|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
The Islamic Way of War
By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, September 11, 2006
Despite overheated claims that the so-called Islamic fascists pose a danger greater than Hitler ever did, the United States is not going to be overrun, even should the forces of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iraqi insurgents, and Shi'ite militias along with Syria and Iran all combine into a unified anti-Crusader coalition. Although Israelis for historical reasons are inclined to believe otherwise, the proximate threat to Israel itself is only marginally greater. Although neither Israel nor the United States can guarantee its citizens "perfect security" -- what nation can? -- both enjoy ample capabilities for self-defense.
What the Islamic Way of War does mean to both Israel and to the United States is this: the Arabs now possess -- and know that they possess -- the capacity to deny us victory, especially in any altercation that occurs on their own turf and among their own people. To put it another way, neither Israel nor the United States today possesses anything like the military muscle needed to impose its will on the various governments, nation-states, factions, and political movements that comprise our list of enemies. For politicians in Jerusalem or Washington to persist in pretending otherwise is the sheerest folly. [complete article] SATURDAY NEWS ROUNDUP
U.S. may curb Iran if Security Council doesn't
Los Angeles Times
Iran nuclear project forges ahead
Russia rejects UN sanctions against Iran
Ahmadinejad: Iran poses no threat to 'Zionist regime'
Fatah agrees to government with Hamas
Israeli occupation pullout plan 'finished,' poll finds
U.N. peacekeepers enter an explosive situation in Lebanon
Israel's postwar strategy seeks to stop Hezbollah resupply missions
U.S. investigates Israel's use of cluster bombs
Los Angeles Times
Europe pledges a larger force inside Lebanon
New York Times
Hezbollah: Israeli response to kidnapped soldiers was surprising
Call for Shiite autonomy as Iraqi tribal chiefs meet
The Kurds are being driven out again - this time by Iran
Venezuela pledges more oil for China
Pakistan's awkward balancing act on Islamic militant groups
The Cheney presidency
Robert Kuttner Threat of military action hangs over escalating tensions with Iran
By Ron Hutcheson, McClatchy, August 24, 2006
The escalating confrontation over Iran's nuclear program raises an unsettling question: Is Iran the next target for U.S. military action?
Some analysts think so. The focus is on diplomacy for now, but President Bush hasn't ruled out the use of force to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Tensions are likely to ratchet up a notch next Friday if, as expected, Iran ignores a U.N. Aug. 31 deadline to abandon its uranium-enrichment program.
Armed conflict isn't imminent or inevitable, and it wouldn't necessarily take the form of a full-scale invasion. Airstrikes alone might be the choice. But the possibility of military action lurks on the sidelines of the diplomatic dance that will play out over the coming months at the U.N. Security Council.
"We are creating a situation where everything we're going to try short of military force is going to fail," said Ilan Berman, an Iran expert at the American Foreign Policy Council, which favors an aggressive approach. "By the spring of next year, we're going to be looking at very serious discussions about next steps, including military options." [complete article]
Iran nuclear response leak reveals demands
By Ian Traynor, The Guardian, August 25, 2006
The US would have to lift decades-old sanctions against Iran and probably give assurances that it has no policy of regime change towards the Islamic republic to settle Iran's nuclear dispute with the west, according to leaks of the Iranian response.
Iran is demanding firmer guarantees on trade and nuclear supplies, a tighter timetable for implementing agreements and clearer security pledges from the west before it decides whether to freeze its uranium enrichment programme and explore an offer of a new relationship.
Details of its response delivered this week to diplomats, disclosed yesterday by two well-connected Iranian political scientists, claimed moderates in Tehran had won an important power struggle and were offering a negotiated settlement of the nuclear row.
If the US spurns the Iranian olive branch and forces through sanctions from the UN security council, "the stage will be set for a full-scale international crisis", the response's authors stated. [complete article]
See also, Israel Air Force chief to head 'Iranian command' (Haaretz). Hunting monsters in Jerusalem
By Tom Barry, Asia Times, August 26, 2006
Since he joined the Bush administration in 2002 as the chief Middle East adviser at the White House's National Security Council (NSC), [Elliott] Abrams has quietly pushed for a transformational Middle East policy with Israel at its center. If one US official were to be blamed - aside from the president, vice president and secretary of state - for the US government's disastrous stance with Israel in the recent war, it would be Abrams. Perhaps more than any other member of Bush's foreign-policy team, Abrams embodies the administration's zealous, ideological and dangerously delusional vision of US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Abrams, a neo-conservative who has dedicated himself to reshaping US foreign policy since the mid-1970s, is the Bush administration's point man for Middle East transformation. According to Seymour Hersh writing in the August 21 New Yorker, Cheney's foreign-policy staff and Abrams in early summer had signed off on an Israeli plan to wipe out Hezbollah.
During the first George W Bush administration, Abrams was the NSC chief of Middle Eastern and Northern African Affairs. "I have two-thirds of the axis of evil," he boasted, according to a New Yorker essay (February 10, 2005). Abrams wears two hats in the second Bush administration, serving as the chief of the president's "Global Democracy Strategy" and also serving as a top deputy to National Security Adviser Hadley. Although closely involved in all Middle East policy, Abrams' official NSC role is addressing "Israeli-Palestinian" affairs. But Abrams has long insisted on referring to Israel-Palestine tensions as an "Israel-Arab" conflict that is artfully disguised as a self-determination conflict. [complete article] Israel gives up on disarming Hizbullah
By Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, August 24, 2006
Israel has essentially given up hope of Hizbullah being disarmed, and instead is now concentrating on ensuring that an arms embargo called for in UN Security Council resolution 1701 be implemented, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Furthermore, senior Israeli officials have made it clear in recent days during talks with foreign governments that Israel realizes a Hizbullah presence south of the Litani River is unavoidable, if for no other reason than because the organization is so well rooted there that the only way to get rid of Hizbullah would be to evacuate the entire region.
What Israel does expect, however, is that the Lebanese Army and the international force that will deploy there ensure that Hizbullah doesn't have offensive weaponry to attack Israel, and that if they do try to attack, there will be someone there to stop them. [complete article]
Israel buys 2 nuclear submarines
AP (via Military.com), August 25, 2006
With the purchase of two more German-made Dolphin submarines capable of carrying nuclear warheads, military experts say Israel is sending a clear message to Iran that it can strike back if attacked by nuclear weapons.
The purchases come at a time when Iran is refusing to bow to growing Western demands to halt its nuclear program, and after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
The new submarines, built at a cost of $1.3 billion with Germany footing one-third of the bill, have diesel-electric propulsion systems that allow them to remain submerged for longer periods of time than the three nuclear arms-capable submarines already in Israel's fleet, the Jerusalem Post reported. [complete article]
Inquiry opened into Israeli use of U.S. bombs
By David S. Cloud, New York Times, August 25, 2006
The State Department is investigating whether Israel’s use of American-made cluster bombs in southern Lebanon violated secret agreements with the United States that restrict when it can employ such weapons, two officials said.
The investigation by the department’s Office of Defense Trade Controls began this week, after reports that three types of American cluster munitions, anti-personnel weapons that spray bomblets over a wide area, have been found in many areas of southern Lebanon and were responsible for civilian casualties.
Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, said, “We have heard the allegations that these munitions were used, and we are seeking more information.” He declined to comment further.
Several current and former officials said that they doubted the investigation would lead to sanctions against Israel but that the decision to proceed with it might be intended to help the Bush administration ease criticism from Arab governments and commentators over its support of Israel’s military operations. The investigation has not been publicly announced; the State Department confirmed it in response to questions.
In addition to investigating use of the weapons in southern Lebanon, the State Department has held up a shipment of M-26 artillery rockets, a cluster weapon, that Israel sought during the conflict, the officials said. [complete article]
See also, Israeli shelling left carpet of bomblets (CSM). Sadr's militia and the slaughter in the streets
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 25, 2006
In a grungy restaurant with plastic tables in central Baghdad, the young Mahdi Army commander was staring earnestly. His beard was closely cropped around his jaw, his face otherwise cleanshaven. The sleeves of his yellow shirt were rolled down to the wrists despite the intense late-afternoon heat. He spoke matter-of-factly: Sunni Arab fighters suspected of attacking Shiite Muslims had no claim to mercy, no need of a trial.
"These cases do not need to go back to the religious courts," said the commander, who sat elbow to elbow with a fellow fighter in a short-sleeved, striped shirt. Neither displayed weapons. "Our constitution, the Koran, dictates killing for those who kill."
His comments offered a rare acknowledgment of the role of the Mahdi Army in the sectarian bloodletting that has killed more than 10,400 Iraqis in recent months. The Mahdi Army is the militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, now one of the most powerful figures in the country. [complete article]
Disavowed by Mahdi Army, shadowy 'Butcher' still targets Sadr's foes
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 25, 2006
In a dirty war where shadowy death squads claim victims daily and leaders on all sides deny blame, there's one killer to whom Iraqis can attach a name, if not a face.
Abu Diri, or Father of the Shield, is the nom de guerre of a Shiite Muslim man. Sunni Arabs of Baghdad also know him as "the Butcher." Like countless other killers in Iraq's capital today, Abu Diri and his followers dump their victims in the streets bearing bullet wounds and sometimes the smaller holes made by electric drills.
But U.S. military officers, Sunnis and even many Shiites say they believe Abu Diri kidnaps and kills Sunnis and other rivals with a zeal that has made him notorious, even in Baghdad's daily carnage. [complete article]
Sistani urges Iraqi politicians to stay home and work harder
By Paul von Zielbauer, New York Times, August 24, 2006
In a rare political statement, Iraq's most prominent Shiite religious leader has urged government ministers and members of Parliament to refrain from taking trips abroad and to focus on improving the lives of ordinary citizens, a spokesman said Thursday.
Also on Thursday, the top American commander for the Middle East, Gen. John P. Abizaid, told reporters in Baghdad that recent American and Iraqi security sweeps through some of the capital's most dangerous neighborhoods had made the city noticeably safer. His comments came on a day when two American soldiers were killed in or around Baghdad and when three car bombs and a fourth bomb here killed at least four people and wounded 23 others.
The Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who maintains a broad following of Shiites in Iraq, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries, delivered his message to a prominent Iraqi politician who visited him recently and asked the man to pass it on to other leaders, a spokesman for Ayatollah Sistani said Thursday. [complete article] Shays urges Iraq withdrawal
By Anushka Asthana, Washington Post, August 25, 2006
Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), once an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq, said yesterday that the Bush administration should set a time frame for withdrawing U.S. troops. He added that most of the withdrawal could take place next year.
Shays, who faces a tough reelection campaign because of his previous support for President Bush's war policies, made his comments after completing his 14th trip to Iraq this week.
He said he found a "noticeable lack of political will" among Iraqis "to move in what I would call a timely fashion" and concluded that Iraqi officials would act with greater urgency if the United States this fall set a timetable for withdrawal. [complete article] British leave Iraqi base; militia supporters jubilant
By Amit R. Paley, Washington Post, August 25, 2006
Maj. Charlie Burbridge, a British military spokesman, said the last of 1,200 troops left Camp Abu Naji, just outside Amarah, at noon Thursday, after several days of heavy mortar and rocket fire by a local militia, which local residents identified as the Sadr-controlled Mahdi Army. Adopting tactics used by a British special forces unit in North Africa during World War II, 600 of the soldiers plan to slip soon into the marshlands and deserts of eastern Maysan in an attempt to secure the Iranian border.
The repositioning is the first public acknowledgment that forces from the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq have entered into guerrilla warfare to combat the insurgents and militias they have been fighting for more than three years.
The British soldiers, members of the Queen's Royal Hussars, are preparing to trade their heavy Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior fighting vehicles for lightweight Land Rovers, Burbridge said. They expect to become a flexible, mobile force with no fixed base and receive supplies by airdrops. [complete article]
Turkish F-16 jets carry out strikes against PKK targets in N. Iraq
Cihan News Agency, Zaman.com, August 24, 2006
Turkish jet fighters have commenced air strikes against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PPK) bases in northern Iraq.
F-16 jets carried out air strikes against targets in the Kanimasi and Snaht regions in northern Iraq.
Army officials stated that the F-16 jets which took off during the night had inflicted serious casualties on the PKK. [complete article]
Kurdish rebels say they won't disarm
By Yahya Barzanji, AP (via Yahoo), August 24, 2006
A leader of Kurdish rebels battling Turkey's government said in a rare interview that his guerrillas will not give in to U.S. pressure to disarm without a "political project" that fulfills their calls for autonomy.
The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, invited a group of journalists to meet with party officials late Wednesday in the rugged, isolated Qandil Mountain in Iraq's northeast corner where the group is based.
"We will remain in the Qandil Mountains area and any demand to disarm without a political project is tantamount to suicide for us," said PKK co-president Murat Karayilan, who has seldom met in person with the media. [complete article] Syria draws a line at the border
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, August 26, 2006
When United Nations Resolution 1701 was passed on August 11, it was seen as a diplomatic breakthrough to end 33 days of war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Many today, however, are having serious doubts whether this ceasefire will last and whether 1701 is actually a diplomatic victory - or failure - for the UN. In addition to a ceasefire, the resolution demands the deployment of the Lebanese army, and eventually multinational troops, on the border to prevent any future war between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hezbollah. It gives Israel the right to self-defense, however, while denying this right to Hezbollah, explaining why the party's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, accepted the resolution "with reservations". [complete article]
On the sidelines of a cease-fire, an increasingly defiant Syria
By Rhonda Roumani and Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, August 25, 2006
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is generally seen in the US and in Israel as a weak leader who has to end his country's support for Hizbullah or face the consequences.
But in a string of recent statements, Mr. Assad has signaled that he has no intention of backing down and is determined to use the fraught situation in Lebanon to push his longstanding claims to the Golan Heights. [complete article] A symptom of the Lebanese system
By Ferry Biederman, Bitterlemons, August 24, 2006
Having won the war, is there a chance that Hizballah will lose the peace? Judging by the pace at which the fundamentalist Shi'ite movement is acting to compensate the Lebanese victims of the violence and the speed with which it has started its reconstruction effort, literally leaving the government in the dust, there seems to be very little chance of Hizballah falling behind in the internal Lebanese political game. The war and now reconstruction have tightened the movement's hold, at least for now, on its core Shi'ite constituency. It has reasserted itself as the resistance, against Israel and against American intentions for the country, and it has pushed the internal Lebanese debate back by at least several years, to when it was considered close to treason for politicians to criticize the movement.
At the same time, it is facing more internal criticism than ever before, even from within its own Shi'ite community. During the war criticism was certainly muted and even now, when a lot of people are still waiting for handouts, it has not yet become overwhelming. But certainly among the other communities there is a feeling that things cannot continue the way they were before Hizballah captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others on July 12, sparking more than a month of death and destruction for Lebanon. There is also a realization, brought on both by what is seen as Israel's indiscriminate use of force and its failure to strike a real blow at Hizballah, that the only way to deal with the movement is internally. No outsider, whether Israel, the UN or anybody else, will solve the issue of Hizballah's arms and its ability to undermine Lebanon's stability. [complete article]
Whose Lebanon will it now be?
By Joseph Bahout, Bitterlemons, August 24, 2006
It might well be true, as many frightened politicians in Lebanon are saying today, that Hizballah has just conducted a coup d'etat. But such an assertion would not be completely accurate unless it embraced the entire sequence of events: the attempt that commenced on July 12, the day the Islamist party abducted two Israeli soldiers along the border, and the plot that was completed with the cessation of hostilities under UN Security Council Resolution 1701. If this is true, i.e., if Hizballah has really put into practice the classical mechanism of "war making-state building", Israel should be entitled to claim the primary credit in its success. [complete article]
Force will not disarm Hizballah
By Rhonda Roumani, Bitterlemons, August 24, 2006
...with a ceasefire in place, political tensions within Lebanon's fragile government that simmered beneath the surface during the war are threatening to explode. A US-backed coalition of the March 14 forces, which forced Syria out of Lebanon last year, has emerged weaker and furious at Hizballah for dragging their country into war. The country's pro-Syrian camp, which is aligned with Hizballah and is backed by Iran and Syria, has emerged stronger. Increased hostilities between the two sides will likely once again focus on the issue of disarming Hizballah. [complete article]
Hizballah: where to go from here
By Oussama Safa, Bitterlemons, August 24, 2006
Ten days into the cessation of hostilities, the shell-shocked Lebanese are scrambling to stave off the disastrous effects of the massive destruction of their country--destruction on a magnitude not seen since the end of the 15-year civil war.
The polarized political scene in Beirut on the eve of the war, masked by a round of futile dialogue sessions, will soon face a moment of truth: whether or not to move out of the deadlock and how. At stake is whether the "Party of God" will finally agree to disband its military wing and become a serious partner in the political process to develop a democratic state in Lebanon, and whether the government majority is willing to accommodate its demands in return. With the war over, it is now possible to rethink the political state system in Lebanon and Hizballah's new political role in it. [complete article] France sets big force for Lebanon
By Molly Moore, Washington Post, August 25, 2006
French President Jacques Chirac said Thursday that France would commit 2,000 troops to a new international peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon. The decision breaks a stalemate that has held up the dispatch of soldiers seen by diplomats as crucial to maintaining the 11-day-old cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel.
Chirac's announcement in a nationally televised address followed days of intense negotiations with the United Nations, Lebanon and Israel over European concerns that the force would have no clear mandate and inadequate rights to open fire in defense of itself or civilians. [complete article]
Italian FM: Harsh U.S. approach to Mideast failed
By Meron Rapoport, Haaretz, August 25, 2006
If the planned multinational force in Lebanon succeeds, it might be possible to create a similar force for the Gaza Strip, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said in an interview with Haaretz.
D'Alema said that America's aggressive approach to the Middle East, which Israel shares, has failed, and has caused serious damage. Now, he said, Italy and Europe must prove to Israelis that only international intervention can bring them security. [complete article]
Most Israelis want Olmert to resign over Lebanon war
AFP (via Yahoo), August 25, 2006
A majority of Israelis want Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Amir Peretz and army chief Dan Halutz to resign over failings of the war in Lebanon, an opinion poll revealed.
Published in the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper, the survey found that 63 percent of Israelis think the increasingly unpopular Olmert should resign, compared to only 29 percent who would rather he stay. [complete article]
Turkey not to accept role of disarming Hezbollah
Cihan News Agency, Zaman.com, August 24, 2006
Turkey will not participate in the disarming of Hezbollah, the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman announced on Wednesday.
"If the task of disarmament of Hezbollah is given to Turkish forces, it is out of the question for Turkey to accept such a role," spokesman Namik Tan said Wednesday. [complete article]
Hizbollah's reconstruction of Lebanon is winning the loyalty of disaffected Shia
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, August 24, 2006
In the 20sqkm of Beirut's southern suburbs which have been destroyed or badly damaged in 35 days of Israeli bombing, 500,000 residents - most of them Shia - lost their homes. But money is being poured in. For example, one Shia owning four floors of an apartment block, Hussein Selim, has already received $42,000 in cash for his possessions and lost furniture. And Hizbollah has pledged to rebuild the entire municipal area from its own - or perhaps Iran's - funds.
A frightening side to this long-term promise for believers in the UN ceasefire is that Hizbollah has encouraged its Shia population to rent homes in Khalde, south of Beirut, since it intends to delay its entire city construction project for a year - because of its conviction that the ceasefire will break down and that another Israeli-Hizbollah war will only wreck newly built homes. [complete article]
Egypt's Mubarak dismisses criticism
Reuters (via WP), August 24, 2006
Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak lashed out at critics who have slammed his handling of the conflict in Lebanon as indecisive and slow.
In an interview with Al Massai newspaper published on Thursday, Mubarak dismissed criticism of Egypt's diplomatic handling of the war in Lebanon, saying that suggestions Egypt was absent from the crisis were wrong.
"My nerves are strong, thank God, and I am fortified against provocation, and I ask God to guide all those who lose their cool, which leads them to slips of the tongue," Mubarak said, when asked how he felt about attacks from Arab politicians. [complete article] New Yorker arrested for providing Hezbollah TV channel
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, August 25, 2006
A New York man was arrested yesterday on charges that he conspired to support a terrorist group by providing U.S. residents with access to Hezbollah's satellite channel, al-Manar.
Javed Iqbal runs HDTV Corp., a Brooklyn-based company registered with the Federal Communications Commission that provides satellite television transmissions to cable operators, private companies, government organizations and individual customers.
According to an affidavit made public yesterday in U.S. District Court in New York, a paid FBI confidential informant told law enforcement officials in February that Iqbal's company was selling "satellite television service, including access to al-Manar broadcasts." The informant then had a recorded conversation during which Iqbal offered al-Manar broadcasts along with other Arab television stations.
The U.S. Treasury Department in March designated al-Manar a "global terrorist entity" and a media arm of the Hezbollah terrorist network. The designation froze al-Manar's assets in the United States and prohibited any transactions between Americans and al-Manar.
Iqbal's attorney, Mustapha Ndanusa, said yesterday that the accusations against his client are "completely ridiculous," according to the Associated Press. Ndanusa added that he is not aware of another instance in which someone was accused of violating U.S. laws by enabling access to a news outlet.
Donna Lieberman of the American Civil Liberties Union said she is "deeply troubled" that a television distributor is being prosecuted for the content of a broadcaster. Such a prosecution, she said, "raises serious First Amendment concerns." She said she thinks that the law under which Iqbal has been charged has a First Amendment exception for news communications. [complete article]
Comment -- As Al-Manar TV soars into ratings 'Top 10' in the Middle East, one U.S. operator who almost certainly has no fear of getting into trouble for making Al-Manar broadcasts publicly available in the U.S. is darling of the neocons, MEMRI TV. Funny how highlighting the most controversial aspects of Al-Manar's broadcasts is a public service, but providing Americans with unfiltered access constitutes a public threat. I guess the U.S. government believes that most Americans are too stupid to risk being exposed to Hezbollah's propaganda. Thanks for keeping us safe! What's really driving the Fox News kidnapping
By Jamil Hamad and Tim McGirk, Time.com, August 24, 2006
As vague as it was, the demand put forth Wednesday by a previously unknown Palestinian militant group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades who claimed to be behind the August 14 capture of two Fox News crewmen in Gaza appeared to be just part of yet another anti-Western kidnapping. In a videotape showing the two journalists -- Steve Centanni, 60, a U.S. citizen, and Olaf Wiig, 36, a New Zealand cameraman -- their captors demanded that in return for their release the U.S. should free an unspecified number of Muslim prisoners from its jails. But Palestinian security sources tell TIME that the conditions presented Wednesday are little more than a stall tactic, and that the seizure of the two men has much more to do with internal Palestinian and Islamic militant politics than with striking a blow against Israel and the U.S.
The Palestinian security sources told TIME that Holy Jihad Brigades is made up of gunmen who belonged to one of the many armed groups that splintered apart from the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Arafat's weak and distracted successor, Mahmoud Abbas, has failed to rein them in, and they now operate inside the West Bank territories and Gaza as lawless vigilantes. Some are still on the payroll of Gaza's Preventive Security Police, a fiefdom of the Fatah's bosses. Suspicion has fallen on three groups in particular -- Al Nasser Salaheddin, Abu Reesh Brigade, Abu Rees Brigade, and a spin-off of al Qasa Brigades based in the Gaza town of Khan Younis, near where the TV crew was captured at gunpoint. These security sources say that most likely, the Holy Jihad Brigades was created for the sole purpose of carrying out this kidnapping. [complete article] Be grateful that exasperation has not stifled moderates
By Prince El-Hassan bin Talal, Daily Star, August 25, 2006
How much aggression in our region has been justified by the mantra that Western interests are under threat? The battle cries claim that all is at stake and every strike is a final defense of freedom and stability. But the premise behind this thinking has become all too obvious. Arabs and Muslims of whatever race or hue are not to be trusted. They are not to be dealt with fairly and the "liberal values" that protect the righteous of Israel or the United States are not for our defense or our protection. It seems that even the moderates in Arab societies lack the fiber that would grant them equality under international law. We are all as one, barbarians at the gate to be cowed and bullied into silent submission. [complete article] Blair's foreign policy is now a threat to national security
By David Clark, The Guardian, August 25, 2006
We know it. They know it. We know that they know it. So why do they continue to deny it? I am, of course, talking about the very obvious connection between British foreign policy and the rising terrorist threat, and the government's refusal to come to terms with it. Politicians rarely admit to their mistakes, but this mental block is more than just routine political obduracy; it is a serious issue of national security.
We have come to expect little better of Tony Blair, whose personal reputation now depends on such a falsified version of reality that he increasingly appears to inhabit a land of make-believe. But what was truly depressing about the response to the recent open letter from prominent Muslims warning that British policy is providing "ammunition to extremists" was the number of ministers - several of whom clearly know better - who lined up to parrot the mantra that it was "dangerous" to suggest a link.
Those same ministers must have been galled by this week's Guardian/ICM poll suggesting that 72% of the British people agree that our foreign policy has made us less secure, while only 1% accept the government's assurance that it has made us safer. That's as close to zero as it's possible to get in an opinion poll. There are probably more people in Britain who believe in Santa Claus or yogic flying. [complete article] U.S. frees longtime detainee
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, August 25, 2006
A German native who was imprisoned by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was released Thursday, more than 18 months after a federal judge in Washington ruled there was insufficient evidence to detain him.
Murat Kurnaz, 24, a Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germany, was flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and reunited with his mother, Rabiye Kurnaz, after spending more than four years as a prisoner at Guantanamo, according to his lawyers.
"What we saw was just an overwhelming human moment, an overjoyed weeping mother and her son," said Baher Azmy, a Seton Hall University law professor who served as a defense attorney for Kurnaz and was present for his client's arrival in Germany.
Without identifying Kurnaz by name, the Pentagon confirmed his release, saying that an administrative review board at Guantanamo had recommended his transfer to Germany. "The United States does not desire to hold detainees any longer than necessary," the Defense Department said in a statement. [complete article] The Iranian paradox: to gain victory the West must first concede defeat
By Anatole Kaletsky, The Times, August 24, 2006
Defeat is never pleasant, but often it is better to lose than to win. Defeat in the Second World War was the best thing that ever happened to Germany and Japan in their thousand years of recorded history. For America, losing in Vietnam was also a blessing in disguise. While defeat seemed to shatter the illusion of an "American century" of global dominance, it was followed by 30 years of almost uninterrupted prosperity, a political renaissance for conservative values and America's total victory over communism in the Cold War.
Such thoughts may not offer much consolation to George Bush, Tony Blair and Ehud Olmert as they contemplate their defeat at the hands of Iran and its Hezbollah allies. But the ordinary citizens of America, Britain and Israel should try to draw some constructive lessons from history, even while their leaders make ever greater fools of themselves with their idle threats against Iran's nuclear ambitions. [complete article]
Comment -- Two thoughts:
1. When it comes to predicting Israeli or American actions there is always a risk of overestimating their capacity for rational behavior and underestimating their willingness to ignore history.
2. If any ordinary Iranians still wonder who they should fear more, their own regime or the United States, all they have to do is look at Iraq and Lebanon. When Bush says, "We stand beside you," it's time to run for cover. Israel may 'go it alone' against Iran
By Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, August 24, 2006
Israel is carefully watching the world's reaction to Iran's continued refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, with some high-level officials arguing it is now clear that when it comes to stopping Iran, Israel "may have to go it alone," The Jerusalem Post has learned.
One senior source said on Tuesday that Iran "flipped the world the bird" by not responding positively to the Western incentive plan to stop uranium enrichment. He expressed frustration that the Russians and Chinese were already saying that Iran's offer of a "new formula" and willingness to enter "serious negotiations" was an opening to keep on talking.
"The Iranians know the world will do nothing," he said. "This is similar to the world's attempts to appease Hitler in the 1930s - they are trying to feed the beast."
He said there was a need to understand that "when push comes to shove," Israel would have to be prepared to "slow down" the Iranian nuclear threat by itself. [complete article] U.S. spy agencies criticized on Iran
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, August 24, 2006
A key House committee issued a stinging critique of U.S. intelligence on Iran yesterday, charging that the CIA and other agencies lack "the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments" on Tehran's nuclear program, its intentions or even its ties to terrorism.
The 29-page report [PDF], principally written by a Republican staff member on the House intelligence committee who holds a hard-line view on Iran, fully backs the White House position that the Islamic republic is moving forward with a nuclear weapons program and that it poses a significant danger to the United States. But it chides the intelligence community for not providing enough direct evidence to support that assertion. [complete article]
See also, U.S. gives mixed signals on its response to Iran (LAT).
Comment -- The report notes that, "U.S. negotiators will need as complete an understanding as possible about the Iranian nuclear program, including its research facilities and its leaders' intentions." Here's a tip on how to gather some of this vital intelligence and figure out the Iranian leaders' intentions: talk to them! Hezbollah card played in nukes fight
By Ori Nir, The Forward, August 18, 2006
Pro-Israel activists in Washington are arguing that if Iran transferred its most advanced military technology to terrorists, it can be expected to supply nuclear material to Hezbollah once Iran possesses highly enriched uranium.
Referring to the evidence of Iran's extensive arms exports to Hezbollah, one activist said, "This surely puts some arrows in our quiver." Pro-Israel activists were encouraged Monday when President Bush said, during a press conference, "We can only imagine how much more dangerous this conflict would be if Iran has the nuclear weapons it seeks."
"Iran," Bush added, "has made clear that it seeks the destruction of Israel."
Jewish groups are working to reinforce the message that the latest fighting reinforces the need for a crackdown on Iran's nuclear program. But a public, high-profile campaign at the end of August, when Washington is on collective leave, would be of little value, pro-Israel activists said. "This is something you do in quiet, private conversations, diplomatically," said Nathan Diament, who directs the Washington office of the Orthodox Union. "But to the degree that Iran is boasting a victory, it should be all the more incentive for the Europeans and the Russians and the others to confront Iran at the end of this month rather than allow it another victory lap." [complete article] 'Shiite giant' extends its reach
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 24, 2006
Pumping their fists in the air, the men and boys inside the colonnaded mosque shouted their loyalty to Shiite Muslim leader Moqtada al-Sadr. "Hasten the coming of the Mahdi!" thousands chanted in the baking sun of the open-air mosque, summoning the central religious figure of Sadr's movement. "And curse his enemies!"
Booming loudspeakers outside the mosque echoed the devotion of Sadr's followers converging for Friday prayers last month in Kufa, the cleric's spiritual base outside the Shiite holy city of Najaf. "Moqtada! Moqtada!" martial male voices intoned over the loudspeakers in rhythmic cadence with the footsteps of the gathering worshipers. "Even the child in the mother's cradle cries: 'Moqtada! Moqtada!' "
Sadr's followers answer as one when his movement calls them, and his organization of social, religious, political and military programs -- as well as the young clerics, politicians and fighters around him -- has become the most pivotal force in Iraq after the United States.
Millions of Sadr's supporters turned out in December elections to give his movement the largest bloc in parliament, which in turn put him in control of four government ministries. Thousands of male followers abandoned their homes and jobs when a bomb destroyed a Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22, rallying at Sadr headquarters on a night and day of retaliatory bloodletting that plunged Iraq into sectarian war.
While opposition to the U.S. military presence in Iraq remains one of its core tenets, the Sadr movement's militia, called the Mahdi Army, took heavy casualties in two military uprisings against better-armed, better-trained U.S. forces in 2004. Today, according to Sadr leaders and outside analysts, the movement is husbanding its strength and waiting for American troops to go.
Sadr "clearly is the most potent political figure, and the most popular one," in Iraq, said Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. "Unless directly provoked, Sadrists will lay low, because they know the Americans' time in Iraq is coming to an end," he said. "Why would they risk another major loss of fighters if it's not necessary? Americans in their eyes are already defeated -- they're going to leave." [complete article] Bush's new Iraq argument: it could be worse
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, August 24, 2006
Of all the words that President Bush used at his news conference this week to defend his policies in Iraq, the one that did not pass his lips was "progress."
For three years, the president tried to reassure Americans that more progress was being made in Iraq than they realized. But with Iraq either in civil war or on the brink of it, Bush dropped the unseen-progress argument in favor of the contention that things could be even worse.
Christopher F. Gelpi, a Duke University scholar whose research on public opinion in wartime has been influential in the White House, said Bush has little choice.
"He looks foolish and not credible if he says, 'We're making progress in Iraq,' " Gelpi said. "I think he probably would like to make that argument, but because that's not credible given the facts on the ground, this is the fallback. . . . If the only thing you can say is 'Yes, it's bad, but it could be worse,' that really is a last-ditch argument." [complete article] Promoting peace is for wimps - real governments sell weapons
By George Monbiot, The Guardian, August 24, 2006
It's described by a senior official at the Ministry of Defence as "a dead duck ... expensive and obsolete". The editor of World Defence Systems calls it "10 years out of date". A former defence minister remarked that it is "essentially flawed and out of date". So how on earth did BAE Systems manage to sell 72 Eurofighters to Saudi Arabia on Friday?
One answer is that it had some eminent salesmen. On July 2 2005, Tony Blair secretly landed in Riyadh to persuade the Saudi princes that this flying scrapheap was the must-have accessory for every fashionable young despot. Three weeks later the defence secretary John Reid turned up to deploy his subtle charms. Somehow the deal survived, and last week his successor, Des Browne, signed the agreement. All of which raises a second question. Why are government ministers, even Blair himself, prepared to reduce themselves to hawkers on behalf of arms merchants? [complete article] What is the point of his government?
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, August 24, 2006
The West Bank convergence plan died one year after the implementation of its predecessor, disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Last Friday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced its passing in "conversations with ministers," according to a report by Yossi Verter in Haaretz.
Olmert did not think that his own Kadima party voters and the general public were entitled to an in-depth explanation, from his own lips, of the demise of his government's fundamental platform. He matter-of-factly assumed that Israelis, under Katyusha fire from Lebanon, had already internalized the shift in due course. Cancellation of the convergence plan raises two main questions: What is meanwhile happening in the territories and what is the point of continuing Olmert's government? [complete article]
PA officials: Kidnapped IDF soldier Shalit's fate is in Syrian hands
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, August 24, 2006
Senior Palestinian Authority officials say the Syrian government holds the key to kidnapped Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit's freedom. They say everyone involved in the affair knows that only the Hamas leadership in Syria can tell the kidnappers what to do with Shalit and approve a deal that would set him free.
The PA officials also say the Hamas leadership in Damascus does not want to cross Syrian government officials and are waiting for orders from them. The officials say the Israeli assumption that senior Hamas officials would hand over Shalit without a green light from Syria is unrealistic. Even if a separate deal is worked out with Hamas, exclusive of any deal with Hezbollah, Syria would still be the main ringleader. [complete article]
Fatah leaders meet to discuss Hamas
By Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, August 24, 2006
For the first time since the Hamas victory in the parliamentary elections earlier this year, the Fatah central committee, a key decision-making body in the Palestinian Authority, began a three-day meeting in Jordan on Wednesday to discuss internal reforms and relations with Hamas.
Meanwhile, a radical Islamic group called Hizb al-Tahrir (Liberation Party) is planning to declare the birth of an Islamic caliphate in the Gaza Strip on Friday. The relatively small party, which is seen as more extreme than Hamas, is said to have increased its popularity following what is perceived as a Hizbullah victory over Israel. [complete article]
Tension, violence running high in Gaza
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, August 24, 2006
It's blazing hot every day; the electricity comes and goes. And when there's no electricity, there's no water. Nobody has any money, but everyone, it seems, has a weapon.
The Israelis left the Gaza Strip last fall. But now they seem to be everywhere at once — on the ground, in the air and even on the other end of the telephone as a voice warning civilians in accented Arabic of impending missile strikes.
There's no way out. The borders are closed for months at a time to all but foreign passport holders and those with political connections.
"We're living in one big prison," said Sulaiman abu Samhadana, whose employees at the Gaza electric company face daily abuse and threats as they cut off power to neighborhoods to stretch the limited supply. [complete article] Lebanese premier seeks U.S. help in lifting blockade
By Edward Cody, Washington Post, August 24, 2006
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Wednesday that he has asked the United States for help in getting Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on Lebanon during the recently concluded war with Hezbollah.
Siniora's appeal, which Beirut newspapers said was made to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, reflected growing irritation among Lebanese leaders at continued restrictions under which the Israeli military controls all air and sea transport in and out of the country despite the U.N. cease-fire that came into effect 10 days ago. [complete article] Hezbollah warns Blair: you're not welcome in Beirut
By Richard Beeston and Sam Coates, The Times, August 24, 2006
Tony Blair's peace mission to the Middle East appeared in jeopardy last night after Hezbollah declared that the Prime Minister would not be welcome in Lebanon because of his support for Israel during the war.
A senior member of Hezbollah's politburo has told The Times that Mr Blair should stay away from the country because he was "up to his ears in the blood of Lebanese women and children".
British officials are confident that Mr Blair would be welcomed by the government of Fouad Siniora, the Prime Minister. But Hezbollah, which has emerged as the real force in the country, has stepped up its attack on Britain in recent days and Mr Blair would risk an angry reception from its supporters if he visits the country.
Dozens of foreign leaders, including the Emir of Qatar and the French Foreign Minister, have been welcomed to Lebanon since fighting began on July 12. But last month Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, was forced to return to Washington after she was told that she would not be welcome in Beirut because of the Bush Administration’s support for Israel. [complete article] Poll: 18% of Israeli Arabs backed Hezbollah in war
By Gideon Alon, Haaretz, August 24, 2006
A majority of the Jewish Israeli public believes Israeli Arabs supported Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah during the war in Lebanon, according to a Dahaf poll conducted by Mina Tzemach. Some 18% of Israeli Arabs polled said they supported Hezbollah during the month-long war in the north.
Some 15% of Jewish Israelis polled said all Israeli Arabs supported Nasrallah, while 40% claimed that most Israeli Arabs supported him. Some 21% of the respondents said that half of Israeli Arabs supported Nasrallah, and 21% believe that only a small minority of Israeli Arabs supported the Hezbollah leader.
When asked who they supported in the second Lebanon war, 27% of the Israeli Arabs polled said they backed Israel, 18% said they supported Hezbollah and 36% said they did not support either side. [complete article] Israeli shelling left carpet of bomblets
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2006
Deminers had already been through this house once, collecting unexploded Israeli cluster bombs from the roof, front porch, and path. But they had to move on to clear other houses of potentially deadly surprises - and so left for later bombs in Umm Mazen's garden and olive grove.
But her patience broke. Looking through her children's bedroom windows, Umm Mazen could still see cluster bombs in the dirt. Five weeks of war has carpeted south Lebanon with tens of thousands of small Israeli explosives.
"Finish today! I'm not waiting any longer!" wailed Umm Mazen at one deminer, as a team from the British Mines Advisory Group (MAG) sealed off the next street to blow up several cluster bombs. Angry, frustrated, and finally collapsing into tears, she spluttered: "Buy my house! I want to leave here!"
Civilian casualties are growing from this 34-day war. By late Wednesday, Lebanese Army figures indicated eight deaths and 38 wounded from cluster bombs; the UN reported 249 cluster-bomb strike locations where dud rates have reached as high as 70 percent.
"This is the worst [cluster- bomb contamination] I have ever seen," says Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst with the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), who was chief of high-value targeting for the Pentagon during the Iraq invasion of 2003, and took part in several US military battle-damage assessments dating back to 1998.
"We're on the verge of a potential humanitarian crisis if the deminers can't get a handle on this," says Mr. Garlasco. American use of cluster bombs during the 2003 Iraq invasion was "very problematic, but it makes what happened here look like child's play." [complete article]
Negotiations preceded attack on convoy of fleeing Lebanese
By Edward Cody, Washington Post, August 24, 2006
Darkness had descended on the Bekaa Valley when the long convoy of cars snaked up a gentle slope toward Kefraya. In better times, the little town was celebrated for its wine. But to the Lebanese fleeing the war that night, it was a way station on the road to safety.
Or so they thought.
A dry boom rang out without warning shortly before 10 p.m., and the second car in the convoy exploded in flames, witnesses recounted. In the blackness, no one understood at first. People alighted from their cars to see what was the matter. The buzz of an Israeli drone was heard overhead -- some recalled hearing two drones -- and the awful realization settled over the travelers that they were under attack. [complete article]
By Rasha Salti, TomDispatch, August 24, 2006
Throughout the war, shelling, siege, grief, and sorrow, the bougainvilleas have been in full, glorious bloom. Their colors are dizzying in their intensity: purplish red, boastful fuchsia, glaring white, and sometimes canary yellow. Most of the time, their bloom, which is the objective outcome of "natural" factors, namely, access to water, sun, heat, and even perhaps wind, has irritated me. Everything has changed in this time of war, except the full glorious bloom of the bougainvilleas. Other flowering trees have wilted, or shied, as their franchised gardeners or patrons no longer operate on the same schedule or have evacuated on the ships of the bi-nationals.
On the road to Saida, I was struck, irked, and even upset at the bougainvilleas full bloom. Between their abundant leaves and flowers, vignettes of the ravages appeared. Bridges torn in their midst framed by the purple and fuchsia bloom of the bougainvilleas. [complete article] Halutz admits wartime flaws
By Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, August 24, 2006
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz has acknowledged for the first time that there were shortcomings in the military's performance during the recent Lebanon war, media reported on Thursday.
Criticism of the military's preparedness and tactics swelled as the monthlong fighting dragged on, then ended without a clearcut victory for Israel. Questions about the wisdom of 11th-hour battles and reports of food and water shortages have fueled demands for a state inquiry into the war's conduct and the resignation of Israel's wartime leaders. [complete article]
See also, Israeli treasury shocked by cost of war (Haaretz). Grocer with Hezbollah leader's name tells of seizure by Israel
By Leila Fadel, McClatchy, August 23, 2006
Hassan Dib Nasrallah, a Lebanese grocer, is a slight man with short gray whiskers. He's 54, bald and looks nothing like the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who, at 46, is full-faced with a dark beard.
Which was why Nasrallah the grocer was surprised by the first question from his interrogators after a daring Israeli commando raid snatched him from his neighborhood Aug. 1 and spirited him and four others aboard helicopters back to Israel for questioning.
"They said, 'Are you Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah?'" the grocer recalled, using an honorific that designates Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah as a descendant of Muhammad. "I said no." [complete article]
Comment -- It's hard to believe that IDF commandos and interrogators would be unfamiliar with the appearance of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, but who knows?
Soon after the raid in which this grocer and his sons were captured, when asked if any "big fish" had been caught, Ehud Olmert said, "They are tasty fishes." However, IDF chief of staff, Gen. Dan Halutz, said that the mission was not aimed at capturing anyone in particular but that, "We have carried out this operation to prove that we can hit everywhere in Lebanon."
Israel's Foreign Ministry Aussie spokesman, Mark Regev, now says, "There was a situation where people we picked up assuming they were Hezbollah fighters turned out not to be. When it became clear in the interview that they were not Hezbollah, they were released as quickly as possible. This particular grocer was one such person."
"As quickly as possible" -- but only after an Israeli civil rights lawyer filed a petition to Israel's High Court of Justice demanding their release. Which leads me to wonder: When Israeli officials lie, do they imagine that they sound credible or do they simply assume that no one expects them to be telling the truth? Beirut's future: Paris or Mogadishu?
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, August 23, 2006
I visited the southern suburbs of Beirut on Monday for the first time after Israel had bombed its core to smithereens. It was impressive to watch the clean-up and reconstruction work under way by Hizbullah, the government and scores of local and international non-governmental organizations. Tens of thousands of people walking through the rubble exhibited pride and achievement at having withstood the attacks, and at seeing Hizbullah fight Israel to a draw.
But I also had mixed feelings as I watched Hizbullah give out cash payments of $10,000 and more to families whose homes were destroyed, so that they could get through the next year. I wondered: What if the war had not happened and Hizbullah had given $10,000 to each of the estimated 15,000 eligible families for some other use - to buy computer systems, encyclopedias, and poetry books, and to send thousands of deserving students to university? But the world does not work like that. Israel's massive attack against civilian and Hizbullah military targets throughout Lebanon was one sign of the irrationality - laced with barbarism - that often defines political decisions in this part of the world. Hizbullah's response was honed over a quarter of a century of fighting off Israeli attacks, occupations and threats. Its 3,000 missiles and rockets fired into northern Israel caused some material and human damage, but sent a powerful political message that resonates throughout the region: Israel's military is not invincible, and can be stymied with determined planning and courageous resistance.
That's correct, but then what? Another war? Better bomb shelters? More accurate missiles? More tens of thousands of destroyed homes in Lebanon and Israel? Public opinion in the Arab world, and among governments in Syria, Iran and a few other places, is prepared to fight Israel to the death - as long as that battle is waged in Lebanon. Israel for its part, with explicit American diplomatic support and military re-supply lines, is prepared to destroy Lebanon, period. These are uninviting prospects; we deserve better options. [complete article]
See also, Riviera vs Citadel: the battle for Lebanon (Nadim Shehadi). The 'new Middle East' Bush is resisting
By Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Washington Post, August 23, 2006
According to the preliminary results of a recent public opinion survey of 1,700 Egyptians by the Cairo-based Ibn Khaldun Center, Hezbollah's action garnered 75 percent approval, and Nasrallah led a list of 30 regional public figures ranked by perceived importance. He appears on 82 percent of responses, followed by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (73 percent), Khaled Meshal of Hamas (60 percent), Osama bin Laden (52 percent) and Mohammed Mahdi Akef of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (45 percent).
The pattern here is clear, and it is Islamic. And among the few secular public figures who made it into the top 10 are Palestinian Marwan Barghouti (31 percent) and Egypt's Ayman Nour (29 percent), both of whom are prisoners of conscience in Israeli and Egyptian jails, respectively.
None of the current heads of Arab states made the list of the 10 most popular public figures. While subject to future fluctuations, these Egyptian findings suggest the direction in which the region is moving. The Arab people do not respect the ruling regimes, perceiving them to be autocratic, corrupt and inept. They are, at best, ambivalent about the fanatical Islamists of the bin Laden variety. More mainstream Islamists with broad support, developed civic dispositions and services to provide are the most likely actors in building a new Middle East. In fact, they are already doing so through the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, the similarly named PJD in Morocco, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine and, yes, Hezbollah in Lebanon.
These groups, parties and movements are not inimical to democracy. They have accepted electoral systems and practiced electoral politics, probably too well for Washington's taste. Whether we like it or not, these are the facts. The rest of the Western world must come to grips with the new reality, even if the U.S. president and his secretary of state continue to reject the new offspring of their own policies. [complete article] Relief agencies find Hezbollah hard to avoid
By Robert F. Worth and Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, August 23, 2006
When Mercy Corps and other Western aid agencies reached this devastated village on the front line of the battle between Israel and Hezbollah with food and medicine, they quickly discovered they had a big problem: the United States.
Like all other international relief agencies here that receive financing from the American government, Mercy Corps is barred from giving out money or aid through Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group that is considered a terrorist organization by the United States. But as with all the most demolished areas in southern Lebanon, where whole villages have been flattened by Israeli bombs and there is no food, water or electricity, this village is the domain of Hezbollah — and little seems to bypass the group.
That fact is nettlesome for the United States, not merely because it does not want Hezbollah to be strengthened even further after its war with Israel, but because it is eager to find and support a viable alternative to the militant group.
That will not be easy. Hezbollah has been the fastest and, without a doubt, most effective organization doling out aid to the shattered towns and villages of southern Lebanon. Aid groups like Mercy Corps — which generally work through local intermediaries — have sometimes struggled to find other ways of helping, and even then, they cannot be sure their aid is not going through Hezbollah. [complete article]
Comment -- It's the darndest conundrum! First the terrorists hide among the civilians. Then they start helping them. Worst of all, if the United States can actually figure out how to circumnavigate around the most effective relief organization in southern Lebanon, you can bet that most of the recipients of the U.S.-approved aid will still retain their sympathies with the local heroes -- I mean terrorists. How unforgiving the Middle East can be to those hapless Americans! Israel accused over 'war crimes'
BBC News, August 23, 2006
Amnesty International has accused Israel of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in Lebanon.
The human rights group says attacks on homes, bridges, roads and water and fuel plants were an "integral part" of Israel's strategy in the recent war.
The group also calls for a UN investigation into whether both Israel and Hezbollah broke humanitarian law. [complete article]
See also, U.N . permits wide use of force in Lebanon (Reuters), Israel must lift blockade on Lebanon: French FM (AFP), Israel won't end Lebanon blockade (AP), and A month of living dangerously in south Lebanon (Nicholas Blanford). Poll shows a shift in opinion on Iraq war
By Carl Hulse and Marjorie Connelly, New York Times, August 23, 2006
Americans increasingly see the war in Iraq as distinct from the fight against terrorism, and nearly half believe President Bush has focused too much on Iraq to the exclusion of other threats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
The poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed saw no link between the war in Iraq and the broader antiterror effort, a jump of 10 percentage points since June. That increase comes despite the regular insistence of Mr. Bush and Congressional Republicans that the two are intertwined and should be seen as complementary elements of a strategy to prevent domestic terrorism.
Should the trend hold, the rising skepticism could present a political obstacle for Mr. Bush and his allies on Capitol Hill, who are making their record on terrorism a central element of the midterm election campaign. The Republicans hope that by expressing a desire for forceful action against terrorists, they can offset unease with the Iraq war and blunt the political appeal of Democratic calls to establish a timeline to withdraw American troops. [complete article]
See also, On Iraq, U.S. public trusts neither party (CSM). Iran's regional position is key to its strength
Chatham House, August 23, 2006
Iran's influence in Iraq has superseded that of the US, and it is increasingly rivalling the US as the main actor at the crossroads between the Middle East and Asia. Its role within other war-torn areas such as Afghanistan and southern Lebanon has now increased hugely. This is compounded by the failure of the US and its allies to appreciate the extent of Iran's regional relationships and standing - a dynamic which is the key to understanding Iran's newly found confidence and belligerence towards the West. As a result, the US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region. This is the key finding of Iran, its Neighbours and the Regional Crises [52-page PDF document], a major new report published by Chatham House.
The report also looks into the ideology of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and unpicks Iran’s complicated power structure. It claims that despite his popularity, Ahmadinejad neither holds an insurmountable position within Iran nor commands universal support for his outspoken foreign policy positions. The paper outlines the friction between Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, with the former increasingly trying to wrest control of foreign policy away from the extreme positions of Ahmadinejad and his hardline supporters. [complete article]
U.S. made an offer Iran can only refuse
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times, August 24, 2006
Details of Iran's 23-page written response have not been released, but they crucially are expected to confirm that Iran is not prepared to suspend uranium-enrichment activities without comprehensive security guarantees, especially from the US, in return.
The US has never been prepared to give such guarantees, and thus ends what appeared on the surface to be a genuine multilateral initiative for negotiations with Iran on the terms under which it would give up its nuclear program.
US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was reported to have said that his country would study the Iranian response "carefully", adding that "if it doesn't meet with the terms set by the Security Council, we will proceed to economic sanctions".
The history of the international proposal shows that the Bush administration was determined from the beginning that it would fail, so that it could bring to a halt a multilateral diplomacy on Iran's nuclear program that the hardliners in the administration had always found a hindrance to their policy. [complete article] The occupier defines justice
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, August 23, 2006
On Jerusalem's Jabotinsky Street, opposite the President's Residence, a medium-sized plaque is fixed on a locked gate, enclosing a broad building and a lovely garden: "This building was the location of the British Mandate Government's High Military Court, which held the trials of the Hebrew resistance fighters from the Haganah, Etzel and Lehi." The sign bears the emblems of the Jerusalem municipality and the three resistance organizations. It further notes: "The resistance fighters refused to acknowledge the authority of the court to judge them, and asked to be recognized as prisoners of war."
The speaker of the Palestinian Authority's parliament, who was arrested two weeks ago by the Israel Defense Forces, also refused to acknowledge the authority of the Military Court to judge him. Obviously the two latest detainees, whose arrest was deemed by Israel to be the appropriate solution to its shortcomings in releasing kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, will make the same declaration. Nasser A-Shaer, the Palestinian education minister and deputy prime minister, and Mahmoud Ramahi, chief whip of the Palestinian Legislative Council, were arrested on Saturday and Sunday. Incidentally, the Palestinians have lately ceased using the verb "arrested" in regards to the arrests of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers. Instead they use the verb "abducted."
These three detainees/abducted join about 10,000 other Palestinian prisoners and detainees. As with the prisoners of the Hebrew resistance, who saw themselves as POWs regardless of their actions (killing British soldiers or Arab civilians), some Palestinians request that their prisoners be declared POWs. Others prefer the definition of political prisoners. Let's let the definitions rest. In any case, from the offense to the jailing, Israel, as an occupying force, plays around with the definitions as it sees fit. [complete article]
Haniyya, Abbas jockey for position on formation of unity government
Daily Star, August 23, 2006
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya said Tuesday that a possible national unity coalition would be "open to all" during a meeting of his beleaguered Hamas-led Cabinet, as Israel continued its two-month old offensive against the Gaza Strip. "A national unity government will be open to all" parties, Haniyya said. "We are not imposing conditions."
But a top aide to President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that the president will not form
any new coalition unless Hamas clearly accepts a political program that recognizes Israel. [complete article]
Video of kidnapped journalists released
AP (via Yahoo), August 23, 2006
A previously unknown Palestinian group released the first video Wednesday of two kidnapped Fox News journalists and demanded that Muslim prisoners in U.S. jails be released within 72 hours in exchange for the men, a Palestinian news agency reported.
In the video, Steve Centanni, 60, of the San Francisco area, and cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, of New Zealand, appeared to be in good health, seated on the floor in sweat suits against a black background. No armed men were shown.
"Our captors are treating us well," Centanni said, adding that they had access to clean water, showers, bathrooms, food and clothing. [complete article] The president's argument for withdrawal
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, August 22, 2006
President Bush yesterday repeated an increasingly questionable assumption about the U.S. enterprise in Iraq, and of military withdrawal: A "failed" Iraq will provide a haven for terrorists, threatening the United States.
The image the president and the administration want to convey is Iraq-as-Taliban Afghanistan, which they argue was a prime breeding ground for al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda may have flourished in Taliban Afghanistan, but the premise about terror's origins, and about the terror threat to the United States today, is wrong.
The breeding ground for terrorism was and is our partners in the war against terrorism, the states the president wants Iraq to emulate: Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. [complete article]
See also, Marine reservists facing combat duty (WP). Nation faltering, Afghans' leader draws criticism
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, August 23, 2006
After months of widespread frustration with corruption, the economy and a lack of justice and security, doubts about President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, and by extension the American-led effort to rebuild that nation, have led to a crisis of confidence.
Interviews with ordinary Afghans and with foreign diplomats and Afghan officials make it clear that the expanding Taliban insurgency in the south represents the most serious challenge to his presidency to date.
The insurgency, along with the other issues, has brought an eruption of doubts about Mr. Karzai, who is widely viewed as having failed to attend to a range of problems. That has left more and more Afghans asking what the government is doing. [complete article] Iraq's war of elimination
By Zaid Al-Ali, Open Democracy, August 22, 2006
The armed attack on a Shi'a religious procession in Baghdad on 20 August 2006 that killed around seventeen pilgrims (as well as four gunmen) and caused injury to at least 253 is only the latest incident in an escalating cycle of sectarian violence in the city. The numbers being killed on both sides of the Shi'a-Sunni divide – the total in July was 3,438, an average of more than 100 each day – are greater than at any time since the United States-led invasion of 2003. What are the reasons for this intensifying trend, and how does it relate to current US plans for Iraq's political future?
The available evidence suggests that the war in Iraq has indeed recently entered a new phase, which will prove to be even bloodier than anything that the country has seen before. Over the past few months, guerrillas have been flowing into Baghdad from the north, west and south and have started engaging each other with a view to eliminating each other from the streets of the capital. The groups that are engaged in this struggle are working to eliminate their rivals altogether, one neighbourhood at a time. [complete article]
Why the U.S. can't stop the killing
By Charles Crain, Time, August 22, 2006
Though U.S. and Iraqi officials in Baghdad and Washington say that quelling sectarian violence is their highest priority, the continued inability of U.S. or Iraqi forces to do anything to curb the power of armed militias has meant the slaughter has grown beyond anyone's control. The July death toll in the capital exceeded 3,400, making it the bloodiest month since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The escalating bloodshed has prompted the U.S. to send 5,500 more soldiers to the city — only weeks after 7,200 U.S. troops and 42,500 Iraqis launched Operation Forward Together, the latest futile attempt to bring a semblance of order to Baghdad. Among some military officers who deal with Iraq, there is an open debate whether U.S. forces should be asked to intervene to stop the civil war. "Why at this point is this exclusively a U.S. military problem to solve?" asks one. "This has long been a multidimensional fight that we are only using soldiers for. [But] we can't fight our way out of this, even with five times as many soldiers." [complete article] Solving the riddles of Iran
By Azadeh Moaveni, Time.com, August 21, 2006
The broad spectrum of Iran's political factions, including reformists, backs a nuclear program as a way of ensuring the country's regional status. Former President Mohammad Khatami might have made the point more softly, but consensus existed long before the arrival of firebrand Ahmadinejad, who makes the case in louder, more menacing tones. There's certainly disagreement over how much Iran should risk in running this course, and what incentives it should settle for in suspending it altogether. But there is a core belief here that without a nuclear program, Iran will be blocked from consolidating its growing influence in the region.
Before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iranian leaders felt their role in the region was incommensurate with its geostrategic location, educated population, oil resources, and proud national history. The fall of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein created new spheres of Iranian influence, in fact a whole new regional dynamic that has neatly granted Iran a short-cut to great power status it could not have dreamed of otherwise. The system establishment views its nuclear program as a way to entrench those ambitions, and ensure its own survival.
If Iran's main ambition is a nationalistic drive for regional prominence, it is natural to ask why it cannot pursue this goal by aligning its interests with the West, and normalizing relations with the United States. After all, the strategy Iran pursues today — backing Islamic militant groups, keeping Iraq in a state of controlled chaos, and playing to the Arab/Sunni street with anti-U.S., anti-Israel rhetoric — is both risky and near-sighted. It is a strategy that rests on regional instability (on Hizballah never being disarmed, on Syria and the Palestinians never reaching accord with Israel, on Iraq remaining chaotic), and on discrediting and bogging down the U.S. in Iraq, to keep its sights off Iran. Tehran's real, long-term interests would be better served by a stable Middle East, especially a stable Iraq, but abandoning these needling policies would mean trusting that the United States is not a threat. [complete article]
Former president of Iran invited to speak in D.C.
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 22, 2006
Despite a looming diplomatic showdown with Iran over its nuclear program, the Bush administration has agreed to issue a visa to former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to give a public address at the Washington National Cathedral next month, according to the Rev. Canon John L. Peterson, director of the Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation.
Khatami would be the most senior Iranian to visit Washington since Iran's 1979 revolution and the 1979-1981 takeover of the U.S. Embassy, which led Washington to sever relations with a country that had been one of its two closest allies in the Middle East.
In February, Khatami founded the International Institute for Dialogue Among Civilizations and Cultures, headquartered in Tehran. He plans to speak in Washington on the dialogue of civilizations and the role the three Abrahamic faiths -- Islam, Judaism and Christianity -- can play in the peace process. Plans call for the event, at the National Cathedral at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 7, to be free and open to the public. [complete article]
Iran fires practice missiles and affirms nuclear stance
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, August 22, 2006
As Iran fired 10 short-range missiles on the second day of a large-scale military maneuver, officials on Sunday reiterated Iran’s stance that it did not intend to halt its uranium enrichment program.
The statement comes two days before Iran's self-imposed deadline of Aug. 22 for responding to a package of incentives offered by six Western nations in return for halting the program. The United Nations Security Council has set a deadline of Aug. 31 for Iran to suspend the program or face the possibility of economic sanctions. Statements by officials so far suggest that Iran will neither agree to the incentives deal nor yield to the Security Council. [complete article]
Iran refuses access to nuclear site
By Robert Tait, The Guardian, August 22, 2006
Iran was accused today of hampering international officials engaged in inspecting its nuclear facilities.
As the country's Islamic rulers prepared to present their formal response to an international incentive offer aimed at persuading them to abandon a nuclear fuel project the west suspects is designed to produce an atomic bomb, western diplomats said inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna were refused access to areas of Iran's uranium enrichment centre at Natanz. [complete article]
Venezuela strengthens its relationships in the Middle East
By Simon Romero, New York Times, August 22, 2006
Venezuela has long cultivated ties with Middle Eastern governments, finding common ground in trying to keep oil prices high, but its recent engagement of Iran has become a defining element in its effort to build an alliance to curb American influence in developing countries.
In a visit late last month to Tehran by President Hugo Chavez and his oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, the two countries agreed to produce jointly nearly a dozen products, including crude oil and medicines. In a further sign that their ties have taken on a new dimension, the two countries are speaking in a more unified voice in their criticism of Israel and the United States. [complete article] BAE is major donor to U.S. candidates
By Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Financial Times, August 22, 2006
BAE, the British defence group, has emerged as one of the most powerful corporate contributors to candidates in the current US election cycle, ranking number 18 in a list of the biggest corporate donors.
US subsidiaries of British companies have doled out about $3.7m in political contributions ahead of November's congressional election, with 68 per cent of the donations supporting Republican candidates, according to an analysis by the FT of figures compiled by Political Moneyline, a website that tracks political contributions.
Although GlaxoSmithKline, the UK drugmaker, technically ranks as the single biggest corporate donor to US candidates of all US subsidiaries of UK companies, the combined spending of two separate BAE political action committees – or pacs – outranks the drug company.
The BAE figures analysed by the FT include campaign contributions made by United Defense, a US company, in the current election cycle before it was acquired by BAE last year.
The two committees dispersed a combined $439,499 to individual Republican candidates – compared to $232,500 to Democrats – outspending some of the largest US companies, including ExxonMobil, the oil giant, Microsoft, the software maker, and Citigroup, the banking group. [complete article]
British arms merchant with passport to the Pentagon
By Leslie Wayne, New York Times, August 16, 2006
It is hard to tell whether BAE Systems should be flying the Union Jack or waving the Stars and Stripes.
BAE, the British military contractor, manages top-secret programs in England and the United States and makes weapons for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is the world's fourth-largest military contractor and the seventh-biggest in the United States, the only foreign Pentagon supplier to crack the top 10.
BAE says it is neither British nor American, but a new breed of military contractor — a trans-Atlantic supplier. Its American subsidiary, based in Arlington, Va., has operations in 36 states as well as England, Sweden, Israel and South Africa. The company is listed on the London Stock Exchange, but nearly 50 percent of its shares are held by American investors. [complete article]
Comment -- More than a mutual fear of "Islamofascism", more than the "special relationship" that links the UK and the US together, more than a bond that Tony Blair and George Bush share as "misunderstood" leaders, BAE holds a special place in both men's hearts and provides as convincing an explanation as any for their enduring 9/11 love affair. Hizbollah eyes recovery, not new war with Israel
By Lin Noueihed, Reuters, August 21, 2006
Hizbollah may have declared victory against Israel and lives to fight another day, but with Lebanon in ruins and thousands of families homeless it may not risk provoking such a war again any time soon.
The Israeli government has come under fire at home for its handling of the 34-day war. It failed to destroy Hizbollah whose guerrillas fought fierce battles on the ground against the overwhelming military might of the region's superpower.
But the price in lives and destruction was high for Lebanon, highest among Hizbollah's own Shi'ite Muslim support base. [complete article]
Lebanon's development 'annihilated': UN
AFP (via Yahoo), August 22, 2006
Lebanon's 15-year economic and social recovery from civil war was wiped out in the recent Israeli offensive against Hezbollah, the UN development agency has said.
"The damage is such that the last 15 years of work on reconstruction and rehabilitation, following the previous problems that Lebanon experienced, are now annihilated," said Jean Fabre, a spokesman for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on Tuesday. [complete article]
Lebanon oil spill cleanup may take a year: Greenpeace
AFP (via Yahoo), August 22, 2006
Cleanup of a massive oil spill caused by Israeli air strikes on a fuel depot could take up to one year, the environmental group Greenpeace Mediterranean has said.
The watchdog released pictures it said showed oil that had sunk to the seabed, pointing to the urgent need for an immediate and comprehensive assessment of the pollution. [complete article]
Hezbollah minister: Lebanon might challenge Israeli blockade
AP (via Haaretz), August 22, 2006
A Hezbollah Cabinet minister on Tuesday said the government may attempt to break the Israeli naval and air blockade of Lebanon by calling on ships and aircraft to travel to Lebanese ports without prior Israeli approval.
The government has condemned the blockade, saying it violates the UN cease-fire resolution, and the foreign minister Tuesday called on the international community to force Israel to end the blockade. The Cabinet met late Monday but did not publicly challenge to the blockade, although it called the siege one of Israel's "terrorist practices." [complete article]
Italy offers to lead UN force in Lebanon
By Mark Oliver, The Guardian, August 22, 2006
Italy has offered to lead an augmented UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon and said it would contribute between 2,000 and 3,000 troops.
In in interview in La Repubblica newspaper, the foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema, said Rome would provide around one third of Europe's contribution to the strengthening of the Unifil force. [complete article]
Behind the dispute over Shebaa Farms
By Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, August 22, 2006
Until six years ago, the mountain range that rises beyond the verdant orchards of this farming collective at Israel's northern tip was best known as the site where Abraham received his divine covenant in the Old Testament.
Few Lebanese or Israelis knew the range as the location of the Shebaa Farms, the site of an arcane border dispute that ultimately unraveled into a month-long war between Hizbullah and Israel. [complete article]
War lingers in the south of Lebanon
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, August 22, 2006
Israeli soldiers in the hilltops watch as Hezbollah men on dirt bikes patrol the valleys, barely a mile away. Lebanese Army soldiers harass civilians at checkpoints, but not the combatants. A van with a rocket-launcher sits rusting near a mosque. Villages remain empty as terrified civilians stay away. United Nations peacekeepers look on, offering only meek smiles.
More than a week after a United Nations-mandated cease-fire took hold in Lebanon, the fighting has come to a halt, but the trappings of war linger on.
The eerie sense of quiet in the villages and towns on southern Lebanon’s western edge underscores the sense of a war frozen in time, with the combatants still facing off and the deployment of international and Lebanese soldiers just a promise. The aura of imminent violence is pervasive. [complete article]
Many Lebanese fear next conflict will be with Hezbollah
By Hannah Allam and Leila Fadel, McClatchy, August 21, 2006
Glossy new billboards touting Hezbollah's "divine victory" over Israel line Beirut's highways. The capital's famed nightspots are full again with scantily clad students drinking to make up for a month lost to war. Leaders of the country's political dynasties appear nightly on live television, urging their weary constituents to rebuild, forgive and move on.
But this rosy image of resilience, a week after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire brought a halt to Israeli airstrikes, masks a growing realization among Lebanese that the next battle Lebanon faces probably will be among its own. [complete article] Reservists in Israel protest conduct of Lebanon war
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, August 22, 2006
A group of Israeli reservist soldiers who served during the recent fighting in Lebanon, angry about the conduct of the war, on Monday demanded the resignations of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the army chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.
The reservists, most of whom have gone back to civilian life, say that their training was inadequate and that they were sent into Lebanon with unclear missions, inadequate supplies, outdated equipment and a lack of basics, like drinking water. They called for a national inquiry into how the war was waged.
During a protest march, one of the participants, Roni Zwiegenboim of the Alexandroni Brigade, said, "Beyond the whole issue of the ammunition, the food and the water that wasn't, the issue was that there was no leadership." He added with disgust, "In the end it was just a mess, and it all starts at the top." [complete article]
Where are the voices of protest?
By Yoel Marcus, Haaretz, August 22, 2006
The war has created a serious dilemma for the Israeli public. We went to battle with unparalleled self-confidence and came home bent and bowed. The call to war of our leaders, from the prime minister to the chief of staff, promised a crushing victory. The greater the promises, the deeper our disappointment. The army failed to achieve two of the war's objectives - freeing the captured soldiers and stopping the missile attacks on Israel.
The chief of staff, mistakenly believing that Hezbollah could be knocked out from the air, discovered too late that ground troops would have to be mobilized. Most of the soldiers lacked proper training. They were equipped with weapons that went out with the flood, and armor that could be penetrated by anti-tank missiles.
In 48 hours, 34 soldiers were killed for no rhyme or reason. The reservists felt duped. Like cannon fodder. God only knows how things might have ended if President Bush had not rushed to draw up a cease-fire agreement that gave us an honorable way of retreating from this unfortunate military campaign. [complete article]
See also, Policing in Gaza has blunted IDF fighting abilities (Haaretz). Israel launches Gaza incursions
BBC News, August 22, 2006
There have been clashes in the Gaza Strip after Israeli troops backed by tanks launched several incursions into the territory. Palestinian medical sources said three people had been killed by Israeli fire in southern Gaza. Palestinian sources said they were militants from the Islamic Jihad group.
25% of Palestinian MPs detained by Israel
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, August 21, 2006
Israel has arrested almost one quarter of the members of the Palestinian parliament as part of its campaign to free an Israeli soldier captured on the Gaza border in June.
Mahmoud Ramahi became the 33rd member of the legislative council (PLC) to be taken in by the Israelis during an operation yesterday.
Amani Rahami, 36, said her husband had been avoiding home for fear the Israelis would arrest him, but did not realise he was important enough to warrant surveillance.
"They came to arrest him many times but he was not here. This time they arrived minutes after he did. He is a father, an educated man and they take him away like a criminal. It is the Israelis who are criminals in this," she said. [complete article]
Gaza swelters through summer without power
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, August 22, 2006
It's hot, very hot, in the Gaza Strip. But over the last two months, ever since Israel bombed the new power station in the center of the Strip, the heat has become unbearable. The bombing has disrupted the supply of electricity to some 1.5 million residents; food in refrigerators goes bad, the patients in the hospitals groan, industry and work are paralyzed, traffic is gridlocked and there is a severe water shortage.
On the night of June 28, the Israel Air Force bombed the power station as part of Operation Summer Rains, destroying its six transformers. The assault was approved by the security cabinet, and was intended to pressure the Palestinians into releasing Gilad Shalit, the captured soldier.
The modern power station, financed by Enron in partnership with a Palestinian company, was completely paralyzed, and the Gaza Strip lost some 60 percent of its supply of electricity. Gaza buys the remaining 40 percent from the Israel Electricity Corporation. [complete article]
Hope wears thin for Gaza residents
By Carolynne Wheeler, Globe and Mail, August 22, 2006
It was a dream that flickered and died, leaving behind empty greenhouses and the deep, graded impressions of an armoured bulldozer.
One year ago, the Abu Halimeh family told The Globe and Mail how much promise they saw in the emptying of the nearby Jewish settlement of Dugit. The settlers, and the soldiers who guarded them, had often prevented them from travelling to the rest of the Gaza Strip; the family said the settlement's security zone encroached on their land, and now they hoped to reclaim it.
But rather than the growing export business of roses and carnations they had hoped to have by now, the family's two hectares of greenhouses have collapsed completely. What was once one of Gaza's largest private farms is now down to just 500 square metres of roses, which will be peddled in Gaza's own streets and markets.
With Israeli-controlled cargo crossings closed to exports for most of the past year because of what Israel says were security concerns, and the land of the former settlement fought over by Palestinians and still subject to Israeli shelling, the family slowly and bitterly realized they could no longer afford their dream. [complete article] Iran says it seeks fresh nuclear talks with West
By Edmund Blair, Reuters, August 22, 2006
Iran said on Tuesday it hoped its response to an incentives package from world powers would lead to fresh negotiations on its nuclear dispute but gave no sign of heeding a key U.N. demand that it freeze uranium enrichment.
No details of Iran's reply, delivered to foreign envoys in Tehran, were immediately available but Western diplomats said they were expecting an "ambiguous" response. [complete article]
Minister says Israel must be ready for any Iranian attack
Reuters (via Haaretz), August 22, 2006
A week after the end of the war with Hezbollah, Minister Rafi Eitan warned Tuesday that Israel should prepare for the possibility of a missile attack from Iran.
"We are liable to face an Iranian missile attack. The Iranians have said very clearly that if they come under attack, their primary target would be Israel," Eitan, a member of the decision-making security cabinet, told Israel Radio.
Iran could fire missiles at Israel "therefore we must prepare for what could come, and prepare the entire country for a missile strike attack, to prepare all the civilian systems so they are ready for this," Eitan said. [complete article]
Comment -- Hmm... Isn't this the same as saying that Iran should be ready for an attack by Israel and/or the U.S.?
The Iranian threat
By Robert Rosenberg, Ariga, August 22, 2006
Iran is on the agenda today -- Minister Rafi Eitan declared that the next war is with Iran and Israel should prepare proper shelters in case of that war breaking out. But according to at least one Iran expert, Dr. Ephraim Kam of the Jaffe Center, the Iranian threat -- at least until it gets a nuclear weapon -- is a lot less pressing than the media attributes to it.
The 800,000-strong Iranian army won't march across Iraq and Jordan, and the Iranian air force is very outdated, with only a handful of planes capable of even reaching Israel. So, the real Iranian threats against Israel is its long range Shihab-3 missiles, its use of Hizbollah against Israel in the north of the country, and its use of terror, internationally, Kam told Israel Radio's Gabi Gazit during the popular current events radio show this morning.
The Shihab can carry about 700 kilos of explosives -- much more than the Scuds that hit Israel in 1991, the first Gulf War, and far more than the explosives carried by the Katyushas fired by Hizbollah into northern Israel during July and August. The rocket is also not very accurate, said Kam. And, he pointed out, the Iranians only have a few dozen such Shihabs, though over time the Iranians can expect to beef up their supplies and to improve them. The Israeli Arrow anti-missile missile is supposedly capable of dealing with such a rocket attack, or at least in testing it has been capable of downing such large rockets flying 1,000 kilometers over two to three minutes, the estimated time it would take for an Iranian rocket to reach Israel. [complete article]
By Hilary Leila Krieger, Jerusalem Post, August 22, 2006
The words you are reading might be your last. That is, if you believe the apocalyptic speculation of Internet surfers and Middle East analysts who claim that today Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hopes to spark the final conflagration in order to usher in the Islamic messiah.
Ahmadinejad is due Tuesday to deliver Iran's response to an international incentive program offered in exchange for the country curbing its nuclear program. The date, August 22, also marks the prophet Muhammad's ascension to heaven and coincides with Saladin's conquest of Jerusalem.
Bloggers were quick to jump on the connection and point to Ahmadinejad's own end-of-days inclinations, in which the Hidden Iman returns amidst the ultimate triumph of good over evil. According to the Iranian's president's beliefs, some of the virtuous on Earth can hasten that cataclysmic showdown.
But they weren't the only ones to make such cosmic links. No less than prominent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis took note of Ahmadinejad's ideology and agenda in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled "August 22: Does Iran have something in store?"
The answer, according to Israeli experts on Iran, is no. Or at least, nothing more than saber-rattling and further defiance of the West's efforts to curb the Islamic state's nuclear program. [complete article]
Comment -- And with the clock ticking down, Bernard Lewis should be readying himself for a place of honor alongside Overseer Yisrayl Hawkins in the Apocalyptic Hall of Fame.
While a conjunction of geopolitical factors puts the focus back on Iran, it's hard not to suspect that many Israeli leaders are drawing some comfort from the Iranian threat. The Israeli president is suspected of rape, the justice minister faces allegations of sexual harassment, the prime minister is haunted by a questionable property deal, and the IDF chief of staff faces demands for his resignation. What better time to try and focus the attention of the nation on a foreign peril? The problem is, Israel just lost a war and clearly needs to get its own house in order. The real contest is between fear and disgust and I imgagine disgust is getting the upper hand right now. Nevertheless, as Robert Rosenberg notes, the decisive factor in the fate of Israel's leaders, might not be Iran or legal actions; it might just come down to a change in the weather! President on another planet
By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, August 22, 2006
For a moment there, I was almost encouraged. George W. Bush, the most resolutely incurious and inflexible of presidents, was reported last week to have been surprised at seeing Iraqi citizens -- who ought to be grateful beneficiaries of the American occupation, I mean "liberation" -- demonstrating in support of Hezbollah and against Israel.
Surprise would be a start, since it would mean the Decider was admitting novel facts to his settled base of knowledge and reacting to them. Alas, it seems the door to the presidential mind is still locked tight. "I don't remember being surprised," he said at his news conference yesterday. "I'm not sure what they mean by that."
I'm guessing "they" might mean that when you try to impose your simplistic, black-and-white template on a kaleidoscopic world, and you end up setting the Middle East on fire, either you're surprised or you're not paying attention. But that's just me.
As for George Bush, what on earth is on his mind? [complete article]
Comment -- Is it just because it's August or do journalists and commentators really have an insatiable appetite for engaging in Bush analysis? Whether it's linguistic analysis or psychological analysis, the game everyone is playing presupposes that Bush's words provide a window into his mind. But does anyone seriously think that that's a well-founded assumption? As Bush answers questions he hasn't been asked, stumbles over his own words or simply appears like a man with a weak grasp on reality, what he succeeds in concealing are his own thoughts.
When the pathways from thought to speech become tortuously complex, small wonder that what gets delivered comes out garbled or near incomprehensible. We know what Bush says; we don't know what he thinks. And this raises the most critical question which is one of governance: Does anyone -- other than Bush himself -- know the president's mind?
If events have pushed Bush so far into retreat that no one really understands any more what he is thinking, there is a very real and practical sense in which the United States of America may no longer have a chief executive. The Decider's compulsion to "stay the course" may have less to do with being resolute and much more to do with the president's mind having frozen over. What next?
By Daniel L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack, Washington Post, August 20, 2006
The debate is over: By any definition, Iraq is in a state of civil war. Indeed, the only thing standing between Iraq and a descent into total Bosnia-like devastation is 135,000 U.S. troops -- and even they are merely slowing the fall. The internecine conflict could easily spiral into one that threatens not only Iraq but also its neighbors throughout the oil-rich Persian Gulf region with instability, turmoil and war.
The consequences of an all-out civil war in Iraq could be dire. Considering the experiences of recent such conflicts, hundreds of thousands of people may die. Refugees and displaced people could number in the millions. And with Iraqi insurgents, militias and organized crime rings wreaking havoc on Iraq's oil infrastructure, a full-scale civil war could send global oil prices soaring even higher.
However, the greatest threat that the United States would face from civil war in Iraq is from the spillover -- the burdens, the instability, the copycat secession attempts and even the follow-on wars that could emerge in neighboring countries. Welcome to the new "new Middle East" -- a region where civil wars could follow one after another, like so many Cold War dominoes.
And unlike communism, these dominoes may actually fall. [complete article]
Comment -- The domino metaphor might be appropriate, but instead of viewing this chain reaction purely in terms of expanding chaos, it could be viewed in terms of a regional transformation. (This might sound like neocon talk, but bear with me -- I'm going in a direction they dread to imagine.)
I can see at least three ways of approaching the future of the Middle East.
1. Struggling to maintain the status quo -- U.S.-professed rejection of the status quo notwithstanding. This means that the U.S. does everything possible to contain the civil war in Iraq, tries to contain Iran and Syria, supports the autocratic regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and now that "convergence" has been shelved, supports whatever policy the Israelis dream up for keeping a lid on Palestinian resistance, along with supporting a continuation of the war against Hezbollah - if that's what Israel chooses.
2. A "forward strategy of freedom." This could also be called "status quo plus." Do whatever it takes to hold in check the regional growth of Islamism, plus, try to bring down the regime in Tehran - and maybe Damascus too, but that's tricky because the Islamists are likely to benefit.
3. An Islamist reformation continues fracturing the existing brittle order and the West (and Israel) stops standing in the way.
The idea of the West swimming with rather than against the political current of Islamism might sound a tad implausible, but let's try to imagine what it would look like.
The starting point would be rhetorical. Drop the words "Islamist" (for most Westerners it's too closely linked to terrorism) and "democracy" (for most people in the Middle East that's too closely linked to American war planning) and start talking about political legitimacy.
The Middle East needs governments that possess legitimacy. That means that people see their interests represented and served by their own governments. That means that those governments are responsive to their own electorates rather than the interests of foreign powers.
The United States can't export legitimacy but it can nurture it by recognizing where it is occurring, refraining from obstructing its development and withdrawing support from governments that lack political legitimacy.
Israel needs to lead the way.
Just as white South Africans eventually reconciled themselves to the inevitability of majority rule, Israeli Jews, seeing that they have a choice of either living in perpetuity in a fortress state or ending their resistance against geography and history, should seize the moment and offer Palestinians an opportunity to become real partners in the first genuine pluralistic democracy in the Middle East.
That would mean conceding that Zionism is a failure, ending the pretense of a "process" leading to a two-state solution, and being willing to fully enfranchise the Palestinian population in a secular Israeli-Palestinian state.
If the Palestinians take up the offer, swiftly, all the other dominoes will start to fall - in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. The United States, having wisely established working relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas, will employ its diplomatic resources to help ease the painful transition from autocratic to majority rule. Iran, having lost its ability to leverage to its advantage popular hostility towards Israel and the U.S., will embark on its own velvet revolution.
The question isn't whether any of this is going to happen - massive resistance from Israel and the United States is a given. The question is, will more blood be shed in efforts to obstruct this process of transformation than would result from allowing it to happen and supporting its progress? Senior IDF officers: Hezbollah hostilities liable to restart soon
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, August 21, 2006
Members of the Israel Defense Forces General Staff say that "round two" between Israel and Hezbollah could begin within months or even weeks, probably over the renewal of arms deliveries to the organization from Iran and Syria.
One senior officer told Haaretz on Sunday that throughout the month-long war with Hezbollah, Iran and Syria attempted to smuggle large quantities of weapons to Lebanon. He said that the efforts were stepped up over the past week, following the cease-fire and the end of Israel Air Force sorties deep in Lebanese territory.
The officer noted that while UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calls for an embargo on arms shipments to Hezbollah, no mechanism has been put in place to enforce this embargo, and said that Israel will have to intervene if the deliveries continue unchecked. [complete article] Siniora: Israel now has a chance to make peace with Lebanon
By Yoav Stern, Gideon Alon, and Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, August 20, 2006
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Sunday that Israel can exploit its military confrontation with Hezbollah in order to consummate a peace treaty with Beirut.
The premier said that in order for Jerusalem to take advantage of the opportunity for peace, "Israel has to behave wisely."
On the Syrian front, differences of opinion abound among the Israeli leadership over the possible renewal of peace negotiations with Damascus. [complete article]
Olmert: No talks with Syria if it continues backing terror
Haaretz, August 21, 2006
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Monday that Israel will not negotiate with Syria unless it stops sponsoring terror groups.
His remarks followed comments earlier in the day by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who said that in return for peace with Syria, Israel could give up the Golan Heights.
"I recommend not to get carried away with any false hopes," Olmert said during a tour of northern Israel. "When Syria stops support for terror, when it stops giving missiles to terror organizations, then we will be happy to negotiate with them." [complete article]
Olmert: 'Talk of war will mislead Syria'
Jerusalem Post, August 20, 2006
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that constant talk of a war with Syria is likely to cause misunderstanding in Damascus.
"People do not have to warn us of the Syrian war threat on a daily basis, and on the other hand, to immediately leap forth to negotiate with the country," he commented during Sunday's cabinet meeting.
"Every comment of this nature brings forth a feeling that the other side doesn't necessarily understand us in the way we would strive to be understood. We must be more cautious during this time, despite the fact that we are prepared for anything," Army Radio quoted. [complete article]
Olmert beset by a mission not accomplished
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2006
Israel's costly and inconclusive war in Lebanon has triggered a round of internal recriminations so bitter that some observers question whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government can survive.
In the aftermath of weeks of combat and a cease-fire accord that appears to fulfill almost none of Israel's war aims, a wave of public discontent threatens the careers of several senior Olmert associates, and perhaps even the prime minister, analysts say.
"The mood is very, very angry," said historian Tom Segev. "Not because of the outbreak of the war, which many Israelis felt they could live with, but because of the sense that the results are not a victory at all." [complete article] This is no way to make a deal
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, August 21, 2006
The unilateral concept now seems, after the events in Lebanon and Gaza, to be dying. No more unilateral convergence. Along with it may die its twin sibling: the separation wall. What use is there for a wall when war is fought with Katyushas, Qassams and kidnappings? When the wall's path followed the Green Line, it was one thing, but when it started to penetrate into the West Bank, and particularly into the Jerusalem area - it became a delusional annexation plan that is nearly impossible to carry out, other than with suffering, discrimination and exploitation that cannot last in the long run. [complete article]
Leverage for a prisoner swap
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, August 21, 2006
Nasser Shaer, 45, a bookish former professor and British-educated scholar who wrote dissertations on comparative religions, was hardly a firebrand. But the Palestinian minister of education was a man on the run.
He sneaked into his office at the ministry when he could, took paperwork with him and made calls for work from hidden locations, organizing the start of the Palestinian school year. This weekend, he met his wife and six children after they had left their high-rise apartment to rendezvous secretly at another house. That's where the Israelis found him.
Soldiers stormed into the house shortly before dawn and took Shaer away to be yet another chip in a potential prisoner swap for an abducted Israeli soldier. As the top education official and a deputy prime minister in the Hamas-led government, he is a ranking chip. [complete article]
Comment -- It's always helpful when there's no confusion over terminology. Palestinians get "seized", "arrested", or "detained", whereas Israelis get "captured", "abducted", or "kidnapped".
Haniyya: No unity government before MPs, ministers are free
Daily Star, August 19, 2006
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyya set out a series of conditions Friday that threatened to compromise the formation of a national unity coalition. Haniyya insisted that "all ministers and MPs" arrested by Israel be freed as a prelude to forming such an administration.
"There will be no national unity government as long as ministers and elected officials are in Israeli prisons," Haniyya said.
"They must be released, especially Aziz Dweik," he said referring to the House speaker who, after President Mahmoud Abbas, is constitutionally the second most important official in the Palestinian Authority.
Dweik's remand was extended Thursday and pictures of him appearing in an Israeli military court with his feet in shackles were beamed all day on Arab television networks. [complete article]
Phone calls mean your house is jet target
By Ian MacKinnon, The Times, August 19, 2006
When Mohammad Joudah Marouf got the first call he did not believe it. He was told to evacuate his home because it was about to be bombed. The man repeated in accented Arabic that he was from the Israeli Defence Force.
The second call ten minutes later was more chilling. As Mr Marouf gathered in the street with the neighbours that he had warned, the caller phoned again and urged them to clear the area. "We were running away when the F16 roared in and fired a missile into the building," Mr Marouf, 28, said. "My mother, who lives next door, lost an eye and has a broken leg. My four-year-old daughter has a broken hand."
Yet Mr Marouf was not even the target. His brother, Saed, 24, lives nearby and is an Islamic Jihad member. The new tactics Israel used in Gaza in the four weeks since the world’s attention was focused on Lebanon were devastating. [complete article]
Journalists' kidnapping protested in Gaza City
AP (via WP), August 20, 2006
Palestinian journalists on Saturday protested the kidnapping of a Fox News correspondent and cameraman, as concern about the men's safety grew.
Cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, of New Zealand, and American correspondent Steve Centanni, 60, were taken Monday from their TV van near the Palestinian security services headquarters in Gaza City.
About 30 members of the Palestinian journalists' union gathered outside the parliamentary building in Gaza, holding up signs demanding that the men be freed. Other signs called for security in Gaza, where armed men wander the streets freely. [complete article] The neo-colonialist
By Hooman Majd, Huffington Post, August 18, 2006
In Friday's New York Times, Tom Friedman subjects us to more of his drivel on the subject of the Middle East. He admits that he hasn't decided yet who's the winner in the war between Hezbollah and Israel (how much time do you need, Tom?), but he's certain who the loser is: Iran's taxpayers.
Then he calls them suckers, and says, "Isn't it obvious?"
Sorry Tom, Iranian 'taxpayers' might have been suckers, if they existed. Iranians, unlike Americans and other Westerners, don't think of themselves as "taxpayers"; just citizens. Mainly because they hardly pay any income tax, if at all. The Iranian government does indeed fund Hezbollah, but it's not with the taxes that they don't collect from the citizenry.
Speaking of sucker taxpayers, Mr. Friedman, was it not you championing the war in Iraq until very recently (and giving "liberal cover" to the administration)? A war that you expected us, the sucker American taxpayers, to pay for (for years to come)? And Tom, those bombs Israel rained down on Lebanon during the recent war were fully paid for by whom? That's right, us sucker American taxpayers. And how many of us don't have health care? How many homeless roam the streets of America's cities while billions go to fund American adventures overseas (and Israel's military)? Sucker taxpayers, indeed. [complete article] United Nations: The World's scapegoat
By Paul Kennedy, Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2006
"This has been an especially unhappy summer for the United Nations," Harvard historian Niall Ferguson observed on this page last week -- and who could disagree? With its mission in Lebanon unable to control Hezbollah, its blue-helmeted observers on the southern border blown away by Israeli shells and its role in the latest Mideast crisis being worked over in that boxing ring known as the Security Council, the U.N. seems to have fallen far short of its original, 1945 mission to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." Even the cease-fire that was finally negotiated looks incomplete and liable to fragment in the very near future.
So, is the U.N. good for anything? Could we, as U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton once claimed, lop off 12 stories of the U.N. headquarters building in New York (containing the offices of the secretary-general and his staff) and not notice the difference? What does the U.N. do that helps humankind?
Amid personnel scandals, the oil-for-food fiasco and a constant barrage of neoconservative attacks, that's a fair question. And anyone who holds a belief in the value of the international organization should be ready and willing to answer it. The easy way out would be to point to the many instances in which U.N. representatives have done well: negotiating the Central American peace accords of the early to mid-1990s; supervising elections in countries recovering from war; rebuilding infrastructure; advancing the international human rights agenda, establishing intellectual property rights, the law of the sea and climate accords; fostering cultural cooperation; gathering statistics and the like.
But that would seem an evasion to the many observers who focus on the grinding struggles along Israel's borders or the war on terrorism. To them, the $64,000 question is: What can the U.N. do once and for all to settle the Lebanon crisis and assist the parallel Palestine-Israel peace process? And if the answer is "not much," then the critics will feel justified in their more general dismissal of the utility of international organizations. [complete article] 'Misunderestimating' Bush's Iraq
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, August 19, 2006
Iraq and its people have probably been the greatest losers in the Israeli war with Hezbollah. For a month, the world's attention was completely fixated on Israel, Lebanon and Hezbollah. The rising sectarian violence in Iraq, until a ceasefire came into effect in Lebanon this Monday, was ignored.
Before the Lebanon war started, it seemed that Iraq was already on the verge of civil war, due to the brutality of death squads and the visible helplessness of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
A month later, Iraq is at civil war. Just look at the figures. In July, the number of Iraqis killed in sectarian violence - and what else can one call it? - was a staggering 3,438 - two times the number of Lebanese civilians killed during the 30 days of daily air raids by Israel, and more than 100 deaths a day.
This is a 9% increase over the death toll for June. And this is not Iraqis being killed by Americans. It is Iraqis killing one another. Last month, an average of 110 Iraqis were dying per day in Iraq. Despite all the denials both of US officials and of members of the Maliki cabinet, this is war, and it is a war that was started by the Bush administration. [complete article]
An army of some
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, August 20, 2006
The rules posted on the wall of the Marine base in Barwana concisely summed up the American predicament in Iraq: Be polite, be professional, have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
Barwana was a way station for a joint Iraqi and American convoy as it traveled to a stretch of hard-packed sand overlooking the Euphrates in the Haditha triad, one of the more challenging areas in Anbar, the most dangerous province in Iraq. The convoy’s goal was to inspect a company of Iraqi soldiers who had been involved in an American-directed operation to round up insurgents. With Iraq engulfed in bloody turmoil, any prospect of establishing a modicum of order depends heavily on the new Iraqi Army and the small cadre of Americans that is training it. The rules at Barwana hinted at one rationale. For all of the U.S. military's fighting skills, the Iraqi troops are better able to differentiate among the welter of tribes, self-styled militias, religious groupings, myriad insurgent organizations and militant jihadists who populate Iraq. But there are other important rationales as well. With American forces stretched perilously thin, the development of Iraq's armed forces is the best hope for putting more boots on the ground. Fielding an Iraqi military -- along with the parallel effort to build up the Iraqi police -- is also the closest thing the Bush administration has to an exit strategy. [complete article] Troops long out-of-uniform sent to Iraq
By Rebecca Santana, AP (via Yahoo), August 20, 2006
Spc. Chris Carlson had been out of the U.S. Army for two years and was working at Costco in California when he received notice that he was being called back into service.
The 24-year-old is one of thousands of soldiers and Marines who have been deployed to
Iraq under a policy that allows military leaders to recall troops who have left the service but still have time left on their contract. [complete article]
Baghdad's walls are closing in
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2006
Curling through the desert, wind rattling its marshes, the Tigris once brought so much life to this city, where spices and silks were loaded on wooden boats bound for Basra and beyond. Shiites lived with Sunnis, Christians and Jews, but today, as in other times, unity splinters in bloodshed.
The river's bridges have turned into escape routes for families fleeing sectarian death squads. Some head one way, others go the opposite direction, and many fear that if full-scale civil war erupts, the Tigris will act as a green line, separating Sunni-dominated west Baghdad from the Shiite-controlled east. [complete article]
Iranian shells land in Kurdish villages in northern Iraq, killing 2
By Edward Wong and Yerevan Adham, New York Times, August 20, 2006
Artillery shells fired from Iran have landed in remote northern villages of Iraqi Kurdistan in the past four days and have killed at least two civilians and wounded four others, a senior Kurdish official said Saturday. Dozens of families have fled the region.
The shells have been aimed at an area around Qandil Mountain, known as a base for militant Kurdish opposition groups seeking independence from Turkey and Iran, said the official, Mustafa Sayed Qadir, a senior member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which governs the eastern half of Iraqi Kurdistan. [complete article]
Shiite pilgrims attacked in Baghdad
By Amit R. Paley, Washington Post, August 20, 2006
Gunmen attacked a group of pilgrims attending one of Shiite Islam's most sacred religious holidays Sunday , killing 16 pilgrims and wounding more than 230 others, authorities said.
The attacks occurred despite a weekend-long ban on vehicle traffic in Baghdad, which the government imposed to prevent violence as millions of expected pilgrims converged on the city.
As many as 200 insurgents carried out the attacks late Saturday night and Sunday morning, said Iraqi Army Brig. Gen. Karim Taha. [complete article] Pakistan blames West for terrorism
By Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, August 20, 2006
The banners that flutter at the roadside leading from Islamabad to Rawalpindi show the face of General Zia-ul-Haq, who ruled the country under martial law for more than a decade and died when his plane exploded in mysterious circumstances on 17 August 1988, killing him, along with five generals and the American ambassador. The flags refer to his 'martyrdom', although their presence may have more to do with the fact that his son is now a government minister than any nostalgia ordinary Pakistanis may have for his ruthless regime.
The explosion took place at the airport for the Punjabi city of Bahawalpur, which is where, coincidentally, Rashid Rauf, the young dual-nationality Briton, was arrested on 9 August in connection with the alleged airline bomb plot. But the connection between Zia and the current investigation is much deeper than that, according to many Pakistani politicians and commentators.
Writing this weekend in the News, Benazir Bhutto, the former Pakistani Prime Minister, recalls that Zia, who toppled her father's regime in a coup in the 1970s, played a key role in assisting the US and the Mujahadeen to defeat the Soviet-backed Afghan government.
'This alliance not only brought modern weapons and technology to the Mujahadeen but converted my homeland from a peaceful nation into a violent society of Kalashnikov weapons, heroin addiction and a radicalised interpretation of Islam,' she stated. Thus, she suggests, were the seeds of the current harvest sown. Her views have found many echoes in Pakistan this week, both in the marketplaces and in the offices of think-tanks, politicians and commentators. [complete article] Pundits renounce the president
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, August 20, 2006
For 10 minutes, the talk show host grilled his guests about whether "George Bush's mental weakness is damaging America's credibility at home and abroad." For 10 minutes, the caption across the bottom of the television screen read, "IS BUSH AN 'IDIOT'?"
But the host was no liberal media elitist. It was Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman turned MSNBC political pundit. And his answer to the captioned question was hardly "no." While other presidents have been called stupid, Scarborough said: "I think George Bush is in a league by himself. I don't think he has the intellectual depth as these other people."
These have been tough days politically for President Bush, what with his popularity numbers mired in the 30s and Republican candidates distancing themselves as elections near. He can no longer even rely as much on once-friendly voices in the conservative media to stand by his side, as some columnists and television commentators lose faith in his leadership and lose heart in the war in Iraq. [complete article] At Guantanamo, caught in a legal trap
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, August 21, 2006
On Jan. 18, 2002, six men suspected of plotting to attack the U.S. Embassy were seized here by U.S. troops and flown to Cuba, where they became some of the first arrivals at the Pentagon's new prison at Guantanamo Bay.
The seizure was ordered by senior U.S. officials in defiance of rulings by top courts in Bosnia that the men were entitled to their freedom and could not be deported. Today, more than four years later, the six remain locked up at Guantanamo, even though the original allegations about the embassy attack have been discredited and dropped, records show.
In 2004, Bosnian prosecutors and police formally exonerated the six men after a lengthy criminal investigation. Last year, the Bosnian prime minister asked the Bush administration to release them, calling the case a miscarriage of justice.
The men came from Algeria to Bosnia during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Most were former Muslim fighters who became humanitarian aid workers after the war. They remain imprisoned because the U.S. military still classifies them as "enemy combatants" in the fight against terrorism. A review of thousands of pages of military and civilian court documents, however, shows that many reasons given for the designation are based on flawed or dubious evidence. [complete article] 4 U.S. soldiers are killed as Afghan violence surges
By Fisnik Abrashi, AP (via WP), August 20, 2006
Insurgents killed four U.S. soldiers and wounded six others in clashes Saturday during an upsurge in violence across the country. Two Afghan soldiers also were killed.
Three U.S. soldiers were killed and three were wounded during operations in the Pech district of the eastern province of Konar, said Col. Tom Collins, a U.S. military spokesman. U.S. troops in that area are hunting for Taliban fighters and insurgents linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network in remote mountains hugging the Pakistani border.
In the southern province of Uruzgan, one U.S. soldier and two Afghan soldiers were killed and three Americans were wounded in a four-hour clash with more than 100 insurgents, according to a NATO statement. [complete article] And now, Islamism trumps Arabism
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, August 20, 2006
She grew up in Cairo with the privileges that go to the daughter of a military officer, attended a university and landed a job in marketing. He grew up in a poor village of dusty unpaved roads, where young men work long hours in a brick factory while dreaming of getting a government job that would pay $90 a month.
But Jihan Mahmoud, 24, from the middle-class neighborhood of Heliopolis, and Madah Ali Muhammad, 23, from a village in the Nile Delta, have come to the exact same conclusion about what they and their country need: a strong Islamic political movement.
"I have more faith in Islam than in my state; I have more faith in Allah than in Hosni Mubarak," Ms. Mahmoud said, referring to the president of Egypt. "That is why I am proud to be a Muslim."
The war in Lebanon, and the widespread conviction among Arabs that Hezbollah won that war by bloodying Israel, has fostered and validated those kinds of feelings across Egypt and the region. In interviews on streets and in newspaper commentaries circulated around the Middle East, the prevailing view is that where Arab nations failed to stand up to Israel and the United States, an Islamic movement succeeded.
"The victory that Hezbollah achieved in Lebanon will have earthshaking regional consequences that will have an impact much beyond the borders of Lebanon itself," Yasser Abuhilalah of Al Ghad, a Jordanian daily, wrote in Tuesday's issue.
"The resistance celebrates the victory," read the front-page headline in Al Wafd, an opposition daily in Egypt.
Hezbollah's perceived triumph has propelled, and been propelled by, a wave already washing over the region. Political Islam was widely seen as the antidote to the failures of Arab nationalism, Communism, socialism and, most recently, what is seen as the false promise of American-style democracy. It was that wave that helped the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood win 88 seats in Egypt's Parliament last December despite the government's violent efforts to stop voters from getting to the polls. It was that wave that swept Hamas into power in the Palestinian government in January, shocking Hamas itself. [complete article]
Comment -- There is a possibility for a parallel transition to occur in the West -- not a burgeoning of Islamism but a recognition that the institutions of state have lost the capacity to exert political leadership and that the shoots of political awakening must rise up from below. Part of that process -- hopefully! -- will come in the form of a Western recognition that the growth of Islamism should be seen as an expression of political empowerment, not a retreat into "Islamic fundementalism." However, the voices asserting that this development poses a "threat to civilization" will continue to be vociferous and reckless. Israel committed to block arms and kill Nasrallah
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, August 20, 2006
Despite a cease-fire agreement, Israel intends to do its best to keep Iran and Syria from rearming Hezbollah and to kill the militia's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, says a senior Israeli commander.
International commitments to exclude the Hezbollah militia from southern Lebanon and to disarm it already seem hollow, said the commander, who had a well-placed view of the war and its planning and has extensive experience in Lebanon.
The officer would only speak on the condition of anonymity in an interview on Friday. But, speaking one day before commandos carried out a raid that Israeli officials said was to disrupt arms shipments for Hezbollah from Syria and Iran, he was explicit that Israel would continue to seek out and block any such attempts. He also emphasized that, despite criticism from the Israeli public and even troops of the performance of the Army and government, he considered the threat and the fighting ability of Hezbollah to have been severely diminished.
Furthermore, he made it clear that Sheik Nasrallah remained a target as the leader of a group that Israel and the United States have labeled terrorist. "There's only one solution for him," he said. At another point, he said simply, "This man must die." [complete article]
Comment -- "A wise enemy is better than a foolish friend." If Israel's leaders ignore this adage, it's hard to imagine that Israelis will ever live in peace. Now the U.S. must practise the art of diplomacy
Lead Editorial, The Observer, August 20, 2006
The lesson Israel has just learned in Lebanon is much like the one America learned in Vietnam - that overwhelming military might, primarily exercised from the air, cannot dislodge guerrillas on the ground. Nor can it win the hearts and minds of civilians caught in the crossfire.
Since the US backed Israel's ambition to neutralise Hizbollah, the humbling of the region's most powerful army rebounds on to Washington. Humbling also for America was the diplomacy over a ceasefire resolution. The Bush administration's animus towards the United Nations has not changed since the Security Council refused to endorse the Iraq war. The only difference in the current crisis is that there is no unilateral option.
The limits of American power are also being tested in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having won those wars, the US and its allies are bogged down in a brutish struggle to win the peace. Thus overstretched, America finds the deterrent effect of its army diminished. Iran, for example, will rightly calculate that military action against it is unlikely and will feel more confident pursuing its nuclear ambitions while stoking unrest in Lebanon and Iraq. This is not a good outcome for America. Its superpower status is tarnished. Countries that once saw alliance with the US as their only strategic option are shopping around. [complete article]
Comment -- Each time there is an event which leads others to see in it a demonstration of the limits of American power, there seems little indication that the Bush administration is likely to draw the same conclusion. In accordance with the Israeli maxim, "If force doesn't work, use more force," the conclusion in Washington about Israel's failure to defeat Hezbollah is not that military force was the wrong tool, but that the Israelis failed to use it ruthlessly enough. (If the assault on Lebanon was in fact a dummy run for an attack on Iran, those who now argue that caution is in order are probably being told that Israel has merely proved the necessity of "Divine Strake.") But since America is not a militarized state to the same degree that Israel is, why does the ruling elite in Washington retain its abiding affection for violence coupled with a disdain for diplomacy?
The answer seems evident in the manner that the administration approaches its diplomatic efforts: diplomacy - just like military force - is perceived purely as a tool for the imposition of the administration's will. Since diplomatic action cannot, in and of itself, result in any loss of blood in those whose wills need to be bent, the administration naturally regards diplomacy as a weak force.
The battle of wills that shaped the thinking of most of the administration's policymakers was the Cold War. For these fantasy warriors, perhaps the greatest frustration of that battle was that the United States invested so heavily in military might only to have it shackled by a doctrine of deterrence. If there was to be one great reward from winning the Cold War, it would be that America would no longer be constrained by diplomacy since with its unipolar dominance it would be able to use its military might unafraid of retaliation.
If the administration periodically seems to favor diplomacy over force, we should not conclude that its faith in violence has been shaken. On the contrary, setbacks in Lebanon and Iraq are to the faithful, lessons in the limitations of restraint. Hizbollah has redrawn the Middle East
By Olivier Roy, Financial Times, August 17, 2006
The perceived victory of Hizbollah in Lebanon may be short term but has highlighted some new and important developments. For the first time, the Israel Defence Forces were unable to prevail in an all-out war. More significantly, the winner this time is a Shia Muslim, non-state, armed movement supported by Syria and Iran. In Israel's previous wars, from 1948 to 1982, the challengers were Sunni Arabs.
In fact, Israel's effort this time to eradicate Hizbollah was no remake of past Israeli-Arab wars. It signified several complex – and seemingly contradictory – trends in the Middle East. First is the revival of a radical Islamic front that rejects the Arab-Israeli peace process. Second is the growing divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims in the Gulf region. Finally there is the changed political dynamic after the recent entry by radical Islamist movements – such as Hizbollah and Hamas – to mainstream electoral politics. [complete article]
See also, Revisiting Nasrallah (Al-Ahram Weekly). Hezbollah's transformation is a case study
By Carol Rosenberg, McClatchy, August 18, 2006
The Hezbollah force that fought Israel to a draw in a month-long border conflict is the product of a two-decade, Iranian-nurtured program that took a guerrilla group and transformed it into a full-blown Shiite Muslim army.
Interviews with Israeli soldiers and officers as well as published accounts of battles and analyses by experts on military affairs show that Hezbollah has been able to integrate an astonishing array of military capabilities, far outstripping what many Israelis understood were its abilities.
How Hezbollah grew into what one commentator has called the fifth most powerful army in the Middle East is a lesson sure to be studied not only by Israelis but also by their potential opponents in Gaza and the West Bank and by militia groups the world over. In Iraq, where Iran is deeply involved in political developments, the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is said to have made Hezbollah the model for his Mahdi Army militia. [complete article] The fight reflex
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, August 19, 2006
Sheikh Hassan was one of hundreds of fighters - most of them from Hizbullah, but others from different Shia factions, along with communists and nationalists - who fought against Israeli troops. In the days following the ceasefire, the ones who survived came out to tell their stories.
In the village of Mais al-Jabal, Sheik Hussein, who had been with Hizbullah since he was a young boy, was recruited into a cell with other fighters.
"We had our weapons ready. They gave me an AK47, and we sat in one of the houses," he said, as a little boy sat next to him, holding his arm and listening attentively. "The Israelis talk about tunnels and caves, but it wasn't like this. They like to exaggerate our strength. We didn't have any tunnels in this town; we stayed in normal houses and waited.
"The most difficult moment in the war came when the Israelis approached the outskirts of the town. Our commander told us: be ready to die. Even with faith and even if you have been raised waiting for martyrdom, it's a difficult moment," he said.
"I thought of the little kids, my sisters, my fiancée. I wrote my will and waited. We considered ourselves as martyrs in waiting."
In the town centre, the traces of the battle were all around: tank tread on the tarmac, shrapnel, shell holes. A graveyard had been pummelled with artillery and ranks of yellow Hizbullah flags stood on ledges facing the last valley before Israel.
"The Israelis had everything in this war: drones, jet fighters, helicopters, and tanks, the Merkavas. Do you know what a Merkava is? The fourth generation of the Merkava?
"But we had God fighting on our side, we had God." [complete article] Lebanon, Israel and the "greater west Asian crisis"
By Fred Halliday, Open Democracy, August 18, 2006
All wars are different, but the war between Israel and Hizbollah of 12 July-14 August 2006 proves indeed that some are more different than others. It may be that this war has resemblances to other conflicts in the recent history of the region, but it is in important respects both a departure from and more than its predecessors:
* it is more than an Arab-Israeli war of the kind seen on five previous occasions since 1948A first definition of its distinctiveness is that it is a war for supremacy and survival in the region as a whole: a newly-emerged political and strategic space that encompasses India, Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as Iran, the Arab world and Israel. As with the United States-led regime changes in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), so with the Lebanon war of 2006 – the causes also belong to, and the effects will be felt, throughout this region: from Beirut and Tel Aviv to Baghdad, Kabul, and Mumbai.
This is the primary sense in which the war of summer 2006 is different: for this superficially quite localised war (in terms of its field of operations) is but one dimension of a complex of interlinked problems that connect Haifa to Herat and all points between. It is now possible to talk, without oversimplifying distortion, of a single, many-layered crisis that since the mid-1990s has both arisen from and given definition to a new world region: not just a "middle east" but a "greater west Asia". [complete article] Truce strained as Israelis raid Lebanon site
By Robert F. Worth and John Kifner, New York Times, August 20, 2006
Helicopter-borne Israeli commandos landed near the Hezbollah stronghold of Baalbek on Saturday and engaged in a lengthy firefight in what the Lebanese prime minister, Fouad Siniora, called a "flagrant violation" of the cease-fire brokered by the United Nations.
"The whole village came down, both those who could shoot and those who cannot," Mayor Chamas said.
Fighter jets and helicopters fired rockets and, within about 40 minutes, evacuated the commandos, he said. Left behind were two fresh craters in the rich red Bekaa Valley soil, signs of casualties — large bloodstains, syringes and surgical masks -- and what the villagers said was some kind of device to guide the helicopters. Villagers reported no casualties on the Lebanese side.
Yahya Ali, 30, wearing a red shirt and carrying an AK-47 assault rifle, was one of a number of villagers who said the Israeli commandos had been dressed like Lebanese soldiers.
He said they had been wearing the mostly green woodland camouflage uniforms that are standard issue for the Lebanese Army, along with olive-green flak jackets and green helmets, also standard issue. Israeli soldiers wear a solid brownish uniform with brown body armor and helmets.
Mr. Ali said he could see the uniform clearly because in the rescue the helicopters and Humvees had bright lights turned on.
The boldness of the raid during the truce suggested the Israelis might have had some major objective in mind, perhaps the rescue of their two captured comrades or the capture of a major Hezbollah figure. Boudai is the home village of Sheik Muhammad Yazbeck, a senior Hezbollah leader and member of the group's Shura Council. [complete article] Hezbollah seizes initiative as Israel is racked by doubt
By Hala Jaber, The Sunday Times, August 20, 2006
Fighters exchanged rocket launchers and military fatigues for bulldozers and brooms as they confronted the destruction they had brought down on Lebanon when they captured two Israeli soldiers during a cross-border raid on July 12.
Far from resenting Hezbollah's provocation, most of those returning to their ruined villages seemed to admire the fighters' resilience in having prevented the mighty Israeli army from rolling effortlessly through south Lebanon as it has in the past.
Despite their grief for family and friends who died and their shock at the heart-stopping scale of the devastation, Hezbollah is rallying them to its cause by offering cash, comfort, professional expertise and slick organisation that less efficient government officials can only marvel at.
In these critical first days after the war, Hezbollah and its financial backers in Tehran have seized the moment. They are appeasing those who might have been expected to denounce Hezbollah from the wreckage of their homes. And they are entrenching their support among a growing army of sympathisers.
Iran's money is crucial. Estimates vary widely, but one Hezbollah source said as much as $1 billion had been made available by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president; another that the Iranian leader had placed no limit on the money pouring in. [complete article]
Comment American taxpayers pay for smart bombs for Israel to aim at Hezbollah, but which destroy Lebanon. Then Iran, flush with cash from sky-high oil prices driven up by America's disastrous Middle East policy, pays for the reconstruction of Lebanon and Hezbollah reaps the political reward. Who cannot marvel at the wonderful interconnectedness of it all? Ahmadinejad roadshow seduces an adoring public
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, August 19, 2006
He arrives amid a hurricane of swirling brown dust and deafening noise. A dense, rolling cloud of straw and dirt sweeps across the parched field, enveloping turbaned dignitaries, battering the hoisted green, white and red flags of Iran, and forcing thousands of enthralled onlookers to shield their eyes.
As the rotors of the venerable American-made Huey 214 chopper spin slowly to a halt, and the murk clears, a great, human noise replaces the sound of engines. It is not cheering; more like a giant, murmuring sigh, punctuated by shouts of joy and the screams of women.
For Meshkinshahr, a city perched on the desiccated Caspian steppes and mountains west of Ardabil, this dramatic descent to earth has the momentous significance of a prophetic visitation. Local elders say there has been nothing like it in years. Children are out of their heads with excitement.
But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clambering out of the helicopter cabin with a big smile on his face, is getting used to it. His visit, part of a magisterial three-day, nine-city procession through Ardabil province in north-west Iran, is the 18th such meet-the-people expedition since he took office one year ago this month.
Mr Ahmadinejad's extraordinary comings and goings are a cross between American-style town meetings, itinerant Islamic evangelism, and pure political theatre. Think Bill and Al's "excellent adventure" during the 1992 US presidential campaign; think Saladin on a soap box; then add a straggly beard, wrinkly, unexpectedly twinkly eyes, a gentle, open-handed style, and a genuine ability to connect - and you have Mr Ahmadinejad, a local hero (he was formerly governor of Ardabil), a would-be champion of Muslims everywhere, and an unlikely grassroots superstar. [complete article]
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Israel's unwillingness to talk to its neighbors
By Daniel Ben Simon, Haaretz, August 17, 2006
Love it or hate it, Hizbullah has lessons for all Arabs
Editorial, Daily Star, August 17, 2006
Hizbullah has achieved what Arab states only dreamed of
By David Hirst, The Guardian, August 17, 2006
Is Hamas ready to deal?
By Scott Atran, New York Times, August 17, 2006
Tragedy and farce in Lebanon
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, August 16, 2006
The double standards of Israel and its defenders
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, August 16, 2006
A foretaste of larger furies to come
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, August 16, 2006
No process, no peace
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, August 15, 2006
American support for Israel may no longer be enough
By Martin Jacques, The Guardian, August 14, 2006
Washington's interests in Israel's war
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, August 13, 2006
You are terrorists, we are virtuous
By Yitzhak Laor, London Review of Books, August 3, 2006
Bush's belief in a worldwide Islamist conspiracy is foolish and dangerous
By Max Hastings, The Guardian, August 14, 2006
Rosy assessments on Iraq 'not related to reality,' some say
By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy, August 14, 2006
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