As President Obama prepares to head to the Middle East this week, administration officials are debating how to toughen their stance against any expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The measures under discussion — all largely symbolic — include stepping back from America’s near-uniform support for Israel in the United Nations if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel does not agree to a settlement freeze, administration officials said.
Other measures include refraining from the instant Security Council veto of United Nations resolutions that Israel opposes and making use of Mr. Obama’s bully pulpit to criticize the settlements, officials said. Placing conditions on loan guarantees to Israel, as the first President Bush did nearly 20 years ago, is not under discussion, officials said.
Still, talk of even symbolic actions that would publicly show the United States’ ire with Israel, its longtime ally, would be a sharp departure from the previous administration, which limited its distaste with Israel’s settlement expansions to carefully worded diplomatic statements that called them “unhelpful.” [continued…]
We have a way of codifying the consequences of conflict. We collect the dead into lists and tidy ruins into databases. We map gravesites and calculate the cost. It is a process that produces sums and totals, graphs and tables, which in the end are far less meaningful than the reality of what occurred. It numbs and dehumanises even as the gathering is done.
In Gaza the shells of buildings have been labelled and collated, exhibits from a violent event already passing into history after only half a year. G1086-01 designates the parliament building, a collapsed grey ribcage of concrete. The site of the ruined ministries in the Tal al-Hawa district of Gaza City is recorded as G10177-01, green and grey towers gutted by the bombs dropped from Israeli F-16s.
The numbers are entered in the book of Gaza’s destruction. There are houses – more than 1,300 of them – and police stations, apartment blocks and offices, schools and hospitals, each labelled with neat spray-painted letters. Tagged fetishistically in blue and green.
In a Hamas-run ministry Dr Ibrahim Radwan attempts to log on to the recently completed database of damage. “Problems, problems,” he mutters at his screen. This being Gaza, he explains, the network will not work, and so his colleague, Mohammed al-Ostaz, the director of urban planning, comes bearing armfuls of questionnaires that correspond to each number. [continued…]
Irael is holding the biggest civil-defense drill in its history.
Amid growing tensions with Iran, Israel is training soldiers, emergency crews, and civilians for the possibility of all-out war. Major Chezi Deutch is an officer in Israel’s Home Front Command.
“It is part of the overall plan to increase preparedness and readiness in the country, dealing with civil defense and with emergencies in the civilian population,” Deutch said. [continued…]
The language was already biblical; now the scale of what is happening matches it. The exodus of people forced from their homes in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and elsewhere in the country’s north-west may be as high as 2.4 million, aid officials say. Around the world, only a handful of war-spoiled countries – Sudan, Iraq, Colombia – have larger numbers of internal refugees. The speed of the displacement at its height – up to 85,000 people a day – was matched only during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. This is now one of the biggest sudden refugee crises the world has ever seen.
Until now, the worst of the problem has been kept largely out of sight. Of the total displaced by the military’s operations against the Taliban – the army yesterday claimed a crucial breakthrough, taking control of the Swat Valley’s main town, Mingora – just 200,000 people have been forced to live in the makeshift tent camps dotted around the southern fringe of the conflict zone. The vast majority were taken in by relatives, extended family members and local people wanting to help.
But this grassroots sense of charity is slowly starting to show real strain. In a week when the relentless danger of the militants was underlined by a massive car bomb in the city of Lahore that killed at least 30 people and injured hundreds more, aid groups have warned that the communities taking people in – already some of the planet’s poorest people – could themselves be displaced as they desperately sell their few assets to help the homeless. [continued…]
The CIA is equipping Pakistani tribesmen with secret electronic transmitters to help target and kill al-Qaida leaders in the north-western tribal belt, in a tactic that could aid Pakistan’s army as it takes the battle against extremism to the Taliban heartland.
As the army mops up Taliban resistance in the Swat valley, where a defence official predicted fighting would be over within days, the focus is shifting to Waziristan and the Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud.
But a deadly war of wits is already under way in the region, where tribesmen say the US is using advanced technology and old-fashioned cash to target the enemy. [continued…]
Drone-launched U.S. missile attacks and Pakistan’s ongoing military offensive in and around the Swat Valley have unsettled al-Qaeda and undermined its relative invulnerability in Pakistani mountain sanctuaries, U.S. military and intelligence officials say.
The dual disruption offers potential new opportunities to ferret out and target the extremists, and it has sparked a new sense of possibility amid a generally pessimistic outlook for the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although al-Qaeda remains “a serious, potent threat,” a U.S. counterterrorism official said, “they’ve suffered some serious losses and seem to be feeling a heightened sense of anxiety — and that’s not a bad thing at all.”
The offensive in Swat against its Taliban allies also poses a dilemma for al-Qaeda, a senior military official said. “They’re asking themselves, ‘Are we going to contest’ ” Taliban losses, he said, predicting that al-Qaeda will “have to make a move” and undertake more open communication on cellphones and computers, even if only to gather information on the situation in the region. “Then they become more visible,” he said. [continued…]
In front of a packed audience tonight at the Times Center in New York City, General Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, called for a truth commission to investigate the abuses and torture which occurred there.
The General described the failures at all levels of civilian and military command that led to the abuses in Iraq, “and that is why I support the formation of a truth commission.” [continued…]
The Houstonian Hotel is an elegant, secluded resort set on an 18-acre wooded oasis in the heart of downtown Houston. Two weeks ago, David Lesar, CEO of the once notorious energy services corporation Halliburton, spoke to some 100 shareholders and members of senior management gathered there at the company’s annual meeting. All was remarkably staid as they celebrated Halliburton’s $4 billion in operating profits in 2008, a striking 22% return at a time when many companies are announcing record losses. Analysts remain bullish on Halliburton’s stock, reflecting a more general view that any company in the oil business is likely to have a profitable future in store.
There were no protestors outside the meeting this year, nor the kind of national media stakeouts commonplace when Lesar addressed the same crew at the posh Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Houston in May 2004. Then, dozens of mounted police faced off against 300 protestors in the streets outside, while a San Francisco group that dubbed itself the Ronald Reagan Home for the Criminally Insane fielded activists in Bush and Cheney masks, offering fake $100 bills to passers-by in a mock protest against war profiteering. And don’t forget the 25-foot inflatable pig there to mock shareholders. Local TV crews swarmed, a national crew from NBC flew in from New York, and reporters from the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal eagerly scribbled notes. [continued…]