The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
We must speak out
By John Berger, The Guardian, December 14, 2006

Today I am supporting a world-wide appeal to teachers, intellectuals and artists to join the cultural boycott of the state of Israel, as called for by over a hundred Palestinian academics and artists, and - very importantly - also by a number of Israeli public figures, who outspokenly oppose their country's illegal occupation of the Palestine territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Their call, printed in the Guardian today, can be read here. A full list of signatories can be found here.

The boycott is an active protest against two forms of exclusion which have persisted, despite many other forms of protestations, for over 60 years - for almost three generations. During this period the state of Israel has consistently excluded itself from any international obligation to heed UN resolutions or the judgement of any international court. To date, it has defied 246 Security Council Resolutions.

As a direct consequence seven million Palestinians have been excluded from the right to live as they wish on land internationally acknowledged to be theirs; and now increasingly, with every week that passes, they are being excluded from their right to any future at all as a nation. As Nelson Mandela has pointed out, boycott is not a principle, it is a tactic depending upon circumstances. A tactic which allows people, as distinct from their elected but often craven governments, to apply a certain pressure on those wielding power in what they, the boycotters, consider to be an unjust or immoral way. [complete article]

Comment -- While people such as Michael Kinsley struggle to understand why Israel is being accused of applying a discriminatory system worse than apartheid, he and others who think like him might ask themselves this: Which is the worse offence? To hear the words "Israel" and "apartheid" linked in the same sentence, or, in an area smaller than Delaware, to have ones freedom of movement obstructed at over 500 locations for no other reason than that one is a Palestinian?

The call from John Berger (and co-signatories of this letter) to impose a cultural boycott on Israel will draw support from across Europe and much of the world, yet it is likely to fall on deaf ears in the United States. It will fall on deaf ears firstly because the call will dutifully be ignored by the media. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, it will be ignored because the treatment of the Palestinians does not resonate clearly with parallels in the American experience.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 1970's and '80's in the U.S. can be seen in part, as an outgrowth of the Civil Rights Movement. Any liberal-minded American couldn't fail to see the parallels between the segregated South and the treatment of blacks in apartheid South Africa. Indeed, any indifference among white Americans to the plight of black South Africans carried with it the suggestion of a lacklustre concern about the rights of African Americans.

In contrast, liberals such as Michael Kinsley run little risk of being criticized for showing a callous disregard about the injustices resulting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Why? Because his indifference does not translate into a recognizable disregard for a parallel, highly visible, and sizeable American minority.

Kinsley expresses a sentiment shared by many Americans and Israelis when he writes that:
...[after sixty years,] the one full new idea in the Israel-Arab conflict came from Ariel Sharon, of all people. This oafish former general, who supervised the Sabra and Shatila massacres of Palestinians in Lebanon back in 1982, as prime minister more recently took up the philosophy in that Robert Frost poem: "Good fences make good neighbors." Rather than wait a few million years for evolution to purge Israelis and Arabs of their animosity, just keep them apart with a fence or a wall and related rules. Yes, of course, the walls and the rules favored Israel and were a far greater burden on Arabs than Israelis. But that is the kind of thing you can negotiate.
But on the contrary, the wall (or "security fence") is by its very nature non-negotiable. It follows a unilaterally chosen path, folding Jewish settlements into an expanded Israel as it physically and metaphorically attempts to shut out "the Palestinian problem." This problem, Kinsley and others would have us believe, has its roots not in the theft of property, the appropriation of land, and the abuse of human rights, but in an intractable animosity between Jews and Arabs. To pursue a just resolution is wishful thinking. The best solution is separation (but don't mention words like "apartheid" or "ethnic cleansing").

Just as many Israelis still hope they can simply wall themselves off from unfriendly neighbors and an unsolvable conflict, many Americans would just as gladly shut out the Middle East and much of a world fraught with seemingly incomprehensible and intractable problems.

It doesn't work. We neither are nor can become truly self-sufficient. Our fate is inseparable from the fate of a world we have done as much to shape as it has done to provoke our fear.
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Hamas says Abbas seeks war
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, December 15, 2006

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's security forces fired on a Hamas rally in the West Bank and battles between the two factions erupted in Gaza on Friday, prompting a Hamas leader to accuse Abbas of starting a war.

Tensions reached their highest level in a decade, fuelling fears that the Palestinians were on the verge of civil war after months of fruitless talks to form a unity government between the ruling Islamist Hamas faction and Abbas's once-dominant Fatah.

"What a war, Mahmoud Abbas, you are launching, first against God, and then against Hamas," Khalil al-Hayya, head of the Hamas faction in parliament, told 100,000 supporters at a rally in Gaza City.

Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas urged "national unity" in a speech to the crowd but did not explicitly call for calm as he has during previous surges in internal fighting. [complete article]

See also, Israel to tighten enforcement of int'l boycott of PA (Haaretz), "At least the Iranians are helping us, while the Americans and Israelis are starving us." (Al-Ahram Weekly), and Abbas on shaky legal ground in threatening to call early elections (AP).
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Israeli high court upholds 'targeted killings' of Palestinians
By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2006

Israel's Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a demand by civil liberties groups for a blanket ban on the military's "targeted killings" of Palestinian militants, saying the practice could be justified in some instances under international law.

But the court, ruling for the first time on one of the conflict's most sensitive questions, set limits on the circumstances in which such killings would be considered legal. It left the military to decide in secret whom to target, while mandating that the legality of each operation would be subject to a follow-up judicial review.

International legal experts said the ruling could have an effect in democratic countries such as Israel that are struggling to balance counter-terrorism policies with democratic checks and balances. [complete article]

See also, Military Advocacy relieved over targeted killing ruling (Ynet).
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The Village of Al-Wallaja vs. the State of Israel
By Tania Tabar, Electronic Intifada, December 14, 2006

The house of Munthir Mahmoud Hamad stood alone. Almost perfectly square in shape and made up of gray cement stone - it stood on a tiny hilltop among rubble - what was likely to have been a previously destroyed home. A makeshift water tank sat on the roof and wires led from the rooftop to a generator nearby. From his house you could see the Jewish settlement of Gilo. All settlements in Israel and the Occupied Territories are easy to point out - houses are obtrusively white in color, perfectly aligned next to one another, and built on a hilltop - like a perfect suburbia and another world. Hamad's house was built solely for survival and nothing else. It had a temporary feel, as though was awaiting its next demolition. Hamad's son would play soccer outside, kicking a ball around the only greenery nearby - one pomegranate tree that stands alone, a few meters from the side of the house, as though born from the massive pile of rubble.

On Dec 13th 2006, Hamad's house was demolished. [complete article]
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The trap of recognising Israel
By Jonathan Cook, Electronic Intifada, December 14, 2006

The problem facing the Palestinian leadership, as they strive to bring the millions living in the occupied territories some small relief from their collective suffering, reduces to a matter of a few words. Like a naughty child who has only to say "sorry" to be released from his room, the Hamas government need only say "We recognise Israel" and supposedly aid and international goodwill will wash over the West Bank and Gaza.

That, at least, was the gist of Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert's recent speech during a visit to the Negev, when he suggested that his country's hand was stretched out across the sands towards the starving masses of Gaza -- if only Hamas would repent. "Recognise us and we are ready to talk about peace" was the implication. [complete article]
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In Lebanon, Hizbullah's rise provokes Shiite dissent
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, December 15, 2006

Hizbullah's ability to draw hundreds of thousands of Shiites to central Beirut to rally against the Lebanese government is the most visible evidence that the militants are now the undisputed representative of the country's Shiite community.

Yet some of the party's coreligionists have started to publicly question Hizbullah's political monopoly. They worry that its ambitious gambit to topple the Western-backed government is intended to benefit backers in Iran and Syria and will be detrimental to the long-term interests of Shiites. [complete article]

See also, What is Lebanon? (Der Spiegel).

Comment -- Whether or not Hezbollah has a political monopoly, the part of this story that rarely gets spelt out is the depth of the imbalance in political representation in Lebanon. Shiites make up close to 50% of the population, yet Lebanon's sectarian allocations in its parliament provide the Shia with only 27 seats out of 128. This isn't just a tussle between anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian alignments; it's a struggle for political representation.
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Six brutal truths about Iraq
By William E. Odom, Nieman Watchdog, December 11, 2006

Mythologies about the war in Iraq are endangering our republic, our rights, and our responsibilities before the world. The longer we fail to dispel them, the higher price we will pay. The following six truths, while perhaps not self-evident to the American public, are nevertheless conspicuously obvious to much the rest of the world.

Truth No. 1: No "deal" of any kind can be made among the warring parties in Iraq that will bring stability and order, even temporarily.

Ever since the war began to go badly in the summer of 2003, a mythology has arisen that a deal among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds could bring peace and stability to Iraq. First, the parliamentary elections were expected to be such a breakthrough. When peace and stability did not follow, the referendum on a constitution was proclaimed the panacea. When that failed, it was asserted that we just had not yet found the proper prime minister. Even today, the Iraq Study Group is searching for this holy grail. It doesn't exist. [complete article]
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Rice rejects overture to Iran and Syria
By Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 15, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday rejected a bipartisan panel's recommendation that the United States seek the help of Syria and Iran in Iraq, saying the "compensation" required by any deal might be too high. She argued that neither country should need incentives to foster stability in Iraq.

"If they have an interest in a stable Iraq, they will do it anyway," Rice said in a wide-ranging interview with Washington Post reporters and editors. She said she did not want to trade away Lebanese sovereignty to Syria or allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon as a price for peace in Iraq.

Rice also said there would be no retreat from the administration's push to promote democracy in the Middle East, a goal that was de-emphasized by the Iraq Study Group in its report last week but that Rice insisted was a "matter of strategic interest." She reiterated her commitment to pursuing peace between Palestinians and Israelis -- a new effort that President Bush announced in September but that has yielded little so far. [complete article]

See also, What Syria would say (David Ignatius) and White House decries senators' visits to Syria (LAT).
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In Baker's blunder, a chance for Bush
By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, December , 2006

Now that these 10 establishment sages have labored mightily to produce a mouse, the president has one last chance to come forward with a new strategy.

He must do two things. First, as I've been agitating for, establish a new governing coalition in Baghdad that excludes Moqtada al-Sadr, a cancer that undermines the ability of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government to work with us. It is encouraging that Bush has already begun such a maneuver by meeting with rival Shiite and Sunni parliamentary leaders. If we help produce a cross-sectarian government that would be an ally rather than a paralyzed semi-adversary of coalition forces, we should then undertake part two: "Double down" our military effort. This means a surge in American troops with a specific mission: to secure Baghdad and (with the support of the Baghdad government -- a sine qua non) suppress Sadr's Mahdi Army.

It is our last chance for success. Bush can thank the Iraq Study Group and its instant irrelevance for making it possible. [complete article]

Comment -- In celebrating the opportunity provided the ISG report's flat landing, Charles Krauthammer seems to be forgetting something. The very reason that the report was awaited with such eager anticipation was a direct result of the administration's own strategy vacuum.

Now the latest Iraq fix to fascinate Washington is the idea that if the Sadrists can be kicked out of the government it'll be able to get back on course. The fallacy here is the notion that exclusion from government amounts to being disempowered. That might be the case in Washington, but not Baghdad. The Sadrists will probably be even more dangerous on the outside. How do you think they got a seat at the table in the first place Mr. Krauthammer? As for "suppressing" Sadr's Mahdi Army -- what are we supposed to picture? Sadr City as the next Fallujah?
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India's shame
By Arundhati Roy, The Guardian, December 15, 2006

Five years ago this week, on December 13 2001, the Indian parliament was in its winter session. The government was under attack for yet another corruption scandal. At 11.30 in the morning, five armed men in a white Ambassador car fitted out with an improvised explosive device drove through the gates of Parliament House. When they were challenged, they jumped out of the car and opened fire. In the gun battle that followed, all the attackers were killed. Eight security personnel and a gardener were killed too. The dead terrorists, the police said, had enough explosives to blow up the parliament building, and enough ammunition to take on a whole battalion of soldiers. Unlike most terrorists, these five left behind a thick trail of evidence - weapons, mobile phones, phone numbers, ID cards, photographs, packets of dried fruit and even a love letter.

Not surprisingly, prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee seized the opportunity to compare the assault to the September 11 attacks in the US only three months previously.

On December 14 2001, the day after the attack on parliament, the Special Cell (anti-terrorist squad) of the Delhi police claimed it had tracked down several people suspected of being involved in the conspiracy. The next day, it announced that it had "cracked the case": the attack, the police said, was a joint operation carried out by two Pakistan-based terrorist groups, Lashkar- e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Three Kashmiri men, Syed Abdul Rahman Geelani, Shaukat Hussain Guru and Mohammad Afzal, and Shaukat's wife, Afsan Guru, were arrested.

In the tense days that followed, parliament was adjourned. The Indian government declared that Pakistan - America's closest ally in the "war on terror" - was a terrorist state. On December 21, India recalled its high commissioner from Pakistan, suspended air, rail and bus communications and banned air traffic with Pakistan. It put into motion a massive mobilisation of its war machinery, and moved more than half a million troops to the Pakistan border. Foreign embassies evacuated their staff and citizens, and tourists travelling to India were issued cautionary travel advisories. The world watched with bated breath as the subcontinent was taken to the brink of nuclear war. All this cost India an estimated pounds 1.1bn of public money. About 800 soldiers died in the panicky process of mobilisation alone.

The police charge sheet was filed in a special fast-track trial court designated for cases under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Some three years later, the trial court sentenced Geelani, Shaukat and Afzal to death. Afsan Guru was sentenced to five years of "rigorous imprisonment". On appeal, the high court subsequently acquitted Geelani and Afsan, but upheld Shaukat's and Afzal's death sentence. Eventually, the supreme court upheld the acquittals and reduced Shaukat's punishment to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. However, it not just confirmed, but enhanced Mohammad Afzal's sentence. He was given three life sentences and a double death sentence.

In its judgment on August 5 2005, the supreme court admitted that the evidence against Afzal was only circumstantial, and that there was no evidence that he belonged to any terrorist group or organisation. But it went on to endorse what can only be described as lynch law. "The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation," it said, "and the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender."

Spelling out the reasons for giving Afzal the death penalty, the judgment went on: "The appellant, who is a surrendered militant and who was bent upon repeating the acts of treason against the nation, is a menace to the society and his life should become extinct." This implies a dangerous ignorance of what it means to be a "surrendered militant" in Kashmir today.

So, should Afzal's life be extinguished? His story is fascinating because it is inextricably entwined with the story of the Kashmir Valley. It is a story that stretches far beyond the confines of courtrooms and the limited imagination of people who live in the secure heart of a self-declared "superpower". Afzal's story has its origins in a war zone whose laws are beyond the pale of the fine arguments and delicate sensibilities of normal jurisprudence. [complete article]
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Diplomat's suppressed document lays bare the lies behind Iraq war
By Colin Brown and Andy McSmith, The Independent, December 15, 2006

The Government's case for going to war in Iraq has been torn apart by the publication of previously suppressed evidence that Tony Blair lied over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

A devastating attack on Mr Blair's justification for military action by Carne Ross, Britain's key negotiator at the UN, has been kept under wraps until now because he was threatened with being charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act. [complete article]

See also, The full transcript of evidence given to the Butler inquiry (The Independent).

Active diplomacy for a changing world
Foreign Affairs Committee, House of Commons, November 8, 2006

Mr. John Horam: ...on the success or failure of British foreign policy, you state, "We are so inured to the rhetoric of anti-terrorism and macho posturing...that it is hard to imagine an alternate direction for British foreign policy. But it is available...This alternative lies in consistency of application of international law and a robust defence...of those under assault or oppression." I am particularly interested to know what you mean by consistency of application of international law. What are you getting at? Could you perhaps elaborate on that a bit?

Mr. Ross: The easiest place to observe it is in the Middle East, where the accusation of double standards against British foreign policy has some weight. If you say that you stand by international law, which active diplomacy repeatedly does, you must apply it consistently across the board, and that means talking about it in the case of Israel-Palestine. It was very noticeable to me, as a former head of section dealing with the Arab-Israel dispute on what used to be called the Middle East peace process desk, that, in the incarnations when I worked there, the Government consistently talked about UN resolutions 242 and 338 and the discourse of occupation as the premise for British foreign policy. That is no longer the case. British ministers rarely refer to international law when talking about Palestine. Instead, there is a sort of hand-wringing campaign in an effort to bring peace, as if we are talking about two equal parties in the dispute when in fact we are talking about one country occupying the territory of another people. [complete article]
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"America is the best friend of Islam. It wakes up the sleeping Muslim"
By Jeffrey Gettleman and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, December 14, 2006

The stadium was packed, the guns were cocked and even the drenching rain could not douse the jihadist fire.

Thousands of Somalis, from fully veiled, machine-gun-toting women to little boys in baggy fatigues, gathered Friday to rally against what they called foreign aggression. As a squall blew in, they punched wet fists into the air and yelled, "Allahu akbar," or "God is great."

"I am ready to die," said Osama Abdi Rahim, dressed head to toe in camouflage and marching around with a loaded rifle. He is 7 years old.

The inevitability of war hangs over Mogadishu, Somalia's bullet-pocked seaside capital. But unlike the internal anarchy that has consumed the country for 15 years, the looming battle is now with Ethiopia, threatening to further destabilize the troubled Horn of Africa.

In the past week the increasingly militant Islamists in control of Mogadishu and much of the rest of the country have begun a food drive, a money drive and an AK-47 assault rifle drive, and have sent doctors and nurses, along with countless young soldiers, to the front lines.

For its part, Ethiopia, with tacit approval from the United States, has been steadily slipping soldiers across the border, trying to hold off the Islamists and shore up Somalia's weak, unpopular and divided transitional government. [complete article]

Comment -- There doesn't seem to be much debate about the alignments of power in Somalia. The power of the people is overwhelmingly behind the Islamists. Representative Donald M. Payne, who is expected to become the next chairman of the House subcommittee on Africa, is admitting as much when he concedes, "The Islamists aren't going away, so the sooner we talk to them, the better." What irony then that in the place where Vice-President Cheney and his cohorts claim that radical Islamists such as Osama bin Laden were once taught a fateful lesson in American weakness because of an ignomious retreat from Mogadishu in 1994, the Bush administration is now providing another lesson -- this time in American duplicity -- as it sides with Ethiopia and with Somalia's unpopular warlords.

A more enlightened administration might see in Somalia an opportunity to reverse the expectation across the Islamic world that the United States will always act in visceral opposition to political Islam; the U.S. could thereby empower the more pragmatic Islamists. Instead, the American response simply gives more strength to the absolutists by confirming the widely held view that we are at war with Islam.

If there's one thread that seems to endure in U.S. foreign policy it is that the will of the people is the least thing among Washington's considerations. When masses of people around the world are led to believe that America views their aspirations with contempt, this is what fuels radicalism.
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Survey indicates Iraqis in despair
Al Jazeera, December 14, 2006

More than 90 per cent of Iraqis believe the country is worse off now than before the war in 2003, according to new research obtained by Al Jazeera.

A survey of 2,000 people by the Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies found that 95 per cent of respondents believe the security situation has deteriorated since the arrival of US forces.

The findings follow a poll by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal that found that less than one in four Americans approves of George Bush's administration's handling of the conflict in Iraq. [complete article]

Iraqis flee war, run into hostility
By Jeffrey Fleishman and Qaisar Ahmed, Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2006

Strolling the alleys and boulevards of this city, Raaid Lafta sometimes thinks he glimpses his old country: in the barber's face, in the baker's oven, in the way the restaurant chef serves the spiced dishes he's known since boyhood.

Like him, the barber, baker and chef are Iraqis adrift in war. Escaping their battered homeland in crowded cars and lopsided buses, boarding planes and walking stretches of desert, Iraqi refugees are a growing diaspora in Cairo, Damascus, Amman and other Arab cities. With children in tow and life savings hidden in pots and suitcases, they are another precarious burden for the Middle East.

"I see everyone speaking in an Iraq accent," Lafta said. "Iraqi men singing Iraqi songs in the streets, Iraqi cafes, Iraqi shops.... I was opening a bank account here, so when the banker asked for my address, I replied that I live in Cairo's 6th of October neighborhood. He smiled and said, 'You Iraqis have invaded October.' " [complete article]

Joint Chiefs advise change in war strategy
By Robin Wright and Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, December 14, 2006

The nation's top uniformed leaders are recommending that the United States change its main military mission in Iraq from combating insurgents to supporting Iraqi troops and hunting terrorists, said sources familiar with the White House's ongoing Iraq policy review.

President Bush and Vice President Cheney met with the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday at the Pentagon for more than an hour, and the president engaged his top military advisers on different options. The chiefs made no dramatic proposals but, at a time of intensifying national debate about how to solve the Iraq crisis, offered a pragmatic assessment of what can and cannot be done by the military, the sources said. [complete article]

Democrats plan to take control of Iraq spending
By Carl Hulse, New York Times, December 14, 2006

Frustrated by the Bush administration's piecemeal financing of the Iraq war, Democrats are planning to assert more control over the billions of dollars a month being spent on the conflict when they take charge of Congress in January.

In interviews, the incoming Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Budget Committees said they would demand a better accounting of the war's cost and move toward integrating the spending into the regular federal budget, a signal of their intention to use the Congressional power of the purse more assertively to influence the White House's management of the war. [complete article]
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U.S. subpoena is seen as bid to stop leaks
By Adam Liptak, New York Times, December 14, 2006

Federal prosecutors are trying to force the American Civil Liberties Union to turn over copies of a classified document it received from a source, using what legal experts called a new extension of the Bush administration’s efforts to protect national-security secrets.

The novelty in the government's approach is in its broad use of a grand jury subpoena, which is typically a way to gather evidence, rather than to confiscate all traces of it. But the subpoena issued to the A.C.L.U. seeks "any and all copies" of a document e-mailed to it unsolicited in October, indicating that the government also wants to prevent further dissemination of the information in the document.

The subpoena was revealed in court papers unsealed in federal court in Manhattan yesterday. The subject of the grand jury's investigation is not known, but the A.C.L.U. said that it had been told it was not a target of the investigation.

The subpoena, however, raised the possibility that the government had found a new tool to stop the dissemination of secrets, one that could avoid the all but absolute constitutional prohibition on prior restraints on publication. [complete article]
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Move to charge Ahmadi-Nejad over Israel remarks
By Mark Turner, Financial Times, December 13, 2006

In one of his first acts since leaving his post as US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton will on Thursday call for legal proceedings against Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad for incitement to genocide.

Mr Bolton will join Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian attorney-general, and Nobel peace prize winner Elie Wiesel in claims that a series of public statements against Israel constitute a crime under the Genocide Convention.

The call comes amid growing pressure on the US to start talks with Iran about Iraq, but also amid international criticism of a conference in Tehran questioning the Holocaust. A 68-page study produced by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, argues that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's declaration that "Israel should be wiped off the map" is part of a hate campaign punishable under international law. [complete article]

See also, Netanyahu wants Iran president tried for genocide at The Hague (Haaretz).

Comment -- In one of his most recent statements, Ahmadinejad said, "The Zionist regime will be wiped out soon the same way the Soviet Union was." As we know, there was no genocide involved in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Indeed, had those Reaganites who in the 1980's passionately desired a quick end to the communist regime, been accused of advocating genocide, I'm sure they would have asserted that their aim was to destroy a political structure rather than annihilate a people.

The current threat to Israel is real, but in as much as it is characterized as a threat of another Holocaust, the political nature of the Jewish-Arab antagonism can conveniently be ignored.

Suppose Israel dismantled its settlements, withdrew from the Occupied Territories, accepted the internationally recognized pre-1967 boundaries of the State of Israel, allowed the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, addressed the inequities facing the 20% of Israel's population who are not Jewish, returned the Golan Heights to Syria and Shebaa Farms to Lebanon, and released all its political prisoners -- suppose Israel yielded on every one of these political demands, are we then to believe that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or any other Middle Eastern political leader could still rally much popular support in a campaign to destroy Zionism? I think not. Indeed I think that the greatest threat to Zionism comes from those who are intent on burying the possibilities for political change by shamelessly exploiting hysteria at the expense of reason.
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Iran's president faces test of his support in elections
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, December 14, 2006

Iranians will go to the polls on Friday in elections that are expected to be a test of whether President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still has the popular support that led to his victory 18 months ago.

The elections are for city councils around the country and for the 86-member Assembly of Experts. The Assembly has the power to replace the country's supreme leader, but since it selected Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for that position in 1989, it has been relatively inactive and meets only twice a year behind closed doors.

The city councils, on the other hand, exercise substantial political leverage, especially in the capital, Tehran. The councils appoint the mayors, who run the local governments and control the budgets. [complete article]
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Beirut: Axis of the New Cold War
By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy, December 13, 2006

For most Americans, the standoff between the militant Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah and Lebanon's government may look like inside politics in a country that's barely big enough to contain its name on most world maps.

But Hezbollah's two-week-old siege of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's administration is, in many ways, a test of U.S. power and credibility in the Middle East at a time when the Bush administration is struggling to regain the offensive in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Analysts, Lebanese leaders and Western diplomats agree that the crisis is an outgrowth of a developing showdown between the United States, which backs Saniora, and Syria and Iran, which support Hezbollah.

"Because Lebanon doesn't count in anybody's equation, it is the perfect place to use it as a cold war arena; there is a cold war in the Middle East now," said Timur Goksel, who was a longtime senior adviser to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon until 2003. "I think Hezbollah is being drawn into this cold war ... they are taking sides." [complete article]

Lebanese government issues own warning
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 14, 2006

Since the demonstration staged Sunday by Hezbollah and its allies, one of the largest in Lebanese history, the crisis has entered a lull of sorts. Hezbollah and its allies have spoken vaguely of escalation, but all sides seem willing to give a chance to mediation underway by the Arab League and its secretary general, Amr Moussa.

Since October, Hezbollah and its supporters have sought one-third plus one of the seats in the cabinet, which would give them an effective veto over key decisions and allow them to force the government to resign at will. Siniora and his supporters have insisted on approval first of an international court to try Hariri's alleged killers. While Hezbollah has not publicly opposed it in principle, its ally Syria, blamed by government supporters for the assassination, has.

Other issues are still in the air: The government and its supporters want an election to replace President Emile Lahoud, a Syrian ally; Hezbollah and its allies want early parliamentary elections that they believe would deprive the government and its supporters of a majority.

"We'll deal with any Arab or local initiative very positively but on the basis of one-third-plus-one in the government," said Amin Sherri, a Hezbollah member of parliament. [complete article]
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Israel: Haniyeh can enter Gaza, but without millions in cash
By Amos Harel and Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, December 14, 2006

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh crossed from Egypt into the Gaza Strip on Thursday night, a member of his delegation said, leaving behind the $35 million he received from his tour of Muslim states.

Israel, which triggered the closure of the border to prevent Haniyeh's passage with the money, agreed Thursday evening to allow him to cross if left the money in Egypt.

Hamas sources said the money had stayed in Egypt with two delegation officials who would sort out what to do with it. Israel Radio said that the money would be transferred Friday to the bank account of the Arab League in Cairo.

Earlier, gunbattles raged at the border as Hamas gunmen, enraged by the Israel-imposed ban on Haniyeh, seized control of the terminal and exchanged fire both with Egyptian officers and guards of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the rival Fatah movement. The gunbattles left 18 people wounded. [complete article]

Comment -- Contempt for our own political leaders is a well-established feature of the Western political landscape. Even so, it seems unthinkable that any Western leader would ever face the indignity that Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, faced today. If this was the way your elected political leader was being treated by a foreign government would it not make your blood boil?

Camp David III will also fail
By Khader Khader, Bitter Lemons, December 11, 2006

The US administration was sent a clear message by Hamas' victory in parliamentary elections in January. That message was that the political process after the 1991 Madrid conference has been a complete failure. Notably, the report refers to Madrid rather than the subsequent Oslo process as the model to follow for progress.

A byproduct of the failure of Oslo has been the failure of Fateh, which pursued the Oslo process. Thus failing to meet Palestinian national aspirations, Fateh failed at the polls. The radicalization of Palestinian society is not the result of growing "fundamentalism", but because Palestinian suffering deepened while and because illegal Jewish settlement building accelerated and the West Bank wall and other punitive and oppressive Israeli measures against Palestinians were implemented. All this, despite the Palestinian "moderate" calls for peace.

In this context, when the report talks about the "need" for direct US involvement, a crucial term is missing: neutral. The US was directly involved during the Clinton administration, and that was one of the main reasons for the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada. Why? Palestinians finally saw clearly that the US cannot and will not exert real pressure on Israel to achieve a just and permanent peace. [complete article]

Abbas to declare Hamas gov't as interim administration
Xinhua, December 14, 2006

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will declare the Hamas-led government as an interim administration until holding referendum next year, local Maan news agency reported on Thursday.

Well-informed sources were quoted as saying that Abbas was not going to sack the Hamas-led government, but the government will be called as an interim as a compromise.

The news came two days before Abbas address the nation. The sources termed as "inclusive and historical" the speech which Abbas will deliver on Saturday about the political crisis that worsened after Hamas took office in March. [complete article]
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Bush delays speech on Iraq strategy
By Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, December 13, 2006

Faced with a growing list of recommendations and a range of contradictory policy options from key advisers, President Bush yesterday delayed a planned announcement about a new strategy for the war in Iraq until the new year.

The administration had said the president would address the nation before Christmas but scrapped those plans as Bush grapples with a host of proposals for adjusting policy in the increasingly unpopular and costly war.

"He decided, frankly, that it's not ready yet," press secretary Tony Snow said. He did not offer a specific date for the speech, telling reporters: "[It] is not going to happen until the new year. We do not know when, so I can't give you a date, I can't give you a time, I can't give you a place, I can't give you a way in which it will happen." [complete article]

Comment -- Beyond the Iraq strategy impasse in which the administration is clearly trapped, I have to wonder whether this announcement of a delay in Bush's speech represents a victory for Robert Gates and a defeat for Karl Rove. The idea of a Christmas speech sounds very Rovian in its focus on timing before substance. (We know when Bush is going to speak. Now we have to decide: what is he going to say?) On the other hand, Gates has every reason not to want to come into office with a strategy already set in place that he might have otherwise opposed. Now he gets a chance to have his say.
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Laying the groundwork for a 'cabinet reshuffle' in Iraq
By Tony Karon,, December 12, 2006

Regardless of whether President Bush is more inclined to heed the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group or to listen to its skeptics, Iraqi politicians clearly sense that change is coming. And their frenzied jockeying for position suggests that power in Baghdad may soon once again be up for grabs — and the smart politicians are hedging their bets. The President's White House meeting with Sunni leader Tariq al-Hashemi on Tuesday will certainly add fuel to the speculation. Al-Hashemi, one of Iraq's two Vice Presidents, leads the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni group in parliament. The White House was part of an ongoing effort to support the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. But al-Hashemi has been a sharp critic of al-Maliki's government. His visit follows one last week from another sometime Maliki rival, the Shi'ite leader Abdulaziz al-Hakim, and has fueled speculation that Washington may be hedging its bets on Iraqi political leaders. Speculation will be intensified by the announcement that the speech in which Bush will outline his new thinking on Iraq, originally scheduled to be delivered before Christmas, will now be delayed until sometime in January. [complete article]

See also, Iraq Army plans for a wider role (NYT).
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Iraq violence sparks exodus to Syria
By Chris Morris, BBC News, December 13, 2006

On the desert border between Syria and Iraq, a group of tents clings to the shifting sands. This is a desolate place at the best of times.

Now it has become an unwanted home to more than 300 Palestinian refugees. They fled from violence in Baghdad seven months ago, only to get stuck in no-man's land.

As Palestinians, they do not have proper passports - so Syria will not let them in; and it is too dangerous to go back into Iraq. [complete article]
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Saudis say they might back Sunnis if U.S. leaves Iraq
By Helene Cooper, New York Times, December 13, 2006

Saudi Arabia has told the Bush administration that it might provide financial backing to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq's Shiites if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq, according to American and Arab diplomats.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia conveyed that message to Vice President Dick Cheney two weeks ago during Mr. Cheney's whirlwind visit to Riyadh, the officials said. During the visit, King Abdullah also expressed strong opposition to diplomatic talks between the United States and Iran, and pushed for Washington to encourage the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, senior Bush administration officials said.

The Saudi warning reflects fears among America's Sunni Arab allies about Iran’s rising influence in Iraq, coupled with Tehran's nuclear ambitions. King Abdullah II of Jordan has also expressed concern about rising Shiite influence, and about the prospect that the Shiite-dominated government would use Iraqi troops against the Sunni population. [complete article]

See also, Saudi ambassador abruptly resigns, leaves Washington (WP).
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Democrat flunks his first intelligence test
By Toby Harnden, The Telegraph, December 13, 2006

The new Democratic chairman of a US congressional intelligence committee did not know what Hizbollah was and incorrectly described al-Qa'eda as deriving from the Shia rather than Sunni sect of Islam.

Representative Silvestre Reyes was flummoxed when a journalist rounded off a 40-minute interview by asking him two basic questions about the Islamic groups that are the principal targets of America's intelligence agencies.

"Al-Qa'eda is what – Sunni or Shia?" Jeff Stein, the Congressional Quarterly magazine's national security editor, asked Mr Reyes. "Al-Qa'eda, they have both," came the reply. "You're talking about predominately?" the congressman then asked, before venturing: "Predominantly – probably Shi'ite." [complete article]
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No Palestinian fishing rod
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, December 13, 2006

The world is applauding Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus for applying the folk wisdom that a poor man should be given not a fish but rather a fishing pole. That is, to fight poverty, it is necessary not to feed poor people but rather to let them earn a living. And at the same time, the world is being asked to keep giving the Palestinians fish, because it knows very well that Israel will block any shipment of fishing rods.

More than 1.3 million Palestinians, out of a population of 3.7 million (including the inhabitants of East Jerusalem), were defined as poor in 2005. More than half of them, 820,000, were defined as sunk in "deep poverty." The Palestinian National Commission for Poverty Alleviation has set two poverty lines, on the basis of average consumption expenses: The official poverty line relates to nine categories of goods and services, if the daily expenditure for them is less than $2.40 per capita. The "deep poverty line" relates to just three categories - food, clothing and housing (without medical care, education, or transportation expenses), the expenditure for which is less than $2.00 a day. [complete article]
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Haniyeh curtails foreign trip after Hamas activist killed in Gaza
By Avi Isaacharoff, Haaretz, December 13, 2006

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announced Wednesday that he was cutting short a month-long foreign trip, hours after a prominent member of Hamas was shtot dead in the southern Gaza Strip.

The man, a judge and senior member of the Hamas military wing, was shot dead Wednesday morning by armed men outside a courthouse in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian security officials identified the dead man as Bassam al-Fara, 30, a judge at the Islamic court and a member of the largest clan in Khan Yunis. [complete article]
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History, Hezbollah and Lebanon's resurgent Shias
By Matein Khalid, Khaleej Times, December 13, 2006

A quarter century after it emerged as a shadowy Shia militia armed and financed by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah is the political kingmaker of Lebanon.

Lebanon's Prime Minister and his Cabinet are literally besieged behind barricades and barbed wire as Hezbollah demands a new government, ironically using the same street demonstrations that defined the Cedar Revolution against the Syrian occupation. Downtown Beirut, the promenades and piazzas that symbolised the postwar reconstruction of Lebanon with million dollar condominiums and extravagant Solidiere projects, is now a sea of tents pitched by Hezbollah supporters determined to topple the elected government of Fuad Siniora. [complete article]
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The nuclear cat is out of the bag – and Olmert issues a warning...
By Justin Raimondo,, December 13, 2006

As a rebuke to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's rants about wiping Israel off the map, Olmert's is the perfect retort. Everyone knows that Israel has at least 400 nukes, and it isn't hard to guess in which direction they're aimed. Olmert is pointedly reminding the Iranians of what everyone has known for quite some time. All the Israeli prime minister has to do is give the order, and Tehran would be reduced to a pool of molten glass.

The message sent to Washington – and, indeed, to the entire world – is that Israel is making a clean break with the policies of the past, based as they were on a strategy of economic, diplomatic, and military dependence on Western allies. Israel feels it has been abandoned by the West, including not only Britain but also the U.S. – and all bets are off.

This fear of abandonment, although greatly exaggerated, is not entirely unfounded. It is based on a sensitive reading of the political dynamics in the U.S. and the threatened future of Israel's "special relationship" with the Americans. [complete article]

See also, Calls for Olmert to resign after nuclear gaffe (The Guardian).

Comment -- Rumor has it that when, during his recent confirmation hearings, Robert Gates "outed" Israel as a nuclear power, the incoming Defense Secretary's move was carefully calculated -- in spite of the seemingly casual delivery.

The Republican old guard is increasingly aware that the only way of bringing together strong regional and international support to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear arms -- but to do so while avoiding an armed conflict that the U.S. has no guarantee of winning -- will be to promote the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East. The first step in that process means an end -- with or without the consent of the Israeli government -- to Israel's "nuclear ambiguity."

Winning Israeli support for this emerging policy is an altogether different matter. We are instead likely to witness an escalation in Israeli fear and its sense of isolation and thus increasing unpredictability in its actions.
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How to lose an army
By William S. Lind, December 18, 2006

Lose a war, lose an election. What else did the Republicans expect? That is especially true for a "war of choice," which is to say a war we should not have fought. It is difficult to imagine that, had Spain defeated the U.S. in 1898, the Republicans would have won the election in 1900.

What does the Democrats' victory mean for the war in Iraq? Regrettably, not what it should, namely an immediate American withdrawal from a hopelessly lost enterprise. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, both of whom now want to get out, desire to go into the 2008 election as the party that "lost Iraq," which is how taking the lead for withdrawal could be painted. Instead, both parties in Congress and the White House are likely to agree only on a series of half-measures, none of which will work. We will stay bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire for another two years, as the troops caught in Operation Provide Targets continue to die.

A more critical if less obvious question is what do the results of the election mean for a prospective attack on Iran? On the surface, the Democrats' seizure of both houses of Congress would seem to be good news. Having won their majorities because the American people want out of a war, they ought to be reluctant to jump into a second one.

Regrettably, that logic may be too simple. Because an attack on Iran will be launched with no warning, the Bush administration will not have to consult Congress beforehand. Congress could take the initiative and forbid such an attack preemptively ("no funds may be expended..."). But in an imperial capital where court politics count far more than the nation's interests, Democrats may prefer to risk a second war, and a second debacle, rather than open themselves up to a charge of being weak on terrorism. The Democrats' approach to national-security issues through the fall campaign was to hide under the bed and ignore them as much as possible. That worked politically, so they are likely to stick with it.

The Bush administration, for its part, will be tempted to do what small men have done throughout history when in trouble: try to escalate their way out of it. The White House has already half-convinced itself that the majority of its troubles in Iraq stem from Iran and Syria, a line the neocons push assiduously. [complete article]
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Holocaust deniers don't help the Palestinians
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, December 13, 2006

The memory of the Holocaust is such a powerful ideological tool for Zionism precisely because of its reality -- it speaks the collective memory of Ashkenazi Jews of our fate in Europe, and it pricks the conscience of the perpetrators and those who preferred to turn away.

To respond by trying to deny the reality of the Holocaust is as profoundly immoral as it is idiotic -- creating a kind of binary game in which if Israel says mother's milk is good for babies, the likes of Ahmedinajad will convene a symposium to prove the superiority of formula. The point about the Holocaust is that it happened to the Jews of Europe, and afterwards, as a result of the efforts of the Zionist movement and some combination of shame and latent anti-Semitism in the West, many of its survivors had no choice but to go to Palestine, where they were willing to fight with every fiber of their being for survival, without the luxury of considering the history and context into which they'd been thrust. In the war that followed, Palestinian Arabs, who had been 55% of the population and had controlled around 80% of the land, now found themselves displaced and dispossessed, confined to a mere 22% of Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza), and prevented by a series of ethnic-cleansing laws passed by the State of Israel at its inception from reclaiming the homes and land from which they’d mostly fled in legitimate fear of their lives.

So, the Holocaust, in a very real way, reverberated traumatically in Palestinian national life: It was the narrative that fueled the ferocity with which many of those who drove the Palestinians from their homes in 1948 approached the struggle. And, as Morris Ernst wrote in his reference to "sanctimonious demands on the Arabs," the Palestinian Arabs had been asked to pay a steep price for Western guilt over what had befallen the Jews of Europe. [complete article]
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Iraqis consider ways to reduce al-Sadr's power
By Edward Wong, New York Times, December 12, 2006

After discussions with the Bush administration, several of Iraq's major political parties are in talks to form a coalition whose aim is to break the powerful influence of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr within the government, senior Iraqi officials say.

The talks are taking place among the two main Kurdish groups, the most influential Sunni Arab party and an Iranian-backed Shiite party that has long sought to lead the government. They have invited Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to join them. But Mr. Maliki, a conservative Shiite who has close ties to Mr. Sadr, has held back for fear that the parties might be seeking to oust him, a Shiite legislator close to Mr. Maliki said.

Officials involved in the talks say their aim is not to undermine Mr. Maliki, but to isolate Mr. Sadr as well as firebrand Sunni Arab politicians inside the government. Mr. Sadr controls a militia with an estimated 60,000 fighters that has rebelled twice against the American military and is accused of widening the sectarian war with reprisal killings of Sunni Arabs. [complete article]

Poll: Most Americans believe U.S. is losing Iraq war
By Peter Baker and Jon Cohen, Washington Post, December 12, 2006

Most Americans now believe the United States is losing the war in Iraq and sizeable majorities support a bipartisan commission's recommendations to shift away from combat and focus more on diplomacy, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll released today.

The survey found that the public has grown even more sour on the war since last month's midterm elections, when voters tossed out Republican congressional majorities in favor of Democrats critical of President Bush's leadership in Iraq. As Bush reevaluates his Iraq policy, many Americans appear hungry for ideas that would represent a major change in course. [complete article]

Truck bomb in Iraq kills 70 in Shiite crowd
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, December 12, 2006

A truck loaded with bags of wheat drove up to a crowd of poor Shiites early Tuesday, lured them close with a promise of work and exploded as they gathered around. Seventy were killed and 236 were wounded, officials said.

The attack, in a square in central Baghdad, together with corpses found by Iraqi authorities, pushed the day's death toll across Iraq to at least 131, the highest total since a bombing killed more than 200 here last month. Shiite political leaders often point to such attacks, arguing that they, not the American military, should control security here. [complete article]

To stem Iraqi violence, U.S. aims to create jobs
By Josh White and Griff Witte, Washington Post, December 12, 2006

As Iraq descends further into violence and disarray, the Pentagon is turning to a weapon some believe should have been used years ago: jobs.

Members of a small Pentagon task force have gone to the most dangerous areas of Iraq over the past six months to bring life to nearly 200 state-owned factories abandoned by the Coalition Provisional Authority after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Their goal is to employ tens of thousands of Iraqis in coming months, part of a plan to reduce soaring unemployment and lessen the violence that has crippled progress. [complete article]
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Global jihad's new front in Africa
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, December 12, 2006

A new front in the global struggle for Islamist rule is emerging in Africa. And there are worrisome signs that battles between Somalia's rising Union of Islamic Courts (IUC) and the country's foundering Western-backed government might soon engulf the entire Horn of Africa in a regional war.

Last week, the UN Security Council voted to send peacekeeping forces to Somalia, a move the Islamists say would be met with holy war. But neighboring Ethiopia isn't waiting for the UN. As the Islamists continue to take town after town away from Somalia's transitional government, and to march closer to its border, Ethiopia is gearing up for all-out war. Meanwhile, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Sudan are eyeing the conflict and taking sides.

"The fact that the UN resolution was backed by the US suggests that it puts Somalia into the global war on terror, and that has the potential to mobilize a lot of countries and groups that have been divorced from Somalia thus far," says Matt Bryden a consultant with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. [complete article]
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Lebanon's two futures
By Alex Klaushofer, Open Democracy, December 11, 2006

There are no signs of an end to the week-long siege by Hizbollah-dominated opposition supporters outside the offices of prime minister Fouad Siniora in the Grand Serail, central Beirut. As the protestors vow to remain, and even escalate their efforts to force the government's resignation, many headlines continue to suggest that Lebanon may be on the brink of civil war. Across the world, breathless media reports and broadcasts convey the image of a god-forsaken country, comparable to other middle-east battlegrounds, about to explode in bloody, sectarian conflict.

At least some of the melodramatic language and atmosphere is fuelled by western stereotyping of a country (and region) portrayed as endemically unstable. In its accumulated effect, the coverage tends to mask the nuances and dynamics at work in what is an unusually complex, contradictory country. [complete article]
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Killing of 3 young children worsens Palestinian tension
By Greg Myre, New York Times, December 12, 2006

Gunmen sprayed a car with bullets Monday morning in Gaza City, killing three young brothers, ages 3 to 9, who were the sons of a senior Palestinian security officer. The shootings further inflamed an already tense situation among Palestinian factions locked in a political power struggle.

No group claimed responsibility for shooting the brothers, though their father is a member of Fatah, the secular faction that long dominated Palestinian politics and is now in an escalating confrontation with Hamas, the militant Islamic group that currently heads the government. [complete article]
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Olmert: Israeli and Western nukes 'no comparison' to Iran
By Hana Levi Julian, Arutz Sheva, December 11, 2006

In a broadcast that aired the day before his first visit to Germany as Israel's Prime Minister, Olmert said that the nuclear threat from Israel and Western nations is "no comparison" to the prospect of such a weapon in Iranian hands.

The interview with the N24 Sat 1 TV station focused on the economic, defense and historical issues Olmert is planning to raise during his meeting Tuesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Germany's economic ties to Iran were a major focus of Olmert's remarks in the interview, in which he slammed the nation's business relationship with the Islamic Republic.

The Prime Minister said pointedly that Germany's Nazi past has created a much greater obligation to Israel – and by extension, to the Jews – than to doing business with Iran. [complete article]

Comment -- Whether by intention or accident, Israel's policy of "nuclear ambiguity" is falling apart. If the signals from Washington (as Robert Gates' recent testimony might imply) are that it's time for Israel to come out of the nuclear closet, this is an ominous sign. It's bad enough that the nuclear powers have the attitude that nuclear weapons are safe in our hands but no others, but now Olmert is significantly upping the ante by asserting straight out that Israel has a right to power (nuclear or otherwise) that Iran should never be allowed to possess. As Israel's nuclear profile rises, a new uncertainty comes into play. Is Israel not now implicitly flexing its own nuclear muscles in a thinly veiled threat to Iran?

Israel's nuclear ambiguity, far from being some cunning strategic move, is actually a ruse for avoiding the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the inspections that Israel's nuclear facilities would then be subject to if it became a signatory. Indeed, one has to wonder whether Israel would even have a basis for joining the treaty since it already has a record as a nuclear proliferator through the assistance it provided the South African apartheid regime.

As Israel and the United States pound away with their warnings of the Iranian nuclear threat -- a threat that as much as anything is supposedly a threat of nuclear proliferation -- the ultimate victim of this campaign increasingly looks likely to be the NPT itself!
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Israeli nuclear weapons whistleblower speaks out
By Joe Parko, Atlanta Progressive News, December 7, 2006

Ever since Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli Nuclear Technician, confirmed the existence of Israel's nuclear weapons program with his photographs of the secret underground bomb facility published in the London Sunday Times in 1986, the world has known Israel has been making nuclear bombs but has pretended they do not exist.

Vanunu was released from prison in April 2004 but was prohibited from leaving Israel. The Israeli government continues to keep him in Israel against his will. Criminal action is pending against him for speaking to journalists and foreigners.

I talked with Mordechai Vanunu last year in Jerusalem.

"I worked from 1976 to 1985 at the Israeli secret underground nuclear weapons production facility at the Dimona nuclear plant in the Negev desert," Vanunu said in the interview.

"During my time there, I was involved in processing plutonium for 10 nuclear bombs per year," Vanunu said.

"I realized my country had already processed enough plutonium for 200 nuclear weapons. I became really afraid when we started processing Lithium 6 which is only used for the hydrogen bomb," Vanunu recalled.

"I felt I had to prevent a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East so I took 60 pictures of the underground nuclear weapons processing plant some 75 meters under the Dimona plant," Vanunu told me.

"I resigned my post and left Israel in 1986. I first went to Australia and then made a connection with The Times in London. After a group of nuclear scientists verified my photos as proving Israeli nuclear weapons production, my story was published in England," Vanunu said.

"A few months later, I was kidnapped by the Israelis in Rome and sent secretly by ship to Israel where I was subjected to a closed military trial without counsel. I was sentenced to 18 years in prison. I spent 12 years in solitary confinement," Vanunu said.

"I think my whistleblowing on Israel's secret nuclear weapons program helped to bring down South Africa's apartheid government. When the world's governments learned Israel was helping South Africa to develop nuclear weapons, this was the end of apartheid. Mandela's first act was to shut down South Africa's nuclear weapons program and to send the nuclear materials to the U.S.," Vanunu said.

"Now I am trapped inside Israel and I'm being threatened with more prison time for speaking to people like you. I want to leave Israel and come to America where I can live as a free human being," Vanunu said.

At his recent meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, US President Bush called for worldwide isolation of Iran until it gives up its nuclear ambitions.

When it comes to the issue of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, there is an elephant in the room nobody wants to acknowledge, and that elephant is Israel's large nuclear bomb arsenal.

First the US allegedly went after non-existent nuclear weapons in Iraq and now Bush is consumed with the possibility Iran might develop nuclear weapons in the future. But the fact is, Israel has had a secret nuclear weapons program for over 30 years that has produced well over 200 nuclear bombs.

If we truly want to stop the nuclear arms race in the Middle East, Israel must be required to open its nuclear weapons program to inspection.

Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and refuses to officially confirm or deny having a nuclear arsenal, or to having developed nuclear weapons, or even to having a nuclear weapons program.

If we want Iran to renounce nuclear weapons, we must also get Israel to stop building bombs in secret and begin dismantling its large nuclear arsenal. Our goal must be a nuclear-free Middle East and this must include Israel.

About the author:

Joe Parko is a special contributor to Atlanta Progressive News. This article was produced as part of the Middle East Peace Education Program of the American Friends Service Committee. He may be reached at

Syndication policy:

This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.
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Jimmy Carter: Israel's 'apartheid' policies worse than South Africa's
Haaretz, December 11, 2006

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter said in remarks broadcast Monday that Israeli policy in the West Bank represented instances of apartheid worse even that those that once held sway in South Africa.

Carter's comments were broadcast on Israel Radio, which played a tape of an interview with the ex-president, but did not specify to whom Carter was speaking. But has made similar remarks in recent interviews, such as one to CBC television.

"When Israel does occupy this territory deep within the West Bank, and connects the 200-or-so settlements with each other, with a road, and then prohibits the Palestinians from using that road, or in many cases even crossing the road, this perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in South Africa." [complete article]
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Interview with author Ilan Pappe
By Christopher Brown, Electronic Intifada, December 11, 2006

Christopher Brown: Ehud Olmert recently appointed Avigdor Lieberman as deputy prime minister -- a man who some consider a "fascist" in light of his views towards Arabs, and Palestinians in particular. Yet, the world press has barely said anything about his rants; for instance, that all Arabs should be expelled from the territories, and Arab Knesset members be executed for having any contact with the Hamas led government. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, has his every word recorded for all to hear, regarding the Holocaust being a hoax, the destruction of Israel and the like. Your response?

Ilan Pappe: I think you've put your finger on two very important issues. The first one is the ideology that Avigdor Lieberman subscribes to that is an ethnic cleansing ideology. Someone who believes that the only way to solving the problems in Israel/Palestine is by expelling the Palestinians from Israel and any territory Israel covets.

I think the problem with Avigdor Lieberman is not his own views but the fact that he reflects what most Israeli Jews think, and definitely what most of his colleagues in the Olmert government think but don't dare to say, or don't think is desirable to say for tactical reasons. But I do think that we should be worried about Lieberman, not as an extreme fascist but rather as a person who represents the mood of Israel in 2006. [complete article]
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Iraq as a living hell
By Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch, December 11, 2006

The situation in Iraq has reached such a point of degradation and danger that I've been unable to return to report -- as I did from 2003 to 2005 -- from the front lines of daily life. Instead, in these last months, I have found myself in a supportive role, facilitating the work of some of my former sources, who remain in their own war-torn land, to tell their hair-raising tales of the new Iraq. While relying on my Iraqi colleagues to report the news, which we then publish at Inter Press Service and my website, I continue to receive emails from others in Iraq, civilian and soldier alike.

What I know from these emails is that the articles on Iraq you normally read in your local newspaper, even when, for instance, they cover the disintegration of the Iraqi health system or the collapse of the economy, are providing you, at best, but a glimpse of what daily life there is now like. After all, who knows better what's happening than those who are living it? [complete article]

See also, For Iraq's Sunnis, conflict closes in (WP), U.S. report rejected by Iraqi president (WP), Sunni and Shiite insurgents remain mystery to U.S., Iraq report charges (NYT), Talks under way to replace Iraq PM (AP), and Iraq is failing to spend billions in oil revenues (NYT).
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There is much more at stake for America than Iraq
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Financial Times, December 4, 2006

This is the week in which a painful truth finally came calling on power in the Oval Office of the White House. The president, though still mouthing his self-reassuring slogans to the public, has on his desk two documents, each telling him in effect that "mission accomplished" has turned into mission bust.

Superficially, the two documents could not be more different. Donald Rumsfeld's memo on the conduct of the military operations in Iraq, submitted just prior to his sudden dismissal, is a very brief and highly personal summary of the various tactical adjustments that might be considered in the light of the setbacks in fighting the Iraqi insurgency. It conveys anxiety but offers no strategic alternative.

The long-awaited Baker-Hamilton Study Group report assessing broader US policy options in Iraq is a lengthy compromise statement reflecting a typical, middle-of-the-road consensus among an elite Washington "focus group", composed of esteemed individuals not handicapped by much historical or geopolitical familiarity with the region's problems.

Arguing for conditional military redeployment from Iraq, it offers sound advice on the desirability of wider diplomatic initiatives to engage Iraq's neighbours in a collective search for regional stability, including the belated need to tackle seriously the lingering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The real importance of both documents is in what they do not say explicitly but implicitly convey: that the war has been a disaster; that the US must find a way to disengage by handing over the mess it created to the Iraqi leaders that the US itself had elevated to power; and that eventually the US may have to leave while blaming those same leaders for the US failure to cope. That notion is implicit even in some of Mr Rumsfeld’s options and it is inherent in the 16-months deadline set by the Baker-Hamilton group for eventual US military disengagement.

Neither document faces squarely two basic and troubling realities: that since in Iraq (except for Kurdistan) real power is not in the hands of the Iraqi politicians resident in the US-protected Green Zone in Baghdad, any political solution must engage the Shia theocracy, with its militias; and that the longer the American occupation continues, the already declining US influence in the Middle East will give way to regional extremism and instability, especially if continuing indecision over the basic strategic choices in Iraq continue to be matched by US unwillingness to address the negative regional consequences of Israel's prolonged and increasingly repressive occupation of the Palestinians.

The combination of the two has already elevated Iran's geopolitical power in the region. Hence the need of the moment is not for tactical tinkering or long consensus reports. Can one imagine Charles de Gaulle in the late 1950s waiting weeks for a long study by French public figures on how to end the Algerian war that was damaging France's national unity and international reputation? Leadership derived from a sense of history requires sometimes the cutting of Gordian knots, not tying oneself up in knots.

The president, and America's political leadership, must recognise that the US role in the world is being gravely undermined by the policies launched more than three years ago. The destructive war in Iraq, the hypocritical indifference to the human dimensions of the stalemate in Israeli- Palestinian relations, the lack of diplomatic initiative in dealing with Iran and the frequent use of Islamophobic rhetoric are setting in motion forces that threaten to push America out of the Middle East, with dire consequences for itself and its friends in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

America needs a strategic change of course, and it has to be undertaken on a broad front. It must accept the fact that real leadership in Iraq should be based on a coalition of the Shia clergy commanding the loyalty of Shia militias and of the autonomous Kurds and that the sooner a date is set for US departure, the sooner the authentic Iraqi leaders will be able to enlist Iraq's neighbours in a wider regional effort to promote a more stable Iraq. It must also engage its allies in a joint definition of the basic parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, for the two parties to the conflict will never do so on their own. Last but not least, the US must be ready to pursue multilateral and bilateral talks with Iran, including regional security issues.

In brief, the immediate dilemma is Iraq but the larger stake is the future of the Middle East.

The writer, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, is author of "The Choice" (Basic Books)
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How quickly Bush forgot
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, December 11, 2006

Some people suppose that President Bush's freedom agenda was buried last Wednesday by the report of the Iraq Study Group. In fact, history will show that the administration largely smothered its own baby, even before Iraq's descent into civil war propelled the resurrection of James Baker and other "realist" friends of Middle Eastern dictators.

Evidence of that conclusion could be found in Washington on the same day Baker delivered his report, as administration officials, members of Congress and business executives gathered for a glittering dinner in honor of Mehriban Aliyeva, the visiting first lady of Azerbaijan.

Aliyeva's husband, Ilham, rules a Muslim country wedged between Russia and Iran that is on the cusp of becoming a major exporter of oil and gas, with strategic pipelines that offer Europe an alternative to Russian suppliers. It also is at a tipping point politically. Aliyev, who inherited power from his father -- a satrap of the Soviet Union -- has teetered between installing his own dictatorship and promising to liberalize the political system along Western lines. [complete article]
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Hizbullah smiles on Arab League plan, but Cabinet stays quiet
By Nada Bakri, Daily Star, December 12, 2006

Substantial obstacles remained to an Arab League initiative to end the standoff between the government and opposition in Lebanon on Monday, with both parties showing little flexibility on key demands. Arab League envoy and Sudanese presidential adviser Mustafa Ismail, who arrived in Lebanon from neighboring Syria on Monday, said divided Lebanese leaders are still discussing his proposal.

"We have suggested a proposal and we are now waiting for responses ... We will try to come up with acceptable suggestions that will pave the way for the resumption of dialogue," Ismail said after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir.

Ismail also met with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Speaker Nabih Berri and Parliament majority leader MP Saad Hariri. [complete article]

See also, Syria backs Arab League efforts on Lebanon: envoy (Reuters).
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Revolution in the air as Lebanon's rift widens
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, December 11, 2006

With Fouad Siniora's cabinet hiding in the Grand Serail behind acres of razor wire and thousands of troops - a veritable "green zone" in the heart of Beirut - the largely Shia Muslim opposition, assisted by their Christian allies, brought up to two million supporters into the centre of the city yesterday to declare the forthcoming creation of a second Lebanese administration. A "transitional" government is what ex-general Michel Aoun called it, while Naeem Qassem, Hizbollah's deputy chairman, spoke ominously of the mass demonstrations as "the separatist day".

So, is the Hizbollah militia, which withstood Israel's disastrous bombardment of Lebanon last summer, really planning a coup on behalf of its Iranian and Syrian backers, as Mr Siniora suspects? Or are Mr Siniora and his cabinet colleagues - Sunni Muslim, Christian and Druze - working on behalf of the Americans and Israelis, as Hizbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, proclaims?

Already, Mr Siniora's administration is being referred to in the American press as Lebanon's "US-backed government", the virtual kiss of death for any Arab leader these days, while Mr Aoun's split with his fellow Christians could prove fatal to him. Only because of his weird alliance with the Hizbollah can the latter claim that their opposition represents Christians as well as Muslims. True to the ironies of Lebanese politics, it was the same former general Aoun who fought a "war of independence" with Hizbollah's Syrian friends in 1990, a conflict which he lost at the cost of 1,000 lives.

But even supporters of Mr Siniora's administration were taken aback by the vast numbers of Lebanese that Hizbollah could mobilise yesterday, men and women who in many cases came from the villages and urban slums which suffered near-total destruction in this summer's war. [complete article]
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Why it's so hard to define victory in Iraq
By Shelby Steele, Opinion Journal, December 8, 2006

A complete American victory in Iraq would put that nation--at least for a time--entirely under American power and sovereignty. We would in fact "own" the society as a colony. In today's international moral climate this would both undermine the legitimacy of our war effort and make an ongoing demand on our blood and treasure. If we are already a good ways down this road, complete victory would only take us further.

Is it any wonder, then, that we have failed to completely win this war? Since World War II, American leaders--left and right--have worked out of an impossible double bind: They cannot afford to win the wars they fight. Thus the postmodern American war in which the world's greatest power deconstructs its own motives for fighting until losing becomes a better option than winning. [complete article]

Comment -- It's worth pointing out, as Shelby Steele does, that "no one in the administration has ever said what victory would actually look like," but Steele's rallying cry for the fulfillment of America's imperial destiny also ducks the same question. He says:
Historically victory in foreign war has always meant hegemony: You win, you take over. We not only occupied Germany and Japan militarily after World War II, we also--and without a whit of self doubt--imposed our democratic way of life on them. We took our victory as a moral mandate as well as a military achievement, and felt commanded to morally transform these defeated societies by the terms of our democracy. In this effort we brooked no resistance whatsoever and we achieved great success.
But how does Steele, even in his wildest fantasies, think that this can be translated to Iraq? In World War II, the U.S. military and its allies defeated the German military and Japanese military. As witnesses to that defeat the citizenries of each country largely accepted the outcome of the war and presented little or no resistance to occupation forces and the process of national reconstruction.

To understand what U.S. hegemony in Iraq if made "total" in the sense that Steele envisages would look like, one does not need to go back in time or step outside the Middle East. Look no further than the Palestinian Occupied Territories. There, in spite of overwhelming Israeli force, draconian security measures, the establishment of Jewish colonial settlements, minimal indigenous access to weapons and explosives (compared with their availability in Iraq), yet almost forty years after taking over, the Israelis have been unable to establish a complete victory. Their failure can hardly be attributed to timidity.

If anyone other than the fools on the Wall Street Journal's editorial board were to take Steele's recommendations seriously and translate them into the concrete form he avoids spelling out -- a few hundred thousand more American troops in Iraq -- I expect that many an insurgent leader, far from being the paper tigers Steele imagines, would then be saying: bring 'em on!
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A realistic America is the silver lining of this great Iraqi darkness
By Simon Jenkins, The Sunday Times, December 10, 2006

The good in the Baker/Hamilton report is not about Iraq but about America. Its pious proposals are cover for a simple message, that this venture has failed and America must cut its losses and run. The report ends the pretence that the war can be won if America "stays the course" and instead struggles to throw a smokescreen round the impending retreat. Neither Bush nor Blair is ready for such reality but a start has been made. Both leaders are isolated from their political and military establishments. The retreat from Iraq will be traumatic and Baker/Hamilton is an attempt to deaden the pain. [complete article]

Bush, Baker and Iraq: Why the patient cannot be saved (Tony Karon).
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Secret American talks with insurgents break down
By Hala Jaber, The Sunday Times, December 10, 2006

Secret talks in which senior American officials came face-to-face with some of their most bitter enemies in the Iraqi insurgency broke down after two months of meetings, rebel commanders have disclosed.

The meetings, hosted by Iyad Allawi, Iraq's former prime minister, brought insurgent commanders and Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, together for the first time.

After months of delicate negotiations Allawi, a former Ba'athist and a secular Shi'ite, persuaded three rebel leaders to travel to his villa in Amman, the Jordanian capital, to see Khalilzad in January.

"The meetings came about after persistent requests from the Americans. It wasn't because they loved us but because they didn't have a choice," said a rebel leader who took part.

Last week the long-awaited report of the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker, the former secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, a former congressman, called for America to seek to engage with all parties in Iraq, with the exception of Al-Qaeda.

However, the insurgents' account of the hushed-up meetings reveals that concerted attempts to engage them in negotiations had already failed earlier this year. [complete article]
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Report on Iraq exposes divide within GOP
By John M. Broder and Robin Toner, New York Times, December 10, 2006

The release of the report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group this week exposed deep fissures among Republicans over how to manage a war that many fear will haunt their party -- and the nation -- for years to come.

A document that many in Washington had hoped would pave the way for a bipartisan compromise on Iraq instead drew sharp condemnation from the right, with hawks saying it was a wasted effort that advocated a shameful American retreat.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page described the report as a "strategic muddle," Richard Perle called it "absurd," Rush Limbaugh labeled it "stupid," and The New York Post portrayed the leaders of the group, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic member of Congress, as "surrender monkeys." [complete article]

See also, Hawks bolster skeptical president (WP).
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Iraq strategy review focusing on three main options
By Robin Wright and Peter Baker, Washington Post, December 9, 2006

As pressure mounts for a change of course in Iraq, the Bush administration is groping for a viable new strategy for the president to unveil by Christmas, with deliberations now focused on three main options to redefine the U.S. military and political engagement, according to officials familiar with the debate.

The major alternatives include a short-term surge of 15,000 to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces. Another strategy would redirect the U.S. military away from the internal strife to focus mainly on hunting terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda. And the third would concentrate political attention on supporting the majority Shiites and abandon U.S. efforts to reach out to Sunni insurgents.

As President Bush and his advisers rush to complete their crash review and craft a new formula in the next two weeks, some close to the process said the major goal seems to be to stake out alternatives to the plan presented this week by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. The White House denied trying to brush off the study group's report and said those recommendations are being considered alongside internal reviews. [complete article]

See also, Iraqis near agreement on oil revenue sharing (NYT), Sunni Muslims increasingly look for American troops to shield them (McClatchy), Shiites rout Sunni families in mixed area of Baghdad (NYT), and Black-market weapon prices surge in Iraq chaos (NYT).
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The neocons have finished what the Vietcong started
By Martin Jacques, The Guardian, December 8, 2006

From a longer-term perspective, moreover, it is already clear that it will be impossible for the Americans to restore the status quo ante in the region. The failure of the occupation has shown the limitations of its power - which every country, from Iran and Syria to Israel and Saudi Arabia (not to mention Hizbullah and Hamas), will have noted. The US has been the decisive arbiter in the Middle East since the end of the Suez crisis in 1956, albeit with the Soviet Union playing a secondary role until 1989. The American era is now over.

In future the US will be forced to share its influence with regional powers such as Iran, with the EU - and no doubt in time, with emerging global players such as China and perhaps even Russia. Such a scenario may well mean that the key alliance that has shaped the Middle East since 1956 - between the US and Israel - will no longer be so pivotal and could be increasingly downgraded. From a regional standpoint, it is clear that the Iraq moment is far more serious for the US than the Vietnam moment. [complete article]
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The Iran we have
By Anatol Lieven, Open Democracy, December 5, 2006

The answers Iranians have given to opinion surveys concerning US policies indicate that, for the great majority of Iranians, the combination of US advocacy of Iranian "democracy" with the advancement of US and Israeli foreign and security policy objectives only discredits the forces of democracy in Iran; at least, if these are to be identified with Iranian liberalism rather than with the troubling but undoubtedly very popular mixture of populism, clericalism and nationalism being advanced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This is especially true because Iran today is by no means the bloodstained clerical tyranny it was in the early 1980s. It is certainly not a democracy, but it contains more elements of democracy than several key US allies in the region. The electoral process which elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was highly constrained; but all credible evidence suggests that his election did represent in part a widespread public backlash against the growing corruption of the state elites. By contrast, there is little evidence to suggest that a more genuinely open process would have produced a victory for pro-western liberals.

This being so, if we believe that Iran has a vital role to play in any future regional order, and that compromise with Iran is essential to the future of both Iraq and Afghanistan, then we have no choice but to negotiate with the Iran that we have. We cannot afford to wait a generation in the hope of getting the kind of Iran we would prefer; the crises in Iraq and Afghanistan are far too urgent for that. And if we are not to seek help from Iran and other neighbouring states, then where can we hope to find it? [complete article]

Iran looks like the winner of the Iraq war
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2006

The report issued last week by the blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group provides fresh proof of Iran's strengthened hand in the Middle East since the U.S.-led invasion: It mentions the Islamic Republic more than 50 times and makes clear that the U.S. will have to seek Iran's help for any resolution.

"The report told the Iranians, You are mighty now in the region and in Iraq. The Iranians feel now they are untouchable," said Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Gulf Research Center, an independent think tank in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. [complete article]

Iran reacts favorably to the Baker-Hamilton plan
By Scott Macleod, Time, December 9, 2006

The Iranian government has responded more positively than the Bush Administration has to the Iraq Study Group's proposal for talks between the two. And government sources in Tehran tell TIME that this reflects a sincere and calculated desire among the Iranian leadership for improved relations with Washington. [complete article]

Iran ties role in Iraq talks to U.S. exit
By Hassan M. Fattah and Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, December 10, 2006

Just days after the Iraq Study Group recommended opening a dialogue with Tehran, Iran's foreign minister said his country would enter discussions on stabilizing Iraq only if the United States commits to a troop withdrawal.

Speaking to a security conference in Manama, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran was open to dialogue as long as the United States "changes its attitude," and he asserted that the Americans were "50 percent to blame" for Iraq's violence. [complete article]

The nomination hearing for Robert Gates
IHT, December 6, 2006

Senator Robert Byrd: Do you support an attack on Iran?

GATES: Senator Byrd, I think that military action against Iran would be an absolute last resort; that any problems that we have with Iran, our first option should be diplomacy and working with our allies to try and deal with the problems that Iran is posing to us. I think that we have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed, it becomes unpredictable. And I think that the consequences of a conflict -- a military conflict with Iran could be quite dramatic. And therefore, I would counsel against military action, except as a last resort and if we felt that our vital interests were threatened.

BYRD: Do you support an attack on Syria?

GATES: No, sir, I do not.

BYRD: Do you believe the president has the authority, under either the 9/11 war resolution or the Iraq war resolution, to attack Iran or to attack Syria?

GATES: To the best of my knowledge of both of those authorizations, I don't believe so.

BYRD: Would you briefly describe your view of the likely consequences of a U.S. attack on Iran.

GATES: It's always awkward to talk about hypotheticals in this case. But I think that while Iran cannot attack us directly militarily, I think that their capacity to potentially close off the Persian Gulf to all exports of oil, their potential to unleash a significant wave of terror both in the -- well, in the Middle East and in Europe and even here in this country is very real. They are certainly not being helpful in Iraq and are doing us -- I think doing damage to our interests there, but I think they could do a lot more to hurt our effort in Iraq.

I think that they could provide certain kinds of weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical and biological weapons, to terrorist groups. Their ability to get Hezbollah to further destabilize Lebanon I think is very real. So I think that while their ability to retaliate against us in a conventional military way is quite limited, they have the capacity to do all of the things, and perhaps more, that I just described. [complete article]
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Israel's nuclear arsenal biggest threat to region: Prince Muqrin
By Mazen Mahdi, Arab News, December 10, 2006

Saudi Arabia's top intelligence official said late yesterday that Israel's nuclear arsenal was the biggest threat to the region's short-term and medium-term security.

Prince Muqrin, the Kingdom's chief of general intelligence, also blamed Israel for driving other countries in the region to pursue weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

"This will also force moderate countries in the region that adopt a WMD-free policy to establish clandestine or declared nuclear programs to defend their interests and create a military balance," he said in the keynote address to the third International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) regional security summit, the so-called Manama Dialogue. [complete article]

Preserving nuclear ambiguity
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, December 10, 2006

Israeli officials were shocked by Robert Gates' statement to Congress that Israel has nuclear weapons, and they are worrying over why the U.S. secretary of defense-designate made this statement.

In particular, they want to know two things: First, whether this statement was a private initiative by Gates, or whether he coordinated it with the top levels of the American administration. And second, whether he was implying that since Israel has nuclear weapons, it can deal with any nuclear threat from Iran on its own. [complete article]

Comment -- "Nuclear ambiguity" is a fancy name for a lie. The time is long past during which anyone remained uncertain about whether Israel is a nuclear power. What it's policy of "ambiguity" enables is for Israel to wield the power of a nuclear state without any of the responsibility. It allows it to be a rogue state without facing international sanctions. And it allows Israel to sustain and promote its self-image as a small embattled nation surrounded by threatening neighbors, rather than also acknowledging what it is: the sole nuclear power in the region.
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Israel is not linked to Iraq, except that it is
By Ethan Bronner, New York Times, December 10, 2006

The day after the Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq was released, Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, rejected the part that urged the United States to refocus on the Israeli-Arab conflict because all Middle East issues were, it said, "inextricably linked."

Mr. Olmert responded, "The U.S.'s problems in Iraq are entirely independent of the problems between us and the Palestinians."

Yet Mr. Olmert's own recent statements and actions belie his argument. Partly in anticipation of an American shift in policy and partly out of longstanding and growing concern over Iran, he has been pursuing an approach to Israeli interests that involves reaching out to the Palestinians and Iraq's neighbors. It could almost have been taken from the playbook written by James A. Baker III. [complete article]
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Early election talk angers Hamas
BBC News, December 9, 2006

The Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee has backed early elections to end the deadlock over forming a national unity government.

The Hamas group, in power since winning January's parliamentary polls, reacted by condemning the suggestion.

PLO officials said after meeting President Mahmoud Abbas that he would have their support for early polls. [complete article]

Halting of foreign aid to Palestinians a crime: Carter
AFP, December 9, 2006

Former US president Jimmy Carter said it was a "crime against the people of Palestine" for foreign governments to halt aid to the Palestinian government after Hamas took over.

"For Canada and others to punish the Palestinian people because they voted for their candidates of choice, I think is literally a crime," Carter told CBC television.

In March, just after the Hamas-led government's swearing-in, Canada became the first country to announce that it would suspend its aid to the Palestinian Authority and would have no contact with its officials. [complete article]
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Lebanon's Shiites grapple with new feeling of power
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, December 10, 2006

As morning clouds hovered overhead Saturday, Fadil Ayyash wiped eyes that were bleary from just two hours of sleep over two days in the city-within-a-city that Hezbollah's protests in downtown Beirut have become.

The mood in his tent, set alongside a site for luxury apartments, was playful. The first order of business was stoking a water pipe. Under two yellow Hezbollah flags, with a hint of mischief, he and his friends unveiled their makeshift fireplace, charred cinderblocks stacked on a sidewalk still warm from a campfire the night before. But they spoke bluntly -- of frustration and protest, of politics and power -- the vocabulary of a moment the young Shiite Muslim men feel they are defining.

"How is this democracy?" Ayyash asked, pointing to the colonnaded government headquarters known as the Serail, standing like a citadel atop a hill. "The majority is here," he said, waving his hand across rows of protesters' tents.

His friends nodded, sprawled in brown plastic chairs.

"These days," he said, "we have to seize our opportunity." [complete article]

Leading Lebanon from a gilded cage
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2006

In the palace on the hill, the chants and curses from the street below are easy to hear.

The voices float up through the clear wintry air, wisps of tension rising from the roiling anti-government demonstrations. Weary ministers listen to the heart-pounding bass beat of Hezbollah fighters' anthems, the political speeches screamed into microphones, the roar of the crowd. After sunset, the glare of floodlights arches like a gigantic halo over the tent city that's cropped up in the upscale shopping districts of downtown.

Inside the Grand Serail, what remains of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government toils away, trying to ignore the thousands upon thousands of people massed at its gate. The people outside describe the government leaders as unwanted and illegitimate, pawns of U.S. interests. [complete article]
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Now we must face the facts and talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan
By Jason Burke, The Observer, December 10, 2006

One immutable law of insurgency warfare is that, while conventional armies need to win, insurgents need only to avoid losing. The disagreeable truth is that, though we are not losing the war in Afghanistan, we are not winning. Neither, looking at the current situation, are we likely to.

This means a fairly stark choice. We can struggle on, as in Iraq, losing men and money for years until an Afghan version of the James Baker report tells us to change tack - or we change tack now.

We need to work out what went wrong. Letting Afghanistan rot for four years after the war of 2002 was a tragic error. The Americans, who were then responsible for the southeast, showed a cavalier disregard for reconstruction, treating the region as a hunting ground for special forces.

On successive trips to Afghanistan, I saw local people go from pragmatic and relatively hopeful, to sulking and disappointed, to bluntly antagonistic. The Taliban's strategic good sense made a tough job tougher. Soldiers from the Parachute Regiment sent into Helmand province this spring were well prepared. Sadly, their mission changed when they got to Afghanistan. From tough peacekeeping, it became fierce 'war fighting'. [complete article]

Afghanistan war nears 'tipping point'
By Laura King and David Holley, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2006

The conflict in Afghanistan has entered a dangerous phase, and the next three to six months could prove crucial in determining whether the United States and its NATO partners can suppress a revitalized enemy — or will be dragged into another drawn-out and costly fight with an Islamic insurgency, according to senior military and security officials and diplomats.

"I think we are approaching a tipping point, perhaps early in the new year," said a Western diplomat in the region, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.

Popular support for the central government is faltering, and Western military allies are deeply divided over how best to combat the insurgency. [complete article]
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Britain stops talk of 'war on terror'
By Jason Burke, The Observer, December 10, 2006

Cabinet ministers have been told by the Foreign Office to drop the phrase 'war on terror' and other terms seen as liable to anger British Muslims and increase tensions more broadly in the Islamic world.

The shift marks a turning point in British political thinking about the strategy against extremism and underlines the growing gulf between the British and American approaches to the continuing problem of radical Islamic militancy. It comes amid increasingly evident disagreements between President George Bush and Tony Blair over policy in the Middle East.

Experts have welcomed the move away from one of the phrases that has most defined the debate on Islamic extremism, but called it 'belated'. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

If the U.S. should talk to Iran, why shouldn't it talk to Hamas?
By Paul Woodward, Conflicts Forum, December 7, 2006

Why America will fail in Iraq
Baha al-Araji (spokesman for Moqtada al-Sadr) interviewed by Foreign Policy, November/December, 2006

Iraq violence 'much worse' than civil war, says Annan
BBC News, December 4, 2006

What would happen if the U.S. left Iraq?
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2006

Iraqi Army division deepens discord
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy, December 2, 2006

Mideast allies near a state of panic
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2006

Carter book on Israel 'apartheid' sparks bitter debate
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, December 7, 2006

Apartheid Israel
By Virginia Tilley, Counterpunch, December 5, 2006

Israeli Arabs seek right to return to villages abandoned in 1948
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, December 4, 2006

Israel creates new ministry to deal with Iran threat
AFP, December 2, 2006

The myriad circles of Lebanon's crisis
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, December 6, 2006

Iran v Saudis in battle of Beirut
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, December 5, 2006

As Rice's Iran strategy fizzles, Cheney waits
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times, December 6, 2006

George Bush's America
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig, December 4, 2006

Judge strikes down parts of executive order on terrorism
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, November 29, 2006

Video is a window into a terror suspect's isolation
By Deborah Sontag, New York Times, December 4, 2006
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