Gaza invasion: ‘If you’re not sure – kill’

Israeli soldiers who invaded the Gaza Strip in January received no clear rules of engagement and operated with a shoot-first-ask-questions-later mentality that significantly increased the danger to civilians.

“If you’re not sure – kill,” confessed one of the soldiers who gave his testimony anonymously to an Israeli organization that gathers front-line reports from Israeli soldiers. “The firepower was insane. We went in, and the booms were just mad. The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began firing at suspect places. In urban warfare, everyone is your enemy. No innocents. It was simply urban warfare in every way.” [continued…]

Despite Jewish concerns, Obama keeps up pressure on Israel

Whether or not Obama suffers any domestic political cost for putting pressure on Israel remains to be seen — he won three-quarters of the Jewish vote in last year’s election, and he has good reason to believe he can retain most of that support even if he prods Israel on issues like settlements. After all, the settlements are not fundamental to Israel’s security, to which Obama constantly reiterates his rock-solid commitment. (Watch a video about Israel’s lonesome doves.)

But Obama may be understating the extent of pressure that will be required to bring about a two-state solution to the conflict. The settlement freeze that he has demanded of Israel, for example, is simply a confidence-building mechanism aimed at securing new gestures from Israel’s Arab neighbors and helping restart negotiations. But Israel’s government has pushed back hard, rejecting the principle of a total settlement freeze and insisting on completing some 2,500 housing units currently under construction, excluding East Jerusalem from the freeze, and making it conditional. And Arab governments are reluctant to be seen to offer new “rewards” — such as allowing the opening of diplomatic facilities or overflight rights for commercial aircraft — in return for Israel’s simply complying with its obligations under the 2003 “road map” for peace. Each side seems to doubt the seriousness of the other, and each will cite the other’s reluctance to move forward as a reason to hold back themselves. [continued…]

Netanyahu’s substitute for sovereignty

The most obvious change in Jenin is to the refugee camp, which is no longer the devastated space of a few years ago. It has been rebuilt with funds from the Gulf, though the Israeli army insisted on planning constraints: the roads are wide enough for a tank to navigate them.

If few of Jenin’s inhabitants question the financial benefits of Israel’s more liberal policy, there is a widespread belief that “economic peace” is being tailor-made for Israel’s benefit in much the same manner as the rebuilt camp.

“If Netanyahu thinks we’ll be satisfied with a few more Israeli shoppers, he’s kidding himself,” said Mohammed Larool, a melon seller. “Our rights as a nation are more important than my selling a few extra melons.” [continued…]

CIA hit teams

My sources are telling me that the secret CIA program involving a Dick Cheney coverup that is currently in the news consisted of dispatching assassination teams to various countries to kill individuals who were known to be al-Qaeda supporters but who, for various reasons, had not been detained by the governments of the countries in which they were residing. A number of those being targeted were living freely in Latin America, Africa, and Europe. The assassins were to be drawn from CIA’s own special ops group and also from delta force. They would enter the target countries as businessmen on false passports, some of which would be non-American, obtain weapons sent ahead through the diplomatic pouch to the US Embassy, kill the target, turn the weapons back over to an embassy contact, and leave the country. The program used delta soldiers initially because CIA SOG was fully engaged in Afghanistan. The first hit attempt was in Kenya, was botched, and the deltas had to be bailed out by the Ambassador who had not been briefed on what was going on under his nose. The program was suspended after that but never quite terminated. [continued…]

Should Obama talk to Ahmadinejad?

The quelling of dramatic public protests in Iran may cause some to despair over the prospects for achieving real social and political change there. But even with another term in office, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the revolutionary regime itself have been permanently altered by June’s uprising.

The emergence of a mass protest movement, reminiscent of the 1979 revolution that brought down the shah, is a signal that Iran will never be the same again. That is why robust engagement with Tehran, as President Obama has promised to pursue, remains essential not only in transforming Western-Iranian relations, but also in transforming Iran itself.

Some observers argue that the price of Mr. Obama’s recent overtures toward Iran has been an Ahmedinejad victory, and that any form of engagement with an Ahmedimejad regime would be tantamount to validating a stolen election, not to mention a slap in the face of a mass movement for democracy in Iran. [continued…]

“Women commandos” in Iran

On Monday, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington assembled an all-star panel of analysts for perspective on the role of women in the recent Iran election and post-election upheaval.

Among the participants: Pari Esfandiari of, a web site that describes itself as “an online media platform that connects the global community to Iranian women”; Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former member of Iran’s parliament (2000-2004); Nayereh Tohidi, a Cal State professor; Norma Moruzzi, a professor from the University of Illinois, Chicago; and Jaleh Lackner-Gohari, from Vienna, a physician, activist, and vice president of innerChange Associates.

The moderator was Haleh Esfandiari of the Wilson Center, whose 2007 arrest in Iran made headlines around the world. So strong is the women’s movement that a web site linked to Iran’s intelligence ministry has begun referring to “woman commandos” in describing post-election protests, according to Haleh Esfandiari, who added that there are reports that Zahra Rahnavard, Mir Hossein Mousavi’s well-known activist wife, is the leading voice behind the scenes urging Mousavi not to accede to pressure to halt his campaign against the election results. (So well known is Zahra Rahnavard that, when Mousavi became prime minister in the 1980s it was said in Iran that “Rahnavard’s husband was named prime minister.”) [continued…]

Iraqis have told U.S. military no patrols permitted in Baghdad

Two weeks after U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraq’s major cities, amid sporadic outbreaks of violence countrywide, Iraqi authorities aren’t asking American forces for help. Although U.S. troops are “just a radio call away,” in Baghdad and five other major urban areas, it appears the Iraqis haven’t asked even once.

In Baghdad, the Iraqis also won’t allow U.S. forces on the street, except for supply convoys.

The failure to trigger the “Onstar option” suggests that the government of Iraq and its military think that they can deal with the car bombings, homemade bombs and attacks with silencer-equipped handguns that have plagued parts of the country in recent days.

As the June 30 deadline approached for withdrawing troops from major cities, U.S. military officials told their Iraqi army and national police allies that they were “just a radio call away” in case they needed American military muscle.

So far, however, it isn’t clear whether there’s been a call. McClatchy special correspondents in Najaf, Basra, Anbar, Diyala and Mosul report that Iraqi forces have made no requests for U.S. combat help. [continued…]

Will Iraq be a global gas pump?

Has it all come to this? The wars and invasions, the death and destruction, the exile and torture, the resistance and collapse? In a world of shrinking energy reserves, is Iraq finally fated to become what it was going to be anyway, even before the chaos and catastrophe set in: a giant gas pump for an energy-starved planet? Will it all end not with a bang, but with a gusher? The latest oil news out of that country offers at least a hint of Iraq’s fate.

For modern Iraq, oil has always been at the heart of everything. Its very existence as a unified state is largely the product of oil.

In 1920, under the aegis of the League of Nations, Britain cobbled together the Kingdom of Iraq from the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul in order to better exploit the holdings of the Turkish Petroleum Company, forerunner of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Later, Iraqi nationalists and the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein nationalized the IPC, provoking unrelenting British and American hostility. Hussein rewarded his Sunni allies in the Baath Party by giving them lucrative positions in the state company, part of a process that produced a dangerous rift with the country’s Shiite majority. And these are but a few of the ways in which modern Iraqi history has been governed by oil.

Iraq is, of course, one of the world’s great hydrocarbon preserves. According to oil giant BP, it harbors proven oil reserves of 115 billion barrels — more than any country except Saudi Arabia (with 264 billion barrels) and Iran (with 138 billion). Many analysts, however, believe that Iraq has been inadequately explored, and that the utilization of modern search technologies will yield additional reserves in the range of 45 to 100 billion barrels. If all its reserves, known and suspected, were developed to their full potential, Iraq could add as much as six to eight million barrels per day to international output, postponing the inevitable arrival of peak oil and a contraction in global energy supplies. [continued…]

Once labeled an AIPAC spy, Larry Franklin tells his story

Bound until recently by a plea agreement that barred him from speaking to the press, Franklin has refrained until now from telling his side of the story. But in the Washington office of his attorney, Plato Cacheris, Franklin seemed eager to share his experience. Cacheris, who took on Franklin’s case pro bono, intervened time and again to warn his client against revealing information that is either classified or under a seal imposed by the court. Franklin was quick to agree, calling Cacheris his “angel” who saved him from prison.

In exchange for his cooperation with federal prosecutors, Franklin was initially sentenced to 12.5 years in prison as part of his plea agreement. But before entering his plea in 2005, he was approached by two people who suggested he fake his suicide and disappear to avoid testifying in court. At the request of the FBI, to which he immediately reported the encounter, Franklin had several follow-up conversations on the phone with one of them. “I thought I was in a movie,” Franklin said of the episode. Details of the event are still under court seal, and Franklin declined to identify the individuals who approached him or to offer further details. [continued…]

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