quelled. [complete article] How to pump up war fever without starting a war
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, February 7, 2007
The Bush-Cheney administration is and always has been focused on one thing: the acquisition, consolidation, protection, and projection of power. It's ideological agenda serves as an instrument to that end rather than an articulation of its objectives. For this reason, as long as the administration's actions are analyzed in terms of ideological content (beyond raw Machiavelism), it's intentions remain persistently difficult to decipher.
Right now, there is a broad consensus that President Bush is itching to strike Iran. In support of that aim there is a drive to open up and inflame a sectarian schism spanning the Islamic world. By emphasizing a Shia/Sunni divide, America and Israel hope to cement the allegiance of autocratic Arab regimes who feel threatened by the ascendance of Iranian power. At the same time, drumming up fear of a Shia threat is effective in undercutting the Sunni support that Hassan Nasrallah won across the Arab world last summer after Hezbollah successfully resisted Israel's assault on Lebanon. And now, baseless rumors (from unknown sources) are leading many ordinary Sunnis to fear that there is a Shia campaign to force conversions.
Looming behind everything, we are repeatedly told, sinister Iranians -- the masters of Islamic extremism -- are stoking the fires of a regional conflict.
These are some of the elements in a narrative relentlessly being pushed by right-wing Israelis and American neoconservatives.
Is the purpose of this narrative to prepare Americans and Israelis for another war, or does it simply have a more immediate aim of boosting the expectation of war?
For now -- and conceivably all the way up to November 2008 -- it will serve the Bush administration and the GOP to keep the Iran issue on the boil without actually turning it into a military engagement. After the election, it will be hard for any president to then pull back from the brink of war.
Hardly a day goes by without some new American accusation about Iran "meddling" in Iraq, yet these stories do much more to create a threatening atmosphere than anything else.
The administration's increasingly aggressive posture was highlighted in late January when the Washington Post reported on an American shoot-to-kill policy targeting Iranian operatives in Iraq. Although this move was widely seen as a sign of the White House's heightened belligerence, it was hard to see what the practical implications of this policy might be. Were Iranian operatives going to be summarily executed after it had been determined they were Iranian, or had U.S. forces recently been trained in the art of spotting an "Iranian operative" from 500 yards?
Under Congressional questioning, Defense Secretary Gates' explanation of the policy amounted to saying that American soldiers would defend themselves if attacked, even if their attackers are Iranian. Surprise, surprise. Thankfully -- for the administration -- the media didn't worry itself with such details and simply heard more drumbeats of war.
Maintaining a posture -- "We're resolved to stand up to the Iranian threat" -- plays exactly the same game that worked so well for the GOP in 2002 and 2004. Just as Americans were then presented with a choice between who was supposed to be "strong" or "weak" in dealing with the "terrorist threat," the issue over the next two years is likely to be framed in terms of who is going to be strong or weak in standing up to Iran. Indeed, Karl Rove and other GOP strategists know only too well that Democrats can't stop themselves from jumping into the we're-tough-too trap as they fall over themselves sucking up to AIPAC. At the same time, as far as AIPAC itself is concerned, Iran is political gold -- it's an issue to which every viable presidential candidate wants to pledge some form of loyalty.
As a presidential campaign issue, Iran serves the GOP better as a challenge that they are resolved and willing to deal with, than as another black hole that the administration has already leapt into.
The communications goal is to try and have Americans thinking more about what might happen with Iran than about what is happening in Iraq. That goal is best achieved through a steady flow of accusations, "intelligence," and incidents -- making Americans afraid and craving "strong leadership" -- than by unleashing a full-blown conflict. Moreover, as the Iranian threat is perceived to be steadily growing, the administration will correspondingly use this as the justification for its enduring presence in Iraq. The elusiveness of victory in Iraq has the convenient effect of postponing an unhappy ending.
Bush and Cheney might be the two loneliest men in the world, seemingly impervious to reason or outside pressure, yet I don't think they have any desire to become martyrs -- they have practical and personal concerns about the future. That means they really can't afford to go for broke in pursuit of a legacy. Once out of office they will need powerful friends for their own protection, so if they risk destroying the GOP, they risk destroying themselves.
A post-Bush Republican White House just as much serves Bush and Cheney's own personal interests as it does those of the party. It's their stay-out-of-jail card. And there's plenty of evidence that ever since 9/11 they've given serious thought to what they need to do to avoid legal culpability; to not simply avoid impeachment (always a minimal risk) but also avoid indictment.
The challenge in this high-risk strategy is this: How do you drum up war fever, maintain a posture of readiness, not go to war, and yet avoid having your opponents suggest that you are shying away from the challenge? Before he leaves office, Bush's aggressive posture combined with the unwillingness of Democrats to challenge an Israeli-supported narrative, may still end up plunging America into another war, but this time it might actually be a war President Bush intended his successor to start. Israel sounds alarm on Iran's nuclear efforts
By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2007
Israeli leaders fear that an Iranian bomb would undermine their nation's security even if Tehran never detonated it. That Israel has its own nuclear arsenal would not counteract the psychological and strategic blow, they believe.
Israel began secretly preparing in the early 1990s for a possible air raid on Iran's then-nascent nuclear facilities and has been making oblique public statements about such planning for three years.
What is new is Israel's abandonment of quiet diplomacy to rally others to its side. Until a few months ago, Israeli leaders worried that high-profile lobbying would backfire and provoke accusations that they were trying to drag the United States and its allies into a war.
Israel's new activism coincides with a recent drumbeat of U.S. threats against Iran, including President Bush's vow to "seek out and destroy" Iranian and Syrian networks he said were arming and training anti-American forces in Iraq, and his dispatch of a second aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf. [complete article] U.S. orchestrated seizure of Baghdad envoy, Iran alleges
By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2007
Iran accused the United States on Tuesday of being behind the abduction of an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad, but U.S. officials refused to confirm that a kidnapping had taken place as the two countries' campaign of finger-pointing was brought up another notch.
Iranian officials said Jalal Sharafi, their embassy's second secretary, had not been seen since gunmen in Iraqi military uniforms intercepted his car Sunday as he left a branch of a state-owned Iranian bank.
"They acted under U.S. supervision," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini said in a statement released in Tehran. He described the incident as a "terrorist attack." [complete article] How Sadr plans to ride out the surge
By Charles Crain, Time, February 2, 2007
Moqtada Sadr and his Mehdi Army seem to have decided that, for now, the best defense against the American troop surge is no defense. Rather than risk another major confrontation like the battles of 2004 in which they lost thousands of men, the military and political leadership of Sadr's movement is going out of its way to be conciliatory.
Following an American raid last month that netted one of Sadr's lieutenants, some Sadrists threatened to hold up the movement's reconciliation with the national government. Instead, Sadrist ministers who had been boycotting parliament to protest against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meeting with President Bush rejoined the government. And this week, the Sadrists even endorsed the deployment of additional U.S. troops to Baghdad and the new security plan. A local official in the Mehdi Army's Sadr City stronghold said that under the terms of a deal with U.S. forces, the Americans would be welcome in Sadr City. [complete article] Many voices, no debate, as Senate is stifled on war
By Carl Hulse, New York Times, February 7, 2007
At a time when even President Bush acknowledges that the war in Iraq is sapping the nation's spirit, the Senate has tied itself up in procedural knots rather than engage in a debate on Iraq policy.
Given the influence that voter frustration with Iraq had on the November elections, the national unease with the mounting human and financial costs, and the raw passion on all sides, even some lawmakers say they are astounded that the buildup to the Senate fight over Mr. Bush's proposed troop increase has produced such a letdown.
"It just floors me," said Senator Amy Klobuchar, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota who campaigned against the war, as the two parties pointed fingers on Tuesday. The day before, the Senate proved unable to agree on a plan to even begin debate on a bipartisan resolution opposing the administration strategy. "People in Minnesota, when they see a debate we should be having -- whatever side they are on -- blocked by partisan politics, they don't like it," Ms. Klobuchar said. [complete article] A time to speak out
Independent Jewish Voices, The Guardian, February 5, 2007
We are a group of Jews in Britain from diverse backgrounds, occupations and affiliations who have in common a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights. We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions which claim authority to represent the Jewish community as a whole. We further believe that individuals and groups within all communities should feel free to express their views on any issue of public concern without incurring accusations of disloyalty.
We have therefore resolved to promote the expression of alternative Jewish voices, particularly in respect of the grave situation in the Middle East, which threatens the future of both Israelis and Palestinians as well as the stability of the whole region. We are guided by the following principles:
1. Human rights are universal and indivisible and should be upheld without exception. This is as applicable in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as it is elsewhere.
2. Palestinians and Israelis alike have the right to peaceful and secure lives.
3. Peace and stability require the willingness of all parties to the conflict to comply with international law.
4. There is no justification for any form of racism, including anti-semitism, anti-Arab racism or Islamophobia, in any circumstance.
5. The battle against anti-semitism is vital and is undermined whenever opposition to Israeli government policies is automatically branded as anti-semitic. [complete article]
See also, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV). On Iran, will the media pay attention to the man behind the curtain?
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, February 5, 2007
My reason for revisiting the morbid saga of media complicity in enabling the Iraq war now is that a new, even more catastrophic war is in the works against Iran -- but it's not a done deal. Cheney, quite probably the most dangerous man in the world given the combination of his extremist views and his proximity to real power, would love to make it happen, and so would the neocons and Likudniks, who are agitating for it with increasing alarm.
Not only do we have a steady stream of hysteria pouring out of the Israeli establishment and its American backers making the absurd comparison between Iran and Nazi Germany, routinely exaggerating both Iran's intentions and its capabilities. There’s also the new trope -- equally absurd, but it's not like there's a very effective filter in place -- of blaming Iran for things going wrong in Iraq.
The idea of Iranian "meddling" in Iraq is now commonly discussed in U.S. news outlets, and little air time is given to Iraq's leaders saying they have no problem with Iran, and reject their country being used as a platform to attack Iran. Just last week, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told CNN, "We have told the Iranians and the Americans, 'We know that you have a problem with each other, but we are asking you: Please solve your problems outside Iraq. We don't want the American forces to take Iraq as a field to attack Iran or Syria." And it's not just the Shiite parties that see Iran as a friend. "If you exclude the Sunnis, the majority of Iraqis think of Iran as a friend," says Kurdish legislator Mahmoud Othman. And Kurdish leaders have been equally harsh in criticizing U.S. attempts to ratchet up a confrontation with Iran on Iraqi soil. [complete article] It is no use blaming Iran for the insurgency in Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, February 7, 2007
It is scarcely surprising that the Iranian government believes that the United States is behind the kidnapping of one of its diplomats in Baghdad on Sunday. The Iranians say he was seized by 30 uniformed men from an Iraqi army commando battalion that often works with the US military services in Iraq.
The US had already shown its contempt for any diplomatic immunity protecting Iranians in Iraq by arresting five officials in a long-established Iranian office in the Kurdish city of Arbil last month. The White House had earlier authorised US forces to kill or capture Iranians deemed to be a threat.
It is striking how swiftly Washington is seeking to escalate its confrontation with Iran. Its rhetoric has returned to the strident tone so often heard when the US was accusing Saddam Hussein in 2002 and 2003 of hiding weapons of mass destruction that threatened the world. [complete article] Iran accuses U.S. over diplomat kidnapping in Baghdad
By Sam Knight, The Times, February 6, 2007
Iran blamed America for the "terrorist" kidnapping of a Iranian diplomat in Baghdad today in the latest chapter of the two countries' increasingly hostile competition for influence in Iraq.
A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Tehran said that Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, was abducted on Sunday by Iraqi troops acting "under US supervision" and that the Iranian Government expects Washington to organise his release.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly condemns the terrorist act which runs counter to international regulations and the Vienna Convention," said Mohammad-Ali Hosseini. [complete article] These moderates are in fact fanatics, torturers and killers
By Mai Yamani, The Guardian, February 6, 2007
Politicians, especially in times of geopolitical deadlock, adopt a word or a concept to sell to the public. In 1973, at the peak of cold-war tensions, the US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, coined the term "detente". Such words gain a currency and become useful political tools to escape policy quagmires. As the Middle East lurches from crisis to crisis, Tony Blair, George Bush and Condoleezza Rice compulsively repeat the word "moderates" to describe their allies in the region. But the concept of moderate is merely the latest attempt to market a failed policy, while offering a facile hedge against accusations of Islamophobia and anti-Islamic policies.
Western leaders have simply chosen a few Arab rulers they believe are still saleable to western audiences. And, as the word moderate has been repeated by western leaders and echoed in the international media, these rulers have begun to believe their own billing. But who are they, and are they moderate? Their selection has been fluid at the periphery but solid at the core. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt clearly qualify, whereas Syria, an ally during the 1990-91 Gulf war, was once at the periphery but fell out of step with US interests after 9/11. Likewise, after the death of Arafat and the victory of Hamas, Fatah became moderate, while Iran, moderate under the shah, became "radical" after the 1979 Islamic revolution. [complete article] Hamas is not going away
Editorial, Haaretz, February 5, 2007
The terrible disturbances unfolding in the Gaza Strip, the killings of members of the security organizations of both Fatah and Hamas, the lack of control of the twin leaders - Mahmoud Abbas on one hand and Ismail Haniyeh on the other - are too easily being called "civil war." This is a term that apparently offers Israel refuge from the need to act on the diplomatic front. However, Israel has never needed excuses. With or without Palestinian infighting, Israel has usually said that it has no partner on the Palestinian side, irrespective of whether Yasser Arafat, Abbas or Haniyeh were in power. Once more we should treat the claim of there being "an absence of [Palestinian] leadership" and the excuse of the "fighting in the territories" with skepticism.
During the past year, a new political reality emerged, both in the territories and in Israel, which the Quartet refuses to acknowledge. Hamas, not Fatah won the elections, and Hamas is the one that has a hold on the Palestinian institutions of government, while Fatah is behaving as a rebel movement that refuses to accept its defeats. Lately, Arab states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, considered moderates, recognize the fact that the general embargo on the Palestinian Authority is not only ineffective in altering this political reality - it contributes to dangerous developments that may have an influence on them.
It appears that Hamas also recognizes the fact that purely ideological views cannot serve a political organization that is trying to rally broad public support. Therefore, Hamas is prepared to relinquish, to a certain degree, control over all senior Palestinian government positions; Khaled Meshal murmured that "Israel is a fact"; the political statements of Hamas have made it clear that it aspires to establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders; and now there is a Saudi/Egyptian effort to convince Hamas to adopt a moderate formula regarding the agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
On the other hand, it still appears to Israel and the United States that playing the old game - according to which Israel, if it wishes, can bolster or weaken Abbas - is the one that will bring about the desired political result. As if the transfer of $100 million from Israel, or $86 million from the U.S., or the deliveries of arms to forces loyal to Abbas, will result in a strategic change in the PA. It is sufficient to hear the strong denials of Abbas regarding the news of the weapons transfers to appreciate the kind of embarrassment that this Israeli policy is causing him, and the position of lack of credibility in which it places him.
Instead of constantly trying to decide which Israeli manipulation will work best, the government should immediately and vigorously state that the country adopts the Arab League summit initiative, and that it is willing to negotiate over its basic points with any authorized Palestinian party. At the same time, it should state that it would be willing to cooperate with any Palestinian government on issues that are related to essential services and concern the rehabilitation of civilian infrastructures. To this end there is no need for Hamas to recognize Israel, or vice versa - only to appreciate the humanitarian needs of a population that has been transformed into a hostage. [complete article]
Comment -- It is encouraging (though not actually surprising) that the editorial page of an Israeli newspaper has the guts to say what no American editorialist would even dare whisper. Yet the notion that Hamas can't be wiped off the map is an idea that even some inside the Bush administration may be starting to tiptoe towards.
Maybe it was some kind of Freudian slip that recently led Condoleezza Rice to refer to Hamas as a "resistance movement." Or maybe she had an inclining that despite America and Israel's best efforts to foment a civil war, Fatah and Hamas might still end up striking a deal at which point the administration would either have to abandon Abbas or reach its own de facto accommodation with Hamas. (That's not to suggest that anyone in the Bush administration will actually sit down any time soon and talk to a Palestinian government minister who belongs to Hamas, but it will nevertheless reluctantly bring itself to work with a unity government that includes Hamas.)
There will of course still be those who believe that the unqualified defeat of the Palestinians remains the only acceptable solution for Israel. As Daniel Pipes in the comfort of a University of California lecture theater put it just the other day:
The Palestinians must have their will crushed so that they will no longer be trying to eliminate Israel; so that they will tend to their own affairs and leave Israel alone.And who can dispute that over the last 12 months, Israel -- with America's enthusiastic support (and Europe's cowardly acquiescence) -- has made a vigorous effort to crush the Palestinian will. An embargo, "Summer Rains", and then weapons to fuel internal conflict, yet in spite of all this the Palestinian will refuses to be been crushed -- a testimony to the indomitable power of the human spirit. But therein lies the Israeli and American miscalculation -- in their fixation on "terrorists" and "Islamic extremists" they forgot they were trying to crush people.
It's obviously premature to be saying this, but out of what only a few days ago seemed like a dire situation, a monumental shift may now be on the horizon in Middle East politics.
Saudi Arabia is ready to undo the American embargo, two Israeli ministers have called for the release of Marwan Barghouti -- a man who seems destined to champion Palestinian unity -- and once part of a unity government, Hamas will receive international recognition for the political legitimacy that it earned a year ago.
Finally, Israel may be confronted with a Palestinian government that it cannot afford to ignore. And most significantly, if all these pieces come together the idea that the United States has an indispensable role to play in resolving the Middle East conflict, will be laid to rest. Sources: Abbas, Meshal likely to reach unity deal
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, February 5, 2007
The summit between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Politbureau Chief Khaled Meshal, which begins Tuesday under Saudi auspices in the city of Mecca, is likely to result in an agreement on the formation of a Palestinian unity government, sources close to Abbas told Haaretz Monday night.
The optimistic message that emerges from Fatah circles was echoed by the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip Monday, who said that the summit at the palace of Saudi King Abdullah in Mecca will likely result in a final agreement on a unity government.
Both sides can afford to sound optimistic, following several weeks of bloody internecine fighting in the Gaza Strip, thanks to productive preliminary meetings between mediators working with both Fatah and Hamas. In recent weeks, differences between the two groups have narrowed and a series of understandings have been reached between Abbas and Meshal. [complete article]
Fatah-Hamas talks: The magic solution
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, February 5, 2007
This is the root of Saudi Arabia's new tactic: no more blind support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' superiority over Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, but rather, treating them as equals. This signals to Washington that the boycott of Hamas is crumbling. This is also why Saudi Arabia, rather than Egypt or Jordan, has, unusually, launched this public diplomacy: Unlike the others, Saudi Arabia has the ability to flex its muscles even beyond the Arab world.
Any agreements reached in Saudi Arabia may not immediately end the bloodshed in Gaza. The hunger for revenge and lust for power will not disappear overnight. But at least at the level of the national leadership, the necessary cooperation might emerge.
Hamas went as far as to stress that the government's policy will be independent of the policies of the movement. The government will in practice recognize the previous agreements with Israel ? which was one of the three preconditions set by the Quartet in return for recognition of the Palestinian government ? even though it will not include the statement "will abide by the accords" in its mandate. [complete article]
Kadima minister Ezra: Free Barghouti for Abbas' sake
Haaretz, February 5, 2007
Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, a senior Kadima party colleague of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Monday that Israel should release jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti in a bid to prop up Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for involvement in the murders of four Israelis and a Greek monk, is seen as the most popular Palestinian leader in the territories, and is widely regarded as the only figure able to unify clashing Palestinian factions, rein in militants, and get peacemaking with Israel moving again. [complete article] U.S. moving ahead with plans to train Palestinian security forces
By Dion Nissenbaum and Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy, February 5, 2007
The United States is planning to spend millions of dollars to train Palestinian security forces as part of a renewed effort to strengthen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
American, Palestinian and Israeli officials said Monday that they're fine-tuning a proposal that would send thousands of Palestinian forces loyal to Abbas to neighboring Jordan and Egypt for advanced training.
The initiative is intended to provide Abbas with critical support in his political and military confrontation with the well-armed Hamas hard-liners who've controlled the Palestinian Authority since elections early last year.
The militant Islamist Hamas and Abbas' Fatah faction have fought in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks.
But there's disagreement over whether to provide Abbas' forces with arms. Critics have charged that military aid could end up fueling, not containing, the street fighting, which has claimed more than 100 Palestinian lives in the last two months.
A senior Bush administration official said late last week that the $86 million in security assistance for the Palestinians that the White House is requesting from Congress would be confined to non-lethal items, such as training. [complete article] Syria 'can broker peace in Iraq'
BBC News, February 5, 2007
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said his country can play a major role in international efforts to end sectarian violence in Iraq.
He told a US TV interview Syria could help mediate in Iraq with support from the US and other states in the region.
Mr Assad said Syria had credibility in Iraq and the region which could help bring about a ceasefire. [complete article] Syria shuts out Iraqi refugees. Is Arabism over?
By Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, February 4, 2007
Syria has turned a major corner on its Iraq policy. Almost two years ago I wrote that the Iraq war and the flood of Iraqi refugees it would produce would spell the end of Syria's pan-Arab laws. The vast number of refugees coming out of Iraq, I conjectured, would force Syria to rescind its open policy of allowing fellow Arab nationals to enter the country without visas. The Baathist philosophy of pan-Arab nationalism has long been under-girded by the refusal to treat Arab visitors to Syria as foreigners on a par with visitors from non-Arab countries. On January 20, Damascus imposed a visa requirement on Iraqis entering the country and those already resident in Syria. [complete article] In Europe, pushback against U.S. 'war on terror'
By Robert Marquand, Christian Science Monitor, February 5, 2007
Reaction in Germany was hardly neutral when a prosecutor in Munich indicted 13 CIA officials last week for kidnapping a German of Lebanese descent and interrogating him in Afghanistan before apparently realizing they had the wrong man. Germans solidly backed the prosecutor.
Since Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld took the unprecedented step, both the right and left in Germany have supported the "rule of law" principles he articulated.
The media have been unified as well. Typical is the centrist Süddeutsche Zeitung: "The justice system has stood up for the rule of law. Whether the government will do so is a different matter. Berlin must push for the kidnappers to be extradited, or ... tried in the USA. But it is unlikely to have that much courage." [complete article]
"We probably gave Powell the wrong speech"
Former chief of the CIA's Europe division, Tyler Drumheller,interviewed by Der Spiegel, January 29, 2007
Drumheller: It was Vice President Dick Cheney who talked about the "dark side" we have to turn on. When he spoke those words, he was articulating a policy that amounted to "go out and get them." His remarks were evidence of the underlying approach of the administration, which was basically to turn the military and the agency loose and let them pay for the consequences of any unfortunate -- or illegal -- occurences.
SPIEGEL: So there was no clear guidance of what is allowed in the so called "war on terrorism"?
Drumheller: Every responsible chief in the CIA knows that the more covert the action, the greater the need for a clear policy and a defined target. I once had to brief Condoleezza Rice on a rendition operation, and her chief concern was not whether it was the right thing to do, but what the president would think about it. I would have expected a big meeting, a debate about whether to proceed with the plan, a couple of hours of consideration of the pros and cons. We should have been talking about the value of the target, whether the threat he presented warranted such a potentially controversial intervention. This is no way to run a covert policy. If the White House wants to take extraordinary measures to win, it can't just let things go through without any discussion about their value and morality. [complete article] U.S. set to begin a vast expansion of DNA sampling
By Julia Preston, New York Times, February 5, 2007
The Justice Department is completing rules to allow the collection of DNA from most people arrested or detained by federal authorities, a vast expansion of DNA gathering that will include hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, by far the largest group affected.
The new forensic DNA sampling was authorized by Congress in a little-noticed amendment to a January 2006 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides protections and assistance for victims of sexual crimes. The amendment permits DNA collecting from anyone under criminal arrest by federal authorities, and also from illegal immigrants detained by federal agents. [complete article] Condi encounters resistance
By Paul Woodward, Conflicts Forum, February 4, 2007
For a leading figure in the Bush administration, none less than the Secretary of State herself, to refer to Hamas as a resistance movement -- which is of course what Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya, the "Islamic Resistance Movement," calls itself -- is a noteworthy event. It begins to loosen a verbal straightjacket imposed by the war on terrorism -- a stricture on discourse through which the indiscriminate application of the term "terrorist" has stifled political analysis. [complete article]
Comment -- Even though the American press is still maintaining a polite silence on Condoleezza Rice referring to Hamas as a "resistance movement", she has enraged some of America's leading Zionists. The Israeli newspaper, Ynet News, carries a headline today, "Rice ripped for avoiding terrorist label on Hamas." The article quotes Zionist Organization of America president, indignantly saying, "Rice makes a mockery of the American and Israeli war on Islamic terrorism. Would she ever call al-Qaeda a resistance group?" (Note - just in case it wasn't already obvious, this is an American-Israeli war.) Time to talk to Iran
The case for diplomatic solutions on Iran
Crisis Action, February 5, 2007
On the one year anniversary of Iran's referral to the Security Council, a new joint report by 15 organisations - including think tanks, aid agencies, religious groups and Trade Unions - warns that, despite the seriousness of the situation, there is still 'time to talk'. This must be used to avoid an escalation with potentially disastrous consequences.
The report urges the UK government to work with allies in a sustained effort to find a diplomatic solution. In particular, they should push for:
* Face to face talks between Iran and the US
* A compromise on the suspension of uranium enrichment as a precondition for negotiation
* Further development of a 'grand bargain' in which the EU offer of June 2006 is developed further to include security guarantees between Israel, Iran and the US. [complete article]
See also, Top Iraqi Shiite urges Iran to talk to U.S. (AFP) and Congress must stop an attack on Iran (Leonard Weiss and Larry Diamond).
Beware of U.S. gamblers playing with Iran
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, February 3, 2007
Iran's growing influence throughout the Middle East is due to several historical factors, most but not all of which are beyond the control of Washington. They include the end of the Cold War, Iran's size, resources and activist ideology, the overthrow of the Baathist regime in Iraq and the rise to power there of Iran-friendly Iraqi Shiite groups. They also include the collective diplomatic incoherence of the Arab world, over 5,000 years of steady growth of Iranian nationalism, identity and state power, and the continuing self-assertion of Arab Shiites throughout the region who tend to have good relations with fellow Shiites in Iran. Sounds to me like a natural regional power that one should coexist with on the basis of shared rules, rather than mutual threats. [complete article]
The blame game
By Gareth Porter, The American Prospect, February 2, 2007
After promising that the Bush administration would publish a document this week detailing the evidence for its charge that Iranians in Iraq are providing arms and advice to Shiite militias to kill American troops, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack suggested Wednesday that no such document would be forthcoming any time soon. Paul Richter of The Los Angeles Times reported that some officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had resisted the release of the dossier, because they believed the assertions contained in it would have so little credibility that it would backfire politically. As Richter wrote, "They want to avoid repeating the embarrassment that followed the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, when it became clear that information the administration cited to justify the war was incorrect..."
Indeed, the new campaign hyping Iranian meddling, like the 2002-2003 propaganda campaign leading up to the invasion of Iraq, emphasizes a single, highly emotional theme. Instead of the "mushroom cloud" invoked by Condoleezza Rice in September 2002, the administration now conjures up the image of Iranian agents lurking in Iraq for the purpose of killing Americans. And although the White House has decided against the release of any documentation of these allegations for now, the campaign proceeds apace. [complete article]
Comment -- Thus far, analysis of the Iran issue tends to focus on how it serves the current White House as President Bush scrambles to find a scapegoat for all his woes. What should not be overlooked is the extent to which this will be used as a campaign issue by the GOP (with lots of neocon prodding) in the 2008 presidential race. Just like "terrorism," "Iran" will serve Republicans well as the Israel Lobby coaxes both parties into ever more grandiose displays of their security credentials. Democratic willingness to "talk to the enemy" will be showcased by their opponents as a sign of weakness -- unless that is, someone is willing to take a courageous stand, risk alienating themselves from AIPAC and appeal directly to American voters who have no appetite for another war. Iraqi Interior Ministry estimates 1,000 killed in one week
CNN, February 4, 2007
The Iraqi Interior Ministry estimates that about 1,000 people have been killed throughout Iraq in the past week due to gunbattles, drive-by shootings and bomb attacks, a ministry official said Sunday.
The figure includes members of militia and terrorist groups, civilians and Iraqi security forces. The official said the data was gathered by Iraq's Interior, Health and Defense ministries.
The grim estimate came just a day after a bloody bomb attack on a crowded market in central Baghdad that killed 128 people and wounded 343 others Saturday, according to a Health Ministry official. [complete article]
U.S. can't prove Iran link to Iraq strife
By Maura Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, February 3, 2007
Bush administration officials acknowledged Friday that they had yet to compile evidence strong enough to back up publicly their claims that Iran is fomenting violence against U.S. troops in Iraq.
Administration officials have long complained that Iran was supplying Shiite Muslim militants with lethal explosives and other materiel used to kill U.S. military personnel. But despite several pledges to make the evidence public, the administration has twice postponed the release — most recently, a briefing by military officials scheduled for last Tuesday in Baghdad.
"The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated, and we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts," national security advisor Stephen J. Hadley said Friday. [complete article]
War in Iraq propelling a massive migration
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, February 4, 2007
As the fourth year of war nears its end, the Middle East's largest refugee crisis since the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948 is unfolding in a climate of fear, persecution and tragedy.
Nearly 2 million Iraqis -- about 8 percent of the prewar population -- have embarked on a desperate migration, mostly to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The refugees include large numbers of doctors, academics and other professionals vital for Iraq's recovery. Another 1.7 million have been forced to move to safer towns and villages inside Iraq, and as many as 50,000 Iraqis a month flee their homes, the U.N. agency said in January. [complete article]
Comment -- While Saturday's carnage provides yet another compelling demonstration that Iran has nothing more than a peripheral role in Iraq's ongoing violence, the worse the situation gets in Iraq, the more appealing Iran becomes as the focus for a Republican presidential campaign strategy.
Democrats such as Hillary Clinton want to please their AIPAC supporters with plenty of tough talk, but at the same time they don't want to close the door to dialogue. That means that Republicans can spend the next two years ramping up the Iranian threat and painting their opponents as "timid" -- exactly the way Clinton is being characterized by presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
What Iran has to do is avoid allowing itself to become a pawn in a race for the White House. What Democrats need to do is have the guts to say more than "let's talk." Only the framework of an actual proposal will put the Republicans on the defense -- but that means not just talking about talking or talking about what Iran needs to do; it means spelling out what the United States should offer Iran. Only then can neocon "strength" be exposed as posturing. Doubts run deep on reforms crucial to Bush's Iraq strategy
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post , February 4, 2007
The success of the Bush administration's new Iraq strategy depends on a series of rapid and dramatic political and economic reforms that even the plan's authors have little confidence will work.
In the current go-for-broke atmosphere, administration officials say they are aware that failure to achieve the reforms would result in a repeat of last year's unsuccessful Baghdad offensive, when efforts to consolidate military gains with lasting stability on the ground did not work. This time, they acknowledge, there will be no second chance.
Among many deep uncertainties are whether Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is up to the task and committed to spearheading what the administration foresees as a fundamental realignment of Iraqi politics; whether Maliki's Shiite-dominated government and its sluggish financial bureaucracy will part with $10 billion for rapid job creation and reconstruction, at least some of it directed to sectarian opponents; and whether the U.S. military and State Department can calibrate their own stepped-up reconstruction assistance to push for action without once again taking over. [complete article]
Soldiers in Iraq view troop surge as a lost cause
By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy, February 3, 2007
Army 1st Lt. Antonio Hardy took a slow look around the east Baghdad neighborhood that he and his men were patrolling. He grimaced at the sound of gunshots in the distance. A machine gunner on top of a Humvee scanned the rooftops for snipers. Some of Hardy's men wondered aloud if they'd get hit by a roadside bomb on the way back to their base.
"To be honest, it's going to be like this for a long time to come, no matter what we do," said Hardy, 25, of Atlanta. "I think some people in America don't want to know about all this violence, about all the killings. The people back home are shielded from it; they get it sugar-coated."
While senior military officials and the Bush administration say the president's decision to send more American troops to pacify Baghdad will succeed, many of the soldiers who're already there say it's a lost cause. [complete article]
Mahdi Army gains strength through unwitting aid of U.S.
By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy, February 1, 2007
The U.S. military drive to train and equip Iraq's security forces has unwittingly strengthened anti-American Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which has been battling to take over much of the capital city as American forces are trying to secure it.
U.S. Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad, which is home to more than half the city's population and the front line of al-Sadr's campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods, said al-Sadr's militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that they've trained and armed.
"Half of them are JAM. They'll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night," said 1st Lt. Dan Quinn, a platoon leader in the Army's 1st Infantry Division, using the initials of the militia's Arabic name, Jaish al Mahdi. "People (in America) think it's bad, but that we control the city. That's not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It's hostile territory." [complete article] What to ask before the next war
By Paul R. Pillar, Washington Post, February 4, 2007
Imagine that the famously flawed intelligence judgments about Iraq's programs to develop unconventional weapons had been correct. What difference would that have made to the American effort in Iraq?
The Bush administration would have had fewer rhetorical difficulties in defending its decision to go to war, even though any discoveries of weapons programs would have confirmed nothing about the use to which Saddam Hussein might someday have put such weapons or whether Iraq would eventually have acquired nuclear weapons.
But the war itself would be the same agonizing ordeal. An insurgency driven by motives having nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and little to do with Hussein would still be going on.
Iraq's sectarian divisions and intolerant political culture would still have pushed it into civil war. Iraq would still have become the latest and biggest jihad, winning recruits and donors for al-Qaeda and boosting the militant Islamic movement worldwide. And the United States would still be suffering the same drain of blood and treasure in Iraq and most of the same damage to its global standing and relationships.
This thought experiment highlights how problems with the policy process (or, rather, the lack of a process) that led the United States into the Iraq quagmire went beyond the administration's manipulation of intelligence on weapons programs and terrorist relationships. The administration so successfully shaped the policy question around its chosen selling points involving these two issues that what passed for a national debate gave little attention to important questions about the likely nature and consequences of a war. The debate was largely reduced to contemplating the terms of a pseudo-syllogism: Hussein has weapons of mass destruction; Hussein supports terrorism; therefore, we must use force to remove Hussein.
Now, an accelerating debate about Iran and its nuclear program shows signs of the same dangerous reductionism. Some argue for an airstrike against Iranian nuclear facilities sooner rather than later. Whether the Bush administration will act on such advice in the next two years is uncertain, but it is taking confrontational steps, including augmenting forces in the Persian Gulf and raiding an Iranian consulate, that increase the chance of heightened tension escalating into a military clash.
A long argument over many barely addressed issues would be needed to get from a belief that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons to a conclusion that a military strike, or even policies that increase the risk of U.S.-Iranian hostilities, is advisable. [complete article]
Former military chiefs urge talks with Iran
Reuters, February 3, 2007
Three former senior U.S. military officials warn that any military action against Iran would have "disastrous consequences" and urged Washington to hold immediate and unconditional talks with Tehran. [complete article]
Iranian boast is put to test
By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 4, 2007
After decades of largely clandestine efforts, Iran is expected to declare in coming days that it has made a huge leap toward industrial-scale production of enriched uranium — a defiant act that the country's leaders will herald as a major technical stride and its neighbors will denounce as a looming threat. But for now, many nuclear experts say, the frenetic activity at the desert enrichment plant in Natanz may be mostly about political showmanship.
The many setbacks and outright failures of Tehran's experimental program suggest that its bluster may outstrip its technical expertise. And the problems help explain American intelligence estimates that Iran is at least four years away from producing a nuclear weapon. [complete article] The American proxy war in Gaza
By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, February 3, 2007
In recent days the unremitting, murderous brutality of the Israeli occupation has been eclipsed by the carnage in Gaza as dozens of Palestinians have been killed in what is commonly referred to as "interfactional fighting" between forces loyal to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction on the one hand, and the Hamas-led government on the other.
The airwaves have been filled with anguished calls from every sector of Palestinian society -- political parties, nongovermental organizations, and Christian and Muslim religious leaders -- for the fighting to cease and for a return to dialogue.
Perhaps for fear of exacerbating the already bitter situation, few of these voices have directly confronted the engine of this violence.
In the fevered minds of Bush administration ideologues, Palestine has become another front in what they conceive of as a new Cold War against "Islamofascism." They see Iran as the central target and proxy battles are being waged against a phantom enemy from Afghanistan and Pakistan, through Iraq into Palestine, Lebanon, Somalia and ever onwards wherever Arabs and Muslims are to be found. In every case, local conflicts with specific histories are being escalated and marshalled into this grand narrative. [complete article]
Elliot Abrams' uncivil war
CF Reports, Conflicts Forum, January 7, 2007
Over the last twelve months, the United States has supplied guns, ammunition and training to Palestinian Fatah activists to take on Hamas in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank. A large number of Fatah activists have been trained and "graduated" from two camps -- one in Ramallah and one in Jericho. The supplies of rifles and ammunition, which started as a mere trickle, has now become a torrent (Haaretz reports the U.S. has designated an astounding $86.4 million for Abu Mazen's security detail), and while the program has gone largely without notice in the American press, it is openly talked about and commented on in the Arab media -- and in Israel. Thousands of rifles and bullets have been poring into Gaza and the West Bank from Egypt and Jordan, the administration’s designated allies in the program.
At first, it was thought, the resupply effort (initiated under the guise of "assist[ing] the Palestinian Authority presidency in fulfilling PA commitments under the road map to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza," according to a U.S. government document) would strengthen the security forces under the command of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Officials thought that the additional weapons would easily cow Hamas operatives, who would meekly surrender the offices they had only recently so dearly won. That has not only not happened, but the program is under attack throughout the Arab world -- particularly among America's closest allies. [complete article] What 'Israel's right to exist' means to Palestinians
By John V. Whitbeck, Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 2007
Since the Palestinian elections in 2006, Israel and much of the West have asserted that the principal obstacle to any progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace is the refusal of Hamas to "recognize Israel," or to "recognize Israel's existence," or to "recognize Israel's right to exist."
These three verbal formulations have been used by Israel, the United States, and the European Union as a rationale for collective punishment of the Palestinian people. The phrases are also used by the media, politicians, and even diplomats interchangeably, as though they mean the same thing. They do not. [complete article] Russia clashes with U.S. on Mideast policy
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 3, 2007
Russia urged ending the isolation of the anti-Israeli militant group Hamas and including Syria in Middle East peace talks, exposing fissures in a high-level diplomatic group that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gathered yesterday in Washington to validate her new effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Russian proposals run directly counter to Rice's strategy of rallying what she calls "mainstream" Arabs to isolate what she calls "extremist" elements in the region.
"I don't think that to resolve this problem, just like any problem that exists in the world, that you could do it through boycott and isolation," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference after a meeting of the "Quartet," which also includes the European Union, the United Nations and the United States.
Lavrov, with Rice seated next to him, said that "Syria could play a constructive role," specifically citing a recent meeting between Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, and Khaled Mashal, the exiled leader of Hamas's political wing, that Damascus had arranged. U.S. officials were furious at Abbas for agreeing to the meeting, Palestinian officials said.
Rice shot back that the United States, "even at the highest levels," has spoken to Syrian officials and that "Syria knows what it needs to do to be a stabilizing force." [complete article]
Comment -- When a Bush administration official refers to what another country "knows it needs to do," the clear signal that is once again being sent out is that pleasing America is the key to global peace. The corollary is that to provoke America's displeasure is to invite some form of punishment. But America itself -- from this regal vantage point -- has no obligations that it must fulfill.
International relations, however, cannot be conducted on the basis that any one nation claims a unique status. On the contrary, the foundation of all relations -- including those between friends and foes -- must be mutual respect.
Strangely, the notion that everyone deserves respect seems to rankle a certain form of American pride. It is as though to express respect is to submit oneself to a form of humiliation.
Within this perverse mentality, self-respect cannot be sustained without the presence of an object of contempt. This form of American pride is only able to hold itself up by pushing someone else down.
PA: We expected Quartet to lift blockade
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, February 3, 2007
Aides to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas yesterday expressed disappointment about Friday's press release by the Quartet. His spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the Palestinians had expected the Quartet to end the boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian government "in order to create the appropriate atmosphere in which to renew the peace process."
Hamas officials accused the U.S. of fanning the flames of war in order to bring down the PA government. They claimed that the Quartet is doing Washington's bidding and said the decision to continue the sanctions punishes the Palestinian people. [complete article]
Hamas urges Quartet to open talks
Middle East Online, February 3, 2007
Palestinian foreign minister Mahmud al-Zahar called on the so-called Quartet of major diplomatic players to open a dialogue Friday with his democratically elected government, his spokesman said.
"Foreign minister Zahar sent a letter to the members of the Quartet (the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States) asking them to open a dialogue with the Palestinian government in order to reach stability and calm in the region," Taher al-Nunu said. [complete article]
Gunmen quit Gaza streets as latest truce takes hold
Haaretz, February 4, 2007
Gunmen began withdrawing from the streets, some hostages were released and many shops reopened Sunday, Gaza Strip residents said, as a shaky cease-fire appeared to be taking hold after the latest deadly outbreak of factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah.
Local police took up positions at main intersections following a tense morning in which mortar bombs exploded close to the offices of Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas of Fatah.
Hamas denied its gunmen fired the mortar bombs. The explosions caused no injuries. [complete article]
See also, Hamas fighters appear to tighten hold in Gaza(NYT).
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Manifest destiny: A new direction for America
By William Pfaff, New York Review of Books, January 18, 2007
Bush is betting everything on the neocons' surge
By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, January 29, 2007
Iraq in the strategic context
Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, United States Senate, February 1, 2007
As U.S. power fades, it can't find friends to take on Iran
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, February 2, 2007
The 'axis of fear' is born
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, February 2, 2007
Northern Iraq seen as next front in war
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2007
Iran threat? Nobody told the Iraqis...
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, January 31, 2007
With Iran ascendant, U.S. is seen at fault
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 30, 2007
Putting 9/11 into perspective
By David A. Bell, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2007
Jimmy Carter's Lipstadt problem
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, January 27, 2007
Tony Blair, Lord Levy, and Britain's Israel lobby
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, February 1, 2007
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